Sunday, November 10, 2019

Tributes - Cornstalk

from Wikipedia
Cornstalk (Shawnee: Hokoleskwa or Hokolesqua) (ca. 1720 – November 10, 1777) was a prominent leader of the Shawnee nation just prior to the American Revolution (1775-1783). His name, Hokoleskwa, translates loosely into "stalk of corn" in English, and is spelled Colesqua in some accounts. He was also known as Keigh-tugh-qua and Wynepuechsika.

Cornstalk opposed European settlement west of the Ohio River in his youth, but he later became an advocate for peace after the Battle of Point Pleasant (1774). His murder by American militiamen at Fort Randolph during a diplomatic visit in November 1777 outraged both American Indians and Virginians.

Biography

Early years

Historians believe he may have been born in present-day Pennsylvania, and moved to the Ohio Country, near present-day Chillicothe, with his sister, Nonhelema, when the Shawnee fell back before expanding white settlement. Stories tell of Cornstalk's participation in the French and Indian War (1754–1763), though these are probably apocryphal. His alleged participation in Pontiac's Rebellion (1763–1766) is also unverified, though he did take part in the peace negotiations.

Dunmore's War

Cornstalk played a central role in Dunmore's War of 1774. After the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, settlers and land speculators moved into the lands south of the Ohio River in present-day West Virginia and Kentucky. Although the Iroquois had agreed to cede the land, the Shawnee and others had not been present at the Fort Stanwix negotiations. They still claimed this area as their hunting grounds. Clashes soon took place over this. Cornstalk tried unsuccessfully to prevent escalation of the hostilities.

Attempting to block a Virginian invasion of the Ohio country, Cornstalk led a force of Shawnee and Mingo warriors at the Battle of Point Pleasant. His attack, although ferociously made, was beaten back by the Virginians. Cornstalk retreated and would reluctantly accept the Ohio River as the boundary of Shawnee lands in the Treaty of Camp Charlotte.

Cornstalk's commanding presence often impressed American colonials. A Virginia officer, Col. Benjamin Wilson, wrote of Cornstalk's speech to Lord Dunmore at Camp Charlotte in 1774: "I have heard the first orators in Virginia, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, but never have I heard one whose powers of delivery surpassed those of Cornstalk on that occasion."

American Revolution

With the American Revolution begun, Cornstalk worked to keep his people neutral. He represented the Shawnee at treaty councils at Fort Pitt in 1775 and 1776, the first Indian treaties ever negotiated by the United States. Many Shawnees nevertheless hoped to use British aid to reclaim their lands lost to the settlers. By the winter of 1776, the Shawnee were effectively divided into a neutral faction led by Cornstalk, and militant bands led by men such as Blue Jacket.

In the fall of 1777, Cornstalk made a diplomatic visit to Fort Randolph, an American fort at present-day Point Pleasant, seeking as always to maintain his faction's neutrality. Cornstalk was detained by the fort commander, who had decided on his own initiative to take hostage any Shawnees who fell into his hands. When, on November 10, an American militiaman from the fort was killed nearby by unknown Indians, angry soldiers brutally executed Cornstalk, his son Elinipsico, and two other Shawnees. Private Jacob McNeil was one of the soldiers who participated in the capture of the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, and tried to prevent his murder at Fort Randolph (West Virginia). McNeil testified: "That he was one of the guards over the celebrated Indian chief Corn Stalk [sic: Cornstalk or Hokoleskwa] – that when he was murdered [10 Nov 1777] he this affiant did all he could to prevent it – but that it was all in vain the American (soldier)'s exasperated at the depredations of the Indians."[2]

American political and military leaders were alarmed by the murder of Cornstalk; they believed he was their only hope of securing Shawnee neutrality. At the insistence of Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia, Cornstalk's killers — whom Henry called "vile assassins" — were eventually brought to trial, but since their fellow soldiers would not testify against them, all were acquitted.

Cornstalk was originally buried at Fort Randolph.

Legacy

In 1840 Cornstalk's grave was rediscovered and his remains were moved to the Mason County Courthouse grounds. In 1954 the courthouse was torn down and he was reburied in Point Pleasant. A local legend claims that he took his revenge in the 1960s by sending the mysterious Mothman to terrorize Point Pleasant.[3] Legends arose about his dying "curse" being the cause of misfortunes in the area (later supplanted by local "mothman" stories),[4][5] though no contemporary historical source mentions any such utterance by Cornstalk.


Thursday, November 7, 2019

In Pursuit of the Hirsuit...

Slavoj Zizek, "For-show female empowerment & gender fluidity are simply the latest instruments of corporate capitalism"
Should women unashamedly wear mustaches? Should men abandon their masculinity because it’s ‘toxic’? This is all just a smoke screen capitalist overlords use to hide real issues and stay in power, philosopher Slavoj Zizek believes.

In one of the latest anti-objectification messages, women’s razor brand Billie ran an ad timed to Movember (the annual ‘mustache month’ event), proclaiming that “women have mustaches too” and should not be ashamed to grow them out. It looks like a step in the right direction of gender (identity) equality – but is in fact a drive fueled by the big corporations that do not want people to challenge the existing status quo in more substantial ways, world-renowned philosopher Zizek believes.
Here are his further thoughts on the issue:

Step towards de-sexualization?

I think this is a part of a larger phenomenon, which follows this logic: if women try to be beautiful or to obey the models of beauty in a traditional sense they objectify themselves for men. So women should re-appropriate their bodies in the sense of admitting them in their everyday ugliness – hair, fat, whatever – to de-mystify their bodies, to show that a woman’s body, especially sex organs, is not what they are for the gaze of men but has its own positive function that should be appropriated by women because women cannot be reduced to being objects for men.

One the one hand, I agree with the women’s feeling of oppression but I see a problem with this logic. Let’s face it: sexuality as such involves a certain degree of self-objectification. For example, when I engaged in sexual activity, when I embrace a naked person that I love, I abstract (and that is the imminent logic of sexuality) from all the nasty things that are part of the human body – bad odors, remains of dirt etc. I minimally idealize, in a way, the other’s body. Without this, we approach de-sexualization.

In spite of all the talk about free sexuality liberated from binary heterosexual restraints, what we are basically dealing with here is an attack on sexuality as such.

Push for imaginary sexual freedom will only lead to worse oppression

We all know that human sexuality is not just something biologically predetermined – as the traumatic experiences of transgender people prove. In your psychological identity, you can be a woman trapped in a masculine body, and you are ready to suffer quite a lot to change your body so that it fits your inner psychological identity. All this happens. There is no direct biological determination here.

Yet, to make a big jump from here to a claim that sexual difference is just one among the oppressive constructs of those in power and that we should playfully engage in multiple sexual identities, that it is just a game, and that everything is open and that if we just get rid of the binary heterosexual oppression we will enjoy full free sexuality, is a great mistake. It obliterates the basic lesson of Freudian psychoanalysis, which is that sexuality in itself is something pretty dark.

It is not a happy domain. It is a domain of deep traumas, masochist reversals and so on. That is why it is not enough to claim that if we get rid of this big masculine-feminine gender duality and, to paraphrase Mao Zedong, who said that thousands of flowers should blossom in us, to say that thousands of identities should blossom and all will be happy and live a satisfied sexual life. No, human sexuality, again, is inherently traumatic. It is a big mess, there is no simple formula here.

As experience with political correctness demonstrates, if you try to liberate sexuality in this simplistic sense and get rid of this heterosexual normativity and let all the different forms proliferate, you end up in an even worse oppression.
Everyone should be free to objectify themselves

What many people do not accept is that the problem is not objectification as such – it is not the whole game of sexual seduction, flirting of men and women - it’s that, in some sense, you precisely objectify yourself as you want to present yourself as seductive. The problem is not that there should be no objectification – the problem is that each sexual agent should have the right to control his/her/their objectification.

Let’s not forget that with all the feminist protests against objectifying women what bothers fundamentalists, for example, in Muslim countries is precisely when a woman plays with her own objectification... For example, imitating fellatio, playing with a banana in their mouth. What bothers men is that a woman, in this situation, is not objectified by men, but objectifies herself playfully enacting her objectification for her own pleasure.

Instrument of capitalism

As it is usual with such events, we should not underestimate the degree to which this is a relatively marginal phenomenon. Be sure, most women will not want to grow a mustache and if they want to – let them do what they want. I often detect in these transgender new identities something that I do not like. It is that as once heterosexual standards were imposed oppressing other identities, now, if you read all these texts, in some of them you find the idea that if you are still within the traditional heterosexual sexuality you are somehow retarded. To be truly free, you have to play with your identity and blur all the lines.

I do not agree with this. This idea of freely rearranging, changing your body and playing with identities is something that perfectly fits today’s consumerist capitalism with its infinite dynamics. There is a chance that big companies are already playing these games. Probably some of our readers remember a Gillette ad from about a half a year ago, where a father helps his ex-daughter, who is now a boy, to shave herself for the first time with Gillette. There is absolutely nothing subversive in this ‘play with different identities, experiment with yourself’ attitude. It is simply a perfect form of sexuality for the late consumerist capitalism.

A lesson that we should take from all of this, not just from commercials, which are then sold to us with a progressive twist, but also the fact that – remember two or three years ago transgender movement exploded in the US with this big campaign for toilets that should be open to all sexual identities, not just masculine/feminine – how the entire big corporate US – all the big names like Tim Cook or Zuckerberg – all passionately followed this path and supported it. Unfortunately, this type of struggle for free sexual identities is something that can easily be used as a part of capitalist machinery to oppress more dangerous popular demands, even and especially the authentic feminist protests.

Elites seek to divert female emancipation drive away from changing political status quo

On the one hand, (and I wholeheartedly celebrate and support this) there is some kind of awakening of women. There are forms of feminine subordination, which are part of our tradition from even before class societies, from tribal societies – like woman is passive, subordinated to men. As it is always the case, the establishment tries to redirect this awakening in such a direction that it will not really change power relations. We will get a quota for women, women will be presented in the media more respectfully. But the same power relations will persist in our society. That is what all these fighters against patriarchy do not often get.

In the developed West, the ruling ideology is no longer a patriarchy. It is a kind of false openness which also functions as a way to avoid radical mobilization and radical solutions. When we are focused on whether a woman can wear a beard or a man can put on lipstick, no one wants to talk about the continuing terrifying oppression of women, of the exploding rape culture in Mexico and South Africa. Let’s focus on the struggles in which the real freedom of people will be decided.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Canada on Socialism

Nietzsche on Socialism

Joker

Seen as a potential validation for violent glory seekers, the 'Joker' movie turns out to be not an incitement for violence but a judgement on the modern political system's flaws, philosopher Slavoj Zizek says.

The much acclaimed Todd Phillips movie starring Joaquin Phoenix has received its fair share of criticism from almost everyone, from the woke community to the US Army, who all believed it could prompt some "evil" people to commit acts of violence.

Yet, the film's critics have apparently overlooked the underlying message of the movie, world-renowned philosopher Zizek told RT, adding that it is not about some mentally-challenged person, but about the "hopelessness" of our "best ever" political order itself, which many still simply refuse to accept.

Slavoj Zizek, "'System deadlock': Joker artistically diagnoses modern world's ills"
Daily life has become a horror movie

We should congratulate Hollywood and the viewers on two things: that such a film that, let's face it, gives a very dark image of highly developed capitalism, a nightmarish image which led some critics to designate it a 'social horror film', came out. Usually, we have social films, which depict social problems, and then we have horror films. To bring these two genres together, it is only possible when many phenomena in our ordinary social life become phenomena which belong to horror films.

It is even more interesting to see how reactions to the film provide a whole specter of political cohesions in the US. On the one hand, conservatives were afraid that this film would incite violence. It was an absurd claim. No violence was triggered by this film. On the contrary, the film depicts violence and awakens you to the danger of violence.

As it is always the case, some politically correct people feared that the film used racist clichés and celebrates violence. It is also unfair. One of the most interesting positions was that of Michael Moore, a leftist documentarist, who celebrated the film as an honest depiction of reality of those poor, excluded and not covered by healthcare in the US.

His idea is that the film explains how figures like Joker can arise. It is a critical portrayal of reality in the US, which can give birth to people like Joker. I agree with him but I would also like to go a bit further.

'Deadlock of nihilism'

I think what is important is that the figure of Joker in the end, when he identifies with his mask, is a figure of extreme nihilism, self-destructive violence and a crazy laughter at others' despair. There is not positive political project.

The way we should read 'Joker' is that it very wisely abstains from providing a positive image. A leftist critique of 'Joker' could have been: "Yes, it is a good portrayal of reality in the poor slums of the US but where is the positive force? Where are democratic socialists, where are ordinary people organizing themselves?" In this case, it would have been a totally different and a pretty boring film.

The logic of this film is that it leaves it to the spectators to do this. The movie shows sad social reality and a deadlock of the nihilist reaction. In the end, Joker is not free. He is only free in a sense of arriving at a point of total nihilism.
It is up to us to decide what we should do.
I designated the figure of Joker in a kind of Kazimir Malevich, the Russian avangardist, position when he did this famous painting of the Black Square. It is a kind of minimal protest – a reduction to nothing. Joker simply mocks every authority. It is destructive but lacks a positive project. We have to go through this path of despair.

It is not enough to play the game of those in power. That is the message of 'Joker'. The fact that they could be charitable like Bruce Wayne's father in this latest movie is just a part of the game. You have to get rid of all these liberal stupidities that obfuscate the despair of the situation.

Yet, it is not the final step but a zero level of clearing the table to open up the space for something new. This is how I read the film. It is not a final decadent vision. We have to go through this hell. Now, it is up to us to go further.

Social alarm clock

The danger of explaining just the backstory is to give a kind of a rational explanation that we should understand the figure of Joker. But Joker does not need this. Joker is a creative person in some sense. The crucial moment in the film for his subjective change is when he says: "I used to think my life was a tragedy. But now I realize, it's a comedy."

Comedy means for me that at that point he accepts himself in all his despair as a comical figure and gets rid of the last constraints of the old world. That is what he does for us. He is not a figure to imitate. It is wrong to think that what we see towards the end of the film – Joker celebrated by others – is the beginning of some new emancipatory movement. No, it is an ultimate deadlock of the existing system; a society bent on its self-destruction.

The elegance of the film is that it leaves the next step of building a positive alternative to it to us. It is a dark nihilist image meant to awaken us.

Are we ready to face reality?

The leftists who are disturbed by 'Joker' are 'Fukuyama leftists'; those who think that the liberal democratic order is the best possible order and we should just make it more tolerant. In this sense, everyone is a socialist today. Bill Gates says he is for socialism, Mark Zuckerberg says he is for socialism.

The lesson of 'Joker' is that a more radical change is needed; that this is not enough. And that is what all those democratic leftists are not aware of. This dissatisfaction that grows up today is a serious one. The system cannot deal with it with gradual reforms, more tolerance or better healthcare.

These are signs of the need for more radical change.

The true problem is whether we are ready to really experience the hopelessness of our situation. As Joker himself said at a certain moment in the film: "I laugh because I have nothing to lose, I am nobody."

There is also a clever name game here. Joker's real family name is Fleck. In German, fleck is a stain, a meaningless stain. It is like anamorphosis. We need to take a different look to see a new perspective.

I do not trust all those leftist critics who are afraid of its potential. As Moore put it very nicely, you are afraid of violence here, not of real violence in our daily life. To be shocked by violence depicted in the film is just an escape from real violence.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

America First

Slavoj Žižek, ""America first!” and the shape of the New World Order"
Consider the strange paradox of Donald Trump’s political stance towards Israel: even while he has been a vocal advocate of Binyamin Netanyahu and his government has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, many of his supporters are openly anti-Semitic. But is this really an inconsistent stance?

A cartoon published back in July 2008 in the Viennese daily Die Presse depicted two stocky Nazi-looking Austrians sit at a table, and one of them holding a newspaper and commenting to his friend: “Here you can see again how a totally justified anti-Semitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!” This caricature thereby inverts the standard argument against the critics of the policies of the State of Israel. But when today’s Christian fundamentalist supporters of Israeli politics reject leftist critiques of Israeli policies, is their implicit line of argumentation not uncannily close to its reasoning?

Remember Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti-immigrant mass murderer: he was anti-Semitic, but pro-Israel, since he saw in the State of Israel the first line of defence against the Muslim expansion. He even wanted to see the Jerusalem Temple rebuilt, but he wrote in his “Manifesto”:
There is no Jewish problem in Western Europe (with the exception of the UK and France) as we only have 1 million in Western Europe, whereas 800,000 out of these 1 million live in France and the UK. The US on the other hand, with more than 6 million Jews (600% more than Europe) actually has a considerable Jewish problem.
His figures thus realise the ultimate paradox of the Zionist anti-Semite — and we find the traces of this strange stance more often than one would expect. Reinhard Heydrich himself, the mastermind of the Holocaust, wrote in 1935:
We must separate the Jews into two categories, the Zionists and the partisans of assimilation. The Zionists profess a strictly racial concept and, through emigration to Palestine, they help to build their own Jewish State ... our good wishes and our official goodwill go with them.
As Frank Ruda has pointed out, today we are witnessing a new version of this Zionist anti-Semitism: Islamophobic respect for Islam. So the same politicians who warn of the danger of the Islamisation of the Christian West — from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin — respectfully congratulate Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his ever-tightening grip on power. The authoritarian reign of Islam is fine for Turkey, it would seem, but not for the West. We can thus easily imagine a new version of the cartoon from Die Presse, with two stocky Nazi-looking Austrians sitting at a table, one of them holding a newspaper and commenting: “Here you can see again how a totally justified Islamophobia is being misused for a cheap critique of Turkey!”

(Samuel) Huntington’s disease

How are we to understand this weird logic? It is a reaction, a false cure, to the great social disease of our time. Typically, the first symptoms of Huntington’s disease are jerky, random and uncontrollable movements called chorea. Chorea may initially manifest as general restlessness, small unintentional or uncompleted motions, lack of coordination.

Does an explosion of brutal populism not look quite similar? It begins with what appear to be random acts of excessive violence against immigrants, outbursts which lack coordination and merely express a general unease and restlessness apropos of “foreign intruders,” but then it gradually grows into a well-coordinated and ideologically grounded movement: what the other Huntington — that is, Samuel — called “the clash of civilizations.” This fortuitous coincidence is telling: what is usually referred to under this term is effectively the Huntington’s disease of today’s global capitalism.

According to Samuel Huntington, after the end of the Cold War, the “iron curtain of ideology” had been replaced by the “velvet curtain of culture.” Huntington’s dark vision of the “clash of civilizations” may appear to be the very opposite of Francis Fukuyama’s bright prospect of the “end of history” in the guise of a world-wide liberal democracy. What could be more different from Fukuyama’s pseudo-Hegelian idea that the final formula of the best possible social order was found in capitalist liberal democracy, than a “clash of civilizations” as the fundamental political struggle in the twenty-first century? How, then, do the two fit together?

From today’s experience, the answer is clear: the “clash of civilizations” is politics at “the end of history.” The ethnic-religious conflicts are the form of struggle which fits global capitalism: in our age of post-politics, when politics proper is progressively replaced by expert social administration, the only remaining legitimate source of conflicts are cultural (ethnic, religious) tensions. Today’s rise of “irrational” violence is thus to be conceived of as strictly correlative to the depoliticization of our societies — that is, to the disappearance of the political dimension proper, and its translation into different levels of “administration” of social affairs.

“America first!”

If we accept this thesis concerning the “clash of civilizations,” the only alternative to it remains the peaceful coexistence of civilizations (or of “ways of life” — a more popular term today): so forced marriages, misogynistic violence and homophobia are fine, just as long as they are confined to another country which is otherwise fully included in the world market.

The New World Order (NWO) that is emerging is thus no longer the Fukuyamaist NWO of global liberal democracy, but the NWO of the peaceful coexistence of different politico-theological ways of life — coexistence, of course, against the background of the smooth functioning of global capitalism. The obscenity of this process is that it can present itself as progress in the anti-colonial struggle: the liberal West will no longer be allowed to impose its standards on others; all ways of life will be treated as equal.

It is little wonder, then, that Robert Mugabe exhibited such enthusiasm for Trump’s slogan “America first!”: “America first!” for you, “Zimbabwe first!” for me, “India first!” or “North Korea first!” for them. This is already how the British Empire, the first global capitalist empire, functioned: each ethnic-religious community was allowed to pursue its own way of life (for instance, honour killings or the burning of widows by Hindus in India were permitted). While these local “customs” were either criticised as barbaric or praised for their premodern wisdom, they were tolerated because what mattered was that they remained economically part of the Empire.

There is thus something deeply hypocritical about those liberals who criticise the slogan “America first!” — as if this is not more or less what every country is doing; as if America did not play a global role precisely because it suited its own interests. The underlying message of “America first!” is nonetheless a sad one: the American century is over; American exceptionalism is no more; America has resigned itself to being just one among the nations. The supreme irony is that the leftists, who for a long time criticised the US pretension to be the global policeman, may begin to long for the good old days when, hypocrisy notwithstanding, the United States imposed democratic standards onto the world.

We can see what “America first!” means in the outrage that followed reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump. Of course, I agree that Putin’s regime should be relentlessly criticised — but, in this case, has not the United States regularly done the same thing? Did a US team not help Boris Yeltsin win a key election in Russia? And what about the United States’ active support for the Maidan uprising in Ukraine? This is “America first!” in practice: when they are doing it, it’s a dangerous plot; when we are doing it, it’s supporting democracy.

In this NWO, universality will more and more be reduced to tolerance — tolerance for different “ways of life.” Following the formula of Zionist anti-Semitism, there will be no contradiction between imposing in our own countries the strictest “politically correct” pro-feminist rules and simultaneously rejecting any critique of the dark side of Islam as neocolonialist arrogance.

From private capital to state power

In this New World Order, there will be less and less place for figures like Julian Assange, who, in spite of all his problematic gestures, remains today’s most powerful symbol of what Kant called “the public use of reason” — a space for public knowledge and debate outside of state control. Following his arrest, it is clear what lies ahead: Wikileaks will be declared a terrorist organization, and rather than genuine advocates of public space like Assange, public figures who exemplify the privatization of our commons will predominate. The figure of Elon Musk is emblematic here: he belongs to the same series with Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg — all “socially conscious” billionaires. They stand for global capital at its most seductive and “progressive” — which is to say, at its most dangerous.

Musk likes to warn about the threats that new technologies pose to human dignity and freedom — which, of course, doesn’t prevent him from investing in a brain-computer interface venture called Neuralink, a company which is focussed on creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the eventual purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence. These enhancements could improve memory or allow for more direct interface with computing devices: “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.”

Every technological innovation is always first presented like this, emphasising its health or humanitarian benefits, which function to blind us to the more ominous implications and consequences: can we even imagine what new forms of control this so-called “neural lace” contains? This is why it is absolutely imperative to keep it out of the control of private capital and state power — that is, to render it totally open to public debate. Assange was right in his strangely ignored book on Google: to understand how our lives are regulated today, and how this regulation is experienced as our freedom, we have to focus on the shadowy collusion between private corporations which control our commons and secret state agencies.

Today’s global capitalism can no longer afford a positive vision of emancipated humanity, even as an ideological dream. Fukuyamaist liberal-democratic universalism failed because of its own immanent limitations and inconsistencies, and populism is the symptom of this failure — its “Huntington’s disease.” But the solution is not populist nationalism, rightist or leftist. The only solution is a new universalism — it is demanded by the problems humanity is confronting today, from ecological threats to refugee crises.

Protecting the new commons

In his book What Happened in the Twentieth Century?, Peter Sloterdijk provides his own outline of what is to be done in twenty-first century, best encapsulated in the title of the first two essays in the book, “The Anthropocene” and “From the Domestication of the Human Being to the Civilizing of Cultures.”

“Anthropocene” designates 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 cannot any longer afford to ignore the side effects (the collateral damage) of our productivity, which cannot any longer be reduced to the background of the figure of humanity. We have to accept that we live on a “Spaceship Earth,” and are thus accountable for its conditions. Earth is no longer the impenetrable background/horizon of our productive activity, it emerges as an(other) finite object which we can inadvertently destroy or transform it to make it unliveable.

This means that, 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 environs is necessary once we realise this: no longer a heroic worker expressing his/her creative potentials and drawing from the inexhaustible resources from his/her environs, but a much more modest agent collaborating with his/her environs, permanently negotiating a tolerable level of safety and stability. So in order to establish this new mode of relating to our environs, a radical politico-economic change is necessary, what Sloterdijk calls “the domestication of the wild animal culture.”

