A general argument against totalizing critiques

click on images for full-size:

Street scene, Warsaw

Exposition center, Providence, Rhode Island

Tourists on one cruise ship staring at other cruise ships

Here is a general argument against any totalizing criticism of today's places.

Totalizing criticisms cite various causes for our situation, and the criticisms gain added force from an implicit claim that the processes they describe are unstoppable by anything short of global revolution.

Strong claims about universal forces and total changes should require considerable support, yet critics seldom do more than cite a few striking examples and appeal to questionable background theories.

The general argument against totalizing criticisms of places today (as commodified, simulacral, liquid, etc.) is that while these criticisms can be argued for in different ways, none of the ways support their strong claims.

  1. First, such criticisms might be made as empirical generalizations.

  2. Second, such criticisms might appeal to some necessary transcendental or universal condition that is required for something to be a place at all.
  3. Third, such claims may try to be both necessary and empirical by appealing to some historically variable a priori.

In addition, when they are totalizing, such claims run the risk of becoming tautological, and of offering no practical suggestions. 

The effects cited in most totalizing criticisms involve a basic feature of human life, self-distance, and a basic feature of all places, that they are spread out and so open to external access, non-grammatical usage and external systems. But that should not be turned into the claim that places have lost all substantiality.