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Step 65: The path of opposition (failure as transcendence)

Opposites travel different paths: that is the shape of their antagonism. While the two opposing points can become one by circling around to meet/collide, other paths (such as the Mobius strip) never allow them to meet, yet enable the oppositions to reverse polarity. Right to Left.

By looking at Peaky Blinders, Hegel, Slavoj Zizek, David French, and a few others we chart how the contradictory failure to sublimate (ascend or overcome these contradictions) is inscribed within us: our failure is our path to transcendence.

Note: there are references to earlier podcasts on the 1-dimensional man and artificial negativity.

Sex & the Failed Absolute

Slavoj Zizek

part 1: the path for the 2 to become 1
(the 2 is 1, linked through exclusion)

part 2: the circle into the Mobius strip
(3 antagonistic motions: convergence, rotation, flipping sides)

part 3: going down to get through
(mining the ground, going through, donuts)

part 4: the knot
(tying it up, the 2 is not 2, your failure is your path)


Step 65: The path of opposition (failure as transcendence)

PART 1: the path for the 2 to become 1

the 2 is 1, linked through exclusion

in the last season of “[[peaky blinders]]” Tommy Shelby is a socialist forced into plotting with the fascists… In one scene he says people think of opposing sides as two end-points as if they are on separate tracks. 

But Tommy says he finds it to be a circle, where the two sides start diverging. As they escalate and become more extreme, separating distance, they begin to arch back toward each other, sweeping around the central axis, as if in an orbit. 

As they extend further they gravitate back to a shared commonality: the goal of revolution and change unites them, making them uneasy allies. 

It is as if, after fighting for so long the only people you understand or respect are the other extremists. One way to think about it is that you “bind yourself” to your opposition as tightly as your cause… In the process of rejection, you tie yourself to that thing. 

As Anthony DeMello says, the priests who come to talk to him can only talk about what they have given up: sex. And the prostitutes that talk to him only speak of God. So, whatever you forego is what you bind yourself to. Your choices of exclusion, the distance you feel from the thing, relate you even more closely to it. 

Today, if we look at the most extreme fringe on each side of the political spectrum, let’s take the ultra-woke and the anti-woke, they appear to want opposite outcomes, yet on closer inspection, perhaps they are fighting for the same thing: 

david french

According to David French they both want an end to liberalism and pluralism. Which means they need dominance over the center. Not only do they share a battlefield, but the battle is to dictate behavioral norms.

Upon closer inspection, we can see that both extremes stem from a contradictory ideology of the individual’s rights. “I want this, or this is my right,” to which the other side responds, “no, that infringes on my rights.” To fight for your rights, you dictate the rights of others. French says both sides have legitimate grievances against the other, which they are unwilling to forego or forgive. 

And in this way, in this very basic dialectic, by mapping out the antagonism and tactics, and considering the meta-motivation, the two begin to appear as one bound together in a deadlocked dance: hurt and enraged opposites react to the moves and cues of the other, mimicry to maintain a stalemate, leading not to victory but to a perpetual divisive communion. 

Step 65: The path of opposition (failure as transcendence)

PART 2: The circle into the mobius strip 

3 antagonistic motions: convergance, rotation, flipping sides

What we have looked at is a stalemate, where an impasse determines opposition or sets up and compounds antagonisms. Let’s return to thinking about this dynamic in terms of geometry, or shapes: 

To start, let’s look at the circle of the Ouroboros, the snake eating its tail. The snake’s movement goes in one direction, with the swallowing creating an eternal movement. This is like an eternal cycle or wheel of time. 

But we have talked of oppositional sides, so the one point of intersection where the mouth gulps the tail only represents one point… we need another snake. We need the danger doubled to represent two antagonists. 

Tommy Shelby, once again from Peaky Blinders, suggests the opposing points move in opposite directions, starting in the south, branching apart from each other, only for their goals to align at the North pole despite their mutual disgust. 

But, that is not our deadlocked dance… that is relatively easy 2 becomes 1.

How about if our savvy antagonists are both reacting to each other, rotating clockwise, always maintaining distance? In this movement, a type of reactivity maintains their separation and thus their identity: they can never bridge their difference because there is no intersection. 