Until now, each culture disciplined or 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 conceptualised it, the entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism — namely, 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. Today, is North Korea with its ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons and rockets advanced enough to reach 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 a “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.

The measures Sloterdijk proposes as necessary for the survival of humanity — the overcoming of capitalist expansionism, achieving broad international solidarity capable to forming an executive power ready to violate state sovereignty, and so on — are they not all measures destined to protect our natural and cultural commons? If they do not point towards some kind of reinvented Communism, if they do not imply a Communist horizon, then the term “Communism” has no meaning at all.

This is why the idea of the European Union is worth fighting for, despite of the misery of its actual existence: in today’s global capitalist world, it offers the only model of a trans-national organisation with the authority to limit national sovereignty and the capacity to guarantee a minimum of ecological and social welfare standards. Something that directly descends from the best traditions of European Enlightenment survives in it. Our — that is, Europeans’ — duty is not to humiliate ourselves as the ultimate culprits of colonialist exploitation but to fight for this part of our legacy as vital for the survival of humanity.

Europe is more and more alone in the New World Order, dismissed as an old, exhausted, irrelevant, contingent, reduced to playing a secondary role in today’s big geopolitical conflicts. As Bruno Latour recently put it: “L’Europe est seule, oui, mais seule l’Europe peut nous sauver.” Europe is alone, yes, but Europe alone can save us.

Return of the Living Dead


Slavoj Žižek, "Return of the Living Dead"
Let us begin with Antigone who, according to Lacan, irradiates a sublime beauty from the very moment she enters the domain between two deaths, between her symbolic and her actual death. What characterizes her innermost posture is precisely her insistence on a certain unconditional demand on which she is not prepared to give way: a proper burial for her brother. It is the same with the ghost of Hamlet's father, who returns from his grave with the demand that Hamlet revenge his infamous death. This connection between drive as an unconditional demand and the domain between the two deaths is also visible in popular culture.

In the film The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg who returns to contemporary Los Angeles from the future, with the intention of killing the mother of a future leader. The horror of this figure consists precisely in the fact that it functions as a programmed automaton who, even when all that remains of him is a metallic, legless skeleton, persists in his demand and pursues his victim with no trace of compromise or hesitation. The terminator is the embodiment of the drive, devoid of desire. In two other films, we encounter two versions of the same motive, one comical, the other pathetic-tragic.

In George Romero's omnibus Creepshow (screenplay by Stephen King), a family is gathered around the dinner table to celebrate the anniversary of their father's death. Years earlier, his sister had killed him at his birthday party by hitting him on the head in response to his endlessly repeated demand, "Daddy wants his cake!" Suddenly, a strange noise is heard from the family cemetery behind the house; the dead father climbs from his grave, kills his murderous sister, cuts off the head of his wife, puts it on the tray, smears it with cream, decorates it with candles and mumbles contentedly: "Daddy got his cake!"—a demand that has persisted beyond the grave until satisfied. The cult film Robocop, a futuristic story about a policeman shot to death and then revived after all parts of his body have been replaced by artificial substitutes, introduces a more tragic note: the hero who finds himself literally "between two deaths"—clinically dead and at the same time provided with a new, mechanical body—starts to remember fragments of his previous, "human" life and thus undergoes a process of resubjectivation, changing gradually back from pure incarnated drive to a being of desire.

The ease with which examples from popular culture can be found should come as no surprise: if there is a phenomenon that fully deserves to be called the "fundamental fantasy of contemporary mass culture," it is this fantasy of the return of the living dead: the fantasy of a person who does not want to stay dead but returns again and again to pose a threat to the living. The unattained archetype of a long series—from the psychotic killer in Halloween to Jason in Friday the Thirteenth—is still George Romero's The Night of the Living Dead, where the "undead" are not portrayed as embodiments of pure evil, of a simple drive to kill or revenge, but as sufferers, pursuing their victims with an awkward persistence, colored by a kind of infinite sadness (as in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, in which the vampire is not a simple machinery of evil with a cynical smile on his lips, but a melancholic sufferer longing for salvation).

Apropos of this phenomenon, let us then ask a naive and elementary question: why do the dead return? The answer offered by Lacan is the same as that found in popular culture: because they were not properly, buried, i.e., because something went wrong with their obsequies. The return of the dead is sign of a disturbance in the symbolic rite, in the process of symbolization; the dead return as collectors of some unpaid symbolic debt. This is the basic lesson drawn by Lacan from Antigone and Hamlet. The plots of both plays involve improper funeral rites, and the "living dead"—Antigone and the ghost of Hamlet's father—return to settle symbolic accounts. The return of the living dead, then, materializes a certain symbolic debt persisting beyond physical expiration.

It is commonplace to state that symbolization as such equates to symbolic murder: when we speak about a thing, we suspend, place in parentheses, its reality. It is precisely for this reason that the funeral rite exemplifies symbolization at its purest: through it, the dead are inscribed in the text of symbolic tradition, they are assured that, in spite of their death, they will "continue to live" in the memory of the community. The "return of the living dead" is, on the other hand, the reverse of the proper funeral rite. While the latter implies a certain reconciliation, an acceptance of loss, the return of the dead signifies that they cannot find their proper place in the text of tradition.

The two great traumatic events of the holocaust and the gulag are, of course, exemplary cases of the return of the dead in the twentieth century. The shadows of their victims will continue to chase us as "living dead" until we give them a decent burial, until we integrate the trauma of their death into our historical memory. The same may be said of the "primordial crime" that founded history itself, the murder of the ''primal father" (re)constructed by Freud in Totem and Taboo: the murder of the father is integrated into the symbolic universe insofar as the dead father begins to reign as the symbolic agency of the Name-of-the-Father. This transformation, this integration, however, is never brought about without remainder; there is always a certainleftover that returns in the form of the obscene and revengeful figure of the Father-of-Enjoyment, of this figure split between cruel revenge and crazy laughter, as, for example, the famous Freddie from Nightmare on Elm Street.
This article is an extract from Slavoj Žižek's book 'Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan hrough Popular Culture' published by MIT Press (1991) and reproduced here with kind permission from the author. and publisher.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Is Progressivism the Enemy of Freedom?

Progress versus Liberty (“The 1971 Essay”) by Ted Kaczynski

In these pages it is argued that continued scientific and technical progress will inevitably result in the extinction of individual liberty. I use the word “inevitably” in the following sense: One might—possibly—imagine certain conditions of society in which freedom could coexist with unfettered technology, but these conditions do not actually exist, and we know of no way to bring them about, so that, in practice, scientific progress will result in the extinction of individual liberty. Toward the end of this essay we propose what appears to be the only thing that bears any resemblance to a practical remedy for this situation.

I hope that the reader will bear with me when I recite arguments and facts with which he may already be familiar. I make no claim to originality. I simply think that the case for the thesis stated above is convincing, and I am attempting to set forth the arguments, new and old, in as clear a manner as possible, in the hope that the reader will be persuaded to support the solution here suggested—which certainly is a very obvious solution, but rather hard for many people to swallow.

The power of society to control the individual person has recently been expanding very rapidly, and is expected to expand even more rapidly in the near future. Let us list a few of the more ominous developments as a reminder.
1.Propaganda and image-making techniques. In this context we must not neglect the role of movies, television, and literature, which commonly are regarded either as art or as entertainment, but which often consciously adopt certain points of view and thus serve as propaganda. Even when they do not consciously adopt an explicit point of view they still serve to indoctrinate the viewer or reader with certain values. We venerate the great writers of the past, but one who considers the matter objectively must admit that modern artistic techniques have developed to the point where the more skillfully constructed movies, novels, etc. of today are far more psychologically potent than, say, Shakespeare ever was. The best of them are capable of gripping and involving the reader very powerfully and thus are presumably quite effective in influencing his values. Also note the increasing extent to which the average person today is “living in the movies” as the saying is. People spend a large and increasing amount of time submitting to canned entertainment rather than participating in spontaneous activities. As overcrowding and rules and regulations curtail opportunities for spontaneous activity, and as the developing techniques of entertainment make the canned product ever more attractive, we can assume that people will live more and more in the world of mass entertainment.

2.A growing emphasis among educators on “guiding” the child’s emotional development, coupled with an increasingly scientific attitude toward education. Of course, educators have always in some degree attempted to mold the attitudes of their pupils, but formerly they achieved only a limited degree of success, simply because their methods were unscientific. Educational psychology is changing this.

