Anyone who has ever taken or taught a philosophy class is familiar with the claim "[Blank] is subjective" in which the [Blank] in question could be anything from literary interpretations to ethical norms. This response effectively ends any and all cultural and philosophical discussion, which is why it is so aggravating. One response is to argue against this claim, to point out that not every interpretation of a poem, novel, or film, is authorized, that there are better or worse interpretations, with respect to cultural version. With respect to the ethical or political arguments it is tempting to point out that the very existence of ethics, of society, presupposes norms that are shared as well as debated and challenged.
What if we took a different perspective? Instead of arguing against this view, ask the question of its conditions. To offer a criticism in the Marxist sense. By Marxist sense I mean specifically the criticism that Marx offers of idealism, of philosophy, in The German Ideology. In that text Marx gives the conditions of how it is that the world appears so upside down that ideas and their criticism rather than material conditions drive and determine history. So we could ask a similar question, how has subjectivity, subjective opinion and perspective, has come to appear as so prevalent and powerful. How did we come to live under the reign of subjectivity?
In a move that will surprise no one who has read this blog that I find a useful starting point for answering this question Frank Fischbach's book Marx with Spinoza. In that text Fischbach argues that rather than seen alienation as an alienation from subjectivity, a reduction of a subject to an object, it is subjectivity itself that is an alienation, an alienation from objectivity, a privation of the world. As Fischbach argues: