Thursday, September 21, 2017

Against Nationalism. The Crazies are Coming!

The saber rattling and harsh rhetoric during the current nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula should remind mankind of something we have forgotten. Atomic weapons are terrifying things, and talk of using them should be a taboo subject.

A week or so ago, I found myself reading Agatha Christie’s 80th, and penultimate, book, "Passenger to Frankfurt," and its relevance to today struck me. The book was published in 1970, with the subtitle “an extravaganza,” is an utter failure and was often characterized as an “incomprehensible muddle”; however, this "muddle" is not due to Christie’s old age or senility: instead, its causes are clearly political.

Passenger to Frankfurt is Christie’s most personal, intimately felt, and at the same time most political novel. It expresses her personal confusion, her feeling of being totally at a loss with what was going on in the world in the late 1960s – the drugs, the sexual revolution, student protests, murders, etc. So it's no wonder that Passenger to Frankfurt is not a detective novel. There is no murder, no logic, and deduction. This feeling of the collapse of the elementary cognitive mapping, this overwhelming fear of chaos, is rendered precisely in Christie’s introduction to the novel:
“Hold up a mirror to 1970 in England. Look at that front page every day for a month, make notes, consider and classify. Every day there is a killing. A girl strangled. An elderly woman attacked and robbed of her meager savings. Young men or boys attacking or attacked. Buildings and telephone kiosks smashed and gutted. Drug smuggling. Robbery and assault. Children missing and children’s murdered bodies found not far from their homes. Can this be England? Is England really like this? Not yet, but it could be. Fear is awakening, a fear of what may be. And not only in our own country. There are smaller paragraphs on other pages giving news from Europe, from Asia, from the Americas, in Worldwide News. Hi-jacking of planes. Kidnapping. Violence. Riots. Hate. Anarchy. All growing stronger. All seeming to lead to worship of destruction, pleasure in cruelty. What does it all mean?”
Is our era with “leaders” like Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un not as crazy as her vision? Are we today not all like a bunch of passengers to Frankfurt?
So what does all this mean? In the novel, Christie provides her answer – a terrible worldwide conspiracy which has something to do with Richard Wagner and "The Young Siegfried." We learn that, toward the end of World War II, Hitler went to a mental institution, met with a group of people who thought they were Hitler, and exchanged places with one of them, thus surviving the war. He then escaped to Argentina where he married and had a son who was branded with a swastika on his heel – “The Young Siegfried.” Meanwhile, in the book's present, drugs, promiscuity, and student protests are all secretly caused by Nazi agitators who want to bring about anarchy so that they can restore Nazi domination on a world scale.

Global delirium

This “terrible worldwide conspiracy” is, of course, ideological fantasy at its purest: a weird condensation of the fear of extreme right and extreme left. The least we can say to Christie’s credit is that she locates the heart of the conspiracy to the extreme right (neo-Nazis) and not in any of the other usual suspects (Communism, Jews, Muslims, etc.). The idea neo-Nazis were behind the ’68 student protesters and sexual liberation struggle, with its obvious madness, nonetheless bears witness to the disintegration of a consistent cognitive mapping of our predicament.

Christie is compelled to take refuge in such a crazy paranoiac construct as the only way to introduce some order and meaning into the utter confusion and panic she found herself in. But is her vision really too crazy to be taken seriously? Is our era with “leaders” like Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un not as crazy as her vision? Are we today not all like a bunch of passengers to Frankfurt? Our situation is messy in a way very similar to the one described by Christie: a rightist government enforcing workers’ rights (in Poland), a leftist government pursuing the strictest austerity politics (in Greece). Thus, it's no wonder that, to regain a minimal cognitive mapping, Christie resorts to WWII, “the last good war,” retranslating our mess into its coordinates.

One should nonetheless note how the very form of Christie’s answer (one big secret agent behind it all) strangely mirrors the fascist idea of the Jewish conspiracy: how there is one big Nazi plot behind which lies the explanation to everything. And, today, the extreme populist right proposes a similar explanation of the Muslim immigrant “threat.” In antisemitic imaginary, the “Jew” is the invisible master who secretly pulls the strings, which is why Muslim immigrants are NOT today's Jews: they are all too visible, not invisible. They are clearly not integrated into our societies, and nobody claims they secretly pull strings - if one sees in their “invasion of Europe” a secret plot, then Jews have to be behind it. As was the case in a text that recently appeared in one of the main Slovenian Rightist weekly journals where we could read: “George Soros is one of the most depraved and dangerous people of our time,” responsible for “the invasion of the negroid and Semitic hordes and thereby for the twilight of the EU... as a typical Talmudo-Zionist, he is a deadly enemy of Western civilization, the nation-state and white, European man.”

His goal is to build a “rainbow coalition composed of social marginals like faggots, feminists, Muslims and work-hating cultural Marxists,” which would then perform “a deconstruction of the nation-state, and transform the EU into a multicultural dystopia of the United States of Europe.” Furthermore, Soros is inconsistent in his promotion of multiculturalism: “He promotes it exclusively in Europe and the USA, while in the case of Israel, he, in a way which is for me totally justified, agrees with its monoculturalism, latent racism and building a wall. In contrast to the EU and USA, he also does not demand from Israel to open its borders and accept ‘refugees.' A hypocrisy appropriate to Talmudo-Zionism.”[Quoted from Bernard Brščič, ‘George Soros is one of the most depraved and dangerous people of our time’ (in Slovene), Demokracija, August 25 2016, p. 15.]

This is the end?

Is this disgusting fantasy which brings together antisemitism and Islamophobia so different from the one staged by Christie? Are they both not a desperate attempt to orient oneself in confused times? The extreme oscillations in the public perception of the Korean crisis are significant as such. One week we are told we are on the brink of nuclear war, then there is a week of respite, then the war threat explodes again. When I visited Seoul in August 2017, my friends there told me there is no significant threat of a war since the North Korean regime knows it cannot survive it, but now the South Korean authorities are preparing the population for a nuclear war.

In such a situation, where the apocalypse is on the horizon, one should bear in mind the standard logic of probability no longer applies, we need a different logic, described by Jean-Pierre Dupuy: “The catastrophic event is inscribed into the future as destiny, for sure, but also as a contingent accident… if an outstanding event takes place, a catastrophe, for example, it could not have taken place; nonetheless, insofar as it did not occur, it is not inevitable. It is thus the event’s actualization – the fact that it takes place – which retroactively creates its necessity.”[ Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Petite metaphysique des tsunami, Paris: Seuil 2005, p. 19.] Dupuy provides the example of the French presidential elections in May 1995; here is the January forecast of the main polling Institute: “If on next May 8th, Mr (Édouard) Balladur will be elected, one can say the presidential election was decided before it even took place.”
The moment we fully accept the fact that we live on Spaceship Earth, the task that urgently imposes itself is that of civilizing civilizations themselves, of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities.
When applied to the recent tension in Korea, this means: IF the war explodes, it will be necessary and inevitable; IF war will not explode, it was all a false alarm. This, according to Dupuy, is also how we should approach the prospect of nuclear (or ecological) catastrophe: not to “realistically” appraise the possibilities of the catastrophe, but to accept it as our fate, as unavoidable, and then, on the background of this acceptance, we should mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change destiny itself and thereby insert a new possibility into the situation. Instead of saying “the future is still open, we still have the time to act and prevent the worst,” one should accept the catastrophe as inevitable, and then work to undo what is already “written in the stars” as our destiny.

What is needed is no less than a new global anti-nuclear movement, a global mobilization that would exert pressure on nuclear powers and act aggressively, organizing mass protests and boycotts, while denouncing our leaders as criminals and the like. It should focus not only on North Korea but also on those super-powers who assume the right to monopolize nuclear weapons. The very public mention of the use of nuclear weapons should be treated as a criminal offense. And more than that, a global change in our stance is needed, what Peter Sloterdijk calls “the domestication of the wild animal culture.”

Till now, each culture disciplined and educated its own members and guaranteed civic peace among them in the guise of state power, but the relationship between different cultures and states was permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each state of peace nothing more than a temporary armistice. As Hegel conceptualized it, the entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism, the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s nation-state, which means that the wild barbarian relations between states serve as the foundation of the ethical life within a state. Is today’s North Korea with its ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons, and rockets to deliver them to distant targets, not the ultimate example of this logic of unconditional nation-state sovereignty?

However, the moment we fully accept the fact that we live on Spaceship Earth, the task that urgently imposes itself is that of civilizing civilizations themselves, of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities. A task rendered all the more difficult by the ongoing rise of sectarian religious and ethnic “heroic” violence and readiness to sacrifice oneself (and the world) for one’s specific cause.

-Slavoj Zizek, "Korean nuclear tension: Apocalypse... almost now"

Carbon Credits are Bunk Utopian Dreams!

“The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them...But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."

..."What you need," the Savage went on, "is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
---
“Isn't there something in living dangerously?'

There's a great deal in it,' the Controller replied. 'Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time.'

What?' questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.

It's one of the conditions of perfect health. That's why we've made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory.'

V.P.S.?'

Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconvenience.'

But I like the inconveniences.'

We don't,' said the Controller. 'We prefer to do things comfortably.'

But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.'

In fact,' said Mustapha Mond, 'you're claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.' There was a long silence.

I claim them all,' said the Savage at last.

Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. 'You're welcome,' he said.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
---
“I like being myself. Myself and nasty.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
---
“No social stability without individual stability.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
---
“...reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays....”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
---
“Ending is better than mending.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Father William (x2)

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last.

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age."
-Robert Southey, "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" (1799)

---
"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"
-Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Crush

Body so fit
So full of spark
With affirmations
As your wall art
You were driven
Eyes on the prize
A yoga routine
home exercise

Now like the faded star
In sunset blvd
I play the devoted butler
Morning coffees by the bed
while all hard fought endeavours
bring in diminished returns
You’re so cool, it’s true
You’re my kind of girl
Keep you ’til the end

Find solace in the privilege to pursue
Most people are crushed into servitude
The Democratic Man

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hurricane Irma will happen again – so we need the answers to some difficult questions about global politics.

from The Independent
What if northern Siberia becomes more inhabitable and appropriate for agriculture, while large sub-Saharan regions become too dry for a large population to live there – how will the exchange of populations be organised? And what if a new gigantic volcanic eruption makes the whole of an island uninhabitable – where will the people of that island move?

---

Reading and watching reports on the devastating effect of Hurricane Irma this week, I was reminded of Trisolaris, a strange planet from The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin’s sci-fi masterpiece.

A scientist is drawn into a virtual reality game called “Three Body” in which players find themselves on the alien planet Trisolaris whose three suns rise and set at strange and unpredictable intervals: sometimes far too far away and horribly cold, sometimes far too close and destructively hot, and sometimes not seen for long periods of time.

Life is a constant struggle against apparently unpredictable elements. Despite that, players slowly find ways to build civilisations and attempt to predict the strange cycles of heat and cold.

Do phenomena like Irma not demonstrate that our Earth itself is gradually turning into Trisolaris? Devastating hurricanes, droughts and floods warming – do they all not indicate that we are witnessing something the only appropriate name for which is “the end of nature”? “Nature” is to be understood here in the traditional sense of a regular rhythm of seasons, the reliable background of human history, something on which we can count to always be there.

It is difficult for an outsider to imagine how it feels when a vast domain of densely populated land disappears underwater, so that millions are deprived of the very basic coordinates of their life-world: the land with its fields, but also with its cultural monuments, is no longer there, so that, although in the midst of water, they are in a way like fishes out of water – it is as if the environs thousands of generations were taking as the most obvious foundation of their lives start to crack.

Similar catastrophes were, of course, known for centuries, some even from the very prehistory of humanity. What is new today is that, since we live in a “disenchanted” post-religious era, such catastrophes can no longer be rendered meaningful as part of a larger natural cycle or as an expression of divine wrath.