3.Operant conditioning, after the manner of B.F. Skinner and friends. (Of course, this cannot be entirely separated from item (2)).

4.Direct physical control of the emotions via electrodes and “chemitrodes” inserted in the brain. (See Jose M.R. Delgado’s book “Physical Control of the Mind.”)

5.Biofeedback training, after the manner of Joseph Kamiya and others.

6.Predicted “memory pills” or other drugs designed to improve memory or increase intelligence. (The reader possibly assumes that items (5) and (6) present no danger to freedom because their use is supposed to be voluntary, but I will argue that point later. See page 8.)

7.Predicted genetic engineering, eugenics, related techniques.

8.Marvin Minsky of MIT (one of the foremost computer experts in the country) and other computer scientists predict that within fifteen years or possibly much less there will be superhuman computers with intellectual capacities far beyond anything of which humans are capable. It is to be emphasized that these computers will not merely perform so-called “mechanical” operations; they will be capable of creative thought. Many people are incredulous at the idea of a creative computer, but let it be remembered that (unless one resorts to supernatural explanations of human thought) the human brain itself is an electro-chemical computer, operating according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Furthermore, the men who have predicted these computers are not crackpots but first-class scientists. It is difficult to say in advance just how much power these computers will put into the hands of what is vulgarly termed the establishment, but this power will probably be very great. Bear in mind that these computers will be wholly under the control of the scientific, bureaucratic, and business elite. The average person will have no access to them. Unlike the human brain, computers are more or less unrestricted as to size (and, more important, there is no restriction on the number of computers that can be linked together over a long distance to form a single brain), so that there is no restriction on their memories or on the amount of information they can assimilate and correlate. Computers are not subject to fatigue, daydreaming, or emotional problems. They work at fantastic speed. Given that a computer can duplicate the functions of the human brain, it seems clear in view of the advantages listed above that no human brain could possibly compete with such a computer in any field of endeavor.

9.Various electronic devices for surveillance. These are being used. For example, according to newspaper reports, the police of New York City have recently instituted a system of 24-hour television surveillance over certain problem areas of the city.
These are some of the more strikingly ominous facets of scientific progress, but it is perhaps more important to look at the effect of technology as a whole on our society. Technological progress is the basic cause of the continual increase in the number of rules and regulations. This is because many of our technological devices are more powerful and therefore more potentially destructive than the more primitive devices they replace (e.g., compare autos and horses) and also because the increasing complexity of the system makes necessary a more delicate coordination of its parts. Moreover, many devices of functional importance (e.g., electronic computers, television broadcasting equipment, jet planes) cannot be owned by the average person because of their size and costliness. These devices are controlled by large organizations such as corporations and governments and are used to further the purposes of the establishment. A larger and larger proportion of the individual’s environment—not only his physical environment, but such factors as the kind of work he does, the nature of his entertainment, etc.–comes to be created and controlled by large organizations rather than by the individual himself. And this is a necessary consequence of technological progress, because to allow technology to be exploited in an unregulated, unorganized way would result in disaster.

Note that the problem here is not simply to make sure that technology is used only for good purposes. In fact, we can be reasonably certain that the powers which technology is putting into the hands of the establishment will be used to promote good and eliminate evil. These powers will be so great that within a few decades virtually all evil will have been eliminated. But, of course, “good” and “evil” here mean good and evil as interpreted by the social mainstream. In other words, technology will enable the social mainstream to impose its values universally. This will not come about through the machinations of power-hungry scoundrels, but through the efforts of socially responsible people who sincerely want to do good and who sincerely believe in freedom—but whose concept of freedom will be shaped by their own values, which will not necessarily be the same as your values or my values.

The most important aspect of this process will perhaps be the education of children, so let us use education as an example to illustrate the way the process works. Children will be taught—by methods which will become increasingly effective as educational psychology develops—to be creative, inquiring, appreciative of the arts and sciences, interested in their studies—perhaps they will even be taught nonconformity. But of course this will not be merely random nonconformity but “creative” nonconformity. Creative nonconformity simply means nonconformity that is directed toward socially desirable ends. For example, children may be taught (in the name of freedom) to liberate themselves from irrational prejudices of their elders, “irrational prejudices” being those values which are not conducive to the kind of society that most educators choose to regard as healthy. Children will be educated to be racially unbiased, to abhor violence, to fit into society without excessive conflict. By a series of small steps—each of which will be regarded not as a step toward behavioral engineering but as an improvement in educational technique—this system will become so effective that hardly any child will turn out to be other than what the educators desire. The educational system will then have become a form of psychological compulsion. The means employed in this “education” will be expanded to include methods which we currently would consider disgusting, but since these methods will be introduced in a series of small steps, most people will not object—especially since children trained to take a “scientific” or “rational” attitude toward education will be growing up to replace their elders as they die off.

For instance, chemical and electrical manipulation of the brain will at first be used only on children considered to be insane, or at least severely disturbed. As people become accustomed to such practices, they will come to be used on children who are only moderately disturbed. Now, whatever is on the furthest fringes of the abnormal generally comes to be regarded with abhorrence. As the more severe forms of disturbances are eliminated, the less severe forms will come to constitute the outer fringe; they will thus be regarded as abhorrent and hence as fair game for chemical and electrical manipulation. Eventually, all forms of disturbance will be eliminated—and anything that brings an individual into conflict with his society will make him unhappy and therefore will be a disturbance. Note that this whole process does not presuppose any antilibertarian philosophy on the part of educators or psychologists, but only a desire to do their jobs more effectively.

Consider: Today, how can one argue against sex education? Sex education is designed not simply to present children with the bald facts of sex; it is designed to guide children to a healthy attitude toward sex. And who can argue against that? Think of all the misery suffered as a result of Victorian repressions, sexual perversions, frigidity, unwanted pregnancies, and venerial [sic.] disease. If much of this can be eliminated by instilling “healthy” (as the social mainstream interprets that word) sexual attitudes in children, who can deny it to them? But it will be equally impossible to argue against any of the other steps that will eventually lead to the complete engineering of the human personality. Each step will be equally humanitarian in its goals.

There is no distinct line between “guidance” or “influence” and manipulation. When a technique of influence becomes so effective that it achieves its desired effect in nearly every case, then it is no longer influence but compulsion. Thus influence evolves into compulsion as science improves technique.

Research has shown that exposure to television violence makes the viewer more prone to violence himself. The very existence of this knowledge makes it a foregone conclusion that restrictions will eventually be placed on televized violence, either by the government or by the TV industry itself, in order to make children less prone to develop violent personalities. This is an element of manipulation. It may be that you feel an end to television violence is desirable and that the degree of manipulation involved is insignificant. But science will reveal, one at a time, a hundred other factors in entertainment that have a “desirable” or “undesirable” effect on personality. In the case of each one of these factors, knowledge will make manipulation inevitable. When the whole array of factors has become known, we will have drifted into large-scale manipulation. In this way, research leads automatically to calculated indoctrination.

By way of a further example, let us consider genetic engineering. This will not come into use as a result of a conscious decision by the majority of people to introduce genetic engineering. It will begin with certain “progressive” parents who will voluntarily avail themselves of genetic engineering opportunities in order to eliminate the risk of certain gross physical defects in their offspring. Later, this engineering will be extended to include elimination of mental defects and treatment which will predispose the child to somewhat higher intelligence. (Note that the question of what constitutes a mental “defect” is a value-judgement. Is homosexuality, for example, a defect? Some homosexuals would say “no.” But there is no objectively true or false answer to such a question.) As methods are improved to the point where the minority of parents who use genetic engineering are producing noticeably healthier, smarter offspring, more and more parents will want genetic engineering. When the majority of children are genetically engineered, even those parents who might otherwise be antagonistic toward genetic engineering will feel obliged to use it so that their children will be able to compete in a world of superior people—superior, at least relative to the social milieu in which they live. In the end, genetic engineering will be made compulsory because it will be regarded as cruel and irresponsible for a few eccentric parents to produce inferior offspring by refusing to use it. Bear in mind that this engineering will involve mental as well as physical characteristics; indeed, as scientists explain mental traits on the basis of physiology, neurology, and biochemistry, it will become more and more difficult to distinguish between “mental” and “physical” traits.

