There is a form of ontological bidding that gets to something in me, some resident respect for the old fashioned, Aristotelian rules of logic. It happens when a subspecies is elevated, ontologically, to a status equal to the species. I see this happen in advertising and the whole public discourse thing all the time. Two instances:

First: the chemical/organic divide. All things on the earth, including you and me, are chemical. There is, in fact, a whole branch of chemistry devoted to the organic, called organic chemistry. This we know. But you have merely to listen in to a conversation about food to realize that in the popular mind, chemical means one thing and organic means another. So this or that food is routinely dismissed as full of “chemicals”. I know, pretty much, what this means. It means that the route to the food product went through the laboratory rather than through the butcher or the fruit and vegetable merchants. In fact, the two streams are mixed – and always have been – but that is, pretty much, what the subject is. However, the mistake, the failure to recognize the ontological relationship in its true proportion, makes it easy to advertise “organic” products against the image of “chemicals” – in other words, to perpetrate a fraud. This failure to recognize our chemistry is, in a sense, a cultural car crash between the perpetual human notion that we are more than our matter – that we are spirits in the material world – and the notion that we are material, as expressed in all our everyday designs, from medicine to bans of beans. A more “spiritual” food type feeds this dualism.

Myself, I am not averse to spirit-talk, in my own way. But I am averse to its perversion, to ontological bidding that is merely bluffs.

The second instance: “conspiracy theory”. Technically, conspiracy is well a well recognized state of affairs in law. It is, as well, a very old political technique. And yet, conspiracy theory is always associated, in the press, with “nuts”, with wild-eyed populists flogging fake news. At the same time, the press calmly retails, without blinking, conspiracy theories that are approved by the establishment. Thus, the foreign policy of the United States was run on the premise that communists conspired, and it was dangerous to one’s career to dissent from this idea from about 1948 to 1969. The conspiracy theory of “communist takeover” took on a new popularity in the 80s, with Reagan. Similarly, the conspiracy theory that Islamic terrorist groups are all having secret meetings to attack the West is now an orthodoxy that the press presents as simple fact.

However, in truth, it is a conspiracy theory. The establishment can’t do without conspiracy, since it happens to be a concept that represents a certain truth about secret decision-making and networks of social actors. In fact, the U.S. government spends billions of dollars a year to conspire – this is what “counter-intelligence” consists of. Yet, in the public discourse, no American official speaks of the successful conspiracies that have been launched by the government. If they mention a conspiracy theory, it is always to denigrate some theory of conspiracy by simply naming it. This is, again, a case of ontological bidding through bluff.

It is a difficult habit to eradicate. It is one, however, that goes against my grain. I think ontological bidding through bluff is a very strong marker of ideology as a discourse formation.

This is my logic lesson for today. Thank you, put contributions in the box (the one labeled better living through chemistry! The other labeled who killed Kennedy? ) posted by the door.

I am a translator, author and editor living in Paris. I finished a novel in March, and am busy trying to find an agent. In the meantime, I thought I'd like to start a magazine. Willett's is meant to be a venue for the review of books, personal reflections, and political bitching - and everything else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *