Monday, April 29, 2019

Strange Bedfellows


Omayma Mohamed, "How Intersectionalism Betrays the World’s Muslim Women"
I attended the infamous “#Feminist” speaking event at the Sydney Town Hall. It was a discussion between Roxane Gay, a Haitian-born intersectional feminist, and Christina Hoff Sommers, a self-described “equity feminist.” I went with the intention of confronting my growing disillusionment with the morally proscriptive nature of intersectional feminism and the broader leftist movement. I harboured hopes that the divisive behaviour I was seeing on social media was disproportionately represented by radicals and that the event would bring some sense to the madness. Instead, I left feeling completely alienated from a movement that once brought me so much hope.

It was my second crisis of faith in three years, the first being my renunciation of Islam at the age of 21. Free from the shackles of fundamentalism, I embraced the left-wing movement with open arms. Until only recently, I saw it as a celebration of everything I’d been denied as a devout Muslim. As a woman who’d been forced into the hijab at puberty, trapped within the Islamic guardianship system and restricted by groupthink, I loved the emphasis on individuality, choice and autonomy that I found in progressive politics. My exposure to abuses of power allowed me to relate to identity politics and victimhood narratives.

This began to change about six months ago when I became involved with the ex-Muslim movement. As I became acquainted with the activism of role models such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Yasmine Mohamed, Armin Navabi and Ali Rizvi, I began to recognise the cognitive dissonance afflicting the left, leaving them with a severe blind spot. A bizarre alliance with Islam, a set of very conservative ideas, has earned them the label of “regressive left’’ instead. Their misguided campaign against “Islamophobia” has failed to separate the ideology from the people, conflating prejudice against Muslims with valid opposition to the doctrine. The stigma has hindered constructive discourse and established a concerning trend whereby issues typically challenged by the left, such as homophobia and gender inequality are disregarded where prevalent in Muslim majority countries or even Muslim communities within the west.

Like me, many ex-Muslims have felt it to be their responsibility to fill this void in leftist activism. Yet we are often met with reflexive accusations of bigotry or intolerance. Despite lived experiences and intimate understanding of the doctrine driving our stances, we are denied a platform to voice them. This censorship of confronting ideas stems from the left’s fixation on distinguishing themselves from the right. A severe overcorrection has ironically pushed them into an illiberal territory. Affiliates of the left must conform to prescribed beliefs and behaviours to prove their loyalty. Those that pass the test are rewarded with the illustrious “woke” status. Failure to do so carries the risk of misalignment with “the enemy” and exile as a result.

The “factual feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers has thrown out the rulebook and defined her own moral boundaries. Like ex-Muslims, her liberal values are overridden by the defiance of select leftist orthodoxies. This also makes her a prime candidate for rejection based on guilt by association. This was demonstrated at the feminist event when Roxane Gay expressed an aversion to sharing a platform with her. When questioned about this, Gay explained that she considered Sommers to be “white supremacy-adjacent” for appearing alongside Milo Yiannopoulos and failing to adequately disavow his problematic views.

Prior to the event, the Southern Poverty Law Centre had also informed Gay of Sommers’ alleged association with “male supremacy” based on an “overlap” between some of her arguments and those found in men’s rights activism. Gay admitted that inadequate vetting was to blame for her “regrettable” involvement with the event. She vowed to be more thorough in the future to avoid such oversights.

Taking their cues from her, Gay’s supporters in the audience didn’t hold back in expressing their disapproval. They started out by giggling at Sommers’ first few points. Then it turned into full blown laughter. Then boos. Then heckles. Then stamping their feet to drown her voice out. She was forced to stop multiple times. Desh Amila, the moderator and organiser of the event, tried to intervene to salvage the conversation.

Desh made a point of explaining why he’d been forced to host the event himself as a last resort. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to secure any self-proclaimed feminists to take on this role. His invitations were either declined or ignored. Given the opportunity to participate in a reconciliation of conflicting ideas, mainstream Australian feminists opted not to have the conversation at all. It was mortifying to realise that free speech among these feminists only applies to a narrow range of content.

“If your feminism isn’t intersectional, then it isn’t feminism” conveys the prevailing dogma of the mainstream movement. In this regard, Gay ticked another box for the audience and consolidated her position as the “real” feminist of the pair. Yet on the controversial topic of Islamic misogyny it was Sommers—often dismissed as a feminist fraud—who rose to the occasion with the application of a universal feminism. Gay’s commitment to intersectionality significantly compromised her engagement with the topic.

This was highlighted when Desh asked the speakers about our responsibility to address international misogyny, such as that seen in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. He added some depth to the question with a clip of Indonesian “Sharia police” pulling over adolescent girls on their way to school for perceived immodesty. They pointed to tight jeans and hijabs that didn’t cover enough and gave them more suitable clothing to wear instead. One of these men used Sharia to justify sexualising them at that age, explaining that a woman is required to observe modesty from the age of 9. An older woman reiterated the misogynistic mentality behind the hijab—that it fulfils a woman’s obligation to ward off male temptation and lust.

Quoted in Jesse Signal’s recently published piece in New York Magazine, Gay said:
I also think it would be really presumptuous of me as a feminist to know what’s best for Saudi Arabian women, who have been very effective at organizing—we saw this especially in recent years as they fought for the right to drive.…I don’t know that they need external intervention. What they need is our support materially, probably financially, and certainly in terms of highlighting voices in those communities who are leading these movements to create change. So I think support can come in a lot of different ways, but I don’t think it needs to come in an interventionist way, because I don’t think we know better than what those communities need for themselves.
I found this response severely lacking and outlined my concerns on Twitter shortly after the event. With politically charged references to an interventionist mindset, she avoids engaging in a measured and necessary discussion about oppressive Islamic norms. In deflecting to the West’s supposed imperialist tendencies, she chooses to focus on us rather than them—the women in desperate need of vocal support. Reading between the lines, I perceived there to be a cautionary message to feminists to stand back and wait for Muslim women, as representatives of their culture, to speak up and lead the charge against their oppressors. She uses a sugar-coated portrayal of Saudi activism to make her case, failing to mention the well-documented imprisonment, sexual assault and torture faced by the Saudi feminists involved in the “Women to Drive” movement. Implying that they are capable of managing their own advocacy when reality tells a very different story is negligent at best.

We need to acknowledge the socio-political factors that make dissent near-impossible in Islamic societies to understand why unapologetic and swift condemnations are needed from Western feminists. Taking Gay’s words at face value, Jesse Singal described my criticism as an “inflammatory claim” that “just isn’t true.” This is understandable when one overlooks the context of the “stay in your lane” sentiment subtly woven into her response. A political climate that stigmatises any criticism of Islam, however valid, pushes this topic outside the scope of mainstream feminism as it is. We can’t afford to remain silent when a prominent role model distances herself from the most important feminist crisis of our time.

During the event, Sommers echoed my concerns about intersectionality, likening it to a conspiracy theory of victimization. She outlined the rapid trajectory from its inception to incorporation into mainstream feminism, emphasising its fallibility like any other theory. As such, she was able to respond to Desh without hesitation, confirming our obligation to help women battle international misogyny. She cited Saudi Arabian Rahaf Mohammed’s escape from an oppressive society and abusive family to Canada in January as an example of the outcome when the world unites to support the cause.

Sommers expanded on this with the timely example of renowned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh’s case. In representing women prosecuted for protesting forced veiling, she is seen as legitimising opposition to the Iranian regime. She is now facing 38 years in prison and 148 lashes, proving just how defenseless activists are in a system based on subjugation and control. Exposed to such women through the U.N., Sommers described them as the most courageous feminists in the world. By highlighting the voices of resistance already out there, Sommers’ reveals the logical fallacy in Gay’s argument: a hands-off approach to Islamic misogyny has never been about letting minorities speak for themselves. It has always been about the willingness to listen.

The progress of Muslim reformers, dissidents and apostates is hindered by leftists that use cultural relativism as a basis for their activism. Within this framework, Western progress and improving standards of equality, justice and freedom is naively attributed to white privilege rather than a long and bloody struggle towards enlightenment values. To take responsibility for their imperialist past and its impact on other cultures, leftists operate under a perceived obligation to remain impartial to practices they wouldn’t accept for themselves. These double standards undermine the principle of international human rights and has been termed as “the bigotry of low expectations.” Refusing to acknowledge social justice issues where prevalent among Muslims allows the disparities in quality of life to continue while they pat themselves on the back for being “culturally sensitive.”

