The Will to Self-Transformation

by Marc Geddes

The culmination of the past few weeks of blogging (Objectivism is Subjective and Veridiction) is the central idea of living in truth. Fashioning the self is something that has concerned me deeply throughout the past few years, a process that will, in all likelihood, continue. My dissertation in History has provoked deep questions that have a bearing on the very foundation of living. In part, my History dissertation was philosophy. So much so that I have a new sense of understanding for the world more generally, as well as a new passion for continued success. I have become convinced, through Michel Foucault, that humanity must will itself to creating an aesthetics of existence [1]:

I don’t feel that is is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest of my life and work is to become someone else that I was not in the beginning. – Michel Foucault

Wars have been waged globally throughout history on the premise that there is only one form of life worth living – from Christian in the thirteenth century to Aryan in the twentieth. The battle for ideas and the survival of one’s ideology has been characterised by Darwinist undertones that have swung from one idea to the next, particularly in our ‘age of extremes’ between 1914 and 1989. [2] The foundations of living have been challenged, with the apparent ‘winner’ at the end of history as liberal capitalism. [3] And yet, the 1980s intellectual climate with the given Cold War context has produced a new interpretation of life that we must re-invigorate. The manufactured truths of the 1990s and 2000s must be declared over. Caught up in our own consumption of goods and services, we have forgotten to live in truth. Consumption has become nothing more than the cosmetic make-up of our ill society that is too scared to ask fundamental questions about the state we’re in. Our society has failed to become what it wants to be and has no idea where it wants to go (were the recent riots a symptom of that?). A plethora of examples can be given that trace this, from the recent phone hacking scandal to the lifelessness of our political parties (none of which seem to have a big idea, except for David Cameron’s flawed Big Society). We need to re-discover humanity, with a drive as powerful as the Enlightenment, action as decisive as 1789, and a critique as comprehensive as postmodernism. I can see few greater quests than this: a will to self-transformation.

This is something that has become a close concern of mine. I am interested in becoming who I want to be, and achieving aesthetics of existence. Self-transformation is a concept that emerged in the 1980s intellectual climate of postmodernism, and one that we have utterly forgotten about with its slow demise. [4] The Cold War mentalité gave us a will to truth, and a drive for the positive transformation of society. [5] Today, this picture has all but changed; creative destruction has been replaced with bland hypocrisy. Have we surrendered? Society has become defensive and tired, when we should be on the offensive and seeking out new enthusiasm. Citizens have the freedom to become who they want to be, given hard work and input from the rest of society. Citizens have the ability to construct themselves in truth and live according to principle. This was the moment of 1989. This was the moment of 1789. This was the moment of 1776. To pursue our dreams has become an out-dated principle! In 2011, we care for nothing other than owning labelled goods that end up owning us. We care for a hypocritical ‘authenticity’, in which companies brand us, rather than our mind furnishing our souls.

We must re-find our belief in the capacity for collective self-transformation. The past year has endeared me with the enthusiasm to think that the future belongs only to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. I am one of those individuals, and ready to take on the world. Living in ‘the’ truth of religion has been out of favour since the Enlightenment (and I think rightly). And yet it was replaced by a culture of science, polarising our sense of self. The post-1989 world gathered consumer products without a corresponding cultural pluralism that our society so desperately needs. We have surrendered our thoughts, our passions and retreated into our own fortresses of ignorance. This will only be accentuated now that we have come to shrug off the brief moment that was postmodernism.

We must turn full circle, and encourage a world based on the principle of the care of the self and others’, much like the Ancient Greeks. We must live in truth, we must promote parrhesiastic games. The postmodern condition has often been understood as the simple idea of ‘creative destruction’, to borrow Schumpeter’s phrase. [6] This has only been one side of the coin. Thanks to critical theory’s relentless attack on institutions that tell us what to do, we have the ability to construct our identities more freely. Most people do not like this, because it portrays life as insignificant (is there no meaning to anything?) and inauthentic (is there nothing beyond the surface?). [7] Precisely the opposite is the point. Humanity is significant because we are engaged in practices of freedom; life is authentic because it is living in truth you believe in.

[1] See particularly, Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (Vol. 2): The Uses of Pleasure and The History of Sexuality (Vol. 3): The Care of the Self.
[2] Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1989
[3] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
[4] Edward Doxc, ‘Postmodernism is Dead’, Prospect (August 2011)
[5] Vaclav Havel, Living In Truth
[6] Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
[7] Noam Chomsky, ‘On Postmodernism