Thursday, March 29, 2018

Breakin' Out...

Happiness

Individuals are much better controlled and ‘nudged’ in the desired direction when they continue to experience themselves as free and autonomous agents of their own life

Now that our media is full of reports and comments on Cambridge Analytica, a key feature of the affair is, as a rule, ignored: the context of Cambridge Analytica makes it clear how cold manipulation and the care for love and human welfare are two sides of the same coin. Tamsin Shaw recently pointed out the central role played by researchers into happiness, like "The World Well-Being Project, a group at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center that specialises in the use of big data to measure health and happiness in order to improve well-being,” then there is “Aleksandr Kogan, who also works in the field of positive psychology and has written papers on happiness, kindness, and love (according to his résumé, an early paper was called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole: A Unified Theory of Love’).”

Why does such research on authentic happiness and well-being draw so much interest from intelligence agencies and defence contractors? This link is not externally imposed on the behavioural sciences by “bad” political manipulators but is implied by their immanent orientation: their aim is to discover “means by which we can be ‘nudged’ in the direction of our true well-being as positive psychologists understand it.” This “nudging” does not make individuals overcome their “irrationalities”: contemporary behavioural sciences “aim to exploit our irrationalities” since they view us “as manipulable subjects rather than rational agents.”

All this is extensively covered by our media, and we are getting a terrifying image of the new forms of social control which make the good old 20th-century “totalitarianism” a rather primitive and clumsy machine. To grasp the full scope of this control, we should move beyond the link between private corporations and political parties to the interpenetration of data processing companies like Google or Facebook and state security agencies. The biggest achievement of the new cognitive-military complex is that direct and obvious oppression is no longer necessary: individuals are much better controlled and “nudged” in the desired direction when they continue to experience themselves as free and autonomous agents of their own life.

But all these are well-known facts, and we have to go a step further. It is not enough to demystify the innocent-sounding research into happiness and to bring out a hidden gigantic complex of social control and manipulation that uses it. What is urgently needed is also the opposite move: we should focus on the form itself. Is the topic of scientific research of human welfare and happiness (at least the way it is practised today) really so innocent, or is it already in itself permeated by the stance of control and manipulation? What if sciences are here not just misused, what if they find here precisely their proper use? We should question the recent rise of a new discipline: “happiness studies.”

As is often the case, Bhutan, a developing Third World country, naively spelled out the absurd socio-political consequences of this notion of happiness: two decades ago, the kingdom of Bhutan decided to focus on Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross National Product (GNP); the idea was the brainchild of ex-king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who sought to steer Bhutan into the modern world, while preserving its unique identity. The Oxford-educated new king, 27-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, ordered a state agency to calculate how happy the kingdom’s 670,000 people are. The main concerns were identified as psychological well-being, health, education, good governance, living standards, community vitality and ecological diversity: this is cultural imperialism, if there ever was one. No wonder that, two decades ago, ethnic cleansing was conducted since it was “discovered” that the presence of a strong non-Buddhist minority is an obstacle to the happiness of the Buddhist majority.

We should dare to take an even further step and enquire into the hidden side of the notion of happiness itself – when, exactly, can a people be said to be happy? In a country like Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s and 1980s, people in a way effectively were happy: three fundamental conditions of happiness were fulfilled there. Firstly, their material needs were basically satisfied – not too satisfied, since the excess of consumption can in itself generate unhappiness. It is good to experience a brief shortage of some goods on the market from time to time (no coffee for a couple of days, then no beef, then no TV sets): these brief periods of shortage functioned as exceptions which reminded people that they should be glad that the goods were generally available. Life thus went on in a regular and predictable way, without any great efforts or shocks, one was allowed to withdraw into one’s private niche.

Secondly, the Communist Party was conveniently blamed for everything that went wrong, so that one did not feel really responsible – if there was a temporary shortage of some goods, even if there a stormy weather caused great damage, it was their guilt.

Thirdly, last but not least, there was an Other Place (the consumerist West) about which one was allowed to dream, and even visit sometimes – this place was just at the right distance, not too far, not too close. This fragile balance was disturbed – by what? By desire, precisely. Desire was the force which compelled the people to move beyond – and end up in a system in which the large majority is definitely less happy.

Happiness is something confused and inconsistent – recall the proverbial answer of a German immigrant to the US who, when asked “Are you happy?”, answered: “Yes, yes, I am very happy, aber gluecklich bin ich nicht…” It is a pagan category: for pagans, the goal of life is to live a happy life – no wonder Dalai Lama himself is having such a success recently preaching around the world the gospel of happiness, and no wonder he is finding the greatest response precisely in the US, this ultimate empire of the (pursuit of) happiness. In our daily lives, we (pretend to) desire things which we do not really desire, so that, ultimately, the worst thing that can happen is for us to get what we officially desire. Happiness is thus inherently hypocritical: it is the happiness of dreaming about things we really do not want.

Do we not encounter a similar gesture in much of leftist politics? In the UK, many leftists privately admit that the near-victory of the Labour Party in the last elections was the best thing it could have happened, much better than the insecurity of what might have happened in the Labour government would have tried to implement its programme.

The same holds for the prospect of Bernie Sanders’ eventual victory: what would have been his chances against the onslaught of the big capital? The mother of all such gestures is the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia which crushed the Prague Spring and its hope of democratic socialism. Without this intervention, the “reformist” government would have to confront the fact that there was no real possibility of a democratic Socialism at that historical moment, so it would have to choose between reasserting the party control and allowing Czechoslovakia to become one of the Western liberal-democratic capitalism.

The Soviet intervention saved the Prague Spring as a dream, as a hope that, without the intervention, a new form of democratic Socialism might have emerged. And did not something similar occur in Greece when the Syriza government organised the referendum against Brussels’ pressure to accept the austerity politics? The government was secretly hoping to lose the referendum, in which case it would have to step down and leave it to others to perform the dirty job of austerity. Since they won, this task fell to themselves, and the result was the self-destruction of the radical Left in Greece. Without any doubt, Syriza would have been much happier if it lost the referendum.

So, back to our starting point, not only are we controlled and manipulated, “happy” people secretly and hypocritically demand even to be manipulated for their own good. Truth and happiness don’t go together – truth hurts, it brings instability, it ruins the smooth flow of our daily lives. The choice is ours: do we want to be happily manipulated or expose ourselves to the risks of authentic creativity?
- Slavoj Zizek, "Cambridge Analytica didn’t abuse the happiness industry – it was used exactly how it was intended to be"

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mythic Violence v. Divine Violence*

Officially Stalinism was based on atheist Marxist theory, but if we look closely at the subjective experience of a Stalinist political agent, leader, we see that it's not a position of an arrogant master, who can do whatever he wants. It's on the contrary the position of a perfect servant. In a Stalinist universe there definitely is what in psychoanalytic theory we call the 'Big Other'. This 'Big Other' in the Stalinist universe has many names. The best known of them are the necessity of historical progress towards communism - simply history. History itself is the 'Big Other'. History as the necessary succession of historical stages. A communist experiences himself as simply an instrument whose function is to actualise a historical necessity. The people, the mythic people whose instrument the totalitarian leader is are never simply the actually existing individuals, groups of people and so on. It's some kind of imagined idealised point of reference which works even when, for example in rebellions against the communist rule, like in Hungary 56, when the large majority of actually resisting people raises up, is opposed to the regime. They can still say: "no, these are just individuals," "they are not the true people." When you are accused of: "My God, how could you have been doing all of these horrible things?" You could have said, and this is the standard Stalinist excuse: "Of course my heart bleeds for all the poor victims, "I am not fully responsible for it, I was only acting on behalf of the 'Big Other'" "As for myself, I like cats, small children, whatever - this is always part of the iconography of a Stalinist leader. Lenin in Stalinism is always presented as someone who likes small children and cats. The implication being Lenin had to order many killings and so on, but his heart was not there -this was his duty as instrument of historical progress and so on and so on.

The way to undermine Stalinism is not simply to make fun of the leader, which can be up to a point even tolerated. It is to undermine this very reference, mythic reference which legitimises the Stalinist leader: the people.
* Note
“If mythic violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythic violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood. …Mythical violence is bloody power over mere life for its own sake, divine violence pure power over all life for the sake of the living. The first demands sacrifice, the second accepts it.”
(Benjamin,1921/1986, p.297)

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What do you Stand FOR?

It's time that I stand alone,
Proud and tall on my own.
No man will ever define me,
I'm independent, strong and will live successfully.
I've made it this far by myself,
With only a little or no help.
No one can make me or break me down,
It just adds more layers to strengthen me all around.
Learning that everyone has a choice,
Stand your ground and have a voice.
You are a survivor designed to overcome,
All the evil that's instilled within someone.
Keep moving forward towards better things,
Don't give up hope on your blessings.
Be the best person you can be,
So you can live your life guilt free
.
Pamela Bland, "Stand for Something" (2/20/12)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tesseracts

Salvador Dali, "Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)" (1954)
from Wiki
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) is a 1954 oil-on-canvas painting by Salvador Dalí. A nontraditional, surrealist portrayal of the Crucifixion of Jesus, it depicts Christ on the polyhedron net of a tesseract (hypercube). It is one of his best known paintings from the later period of his career.

Dalí's inspiration for Corpus Hypercubus came from his change in artistic style during the 1940s and 1950s. Around that time, his interest in traditional surrealism diminished and he became fascinated with nuclear science, feeling that "thenceforth, the atom was [his] favorite food for thought". His interest grew from the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II, which left a lasting impression on him. In his 1951 essay "Mystical Manifesto", he introduced an art theory he called "nuclear mysticism" that combined Dalí's interests in Catholicism, mathematics, science, and Catalan culture in an effort to reestablish classical values and techniques, which he extensively utilized in Corpus Hypercubus.[1]

That same year, to promote nuclear mysticism and explain the "return to spiritual classicism movement" in modern art,[2] he traveled throughout the United States giving lectures. Before painting Corpus Hypercubus, Dalí announced his intention to portray an exploding Christ using both classical painting techniques along with the motif of the cube, and he declared that "this painting will be the great metaphysical work of [his] summer". Juan de Herrera's Treatise on Cubic Forms was particularly influential to Dalí.[3]

Corpus Hypercubus is composed of oil on canvas, and its dimensions are 194.3 cm × 123.8 cm (76.5 in x 48.75 in).[4] Consistent with his theory of nuclear mysticism, Dalí uses classical elements along with ideas inspired by mathematics, science, etc. Some noticeably classic features are the drapery of the clothing and the Caravaggesque lighting that theatrically envelops Christ, though like his 1951 painting Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Corpus Hypercubus takes the traditional Biblical scene of Christ's Crucifixion and almost completely reinvents it. The union of Christ and the tesseract reflects Dalí's opinion that the seemingly separate and incompatible concepts of science and religion can in fact coexist.[5] Upon completing Corpus Hypercubus, Dalí described his work as "metaphysical, transcendent cubism".[3]

While he did attempt to distance himself from the Surrealist movement after his development of nuclear mysticism, Dalí still incorporates dream-like features consistent with his earlier surrealist work in Corpus Hypercubus, such as the levitating Christ and the giant chessboard below. Jesus' face is turned away from the viewer, making it completely obscured. The crown of thorns is missing from Christ's head as are the nails from his hands and feet, leaving his body completely devoid of the wounds often closely associated with the Crucifixion. With Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Dalí did the same in order to leave only the "metaphysical beauty of Christ-God". Dalí sets the painting in front of the bay of Port Lligat in Catalonia, Dalí's home, which is also the setting of other paintings of his including The Madonna of Port Lligat, The Sacrament of the Last Supper, and Christ of Saint John of the Cross.

A viewer's eyes may quickly be drawn to the knees of Christ, which have a grotesque exaggeration of hyperrealistic detail. On close observation of the original painting, 5 different images of Dalí's wife Gala appear in Christ's right knee, and 5 different images of Dalí himself appear in the left knee; the most prominent two being Gala's back/neck/back of head with right arm extended upward, and Dalí's own face complete with his trademark upswept mustache. The additional embedded images are more difficult to see in low-quality reproductions or prints.

The most striking change Dalí makes from nearly every other crucifixion painting concerns the cross. Instead of painting Christ on a wooden cross, Dalí depicts him upon the unfolded net of a tesseract (also known as a hypercube). The unfolding of a tesseract into eight cubes is analogous to unfolding the sides of a cube into six squares. The use of a hypercube for the cross has been interpreted as a geometric symbol for the transcendental nature of God. Just as the concept of God exists in a space that is incomprehensible to humans, the hypercube exists in four spatial dimensions, which is equally inaccessible to the mind. The net of the hypercube is a three-dimensional representation of it, similar to how Christ is a human form of God that is more relatable to people.

