But the real world was a whole and perfect entity." (Philosophy Is a Way of Life)
The theory of dualism and its implications in term ethics and politics can be derived from the following concise but insightful analysis.
A dualistic view of reality understands there to be two (thus dualism) levels of existence. The top level... is ultimate reality, and consists of ideas, such as truth, beauty, goodness, justice, perfection. In other words, the ultimate reality is non-corporeal, or non-physical. It is the level of spirit and deity. The lower level is the physical world which in which we live. It is the opposite of ultimate reality, thus it is not real in the sense that it is not ultimate. It contains the imperfect physical manifestations of the ideas that exist in the perfect plane, so by definition it is characterized by falsehood, ugliness, evil, injustice, imperfection.
Note that the separation of truth and falsity or illusion clearly implies that those aspects of reality which do not accord with the ideal are relegated to a subservient and marginalized status. This leads to the present discussion of the politics of difference in that difference in the Platonic sense divides existence into positive and negative polarities. In other words, the dualistic understanding of difference is judgmental and can be used to separate society or culture into "us" and "other," which is a division that the politics of difference attempt to analyze and redress.
Therefore, dualistic thought has permeated Western thought and has only recently been interrogated in the postmodern refusal to accept the idealistic constructs and ideologies of the past. However, what Platonic thought achieved was to create the dualistic separation of the real and the unreal, the known and the unknown and to accentuate the difference between things in a pejorative sense. This has important implications for any discussion of the meaning of the politics of difference.
Consequently, dualistic or binary thought was critiqued and interrogated by Nietzsche and later in the works of Jacques Derrida, among others. Nietzsche critiqued the trajectory of Western metaphysics from a materialist perspective and viewed the Platonic ideal forms as a 'fantasy," which he considered to be dangerous in that it misled humanity and falsified the nature of truth and reality. One needs only to consider Hitler and the ideology of a superior race to see the relevance of this critique
However, the purpose of this chapter is not to digress into a discussion of the convoluted area of the critique of Western metaphysics. What is important in the present discussion is the understanding of the postmodern critique of the metaphysics of dualism as it relates to the discourse on difference. The Western metaphysical tradition was interrogated by Heidegger, Derrida and many other Marxist and post-structural thinkers. The work of Derrida in particular can possibly be cited as a leading example of the general trend towards an understanding of difference that moves beyond dualism in western thinking.
Derrida, like many other deconstructionists and postmodern thinkers, worked from the assumption that truth is not "fixed" or limited in any ideal sense, but rather that truth and reality are relative and contingent. This is an extremely important aspect in terms of the understanding of the modern concept of difference.
Derrida also criticizes the notions that was derived from Plato that truth is fixed and stable. Language for Derrida is the vehicle or the means which determines truth and reality and the relative nature of truth is embedded in the structure of language. Heidegger approaches the problem in a different way and sees the fault lines in Western thought to be centered on the obsession with a humanistic and subjective approach to Being or reality, which he works out in his discussion of Ereignis and Dasein.
In summary, and for the purpose of the present discussion, while one could elaborate endlessly on these postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers, what is important to consider in terms of difference is that the Derrida and others attempted to show that the dualistic and logocentric worldview which presupposed a fixed and stable reality or truth is severely flawed and in need of "deconstruction." For Derrida in particular truth and reality lies in difference and not in essence.
Things only can be by virtue of differing. Without differing, no time and space; if time and space are constituted through differing/deferring as constitutive of them, there are no absolute identities nothing 'is itself' by virtue of its being, is simple and absolute identity with itself. Any ultimate, transhistorical truth is only a truth by virtue of difference; so that no ultimate 'truth' can be, and be itself, nor can it be outside of time and space, and hence beyond contingency. Any 'truth' exists, then, only continently, and relationally, through differance. Before essence comes existence, the conditionality of space and time: existentialism.
Similarly, Heidegger suggests that that reality is much more complex and evasive than the logocentric or rational traditions suggest. Furthermore, there is a gap or a difference between man and reality or Being, which is the true focus of philosophical attention. Derrida sees modern thought and logocentrism as "...another philosophical hierarchy that somehow constructs itself" (Nuncio R, V.). The problematics of the search for truth is central to Derridean thought. "What is truth? Whether a truth formulated is universal or relative, the grounding principle is to locate its presence of truth somewhere, within, beneath and endless or temporal searching" (Nuncio R, V.).
In the study, Differance, Derrida plays on this term and shows how meaning can never be grasped but is always displaced or deferred. In other words, meaning and truth are not static and understanding reality through language is not a simple matter of connecting the signifier with the signified; or the word and its apparent designated meaning. In fact for Derrida the connection between the signifier and signified is "disrupted'. Meaning is always in a process of relative knowing or unknowing and always moving away from the human attempt to appropriate it or contain it. Heidegger goes even further and states that the attempt to contain or control truth in a subjective context is the very thing that distances us from truth and separates man from Being and from an understanding of reality.
To take the Derridean analysis of Differance a step further, the important aspect is that through language reality is constructed and not discovered. Reality is not a static entity that can be observed but we, through language, actually construct realties, which are relative and contingent on history, time and place. This leads Derrida to suggest that all constructions of knowledge such as the traditions of Western metaphysics are in reality "fictions" that can be deconstructed and not a final truth in themselves. Meaning is continually eliding and evading attempts to confine it to a certain context or interpretation. This would lead Derrida in the late 1970's to put forward the argument that Western language was constituted by dichotomies and binary oppositions to produce meanings. An obvious example is 'gender', which relies on male and female, masculine and feminine, boy and girl to help grasp meaning on gender. Western languages tries to find fixed meanings that are final for words (both spoken and written) through these oppositions.
There are many examples in political and sociological theory of the way that the binary opposites that constitute language and culture play a decisive role in the issue of difference and otherness. The significance of binary oppositions is that the 'other' is not equal to the main part of the pair. As one scholar states, the naming of difference not only mark, it signifies and speaks. In a world that is material and not merely symbolic, they shape the spaces we can and cannot inhabit our physical landscapes (Frankenberg, 1993). The other is imprisoned within a different space. In other words, the spaces in which 'we', 'I', and 'they' are positioned, are constrained by the way subjectivity is made spatial. Positionality is not simply a matter of places but of the spatial relationships between places and spaces and the distribution of people between them. This view is emphasized by Ghandi (1998), who states there is a hierarchy of value, set culturally in binaries and dichotomies. One always has the higher ranking and is 'privileged' over the 'other'. It is the privileged term that tends to establish the cultural standard of normality as they have more status.
Theorists like Spivak describes the subaltern as the person of such marginalized social position that she is left with no words to speak, cannot speak at all. (Chow, 1998). The other, the native, is something slimy (Bauman, 1997b), and is the bad thing to be replaced (Chow, 1993). Identities therefore tend to operate through exclusion, through the discursive construction of a constitutive outside and the production of abjected and marginalized subjects (Hall, 1996b). To reiterate in this context, Derrida's work critiques how writing produces otherness. He links the…