Observe that once a society based on psychological, genetic, and other forms of human engineering has come into being, it will presumably last forever, because people will all be engineered to favor human engineering and the totally collective society, so that they will never become dissatisfied with this kind of society. Furthermore, once human engineering, the linking of human minds with computers, and other things of that nature have come into extensive use, people will probably be altered so much that it will no longer be possible for them to exist as independent beings, either physically or psychologically. Indeed, technology has already made it impossible for us to live as physically independent beings, for the skills which enabled primitive man to live off the country have been lost. We can survive only by acting as components of a huge machine which provides for our physical needs; and as technology invades the domain of mind, it is safe to assume that human beings will become as dependent psychologically on technology as they now are physically. We can see the beginning of this already in the inability of some people to avoid boredom without television and in the need of others to use tranquilizers in order to cope with the tensions of modern society.

The foregoing predictions are supported by the opinions of at least some responsible writers. See especially Jacques Ellul’s “The Technological Society” and the section titled “Social Controls” in Kahn and Wiener’s “The Year 2,000.”

Now we come to the question: What can be done to prevent all this? Let us first consider the solution sketched by Perry London in his book “Behavior Control.” This solution makes a convenient example because its defects are typical of other proposed solutions. London’s idea is, briefly, this: Let us not attempt to interfere with the development of behavioral technology, but let us all try to be as aware of and as knowledgeable about this technology as we can; let us not keep this technology in the hands of a scientific elite, but disseminate it among the population at large; people can then use this technology to manipulate themselves and protect themselves from manipulation by others. However, on the grounds that “there must be some limits” London advocates that behavior control should be imposed by society in certain areas. For example, he suggests that people should be made to abhor violence and that psychological means should be used to make businessmen stop destroying the forests. (NOTE: I do not currently have access to a copy of London’s book, and so I have had to rely on memory in describing his views. My memory is probably correct here, but in order to be honest I should admit the possibility of error.)

My first objection to London’s scheme is a personal one. I simply find the sphere of freedom that he favors too narrow for me to accept. But his solution suffers from other flaws.

He proposes to use psychological controls where they are not necessary, and more for the purpose of gratifying the liberal intellectual’s esthetic sensibilities than because of a practical need. It is true that “there must be some limits”–on violence, for example—but the threat of imprisonment seems to be an adequate limitation. To read about violence is frightening, but violent crime is not a significant cause of mortality in comparison to other causes. Far more people are killed in automobile accidents than through violent crime. Would London also advocate psychological elimination of those personalities that are inclined to careless driving? The fact that liberal intellectuals and many others get far more excited over violence than they do over careless driving would seem to indicate that their antagonism toward violence arises not primarily from a concern for human life but from a strong emotional antipathy toward violence itself. Thus it appears that London’s proposal to eliminate violence through psychological control results not from practical necessity but from a desire on London’s part to engineer some of his own values into the public at large.

This becomes even clearer when we consider London’s willingness to use psychological engineering to stop businessmen from destroying forests. Obviously, psychological engineering cannot accomplish this until the establishment can be persuaded to carry out the appropriate program of engineering. But if the establishment can be persuaded to do this, then they can equally well be persuaded to pass conservation laws strict enough to accomplish the same purpose. And if such laws are passed, the psychological engineering is superfluous. It seems clear that here, again, London is attracted to psychological engineering simply because he would like to see the general public share certain of his values.

When London proposes to us systematic psychological controls over certain aspects of the personality, with the intention that these controls shall not be extended to others areas, he is assuming that the generation following his own will agree with his judgment as to how far the psychological controls should reach. This assumption is almost certainly false. The introduction of psychological controls in some areas (which London approves) will set the stage for the later introduction of controls in other areas (which London would not approve), because it will change the culture in such a way as to make people more receptive to the concept of psychological controls. As long as any behavior is permitted which is not in the best interests of the collective social organization, there will always be the temptation to eliminate the worst of this behavior through human engineering. People will introduce new controls to eliminate only the worst of this behavior, without intending that any further extension of the controls should take place afterward; but in fact they will be indirectly causing further extensions of the controls because whenever new controls are introduced, the public, as it becomes used to the controls, will change its conception of what constitutes an appropriate degree of control. In other words, whatever the amount of control to which people have become accustomed, they will regard that amount as right and good and they will regard a little further extension of control as negligible price to pay for the elimination of some form of behavior that they find shocking.

London regards the wide dissemination of behavioral technology among the public as a means by which the people can protect themselves against psychological manipulation by the established powers. But if it is really true that people can use this knowledge to avoid manipulation in most areas, why won’t they also be able to use it to avoid being made to abhor violence, or to avoid control in other areas where London thinks they should be controlled? London seems to assume that people will be unable to avoid control in just those areas where he thinks they should be controlled, but that they will be able to avoid control in just those areas where he thinks they should not be controlled.

London refers to “awareness” (of sciences relating to the mind) as the individual’s “sword and buckler” against manipulation by the establishment. In Roman times a man might have a real sword and buckler just as good as those of the emperor’s legionaries, but that did not enable him to escape oppression. Similarly, if a man of the future has a complete knowledge of behavioral psychology it will not enable him to escape psychological control any more than the possession of a machine-gun or a tank would enable him to escape physical control. The resources of an organized society are just too great for any individual to resist no matter how much he knows.

With the vast expansion of knowledge in the behavioral sciences, biochemistry, cybernetics, physiology, genetics, and other disciplines which have the potential to affect human behavior, it is probably already impossible (and, if not, it will soon become impossible) for any individual to keep abreast of it all. In any case, we would all have to become, to some degree, specialists in behavior control in order to maintain London’s “awareness.” What about those people who just don’t happen to be attracted to that kind of science, or to any science? It would be agony for them to have to spend long hours studying behavioral technology in order to maintain their freedom.

Even if London’s scheme of freedom through “awareness” were feasible, it could, or at least would, be carried out only by an elite of intellectuals, businessmen, etc. Can you imagine the members of uneducated minority groups, or, for that matter, the average middle-class person, having the will and the ability to learn enough to compete in a world of psychological manipulation? It will be a case of the smart and the powerful getting more powerful while the stupid and the weak get (relatively) stupider and weaker; for it is the smart and the powerful who will have the readiest access to behavioral technology and the greatest ability to use it effectively.

This is one reason why devices for improving one’s mental or psychological capabilities (e.g., biofeedback training, memory pills, linking of human minds with computers) are dangerous to freedom even though their use is voluntary. For example, it will not be physically possible for everyone to have his own full-scale computer in his basement to which he can link his brain. The best computer facilities will be reserved for those whom society judges most worthy: government officials, scientists, etc. Thus the already powerful will be made more powerful.

Also, the use of such mind-augmentation devices will not remain voluntary. All our modern conveniences were originally introduced as optional benefits which one could take or leave as one chose. However, as a result of the introduction of these benefits, society changed its structure in such a way that the use of modern conveniences is now compulsory: for it would be physically impossible to live in modern society without extensively using devices provided by technology. Similarly, the use of mind-augmenting devices, though nominally voluntary, will become in practice compulsory. When these devices have reached a high development and have come into wide use, a person refusing to use them would be putting himself in the position of a dumb animal in a world of supermen. He would simply be unable to function in a society structured around the assumption that most people have vastly augmented mental abilities.

By virtue of their very power, the devices for augmenting or modifying the human mind and personality will have to be governed by extensive rules and regulations. As the human mind comes to be more and more an artifact created by means of such devices, these rules and regulations will come to be rules and regulations governing the structure of the human mind.

An important point: London does not even consider the question of human engineering in infancy (let alone genetic engineering before conception). A two-year-old obviously would not be able to apply London’s philosophy of “awareness”; yet it will be possible in the future to engineer a young child so that he will grow up to have the type of personality that is desired by whoever has charge of him. What is the meaning of freedom for a person whose entire personality has been planned and created by someone else?

