Phenomenology Of Fog – OpEd


In traditional counterhegemonic discourse, fog metaphorically functions as a blanket of distortion that separates us from the reality lying out there. As a form of false consciousness, it superimposes an artificial image upon a factually clear reality. This classification of fog as an illusion is based on the assumption that the individual can dispel its falsity by choosing to see through its surface. Resistance, then, becomes a matter of optical ingenuity: the individual has to be rational enough if he wants to penetrate through the fog that covers over reality. 

Within a capitalist epoch, the metaphorical positioning of fog as false consciousness loses its critical appeal. In our daily lives, we are constantly bombarded with the message to overcome false consciousness and find our true self. We are asked to follow our self-interest, to treat our decisions as a series of formal contracts and, finally, to hone ourselves as profit-generating human capital. These stratagems leave no doubt that the self is to be transformed into a transparent portfolio whose inner variations can be managed in a detailed manner. The transparency of the self gives rise to a generally naked reality: there is no aspect of the world that can’t be included in the calculus of profit-making. Given this bourgeois ideology of absolute transparency, fog no longer appears as a screen of distortion. On the contrary, it is welcomed as a mystical source of obscurity that, by blurring our surroundings, can provide us with a much needed distance from a naked reality. For a moment, fog suspends our established relations with our environs. As visibility becomes low, we feel a sense of danger and thrill about what is to come next. 

This model of enjoyment is a template for right-wing politics. All our excitement during foggy weather is dependent upon fog as an enveloping aura that has the power to create new experiences by imposing opaqueness upon its surroundings. In a fascist culture, the strongman similarly functions as an encompassing echo-chamber in which all dissident groups are suppressed. The imposition of a new authoritarian coating upon a pre-existing reality of exploitation and corruption enables us to live differently with regards to the mundane problems of a capitalist society. What is important to note here is that the mystical fog of fascist ideology isn’t a mere image. Rather, it is a deeply experienced, practically forceful layer of reality in which we are situated. When we are in fog, we can’t simply wish it away – it remains there even if we call it an optical illusion. It is a meteorological phenomenon that happens when the air near the earth’s surface becomes saturated with water vapor, leading to the condensation of water droplets or ice crystals. Fascist ideology possesses the same real effectivity – it is a socio-structural phenomenon that arises as a counter-revolutionary response to the worsening crises of capitalism. 

When understood as a material phenomenon, the mysticism of fog dissipates. The sense of newness aroused by fog is quickly dashed as we enter an urban heat island, wherein the heat generated by buildings, vehicles, and industrial processes prevents the air from cooling sufficiently for fog to form. Thus, reality inevitably intervenes to shatter the non-visibility and opacity that we were earlier enjoying. This uncovering is radically different from the purely rationalist counterhegemonic discourse that I mentioned in the beginning. In rationalist ideology-critique, fog doesn’t possess any ontological heft; it is treated as a mere illusion that one can exit at will. This corresponds to the form of capital, wherein anything that can be used for profit-making (exchange-value) is accorded reality while anything that resists profit-making (use-value) is called unreal. 

That’s why the nakedness of reality promoted by capitalism feels oppressive: it is a nakedness and uncovering that is based on comprehensive subjection to the bourgeoisie. Liberal rationalist perpetuates this oppressive nakedness by simply dismissing ideas that it doesn’t like as “false”. Such dogmatic ideology-critique accounts for reactionary fantasies wherein fog is placed as a haven of spiritualist invisibility. A materialist perspective destroys the basis for these fantasies by removing the centrality of the profit-making impulse. With this removal, there is no unilateral standard by which we can erect a division of “real” and “unreal”. Everything can be analyzed as a contingent result of material motions and mechanisms. Fog, then, is no longer an unreal illusion; it is an objective product birthed by the mechanisms of a single reality. Fascist ideology, concomitantly, is not a pedagogical mistake existing in the minds of those affected. On the contrary, it is an actual social system exercising practical force upon people. It has to be combated not through a verbal fight of ideas but through a social struggle of classes. 

Yanis Iqbal

Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at [email protected]. He has published more than 250 articles on social, political, economic, and cultural issues. He is the author of the book "Education in the Age of Neoliberal Dystopia".

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