Friday, September 28, 2018

The New Epistocracy

...and Now, a Modern Sweet-Shop Owner asks...
...Did you get your degree (episteme) from Veritas U or Social Justice U?

Rembrandt's "The Night Watch"

Steve Bannon's "The Movement" to Oppose "DiEM25"

The American far right has spotted a gap in the European market, as the continent buckles from the fallout of mass migration and austerity. For liberals to maintain control, they must ally themselves with the radical left.

Recently, it has been widely reported that Steve Bannon plans to establish a group to coordinate right-wing nationalist populists all around Europe. Based in Brussels, "The Movement," as the body is called, will research and write policy proposals, commission polling, and share expertise on messaging and data targeting. It already employs 80 people and its ultimate goal is nothing less than to radically change the political landscape of Europe, by sidelining the liberal consensus and replacing it with my-country-first anti-immigrant nationalism.

Right now, US public opinion is obsessed with alleged Russian meddling into their electoral process – but just imagine if Putin were to send someone to Washington to act like Bannon in Brussels. Thus, here we encounter the old paradox: the separatist forces of disunity are better at establishing their transnational unity than the forces of international solidarity. No wonder liberal Europe is in a panic.

We are bombarded by the idea that today, in the early 21st century, the precious liberal legacy of human rights, democracy and individual freedoms is threatened by the explosive rise of "fascist" populism, and that we should gather all our strength to keep at bay this threat. This idea should be resolutely rejected on two levels. First, populism didn't hit Earth like a comet (as Joschka Fischer wrote about Donald Trump): its rise is more like a crack in the earth, a flow of lava streaming out – and it is the result of the disintegration of the liberal consensus and the inability of the Left to offer a viable alternative. The first step in fighting populism is, therefore, to cast a critical glance at the weaknesses of the liberal project itself – because populism is a symptom of this weakness.

Illusory free will


Second and more important, the real danger resides elsewhere. The most dangerous threat to freedom does not come from an openly authoritarian power, it takes place when our unfreedom itself is experienced as freedom. Since permissiveness and free choice are elevated into a supreme value, social control and domination can no longer appear as infringing on subject's freedom: it has to appear as (and be sustained by) the very self-experience of individuals as free.

There are a multitude of forms where unfreedom appears in the guise of its opposite: when we are deprived of universal healthcare, we are told that we are given a new freedom of choice (to choose our healthcare provider); when we no longer can rely on a long-term employment and are compelled to search for new precarious work every couple of years, we are told that we are given the opportunity to re-invent ourselves and discover unexpected creative potential that lurks in our personality; when we have to pay for the education of our children, we are told that we become "entrepreneurs of the self," acting like a capitalist who has to choose freely how he will invest the resources he possesses (or borrowed) – into education, health, travel.

Constantly bombarded by imposed "free choices," forced to make decisions for which we are mostly not even properly qualified (or possess enough information about), we more and more experience freedom as a burden that causes unbearable anxiety.

Furthermore, most of our activities (and passivities) are now registered in some digital cloud which also permanently evaluates us, tracing not only our acts but also our emotional states; when we experience ourselves as free to the utmost (surfing the web where everything is available), we are totally "externalized" and subtly manipulated.

The digital network gives new meaning to the old slogan "personal is political." And it's not only the control of our intimate lives that is at stake: everything is today regulated by some digital oversight, from transport to health, from electricity to water. That's why the web is our most important commons today, and the struggle for its control is THE struggle today. Albeit an underreported battle.

Off the shelf

The enemy is the combination of privatized and state-controlled commons, corporations (Google, Facebook) and state security agencies (NSA). This fact alone renders insufficient the traditional liberal notion of representative power: citizens transfer part of their power to the state, but on precise terms (this power is constrained by law and limited to very precise conditions in the way it is exercised, since the people remain the ultimate source of sovereignty and can repeal power if they so decide. In short, the state with its power is the minor partner in a contract which the major partner (the people) can at any point repeal or change, basically in the same way each of us can change the supermarket where we buy our provisions.

Liberalism and its great opponent, classical Marxism, both tend to reduce the state to a secondary mechanism which obeys the needs of the reproduction of capital. So, they both thereby underestimate the active role played by state apparatuses in economic processes. Today (perhaps more than ever) one should not fetishize capitalism as the Big Bad Wolf that is controlling states: state apparatuses are active in the very heart of economic processes, doing much more than just guaranteeing legal and other (educational, ecological…) conditions of the reproduction of capital.

In many different forms, the state is more active as a direct economic agent – it helps failing banks, it supports selected industries, it orders defense and other equipment – in the US today than ever before. Around 50 percent of production is mediated by the state, while a century ago, this percentage was between five percent and 10 percent.

