Like quacks selling a cure-all medicine, we all seem to be stuck reading symptoms backwards. Proper analyses of the world requires one to read the world symptomatically. The simple fact that history cannot be repeated, that any given event or phenomena is a one-time event, means that we cannot rely on the scientific method alone to acquire insight. A symptomatic reading should take a central position in any analysis of the world.
Today, symptomatic readings are hegemonic, but unfortunately, they are performed upside-down and inside out. Put simply, a symptomatic reading will register the surface level phenomena as the start of the analysis, and from there build theories about the world. A good analysis of the world requires that the person doing the analysis does their best to remove any assumptions from their mind. Such a task is impossible, but this ideal should be maintained at every step. If Francis Bacon gave us anything to use in critical theory, it is his theory of the idols. A constant check on the idols is the best we can do. The residual bias of the person doing the analysis will be readily available to the reader should they read the text properly. Beginning from the surface, maintaining a commitment to keeping a close watch on the idols, and refusing to allow any assumptions about the world to influence the direction of the enquiry, are the basic ingredients to a symptomatic analysis of the world. What the result will be is somewhat of a mystery. The whole point of analysis is to understand, even if this understanding goes against what was previously considered to be true, and even if the conclusion is not yet understandable.
A doctor begins with symptoms; a runny nose, a rash, swollen glands. And from there the doctors knows from experience that there are only so many sicknesses that can give these symptoms. They run some tests, the check for more symptoms by asking more questions and performing more checks. Eventually they give a diagnosis; tonsillitis. Notice, the doctor never looks for tonsillitis as such inside the patient. Its silly to even consider that they would. The doctor knows that the patient has tonsillitis solely through the symptoms of the patient. We can take this further. If the patient displays all the signs of tonsillitis, they might not have tonsillitis. If after a course of medicine and rest the symptoms persist, then the doctor knows that something else is wrong with the patient. And so, they perform more tests, look for other symptoms, and so on. This procedure might result in the discovery of a new illness, and as a new illness the doctor would have almost no knowledge about it.
Today almost every analysis given of any event is a symptomatic analysis flipped on its head. To continue the metaphor of the doctor, almost every person giving an analysis of the world is convinced that every patient has tonsillitis. Sore knees? Tonsillitis. Lack of sleep? Tonsillitis. High blood pressure? Tonsillitis. All of the above or something else entirely? Tonsillitis. Today, analysis is very often a not-so-elaborate attempt to prove that every event is a result of patriarchy, the looney-left, capitalism, liberals, racism, or any other singular cause. In this procedure, symptoms are not read, but evidence is gathered. Telling of our times, one of the best quotes for this problem comes from a cartoon: “Yeah, sure, I mean, if you spend all day shuffling words around, you can make anything sound bad, Morty.” And this is what people tend to do, but in a specific way designed to not just make “anything sound bad,” but make anything sound bad because X caused it to happen. The person is already absolutely convinced that X is the cause of the world’s problems. Before they have chance to look at what’s going on and engage in some kind of proper analysis, they have decided the outcome in advance. They are convinced that X is the culprit and all they have to do is gather the evidence. Cherry-picking is common, but the magic of turning contrary evidence into proof of their convictions is the main tactic. Everyone is doing this.