Friday, February 17, 2012

False Consiousness

A grammatical inversion just occurred to me, though I knew it could not be my own invention. Sure enough, it is used in a 1995 about Chinese rural development by Kate Xiao Zhou and Lynn T. White in the Journal of Developing Areas 29 (4):

Politics can be inarticulate. People can create massive governmental change, without even being fully aware what they are doing. Most social science oddly presumes that ideal ends are usually clear in the minds of actors. This premise about the lucidity of preferences aids theorists trying to reconstruct the rationality of action. But that purely analytic virtue is not empirical evidence to prove anything about consciousness. In an attempt to explain the speed of Eastern European changes during 1989, for example, Timur Kuran suggests that people reached a revolutionary threshold for collective action when the psychological costs of denying their preferences under state repression exceeded the external costs ofjoining the movement to change the state." His logic about "preference falsification" is interesting because it tries to account for motives. It does not just refer to the contextual factors about which evidence is easier to gather. But Kuran refers in effect to conscious falseness, not false consciousness. People can be discreet in politics; their external behavior in such cases need not show they lie to themselves. But also, there is a vast grey area between these two conditions. Awareness can simply be fuzzier than a strict rational-action accounting of preferences suggests. Also, people often have an interest in making sure their ideals remain ambiguous, not choosing among preferences until the net benefits of doing so are clear. To say that they "have" specific preferences that can be evidenced as separate from their actions would be to ignore these endemic aspects of rationality. ("Quiet Politics and Rural Enterprise in Reform China", p. 481-2)

This allows us to construct a cynical aphorism: An ideology converts conscious falseness into false consciousness, an intellectual, vice versa.

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