The disputes that take place in society, between left and right, however tense they may be, and however they unfold in unexpected ways, can be seen as superficial skirmishes, since they maintain under the cloth a certain implicit agreement, what we may call ontological conservatism. This kind of conservatism suggested by me is not that epistemic one, that of social networks and TV, that is, that from the world of interpretations, concepts, ideas, words and beliefs. The ontological version, on the other hand, concerns a type of elementary, constituent pact, besides being pre-reflexive. This basically means that everyone, no matter who they are, ends up being part of this kind of daily agreement, even if they don’t realize it, even if they don’t want to. We may also call this pact phenomenological conservatism, involving a very spontaneous and unreflexive contact with the world around us. Don’t you believe me? Okay… then let’s go to examples:
- People debate all the time about how many types of bathrooms a school should have. Some say only two, reflecting a conservative gender dualism, while others bet on three or more in an attempt to accommodate other forms of corporeality. Despite this controversy, everyone agrees that there is a special place for feces and urine. This means that if I am invited to your house, and “pee” in the middle of your living room, on your precious couch, it doesn’t matter if you’re team Trump or team Biden. Your reactions will be the same!
- Many people debate what kind of clothing men and women should wear. Some say that there is a specific closet, depending on its gender. If you are a man, you need to wear pants. If you are a woman, a skirt. Others, on the other hand, understand that there are a variety of possibilities and that each person should choose their own path, performatively tracing their own choices. Despite this controversy, everyone agrees that it is necessary to wear clothes. This means that if I am invited back to your house, and take off all my clothes in the middle of your room, no matter your political orientation, since the reaction will always be the same
- It is also common to discuss about the use of language and what should be accepted or excluded. Some people advocate a type of linguistic purism, involving the traditional use of language. Others bet on the plurality of forms of communication. Again, despite the differences, everyone agrees that there is a syntactic and semantic structure that should be respected. For example, if you ask me “how was your day?” and I answer: “Naked monkey fell face down”, the strangeness will be immediate, whether you are left or right. In front of the english language, there is a kind of implicit agreement about the correct way of speaking, a way that nobody dares disobey, otherwise it will be seen as strange, at the very least, or crazy, at the worst. In other words, I must always obey the syntax (subject-verb-object) and the semantics (meaning) of the words. I can try, of course, to replace the traditional meaning of words like “house”, “cup”, “water”. “house” can now mean a sad person, “cup” can be a soccer field and so on. I can certainly try to produce my own vocabulary, with specific meanings that reflect my own subjectivity. Although the experiment is interesting, reminiscent of the daring of Garfinkel and his students, no sound mind dares to do so.
- There is a very strong polemic about types of feelings and sensations. Some bet on the idea that bodies are free, performative, and consider respect as the best strategy. Others, on the other hand, believe in a specific way of living, making intolerance a dangerous weapon. Although so different from each other, both agree on the existence of an implicit type of grammar of suffering. Example: imagine me being at a funeral, attending the funeral of a person very close to me. Suddenly I start laughing, rolling on the floor with a loud laugh. It doesn’t matter if you’re voted for Trump or for Biden, since everyone agrees that my attitude was strange and disrespectful. But why? It’s simple… because there is a grammar of suffering that needs to be obeyed. Although my laughter was a legitimate sign of a very personal suffering, I’m not allowed to create my own grammar, but to obey what’s given to me. That is, suffering=crying. It is no use trying to create other affective combinations (Suffering=playing soccer. Suffering=kicking a dog in the street. Suffering=masturbation in the middle of the mall, etc). There is an expectation about all bodies (and not only those of minorities), an expectation that makes daily life predictable, solid and reliable.
In this scenario of ontological conservatism, who would be the revolutionary subject? Is there anyone capable of exceeding those limits of convenience? Fortunately, the answer is yes. According to Nietzsche, and his powerful genealogy, two types of people are capable of revolutionizing ontological conservatism. The first is the Artist, who with his rebelliousness manages to implant new and strange types of grammar and configurations of reality. Beckett, for example, wrote a play called “Waiting for Godot” in 1949, with a tumultuous premiere made in 1952. In the play, the characters’ language (Estragon and Vladimir) borders on absurdity, pure incoherence, but which becomes genius in that play, mainly because of the very meaning of “waiting for the Godot”. In other words, a language that would be seen as “strange” by Trumpists and Bidenists, or by any “normal” individual, becomes relevant to the contours of art. The artist is allowed, in fact, to revolutionize. We are not talking here of a simple superficial rebellion, but of a change in the very foundations of reality.
The second group of revolutionaries, according to Nietzsche, do not stroll through art galleries, or theaters and movie theaters, but go through therapy sessions and psychiatric offices. Madness is the other revolutionary face, although it brings much more cost to the body of the one who “chooses” this path. The crazy person is the artist on the edge, someone capable of creating his own grammar, his own language, reaching the point of extreme creativity. According to Nietzsche, the crazy person suffers not because he is crazy, but because he is too creative, because he invented his own symbolic tools, besides his own corporeality. This gesture, in the world we live in, be it left-wing or right-wing, be it in Trump or Biden administration, is a completely intolerable gesture.
When we deal with ontological conservatism, we realize that the revolutionary no longer wanders through resistance groups, academic centers, unions, but through museums, exhibitions, as well as psychological and psychiatric treatment centers. The revolutionary is the one who compromises the most solid foundation that sustains the backstage of the world itself, compromising what Giddens called ontological security. With the exception of artists and madmen, everyone ends up holding hands in an implicit, hypocritical and conservative pact about the rules of the functioning of reality.
Great term! It has described what I have been thinking for a while— the majority of American society is still stuck in this « Democrat-Republican » paradigm, people have been identifying and gravitating towards either the « Democrat » side or « republican » side, which is such an outdated view of politics. People think they are being important but the true radicalism lies underneath all this— in my view, the actual systems and institutions of 21st century society.