In the previous issue of this publication, a short article on Hegel was published. As one critic on this board already noted, there has been a fair amount of “cock-suckery” related to Hegel recently– perhaps the board has finally begun to reckon with the titan of German Idealism. Although I am happy to see more Hegel threads within the past few months, I believe the philosophical icon deserves better than being reduced to circlejerks and a two-paragraph article in /lit/’s finest journal. I say this not necessarily because I am trying to peddle his ideas (or because there is no way to explain his philosophy easily, as his writing infamously illustrated) but because his philosophical system, especially when paired with psychoanalysis, can be helpful for understanding the nature of online communities such as this one.
I am not a Hegel scholar nor do I claim to be some expert. I’ve read a fair amount of his work in the past year with some supplementary texts, but I never had a background in philosophy (hell, I haven’t even read Kant). I am just a guy who’s been here for a while and likes to smoke weed; not sure how many of you can relate but I assume at least a few. I’ll get back to that aspect of it later, first I would like to respond to the last article and point out why “mutual recognition” fails to account for what Hegel was trying to say about the social order.
It is not simply enough to recognize Hegelianism’s basic connections to sociology. The core of Hegel’s ontology is the contradiction in being–the dialectic corresponds to the division that exists in both one’s consciousness and the world outside of it; in other words, the gap between one’s perception and reality itself is irreconcilable.
When discussing Hegel’s idea of the social contract it is crucial to at least mention his idea of the state, which he articulates in his Philosophy of History, largely seen as his most controversial text because of its varied political interpretations. In the introductory lecture, Reason in History, Hegel declares the state as “the form which the complete realization of Spirit assumes its existence…the union of the subjective with the rational will; it is the moral whole…the divine Idea as it exists on earth”. Only in the state is the idea of freedom possible– this was not meant to advocate for any sort of authoritarianism, as liberals like Popper would argue, but only to show how society is necessarily contradictory, how the social contract depends on unanimity rather than majoritarianism, as Rousseau had already pointed out. Hegel writes that “each popular faction can set itself up as the People. What constitutes the state is a matter of trained intelligence, not a matter of “the people”. There needs to be an Other that exists outside of social relation, an “idea of Spirit in the externality of human will and its freedom”. Thus the dialectic is not about “mutual recognition” but about recognition of the divide between universal and particular wills that only the State can reconcile to actualize freedom. In the state subjects are not an organic whole but an alienated unity; a unity of particulars divided along the same line of demarcation. Hegel’s ideas of freedom and the state should today be used to combat liberal ideas of freedom that simply align freedom with self-interest. Freedom for the subject means recognizing the external powers that block its own self-interest, but instead of fighting them provide the ground for its self-determination by recognizing the limit set in place by authority. Struggle in social relation does not involve respect for otherness but instead the ability to see one’s own self-division relflected in someone else. The mutual recognition of consciousness and desires thus needs to account for negativity or lack because each of us are alienated both from society and from ourselves.
In an online community such as this (an “anti-social network” if there ever was one) this last point is crucial because it demonstrates Hegel’s insight into psychoanalysis almost a century before Freud. In the “Absolute Freedom and Terror” section of the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel writes that “The self-alienated type of mind, driven to the acme of its opposition, where pure volition and the purely volitional agent are still kept distinct, reduces that opposition to a transparent form, and therein finds itself”. Contradiction between the will and what wills must be recognized rather than resolved or overcome. The worst insult to Hegel’s work was reducing his logic to “thesis plus antithesis equals synthesis”: in the world of mutual recognition we are thus thrown into the illusion of synthesis, of dialectical progression leading to some sort of harmony. Hegel needs the state to show that recognition cannot account for the subject’s inherent conflict with itself and others. Considering 4chan’s cultural influence elsewhere, and the increasingly blurred lines between online and reality, this recognition of conflict, rather than each other’s supposed place in society, would do us some good because it would reject the radicalism promised by people like neo-Marxists or accelerationists in favor of coming to terms with ontological limits.
The resurgence of Hegel’s popularity in the last few decades comes from psychoanalytic and post-Marxist interpretations of people like Slavoj Zizek. (Zizek’s psychoanalysis has not, as far as I am concerned, received a proper discussion on this board; elsewhere he is merely seen as an epic communist who talks funny meme thinker). Zizek recently wrote about Hegel “in a wired brain” to demonstrate a criticism of AI (Neuralink etc) and its false notion of being able to resolve contradiction. His book described how computers fail to account for the force of negativity, or lack, that ultimately defines the human condition.
If Deleuze is another prominent “meme” philosopher that has had popularity on this board (being another ontological idealist whose work is infamously difficult to understand), a Hegelian criticism of his drugged out accelerationist “schizophrenic” worldview needs to be employed to truly grasp the internet and more importantly what it means to Be Online. What about Hegel in a stoned brain?
The negativity criminally lacking in Deleuzian ontology (which has given rise to sinister figures like Nick Land, a cancer in communities such as these) can be illustrated by drug use. The stoner gets high to enact in a sort of mental proliferation; the chemicals provide them with deeper insights and more creative tendencies; they feel happy and laugh and more connected to the music and energy of their environment. Their high connects them in a rhizomatic network, or some dumb shit like that if you believe this stuff.
But lurking underneath this high is always paranoia. The good times are always (and already) undercut by some form of negativity; there is always a sense of self-doubt or alienation if the subject takes a moment out of their whirl to self reflect. To understand this cut is to reject accelerationism and its harmful aspects. I won’t go into the whole capitalism realism shpeel since all of you already know it but I need you to see how this applies to our situation. Each of us is connected through these small corners, but our anonymity and, for lack of a better term, “autism” are just as alienating as they are uniting. That’s the kind of thing that needs to be highlighted by the dialectic, not simply recognition. It’s all contradiction, man.
The Deleuzian idea of difference is attractive because it implies the harmonious coexistence of a free-form multitude. When subjects simply recognize others as existing, they miss the idea of contradiction; that no entity can even harmoniously coexist with itself. Especially in capitalism (or whatever you want to call our current universal political economic condition), condradiction is being substituted for difference in order to cover up problems–accelerationism, “burgerpunk” consumerism, etc are all just one big cope that pretends alienation is somehow radical. Perhaps recognizing alienation is just a cope all the same, but at least coming to terms with limits (in oneself and the Other, being society and its subjects) can provide for a new understanding that elevates “Hegel cock-suckery” into something more productive, the aforementioned alienated unity of an online consciousness.