Skip to content

Everything Is Dangerous

February 1, 2010

Here’s a nice passage from Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World, which I’ve been talking about for the last few days. The context of this passage: Braver is arguing that Foucault is at great pains to deny realism, or the idea that things in the world are just what they are, independently of human activity (see here for more about what’s wrong with realism).

The reason for [Foucault’s opposition to realism] comes out in his comment in a late interview that “my point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous. … If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do.”

… The category of abnormality [for instance] is parasitic on the category of normality, which is a definition of the … true, real nature of humanity that we all should strive to achieve. The [medical] experts’ power derives from their knowledge of this essence, their ability to measure individuals’ divergence from the ideal, and their capacity to bring these misfits into the warm fold of healthy normalcy. What is significant here is that on the basis of claiming to know the … reality of mental illnesses and … human nature, the human sciences underwrite locking people up. At the very least, many grow up convinced that they are horribly abnormal.

… This is the harm that realism holds, the “harshly real effects” … which Foucault’s historical studies highlight and disarm.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alderson Warm-Fork permalink
    February 2, 2010 1:53 pm

    Is there any statistical evidence that shows that realist philosophers are more likely to also be essentialists who subscribe to a medical model of mental illness and unqualifiedly support the psychiatric establishment?

    I mean, Osama Bin Laden believes he has knowledge of the reality of God’s will, and is probably a realist on many other points. But that, surely, can’t be an argument against realism in general.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 2, 2010 9:41 pm

    I know of no statistical data on the behavior of realist philosophers. However, I have anecdotal evidence from my family members who think white is white and black is black and male is male and female is female. Their “realism” about these things—i.e., their inability to recognize these as social constructions—buttresses some pretty abhorrent ideologies.

  3. Lee Braver permalink
    February 15, 2010 2:54 pm


    Sorry to intrude–this popped up on a Google alert.

    Thanks for discussing my book. Would you be willing to write a review? You’ve already done the hard part–reading the damn thing and figuring out where you agree and where you disagree with it. I only ask because it’s so difficult to get one’s work on people’s radar, and reviews are one of the most effective ways.

    If you’d like to discuss it, or anything else about the book, please email me at braverlj at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: