Globalization of obscurantist philosophy

I have written several relevant entries both on this blog and on my Reason & Society blog. The most generic keywords to search on are ‘globalization’, ‘ethnophilosophy’, ‘postmodernism’, and ‘liberalism’ or ‘neoliberalism’ where such keywords are used. But any post on non-western philosophy is likely to be relevant, the most numerous being ‘Asian philosophy’ or ‘Chinese philosophy’, but also any philosophy related to India, but see also ‘American philosophy’ and ‘Native American philosophy’.  Two of my most generically relevant posts are:

Ethnoepistemology (this blog)

Globalization of obscurantism (Reason & Society)

James Maffie, author of the article on Ethnoepistemology in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, wrote an even more preposterous article on Aztec Philosophy.

This reactionary drivel made me laugh. The author is a blood brother of the charlatans rehabilitating and sanitizing Confucianism for Western consumption. One would never guess what Aztec civilization was really like given this sanitized, abstracted version of its purportedly holistic, dialectical view of the world. And it really takes an academic hack slumming in the non-western world to be so ingenuous on matters such as this.

But this is also a symptom of postmodernism, which itself is a symptom of neoliberalism. As Marxism disappears from the philosophical horizon, the steamroller of obscurantism presses over the entire planet.  For all its shortcomings, Soviet Marxism was less provincial in its engagement with non-western philosophies than Anglo-American philosophy as a whole, and it provided a historical/social evaluative framework different from bourgeois liberal pluralism and the promotion of mysticism. And philosophers who came under the influence of Marxism in India and various third world countries had a much more critical evaluation of their own traditions than did the boosters of eastern philosophies in the West ever did.

It is truly breathtaking how naive and ideologically clueless the contemporary preoccupation with the globalization of philosophy is.  Here are two sterling specimens.

First, see the CFP: World Philosophies for an upcoming conference at the University of Hull scheduled for June 2013.  Here is the introductory paragraph:

Throughout the Twentieth Century, Western Philosophy has been divided into two factions: Anglo-American analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy dominated by phenomenology and post-phenomenological philosophies. Anglo- American philosophy seems thus to have been cut off from the rest of the world, and seems to have evolved in relative isolation. The aim of this conference is to allow analytic philosophy to engage with other philosophies from around the world.

The first sentence asserts a falsehood. ‘Continental philosophy’ is an artificial fabrication designating what was excluded from analytical philosophy and in recent times has been selectively reintroduced for contemporary purposes under the rubric of ‘continental philosophy’. This of course would include usable marxisant philosophy. But this category is itself a product of an elitism and provincialism that hardly characterizes the variety of philosophical endeavors to be found on any continent.

The CFP continues to solicit contributions concerning Asian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy, and pre-Columbian American philosophies, which could contribute to modern debates. It should have read ‘postmodern debates’.

The second example is Can non-Europeans think? by Hamid Dabashi (Al Jazeera, 15 Jan 2013). The provocative subheading reads: ‘What happens with thinkers who operate outside the European philosophical ‘pedigree’?’. This article also is based on incoherent and questionable assumptions. The author reads off someone else’s quotation of eminent philosophers and wonders whether philosophers outside the orbit of European philosophy (which takes in the USA, Australia, and other areas classifiable as Western) could achieve the same recognition, and whether their collective identities could achieve comparable recognition. Examples would be South Asian, African, Arab/Muslim, Japanese philosophies, and even Cornel West.

Making analogies with other fields such as ethnomusicology, Dabashi asks: ‘Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy’. Actually, ethnophilosophy is a term used by African philosophers who oppose it, i.e. basing or concocting a contemporary philosophical system based on folk ideas from traditional societies. Now consider this assertion:

Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.

This is quite a presumptuous generalization, and it exemplifies the same erroneous presupposition as the query about African philosophy, i.e. concentrating on the geographic/ethnic origins of the philosopher, or of philosophers in the aggregate, not of the actual philosophies.

Alternative philosophers then mentioned include José Marti, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Aime Cesaire, W.E.B. DuBois, Liang Qichao, Frantz Fanon, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi. But this is a grabbag of disparate personages who are simply posited as legitimate without critical examination.

Dabashi cites Gramsci’s criticism of Kant’s categorical imperative as positing an illegitimate homogeneity. And here comes another brazen universal assertion:

There is thus a direct and unmitigated structural link between an empire, or an imperial frame of reference, and the presumed universality of a thinker thinking in the bosoms of that empire.

As all other people, Europeans are perfectly entitled to their own self-centrism.

Dabashi arrantly presumes that philosophers simply are expressions of their inherited cultural traditions, and thus Europeans are legitimate only within the confines of their cultures, and that others, by extension, are automatically legitimate as interpreters of their own cultural reference points. Hence multiculturalism becomes another form of cultural absolutism. This frames the entire basis for the postmodern, postcolonial intellectual’s conception of critique. And this is why it has to be attacked and destroyed, root and branch.


One reply

  1. The banality continues in “Yes, we can: Non-European thinkers and philosophers” by
    Walter Mignolo (Al Jazeera, 19 Feb 2013):

    The same insipid presumptions are evident. Petty bourgeois intellectuals who arrogate themselves to be the legitimate representatives of third world national/ethnic groups, playing off against the supposed representatives of European and European-descended groups are all playing the same game, and all fundamentally conceal the criteria by which the relevance of any philosopher or body of thought is to be judged.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.