The word "corpus" in the title can refer both to the body of Christ and to geometric figures, reinforcing the link Dalí makes between religion and mathematics and science.[6] Christ's levitation above the Earth could symbolize His rise above Earthly desire and suffering. The motif of the cube is present elsewhere: Gala is standing on one, and the chessboard is made up of squares.

Gala

On the bottom left of the painting, Dalí painted his wife Gala as Mary Magdalene looking up at Jesus. Dalí thought of her as the "perfect union of the development of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube". He used her as a model because "the most noble beings were painted by Velázquez and Zurbarán. [He] only [approaches] nobility when painting Gala, and nobility can only be inspired by the human being."[3]
Reception

Novelist Ayn Rand declared Corpus Hypercubus to be her favorite painting, and she would spend hours contemplating it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She felt a connection between John Galt's defiance over his spiritual ordeal in her novel Atlas Shrugged and Dalí's portrayal of Christ in the painting.[7]

A reproduction of the painting is mentioned in J. G. Ballard's 1969 surrealist novel, The Atrocity Exhibition and in Robert J. Sawyer's 1998 science fiction novel, Factoring Humanity.
Exhibitions

After being first exhibited in Rome in 1954, Corpus Hypercubus was acquired in 1955 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where it was renamed Crucifixion. After nearly 25 years, the painting was loaned to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Daimaru Museum in Osaka, and the Tate Gallery in London from December 1979 until June 1980. Throughout the early and mid 1980s Crucifixion was loaned to museums in Japan, Mexico, and Spain, including the Palau Reial de Pedralbes in Barcelona, the only time the painting has been exhibited in Catalonia, Dalí's home region.

It was later loaned to the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany and the Pabellón de España in Madrid before being loaned long-term to the Salvador Dalí Museum (St. Petersburg, Florida) from 1993 to 1999. In 2000, it was loaned to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut from January to March and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, as part of the traveling show "Dalí's Optical Illusions". In 2005, Corpus Hypercubus spent four months at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a major retrospective of Dalí's work, and in 2006 it was loaned to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, before returning to New York City.[4]
In Madeleine L'Engle's novel A Wrinkle in Time, the characters in the story travel through time and space using tesseracts. The book actually uses the idea of a tesseract to represent a fifth dimension rather than a four-dimensional object (and also uses the word "tesser" to refer to movement from one three dimensional space/world to another).
The Death of Film

Stars of Old

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why Do So Many Marriages End in Divorce?

...because dem b*tches be CRAZY!

When "Yes" Means "No!"

Slavoj Zizek, "Sex in the modern world: Can even a 'yes, yes, yes' actually mean 'no?"
When commentators analyze the new wave of women's struggles, one of their conclusions is that "no means no" is not enough to lead to a "happy sex life." This is because it still leaves space for more subtle forms of coercion.

Recently, in The Guardian, we saw an exemplary case of this line of argument: "Badgering someone into queasy submission might technically be within the law, but it is not the road to a happy sex life and it may no longer protect a man from public censure," wrote journalist Gaby Hinsliff. She was covering the views of Erin Tillman, an American ‘dating coach’ who believes the potentially ambiguous absence of "no," but the enthusiastic presence of a "yes, yes, yes" or affirmative consent is what is required nowadays.

"In 2018, 'no means no' is totally antiquated. It puts all the pressure on the person in the most vulnerable position, that if someone doesn't have the capacity or the confidence to speak up, then they're going to be violated," Tillman has said. "If somebody isn't an enthusiastic yes, if they're hesitating, if they're like: 'Uh, I don't know' – at this point in time, that equals no."

Modern phrases

One cannot but agree with all the critical points in this passage: How a weak "yes" under pressure equals "no," etc. What is problematic is the demand for "the enthusiastic presence of a 'yes, yes, yes.'” Because it's easy to imagine what a humiliating position this condition can put a woman into who, to put it bluntly (and why not?), passionately wants to get laid by a man. Basically, she has to perform an equivalent of publicly stating "Please f*** me!"

Are there not much more subtle (but nonetheless unambiguously clear) ways to do this? Furthermore, if one looks for "the road to a happy sex life," one searches for it in vain for the simple reason that there is no such thing.

Circumstances always, for inherent reasons, go wrong in some way in sex, and the only chance of a relatively "happy sex life" is to find a way to make these failures work against themselves. Directly searching for "the road to a happy sex life" is the safest way to ruin things, and the imagined scene of both partners enthusiastically shouting "yes, yes, yes" is, in real life, as close as one can get to Hell.

Things get even more complex with the right to withdraw from sexual interaction at any moment – it’s rarely mentioned how this right opens up new modes of violence. What if the woman, after seeing her partner naked with an erect penis, begins to mock him and tells him to leave? What if the man does the same to her? Can you imagine a more humiliating situation?

Clearly, one can find an appropriate way to resolve such impasses only through manners and sensitivity, which by definition cannot be legislated for. If a person wants to prevent violence and brutality by adding new clauses to the contract, they lose a central feature of sexual interplay, which is precisely a delicate balance between what is said and what is not said. Sexual interplay is full of such exceptions, where a silent understanding and tact offer the only way to proceed when folk want things done but not explicitly spoken about, when extreme emotional brutality can be enacted in the guise of politeness, and when moderate violence itself can get sexualized.

Oval Office orgasms

If we go to the end on this path, we have to conclude that even an enthusiastic "yes, yes, yes" can effectively function as a mask of violence and domination. Monica Lewinsky recently said that "she stands by her 2014 comments that their relationship (with Bill Clinton) was consensual,” but muses about the "vast power differentials" that existed between the two. Lewinsky says she had "limited understanding of the consequences" at the time, and regrets the affair daily. "The dictionary definition of ‘consent?’ To give permission for something to happen," she wrote. "And yet what did the 'something' mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age?.... he was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better," she said.

This is true, but she did not just consent, she directly initiated sexual contact, and it was Clinton who "consented," and the "vast power differential" was probably a key part of his attraction for her. As for her claim that since he was an older experienced man, he should have "known better" and rejected her advances, is there not something hypocritical in this self-ascribed role of an inexperienced victim?

Do we not find ourselves here at the exact, almost symmetrical, opposite of the Muslim fundamentalist view, according to which a man who raped a woman was secretly seduced (read provoked) by her into doing it? Such a reading of male rape as the result of woman's provocation is often reported by the media. For instance, in the fall of 2006, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia's most senior Muslim cleric, caused a scandal when, after a group of Muslim men had been jailed for gang rape, he said: "If you take uncovered meat and place it outside on the street…. and the cats come and eat it… whose fault is it – the cats' or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem."

The explosively scandalous nature of this comparison between a woman who is not veiled and raw, uncovered meat distracted attention from another, much more surprising premise underlying al-Hilali's argument: If women are held responsible for the sexual conduct of men, does this not imply that men are totally helpless when faced with what they perceive as a sexual provocation? They are simply unable to resist it, being totally enslaved to their sexual hunger, precisely like a cat when it sees raw meat?

In contrast to this presumption of a complete lack of male responsibility for their own sexual conduct, the emphasis on public female eroticism in the West relies on the premise that men are capable of sexual restraint, that they are not blind slaves of their sexual drives.

This total responsibility of the woman for the sexual act strangely mirrors the Lewinsky view that, although the initiative was fully on her side, the responsibility was fully on Clinton's. In the same way that, in the Muslim fundamentalist view, men are helpless victims of woman's perfidious seduction, even if they commit a brutal rape. In the Lewinsky case, she was a victim even if she provocatively initiated the affair.

The symmetry between the two cases is flawed, of course, since in both the men are in the actual position of social power and domination. However, playing the card of a helpless victim in such a case as Lewinsky's is a self-humiliating spectacle which in no way helps women's emancipation – it merely confirms man as the master.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Goya

That god who stares from the picture-space
As if he - only now it's done,
The madness slaked - can recognize the face
Whose blood and brains he gulped, to be his son,
Catches the humanist's eye.

Chronus, blind time, knowing himself again
To be Kronos the wretched king,
Squirms like a frog across the void, his pain
Goya suggests in the stiff dance he's doing;
The darker shape of why

Is shadowed in the history of Spain.
The deed of sacrifice once done
Is such as never can be done again.
The naked body of the beloved son
In his sire's hand must die.

And many kingdoms of the past have died
Choked by the monuments they raised:
Eternity bought by infanticide,
An immortality of being praised.
The fierce Spanish sky

Towers like fate over exhausted fields;
The gold they wrestled from the sun
Wasted the factories and burnt the guilds.
All that the dark conquistadors had won
Time swiftly would deny.