London’s solution suffers from another flaw that is of particular importance because it is shared by all libertarian solutions to the technology problem that have ever come to my attention. The problem is supposed to be solved by propounding and popularizing a certain libertarian philosophy. This approach is unlikely to achieve anything. Our liberty is not deteriorating as a result of any antilibertarian philosophy. Most people in this country profess to believe in freedom. Our liberty is deteriorating as a result of the way people do their jobs and behave in relation to technology on a day-to-day basis. The system has come to be set up in such a way that it is usually comfortable to do that which strengthens the organization. When a person in a position of responsibility sets to eliminate that which is contrary to established values, he is rewarded with the esteem of his fellows and in other ways. Police officials who introduce new surveillance devices, educators who introduce more advanced techniques for molding children, do not do so through disrespect for freedom; they do so because they are rewarded with the approval of other police officials or educators and also because they get an inward satisfaction from having accomplished their assigned tasks not only competently, but creatively. A hands-off approach toward the child’s personality would be best from the point of view of freedom, but this approach will not be taken because the most intelligent and capable educators crave the satisfaction of doing their work creatively. They want to do more with the child, not less. The greatest reward that a person gets from furthering the ends of the organization may well be simply the opportunity for purposeful, challenging, important activity—an opportunity that is otherwise hard to come by in society. For example, Marvin Minsky does not work on computers because he is antagonistic to freedom, but because he loves the intellectual challenge. Probably he believes in freedom, but since he is a computer specialist he manages to persuade himself that computers will tend to liberate man.

The main point here is that the danger to freedom is caused by the way people work and behave on a day-to-day basis in relation to technology; and the way people behave in relation to technology is determined by powerful social and psychological forces. To oppose these forces a comparatively weak force like a body of philosophy is simply hopeless. You may persuade the public to accept your philosophy, but most people will not significantly change their behavior as a result. They will invent rationalizations to reconcile their behavior with the philosophy, or they will say that what they do as individuals is too insignificant to change the course of events, or they will simply confess themselves too weak to live up to the philosophy. Conceivably a school of philosophy might change a culture over a long period of time if the social forces tending in the opposite direction were weak. But the social forces guiding the present development of our society are obviously strong, and we have very little time left—another three decades likely will take us past the point of no return.

Thus a philosophy will be ineffective unless that philosophy is accompanied by a program of concrete action of a type which does not ask people to voluntarily change the way they live and work—a program which demands little effort or willpower on the part of most people. Such a program would probably have to be a political or legislative one. A philosophy is not likely to make people change their daily behavior, but it might (with luck) induce them to vote for politicians who support a certain program. Casting a vote requires only a casual commitment, not a strenuous application of willpower. So we are left with the question: What kind of legislative program would have a chance of saving freedom?

I can think of only two possibilities that are halfway plausible. The discussion of one of these I will leave until later. The other, and the one that I advocate, is this: In simple terms, stop scientific progress by withdrawing all major sources of research funds. In more detail, begin by withdrawing all or most federal aid to research. If an abrupt withdrawal would cause economic problems, then phase it out as rapidly as is practical. Next, pass legislation to limit or phase out research support by educational institutions which accept public funds. Finally, one would hope to pass legislation prohibiting all large corporations and other large organizations from supporting scientific research. Of course, it would be necessary to eventually bring about similar changes throughout the world, but, being Americans, we must start with the United States; which is just as well, since the United States is the world’s most technologically advanced country. As for economic or other disruption that might be caused by the elimination of scientific progress—this disruption is likely to be much less than that which would be caused by the extremely rapid changes brought on by science itself.

I admit that, in view of the firmly entrenched position of Big Science, it is unlikely that such a legislative program could be enacted. However, I think there is at least some chance that such a program could be put through in stages over a period of years, if one or more active organizations were formed to make the public aware of the probable consequences of continued scientific progress and to push for the appropriate legislation. Even if there is only a small chance of success, I think that chance is worth working for, since the alternative appears to be the loss of all human freedom.

This solution is bound to be attacked as “simplistic.” But this ignores the fundamental question, namely: Is there any better solution or indeed any other solution at all? My personal opinion is that there is no other solution. However, let us not be dogmatic. Maybe there is a better solution. But the point is this: If there is such a solution, no one at present seems to know just what it is. Matters have progressed to the point where we can no longer afford to sit around just waiting for something to turn up. By stopping scientific progress now, or at any rate slowing it drastically, we could at least give ourselves breathing space during which we could attempt to work out another solution, if one is possible.

There is one putative solution the discussion of which I have reserved until now. One might consider enacting some kind of bill of rights designed to protect freedom from technological encroachment. For the following reasons I do not believe that such a solution would be effective.

In the first place, a document which attempted to define our sphere of freedom in a few simple principles would either be too weak to afford real protection, or too strong to be compatible with the functioning of the present society. Thus, a suitable bill of rights would have to be excessively complex, and full of exceptions, qualifications, and delicate compromises. Such a bill would be subject to repeated amendments for the sake of social expedience; and where formal amendment is inconvenient, the document would simply be reinterpreted. Recent decisions of the Supreme Court, whether one approves of them or not, show how much the import of a document can be altered through reinterpretations. Our present Bill of Rights would have been ineffective if there had been in America strong social forces acting against freedom of speech, freedom of worship, etc. Compare what is happening to the right to bear arms, which currently runs counter to basic social trends. Whether you approve or disapprove of that “right” is beside the point—the point is that the constitutional guarantee cannot stand indefinitely against powerful social forces.

If you are an advocate of the bill-of-rights approach to the technology problem, test yourself by attempting to write a sample section on, say, genetic engineering. Just how will you define the term “genetic engineering” and how will you draw the line, in words, between that engineering which is to be permitted and that which is to be prohibited? Your law will either have to be too strong to pass; or so vague that it can be readily reinterpreted as social standards evolve; or excessively complex and detailed. In this last case, the law will not pass as a constitutional amendment, because for practical reasons a law that attempts to deal with such a problem in great detail will have to be relatively easy to change as needs and circumstances change. But then, of course, the law will be changed continually for the sake of social expedience and so will not serve as a barrier to the erosion of freedom.

And who would actually work out the details of such a bill of rights? Undoubtedly, a committee of congressmen, or a commission appointed by the president, or some other group of organization men. They would give us some fine libertarian rhetoric, but they would be unwilling to pay the price of real, substantial freedom—they would not write a bill that would sacrifice any significant amount of the organization’s power.

I have said that a bill of rights would not be able to stand for long against the pressures for science, progress, and improvement. But laws that bring a halt to scientific research would be quite different in this respect. The prestige of science would be broken. With the financial basis gone, few young people would find it practical to enter scientific careers. After, say three decades or so, our society would have ceased to be progress-oriented and the most dangerous of the pressures that currently threaten our freedom would have relaxed. A bill of rights would not bring about this relaxation.

This, by the way, is one reason why the elimination of research merely in a few sensitive areas would be inadequate. As long as science is a large and going concern, there will be the persistent temptation to apply it in new areas; but this pressure would be broken if science were reduced to a minor role.

Let us try to summarize the role of technology in relation to freedom. The principal effect of technology is to increase the power of society collectively. Now, there is a more or less unlimited number of value-judgments that lie before us: for example: whether an individual should or should not have puritanical attitudes toward sex; whether it is better to have rain fall at night or during the day. When society acquires power over such a situation, generally a preponderance of the social forces look upon one or the other of the alternatives as Right. These social forces are then able to use the machinery of society to impose their choice universally; for example, they may mold children so successfully that none ever grows up to have puritanical attitudes toward sex, or they may use weather engineering to guarantee that the rain falls only at night. In this way there is a continual narrowing of the possibilities that exist in the world. The eventual result will be a world in which there is only one system of values. The only way out seems to be to halt the ceaseless extension of society’s power.

I propose that you join me and a few other people to whom I am writing in an attempt to found an organization dedicated to stopping federal aid to scientific research. It would be a mistake, I think, to reject this suggestion out of hand on the basis of some vague dogma such as “knowledge is good” or “science is the hope of man.” Sure, knowledge is good, but how high a price, in terms of freedom, are we going to pay for knowledge? You may be understandably reluctant to join an organization about which you know nothing, but you know as much about it as I do. It hasn’t been started yet. You would be one of the founding members. I claim to have no particular qualifications for trying to start such an organization, and I have no idea how to go about it, I am only making an attempt because no better qualified person has yet done so. I am simply trying to bring together a few highly intelligent and thoughtful people who would be willing to take over the task.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

It has been suggested that a raven is like a writing test because both are very annoying. But perhaps it is because both are characterised by the mindless parroting of the utterances of others.

Monday, October 28, 2019

How the Left Views Its' Role in Society

Slavoj Zizek, "Today's protests indicate the scale of troubles in our paradise"
Anti-establishment protests are popping up all over the world, in countries with different political systems, and various levels of wealth. We may be entering an era of widespread civil unrest.

