“Every Man a King!” – The Populist Challenge

“Every Man a King!” —Huey P. Long

Populism whether of the Left or Right is a fool’s game, a game played out against the backdrop of defeat and resentment. It’s been played out before and the game’s afoot again. Robert Penn Warren, that old Southern Agrarian, poet of a mixed bag of fatalism once sounded the depths of that mire with his character Willie Stark in All the King’s Men:

“Friends, red-necks, suckers, and fellow hicks,” he would say, leaning forward, leaning at them, looking at them. And he would pause, letting the words sink in. And in the quiet the crowd would be restless and resentful under these words, the words they knew people called them but the words nobody ever got up and called them to their face. “Yeah,” he would say, “yeah,” and twist his mouth on the word, “that’s what you are, and you needn’t get mad at me for telling you. Well, get mad, but I’m telling you. That’s what you are. And me— I’m one, too. Oh, I’m a red-neck, for the sun has beat down on me. Oh, I’m a sucker, for I fell for that sweet-talking fellow in the fine automobile. Oh, I took the sugar tit and hushed my crying. Oh, I’m a hick and I am the hick they were going to try to use and split the hick vote. But I’m standing here on my own hind legs, for even a dog can learn to do that, give him time. I learned. It took me a time but I learned, and here I am on my own hind legs.” And he would lean at them. And demand, “Are you, are you on your hind legs? Have you learned that much yet? You think you can learn that much?”1

Willie was an echo of a real life populist, Huey P. Long. A lot of people forget that populism wasn’t always a thing of the Right-wing Republicans. No, the Democrats had their own variety in the life and times of Long. Nicknamed “The Kingfish”, Long was an American politician who served as the 40th governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932 and was a member of the United States Senate from 1932 until his assassination in 1935. As the political leader of Louisiana, he commanded wide networks of supporters and was willing to take forceful action. He established the long-term political prominence of the Long family.

A Democrat and an outspoken left-wing populist, Long denounced the wealthy elites and the banks. Initially a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first 100 days in office, Long eventually came to believe that Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies did not do enough to alleviate the issues of the poor. In time, he developed his own solution: the “Share Our Wealth” program, which would establish a net asset tax, the earnings of which would be redistributed so as to curb the poverty and homelessness epidemic nationwide during the Great Depression.

He sought to improve the lot of poor blacks as well as poor whites during his career as a politician. Under Long’s leadership, hospitals and educational institutions were expanded, a system of charity hospitals was set up that provided health care for the poor, and massive highway construction and free bridges brought an end to rural isolation.

His enemy was the corporate monopolists like Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Kept faith with his people and they with him. He gave them something and the corporations paid for it … He is not to be dismissed as a mere rabble-rouser or as the leader of a gang of boodlers … He brought to his career a streak of genius, yet in his programs and tactics he was as indigenous to Louisiana as pine trees and petroleum. Key adds that the Long organization used:  Patronage, in all its forms, deprivation of perquisites, economic pressure, political coercion in one form or another, and now and then outright thuggery … Long commanded the intense loyalties of a substantial proportion of the population … [Supporters] came to believe that here was a man with a genuine concern for their welfare, not one of the gentlemanly do-nothing governors who had ruled the state for many decades.

Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here was written with the goal of hurting Long’s chances in the 1936 election for Governor, Lewis’s novel outfits President Berzelius Windrip with a private militia, concentration camps, and a chief of staff who sounds like Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Lewis also outfits Windrip with a racist ideology completely alien to Long and a Main Street conservatism he also never embraced. Ultimately, Windrip is a venal and cynical showman who plays to the conformist resentments Lewis diagnosed in Main Street and Babbitt. Some critics argued that the key weakness of the novel is not that he decks out American politicians with sinister European touches, but that he finally conceives of fascism and totalitarianism in terms of traditional American political models rather than seeing them as introducing a new kind of society and a new kind of regime. Windrip is less a Nazi than a con-man and manipulator who knows how to appeal to people’s desperation, but neither he nor his followers are in the grip of the kind of world-transforming ideology like Hitler’s National Socialism.

As we begin to move into the next election cycle we might benefit with studying such creatures as Long and other populist movements. The two front men on the Republican (Trump) and Democrat (Joe Biden) are both hype artists, con-men and populists for their respective working-classes, both offer the moon and cater to the fringe masses in their appeals; both have the rhetorical style of the high-low culture which sounds the darker powers of both parties.

Populism has been used by both parties in the past and seems to be on its come-back now. A common framework for interpreting populism is known as the ideational approach: this defines populism as an ideology which presents “the people” as a morally good force against “the elite”, who are perceived as corrupt and self-serving. Populists differ in how “the people” are defined, but it can be based along class, ethnic, or national lines. Populists typically present “the elite” as comprising the political, economic, cultural, and media establishment, depicted as a homogeneous entity and accused of placing their own interests, and often the interests of other groups—such as foreign countries or immigrants—above the interests of “the people”. Populist parties and social movements are often led by charismatic or dominant figures who present themselves as the “voice of the people”. When in office in liberal democracies, populists are often responsible for democratic backsliding as they undermine independent institutions like the media or judiciary which they consider hostile to the “will of the people”. According to the ideational approach, populism is often combined with other ideologies, such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum and there is both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.

Left-wing populism is a political ideology that combines left-wing politics and populist rhetoric and themes. The rhetoric of left-wing populism often consists of anti-elitist sentiments, opposition to the Establishment and speaking for the “common people”. The important themes for left-wing populists usually include anti-capitalism, social justice, pacifism and anti-globalization, whereas class society ideology or socialist theory is not as important as it is to traditional left-wing parties. The criticism of capitalism and globalization is linked to anti-militarism, which has increased in the left populist movements as a result of unpopular United States military operations, especially those in the Middle East. It is considered that the populist left does not exclude others horizontally and relies on egalitarian ideals

Right-wing populism in the Western world is generally—though not exclusively—associated with ideologies such as neo-nationalism, anti-globalization, nativism, protectionism and opposition to immigration. Anti-Muslim ideas and sentiments serve as the “great unifiers” among right-wing political formations throughout the United States and Europe. Traditional right-wing views such as opposition to an increasing support for the welfare state and a “more lavish, but also more restrictive, domestic social spending” scheme is also described under right-wing populism and is sometimes called “welfare chauvinism”.

Conspiracist scapegoating employed by various populist movements can create “a seedbed for fascism”.  In Germany Nazi populism interacted with and facilitated fascism in interwar Germany. In this case, distressed middle-class populists mobilized their anger against the government and big business during the pre-Nazi Weimar period. The Nazis “parasitized the forms and themes of the populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through ideological appeals involving demagoguery, scapegoating, and conspiracism”.

According to Fritzsche:

The Nazis expressed the populist yearnings of middle–class constituents and at the same time advocated a strong and resolutely anti-Marxist mobilization…Against “unnaturally” divisive parties and querulous organized interest groups, National Socialists cast themselves as representatives of the commonwealth, of an allegedly betrayed and neglected German public…Breaking social barriers of status and caste, and celebrating at least rhetorically the populist ideal of the people’s community…3

In the first decade of the 21st century, two populist movements appeared in the US, both in response to the Great Recession: the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement. The populist approach of the Occupy movement was broader, with its “people” being what it called “the 99%”, while the “elite” it challenged was presented as both the economic and political elites. The Tea Party’s populism was Producerism, while “the elite” it presented was more party partisan than that of Occupy, being defined largely—although not exclusively—as the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama. The 2016 presidential election saw a wave of populist sentiment in the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, with both candidates running on anti-establishment platforms in the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Both campaigns criticized free trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But we shouldn’t forget Biden, the Green Party, and many other independent platform politicians that will seek a share of that populist pie.

The more I study Social Control: Ideology, Propaganda, and Conspiracist populism the more I realize just how fucked we are… Mark Twain was right, people are absolutely delirious and deluded, liars and scam artists prone to the absolute control, manipulation, and chicanery of fools and mountebanks, politicians and preachers.


  1. Warren, Robert Penn. All the King’s Men (pp. 94-95). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  2. Key, V.O.; Heard, Alexander (1949). Southern Politics in State and Nation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.
  3. Fritzsche, Peter (1990). Rehearsals for fascism: populism and political mobilization in Weimar Germany. Oxford University Press.

Mark Twain On Politics

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Look at the tyranny of party — at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.

– “The Character of Man,” Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1

A Planetary Crisis: The Dark Side of War and Refugee Plight

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The Plight of Refugees, the Shame of the World gives us a clue. Death of children. UK response. Yazidis faced with genocide. John Kerry on US lottery. Merkel has made a dire situation worse. An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. The European Union’s leaders go to shocking lengths to get refugees out of sight, out of mind and out of Europe. EU struggles to reconcile values with barbed wire fences. Map of countries accepting refugees. Syrian refugees stranded in exile may go back to war-ravaged homeland. Hate crimes against refugees up in America and Europe. Ten largest refugee camps in the world. Housed in a notorious concentration camp: Refugees who fled to Europe for a better life are living in former Nazi barracks at Buchenwald.  On its eastern border, Hungary is building a barbed-wire fence to keep out refugees, remarkably like the barbed wire “iron curtain” that once marked its western border. Choose whatever image you want — ships full of Jews being sent back to Nazi Europe, refugees furtively negotiating with smugglers at a bar in Casablanca — and it now has a modern twist.

Veronika Pehe, editor at Political Critique, interviews Budapest-based activist Bálint Misetics, who offers some observations on the Hungarian response to the refugee crisis: What is visible is the compassion of the Hungarian people, which is of course very strikingly juxtaposed with the vicious xenophobia and petty political maneuvering of the Hungarian government. There is also a lot of harassment going on. Volunteers providing food are regularly verbally assaulted by other locals, and there have also been some attacks by far-right-wing groups at Keleti railway station. The public is really polarized, however. When this situation started early in the summer, with the government putting up posters with messages for the so-called migrants (but in Hungarian!), saying that if you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture, not take jobs from Hungarians, and so on, there was an interesting upsurge in direct action and civil disobedience. And this was not only in activist circles, but amongst ordinary people, who tore these posters down or painted over them. So I think what is happening is that—and this is something we also witnessed with anti-homeless propaganda a few years ago—the government always needs to find a scapegoat. In this case, it’s the refugees. But what the government is doing is so obviously inhumane that it encourages many to find a way to help or in any case to sympathize with the refugees, because the other position seems morally untenable.

According to UN more than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Others like NY Times report closer to 60 million. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available. UN says three specific challenges facing humanitarian efforts: 1) the protracted nature of many modern conflicts, some of which have dragged on for years or even decades; 2) the dangerous climate in which humanitarian actors must work today, or what UNHCR calls the “shrinking of humanitarian space”; and, 3) finally, the erosion of the institution of asylum. This is particularly of concern in industrialized countries trying to cope with so-called “mixed movements” in which migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking travel alongside each other.