The traveller, though, is not content at last.
There is an immortality
That looks, not to the future, but the past.
-Frederick Turner, "On Goya's 'Saturn'"

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The New Social Pariahs

Mladen Dolar, "The Smoking Communism"
A group of people is gathered out­side one of those glam­or­ous sky­scrapers in Lower Man­hat­tan, at a prop­er dis­tance from the entry, which is duly manned by a secur­ity per­son check­ing the meas­ured dis­tance with a keen eagle eye and with a ser­i­ous mien mean­ing busi­ness, a group com­posed mostly of employ­ees from the offices tower­ing high over the street, but also some tour­ists and some odd home­less look­ing per­sons. The pur­pose of this small gath­er­ing, com­pris­ing a dozen people or so, is smoking. The group is het­ero­gen­eous, the employ­ees are in a rather form­al attire, one can eas­ily ima­gine them placed some­where in the intric­ate work­ings of fin­an­cial cap­it­al, tour­ists wear some incon­gru­ous inform­al mul­ti­colored gear, mak­ing a brief stop-over on their well planned route through the high­lights of the city, the home­less are wear­ing some baggy crumpled clothes, each group duly cor­res­pond­ing to the cliché. We smoke in silence, stand­ing rel­at­ively close to each oth­er, for the place seems to be cor­doned off by invis­ible strings, no doubt abid­ing by some rules issued by god knows what author­ity, but we look in dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tions, feel­ing vaguely ashamed or at least not at ease, for the des­ig­nated place is both loc­ated out of the offi­cial ways, keep­ing this nuis­ance at bay, and at the same time on dis­play, for it can’t be quite hid­den in this heav­ily fre­quen­ted area and one feels like exhib­ited, the pass­ers-by and the people on the way to the grand entry cast­ing sus­pi­cious side-way glances at the new pari­ahs, not of approval. This is a haphaz­ard con­greg­a­tion of strangers gathered for five minutes, for the dur­a­tion of a cigar­ette, flocked togeth­er to a des­ig­nated spot, hav­ing just one thing in com­mon. Then someone says, out of the blue: “First blacks and Jews, now us.” There is an imme­di­ate out­burst of laughter and mer­ri­ment, the total strangers instantly becom­ing friends, for these brief minutes, cigar­ettes are short-lived and so is our friend­ship, but there is a surge of solid­ar­ity, a sud­den human tie, and the brev­ity of the pre­cious moment reaches far bey­ond the gath­er­ing, bey­ond the sched­ule which soon makes us dis­perse in all dir­ec­tions. It all evap­or­ates in smoke, just as the cigar­ettes, but the brief moment has a curi­ous stay­ing power and reaches bey­ond the dic­tate of time, bey­ond the pres­sure of jobs, oblig­a­tions, sur­viv­al and allot­ted social slots. And it is clear that by laugh­ing togeth­er we have won a small vic­tory over the dis­ap­prov­ing crowd that vastly out­num­bers us and over the care­fully designed reg­u­la­tions that isol­ated us on this spot. The excluded and the ashamed have turned the tables, at least for these moments, we are the win­ners.

The remark is of course made in the spir­it of the smokers’ cheek, or rather their tongue-in-cheek. It would be a bit much to put in line cen­tur­ies of slavery and pogroms with this new fig­ure of out­casts and it would take quite a bit of con­ceit to claim such ances­try. But smokers always tend to speak tongue-in-cheek. There is a couple of blacks in the gath­er­ing and as it turns out also a couple of Jews (and yes, you have guessed right, they belong to the ‘fin­an­cial cap­it­al’ part of the group, one can doubt any­thing except for clichés). The blacks and the Jews are par­tic­u­larly amused by the remark, the Jew­ish per­son smil­ingly adding: “We haven’t yet reached the point of the holo­caust”. Some smokers can actu­ally be blacks and Jews into the bar­gain, and we all turned tem­por­ar­ily into hon­or­ary blacks and Jews. There is a sud­den swap­ping of life stor­ies, one actu­ally grimly stretch­ing back to the holo­caust, the oth­er to the pre-Mar­tin Luther King days. An eld­erly black man, I sup­pose belong­ing to the main­ten­ance staff of the build­ing, says, to the gen­er­al approval: “In all my life I have nev­er been so oppressed as a black man as I am now as a smoker.” And he has lived through the times before the civil rights move­ment when at least in New York it wasn’t so bad to be black as it is now to smoke, the one exclu­sion mir­ror­ing the oth­er in their very dis­crep­ancy and in a strange con­niv­ance. The home­less have some stor­ies of police chas­ing them for smoking in some per­fectly leg­al places, the new handy excuse for har­ass­ment. The rather wealthy look­ing Jews sud­denly look at the home­less with new eyes, almost in appre­ci­ation, with the incon­gru­ous specter of the com­mon fate of exclu­sion in the air, con­nect­ing for a brief moment its widely dis­par­ate ways. The Span­ish tour­ists tell of some tricks of guer­il­la tac­tics smokers employ in Spain after the anti-smoking meas­ures were intro­duced, although far less ser­i­ous than in the US – but the US are, as always, lead­ing the way and we agree that soon we will all be there, par­tak­ing in the prom­ised land.