Misguided celebrations such as “World Hijab Day”—and the recent New Zealand iteration, “Headscarves for Harmony,” which is designed to honour the victims of the Christchurch mass shootings—exemplify the misguided direction of western feminist activism. Rather than showing solidarity with Muslim women by challenging purity culture, moral policing and forced modesty, clueless intersectional feminists are actively normalising their oppression.

More welcome was the counter movement, “No Hijab Day,” which raised awareness about the coercion imposed on Muslim women to wear the hijab. In Iran, the trend has taken form under the banner of “White Wednesdays” and “My Stealthy Freedom,” and has been spearheaded by New York-based Iranian activist Masih Alinejad. She sums up her frustration with western feminists beautifully: “Iranian women, they fight against the compulsory hijab and they are alone, they are on their own…the female politicians who visit Iran, the tourists, the athletes, the actresses, all of them—when they go to my beautiful country, they say, ‘This is a cultural issue. We wear it out of respect to the culture of Iran.’ Let me be clear with you, calling a discriminatory law part of our culture—this is an insult to a nation.”

In amongst the confusion, “#Feminist” has brought about pockets of clarity. Perhaps the most confronting realisation of all is that good intentions, of which the left has no shortage of, aren’t always enough. Intersectionality, with the best of intentions, has woven a tangled web of obsessive white guilt and fetishized victimhood. Without even realising it, western feminists and regressive leftists perpetuate inequality for their own gratification. Open dialogue and scrutiny of ideas has been essential to our progress as a society thus far and must continue to be prioritised in the future. Every one of us has a role to play in the protection of free speech. Every one of us has a powerful voice. Let’s make them count.

Taking the Zizek/Peterson Pill


THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMON REVISITED
by Beryl Crowe (1969)
reprinted in MANAGING THE COMMONS
by Garrett Hardin and John Baden
W.H. Freeman, 1977; ISBN 0-7167-0476-5

"There has developed in the contemporary natural sciences a recognition that there is a subset of problems, such as population, atomic war, and environmental corruption, for which there are no technical solutions.

"There is also an increasing recognition among contemporary social scientists that there is a subset of problems, such as population, atomic war, environmental corruption, and the recovery of a livable urban environment, for which there are no current political solutions. The thesis of this article is that the common area shared by these two subsets contains most of the critical problems that threaten the very existence of contemporary man." [p. 53]

ASSUMPTIONS NECESSARY TO AVOID THE TRAGEDY

"In passing the technically insoluble problems over to the political and social realm for solution, Hardin made three critical assumptions:

(1) that there exists, or can be developed, a 'criterion of judgment and system of weighting . . .' that will 'render the incommensurables . . . commensurable . . . ' in real life;

(2) that, possessing this criterion of judgment, 'coercion can be mutually agreed upon,' and that the application of coercion to effect a solution to problems will be effective in modern society; and

(3) that the administrative system, supported by the criterion of judgment and access to coercion, can and will protect the commons from further desecration." [p. 55]

ERODING MYTH OF THE COMMON VALUE SYSTEM

"In America there existed, until very recently, a set of conditions which perhaps made the solution to Hardin's subset possible; we lived with the myth that we were 'one people, indivisible. . . .' This myth postulated that we were the great 'melting pot' of the world wherein the diverse cultural ores of Europe were poured into the crucible of the frontier experience to produce a new alloy -- an American civilization. This new civilization was presumably united by a common value system that was democratic, equalitarian, and existing under universally enforceable rules contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

"In the United States today, however, there is emerging a new set of behavior patterns which suggest that the myth is either dead or dying. Instead of believing and behaving in accordance with the myth, large sectors of the population are developing life-styles and value hierarchies that give contemporary Americans an appearance more closely analogous to the particularistic, primitive forms of 'tribal' organizations in geographic proximity than to that shining new alloy, the American civilization." [p. 56]

"Looking at a more recent analysis of the sickness of the core city, Wallace F. Smith has argued that the productive model of the city is no longer viable for the purposes of economic analysis. Instead, he develops a model of the city as a site for leisure consumption, and then seems to suggest that the nature of this model is such is such that the city cannot regain its health because the leisure demands are value-based and, hence do not admit to compromise and accommodation; consequently there is no way of deciding among these value- oriented demands that are being made on the core city.