In terms of hosting displaced people, developed countries pale in comparison with nations bordering conflict zones. Combined, the United States and France had 760,000 refugees last year. Ethiopia, for example, is host to some 665,000, most  from Somalia and South Sudan. Rich nations offer most of the funding to aid refugees in the developing world. The United States contributed about a third of the United Nations refugee agency budget in 2014. Refugee Council USA supports more influx of Syrian refugees. China and Russia also have close ties with Syria so why aren’t they doing anything?

One of the drivers of this is not only cheap labor, but slavery, trafficking, and prostitution rings. This new variant of slavery arrived with the twenty-first century. Today slaves are cheaper than they have ever been. The enslaved fieldworker who cost the equivalent of $40,000 in 1850 costs less than $100 today.1 The second factor pushing these growing millions toward slavery is a collection of dramatic social and economic changes, many of which were supposed to make those people’s lives better. Corruption, especially police corruption, is the third force that drives the growth of slavery. For slavery to exist, the slaveholder must be able to keep the slave where the law can’t protect them. The pattern is strong and clear: more corruption means more slavery. This is a special challenge when corruption becomes institutionalized. The bribes pass up the chain of command and into the hands of politicians and government officials. Soon law enforcement is dedicated to protecting systematic law violation. (Bales, KL 244)

Scores of the Syrian women who escaped to Jordan are turning to prostitution, some forced or sold into it, even by their families. Some women refugees are highly vulnerable to exploitation by pimps or traffickers, particularly since a significant number fled without their husbands – sometimes with their children – and have little or no source of income. Despite strong traditions against sex outside marriage, prostitution takes place in the Arab world, as in other regions, though it is largely more hidden. While there may be known cruising areas in cities, overt red-light districts are rare, and some prostitutes even wear face veils to hide their activities. Arrangements can be made by phone, and short-term or informal marriages are sometimes used as a cover for prostitution or sex trafficking. Among the casualties is an 18-year-old native of Homs, Syria, who arrived in Zaatari camp last summer. Soon after, her father married her for $1,000 to a 22-year-old Jordanian man who frequently visited the camp. The husband then handed her over to a brothel in Irbid, where she is among 20 women pimped out by a man who calls himself Faroun, Arabic for Pharaoh.

One of the many documentaries dealing with the breakdown of society and how the refugee crisis affects both the populace and the people seeking asylum. This is a larger issue than any one country and seems that it is not being addressed as a global issue, which means dealing with the problems in Syria and other nations: war and tyranny:

UN Refugee Agency latest news.
Refworld updates and information.
USA’s own immigration crisis.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC)

  1. Kevin Bales. Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves (Kindle Locations 171-172). Kindle Edition.

Greek referendum: Alexis Tsipras hails victory for No (OXI) campaign

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Greek referendum: Alexis Tsipras hails victory for No campaign – live updates

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister greeted the result telling the nation in a televised address that the Greek people had made a very “bold choice”.

Greek people today gave an answer to [the question of] what Europe we want? And what we want is a Europe of solidarity,” he said adding that he would relaunch negotiations with creditors immediately.

I want to thank each and every one of you …. I want also to thank the thousands of European citizens who have shown practicably what solidarity means.

Now it’s up to Merkel. How she responds in the coming days won’t just determine the fate of the eurozone, but will reflect on her as well, both at home and abroad, and it is hard to imagine a scenario where she emerges unscathed. The leading German newsmagazine Der Spiegel ran a cover story that lay the responsibility for the future of Greece and of the eurozone firmly at her feet. The magazine accused her of provoking the crisis through an approach it called “pedagogical imperialism.” :

The euro crisis opened up a new dimension of power for Merkel. Since 2010, there has been an endless series of crisis summits in Brussels and the German chancellor was always the center of attention. She was the one sitting on the biggest war chest, a fact which granted her far-reaching influence. And Merkel enjoyed her role as the queen of Europe. She didn’t lord it over the others: She wasn’t as loud as Gerhard Schröder and wasn’t as forceful as Helmut Kohl.

Instead, she did what no German chancellor had ever done before. She followed a policy of pedagogical imperialism, with the lesson plan calling for budgetary discipline, labor market reform and privatization. It worked in Spain, Portugal and Ireland, but in Greece, the conditions imposed by creditors were not seen as necessary medicine but as a poison that was destroying society.

Tell Wolfgang Schäuble to stick it!!! He’s the face of the economic-fascism behind Merkel and the right-wing conservative party… At a recent address by Ger­man Finance Min­is­ter Wolf­gang Schauble (given to the Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions) Lucy braced the vet­eran politi­cian over Germany’s hypocrisy con­cern­ing Greek debt: Read and listen to Lucy Komisar vs. Wolfgang Schauble.

William Davies: The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition

The rhetoric of competitiveness seemed to serve a crucial function in winning certain moral and political arguments, on behalf of economic elites, and I wanted to understand how and why.

– William Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition

Began reading William Davies new book The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition in which he tackles a couple of themes: the first, concerning the question of uncertainty that plays a central role in the neoliberal vision of society and economics; and, second, the concerns of state: – What are the rationality and authority of the neoliberal state? What are they based on? Are they constituted by a careful, economizing logic, in which waste is monitored, productivity optimized, and agents carefully regulated? Or is this a more excessive, violent force, that transcends any economic or evaluative logic?

Before I began reading decided to do a little cataloguing of the experts he relied on in the bibliography. Was able to discover the usual suspects, such economists and authors like Angus Burgin (The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression), Philip Mirowski (The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective), and Daniel Stedman Jones (Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics). There were many others recognizable from the differing political spectrums as well: Agamben (State of the Exception), S.M. Amadae (Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice), etc., the list could go on… The point of this exercise is a truism: that authors begin to refer to each other and the supposed truths that emerge become self-reinforcing over time, allowing for a legitimation that may or may not be deserving. Always need to be aware of this discursive looping as the expert treadmill weaves and unweaves in the academic climate of opinion and doxa. Beyond that let’s take a peak at where he’s taking us in this critique.

Obviously like many other authors he centers his discourse around Friedrich von Hayek who he tells us produced a “model of political economy that incorporated uncertainty at its heart, but nevertheless elevated certain types of expertise and government as the guarantors of that uncertainty”.1 Back in the 1930’s an economist Oskar Lange had written a book Economic Theory of Socialism which supported an equilibrium theory based on Walrasian general equilibrium theory, which purports the notion we should convert the whole economy using a “bottom-up” approach, starting with individual markets and agents. Whereas, macroeconomics, as developed by the Keynesian economists, focused on a “top-down” approach, where the analysis starts with larger aggregates, the “big picture”. Therefore, general equilibrium theory has traditionally been classified as part of microeconomics. Without going into the complex details of the mathematical theorems itself what we discovered after it was introduced is the fact that like many economic theories it first came out of Vienna, Austria. It was there that such anti-socialist thinkers and economists as Ludwig von Mises would attack any notion of central planning and a mathematically centered view of economics. Hayek would later take many of Mises ideas and as early as 1935 argue against the Walrasian model of central planning and mathematical certainty, saying, “the mere assembly of these data” needed to prosecute the calculation “is a task beyond human capacity”; but moreover, “every one of these decisions would have to be based on a solution of an equal number of simultaneous differential equations, a task which, with any of the means known at the present [1935], could not be carried out in a lifetime.”2

We can see here in these debates about the use and abuse of mathematics the seeds that would later spawn the need and desire for computing machines that could tackle these massive equations. But all that would come during the 50’s of which Mirowski documents in his thick book Machine Dreams – Economics Becomes A Cyborg Science. So no need to go there for the moment. To bring us back to Davies new work what he tells us about Hayek and neoliberalism is that they would – against such social engineers as Oskar Lange and even Keynes produce a model of political economy that incorporated uncertainty at its heart, but nevertheless elevated certain types of expertise and government as the guarantors of that uncertainty (KL 163).

As for the rationality and authority of the State problematique within neoliberalism that is the central issue of Davies second theme he has this to say:

Sovereignty, in the sense of an immeasurable and ‘ultimate power’, is wedded to economics of various forms and in various ways. Legal and executive power blend with forms of economic rationality, in an unwieldy balance between the immeasurable and the measurable. Procedures of measurement take on a quasi-sovereign authority…. The sovereign-economic ambivalence of the neoliberal state is one of the key lessons of the financial crisis – it transpired that this state’s economically rational role is to offer an irrationally large guarantee to maintain the status quo. (KL 176)

All this sets the stage for his book. As he tells us this book is descriptive and historical, and not an explicitly critical work. “Given the historical moment, this will disappoint some”, readers, he tells us. “But I would suggest that we need to understand how power works, how it achieves authority , and the role of economics (and business strategy) in facilitating this”.

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Contrast of Metaphysical and Empiricist Sociological Discourses:

The metaphysical discourses of moral and political philosophy do not, from a pragmatist perspective, actually succeed in grasping that which they refer to (such as authority, fairness, virtue), but they make sense in spite of this. By contrast, the empiricist discourses of the social sciences (and associated forms of management, statistics and governance of populations) seek to operate purely at the level of the sensible, the physical and the measurable. But they must also offer reasons how and why to do so, which draw them into moral appeals, which extend beyond the limits of the empirical.(KL 468-472)

 

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I have yet to complete my reading of it, so this is more or less just a teaser. Yet, it seems to have some viable and critical appraisals of this whole history and some possible solutions going forward. I am disappointed that it is strictly aligned with historical analysis without offering some kind of tentative solutions, but I’ll assume that this will come in the future as he continues his investigations down the line. I’ll need to finish it this week and return with an updated report.

 

1. Davies, William (2014-04-29). The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society) (Kindle Locations 163-165). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
2. Philip Mirowski. Machine Dreams – Economics Becomes A Cyborg Science ( Cambridge University Press, 2002)

 

Radical Change equals Radical Reformation: The Politics of Saul Alinsky

Over the years I’ve kept a promise to myself, one that through everything has helped me to survive, and not only survive but to actually keep my mind alive and radical. Radical? Do we even know what that means anymore? We like to tout our heritage. Oh, let’s say Thomas Paine. Yes, yes, he was a radical, a man of the enlightenment, a creature who paid the price of his beliefs in a radical democracy. Imprisoned by  Robespierre – who was himself the betrayer of the revolution, Paine barely escaped the fate of the chopping block during the great purge. With the ascendency of Robespierre to the Committee an era of anti-radicalism took charge of the revolution. It was a full-blooded Counter-Enlightenment. Condorcet was outlawed and sentenced to confiscation of his possessions in October 1793, Brissot guillotined on 31 October, Pierre-Louis Manuel following a fortnight later. Olympe de Gouges was guillotined on 3 and Bailly on 12 November. In December, Tom Paine, ‘the most violent of the American democrats’ in Madame de Staël’s words, in whose eyes the ‘principles of the Revolution, which philosophy had first diffused’, were ‘departed from, and philosophy itself rejected’ by the Robespierristes, was first expelled from the Convention and then arrested and imprisoned. Already months before, he had become entirely convinced that the Jacobin government was a tyranny ‘without either principle or authority’. Left in his cell, the United States government made remarkably little effort to extricate him.1

At the end of his life the writer and orator Robert G. Ingersoll wrote:

Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.2

Such was a radical democrat in the enlightenment era. When I grew up there was another radical who I did not discover till later in life. I will hold off from sharing his name till you read one of his most pungent statements:

First , there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police “pig” or “white fascist racist” or “motherfucker” and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, “Oh, he’s one of those,” and then promptly turn off.

