Lions and Children and Fanaticism, Oh My!

Although contemporary philosophers and religious fundamentalists appear to be bitter enemies, Meillassoux has aptly shown that they are more like friends than foes; they are but two sides of the same coin. That is because philosophy still asks important questions such as “why is the world thus and not otherwise?”, “where do we come from?” and “why do we exist?” but admits there is in fact no solution to such problems. Metaphysical questions such as these cannot be answered, they say, because our thought is intrinsically limited and inadequate to the task. Therefore, the questions remain but are surrounded by mystery and enigmas rather than clarity.

The remarkable outcome of this situation is a renewed recourse to superstition. Since it is still believed that there must be ineffable reasons underlying all things, some sort of constant absolute that escapes our intelligence, religiosity in all its forms has stepped into the gap. This is what Meillassoux has termed a “see-sawing between metaphysics and fideism.”

This scenario is not unlike the Nietzschean passage from Lion to Child that Žižek has commented on in The Parallax View. It reads as such:

[I]t is not yet possible for us, caught as we are in the web of the reflective attitude of nihilism, to enter the ‘innocence of becoming,’ the full life beyond justification; all we can do is engage in ‘self-overcoming of morality through truthfulness,’ that is, bring the moralistic will-to-truth to its self-cancellation, because aware of the truth about will-to-truth itself (that it is an illusion of and for the weak). We ‘cannot create new values,’ we can only be the Lion who, in an outburst of active nihilism, clears the table and thus ‘creates freedom for new creation’; it is after us that the Child will appear who will mark ‘a new Beginning, a sacred Yes’ (p. 43)

Žižek’s point is the same as Meillassoux’s: the critique of metaphysics (the “attitude of nihilism”) can only clear the table of dogmatism. However, in its wake, this space-clearing gesture provides an opening for “new beginnings,” “new creations” and “new values;” viz., Nietzsche’s will-to-power. The only viable gesture left after radical doubt, in other words, is a just do it spontaneity that is “not covered by any rational consideration.” This “innocent” child-like wager (read becoming) is a “fundamental practico-ethical decision about what kind of life one wants to commit oneself to” that is founded on nothing other than radical irrationality; what Badiou calls “anti-philosophy” and attributes to the legacy of both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. What Žižek fails to miss, it seems, and the possibility that Meillassoux suggests, is that these post-metaphysical choices include the most menacing ones. In the simplest possible terms: all professions of faith whatsoever are legitimated, even the worst forms of violence that are divinely sanctioned for an elect few. Meillassoux insists, rather, that we can indeed answer the aforementioned metaphysical questions with affirmative solutions to avoid fideistic outbreaks while simultaneously steering clear of a regression to dogmatism:

As a result, metaphysical problems are revealed always to have been genuine problems, since they do admit of a solution. But their resolution depends on one precise and highly constraining condition – that we begin to understand that in reply to those metaphysical questions that ask why the world is thus and not otherwise, the response ‘for no reason’ is a genuine answer. Instead of laughing or smiling at questions like ‘Where do we come from?’, “why do we exist?’, we should ponder instead the remarkable fact that the replies ‘From nothing. For nothing’ really are answers, thereby realizing that these really were questions – and excellent ones at that. There is no longer a mystery, not because there is no longer a problem, but because there is no longer a reason (After Finitude, 110)


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