Is opinion involuntary?

This seems counterintuitive, but it has fairly compelling evidence. Why would some people be amused at being the number one search result for motherfucker, where others might find it a rather regrettable consequence of excessive resort to profanity? Why am I so amused at being the number one search result in the rather narrow field of antimony fuzzle? I suppose it’s a matter of asserting distinctiveness.

Reading Practical Reason by Pierre Bourdieu, I was struck by the assertion that opinion is not a cognitive activity, but a bodily one. Opinion is the internalization of indoctrination by the state?

The state does not necessarily have to give orders to exercise physical coercion in order to produce an ordered social world, as long as it is capable of producing embodied cognitive structures that accord with objective structures and thus ensuring the belief of which Hume spoke — namely doxic submission to the established order.

The citation from Hume includes the observation that “only opinion can sustain the governors.” So, extrapolating this just a bit, the reason why some people might embrace such seemingly negative descriptors such as “rageboy” or “motherfucker” might actually lie in the character of the American state, which takes as its essence a sort of adolescent rebellion against the norm. It’s not a gesture against the established order, but actually a coherence with it: institutionalized rebellion.

While I resist social constructivism, I cannot deny the attractiveness of its argument. It plays directly into the formulation of national enabling myths, such as the American myth of rebellion and nonconformity. Such things present an interesting merger of historic, and mythic, truths. The project which unfolded at the beginning of the twentieth century is my ongoing fascination here, and its immanence. The divisions, which Bourdieu always links with visions, resolve themselves into the parts which construct a national identity.

The construction of a state is accompanied by the construction of a sort of common historical transcendental, immanent to all its “subjects.” Through framing it imposes upon practices, the state establishes and inculcates common forms and categories of perception and appreciation, social frameworks of perceptions, of understanding or of memory, in short state forms of classification. It thereby creates the conditions for a kind of habitus which is itself the foundation of a consensus over this set of shared evidences constitutive of (national) common sense.

What is most interesting to me is that since this national identity is constantly under debate in America, all attempts at national epic seem to be doomed to failure. We have conformed to nonconformity so neatly and precisely that consensus seems to be that there can be no consensus.

It has become a deep cognitive structure. One of the interesting obsessions of the Romantic period in England is the questioning of what remains to be done, once a national epic is written (in the case of England, that would be Milton’s Paradise Lost). The prevalent theory is that the muse was on an endless westward flight, and a hundred years on there were several attempts at a national epic in America, all pronounced failures. The easy answer, and the answer embraced by most, is that the epic as a form was dead. The more difficult possibility which enters my mind now, is that our national character merely prohibits it.

Bourdieu’s point really is that if we can identify these structures, we can circumvent them. Why do we constantly agree to disagree? It seems like a strange foundation for a society, but it seems to be there. Reflecting on Robinson Crusoe you can see the elements of those “cognitive structures” (as contrasted with actual cognition) in Crusoe’s movement from a hapless tormented wretch, to a spiritual man, to a king, to a general, and eventually, at the time of his rescue his assumption of the rights and responsibilities as a governor. Why would a man alone give himself titles? Perhaps because to crown oneself as the top of any particular category is to assert distinctiveness from within those inherited structures, all the while conforming to them.

It was just a thought.

1 thought on “Doxa”

  1. I think we did have a national epic: Moby Dick. It took a while to catch on, and now it’s probably thought of by many readers in the US the way Parardise Lost was considered after WWI in Britain. Of course, like all epics, it is the tale of a hero/anti-hero as well as that of national character. And the white whale continues to have resonance (see the exposition on whiteness). … Just another thought.
    Maybe America’s national epic is on a constant evolutionary trajectory, much like the English language over here. Our literature started with knockoffs of the narrative style of English novels (Brockden Brown’s Wieland, an attempted gothic nov.), then travel narrative (Fenimore Cooper’s boring, ridiculous attempts to capture native American life), then Moby Dick, which enveloped every type of narrative style and everything in existence that could be done in a novel. So, yea, maybe Moby Dick is it.But check out Gilles Deleuze A Thousand Platueaus, where he says language is an exercise in power and domination, rather than communication. When we communicate, we do battle, even if only to maybe inflate our ontological status. Take a look at the semi-autobio. novels of the late 90’s, the Eggers’ and Bruno Maddox-type authors who sort of undid any real chances of novelty in books, by making the standard of novel writing hinge on cynicism and irony. Same situation is happening in TV. I would pick a summber blockbuster action flick as America’s National myth… maybe “Pearl Harbor:” a ;ot of big tricks, special effects, and national PR gear greasing.Sorry. Got a little carried away with the comments section, here.I like your site!

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