Moderation is bullshit. Stay true to your desire.
If you desire something authentically, and in the process get to know the object you desire, you will realise that it is conditional on its negation, in the same way that light implies dark, and self implies other. You will realise that its presence implies its absence.
On a practical level, the more you enact the enjoyment of your object of desire, the less you will enjoy it. Its enjoyment will shift to the act itself, and its inability to get directly at the object. The object has become compromised; you have rubbed off on it. You are no longer able to get the semblance of objectivity required to sustain desire.
This was already suggested by a certain excessive element at the core of enjoyment (which Lacanian psychoanalysis claims is at the heart of ALL enjoyment) expressed by the statement that “this is too good to be true”. This is an expression of almost its opposite- of the moment when our idea of reality is exposed as a lie and in fact reality is much richer and more beautiful than we’d considered up until that point. But it is nonetheless a reflection of the fact that, while this feeling may make us feel as if we can transcend the boundaries of such a reality, to the point of immortality, there are limits- we will one day lose the object, we will one day die. So it is in the back of our heads that we need to come back to the ground.
If you carry on enacting enjoyment despite the enjoyment becoming deficient, your situation may become like that of an addict, who has the outward appearance of enjoying something but in fact enjoys it not at all.
What will most likely happen is that your desire for the object leads you to enjoy a certain denial of the object, in the form of its opposite (the “dark side” of it) or its absence. This will give you a sense of the weight and the contours of the object, and thus create the space for renewed enjoyment. But make no mistake- both forms of enjoyment are two sides of the same coin of desire. And so begins a form of regulation of one’s enjoyment.
The problem with the ideology of moderation is that it teaches that enjoyment of the object and its regulation are separate things, each to be applied as a “check” on the other. This reification of regulation as moderation leads to a suspicion of the desire that brought about enjoyment in the first place. This injects an element of guilt into desire and then into enjoyment.
The ideological reasons for this are many, but stem from the attempt to control society’s desires by making individuals feel as if their desire is that which needs to be controlled by some sort of state apparatus or else internalised (ie not internal regulation), whereas in fact this is only an imagined, mystified desire packaged as an opium for the masses. A natural process is being co-opted into a technology of control, and regulation becomes a form of repression.
Guilt is the main implication of this, and there is a further twist- guilt in enjoyment of the object will lead to guilt in the regulation of the object. The perceived failure of one to fulfil its function is projected onto the other one, so the question arises- I’ve regulated and deprived myself, why can’t I properly enjoy it now? And so this leads individuals to a state of anxiety.
The obverse of this is the situation where, ideologically speaking, all of the external commands for regulation have been properly complied with, because the controlling agent says so. And then the question “why can’t I properly enjoy it now?” is answered, or rather covered up by- “go, enjoy it all you like”. This perverse, orgiastic reaction is the pejoratively “excessive” dimension of enjoyment, but make no mistake- it is the obverse of moderation, and the result of it. We are talking about the eruption of fundamentalist violence as a response to the perceived nihilism of certain institutions or ways of life, or something as simple as the post-diet rebound binge.
This is not to say that external regulation cannot channel individual enjoyment in the right way by lifting the burden of dealing with the negation of one’s object of desire from that individual, but such external regulation necessarily needs to be participatory and transparent. Not that its nature can ever be completely disclosed, but it can be revealed such as by making obscene jokes that make clear that the rules are also there to channel our wild side. The ethics of moderation fail to meet any of these criteria.
One can also draw out this argument to the associated ethics of balance. Balance presupposes that the things to be balanced have no prior relationship, but are brought together by their antagonism. To take a somewhat awkward example, Benjamin Franklin said that whoever sacrifices liberty for security deserves neither. The reason this is true is not that freedom is superior to liberty as a value, but simply that security, conceived properly, signifies nothing more than the limits of freedom, as conceived from within the logic of freedom.
This has a range of implications, and I’ll deal with two main ones for now. First and foremost, be very sceptical of someone who calls for moderation, in the sense of making you believe that you can have too much of a good thing. Sure, in crisis situations misunderstandings may occur, and the manifestation of one person’s desire may affect the welfare of another, and so an objective level moderation may be necessary, but these situations are rarer than the institutions of control may make us think, and do not call for a reified ethics of moderation.
Secondly, the idea that purely by acting out of a motivation to overcome social regulation we are enacting our own enjoyment should be avoided, as this is to take social regulation too seriously and lose track of how it co-opts a more organic process. It is often accompanied by a motivation to overcome all regulation and negation, which is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Thirdly, if we are to use desire as a way of achieving our highest goals, we must cast out all objects for which we cannot envision a healthy form of negation, for they are not objects of desire, and to call them so would be to reify them in a dangerous manner. The most obvious of these is political systems. We should not desire democracy or communism in principle, instead we should desire equality (which has a healthy negation in the form of diversity) and justice (which, conceived as fairness, has a healthy negation in the form of equality), and desire democracy and communism as the only means of achieving those. So be suspicious of anyone who frames political desires purely in terms of such systems, especially where it is done, as is often the case, as a conciliatory form of accommodating different desires. Objects of desire should be fought for in the here, the now, and the past and the future.
This post was in part inspired by Sam Kriss’ ‘Death to the Moderates’, which is a polemic, geopolitical critique of moderation where this is a psychoanalytic critique. Give it a read, and the rest of his blog too, for the finest brand of acerbic critical theory you’ll find in the blogosphere.