FEYERABEND ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE: the need for « contrary causes »

Paul Feyerabend’s texts provide us with useful perspectives on the Zizek/Chomsky divide. For example, in CONSOLATIONS FOR THE SPECIALIST (available online here), he has this to say about the relative efficacy of argument and of immersion:

« We certainly cannot assume that what is possible in the case of children- to slide, on the smallest provocation, into entirely new reaction patterns – should be beyond the reach of adults and inaccessible to one of the most outstanding adult activities, science. Moreover, it is likely that catastrophic changes, frequent disappointment of expectations, crises in the development of our knowledge will change and, perhaps, multiply reaction patterns (including patterns of argumentation) just as an ecological crisis multiplies mutations…. Now- is this not exactly the kind of change we may expect at periods of scientific revolution? Does it not restrict the effectiveness of arguments (except as a causative agent leading todevelopments very different from what is demanded by their content)? Does not the occurrence of such a change show that science which, after all, is part of the evolution of man is not entirely rational and cannot be entirely rational? For if there are events, not necessarily argunments which cause us to adopt new standards, will it then not be up to the defenders of the status quo to provide, not just arguments, but also contrary causes? And if the old forms of argumentation turn out to be too weak a contrary cause, must they then not either give up, or resort to stronger and more `irrational’ means? (It is very difficult, and perhaps entirely impossible, to combat the effects of brainwashing by argument.) Even the most puritanical rationalist will then be forced to leave argument and to use, say, propaganda not because some of his arguments have ceased to be valid, but because the psychological conditions which enable him to effectively argue in this manner and thereby to influence others have disappeared. And what is the use of an argument that leaves people unmoved? »

« Argument » is often a conservative force, when it requires translating new claims into old language, and excludes « sliding » int new language patterns and new behavioural patterns. Even the practice of science includes such sliding into incommensurable paradigms, and « empirical testability » may come after, and not universally before, such slides. Chomsky seems to be worried that such a slide may be in progress, as Zizek gains not just in popularity but in credence. « Contrary causes » include a more multi-layered form of argument that engages the reader in other ways than a patient didactic spelling out of facts that presupposes a shared framework (leaving them « unmoved »). To get people to see in terms of a different paradigm they must be « moved ».

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