Smokers of the world, unite. But we are already united. We have col­lect­ively man­aged an incred­ible feat of tra­vers­ing the social divi­sions, of con­jur­ing the specters of his­tory and its ant­ag­on­isms and lay­ing them at rest, of find­ing some bits of solid­ar­ity across bound­ar­ies, laugh­ing togeth­er and hav­ing fun, com­plete strangers in just a few minutes, stand­ing off the main course in Man­hat­tan, at the heart of the world power, at the center of fin­an­cial cap­it­al, an unlikely col­lectiv­ity based on smoke, and smoke alone. It became per­fectly clear: smokers live in com­mun­ism. They cre­ate com­mun­ism wherever they are, even a few minutes from Wall Street. Smokers have star­ted the Occupy Wall Street move­ment long before, only nobody noticed. They don’t wait for a future class­less soci­ety to appear, they instantly make it hap­pen. Smoking is an instant pleas­ure that requires instant solu­tions, it can’t be releg­ated to some dis­tant future. Two smokers are already enough for a bud­ding com­mun­ist cell, when two or three smokers con­greg­ate the (unholy) spir­it of com­mun­ism flashes in their mid­st. Smokers form a party with a very sim­ple mem­ber­ship token, every­body is wel­come to join in, and they gladly accept hon­or­ary non-smokers in their gath­er­ing. This is a party that imme­di­ately starts to dis­solve hier­arch­ies at the stroke of the lighter. Iskra, the spark, was fam­ously the title of Lenin’s polit­ic­al news­pa­per, and smokers take it lit­er­ally, the spark is all it takes. Len­in based its title on the line that the spark is there to ignite a big future flame, but smokers thrive just on sparks and very small present flames, their future may indeed be uncer­tain, given their habit. This is com­mun­ism without a future, for they will all die young, afflic­ted by lung can­cers and heart attacks, to say noth­ing of impot­ence and wrinkled skin. They use weapons of mass destruc­tion des­troy­ing their users, who accept their fate with cheer­ful equan­im­ity.

The smokers’ party doesn’t have a pro­gram, except for what is imme­di­ately put into action. Their deeds pre­cede their words. But this is not to say that their com­munity is based just on pleas­ure and instant grat­i­fic­a­tion, shy­ing away from intel­lec­tu­al demands, quite the con­trary. There is noth­ing like smoking togeth­er to instig­ate reflec­tion, one is there shar­ing a break from the usu­al tur­moil of life, look­ing at it from a dis­tance, reflect­ing on it, all kinds of pro­grams spring up in the space of few minutes, wild ideas cir­cu­late freely, just as the smoke, one looks back and looks for­ward, excep­ted from the imme­di­ate pres­sures and oblig­a­tions, in a non-dis­crim­in­at­ory com­munity of friends and strangers alike. Crazy stor­ies and good jokes are gen­er­ously shared along with the smoke. One can sud­denly hit upon a solu­tion to a prob­lem that one couldn’t find by a sus­tained intel­lec­tu­al effort, pre­cisely because this is a non-pro­duct­ive pause from the require­ments of pro­duc­tion, and it takes more for the mind to work than effort. Smoking is the time of serendip­ity, gra­tu­it­ous and unex­pec­ted gifts. It is essen­tially social, smoking alone nev­er tastes the same (well, just as sex). The more it aims at the bod­ily pleas­ure, the more it arouses and invig­or­ates the mind, it is a non-Chris­ti­an activ­ity par excel­lence, con­stantly testi­fy­ing again­st the divi­sion into body and spir­it. The crav­ing of the body goes hand in hand and coin­cides with the crav­ing of the mind, the one enhan­cing the oth­er. The smoking party doesn’t start with a pro­gram in order to instig­ate action, but with an act in search of a pro­gram, and the moment a few smokers gather pro­grams start mush­room­ing. They inter­pret and they change the world for the time it takes to smoke a cigar­ette.