What if each argument can be flipped so it becomes its mirror opposite? Not jumping across the circle, but somehow the point itself inverts to its opposite?  Can we use the circle, the topology of the argument, the battlefield if you will, to alter the antagonists? What if we take our two-dimensional repetitive, boring, deadlock dance on the circular path, and by twisting the path we flip each side into its opposite? 

mc escher mobius strip

The [[The Möbius Strip]] does this: It is a mathematical object, a one-sided surface that twists in space, a non-orientable topology. If you have ever looked at M.C. Escher‘s art, you have likely seen one. The most popular image is a bunch of ants on what looks like a 3D infinity sign, some are walking clockwise yet never encountering the ants walking counterclockwise even though it seems like they should. 

What is unique is that in a purely flat 2D realm an object traveling on the outside of a Mobius Strip will move through this mathematical twist appearing on the inside: it will be flipped to become a mirror of itself. If it is right-handed, all of a sudden it will become left-handed. Right becomes left. 

And even in a 3D realm, the points would move from interior to exterior, creating dynamism instead of a boring, repetitive state. 

To bring this into context, Remember Herbert Marcuse’s the one-dimensional man? This person is caught up in a totalizing system that reduces them, and any real rebellion or complexity is co-opted back into the system until the person has no substance left. They are essentially flattened, even their rebellions are reduced to slogans turned into cheap t-shirts or bumper stickers. 

In consideration of this, the points of antagonism in our society are likely reduced as well, making them easier to flip. 

In the last episode, step 64, Piccone would say they are “artificial negativity,” not real, and only staged simulations. As well, Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance” points out the contradiction in forcing people to be tolerant. When the good is bad and the rebellion strengthens the hegemony, what do we do? 

Well, let’s talk about these opposites, these antagonistic extremes that fundamentally can never agree… Individually, they are trying desperately to manifest their goals, to fully realize themselves. Just as you and I are. (or I assume we are.) On their path, they sweep outward to the furthermost point of differentiation to break free.  

But, unfortunately, they are ultimately incapable of fully becoming. 

Don’t worry, this isn’t as sad as it seems: nothing can ever fully be itself. When you consider it, as many philosophers have, this transcendent self fully becoming has lots of problems before we even get into the foibles of subjectivity. First, everything is made up of subsets, and subparts with their own wills and prerogatives, so no definition could ever be complete. That is, no definition of fullness could take into account the sum of the parts to explain the complete self. (Lacan would even say that to be whole, you must include the “exception to the rule,” otherwise, it is not a complete definition, it is non-total, or non-all encompassing. )

There is another reason no one can ever fully become: Zizek says everything has within it a fundamental failure that denies the harmonious nature of its parts. It’s not only the broader system thwarting you while comprising you, but more importantly, your constitutive parts have been created to be in a fundamental contradictory deadlock. 

Take as a non-human example the state, as in the nation-state: it functions and still exists despite its deadlock… in fact, it seems to only exist because of the inherent contradictions in itself combat itself. Its becoming is precisely its embrace of its contradictions, its incompleteness: its totality is always caveated, contingent, and deferred, and yet always an immanent process of becoming without ever reaching it. Simply because it cannot be fully itself is not a reason to scrap it, we would never want it to become fully itself: total state domination, which is total stagnation. 

So, back to it: we have a Mobius strip, with two points racing around, reaching for extremes of difference, yet inevitably pulled back to the center, flipping over, changing polarity, and collapsing into each other: they fail to achieve their full becoming because of an inherent contradictory failure.

We can say the path they are on is made to thwart them, that is the path of the Mobius Strip where the oppositions cross without ever coming into contact.

Zizek calls this a crack, gap, or void because it is an insurmountable, unbridgeable opposition within us, and within the universe, that does not let us cross the horizon into transcendence. But he says this constitutive gap motivates our motion. 

That’s right, our failure to become -our inherent flaw- drives us. 

Step 65: The path of opposition (failure as transcendence)

PART 3: Going Down to Get Through 

mining the ground, going through, donuts

With these Hegelian antagonisms or Kantian antinomies, we are mapping the oppositions and the shape of their movement. 

This is brutally simplified, but here we go: For Kant, the idea was to point out how we could never perceive the really real world, the thing-in-itself, as it really was. But the goal for Hegel is to recognize these seemingly insurmountable polarities and in so doing sublate them to ascend up a spiral staircase of overcoming. 

This two-sided oppositional struggle is somehow considered ONE thing, one problem or category, to be overcome. 

But Zizek says not to think of this challenge as a “smooth becoming,” not as dialectics that you overcome, but rather we should think of them as “blocks and stoppages” that keep you from fully becoming. It is a never-ending battle, finding the two and sublating them to one, and in doing this repeatedly you may feel despair. A sort of Sisyphean exhaustion. 

Last episode I brought up that if Hegel used donuts as a metaphor more people would consume his philosophy, so maybe it’s my turn to take us back to donuts, but this time specifically the donut hole: this is the void through which we must pass… enough of this circular orbiting: let’s go through.  

What if, instead of Overcoming, which is pictured as upward motion tackling bigger and bigger antinomies, this kind of existential Donkey Kong where the levels get harder and harder, what if we consider becoming as mining? More like Dig-Dug with a pinch of Fight Club. 

This would be a more Friedrich Nietzsche downgoing. But, sure, we can throw in Hegel’s notion of the ground as well, it’s just going beyond the ground. In our down-going we encounter the ground, where each blockage stops us, requiring us to chip away. 

Once the two sides are far enough apart we have created new unity, a hole or void, that is an absence ringed by a circle. 

Perhaps we have allowed the problem to expand. Given what we know of antinomies, they are fighting to stay apart, to differentiate each other, and are spending vast amounts of energy in this attempt… as they widen from each other, the sides of our hole will expand, opening up. 

We know that gravity or entropy will inevitably lead to the circle collapsing because nature abhors a vacuum or void, but for the moment, the energies of the extremes have opened a way through. And as we go down, we move from shallow to deep, further isolating ourselves in the darkness of the unknown. 

This would take bravery, not the group think conformity of choosing sides; this expansion into the beyond breaks foundational blockages, it goes through the metaphysical ground, like a prison break.

Step 65: The path of opposition (failure as transcendence)

PART 4: The Knot (tying it up, 2 is not 2, failure as the path)

José Ortega y Gasset and Heidegger sort of say, this is life: it is not actually a binary, and your battle of contradictions is to battle the artificial binary, the game. To do this is to live, and it is a heroic undertaking. 

We are constantly enticed back into the black-and-white game, but remember, this is a process that cannot be separated from the context and circumstances you are in. 

“I am I and my circumstance; and, if I do not save it, I do not save myself.” 

José Ortega y Gasset

Life and Reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to all others”

Alan Watts

Now, considering this, it is not the individual, upward overcoming we should be focused on. That is just another binary. 

We have a failure within us, we are built with contradictions inherent to us: that is the exception inside us that -in a bracketed sense, sort of odd way- makes us dynamically whole and offers us the path. 

Slavoj Žižek says that failure is the path through: the uniquely human trait is not our addition of language or intelligence, but our ability to embody the very failure of the universe: we are inscribed with the impossibility of transcendence, and in embracing the failure as satisfaction we move outside or, beyond, the subject/object relation 

Zizek brings up here the example of the difference between humans and apes, where an ape is presented with an object Beyond reach we’ll give up and move on to something accessible, say a less attractive sexual partner, while I human will remain persistent and transfixed on the impossible object. He says this is why a person is hysterical: they pose ultimate happiness, delight, and ecstasy (jouissance) as an absolute, true goal. They make ultimate delight into unsatisfied desire. The very unsatisfaction with the goal is their joy. He says “such a subject is capable of relating to a term that is outside the limits of the game,” they support themself through their relationship to that which is “out-of-play”. 

By installing a point of impossibility as ultimate joy, you are hysterical, you are utterly human: our flaw is to find delight in the impossible, which is also our means to move beyond the binary oppositions that plague us. 

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Slavoj Zizek, “Sex and the Failed Absolute

Hebert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

Herbert Marcuse: Repressive Tolerance

Anthony DeMello “Awareness”

Sam Harris, Making Sense podcast “American division with David French”

Philosophize This! “#166-167 Jose Ortega y Gasset

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