This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other’s values — would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience. On another level of communication, humor is essential, for through humor much is accepted that would have been rejected if presented seriously. This is a sad and lonely generation. It laughs too little, and this, too, is tragic.

For the real radical, doing “his thing” is to do the social thing, for and with people. In a world where everything is so interrelated that one feels helpless to know where or how to grab hold and act, defeat sets in; for years there have been people who’ve found society too overwhelming and have withdrawn, concentrated on “doing their own thing.” Generally we have put them into mental hospitals and diagnosed them as schizophrenics. If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair. If I were organizing in an orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected so I could have an excuse to cop out. My “thing,” if I want to organize, is solid communication with the people in the community. Lacking communication I am in reality silent; throughout history silence has been regarded as assent — in this case assent to the system.

The words above are from none other than Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and was based on the basic assumption that to change things one first needs to understand not only what communication is but also, and more important one needs to know how to communicate effectively. Without the ability to break down the barriers that divide us from each other democracy is impossible. Humans have got to start from the ground floor, and that entails a total behavioral change in one’s approach to communication. Being radical isn’t dressing up in black and red and bombing institutions, it isn’t sitting on Wall-Street decrying the power of the system, it’s not even bellowing on in blog after blog about the great struggle, etc. No. It’s about the simple things in our everyday lives. As Alinsky reminds us:

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.

Notice he does not say we should destroy the system to change it. No. He says we should start with what is right in front of our noses and begin there working in the midst of the ruins of democracy. We have no other choice. This is our home, our earth, our habitat. If we destroy it what then? Yet, there is another reason:

There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.

And, yet, we live in a time when people demand change now, as if the only thing viable were a year of living dangerously, of entering some apocalyptic pact or revolutionary moment of pure violence that would forever change the world. But is this really what we want and need? –

Our youth are impatient with the preliminaries that are essential to purposeful action. Effective organization is thwarted by the desire for instant and dramatic change, or as I have phrased it elsewhere the demand for revelation rather than revolution.

There are those that would say: What’s the point of working within the system? How has change ever come about from within a failing system? Wouldn’t it be better just to lay it to death, slay the system and start from the beginning? –

What is the alternative to working “inside” the system? A mess of rhetorical garbage about “Burn the system down!” Yippie yells of “Do it!” or “Do your thing.” What else? Bombs? Sniping? Silence when police are killed and screams of “murdering fascist pigs” when others are killed? Attacking and baiting the police? Public suicide? “Power comes out of the barrel of a gun!” is an absurd rallying cry when the other side has all the guns. Lenin was a pragmatist; when he returned to what was then Petrograd from exile, he said that the Bolsheviks stood for getting power through the ballot but would reconsider after they got the guns! Militant mouthings? Spouting quotes from Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara, which are as germane to our highly technological, computerized, cybernetic, nuclear-powered, mass media society as a stagecoach on a jet runway at Kennedy airport?

The point of starting with the system is simple: there is no other place to start from except political lunacy. It is most important for those of us who want revolutionary change to understand that revolution must be preceded by reformation. To assume that a political revolution can survive without the supporting base of a popular reformation is to ask for the impossible in politics.(ibid.)

Did you understand that? No revolution can hope to survive unless there is a strong base of popular support organized around a set of reforms based on a knowledge and understanding of the current ills and malpractices of the current system. Without reformation no revolution will succeed.

Men don’t like to step abruptly out of the security of familiar experience; they need a bridge to cross from their own experience to a new way. A revolutionary organizer must shake up the prevailing patterns of their lives— agitate, create disenchantment and discontent with the current values, to produce, if not a passion for change, at least a passive, affirmative, non-challenging climate. “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced,” John Adams wrote. “The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.” A revolution without a prior reformation would collapse or become a totalitarian tyranny. A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won’t act for change but won’t strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution.(ibid.)

A revolution of the Mind rather than of brute fact is the order of the day when one wants radical change permanent and lasting.

 

1. Israel, Jonathan (2011-08-11). Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790 (pp. 947-948). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Paine, Thomas (2008). Works of Thomas Paine. MobileReference. Retrieved November 22, 2013.
3. Alinsky, Saul (2010-06-22). Rules for Radicals (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 87-91). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Google, DARPA and the Future of Control

Former director of DARPA and Google exec, Regina E. Dugan smiles as she tells us about the new invasive biotechnologies for tattooing and biomedical pharmaceuticals that will allow Google or other agencies to implant invasive sensors/tracking devices to monitor citizens 24/7 for securitization. She is wearing one of the devices and then produces a pill that she describes in detail as having pulsating electronics that can be picked up by GPS satellite, etc. What else is Google planning down the pipe? She even hints that one of the marketing ploys is to target teenagers and young people using the tattoo’s as if in an act of rebellion against their parents. Such Technologies will allow a big Other (Authority) to monitor every step taken in a 24/7 timeframe as well as uploading other types of data to a centralized datamining facility to be manipulated, massaged, and transformed for use by marketers, law enforcement, academia, etc. Is this the future of our technocontrol society? Will corporations enforce our daily pill for access to information? Instead of a token that is slid into one’s computer, one wears it either on one’s person as a tattoo, or as an ingested pill that provides a secure 24/7 access to any and all information in the GoogleMind.  Google seems to be at the forefront of our Brave New World of surveillance and control society. Aldous Huxley in a later set of essays The Brave New World Revisited remarked:

In my fable of Brave New World, the dictators had added science to the list and thus were able to enforce their authority by manipulating the bodies of embryos, the reflexes of infants and the minds of children and adults. And, instead of merely talking about miracles and hinting symbolically at mysteries, they were able, by means of drugs, to give their subjects the direct experience of mysteries and miracles—to transform mere faith into ecstatic knowledge. The older dictators fell because they could never supply their subjects with enough bread, enough circuses, enough miracles and mysteries. Nor did they possess a really effective system of mind-manipulation. In the past freethinkers and revolutionaries were often the products of the most piously orthodox education. This is not surprising. The methods employed by orthodox educators were and still are extremely inefficient. Under a scientific dictator education will really work—with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution. There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.1

The next time your boss offers you a pill with a smile, or your child comes home from school with a whimsical tattoo on her wrist, think about Regina E. Dugan of Google and politely say “No thanks, control is not an option!”

A follow up on the Proteous Digital Pill: http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/03/technology/startups/ingestible-sensor-proteus/index.htm and http://proteusdigitalhealth.com/

More details on the EES Chip tattoo: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31046/title/Next-Generation–Electronic-Skin/

For those that want the longer version of the above that also goes into the darker Transhumanist agenda behind the Google world-view go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4Q7sT2Kk88

1. Huxley, Aldous (2014-01-09). Brave New World Revisited (Kindle Locations 1485-1492). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Lee Smolin: Time, Physics and Climate Change

The most radical suggestion arising from this direction of thought is the insistence on the reality of the present moment and, beyond that, the principle that all that is real is so in a present moment . To the extent that this is a fruitful idea, physics can no longer be understood as the search for a precisely identical mathematical double of the universe. That dream must be seen now as a metaphysical fantasy that may have inspired generations of theorists but is now blocking the path to further progress. Mathematics will continue to be a handmaiden to science, but she can no longer be the Queen.

– Lee Smolin,  Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

What if everything we’ve been taught about time, space, and the universe is not just wrongheaded, but couched in a mathematics of conceptual statements (theorems) that presumed it could map the totality of reality in a one-to-one ratio of identity?  This notion that mathematics can ultimately describe reality, that there is a one to one identity between the conceptual framework of mathematics and the universe – the Cartesian physicist – or, you may know him under the epithet of String theorist – will maintain that those statements about the accretion of the universe which can be mathematically formulated designate actual properties of the event in question (such as its date, its duration, its extension), even when there is no observer present to experience it directly. In doing so, our physicist is defending a Cartesian thesis about matter, but not, it is important to note, a Pythagorean one: the claim is not that the being of accretion is inherently mathematical – that the numbers or equations deployed in the statements (mathematical theorems) exist in themselves. What if all those scientists, philosophers and mathematicians who have pursued this path had in fact taken a wrong turn along the way. This is the notion that Lee Smolin an American theoretical physicist, a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo and a member of the graduate faculty of the philosophy department at the University of Toronto puts forward in his new book Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe.

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Gilles Deleuze: On Hume’s Theory of Society

He presents us with a critique of the social contract…

– Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity

About half way through his essay on Hume Cultural World and General Rules Deleuze comes upon the central tenet of Hume’s theory of Society: “the main idea is this: the essence of society is not the law but rather the institution” (45). As he relates it the law is the negative underbelly of society, and that the institution, unlike law, “is not a limitation but rather a model of actions, a veritable enterprise, an invented system of positive means or a positive invention of indirect means” (45-46). Against those political philosophers who base their theories on law rather than the institution he has this to say:

The fault of contractual theories is that they present us with a society whose essence is the law, that is, with a society which has no other objective than to guarantee certain preexisting natural rights and no other origin than the contract (45).

He tells us the problem with such theories is that it is an impossibility for society to guarantee natural rights. Why? Because people enter into society precisely for the simple reason that they do not have preexisting rights natural or otherwise. The notion of institution reverses the usual theories by its insistence that outside the social order only the negative, lack, and need exist. He admits that society has always been an artificial construct, an invented whole or totality, not a natural preexisting entity. At the root of the institution of society is the notion of convention which is an important concept for Hume. As Deleuze reminds us placing “convention at the base of the institution signifies only that the system of means represented by the institution is a system indirect, oblique, and invented – in a word, cultural” (46).

“Society is a set of conventions founded on utility, not a set of obligations founded on a contract” (45). In this view the law is a negative factor whose only job is to limit the institution. The corollary to this is the sense of the legislator not as one who legislates but the one who institutes. In this view the notion of natural law and rights is confounded and overturned, even reversed in the order of practice: “there is no question any longer of the relation between rights and the law, but of needs and institutions” (46). This shift to actions and affects rather than the abstractions of rights and the law informs Hume’s theory of society much as it did his understanding of subjectivity. In fact as Deleuze comments:

This idea implies an entire remodeling of rights and an original vision of the science of humanity, that is, of the new conception of social psychology.(46)

What binds need and the institution is utility. But we must not see in this some form of reductionism Deleuze reminds us. Against any “functionalist” reduction of society to nature, and the explanatory framework in which society is explained by utility, and the institution by drives and needs we must refrain because for Hume a drive is satisfied within the institution not the other way around.(46) Of course this is about social institutions not governmental: in marriage, sexuality is satisfied; in property, greed. (47) The institution is a model, a construct, of possible actions, and because it is it does not “satisfy the drive without also constraining it” (47). There is a double edge in every institution of satisfaction and constraint, a normative extension and regulation.