This is how, back in 1906, William James described his reaction to an earthquake: “Emotion consisted wholly of glee, and admiration. Glee at the vividness which such an abstract idea as 'earthquake' could take on when verified concretely and translated into sensible reality ... and admiration at the way in which the frail little wooden house could hold itself together in spite of such a shaking. I felt no trace whatever of fear; it was pure delight and welcome.” How far we are here from the shattering of the very foundations of one's life-world!

Nature is more and more in disorder, not because it overwhelms our cognitive capacities but primarily because we are not able to master the effects of our own interventions into its course – who knows what the ultimate consequences of our biogenetic engineering or of global warming will be?

The surprise comes from ourselves, it concerns the opacity of how we ourselves fit into the picture: the impenetrable stain in the picture is not some cosmic mystery like a mysterious explosion of a supernova: the stain are we ourselves, our collective activity. This is what we call “Anthropocene”: a new epoch in the life of our planet in which we, humans, cannot any longer rely on the Earth as a reservoir ready to absorb the consequences of our productive activity.

We have to accept that we live on a “Spaceship Earth”, responsible and accountable for its conditions. At the very moment when we become powerful enough to affect the most basic conditions of our life, we have to accept that we are just another animal species on a small planet. A new way to relate to our enviroment is necessary once we realise this: we should become modest agents collaborating with our environs, permanently negotiating a tolerable level of stability, with no inherent formula which guarantees our safety.

Does this mean that we should assume a defensive approach and search for a new limit, a return to (or, rather, the invention of) some new balance? This is what the predominant ecology proposes us to do, and the same task is pursued by bioethics with regard to biotechnology: biotechnology pursues new possibilities of scientific interventions (genetic manipulations, cloning and so on), and bioethics endeavours to impose moral limitations on what biotechnology enables us to do.

As such, bioethics is not immanent to scientific practice: it intervenes into this practice from the outside, imposing external morality onto it. One can even say that bioethics is the betrayal of the aims of scientific endeavour, the aims which say: “Do not compromise your scientific desire; follow inexorably its path.” Such attempts at limitation fail because they ignore the fact that there is no objective limit: we are discovering that the object itself – nature – is not stable.

Sceptics like to point out the limitation of our knowledge about what goes on in nature – however, this limitation in no way implies that we should not exaggerate the ecological threat. On the contrary, we should be even more careful about it, since the situation is profoundly unpredictable. The recent uncertainties about global warming do not signal that things are not too serious, but that they are even more chaotic than we thought, and that natural and social factors are inextricably linked.

Can we then use capitalism itself against this threat? Although capitalism can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution – why?

Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies the trust into the objectivised mechanism of the market’s “invisible hand” which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good. However, we are in the midst of a radical change: what looms on the horizon today is the unheard-of possibility that a subjective intervention will trigger an ecological catastrophe, a fateful biogenetic mutation, a nuclear or similar military-social catastrophy, and so on. For the first time in human history, the act of a single socio-political agent effectively can alter and even interrupt the global historical and even natural process.

Jean-Pierre Dupuy refers to the theory of complex systems which accounts for their two opposite features: their robust stable character and their extreme vulnerability. These systems can accommodate themselves to great disturbances, integrate them and find new balance and stability – up to a certain threshold (a “tipping point”) above which a small disturbance can cause a total catastrophe and lead to the establishment of a totally different order.

For long centuries, humanity did not have to worry about the impact on the enviroment of its productive activities – nature was able to accommodate itself to deforestation, to the use of coal and oil, and so on. However, one cannot be sure if, today, we are not approaching a tipping point – one really cannot be sure, since such points can be clearly perceived only once it is already too late, in retrospect.

Apropos of the urgency to do something about today's threat of different ecological catastrophes: either we take this threat seriously and decide today to do things which, if the catastrophe will not occur, will appear ridiculous; or we do nothing and lose everything in the case of catastrophe. The worst case scenario would be to take a "middle ground" solution with a limited amount of measures – in this case, we will fail as there is no middle ground in reality. In such a situation, the talk about anticipation, precaution and risk control tends to become meaningless.