Being social smoking is nev­er socially neut­ral. Its social and his­tor­ic­al con­nota­tions stretch in all dir­ec­tions, some far away from the com­mun­ist one. But under present con­di­tions of ban and the grow­ing polit­ic­al ana­thema, again­st the back­drop of the excess­ive cam­paign and ever new reg­u­la­tions that epi­tom­ize some­thing like a cari­ca­ture of ‘biopol­it­ics’ in its link with exclu­sion, smoking as a rule emerges as a meta­phor, it mir­rors and refracts all oth­er exclu­sions in a mini­ature mod­el, it traces a line of divi­sion which assembles and brings togeth­er mul­tiple divid­ing lines. Smokers state and rep­res­ent. They rep­res­ent e. g. the can­cer on the healthy social body, and enjoy­ment is increas­ingly treated like a can­cer on the pre­scribed norm­at­ive bod­ily demean­or. There was always some­thing in enjoy­ment that reached ‘bey­ond the pleas­ure prin­ciple’, some­thing recal­cit­rant and indif­fer­ent to the aims of sur­viv­al. Smoking pro­motes enjoy­ment in the bos­om of a pleas­ure-seek­ing soci­ety, again­st the back­drop of its hedon­ist­ic injunc­tions. It pur­sues pleas­ure a bit too far, to the lim­its which invoke the specter of the leth­al, and what the soci­ety pro­mot­ing health and pleas­ure is aller­gic to is, in one word, enjoy­ment. Freud, another great smoker, knew it well. So did Lacan, another smoker, who estab­lished a stark oppos­i­tion between pleas­ure and enjoy­ment.

Of course the smoking com­mun­ism dis­solves just as quickly as it emerged – it all goes up in smoke. In the first step, with the magic power of cigar­ette smoke “everything solid melts into thin air”, fol­low­ing Marx’s (another smoker’s) line from the Mani­festo, all social rela­tions are moment­ar­ily a bit dis­lo­cated and shaken, and then in the second step the specter of com­mun­ism that emerged in the pro­cess melts into thin air in its turn. Leav­ing no traces, just as the smoke? There is of course the danger of roman­ti­ciz­ing the fleet­ing moment and extol its charms, the moment when everything seems moment­ar­ily pos­sible, although through a smoke-screen. Oh, the passing beau­ty of the passing, the Sirens’ call of the instant sub­lime. There is the firm intel­lec­tu­al impulse to res­ist any such pen­chant as well as to res­ist the feel-good self-con­grat­u­lat­ory move of turn­ing some­thing banal into some­thing deeply sub­vers­ive, with the bunch of self-aggrand­iz­ing quick-and-easy revolu­tion­ar­ies, dis­pens­ing with the need for dis­cip­line, pur­suit and organ­iz­a­tion. But per­haps one should also res­ist this impulse to res­ist and allow for a moment of fancy.

Smokers, like pro­let­ari­ans, have no coun­try, but they instantly cre­ate lib­er­ated ter­rit­or­ies wherever they appear. Smoking always rep­res­en­ted liber­ty, a fickle freedom again­st the chains of sur­viv­al, it is an anti-sur­viv­al­ist stance. It states: I am free in chains, while being chained to this habit that I can’t give up, but these chains allow tak­ing a bit of dis­tance to the over­whelm­ing oth­er ones and I am will­ing to pay the price. Smoking makes a state­ment, which can be read in all kinds of ways, cyn­ic­al, spon­tan­eous, relaxed, neur­ot­ic, psychot­ic, per­verse, obsess­ive, com­puls­ive, guilty pleas­ure, sin­ful, dandy, bon-vivant, des­per­ate, anti-stress, aggress­ive, arrog­ant, seduct­ive, avail­able, mark of class, mark of lack of class, soci­ab­il­ity, anti-social beha­vi­or … But again­st all odds and in a wild fancy I would like this state­ment to read: com­mun­ism has a chance.
In America, we can add 'Trumpers', gun owners, church goers, and working class whites to the "New Social Pariah category.