Again we learn that the drive does not explain the institution, but that it is the “reflection of the drive in the imagination” that does. Just as we learned that subjectivity is an affect, an “impression in reflection”(48). So too we learn that association of the drive in the imagination is revealed “as a veritable production of extremely diverse models: when drives are reflected in an imagination submitted to the principle of association, institutions are determined by the figures traced by the drives according to the circumstances” (49). For this reason Hume does not equate the drives to instincts but to the “reflective drive” in the imagination. As Deleuze states it:

This is the meaning of institution, in its difference from the instincts. We can then conclude that nature and culture, drive and institution, are one to the extent that the one is satisfied by the other; but they are also two insofar as the latter is not explained by the former. (49)

That political philosophy is founded on a sense of Justice goes without saying, but for Hume it is where it is situated that counts. Morality is addressed only to those who exist in the State: it “does not involve the change of human nature but the invention of artificial and objective conditions in order for the bad aspects of this nature not to triumph” (50). Once again the notion of a social contract comes under fire. The notion of founding a government as a promise to the people is erroneous, because the “promise is an effect of the specification of justice, and loyalty, its support”(51). The notion of the promise is not the cause of government but an effect of it. The point for Hume is this, that the state is not charged with representing the general interest of the people, but rather with making the general interest an object of belief (51).

Yet, this brings Hume to another conclusion: that of inequality and scarcity. Because of favorable circumstance and acquisition of properties a new rule must be implemented or enabled to bring about a balance: a rule of political economy. At the center of Hume’s theory is the problem of property. As Deleuze relates it property “presents a problem of quantity: goods are scarce, and they are unstable because they are rare” (53). For Hume society offers a quantitative harmony of economic activities which are mechanically established which is not true of property. Out of this Deleuze formulates Hume’s moral categories and rules as follows:

1. Content of the general rule: the stability of possession.
1.1 Support of the general rule: loyalty to the government
1.2 Complement of the general rule: the prosperity of commerce.

2. Specification of the general rules: immediate possession, occupation, etc.
2.1 Specification of support: long possession, accession, etc.
2.2 Specification of the complement: monetary circulation, capital, etc.

3. Correction of the preceding specification by means of general rules, promise, transfer
3.1 Correction: resistance
3.2 Correction: taxes, state service, etc.

I can see here that Hume and Rousseau would have been enemies. For Hume society was a protection against the brute violence of nature, while for Rousseau society was evil incarnate. Hume unlike the utilitarians that would follow did not reduce ethics to nature, but instead offered the reverse course and saw humans utilizing their native gifts within the artificially fabricated institutions based on a sense of justice and harmony that is mechanically established: wherever disputes arise, in philosophy or common life, the best way to settle the question is by ascertaining, on any side, “…the true interests of mankind.” This is the principle of utility that Hume offered. Outside society humans had no recourse but to the violence of nature.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)

Radical Thought in Italy

Mark Purcell author of Recapturing Democracy and The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy has a joyful and optimistic approach to many of our current predicaments in politics and other conditions of life and philosophy. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out his blog, Path to the Possible, you should. In a recent post Stop Being a Social Being he reminded me of a book I recently read as part of my self-made curriculum for the current year: Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. by Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt. In his introductory remarks Hardt comments on these Italian radicals:

What is perhaps most attractive about these Italian theorists and the movements they grow out of is their joyful character. All too often, leftist cultures have identified a revolutionary life with a narrow path of asceticism, denial, and even resentment. …These authors are continually proposing the impossible as if it were the only reasonable option. But this really has nothing to do with simple optimism or pessimism; it is rather a theoretical choice, or a position on the vocation of political theory. In other words, here the tasks of political theory do indeed involve the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us, but the first and primary tasks are to identify, affirm, and further the existing instances of social power that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community. The potential revolution is always already immanent in the contemporary social field. Just as these writings are refreshingly free of asceticism, then, so too are they free of defeatism and claims of victimization. It is our task to translate this revolutionary potential, to make the impossible real in our own contexts.

In some ways this is a part of that tradition of Spinoza and Nietzsche, an affirmative and joyous nihilism that is always ready, expectant, and hopeful. An affirmation that does not bemoan the past defeats, but, to use one of my Americanisms: “Keeps on Trucking”, keeps on moving along, keeps on pushing ahead, looking for the hidden paths out of our deadly malaise of late capitalism. As Hardt remarks again: “The defeats of the Left in the late twentieth century are not a result of “too much” Marxism or communism, she argues, but, on the contrary, of a failure to redeploy creatively the resources of these traditions.” And, this is the key: – as Zizek repeats with joyous affirmation: We must fail, but fail better! It’s about creativity, about entering into these traditions and deciding what is available to us today, what will help us survive today, what will help us get on with our current situations day by day both individually and collectively. No matter how we may disagree on the fine points, I think we can all agree that we need an affirmative and positive theorypraxis of action that can be both hopeful and joyous even amid the heartaches of our terror infested world. Without hope we are doomed to the circle of hate and resentment that is self-defeating and doomed to failure always. As Hardt reminds us we should not forget ” the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us”, but we should also remember to “further the existing instances of social power that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community.” This a vision that once again opens up the future to us as a site for hope beyond the dearth and dark presentiments of our present era.

Paul Virno: Exodus – Quote of the Day!

Paul Virno (1952 – )

The key to political action (or rather the only possibility of extracting it from its present state of paralysis) consists in developing the publicness of Intellect outside of Work, and in opposition to it. The issue here has two distinct profiles, which are, however, strictly complementary. On the one hand, general intellect can only affirm itself as an autonomous public sphere, thus avoiding the “transfer” of its own potential into the absolute power of Administration, if it cuts the linkage that binds it to the production of commodities and wage labor. On the other hand, the subversion of capitalist relations of production henceforth develops only with the institution of a non-State public sphere, a political community that has as its hinge general intellect. The salient characteristics of the post-Fordist experience (servile virtuosity, the valorization even of the faculty of language, the necessary relation with the “presence of others,” and so forth) postulate as a conflictual response nothing less than a radically new form of democracy.

I use the term Exodus here to define mass defection from the State, the alliance between general intellect and political Action, and a movement toward the public sphere of Intellect. The term is not at all conceived as some defensive existential strategy-it is neither exiting on tiptoe through the back door nor a search for sheltering hideaways. Quite the contrary: what I mean by Exodus is a full-fledged model of action, capable of confronting the challenges of modern short, capable of confronting the great themes articulated by Hobbes, Rousseau, Lenin, and Schmitt (I am thinking here of crucial couplings such as command/obedience, public/private, friend/enemy, consensus/violence, and so forth). Today, just as happened in the seventeenth century under the spur of the civil wars, a realm of common affairs has to be defined from scratch. Any such definition must draw out the opportunities for liberation that are to be found in taking command of this novel interweaving among Work, Action, and Intellect, which up until now we have only suffered.

Exodus is the foundation of a Republic. The very idea of “republic,” however, requires a taking leave of State judicature: if Republic, then no longer State. The political action of the Exodus consists, therefore, in an engaged withdrawal. Only those who open a way of exit for themselves can do the founding; but, by the opposite token, only those who do the founding will succeed in finding the parting of the waters by which they will be able to leave Egypt.

– Paolo Virno;Michael Hardt. Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics

Dystopic Thoughts: 21st Century Neurototalitarianism

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

In my previous post I centered on the statement all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. And that we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure.

I also want to return to the previous quote:

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition. (ibid)

In the statement above I began to visualize a future where people were divided by genetic profiles and forced into dystopic conclaves of the stupid, the knowledgeable, and the players. This tripartite division came to me from Scott’s statement above about people through the power of science, and especially of neuroscience, being suborned into cognitive domains (“compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition”). One can imagine how our globalists and their corporate think-tanks would have a heyday with such ideas.

A dystopic society controlled through neuropathic or cognitive sciences as the basic premise. Obviously the horror of such a thing brokers our imaginations. But I think we have to assume such a possibility if we are to take seriously Scott’s and our investment in a society in which naturalism and science rule. If as he suggests in his original post that intentional thought is an illusion, and that thought itself may become a thing of the past, then what will replace it? Will we be controlled by neurosurgeons who divide the human species into workers that are more machine than human, devoid of emotion and thought they would become the perfect society of robots enabled to do all our work without thought or issue. Such a world of mindless beings, of zombies without the virus of cannibalism, who live to work, never complain, go about their lives with idiot smiles on their faces living to serve their masters.

While on the other hand you have the knowledge workers, those who have the ability to think (within limits), who can use thought (Math, language, etc.) as tools but no more. Manipulators of symbolic codes that no longer have the ability to feel, to love, to care only enabled to work the vast knowledge based systems of control for their masters.

And, the Masters, the elite of this society? What kind of power plays would be afforded to them? What kind of lives would they lead knowing that the majority of humans were enslaved within neuroprisons, free to move about and do their jobs and live out their lives oblivious to the truth of their slavedom. And what if these supposed Masters were conned into believing that they were truly free, that they were enabled to do whatever they liked but were in fact worse off that the suborned classes of stupids and knowledgers? What if these elite were neuropathically enabled with only a set of predefined emotional markers, enabled to love but only under controlled and manipulated forms, able to rule but only as the neurotoxins and neurosuregeries allowed for? What if these Masters were slaves as well to a system that their ancestors schemed up ages before and threw away the keys to such knowledge.

And, what if someone came upon this knowledge? What if someone accidently, as evolutionary thought has always supposed, became an enigma a new Eve or Adam and discovered that everyone else lived in a clockwork world thinking they were actually free and moral beings? What then? I can imagine this as a series of YA Dystopic Novels with all the antagonisms of young protaganists awakening from the long sleep within neuroprison. Reawakening all the old revolutionary ideologies etc. A tattered set of ideas, all, I agree… but what happens if Bakker is right… and such a neurotechnical society came about through the erroneous use of science without philosophy, ethics, etc. What then?

1. R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

Slavoj Zizek: Quote of the Day!

The parallax gap is, on the contrary, the very form of the “reconciliation” of opposites: one simply has to recognize the gap.

So, again, what are the political consequences of asserting this gap? There are three basic options. First, there is the liberal option essentially advocated by Freud himself: the gap means that we should not fully identify with any positive political project, but retain a minimal distance towards them all, since politics is as such the domain of the Master-Signifier and of symbolic and/ or imaginary identifications. Then, there is the conservative option: against the eternal threat of destructive “negativity,” it is all the more necessary to impose onto social life a strict order based on a Master-Signifier. Finally, there is a Trotskyist-Deleuzian leftist version: true radical politics is a matter of “permanent revolution,” of persisting in permanent self-revolutionizing, without allowing this flux to stabilize itself into a new positive order. With Lacan and politics, it is thus the same as with Hegel: there are three main interpretations, the conservative (emphasizing the symbolic authority as a sine qua non of the social order), the leftist (using Lacan for the critique of patriarchal ideology and practice), and the cynically permissive liberal version (to each his or her own jouissance). This liberal interpretation participates in the short-circuit between ontology and politics typical of postmodern thought: radical leftist politics is rejected as “metaphysical,” as imposing on social life a universal metaphysical vision, as striving for a totally self-transparent and regulated society, and, since life resists the constraints of any such ideological straight-jacket, this politics necessarily ends in totalitarian terror. Such a political stance is very comfortable: while legitimizing a pragmatic politics without risks, it is able to present its cynical liberalism as the most radical-critical position.

So which of these three options is the correct one? The first should be rejected as taking the easy way out, claiming that the question itself is wrong: there is no “true” or “correct” version, the choice is undecidable, open. But, again, which of the three is the correct option? The answer is, of course, the fourth. In other words, as we have already seen, we should reject the presupposition shared by all three. In a properly Hegelian way, the distinction between the zero-level of the empty place and its filling-up with a positive project must be rejected as false: the zero-level is never “there,” it can be experienced only retroactively, as the pre-supposition of a new political intervention, of imposing a new order. The question is thus the Hegelian one of a positive order whose positivity gives body to the negativity by accomplishing it.

– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing

Slavoj Zizek: Description without Place

In her memoirs, Anna Akhmatova describes what happened to her when, at the height of the Stalinist purges, she was waiting in the long queue in front of the Leningrad prison to learn about her arrested son Lev:

One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a young woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had of course never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there), “Can you describe this?” And I said, “I can.” Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

The key question, of course, is what kind of description is intended here? Surely it is not a realistic description of the situation, but what Wallace Stevens called “description without place,” which is what is proper to art. This is not a description which locates its content in a historical space and time, but a description which creates, as the background of the phenomena it describes, an inexistent (virtual) space of its own, so that what appears in it is not an appearance sustained by the depth of reality behind it, but a decontextualised appearance, an appearance which fully coincides with real being. To quote Stevens again: “What it seems it is and in such seeming all things are.” Such an artistic description “is not a sign for something that lies outside its form.”  Rather, it extracts from the confused reality its own inner form in the same way that Schoenberg “extracted” the inner form of totalitarian terror. He evoked the way this terror affects subjectivity.

– Slavoj Zkizek, Violence

Kurt Vonnegut: A Homage

My country is in ruins. So I’m a fish in a poisoned fish bowl. I’m mostly just heartsick about this. There should have been hope. This should have been a great country. But we are despised all over the world now. I was hoping to build a country and add to its literature. That’s why I served in World War II, and that’s why I wrote books.

– Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interview: And Other Conversations

Along with Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Ballard the fourth Musketeer in my pantheon of authors is Kurt Vonnegut who awakened me from my own long sleep in ideological Slumberville. My gang of four troubadours taught me an alternate mode of existence, they challenged me every step of the way to question everything, to trust nothing more than the truth of my own life. If Diogenes were alive today he’d have called these men friends, he would’ve known them as the creatures they are: intelligent, fierce, and full of that unique ability to care about the creatureliness of all creatures on this good earth.

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Alain Badiou: Toward a Supreme Fiction

The problem of young people in poor neighbourhoods or cités is the problem of the absence of a fiction. It has nothing to do with a social problem. The problem is the lack of a great fiction as support for a great belief.

– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants

Begin, ephebe, by perceiving the idea
Of this invention, this invented world,
The inconceivable idea of the sun.

– Wallace Stevens, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction

Alain Badiou encourages us, welcomes us to join him in seeking the, as Stevens once said, “the final belief” a supreme fiction that can sustain us through these troubling times. And not only sustain us but give us hope and truth, for truth is itself – as we have known since Lacan, truth itself is in a structure of fiction. The process of truth is also the process of a new fiction.(77)1

The difficulty lies in the fact that we must find a great fiction without possessing a proper name for it.(78) Or as Stevens so eloquently put it in poetry:

Without a name and nothing to be desired
If only imagined but imagined well….

Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction

Badiou would move us to be unafraid even as atheists to resume the long dialogue between mathematics and religion:

On this point modern mathematics rejoins classical theology. You probably know the famous text of Saint Paul in Romans 7. The direct correlation between law and desire appears here under the name of sin: ‘If it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said you shall not covet.’ Sin is that dimension of desire that finds its object beyond and after the prescription by the law. Finally, this means finding the object that is without name.(70)

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Slavoj Zizek: Augur, Prophet, or Charlatan?

“We should fully accept this openness, guiding ourselves on nothing more than ambiguous signs from the future.”

– Zizek, Slavoj, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously

Or maybe… a philosopher, an Idealist and semiotician or Lacanian deep diver after dark portents and signs from the future. Fragments of an apocalypse or generative ideas awaiting their emergence?  Maybe there is an Idea hidden in the deserts of the Real awaiting its prophet? Dare we say it… a Communist Idea?

Reading signs, events, or omens has been with us from the earliest ages. Ancient Chinese history offers scrupulously documented occurrences of strange births, the tracking of natural phenomena, and other data. The Roman historian Livy stresses the importance of the augurs: “Who does not know that this city was founded only after taking the auspices, that everything in war and in peace, at home and abroad, was done only after taking the auspices?”.

Has Slavoj Zizek taken on the role of Augur for our age? “Radical emancipatory outbursts cannot be understood in this way: instead of analyzing them as part of the continuum of past and present, we should bring in the perspective of the future, taking them as limited, distorted (sometimes even perverted) fragments of a utopian future that lies dormant in the present as its hidden potential” (Kindle Locations 2369-2371). Like an augur who casts lots and reads them for signs from the future, Zizek asks us to read the fragmented outbursts around the world as fragments of some utopian dream city lying just below the subterraenean rubble of the present. Yet, this is not just any future he hopes to divinize into the present of our emancipatory moment, these fragments of a distorted tension hide the reality of the Communist Idea. Zizek offers to teach us a new art: “the art of recognizing, from an engaged subjective position, elements which are here, in our space, but whose time is the emancipated future…” (Kindle Locations 2373-2374).

An Idealism you ask? Of course it is. It is a return to subjective engagement, and political engagement, and… can we say it, – a post-ideological engagement in a possible, potential future that seems to be hiding in the very fragments of our failed outbursts? As Adrian Johnston tells us on the one hand, the subject is an overdetermined effect of subjection; and, on the other hand, the subject is an unpredicatble upsurge of freedom (Zizek’s Ontology 286). For Zizek ‘freedom’ is both a question and a problematique: How does a philosopher approach the problem of freedom? (Zizek! The Movie)

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Jodi Dean: The Communist Horizon a first look…

“The general horizon of the era is communist.”

– Álvaro García Linera

Does communism condition the possibility of politics? García Linera seemed to think so. As Jodi Dean in her new book The Communist Horizon states it many on the “Left dismiss the communist horizon as a lost horizon” (Kindle Location 46).1 There are those she says who in seeking a way out of the old guard are sponsoring a new horizon of ‘post-capitalist’ thought that overturns the very critique that Marx instigated to begin with. As she states it these so to speak Leftists offer us not a critique but are in fact “rejecting the positive notion of “communism,” they opt for a term that suggests an empty relationality to the capitalist system they ostensibly deny, “post-capitalism.” For [these post-capitalist’] “the term “capitalist” is not a term of critique or opprobrium; it’s not part of a manifesto. The term is a cause of the political problems facing the contemporary Left. They argue that the discursive dominance of capitalism embeds the Left in paranoia, melancholia, and moralism” (KL 60-63). In such theorists as Zizek it becomes a return to Lenin: “The key ‘Leninist’ lesson today,” he writes, is that “politics without the organizational form of the Party is politics without politics.” (KL 100-101). But mostly it becomes a return to an emancipatory, egalitarian politics and that has been actively rethinking many of the concepts that form part of the communist legacy (KL 102-103).

Instead of such a – as she puts it, ‘generic post-capitalism’, one that offers not a true alternative but an actual alignment with the forces of capitalism, ones that circumvent anti-capitalist energies by promoting a brokered complicity with its nuanced fluidity within an idealized realm of open spaces of discussions and ethical decision making, Dean says:

“I take the opposite position. The dominance of capitalism, the capitalist system, is material. Rather than entrapping us in paranoid fantasy, an analysis that treats capitalism as a global system of appropriation, exploitation, and circulation that enriches the few as it dispossesses the many and that has to expend an enormous amount of energy in doing so can anger, incite, and galvanize” (KL 67-70).

What is the real problem for the left? “The problem of the Left hasn’t been our adherence to a Marxist critique of capitalism. It’s that we have lost sight of the communist horizon, a glimpse of which new political movements are starting to reveal”, as she states it (KL 74-76). What do these neo-liberals and reactionary conservatives fear? They fear the resurgence of Communism as an Idea,as once again offering a discourse against its own dark horizons. With such scholars as Alain Badiou, Étienne Balibar, Bruno Bosteels, Susan Buck-Morss, Costas Douzinas, Peter Hallward, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Jacques Rancière, Alberto Toscano, and Slavoj Žižek. In these and other scholars Dean sees a new theory of communism arising. In Hardt and Negri it comes as a non-dialectical reconceptualization of labor, power, and the State, a new theory of communism from below(KL 96). From Badiou as an emphasis on the “communist invariants”— egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political volunteerism, and trust in the people…(KL 97-98).

“The power of the return of communism stands or falls on its capacity to inspire large-scale organized collective struggle toward a goal”, (KL 145-146). The Left has failed itself and it has “failed to defend a vision of a better world, an egalitarian world of common production by and for the collective people. Instead, it accommodated capital, succumbing to the lures of individualism, consumerism, competition, and privilege, and proceeding as if there really were no alternative to states that rule in the interests of markets” (KL 148-150). Living with failure is out, nostalgia for the good old days is out, we no longer have to “live in the wake of left failure, stuck in the repetitions of crises and spectacle. In light of the planetary climate disaster and the ever-intensifying global class war as states redistribute wealth to the rich in the name of austerity, the absence of a common goal is the absence of a future… The premise of communism is that collective determination of collective conditions is possible, if we want it” (KL 150-15).

———————-

Among many other things on my plate, I’ll be reading her work over the next few weeks and will review it at the completion. I only wanted to open up its energy and intensify its appeal. One can follow Jodi Dean on her blog: I Cite and her new book can be found here.

1. Dean, Jodi (2012-10-03). The Communist Horizon (Pocket Communism) Norton.

Marx and Critique: “I am not a Marxist.”

It is time to tally the sordid history of Marxist theory and praxis. We must ask the question that Althusser asked in ’78: “What can we retain of Marx today as being truly essential to his thought, even if it has perhaps not always been well understood?” As Marx said of himself: “I am not a Marxist.” Marx was against dogma, of enshrining himself and his work as something other than a critique. We need critique not enshrinement and dogma. What Marx began and advanced was the knowledge of the conditions, forms and effects of class struggle as he understood it within the context of capitalist modes of production of his era. He above all believed he was producing a systematic philosophy that could contribute to, and guide, in a revolutionary movement for the struggle and emancipation of the working masses enslaved within the capitalist machine. Against a grounding of his work as a scientific discipline he affirmed instead that his Capital was a ‘critique’ or ‘criticism’ of the Political Econonmy. As Althusser has emphasized it was the idealism of the Political Economy as ‘objectified’ within the scientistic pretensions of such economists as Smith, Ricardo, Hodgkins, and the Physiocrats that Marx’s work resides as critiqe by seeking to overturn its idealist vision as Political Economy: as ‘objectified’ truth founded within the scientistic void of Reason.

The rationalist traditions that underpinned the enlightenment critiques from Bayle to Kant, that sought a philosophical dignity and a Truth within the radical dictates of Reason must be questioned. Marx himself pursued this tradition into its hiding places, denouncing the ‘irrationality’ at the heart of Reason’s conditions of existence. Yet, one must not look for this in Capital, however, where Marx instigated a differential and functional pursuit of critique; one that sought a “critique of existing reality by existing reality” (17). As Althusser reminds us, for Marx, “critique is the real criticizing itself,” (17) It was the pursuit of a revolutionary materialism against all forms of Idealism and reactionary formations of any type or pursuasion that is the core of Marx’s critique in Capital.

But this critique of the real was not some abstract notion, instead Marx tied his critique to a real material world, he grounded critique within the very dynamics of domination and exploitation of actual working peoples material existence. As Marx himself said of this critique: “In so far as such a critique represents a class, it can only represent the class whose historical task is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes – the proletariat.” (18)

Althusser understood the truth of Marx’s rejection of himself as a Marxist. He understood that the critique, its conception and consequence – as, in fact and deed, a rejection of Marx the Intellectual, the creator of a critique; instead, it “was the real – the worker’s class struggle – which acted as the true author (the agent) of the real’s critique of itself” (18).  As Althusser concludes, Marx wrote for the multitude, the workers who faced in their actual lives the domination and exploitation of capitalism’ dark oligarchic forces:

“In his own fashion and style, with all of his intellectual culture turned upside down by the experience he had acquired and was still acquiring, with his acute sense of the conflicts of his time, the individual named Marx ‘wrote’ on behalf of this ‘author’ [the multitude], infinitely greater than he was – on behalf but, first of all, by its agency and at its urging” (18).

1. Louis Althusser. Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Verso; 1 edition (June 17, 2006)

The Marxian Turn: A Renaissance in the Making?

In our darkest moments we begin to reveal the truth to ourselves. Maybe it is always the burdens of life: the pains, the depths of physical intrusion, the sleepless nights that give shape to those self-critical appraisals that awaken us from our dogmatic slumbers. Or, maybe it is disgust.

Louis Althusser in his Letter to Merab Mardashvili  once said that ‘disgust’ is “the word that says right out loud that one can no longer find one’s place in the cesspool, and that there’s no use looking for it, because all the places have been swept away by the crazy course of events” (5).1  During this same period (1978) he began a self critque of Marxism; or, what he termed the ‘crisis of Marixism'(7).

The crisis was the actual history of Marxism itself: its failure, and the “result is that the Marxists who call themselves Communists have proved incapable of accounting for their own history” (9). So this crisis is a political one and what it points to is termed by Althusser of that time as its “theoretical crisis, malaise or disarray” (9). The great question, and it still remains unanswered, as Althusser stated it in 1978 was this: “why has the Communist movement been incapable of writing its own history in convincing fashion: not just Stalin’s history, but also that of the Third International and everything that preceded it, from The Communist Manifesto on?” (9).

This is where it gets interesting, in that Althusser begins to question the whole theoretical ediface of Marxist theory itself “as conceived by its founder and interpreted by his successors”; yet, Althusser surmises, we know that it was the Stalinist turn that blocked any resolution to this dilemna, that prevented and political or theoretical research that might reconcile us to its task. Yet, he also saw that all this long history of failure had come to a head, that it was time for a full disclosure and rectification, a revision of the whole gamut of this failure as a possible overcoming. He knew all too well that this ‘crisis of Marxism’ might lead to a collapse. But what type? Would it lead to a crisis of liberation and transformation; or, to that deadly fatalism of death and decay.

As he knew all to well the reactionaries wanted it to collapse along with the whole theoretical framework of Marxism. In fact there was a long lineage of underming the Marxist framework, from Weber to Croce, from Aron to Popper who have all seen within Marxism an impossible thought or a metaphysical deadend (11). Instead of falling into some theoretical quagmire, falling into the arguments that the enemies of Marixism so willingly will lend us, Althusser tells us that what is needed is to wrest from those very enemies the deadly arguments they have for so long used against us. Maybe we need a little of the poison to immunize ourselves from the darkest fatalism within our own history. Maybe it is high time for a renaissance of Marxism, a rebirth and transformation of its insights and truths into the theoretical praxis of our own day and age.

As Althusser once said plainly there is no “act of faith in these words, but a political act pointing to a real possibility, already on its way to being realized in our own world”(12). It all comes down to us, to our own measure of involvement and engagement with this material history. But it is an effort that will take all of us working together, a social intelligence, a liberation and struggle, a resistance that knows the odds against its rebirth.

We see the voice of Communism in Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Costas Douzinas, Bruno Bosteels, Jodi Dean, David Harvey, Hardt and Negri, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Étienne Balibar, Jacques Ranciere and many more to fill books and literature galore. Yet, it is a small assemblage, a coeterie of intellectuals, something that has yet to find its voice within the people themselves. I watch as the Academy and academics join each other in meetings around the globe exchanging promissary notes about the truth of this struggle; and, yet, in the streets we see the aimless voices of failure as protest after protest resolves nothing, and counter-revolutions regain control of the political machinery of existence. Oh yes there are fringe groups, more radical anarchic elements that would seek to destroy all forms of Oligarchic tyranny around the globe; yet, even these are without recourse, money, voice within the mainstreams of the mediaglobe.

It’s as if we are all waiting for someone else to start the revolution in thought and praxis, as if we could just keep on talking to each other in our little conclaves and meetings and discussions around the globe in our academic safety nets without there really ever being a true change at all. What is to be done? Lenin once said this about it all:

“…socialism ceased to be an integral  revolutionary theory and became a hodgepodge “freely” diluted with the content of every new German textbook that appeared; the slogan  “class struggle” did not impel to broader and more energetic  activity but served as a balm, since “the economic struggle is  inseparably linked with the political struggle”; the idea of a party did not serve as a call for the creation of a militant organisation of revolutionaries, but was used to justify some sort of “revolutionary bureaucracy” and infantile playing at   “democratic” forms”(from What is to be done?)

Shall we continue to play our academic games, or shall there ever be a real resurgence of militant organizations of revolutionaries in our midst to challenge the status quo, to revise the old outworn doctrines of a failed Marxist tradition and renew its inner core and teachings for our own time. Shall we repeat its mistakes? Shall we instead make it our own? Shall we find a voice? Move forward in a struggle of emancipation and liberation from the dark overlords of this present economic system? Is this a renaissance in the making or just another turn toward failed political struggle? And who are we, anyway?

1. Louis Althusser. Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Verso; 1 edition (June 17, 2006)

From Marx to Mao: 34 volumes of Valdimir Il’ich Lenin’s works…

After the publication of his “April Theses” (1917) Zizek tells us, “Lenin discerned the Augenblick, the unique chance for a revolution,” and yet many of his fellow comrades of the time thought he’d gone mad. Bolgdanov considered the theses as “the delirium of a madman”, and Nadezhda Krupskaya commented: “I’m afraid it looks as if Lenin has gone crazy.” Yet, as Zizek relates,

This is the Lenin from whom we still have something to learn. The greatness of Lenin was that in this catastrophic situation, he wasn’t afraid to succeed – in contrast to the negative pathos discernible in Rosa Luxemburg and Adorno, for whom the ultimate authentic act is the admission of failure which brings the truth of the situation to light” (6). 1

Further on in his essay Zizek tells us “Lenin” is not the nostalgic name for old dogmatic certainties; that instead, “the Lenin who is to be retrieved is the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which the co-ordinates proved useless, and who was thus compelled to reinvent Marxism…” (11). Is this not the same for our time, a moment of transition before so called global capitalism and its minions consolidate it’s new found powers even within the old camps of Russian and China? As Zizek says, “Lenin” stands for the compelling freedom to suspend the stale existing post-ideological co-ordinates… we are allowed to think again (11). Instead of a return to Lenin, as if we could, we should repeat his swerve, his fall – to, as Zizek tells it, “retrieve the same impulse in today’s constellation” (11).  No, we cannot return to a failed history, to a nostalgia of the “good old revolutionary times”; no stage shows, no re-enactments; yet, we can instigate a repetition of the gesture of “Lenin” within our worldwide context of “reinventing the revolutionary project  in the condtions of imperialism and colonialism” (11) in which we find ourselves both prisoners and tenants of a failure to act, to connect, to relate, to commune.

If your interested in the source works of Lenin the From Marx to Mao site has 34 of his volumes for download in pdf format: click here. There are also five volumes of Mao’s works, along with a cursory mix of volumes from Marx and Engles, etc.

1. Slavoj Zizek. Revolution at the Gates: A Selection of Writings from February to October 1917. (Verso 2011).

Althusser’s Rain

In July 1982, first in a clinic at Soisy-sur-Seine and then in his Paris apartment, Althusser began writing again. In a few months, he had completed a dozen texts on both the political conjuncture and what he would henceforth call ‘the materialism of the encounter’.

It was out of my confrontation with this book, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987, that my own journey down the path of  philosophical materialism took a distinct swerve toward an aleatory materialism; one that Althusser once termed the ‘materialism of rain’: “…the existence of an almost completely unknown materialist tradition in the history of philosopy: the ‘materialism’ (we shall have to have some word to distinguish it as a tendency) of the rain, the swerve, the encounter, the take.

It is this secret history of materialism that flows out of Epicurus, Lucretius, Spinoza, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Heidegger, Derrida, and now Deleuze and beyond that offers us a way forward. And, of course, the great enemy to be overcome is as always Idealism in all its multifarious forms. Althusser remarks against a notion of clinamen affirmed within the discourse of Idealism, “if Epicurus’ atoms, raining down parallel to each other in the void, encounter one another, it is in order to bring out, in the guise of the swerve caused by the clinamen, the existence of human freedom even in the world of necessity” (168). It’s against this ‘idealism of freedom’ that his work portends a correction.

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Levi has another fine post, and I left some comments there, but I will add to this and repeat what I said there….

Levi said: “I think maybe because I’m keenly aware of political and ethical psychology.  Here the issue is not so much about the correctness of ethical and political positions, but rather in how our ethical and political zeal affectively transforms how we experience ourselves and the world.”

