The transgressive order of subversive associative rhetoric in the ambiguous matrix of co-optive power arrangements

Some thoughts on a day that is so overcast and smoggy in Tianjin that it’s difficult to see the TV tower two miles away:

  1. I don’t know or care a great deal about traditional Chinese medicine, but it is interesting to see what role it plays in its home culture. It doesn’t seem to really be an object of cult fetish or ideological allegiance like in the States: most people I’ve asked about it use both Chinese and Western medicine rather than philosophisizing about which one is superior, and invariably give the same almost rote answer about the differences between the two. Western medicine is seen as a quick fix to most problems, but associated with often nasty side effects, whereas Chinese medicine is seen as slowly fixing problems without deletrious side effects. I’m rather skeptical of the claims made about most tribal medicines, and suspicious of the presence of a placebo effect, especially in the West, where the people that use them often see them as infallible miracle cures, but this response seems too widespread to attribute it simply to superstition. If I might possibly hazard an ignorant speculation, I would guess that it may have something to do with different views of the bodily system, namely that in Chinese medicine health seems to be largely regarded as an interplay of different parts of the body, and hence medicine is focused on improving the functioning and interaction of the organic systems, but may not quickly or directly address the immediate problem, whereas Western medicine seems more fixated on the role of pathogens and negative aspects of the environment, so that health or sickness result from a war between the host body and intruders. Medicine is hence often a matter of destroying those invaders, which not surprisingly also not infrequently injures the body. As for whether there are any parallels to the social and political Weltanshauung of China vs. the West, I leave to someone else to say.

  2. I agree with Stephan Prothero that sin (along with theology and sectarianism) seems to have become greatly downgraded in contemporary American religion (a subject which I believe Alan Wolfe, another professor of religion in the Boston area, deals with at much greater length in The Transformation of American Religion, though I haven’t yet read it). I’m not so sure as Prothero that this is such a bad thing, but then again I’m not a Christian. The idea that one’s actions are always morally under the purvew of some sleepless all-powerful mind is I admit a useful one, though I would hope that one’s own conscience would be sufficient for that. The concept of sin may regulate the actions of individuals beyond the reach of the law, but it also seems to me to arise from the need to rationalize suffering, and in an age where suffering (at least of the immediate physical kind) is at an all-time low, that is not nearly as compelling of a motive as in byegone eras. Whether it is still better to have a notion of sin and a vengeful God is disputable, but I live in China right now, where the very existence of religion for the greater mass of the population is itself debateable, and you can well believe that here, pace Dostoyevsky, certainly not everything is permitted.

  3. Far be it from me to discourage the rehabilitation of humanism in philosophy, but Michel Foucault in his early “anti-humanistic” phase (discussed here) has a point in holding that the very liberal notions of human and social rights, according to a common theory the very foundation of “freedom,” could themselves exert a severely constraining force on individuals in a society, and thus in another sense entail a great loss of freedom, although I agree that the “maw of biopower [the co-opting societal norms and controls] as described by Foucault seems so inescapable and totalizing that one is at a loss as to how one might combat it. After all, how can we ensure that a given instance of transgression is not merely a ruse on the part of biopower to further ensnare us?” But it’s true that the forms of constraint imposed by an ever-expanding conception of individual or group “rights” is often a manifestation of horizontal power or a network of power rather than purely a function of simple hierarchical domination. And I have felt for a long time that it all depends on how one defines freedom. There are at least two different fundamental types when speaking in a socio-political context: the freedom to not be imposed upon by others and the freedom to do what one wants to do regardless of the wishes of anyone else. Many restrictions upon the field of action open to us have been imposed in our society in the name of freeing its members from being imposed upon by others. This brutal dilemma almost inevitably ensues when one views people as passive objects of the workings of their environment, rather than upholding a social morality where individuals voluntarily restrict their own actions in accord with righteous conduct.

p.s. I’m planning to apply for grad. school in comparative literature, so the post title is my attempt to practice up on academic-humanities-paper-title-writing.

2 Responses to “The transgressive order of subversive associative rhetoric in the ambiguous matrix of co-optive power arrangements”

  1. Dave Says:

    Religion is a two edged sword. On the one hand it might have the same effect as Chinese medicine as you describe it. It doesn’t really have any specific power, other than an occasional miracle, but is said to act as a long term tonic to soothe life’s ills. I don’t know. I don’t have a good grip on it, though I am envious of those who do, a sin itself.

    This is because of sloth. I just don’t have the time really get dedicated about it because lust, greed and gluttony are more fun. The only antidote to this is to be threatened with punishment. Since this doesn’t happen predictably in real life, you have to worry that it will happen when you are dead. This would be more believable if religious rulers were particularly admirable people, but they are no better than anyone else and sometimes worse. The only way to keep a theocracy situation in power is various levels of social control, tyranny and even violence.

    I think the desire for a higher power is in our genes and must have a survival value. I think that its ability to create social unity and powerful mass movements as well as justify horrible violence and crushing of the individual conscience gives it power. It is also subject to manipulation and perversion. I was studying the history of the enlightenment which showed the progressive weakening of the tyrannical clergy simply by making morality contingent on reason. This necessarily eliminates the idea of certainty, at some cost.
    Since you are in China, in addition to having access to the wonderful art, natural and architectural marvels, you might be able to gain some insight into why they fear religious extremists such as the “God-Worshipers? of the late nineteenth century.

    I think the title for this post is suitably incomprehensible and should guarantee you a place in graduate school.

  2. lee Says:

    It have an uncle who was a fairly wealthy businessman. The power he belives in as far as medicine is concerned would never be Chinese Medicine. He drove cadillacs most of his life drank scotch , and ate steak. He’s 75 years old now. In the 70’s when chiropractic health was coming of age , alot of people thought of it as quakery. Power says no…, It just didn’t make any sense for him to go to a chiropractor or worse to tell his friends that he did. They would think he was into voodo. In fact podiatrist had this same problem (much much ) earlier as far as the power that says no. Anyway I know from experience that I had given an asian girl some cold medicine which was over the counter stuff, like robitussin and it almost put her in a comma. It seemed like her immune system was not strong enough to take the harsh medicine we consume. At the same time I don’t think she gets sick more often than anybody else.

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