This is why there is something deceptively reassuring in the readiness of the theorists of anthropocene to blame us, humans, for the threats to our environment: we like to be guilty since, if we are guilty, then it all depends on us. We pull the strings of the catastrophe, so we can also save ourselves simply by changing our lives. What is really difficult for us (at least for us in the West) to accept is that we are also (to some unknown degree) impotent observers who can only sit and watch what their fate will be.

To avoid such a situation, we are prone to engage in a frantic obsessive activity, recycle old paper, buy organic food, whatever, just so that we can be sure that we are doing something, making our contribution – like a soccer fan who supports his team in front of a TV screen at home, shouting and jumping from his seat, in a superstitious belief that this will somehow influence the outcome.

The main lesson to be learned is therefore that humankind should get ready to live in a more flexible or nomadic way: local or global changes in environment may impose the need for unheard — of large scale social tranformations.

Let us say that a new gigantic volcanic eruption makes the whole of an island uninhabitable – where will the people of that island move? Under what conditions? Should they be given a piece of land or just be dispersed around the world?

What if northern Siberia becomes more inhabitable and appropriate for agriculture, while large sub-Saharan regions become too dry for a large population to live there – how will the exchange of populations be organised?

When similar things happened in the past, social changes occurred in a wild and spontaneous way, with violence and destruction. Such a prospect would be catastrophic in today's conditions, with arms of mass destruction available to all nations.

One thing is clear: national sovereignty will have to be radically redefined and new levels of global cooperation invented. And what about the immense changes in economy and consummation due to new weather patterns or shortages of water and energy sources? Through what processes of decision will such changes be decided and executed? It’s time to answer these difficult questions.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Hurricane Irma will happen again – so we need the answers to some difficult questions about global politics"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hurricane Tips!

Gay Shakepeare

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.
- William Shakespeare, "Sonnet XX"

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tolerance is NOT About Understanding

And the trees about me,
Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks
Groan with continual surges; and behind me
Make all a desolation.
Look, look, wenches!

PAINT me a cavernous waste shore
Cast in the unstilled Cyclades,
Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks
Faced by the snarled and yelping seas.

Display me Aeolus above
Reviewing the insurgent gales
Which tangle Ariadne’s hair
And swell with haste the perjured sails.

Morning stirs the feet and hands
(Nausicaa and Polypheme).

Gesture of orang-outang
Rises from the sheets in steam.

This withered root of knots of hair
Slitted below and gashed with eyes,
This oval O cropped out with teeth:
The sickle motion from the thighs

Jackknifes upward at the knees
Then straightens out from heel to hip
Pushing the framework of the bed
And clawing at the pillow slip.

Sweeney addressed full length to shave
Broadbottomed, pink from nape to base,
Knows the female temperament
And wipes the suds around his face.

(The lengthened shadow of a man
Is history, said Emerson
Who had not seen the silhouette
Of Sweeney straddled in the sun.)

Tests the razor on his leg
Waiting until the shriek subsides.

The epileptic on the bed
Curves backward, clutching at her sides.

The ladies of the corridor
Find themselves involved, disgraced,
Call witness to their principles
And deprecate the lack of taste

Observing that hysteria
Might easily be misunderstood;
Mrs. Turner intimates
It does the house no sort of good.

But Doris, towelled from the bath,
Enters padding on broad feet,
Bringing sal volatile
And a glass of brandy neat.
- Thomas Stearns Eliot, "Sweeney Erect" (1920)
William McGregor Paxton, "(Odysseus and) Nausicaa"

Enjoy the Silence

Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world
Painful to me
Pierce right through me
Can't you understand?
Oh my little girl

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Vows are spoken
To be broken
Feelings are intense
Words are trivial
Pleasures remain
So does the pain
Words are meaningless
And forgettable

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed
Is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm