Modern societies, in pulling down all the old barriers, all the prohibitions, rituals, and symbolic conceptions that once worked to curb human violence, unleashed new forces of unprecedented creativity. But these were counterbalanced by new forces of unprecedented destructiveness, so that the world was transformed into a single community of human beings living under the threat of being reduced to ashes, scattered among piles of radioactive rubble.
Little by little, Economy emancipated itself from the shackles of the sacred. Once held in check by religion, and then by politics, it has today become both our religion and our politics. No longer subject to any higher authority, it cannot decide our future, or make us a world in which to live: it has become our future and our world. Advanced postindustrial societies have been well and truly mystified, in the original sense of that word, and their politicians hoodwinked. The result is paralysis.
– Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith
What looks thuggish from one perspective, feels inarticulately pissed off from another. Class lenses can be cognitively confining. Couldn’t it be that simple? (I realize that baroque conspiracy theory is more fun.)
– Nick Land
Is it as simple as that? Is the neoreactionary impulse nothing more than a new Baroque, inscribing the past within the cultural dynamics of our present slipstream, producing thought-worlds to confront the enigma of our future? Are these marginal renegades trying to achieve some form of aesthetic legibility so that their designs on the past can gain if not traction and historical legitimation then at least conspiratorial approval from the Right and silence from the Left? Is this new Baroque, with its historical and geographical, not to mention aesthetic eccentricity, challenging the past even as it implodes the future? Is it demarcating lines of flight within an arsenal of perspectives seeking nothing more than an opening, an ‘outside in’ that could infiltrate the hegemonic power centers of the Cathedral, thereby disinterring and unleashing the accelerating forces within late capitalism that would destroy it. At the crossroads of this renegade tribalism there are signs and wonders, an aesthetic logic no longer of mourning and melancholy, but of terror and hypermimetic luxuriousness, an erotic convulsion and counter-allegory built neither on pathos nor bathos, but bearing witness to the demise of postmodernity and to the very condition of a world that could not be assimilated by the project of the original Enlightenment. Instead the neoreactionaries offer a new Dark Enlightenment.
In many of the comments from a recent lampoon ‘You’ve got to be kidding? Neoreactionary Soup and The Fall of Man‘ a name kept cropping up in regards to this new dark enlightenment: Mencius Moldbug. Like many I wandered over to Wikipedia the supposed free encyclopedia of our cyberage and did a search. Nothing. Zit. Came up blank. Wondering why such an important personage within a marginal movement was left out of such a prestigious institution of technological empowerment (lol) I decided to look up the neologism ‘neoreactionary’. Of course, nothing. So I did a cursory search on reactionary, and low and behold we get the ideologically neutral entry here:
A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state (the status quo ante) in a society. The word can also be an adjective describing such viewpoints or policies. Reactionaries are considered to be one end of a political spectrum whose opposite pole is radicalism, though reactionary ideologies may be themselves radical.
So to be fair I took a peak at the ‘radicalism’ link to see how the opposite pole of reactionary politics was defined:
The term Radical (from the Latin radix meaning root) was used during the late 18th century for proponents of the Radical Movement. Historically, it began in the United Kingdom with political support for a “radical reform” of the electoral system to widen the franchise. Some radicals sought republicanism, abolition of titles, redistribution of property and freedom of the press. Initially identifying itself as a far left party opposed to the right-wing parties; the Orléanists, the Legitimists and the Bonapartists in France in the nineteenth century, the Republican, Radical and Radical‐Socialist Party progressively became the most important party of the Third Republic (1871–1940). As historical Radicalism became absorbed in the development of political liberalism, in the later 19th century in both the United Kingdom and continental Europe the term Radical came to denote a progressive liberal ideology.
So it seems we get this superficial sense of history of bitter rivals vying for the supremacy of their reactionary/radical ideologies as part of the Enlightenment project.
…those who err are precisely those cynics who dismiss the symbolic texture as a mere semblance and are blind to its efficacy, to the way the symbolic affects the Real, to the way we can intervene into the Real through the symbolic.
– Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing:
Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism
Slavoj Zizek at the end of his discursive behemoth, Less Than Nothing, a convoluted yet brilliant divagation of the dialectic in all its ramifications enters the final stage, the stage of the political, the realm where the gap by which we as humans shall either produce something new or continue failing challenges us to think the gap of the political. Following Lacan as both radical and conservative, as a revolutionary that would push the ethics of symbolic realization and the ethics of confrontation bursting the bonds of the ego and pushing beyond the limits to the Real; and, then, in the last series of lectures, of a turn back from that abyss toward a more practical motion of psychoanalysis as a boat for the sick, a safety net in which “One should not push an analysis too far. When the patient thinks he is happy to live, it is enough.”1 As Zizek puts it:
How far we are here from Antigone’s heroic attempt to attain the “pure desire” by entering the prohibited domain of ate! Psychoanalytic treatment is now no longer a radical transformation of subjectivity, but a local patching-up which does not even leave any long-term traces. (ibid)
It was this second Lacan, the conserver, the pale doctor of sick souls that would tempt his immediate keeper of the mantle, Jacques-Alain Miller, to accept the incurability of our subjectivity, to use it, to provide not a cure but a slow death between bodily jouissance and the acceptance of those semblances whose power marks the sacrifice of our lives limited finitude. Miller would provide a less than adequate critique of instrumental reason, a linkage between democratic culture and racism, a culture that used mathematical universalism and scientificity to demarcate the limits of reason and social hierarchies. The hegemony of science over language and positive knowledge, of its exclusionary practices and derogation of the humanities and other forms of knowledge would lead to a mode of universalism in which this passion became the end all for a culture of hedonistic enjoyment.
What this means is that a psychoanalyst occupies the position of an ironist who takes care not to intervene into the political field. He acts so that semblances remain at their places while making sure that the subjects under his care do not take them as real … (Kindle Locations 21584-21590).
The psychoanalyst no longer at the forefront of thought, becomes the ironist, and even the cynic of thought, he “doesn’t propose projects, he cannot propose them, he can only mock the projects of others, which limits the scope of his statements. The ironist has no great design, he waits for the other to speak first and then brings about his fall as fast as possible … Let us say this is political wisdom, nothing more”(ibid). With this we are lead to the defeat of the political, a Voltairean cynicism in which society is kept together only by semblances, “which means: there is no society without repression, without identification, and above all without routine. Routine is essential.” (ibid)
Such a world of routine and habit, repetition and abiding cynicism in which subjects know the truth of those semblances that hold them in thrall, but are unable to challenge their hegemonic power, allowing for only the hedonistic display of bodily jouissance as reprieve. Zizek tells us that only another alternative order, a new order of communism, one based on the idiosyncratic authenticity of a Utopia of misfits and oddballs, in which the constraints for uniformization and conformity have been removed, and human beings grow wild like plants in a state of nature … no longer fettered by the constraints of a now oppressive sociality, [they] blossom into the neurotics, compulsives, obsessives, paranoids and schizophrenics, whom our society considers sick but who, in a world of true freedom, may make up the flora and fauna of “human nature” itself.(Kindle Locations 21612-21615). In such a world ideology no longer resides primarily in taking seriously the network of symbolic semblances which encircle the hard core of jouissance; at a more fundamental level, ideology is the cynical dismissal of these semblances (Master Signifiers) as “mere semblances” with regard to the Real of jouissance (ibid).
1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. Norton. Kindle Edition.
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
The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world, which tirelessly punctuated the destruction of the indigenous social fabric, and demolished unchecked the systems of reference of the country’s economy, lifestyles, and modes of dress, this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities.
– Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
Today the poor of the world have no place to turn, neither the countryside nor the city, they have only the dark interior slums between. As Mike Davis iterates: “
Indeed, peri-urban poverty – a grim human world largely cut off from the subsistence solidarities of the countryside as well as disconnected from the cultural and political life of the traditional city – is the radical new face of inequality. The urban edge is a zone of exile, a new Babylon…1
In many third world countries night after night, hornetlike helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side.(PS 206)
The poor of the world living in excluded realms, zones of invisibility, marginal to even the basic needs of survival. Closed off in the shanty town, the Medina, the reservation, in disreputable places inhabited by disreputable people. “You are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything. It’s a world with no space, people are piled one on top of the other, the shacks squeezed tightly together. The colonized’s sector is a famished sector, hungry for bread, meat, shoes, coal, and light. The colonized’s sector is a sector that crouches and cowers, a sector on its knees, a sector that is prostrate. It’s a sector of niggers, a sector of towelheads. The gaze that the colonized subject casts at the colonist’s sector is a look of lust, a look of envy. Dreams of possession. Every type of possession: of sitting at the colonist’s table and sleeping in his bed, preferably with his wife. The colonized man is an envious man” (WE 4-5). In the lands of the oppressed truth is learned each day in the struggle for another life:
Truth is what hastens the dislocation of the colonial regime, what fosters the emergence of the nation. Truth is what protects the “natives” and undoes the foreigners. In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior. And good is quite simply what hurts them most. (WD 14)
One can understand why Fanon thought such dark thoughts, why he felt that violence was a cleansing force. It is not just the oppression, the exclusion, it is the humiliation, the pangs of shame at having had to live under such horrid conditions for so long, having had to watch the masters treat one as a nothing, as a mere tool. Yes, one can understand such thoughts:
At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. It emboldens them, and restores their self-confidence. Even if the armed struggle has been symbolic, and even if they have been demobilized by rapid decolonization, the people have time to realize that liberation was the achievement of each and every one and no special merit should go to the leader. Violence hoists the people up to the level of the leader. Hence their aggressive tendency to distrust the system of protocol that young governments are quick to establish. When they have used violence to achieve national liberation, the masses allow nobody to come forward as “liberator.” They prove themselves to be jealous of their achievements and take care not to place their future, their destiny, and the fate of their homeland into the hands of a living god. (WE 51-52)
This was a man who knew the truth, who had lived it, had seen the oppression, had felt the pain of its deathly touch. He also knew that liberation came with a price, that nothing is gotten for nothing. There is always a price to pay for emancipation.
Total liberation involves every facet of the personality. The ambush or the skirmish, the torture or the massacre of one’s comrades entrenches the determination to win, revives the unconscious and nurtures the imagination. When the nation in its totality is set in motion, the new man is not an a posteriori creation of this nation, but coexists with it, matures with it, and triumphs with it. This dialectical prerequisite explains the resistance to accommodating forms of colonization or window dressing. Independence is not a magic ritual but an indispensable condition for men and women to exist in true liberation, in other words to master all the material resources necessary for a radical transformation of society. (WE 233)
1. Davis, Mike (2007-09-17). Planet of Slums (p. 201). Norton. Kindle Edition.
2. Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth (pp. 4-5). Kindle Edition.
Intensely political seasons spawn reveries of a different immediacy. People imagine alternative environments where authenticity trumps ideology, truths cannot be concealed, and communication feels intimate, face-to-face. In these times, even politicians imagine occupying a post-public sphere public where they might just somehow make an unmediated transmission to the body politic.
– Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism
A filter, after all, separates out noise from communication and, in so doing, makes communication possible. Jacques Attali and Michel Serres have both argued that there is no communication without noise, as noise interferes from within any utterance, threatening its tractability. The performance of distortion that constitutes communication therefore demands discernment, or filtering. However steadfast one’s commitment to truth, there is no avoiding the noise.
The transmission of noise performs political attachment as a sustaining intimate relation, without which great dramas of betrayal are felt and staged. In The Ethical Soundscape, Charles Hirschkind talks about the role of “maieutic listening” in constructing the intimate political publics of Egypt. There, the feeling tones of the affective soundscape produce attachments to and investments in a sense of political and social mutuality that is performed in moments of collective audition. This process involves taking on listening together as itself an of desire. The attainment of that attunement produces a sense of shared worldness, apart from whatever aim or claim the listening public might later bring to a particular political world because of what they have heard.
– Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism
Public spheres are always affect worlds, worlds to which people are bound, when they are, by affective projections of a constantly negotiated common interestedness. But an intimate public is more specific. In an intimate public one senses that matters of survival are at stake and that collective mediation through narration and audition might provide some routes out of the impasse and the struggle of the present, or at least some sense that there would be recognition were the participants in the room together.” An intimate public promises the sense of being held in its penumbra. You do not need to audition for membership in it. Minimally, you need just to perform audition, to listen and to be interested in the scene’s visceral You might have been drawn to it because of a curiosity about something minor, unassociated with catastrophe, like knitting or collecting something, or having a certain kind of sexuality, only after which it became a community of support, offering tones of suffering, humor, and cheerleading. Perhaps an illness led to seeking out a community of survival tacticians. In either case, any person can contribute to an intimate public a personal story about not being defeated by what is overwhelming. More likely, though, participants take things in and sometimes circulate what they hear, captioning them with opinion or wonder. But they do not have to do anything to belong. They can be passive and lurk, deciding when to appear and disappear, and consider the freedom to come and go the exercise of sovereign freedom.1
We must create new symbolic forms for our collective actions. … We must find a new sun…
– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
– Karl Marx, Critique of Goth Program
Why do we need revolutionary sociopaths? If the soldier is a figure who transfigures humanity, and if indeed it is through the deeds of such a being that we attain something eternal as Badiou suggests in his Philosophy for Militants, then why is it that this figure of a new heroism should be sociopathic? Zizek remarks that there is a simple reason for this: our society needs sociopaths if it is to function “normally”; only they can save it, that is, society’s rules have to be broken for the sake of society itself (126).1
Adam Kotsko admits that we need to draw a line between real-life psychopaths or sociopaths and their fantasy portrayals to be seen on our nightly television sets or at the movies. For Kotsko the dividing line between the reality and the fantasy is one of social mastery.2 As Kotsko remarks, “The sociopath is an individual who transcends the social, who is not bound by it in any gut-level way and who can therefore use it purely as a tool” (Kindle Locations 142-145). Speaking of the dream worlds of our TV’s and movies and their impact on the modern conformist culture of our age, Kotsko remarks that what motivates the fantasy of the sociopath is the simple truth that: our society really is broken.
The question I would ask, however, is what we’re using as a point of comparison. Every social norm, it seems, even the apparently “natural” social order of the family, can be exploited for sociopathic ends or be caught up in the vicious cycle that generates and supports sociopathic behavior. This is because, as I argued in Awkwardness, there is no “natural” social order— all social norms are no more than functional guidelines that we use to help us cope with the anxiety and conflict that comes with being the fundamentally social beings that we are. Rather than coming down from heaven or being grounded in some kind of natural law (such as the biological or evolutionary imperatives that supposedly ground the family structure), our social orders are long-term strategies for dealing with each other, tools that are useful in a given time and place with no guarantee that they will last. (Kotsko, Kindle Locations 212-219).
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)
I am perfectly in agreement with the statement that philosophy depends on certain nonphilosophical domains, which I have proposed to call the ‘conditions’ of philosophy.
– Alain Badiou, Philosophy for Militants
The nonphilosophical domains upon which philosophy depends for Badiou are science, art, politics and love. In science his work depends on a new “concept of the infinite”; in politics on new forms of “revolutionary politics”; in art, the poetry of Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Pessoa, Mandelstam or Wallace Stevens, on the prose of Samuel Beckett; and, finally, on love the context of psychoanalysis and the questions of sexuation and gender that have emerged in our time. (3) 1 And, he offers, we must accept that philosophy always comes in the aftermath of such nonphilosophical domains, is a second rate affair at best.(3)
Adam Robert has a timely essay on the Worldwatch Institute site:
UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff is completely unconcerned with sounding “unsophisticated” when he writes, in a recent blog: “Global warming is real, and it is here. It is causing —yes, causing—death, destruction, and vast economic loss.” But Lakoff, like Barrett, is fully aware of the problems associated with the word “cause” when thinking about climate change. Lakoff goes on: “Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy…. Let’s say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.”
“This phrase, “systemic causation,” should be repeated like a mantra in all forms of media—from mainstream news outlets to blogs, twitter accounts, and Facebook posts—until the phrase becomes part of our shared lexicon for thinking about ecological issues like human-caused climate change. Systemic causation requires that we, the concerned and ecologically knowledgeable, play our part in describing the complex nature of climate change so that we can move forward with policies that recognize the multivalent social, political, and material catastrophes that are heading our way.”
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)
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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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.”
“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).
“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?
He sees something monstrous happening to the people of Europe, they are being divested of there soverign rights and decision making apparatuses. He tells us that what is happening in europe today is nothing less than the “systematic destruction of public services and all forms of solidarity and social protection that guaranteed a minimum of equality in the social fabric.” He affirms that the conditions are ripe for demonstrations against the “apparatuses of domination”, yet he is hesitant to see in this as a positive. In fact, he tells us that it is not “not enough for the circumstances to be there: it is also necessary that these be recognised by forces likely to turn this into a demonstration, once intellectual and material, and to turn this demonstration into a lever that is capable of modifying the balance of forces by modifying the very landscape of what is perceivable and what is thinkable.”
