Animals All

Following on from the preceding post, here’s another few words from Adorno that fit well, this time from his unfinished book on Beethoven:

“What I find so suspect in Kantian ethics is the ‘dignity’ which they attribute to man in the name of autonomy. A capacity for moral self-determination is ascribed to human beings as an absolute advantage—as a moral profit—while being covertly used to legitimize dominance—dominance over nature. This is the real aspect of the claim that man can dictate the laws of nature. Ethical dignity in Kant is a demarcation of difference. It is directed against animals. Implicitly it excludes man from nature, so that its humanity threatens incessantly to revert to the inhuman. It leaves no room for pity. Nothing is more abhorrent to the Kantian than a reminder of man’s resemblance to animals. Animals play for the idealist system virtually the same role as the Jews for fascism. To revile man as an animal—that is genuine idealism.”

If the reader can excuse such a long quotation, I want to use it to get some perspective on the latest form of idealism, the Silicon Valley variety, which preaches the emergence of artificial intelligence from the internet—the so-called “singularity.” One of the leading proponents of this madness is Ray Kurzweil, who looks forward to the day when the body becomes obsolete. Fundamental to this view is the belief that intelligence exists exclusively in the brain, and even more basic is an operational theory of intelligence—the so-called Turing test. With Adorno’s input I guess we can now call it Silicon Valley fascism. Personally I don’t know why anyone would want to get rid of their body, but the very idea is based on the mistake that somehow one has a body—one is a body, a body which will die in time. Such is the delusion of idealism—that somehow we are more than bodies. But that’s not quite the last word. There is something in us that refuses the limits of organic life, but it can only be manifested in the material world. I would call it the will. More about that another day, but these questions are important for abstraction. Certainly de Kooning, with his thoroughgoing embrace of “vulgarity” had a position on it. In the title of this piece the name “Angels” is both a truth and an irony. A woman might be an angel, but she is a body. An eye peering out of a vagina is the perfect riposte to body-hating idealism.


Willem de Kooning, Pink Angels 1945

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