I had to reread this a few times and let it register completely. The heart of your notions center on zeal and affectivity: the psychology of the political as you state. I kept returning to what Hardt and Negri in The Affective Turn were talking about in how the realm of causality enters us through afftctitivity, how “our power to affect the world around us and our power to be affected by it, along with the relationship between these two powers.”

Thinking back on the early abuses of such power to affect and be affected as we understand it through propaganda systems from reading of such strange notions as Edward Bernays Propaganda influenced our own politicians to use the media and other systems to enter WWWI, which in turn influenced Joseph Goebbels and the theatrics of fascism we see how both zeal and affectivity – what we can term the power of rhetoric and sophism – to sway peoples emotions and thereby their very passions, rather than to touch their minds with truth. I’ve always felt leary of passion and affectivity within the political.

Bernays influenced Wilson with such notions of affectivity stating that the rhetoric of any political program  should align affectivity and zeal, and that the emotional content must: (a) coincide in every way with the broad basic plans of the campaign and all its minor details; (b) be adapted to the many groups of the public at which it is to be aimed; and (c) conform to the media of the distribution of ideas.

– from Edward Bernays. Propaganda

Listen to Goebbels: “How could we have overcome them had we not waged an educational campaign for years that persuaded people of their weaknesses, harms and disadvantages? Their final elimination was only the result of what the people had already realized. Our propaganda weakened these parties. Based on that, they could be eliminated by a legal act.”

Goebbels, Joseph (2009-05-31). Goebbels on the Power of Propaganda

As Chomsky tells us, “It is also necessary to whip up the population in support of foreign adventures. Usually the population is pacifist, just like they were during the First World War. The public sees no reason to get involved in foreign adventures, killing, and torture. So you have to whip them up. And to whip them up you have to frighten them. Bernays himself had an important achievement in this respect. He was the person who ran the public relations campaign for the United Fruit Company in 1954, when the United States moved in to overthrow the capitalist-democratic government of Guatemala and installed a murderous death-squad society, which remains that way to the present day with constant infusions of U.S. aid to prevent in more than empty form democratic deviations.

– Noam Chomsky. Media Control, Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

Affectivity and zeal are our enemies not our friends. The abuse of passion and emotions have led to human engagements that have always left us full of fear and madness and death. I would rather teach people how to counter such affectivity rather than persuade them to use those tools to promote what Bernays and Goebbels entailed.

Levi asks in the end: “My real question, however, is that of how we might avoid this loathsome ethical and political psychology that causes so much destruction, conflict, and horror in the world.  If we are to envision a politics, what kind of politics might we imagine based on building rather than critique, and what sort of politics might we imagine based on joy and love rather than resentment, faux superiority, and teeth gnashing?  We desperately need critique, but above all we need composition or building.”

More than anything we need to teach people how to think for themselves; give them the tools to know the difference that makes a difference. If we can teach them how not to be influenced by such things as propaganda, how to understand when it is being used, and how to effectively counter it with truth rather than affects then we might at least have a chance. And, I agree that we do need a positive program, we need to teach people ways of constructing models of change through composition or building.

It seems that we waver among ourselves within the philosophical and political community, we have no focus, no models of any type, no rallying point: we battle among ourselves over nuances and fine points of method and application rather than building up a set of models and putting them to work. If we do this then joy and love rather than the politics of resentment will follow. We need more modeling and less bickering….

To counter arguments like Goebbels: “How could we have overcome them had we not waged an educational campaign for years that persuaded people of their weaknesses, harms and disadvantages?”

What we need is to educate people not through persuasion about their weaknesses, harms, and disadvantages; what we need is to help them overcome these weaknesses, harms, and disadvantages by providing them the necessary tools to rise above such obstacles. We need to teach them that they are not alone, cut off, abandoned; but that they belong to a wider network and communal vision of empowerment for each other, a caring network based on partnership and togetherness rather than on solitude and freedom. For too long this isolated ideology of fate and freedom that has provided the core of most democracies must be overcome through the empowerment of the multitude working together in unison to build and compose a future that is viable for both us and all the creatures of our planetary habitat.

We do not need new “models of freedom”, instead we need new “models of togetherness and sociality”.

If privacy and private property are the foundations of republics, then what would a new model of togetherness and social property entail? Can we return to the old style communisms? The twentieth century shows us that at least the Marxian turn in this form or model led to forms of tyranny and enslavement. If we turn to such writers and Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Hardt and Negri, Agamben: do they offer anything viable toward the rehabilitation of this notion of Communism for our time? Or could we shape a new model out of the creative destruction of these older systems of failure? How to begin? We need open dialogue and communal efforts and engagements. The time of the isolated individual is over, now comes the time of collaboration and change…

It is only through the efforts of a mutltitude that such models of change can come about. We see the fragements of a vision scattered across the filaments of the internet, small pockets of resistance here and there; and, yet, we do not see a rallying point, a site or place of interaction where the multitudes themselves can have a say. Oh yes, there are many individual voices, but there is no gathering place, an agora or public gathering site where both Intellectuals and the Multitude can come together and commune and build together this model of the future. We need a modern Agora, a public site that brings together the great and the small, that offers empowerment to all who seek to understand what must be done…. to make a difference that is a difference.

Only through relationship and engagement can we begin the process of healing necessary to overcome the politics of failure that has for too long kept us back from inventing new models of change and participation, both egalitarian and democratic. The key elements in such a model would entail a more democratic and egalitarian structure in both the family and governance systems; equal partnership beween women and men; and realignment of laws to eliminate the abuse and violence at the heart of most State based models of governance.

Economics and gender would need to be at the forefront of such engagements. Also as Levi R. Bryant in his Questions for Flat Ethics reminds us: “While almost no one, in the humanities, would claim that humans are somehow more real than other entities, nor that humans are somehow sovereigns of all other entities, there seems to nonetheless be a treatment of humans as sovereigns at the level of our theoretical practice.” (Warning: pdf download) We must overcome the anthropocentrism that binds us to ideologies of control and domination, and replace them with non-ideological systems of caring and partnership. With these two factors of a true engagement based on partnership and equality for both women and non-humans we see the beginnings of a model.

As Levi explains it a “flat ethics would be one that contests this human privilege, extending the scope of ethics beyond the human and how we should use other things for ourselves, developing operations that would have ethical regard for nonhumans…” And, I would extend it by saying that we would contest male privelege as well; for at the center of all present systems of governance, it is male privelege and power that need to be contested, along with our priveleging of the “human” over “non-human”. Male privlege and exceptionalism have over centuries brought about these notions of human soverignty as centered in humanistic ideology and philosophy. To overcome such systems we need to renegotiate the contractual agreements at the heart of our democratic and/or other systems and redefine a model that is inclusive of both women and non-humans.

Even our notions of subjectivity must be challenged. As Rosi Braidotti reminds us there is little time or space left of nostalgia. That the Deleuzian nomads, the multitudes of feminist-operated becoming-woman of women, Irigaray’s woman as not-one, Haraway’s cyborgs, and Cixous’s new Medusa have become in the eyes of conservative ideology and thought monstrous, hybrid, scary diviants. She goes on to ask: “What if what was at fault here, however, were the very social imaginary that can only register changes of this magnitude on the panic-stricken moralistic register of deviancy? What if these unprogrammed others were forms of subjectivity that have simply shrugged off the shadow of binary logic and negativity and simply moved on?” (RB 262-263)1

Yet, as Nicklas Luhmann once remarked we must now assume a universality of selection criteria and “constraints, the universality of differentiation and boundary drawing. Reason that refuses to acknowledge this is not far from totalitarian, if not terroist, logic.(Theory of Society: Vol 1)” To refuse such selective criteria and constraints is to spin ourselves utopias beyond both human and non-human flights of fancy. Instead we need an ethics of engagement that clarifies and centers us in a material world of becoming and process, one that offers hope for change and a true egalitarian society free of oppressive systems of law and governance.

Instead of fear, abuse, and violence we need to empower mutual respect and trust within our social polities. Instead of a hollywood reality that justifies and idealizes domination and violence, which are presented as inevitable, moral, and desirable, we need movies and stories that recognize and give high value to empathic, mutually beneficial, and caring relations, which are considered moral and desirable. We need to provide a synergistic belonging and livingness toward each other and those non-humans that extends to the planet, creating the social and environmental consciousness needed for long-range planning, sustainability, and success.

The only question is: Where to start? How to begin? How to invest in an open site, a modern version of the ancient Greek Agora, a meeting place where the multitude and intellectuals at large can network, commune, socialize, collaborate towared the creation of a more egalitarian social vision. These are the kinds of questions that interest me. That we need change is obvious, but how to get there is the problem. The first steps toward change is to speak and communicate our ideas in a open and equitable dialogue that is no longer centered on one philosophy, one politics, one ethics; instead, we need a multitude of voices to provide us a pluralistic vision of how the material cultures on this planet can actually exist and provde each other space and reason enough to build a future worth living.

1. Rosi Braidotti. metalnorphoses: towards a materialist theory of becoming. (Polity Press 2002)

Larval Subjects .

These days I find myself feeling deeply weary where discussions about ethics and politics are concerned. I reflect on this, I wonder why. Why is it that I grow so tired, so jaded, whenever discussions of politics and ethics come up. I’m divided between two tendencies, two orientations. On the one hand, there is my desire for justice, equity, and fairness. On the other hand, there is my Lucretian and Spinozist desire for peace of mind and beautitude. Ethico-politico desire, the first orientation, is a desire to transform the world, to render it just, and to denounce injustice; injustice that we see all about it. The desire for beautitude and peace of mind is something quite different. It is a desire to simply delight in the machines of the world, the beings of the world, taking them for what they are. The person who has what Spinoza called an “intellectual…

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Books of Interest

Just discovered three books of interest.

1. Theory After ‘Theory’. Editors Elliott, Jane; Attridge, Derek. Taylor & Francis. Routledge (2011)

This volume has essays by Brian Massumi, Ray Brassier, Peter Hallward, Eugene Thacker, Bernard Stiegler and others. The editors speking of the late demise of theory tell us that “for some, ‘Theory’ was already passing with the end of the 1970s, whereas for others, the 1980s and early 1990s represent the height of ‘Theory’, in which feminist, postcolonial, queer and critical race theorists made their most significant contributions. Since the mid-1990s, the story goes, theory has continued to diversify, drawing on the work of a range of new figures and examining a host of new archives and arenas, but its newer incarnations offer at most a kind of afterlife of the once vital object that was ‘Theory’, a diluted form lacking in both intellectual substance and institutional prominence. As a result, conversations regarding the status of theory have become akin to an ongoing wake, in which participants debate the merits of the deceased and consider the possibilities for a resurrection desired by some and feared by others.”

Brian Massumi offers a political ensemble: “The present tense where memory and perception come disjunctively together is the time of the event that is like a lost between of the towers and their ruins, an interval in which life was suspended for an instantaneous duration that was more like a stilled eternity than a passing present, comprehending reflection gone AWOL.”

