You Must Change Your Life

30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 17 Jun 2023 08:29
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    • tl;dr

      • the spiritual chances which still fascinate us as the higher and highest possibilities of human beings: these include a non-economic definition of wealth, a non-aristocratic definition of the noble, a non-athletic definition of high achievement, a nondominatory definition of ‘above’, a non-ascetic definition of perfection, a non-military definition of bravery and a non-bigoted definition of wisdom and fidelity.
    • Introduction

    • Peter Sloterdijk՚s book You Must Change Your Life is a radical work of philosophy which puts self-improvement and its accompanying techniques at the very center of human culture and existence. It's not a self-help book by any stretch of the imagination
      And yet it can't help present itself as something that is in some sense good for the reader, or at least, in service of goals in common.
      , more like an exploration of the idea of self-work in history, in art, religion, and culture. He introduces the term anthropotechics for these activities, and believes that to be more fundamental than more conventional cultural categories like religion:
    • I will show that a return to religion is as impossible as a return of religion – for the simple reason that no ‘religion’ or ‘religions’ exist, only misunderstood spiritual regimens, whether these are practised in collectives – usually church, ordo, umma, sangha – or in customized forms – through interaction with the ‘personal God’ with whom the citizens of modernity are privately insured. Thus the tiresome distinction between ‘true religion’ and superstition loses its meaning. There are only regimens that are more and less capable and worthy of propagation.
    • anthropotechnics is something like "techniques and practices dedicated to their own improvement".
      But that makes them sound pointless, whereas the opposite is true, they are somehow reflective of the very highest types of goals humanity is capable of having.
      This includes the obvious religious practices like meditation and yoga, but also more physical forms training as found in athletics and acrobatics.
    • Sloterdijk is performing what we in the software trade call a refactoring, that is, a redrawing of the modular divisions of reality, finding new abstract commonalities between things previously thought to be disparate – and vice-versa. In the present case, the new major factor is called variously practice or training of all types – physical, intellectual, spiritual, all under the umbrella of the more general anthropotechnics, that is, the art and science of creating humans. Sloterdijk sees this kind of activity this as the origin and foundation of culture in general.
    • "practice" is the general term for these activities. I think there is an implied contrast with the concept of Labor, in the quasi-mystical sense in which it is used by Marxists. That is, it is a very broad term for intelligent human activity, a lens with which to conceive of mind in general. Labor and Practice are at a similar level of abstraction, but Labor is devotion to external ends, in practice the ends are the activity itself (reminiscent of Carse's idea of infinite game).
    • The ethical programme of the present came into view for a moment when Marx and the Young Hegelians articulated the theory that man himself produces man. … [they] presented work as the only essential human act. But if man genuinely produces man, it is precisely not through work and its concrete results, not even the ‘work on oneself’ so widely praised in recent times, let alone through the alternatively invoked phenomena of ‘interaction’ or ‘communication’: it is through life in forms of practice. Practice is defined here as any operation that provides or improves the actor’s qualification for the next performance of the same operation, whether it is declared as practice or not.
    • Practice is basic enough to be be the foundation for a way of being, one we are not quite yet but soon:
    • It is time to reveal humans as the beings who result from repetition. Just as the nineteenth century stood cognitively under the sign of production and the twentieth under that of reflexivity, the future should present itself under the sign of the exercise.
    • Exercise in Sloterdijk՚s sense is precisely the synthesis of production (labor) and reflexivity – work on one՚s self, but it isn't really work. The highest order of practitioners are or make themselves into “acrobats”, those who achieve levels of skill that seem impossible to the ordinary person.
    • Vertical tension

      • The idea of acrobatics introduces another challenging aspect of the book – its elitism. Most people can՚t be acrobats, and the very idea seems closely related to the Nietzschean idea of the Ubermensch, always a bit suspect in a democratic culture. But at least the hierarchy proposed here is one of talent and spiritual advancement, not force or rule.
      • By advancing their exercises on the tightrope of humanization, the extremists introduce the duty for everyone to pass a test in intermediate acrobatics to remain in the practice community of the humanized. The simple people obtain their certificate if they admit that merely watching makes them dizzy.
      • It divides ‘societies’ into classes of which the theorists of class ‘society’ know nothing. The upper class comprises those who hear the imperative that catapults them out of their old life, and the other classes all those who have never heard or seen any trace of it
      • The existence of classes presupposes (or creates) the notion of “vertical tension”, that is, the existence of different levels of achievment and status:
      • For, as much as the general talk of ‘man’ may be infused with an egalitarian pathos, whether it concerns the real or stated equality of humans against their biological background or the virtual equal value of cultures before the court of survival-worthiness – it must always take into account that humans are inescapably subject to vertical tensions, in all periods and all cultural areas. Wherever one encounters human beings, they are embedded in achievement fields and status classes. Even the outside observer cannot entirely escape the binding nature of such hierarchical phenomena, as much as they might try to view their tribal idols in isolation.
    • Reflexivity

      • This is a text that is about the phenomenon of spiritual/artistic forces that demand of their audience transformation and transcendence. It also, inevitably, has that quality itself. The title is a line from a Rilke poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo, itself a meditation on how religious force is felt and transmitted, and as a book title has an oddly ambiguous performativity – this isn՚t a self help book, and most readers of philosophy are not looking to be ordered about, yet here it is, a book that presumes and is about such presumption.
      • I found myself wrestling with the text in ways that were unusual for me – eg I ended up highlighting hundreds of passages , not my usual practice. It՚s not a dispassionate book and the author is very reflexive about what he is doing: Nietzsche is probably the closest antecedent to this text, and like Nietzsche it is bracing in its assertiveness – but also makes you wonder how much danger and madness you are letting yourself be drawn into. Also echoing Nietzsche, the text talks a lot about itself and what it is trying to do:
      • …a practice-anthropological study cannot possibly be carried out in a detached, unbiased fashion. This is because sooner or later, every discourse on ‘man’ exceeds the limits of mere description and pursues normative goals – whether these are revealed are not. At no time was this more clearly recognizable than in the early European Enlightenment, when anthropology was founded as the original ‘civil science’. At that time, the new science of human beings began to push itself in front of the traditional disciplines of logic, ontology and ethics as the modern paradigm of philosophy. Whoever entered the debate on man did so in order to assert – as a ‘progressive’ – the equation of citizen and human, either with the intention of abolishing the nobles as secessionists of humanity or elevating humanity as a whole to nobility, or – as a ‘reactionary’ – to portray man as the originally sinful, corrupted and unstable animal that one should, for one’s own sake, never release from the hand of its taskmasters…
    • Scrap

      • I can't quite say how but this book more than any other I can think of recently calls into question everything I think I know about goals and purpose.