A couple of weeks ago, Chinese media started promoting the claim that “demonstrations in Europe and South America are the direct result of Western tolerance of Hong Kong unrest.” In a commentary published in Beijing News, former Chinese diplomat Wang Zhen wrote
"the disastrous impact of a 'chaotic Hong Kong' has begun to influence the Western world,"
i.e., that demonstrators in Chile and Spain were taking their cues from Hong Kong.

An editorial in Global Times accused Hong Kong demonstrators of "exporting revolution to the world".

"The West is paying the price for supporting riots in Hong Kong, which has quickly kindled violence in other parts of the world and foreboded the political risks that the West can't manage," it warned.

"There are many problems in the West and all kinds of undercurrents of dissatisfaction. Many of them will eventually manifest in the way the Hong Kong protests did," the Global Times’ editor Hu Xijin said in a video commentary. "Catalonia is probably just the beginning," was the ominous conclusion.
Although the idea that demonstrations in Barcelona and Chile have taken cues from Hong Kong is far-fetched, it is all too easy to claim that these outbursts - Hong Kong, Catalonia, Chile, Ecuador, Lebanon, not to mention the Yellow Vests - cannot be reduced to a common denominator. In each of the cases, the protest against a particular law or measure (higher prices for gasoline in France, an extradition-to-China law in Hong Kong, an increase in public transport fares in Chile, long prison terms for pro-independence Catalan politicians in Barcelona, etc.) ignited a general discontent which was obviously already there, lurking and waiting for a contingent trigger to explode. Thus, even when the particular law or measure, which triggered the discontent, was repealed, protests persisted.

New Realities

Two weird facts cannot but strike the eye here. First, “Communist” China discreetly plays on the solidarity of those in power all over the world against a rebellious populace by warning Western leaders not to underestimate the dissatisfaction in their own countries. It assumes, beneath all ideological and geo-political tensions, they all share the same basic interest in holding onto power.

Secondly, the “trouble in paradise” aspect: protests are not only taking place in poor, and desolate, countries but in nations of (relative, at least) prosperity. States which were, until now, presented as success stories. At least financially.

Although these protests betray the growing inequalities which belie official success stories, they cannot be reduced to economic issues. The dissatisfaction they express indicates the growing (normative) expectations of how our societies should function, expectations which also concern factors not directly related to the economy, such as collective or individual freedoms, dignity, even meaningful life. Something that was, until recently, accepted as normal (a certain degree of poverty, full state sovereignty, etc.) is now perceived as a wrong to be combatted.

This is why, when evaluating these protests, we should consider also the new explosion of ecological movements and the feminist struggle. Meaning the real one, which involves thousands of ordinary women, not its sanitized American "MeToo" version.

Mexican Movement

Let’s just focus on one case. In Mexico, massive feminist mobilization involves “the conversation about life, dignified life and rage."

Allow me to quote Alejandra Santillana Ortiz, a member of Ruda Colectiva Feminista, “What does life mean for us? What are we referring to when we speak of putting life at the center? For us, life is not a declarative abstract," she believes. "It necessarily involves talking about dignity and everything that makes it possible to enable dignity.”

So, we are not debating here abstract philosophical speculations on the meaning of life, but reflections rooted in concrete experiences which prove how the most ordinary daily life - things like taking a subway – are impregnated by dangers of brutal violence and humiliation.

“How can a person have peace of mind knowing that on the metro in Mexico City, an integral part of the commute in the city, thousands of women have been kidnapped in a matter of months and that this all took place in public and in broad daylight? And if you aren’t kidnapped, you must consider the very high probability that you will be assaulted, or that you will encounter violent aggression of some kind," Santillana Ortiz observes. "This is the reason why there are there separate women-only cars on trains, but even then there are men who get on these cars.”

Mexico may be an extreme case here, but it is just an extrapolation of tendencies found everywhere. We live in societies in which brutal male violence boils just beneath the surface, and one thing is clear: Political Correctness is not the way to beat it.

What also makes Mexico an obvious example is a secret solidarity between this persisting male brutality and the state apparatuses that we expect to protect us from it. “There is a kind of formation of a violent society without punishment in which the state is part of that violence. A great many of the crimes that have been committed in recent years in Mexico have the state and its functionaries or the police directly involved," Santillana Ortiz continues. "Or, through judges or those in the justice system, the state guarantees generalized impunity in this country.”

The terrifying vision of “generalized impunity” is the truth of the new wave of populism, and only vast popular mobilization is strong enough to confront this obscene complicity of state and civil society.

This is why the ongoing protests express a growing dissatisfaction that cannot be channeled into established modes of political representation.

However, we should avoid, at any cost, celebrating these protests for their distance towards established politics. Here, a difficult “Leninist” task lies ahead: how to organize the growing dissatisfaction in all its forms, including the ecological and feminist elements, into a large-scale coordinated movement? If we fail in this, what awaits us is a society with a permanent state of exception and civil unrest.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Peter Handke

Slavoj Žižek, "The Nobel Committee honors an apologist for genocide"
Peter Handke has compared Bosnian Serbs laying the siege on Sarajevo with Native Americans laying siege on a camp of white colonizers

Peter Handke’s Nobel win is the latest in a series of unfortunate incidents surrounding the Nobel prize in literature, from the weird decision to give it to Bob Dylan in 2016 to last year’s sexual assault scandal. When Handke called for the prize to be abolished in 2014 he said it was a ‘false canonization’ of literature. The fact that he has now won it proves he was right.

This is what Sweden is today – if the Nobel committee had any courage they would give the peace prize to Julian Assange (one of the true heroes of our time), yet instead they would rather honor an apologist for genocide.

This is the most recent sign of what Robert Pfaller called the ‘interpassivity’ of Western leftists: they like to be authentic through an Other who lives authentically on their behalf. For years Handke interpassively lived his authentic life, freed from the corruption of Western consumerist capitalism through Slovenes (his mother was Slovene): for him, Slovenia was a country in which words related directly to objects (in stores, milk was called ‘milk’, avoiding the pitfall of commercialized brand-names, etc.).

Slovenia’s independence and willingness to join the European Union have unleashed in him a violent aggressiveness: he dismissed Slovenes as slaves of Austrian and German capital, saying they sold their legacy to the West. All this because his interpassive game was disturbed, i.e. because Slovenes no longer behaved in the way which would enable him to be authentic through them. No wonder, then, that he has turned to Serbia as the last vestige of authenticity in Europe, comparing Bosnian Serbs laying the siege on Sarajevo with Native Americans laying siege on a camp of white colonizers.

In short, as Gilles Deleuze put it, ‘si vous êtes pris dans le rêve de l’autre, vous êtes foutu!‘ (‘If you’re trapped in the dream of the other, you’re fucked!’): we Slovenes were trapped in Handke’s dream, expected to live according to it. The supreme irony of all this is that he has chosen as his authentic Other which enables him to cling to his Yugoslav nostalgia Milošević, the very politician most responsible for the death of Yugoslavia.

In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel mentions the ‘silent weaving of the spirit’: the underground work of changing the ideological coordinates, mostly invisible to the public eye, which then suddenly explodes, taking everyone by surprise. This is what was going on in ex-Yugoslavia in the 70s and 80s, so that when things exploded in the late 80s, it was already too late, the old ideological consensus was thoroughly putrid and collapsed in on itself. Yugoslavia in the 1970s and 1980s was like the proverbial cat in the cartoon who continues to walk above the precipice – he only falls down when, finally, he becomes aware that there is no firm ground beneath his legs. Milošević was the first to force us all to really look down into the precipice. The main agents of this secret corruption were nationalist poets, and to avoid the illusion that the poetic-military complex is a Balkan specialty, one should mention at least Hassan Ngeze, the Karadžić of Rwanda who, in his journal Kangura, was systematically spreading anti Tutsi-hatred and calling for their genocide.

This is why I don’t think one can distinguish political and ethical considerations from literature. Almost a century ago, referring to the rise of Nazism in Germany, Karl Kraus quipped that Germany, a country of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers), has become a country of Richter und Henker (judges and executioners) – today, in our era of ethnic cleansing, the same reversal is going on. Even in his most apolitical texts (just recall the puffy poetry of Himmel über Berlin), Handke acted as the first term in the couple of Dichter und Henker. Apolitical ruminations on the complex nature of soul and language are the stuff ethnic cleansing is made of.