Ray Brassier tells us that “the question ‘What is real?’ stands at the crossroads of metaphysics and epistemology. More exactly, it marks the juncture of metaphysics and epistemology with the seal of conceptual representation.”

Peter Hallward seeks a politics of movement and mobilization: “Recent examples of the sort of popular will that I have in mind include the determination, assembled by South Africa’s United Democratic Front, to overthrow an apartheid based on culture and race, or the mobilization of Haiti’s Lavalas to confront an apartheid based on privilege and class. Conditioned by the specific strategic constraints that structure a particular situation, such mobilizations test the truth expressed in the old cliché, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’. Or to adapt Antonio Machado’s less prosaic phrase, taken up as a motto by Paulo Freire: the partisans of such mobilizations assume that ‘there is no way, we make the way by walking it’ (Machado 1978).”

Eugene Thacker delves into the debates within the biopolitical spectrum:  “Today, in an era of biopolitics, it seems that life is everywhere at stake, and yet it is nowhere the same. The question of how and whether to value life is at the core of contemporary debates over bare life and the state of exception.”

2. F. Vander Valk.Essays on Neuroscience and Political Theory: Thinking the Body Politic. Taylor & Francis. Routledge (2012)

There is an interesting essay by Adrian Johnston author of several excellent works, especially his work on Zizek and Badiou: Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of  Subjectivity (2008), and Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations: The Cadence of Change (2009). His essay in this book, Toward a Grand Neuropolitics – or, Why I am Not an Immanent Naturalist or Vital Materialist, which delves into the philosophy of “immanent naturalism” as typified by William Connelly who’s stance within his books Neuropolitics and A World of Becoming offers him grist for the mill. Johnston mentions Jane Bennett’s new work as well Vibrant Matter as well. I’ve only been able to do a cursory scan this and other essays wihtin this excellent volume of essays, but am intrigued by the subject already.

As Frank Vander Valk says in the introduction to the volume: “One of the consequences of the claims about the revolutionary nature of neuroscience has been that established concepts, ideas, and texts from political theory have not been sufficiently integrated into the emerging discussion of social (and political) neuroscience. This collection addresses that problem by explicitly connecting neuroscience research to major figures in the history of political theory (e.g. Aristotle, Hobbes) and specific issues in the field (e.g. deliberative democracy, gender, subjectivity). These are important first steps, not only in working through what neuroscience means (and does not mean!) for political theory, but also for providing examples of the contribution that political theorists can make to understanding the richness of biocultural entities.

3. A Leftist Ontology: Beyond Relativism and Identity Politics. Editor Carsten Strathausen. (2009)

William Connelly whom we met in the prevous volume tells us int the introduction to this grouping of philosophical discussions by George Kateb, Charles Taylor, and Judith Butler among others tells us that although each of them may differ over critical stances within leftist political and philosophical traditions, yet they all converge on three important aspects of the ontological dimension:

First, each embraces a positive ontological orientation, as when Taylor focuses on the complexity of human embodiment, supports a fugitive philosophy of transcendence, seeks to become more closely attuned to a final moral source that cannot be known in a classical epistemic way, and defines ethical life in terms of a plastic set of intrinsic purposes to be pursued rather than a set of universal laws to be obeyed. Each of the others takes different stances on the same issues. Second, each theorist discerns a loose set of relations between the ontology adopted, the ethical-political priorities endorsed, and specific dangers and possibilities to be identified. None suggests that an ontology determines a political stance, but all contend that it filters into politics, so that it would be a mistake to say that ontology has no influence on politics. Taylor’s faith in the grace of a loving God, for instance, enters into his politics, even if the element of mystery he discerns in divinity means that he does not delineate the tight set of moral commands presented by Pope Benedict XVI and a large section of the evangelical movement in America. Third, each figure acknowledges the ontology he or she embraces to be susceptible to reflective and comparative defense; but most conclude that it is unlikely to be established either by such airtight arguments or universal recognition that it rules every other possibility out of court. Each party-though perhaps to different degrees-is thus a pluralist, seeking to bring their onto-orientation into the public realm while recoiling back on tensions and uncertainties in it enough to invite open-textured negotiations with others. Each advances a bicameral orientation to citizenship, seeking to give his or her own orientation public presence while conceding a place to others. Discernible in the differences between them is the common appreciation of a paradoxical element in politics.”

Materialism and World Politics – 20-22 October, 2012

Journal of International Studies

Annual Conference

Materialism and World Politics – 20-22 October, 2012

Old Building, London School of Economics

(Click Here For More Information)

Scheduled Speakers:

Keynote: The ontology of global politics
William Connolly (Johns Hopkins University)

Opening Panel: The materiality of geopolitics
Daniel Deudney (Johns Hopkins University)
John Protevi (Louisiana State University)

Closing Panel: Agency and structure in a complex world
Colin Wight (University of Sydney)
Erika Cudworth (University of East London)
Stephen Hobden (University of East London)
Diana Coole (Birkbeck, University of London)

ANT/STS Workshop keynote:
Andrew Barry (University of Oxford)

*******

The annual conference for volume 41 of Millennium: Journal of International Studies will take place on 20-22 October, 2012 at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This includes 2 days of panels and keynotes on the weekend, and a special Monday workshop on actor-network theory (ANT), science and technology studies (STS), and alternative methodologies. Participation in the workshop on Monday is unfortunately limited though, and registration for it is now closed. We will however be publishing snippets of the workshop in future publications.

The theme of this year’s conference is on the topic of materialism in world politics. In contrast to the dominant discourses of neorealism, neoliberalism and constructivism, the materialist position asks critical questions about rational actors, agency in a physical world, the role of affect in decision-making, the biopolitical shaping of bodies, the perils and promises of material technology, the resurgence of historical materialism, and the looming environmental catastrophe. A large number of critical writers in International Relations have been discussing these topics for some time, yet the common materialist basis to them has gone unacknowledged. The purpose of this conference will be to solidify this important shift and to push its critical edges further. Against the disembodied understanding of International Relations put forth by mainstream theories, this conference will recognize the significance of material factors for world politics.

 

the philosopher as accidental commedian…

Comments on Nick Land’s Urban Future blog:

Giantpigattack@…: an aged philosopher is either a monster of stamina or a charlatan… 

Nick Land: … and probably an accidental comedian. If the old codger has any sense or residual thread of charred and fraying dignity, he’ll restrict himself to meandering cultural commentary, perhaps on a blog.

from the Urban Future blog      

Slavoj Zizek – A Year of Living Dangerously

“As Marxists, we share the premise that Marx’s “critique of political economy” remains the starting point for understanding our socio-economic predicament. In order to grasp the specificity of that predicament, however, we must get rid of the last vestiges of Marx’s evolutionary historicism…”

                     – Zizek, Slavoj, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously

Got to love Zizek. He’s a walking monstrosity, full of energy, laughter, jokes, and most of all: truths, truths we need to hear over and over again. A later day Hegel with a mission, a zen master who will clobber you over the head not with koans but with the harsh truths of “dialectical materialism”.  Zizek’s sight has always been skewed. He would call it a parallax vision, a sort of double vision that keeps two contraries in one’s vision without collapsing either into the other. Crosseyed he sees parrallel truths all the way up and all the way down. But this is not an extensive vision. Forget about Descartes and all those rationalist exigencies, here there be demons: revolutionary thoughts that touch the void at the center of self and society.

His latest book, A Year of Living Dangerously, is revisionist through and through. Like a prize fighter he begins his demolition of no less a personage than Marx himself, his nineteenth century conflation of evolution and progress in historical materialism. After applying a scalpel to Marx’s scientism and evolutionism he begins to take his knife to Capitalism:

“First, capitalism as a social formation is characterized by a structural imbalance: the antagonism between forces and relations is present from the very beginning, and it is this very antagonism which pushes capitalism towards permanent self-revolutionizing and self-expansion— capitalism thrives because it avoids its fetters by escaping into the future. This is also why one has to drop the “wisely” optimistic notion that mankind “inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve”: today we face problems for which no clear solutions are guaranteed by the logic of evolution (DD 123-127 KL*).1

Here we learn that Capitalism is war and its agon of power for the supremacy of the world has been there from the beginning, that this duel between force and relation that is the engine driving capital as an accelerationist (Nick Land/Mark Fisher) fantasy that no one can control leads only to a future as Void. Pessimism or optimism will not stop this juggernaut.

A Dog with a bone to chew, he chews on the Multitude. He treats the radicalization of Marxian theory and praxis in Hardt and Negri’s work telling us that their “analysis has three weak points that, taken together, explain how capitalism can survive what should be (in classical Marxist terms) a new organization of production that renders it obsolete” (DD 158-160 KL). Workers are becoming redundant, entrpreneurs are being replaced by overseers, mangers of socialized business owned by banks and stock holders. Now we have temporary workers without insurance or homes, slaves to the daily wage of non-work, forever tied to the religious ideologies that support their hope for a future that will never arrive. A new ideal type of capitalism without the bourgeoisie, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, becomes re-functionalized as a class of salaried managers— the new bourgeoisie itself receives a salary, and even if its members own part of their company, they earn their stock as part of the remuneration for their work (DD 167-169 KL).

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During a time of dangerous living…. The Condition of Politics

Are future events in some way predetermined, or is everything left open? In one sense, it seems that the creation of new assemblages will always be possible, and hence novelty can emerge.”
– Graham Harman

“We continue to raise with the Egyptian Government, as we do with other governments in the region, the imperative for reform and greater openness and participation to provide a better future for all.  We want to partner with the Egyptian people and their government to realize their aspirations to live in a democratic society that respects basic human rights.”
– Secretary Hilary Clinton

I wrote this a while back in the heat of the moment, during a time of “living dangerously” (Zizek).

What is truly going on in Egypt? As I watched the video on the Aljazeera site and saw through the lens of a sophisticated technology the empowering irruption of force that is a people’s revolution, an assemblage of disparate groups of individuals with their distinctive ethnic, social, cultural, ideological and religious affiliations all coming together to oust a dictator and his tyrannical regime I ponder just what is going on in Egypt. One wants to move through that screen and actually participate in this real struggle, instead of participating vicariously; yet, one has to ask the vital question: Is this my struggle? And, one has to say, both Yes and No; or, even, maybe both and neither. The ambiguity of this struggle is that it slaps us in the West in the face, as we watch our own governments foster the usual vein gestures of non-participation and stand idly by gazing, watching, wondering just what will transpire: situated like spectral ghosts in a movie where the flickering screen is stuck, a frozen frame without reference or history: instead this movie goes on without us, beyond us, realizing its own emergent dream event, one that we ourselves cannot and will not realize. For the Egyptian people are fulfilling an ancient dream, the dream of democracy in action: the engagement among equals immersed as they are advocating their right to be free from all relation to oppression. But even as we watch on, as we listen to these people: these brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, old and young, Islamist and Christian standing together, fighting together in a new type of non-violent participatory struggle we have to ask again: what is truly going on in Egypt?

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