Friday, March 8, 2019

The Elementary Particles

In essence man isn’t free. That was the message of determinists like Zola and his latter day incarnation, Michel Houellebecq, whose The Elementary Particles is an essay on the shadow fate (in the form of history) casts, particularly in an atmosphere of seeming freedom. The sexual liberation of the 60’s which is the chrysalis out of which the novel grows, is ultimately rendered as a virus rather than an ideology. This was Freud’s message too, epitomized by the famous “anatomy is destiny” quote. Protestantism and in particular Calvinism lend a totally different etiology to determinism, in the notion of predestination. Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is an attempt to pinpoint the bizarre form such a constraint of liberty take in the formation of the free market. In other words the very idea of freedom can be loaded with contradiction. In his Justice For Hedgehogs the late Ronald Dworkin questions the limits of liberty. If actions have consequences then say pleasure and satiation don’t exist in a vacuum, but have their effects on others. It’s nice to think that humans can exist in a perpetual tabula rasa, but then the price to be paid would be a kind of collective amnesia in which remembrance was the province of rebels like Winston Smith of Orwell's l984.

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