Old rope


One has to be more specific here: the digital network that sustains the functioning of our societies as well as their control mechanisms is the ultimate figure of the technical grid that sustains power today – and does this not confer a new power to the old Trotsky idea that the key to the State lies, not in its political and secretarial organizations, but in its technical services? Consequently, in the same way that, for Trotsky, taking control of the post, electricity, railways, etc., was the key moment of the revolutionary seizure of power, is it not that today, the "occupation" of the digital grid is absolutely crucial if we are to break the power of the state and capital?

In the same way as Trotsky required the mobilization of a narrow, well-trained "storming party, of technical experts and gangs of armed men led by engineers" to resolve this "question of technique," the lesson of the last decades is that neither massive grassroots protests (as we have seen in Spain and Greece) nor well-organized political movements (parties with elaborate political visions) are enough. Instead, we also need a narrow strike force of dedicated "engineers" (hackers, whistle-blowers…) organized as a disciplined conspiratorial group. Its task will be to "take over" the digital grid, and to rip it from the hands of corporations and state agencies which now de facto control it.

WikiLeaks was just the beginning, and our motto should be a Maoist one: let a hundred of WikiLeaks blossom. The panic and fury with which those in power, those who control our digital commons, reacted to Assange is a proof that such an activity hits the nerve. There will be many blows below the belt in this fight – our side will be accused of playing the enemy's hands (like the campaign against Assange for being in the service of Putin), but we should get used to it and learn to strike back with interest, ruthlessly playing one side against the other in order to bring them all down.Were Lenin and Trotsky also not accused of being paid by Germans and/or by the Jewish bankers? As for the scare that such an activity will disturb the functioning of our societies and thus threaten millions of lives, we should bear in mind that it is those in power who are ready to selectively shut down the digital grid to isolate and contain protests. Indeed, when massive public dissatisfaction explodes, the first move is always to disconnect the internet and cell phones.

Or, to put it in the well-known terms from 1968, in order for its key legacy to survive, liberalism needs the brotherly help of the radical Left.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Steve Bannon's Brussels plans threaten Europe's liberal legacy"

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Sexual Revolution...aka The Circumvention of Biology

from Wikipedia

The sexual revolution, also known as a time of sexual liberation, was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the United States and subsequently, the wider world, from the 1960s to the 1980s.[1] Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage).[2] The normalization of contraception and the pill, public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, and alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed.
Nothing can grow without rain...

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Kiplings

It was not part of their blood,
It came to them very late
With long arrears to make good,
When the English began to hate.

They were not easily moved,
They were icy-willing to wait
Till every count should be proved,
Ere the English began to hate.

Their voices were even and low,
Their eyes were level and straight.
There was neither sign nor show,
When the English began to hate.

It was not preached to the crowd,
It was not taught by the State.
No man spoke it aloud,
When the English began to hate.

It was not suddenly bred,
It will not swiftly abate,
Through the chill years ahead,
When Time shall count from the date
That the English began to hate.
Rudyard Kipling, "The Beginnings"
My son," said the Norman Baron, "I am dying, and you will be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for my share
When we conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:—

"The Saxon is not like us Normans, His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, "This isn't fair dealings," my son, leave the Saxon alone.

"You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your Picardy spears,
But don't try that game on the Saxon; you'll have the whole brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained serf in the field,
They'll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise, you will yield.

"But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs and songs.
Don't trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale of their wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they're saying; let them feel that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear 'em out if it takes you all day.

"They'll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour of the dark,
It's the sport not the rabbits they 're after (we 've plenty of game in the park).
Don't hang them or cut off their fingers. That's wasteful as well as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-at-arms you can find.

"Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say 'we,' 'us' and 'ours' when you're talking instead of 'you fellows' and 'I.'
Don't ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell 'em a lie!"
Rudyard Kipling, "Norman and Saxon"

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Powerless Process

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy


I
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

II
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

IV
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

V
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

Livin' Right


Jean-Luc Nancy, "Clear Confusion"
What an instructive story! We have two people flirting (all references to gender, ever doubtful and always subject to change, have been erased). Two adults in full possession of their rights and their consciences. One is the other’s professor, which means that the other is a student. They flirt, which is to say that they flatter each other, use pet names in conversation and in emails, cuddle a little. In terms of both sex and sentiment, it goes no further than that.

The student graduates and starts looking for work. After two years of looking, no job has yet appeared (university positions in literature being pretty rare in these business-oriented times). So, the student comes to feel that the flirt-partner must be sabotaging things, and decides to formally accuse the professor first of seduction and second of thwarting the job search (meanwhile, fortunately, the student has found two temporary positions).

A Title IX process is started. The accused is found guilty of sexual harassment in the form of exaggerated language (language that, however, is never judged likely to have psychologically harmed the plaintiff, while supposed supporting medical documentation is found “of questionable reliability”). The accused is suspended from all professional duties for one year. And all of this is supposed to remain between the two parties and the university, which handled the process. But the plaintiff feels wronged by this verdict, considering it too light, and so contacts the press, giving them only one side of the story, and threatens the university with a lawsuit (demanding millions, the university said).

Meanwhile, a considerable number of colleagues and friends of the accused wrote a public letter expressing their sense that the extent and intensity of the judicial process (which took several months to arrive at rather ambiguous results) was completely out of proportion to the benign nature of the facts. They also made reference to the accused’s considerable international reputation—not as an excuse but as testimony to a record of estimable social and professional conduct for over 30 years. They also specifically said that they would have been equally shocked to see anyone else treated in this way (curiously, this detail was left out of a later version of the letter that was made public).

It was at this point that things got really complicated—as if they weren’t already complicated enough. It’s time to state directly that the accused is a woman and the plaintiff a man—both homosexuals (distinctions no doubt subject to elaboration, and a point that needs to be clarified). People so readily jump to conclusions: when a woman is accused, feminists—both women and men—defend her. When a man is, he is roundly condemned—by both women and men. The press gets fired up on both sides of the Atlantic (just for starters). The accused denied the plaintiff’s allegations—which made an absurdity of the ten months of judicial process and confidentiality. Conclusions: 1) with no other proof than scenes without witnesses and soulful declarations, a verdict was passed. 2) with no other proof than the presence of feminists among the signatories (the others were forgotten, I among them), the verdict of popular opinion weighed against the women engaged in the #MeToo movement.

Everyone is leaping to judgement when it’s a matter of one person’s word against another’s, one opinion against another. It has created an overwhelming confusion between the subjective and the objective, as well as between the personal and the institutional, between the lived and the judicial, impression and information, prejudice and judgement.

But this confusion has also sent a shiver of satisfaction through various ranks and networks: what a gorgeous slaughter! Feminists tripping themselves up, the academic corporation sounding a call to arms, and above all, above all, flirtation put under high surveillance. Let’s all defend ourselves against everyone else, and sentimentality against itself. Defend sensitive beings against even the lightest seductions. From a wink to rape, as if it were a foregone conclusion—as if all professors are harassers and all students, serfs.

Thus, from confusion, clarity is born: how good it is to have a clear vision of the world, well-ordered and structured upon exact divisions and defined attributions, to be able to tell instantly and unquestionably the good from the bad and vice-versa, to be able to correct the tiniest infraction, to be absolutely serious and infinitely vigilant. How good one feels in this precise world in which everything and everyone is in the proper place assigned to the proper role!

So, who says this is a complicated world?

P.S.

Additional note: over the past several years, there’s been a noticeable change in the codes of politeness, courtesy, and friendliness. “Love” has replaced “Sincerely,” and “Xox!” has replaced “Warm wishes.” And when one sends hugs and kisses, it’s always big hugs and many kisses. Though we may want to enrich these codes with a few refinements, those expressing amiability can become a bit effusive. It’s as if expressions of affection seem half-hearted if they aren’t as ardent as possible. Where can it possibly end? And it’s confusional, if you’ll allow me the phrase. And this is to say nothing of humorous or deliberately parodic uses of hyperbolic sentiment! For fear of not being able to feel anything, we endlessly endeavor to feel ever more intensely. But being serious and clear-sighted demands elaborately refined language—does it not, my very dear sisters and very dear brothers?

Second additional note: This case has had some unexpected developments. For instance, it’s been suggested that the concept of sexual harassment needs to be rethought in order to include the possibility of its being non-sexual through the exercise of emotional pressure linked to power, which makes sense as long as the basis of the pressure—the relative strength of one party and the relative weakness of the other—are well and clearly established. The same would pertain if one were considering such pressures on an elderly person or someone psychologically challenged. The relationship of professor and student is not sufficient in itself—and yet that’s what’s been suggested . . . but it’s not a matter of suggesting it, but of proving it.

Third addition: In the intervening time (I wrote this text three weeks ago) I’ve seen that “deconstruction” is itself being accused in the person of Avital Ronell and that Avital is being accused as a supposed “deconstructionist.” Those backing this argument reveal that they know nothing of what the word “deconstruction” means in philosophy, are unaware that Derrida always rejected the idea of “a deconstructionism,” and—and above all—are ignorant of the considerable differences that exist among works written by Avital, Derrida, and of a number of other thinkers—themselves extremely diverse—that tries to continue and deepen what Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger undertook following what Kant labeled the “critique of the metaphysical.” Ignorance always flourishes alongside verdicts of opinion.