Tedium or Te Deum? (Re: Spivak & Eagleton)

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Fri Jan 28 10:58:36 PST 2000

t byfield wrote:

> but what's up
> with you asking questions like this?

Simple. It has been my experience over the last 30 years that when someone tosses the terms "authoritarian" or "teleology" around they have run out of things to say and are merely throwing spitballs. And yet I would like to see someone on this list give an actual defense of the positions that a number of people on this last have criticized in other than ad hominem terms. For example, see Angela's replies to Justin. I have never seen such a lengthy filibuster since Southern senators gave up defending lynching. And yet Justin had given a whole series of specific arguments which invited specific responses.

And see all the responses that have ever been offered on the subject of psychology. They read like a Cardinal's response to a priest who doubted the Trinity. For example:

"I mentioned that you're hostile to psychoanalysis. He asked what your theory of psychology is - and, specifically, why humans do the sometimes strange things they do."

I.e., it is dogmatically assumed that everyone *must* have a theory of psychology, as though no one could possibly not have such a theory. But I, for example, do not have any theory of astrology, so I don't see why, until someone demonstrates otherwise, I should have a theory of psychology. It reminds me of nothing so much as the anecdote Engels tells of people affirming that atheism must be his religion. *Everyone* has a religion. *Everyone* has a psychology. Doug is so trapped in this dogma that he can't imagine anyone approving of human pleasure unless that person has a theory of Desire. (Incidentally, I have always assumed that Marxism presupposes hedonism.)

There seems to be near a consensus on this list that social analysis is impossible or radically incomplete unless it is interlinked with an epistemological and a psychological theory. I would argue that if such is the case, then human knowledge (of *any* kind) is impossible. But, as is always the case with fundamental dogmas, no one on this list is willing to give an actual defense of the necessity and possibility of psychology and epistemology

One of the reasons I have tended to believe that what is called postmodernism is simplly the latest guise of modernism, which in turn was merely the latest guise of romanticism, is that these dogmatic premises characterized modernism and romanticism to the same extent to which most contemporary thought (whether or not it is called postmodernism). What all these modes of thought and feeling have in common is the assumption of what Marx called the abstract individual. Matthew Arnold thought literature could replace religion. T. S. Eliot remarked that if one rejected religion, one just had to do without, not look about for a substitute. But ever since Freud and I.A. Richards 20th century intellectuals have vainly tried to make psychology substitute for religion. That is, Matthew Arnold remains the guiding light of the humanities and social sciences in Europe and North America.

It is quite appropriate that one of the latest of these prophets of a secular religion has now proposed that secular thought should somehow refresh itself at the Christian Fountain. If and when "psychology" frees itself from these religious hangovers, psychologists *may* discover a proper subject on which to hang their volumes of empirical observations and poetic interpretations. I don't know what that might be. But as long as they assume that social relations are even partially explicable in "psychological" terms, psychology will remain a futile religion.


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