For a rebirth of politics that is not distorted by the logics malformed spaces as respresented by both the Left and Right Parties within the EU he tells us that we need to create autonomous entities that open up “spaces of discussion and ways of circulating information, motives and ways of action directed, first of all, towards the development of an autonomous power to think and act.” Yet, he seems to fall into mystification when he elaborates a position which removes philosophical speculation and philosophers themselves from the arena of politics, and instead offers the ‘collective intelligence’ of the multitudes:
“When a collective intelligence affirms itself in the movement it is the moment of doing away with philosophical providers of explanations or slogans. It is not, in fact a matter of presences or absences of philosophers. It is a question of the existence or the inexistence of a vision of the world that naturally structures collective action.”
anthropologies site has an excellent series of essays on political ecology. Ryan Anderson quoting from Land and Degradation and Society by Blaikie and Brookfield tells us:
“The phrase ‘political ecology’ combines the concerns of ecology and a broadly defined political economy. Together this encompasses the constantly shifting dialectic between society and land-based resources, and also within classes and groups within society itself” (1987:17).”
Graham Pickern in the same article describes it as an epistemological perspective that “that builds on the environmental justice focus on the relationship between social inequality and environmental harm, but broadens that focus to examine environmental injustices not as discrete events, but as historical and geographical processes shaped by asymmetrical relationships of power”.
Thomas Loder in his work on farming describes his use of political ecology as emerging from his confrontation of Assemblage Theory and its use of agencement
Agencement became extremely useful to me, as it helped me to frame the technological and political economic practices that led to energy production as a coherent unit (an assemblage), which I was then able to tie to larger scale processes via a boundary object, a referent which allows for communication between and across various assemblages (see Star & Griesemer 1989). Indeed, framing local energy production as an assemblage allowed me to relate discussion surrounding agricultural subsidies in Vermont to seemingly disparate topics such as climate change in Africa and the relationship between oil consumption and national security, an important step that allows a paper to speak to audiences beyond its purported subject. ( see: Integrating Agencement/Assemblage into Political Ecology: here)
He tells us that agencement is rendered as assemblage, connoting merely a collection of things. While this is one meaning of the French term, agencement also implies that these things do not come together in a static arrangement (or network), but have the ability to participate in processes by virtue of assembling, not least of which is disassembling and coming together with different things to create new assemblages and new processes.
Jarius Rossi provides an analysis of William Jordan’s Critical Philosophy of Restoration Ecology:
Jordan articulates a conservation/environmental philosophy that 1) requires restoration participants to realize that nature is social by making and maintaining an ecosystem, 2) challenges cultural and ecological narratives that portray nature transcendent, primordial, and balanced while simultaneously attempting to produce a temporarily stable state, and 3) uses the creation of a material landscape as a shared myth-making practice that forms temporary alliances between individuals with diverse interests. (see: here)
He became involved in Jordan’s restoration ecology precisely because of its unique application of a conservation vision. As he states it:
Part of my interest in this vision is the way that he merges myth, ritual, and material to provide an entrance into a way of doing/thinking about nature that doesn’t rest on its ontological separation from human acts. He also dispenses with our ability to know/make/enact some original natural state. Instead, he articulates nature as something that needs a consciously and socially developed mythology that doesn’t avoid difficult questions and existential contradictions. He also emphasizes a decentered ontology of nature and ecology that finds resonance in post-modern scientific thinking on objects and social scientific theories of enaction.
What he discovered in the work of Jordan was that these diverse inquiries into objects, ecosystems, organisms, and societies are relational and subject to multiscalar, nondeterministic processes. In summary he offers:
Through these realizations, which are post-structural in respect to categories, but concerned with the actual materialization and operation of living entities, many new inquiries are possible. Jordan’s strength is to bring ecosystems, and our social-scientific strategies for remaking them, into the realm of critical, reflexive inquiry. The restoration of an ecosystem, from his perspective, is contingent on organismic materialities (i.e. life history traits of certain plants), yet subject to creative social intervention that moves beyond questions of authenticity and seeks to create shared cultural meaning among practitioners.
I think the unique vision of political ecology focusing as it does on the ecological, social and material objects/systems is heading in the right direction. The ontological aspects that it is dealing with could use some modifications and incorporation of the speculative realist movment as a part of its toolbag. I’ll be dealing with this among other things in future essays. My concern is to weave a series of essays dealing with the work of Murray Bookchin, Timothy Morton, Graham Harman, Levi R. Bryant, Ian Bogost, Slavoj Zizek, Bruno Latour, Niklaus Luhmann and many other philsophers and thinkers and how there work may impact a revisioning of social ecologies in our time.