"In looking for the cause of the erosion of the myth of a common value system, it seems to me that so long as our perceptions and knowledge of other groups were formed largely through the written media of communication, the American myth that we were a giant melting pot of equalitarians could be sustained. In such a perceptual field it is tenable, if not obvious, that men are motivated by interests. Interests can always be compromised and accommodated without undermining our very being by sacrificing values. Under the impact of electronic media, however, this psychological distance has broken down and now we discover that these people with whom we could formerly compromise on interests are not, after all, really motivated by interests but by values. Their behavior in our very living room betrays a set of values, moreover, that are incompatible with our own, and consequently the compromises that we make are not those of contract but of culture. While the former are acceptable, any form of compromise on the latter is not a form of rational behavior but is rather a clear case of either apostasy or heresy. Thus we have arrived not at an age of accommodation but one of confrontation. In such an age 'incommensurables' remain 'incommensurable' in real life." [p. 59]

EROSION OF THE MYTH OF THE MONOPOLY OF COERCIVE FORCE

"In the past, those who no longer subscribed to the values of the dominant culture were held in check by the myth that the state possessed a monopoly on coercive force. This myth has undergone continual erosion since the end of World War II owing to the success of the strategy of guerrilla warfare, as first revealed to the French in Indochina, and later conclusively demonstrated in Algeria. Suffering as we do from what Senator Fulbright has called 'the arrogance of power,' we have been extremely slow to learn the lesson in Vietnam, although we now realize that war is political and cannot be won by military means. It is apparent that the myth of the monopoly of coercive force as it was first qualified in the civil rights conflict in the South, then in our urban ghettos, next on the streets of Chicago, and now on our college campuses has lost its hold over the minds of Americans. The technology of guerrilla warfare has made it evident that, while the state can win battles, it cannot win wars of values. Coercive force which is centered in the modern state cannot be sustained in the face of the active resistance of some 10 percent of the population unless the state is willing to embark on a deliberate policy of genocide directed against the value dissident groups. The factor that sustained the myth of coercive force in the past was the acceptance of a common value system. Whether the latter exists is questionable in the modern nation-state." [p.p. 59-60]

EROSION OF THE MYTH OF ADMINISTRATORS OF THE COMMONS

"Indeed, the process has been so widely commented upon that one writer postulated a common life cycle for all of the attempts to develop regulatory policies. The life cycle is launched by an outcry so widespread and demanding that it generates enough political force to bring about establishment of a regulatory agency to insure the equitable, just, and rational distribution of the advantages among all holders of interest in the commons. This phase is followed by the symbolic reassurance of the offended as the agency goes into operation, developing a period of political quiescence among the great majority of those who hold a general but unorganized interest in the commons. Once this political quiescence has developed, the highly organized and specifically interested groups who wish to make incursions into the commons bring sufficient pressure to bear through other political processes to convert the agency to the protection and furthering of their interests. In the last phase even staffing of the regulating agency is accomplished by drawing the agency administrators from the ranks of the regulated." [p.p. 60-61].

Saturday, April 27, 2019

"Tomorrowland Today"

I know all of my exits
I'm always planning my escape
It's the most aggressive symptom
Of this collective phantom pain
And the more that you ignore it
The more it makes you go insane
Just look around

It's the battle of the passwords
It's the trumpets on the hill
It's that constant paranoia
It's the final fire drill
And if you won't sing the anthem
They'll go find someone else who will
They're Cracking down

We're living in the future, so shine a little light
It may not make it any better, I'm just hopin' that it might
I'm not talkin' bout forever, how about just getting through the night
We're livin' in the future, so shine a little light

I'm always lookin' over shoulders
Not knowing what I'm looking for
Now that the feeling someone's watchin'
Isn't just a feeling anymore
Now that both sides of the aisle
Are this good at keepin' score
We've crossed a line

There's a madness to the method
There's a market for the fear
It's that dance out on the razor's edge
The wolf held by the ears
It's the man behind the curtain
It's the weight of awful tears
Since the dawn of time

We're living in the future, so shine a little light
It may not make it any better, I'm just hopin' that it might
I'm not talkin' bout forever, how about just getting through the night
We're livin' in the future, so shine a little light

We're living in the future, so shine a little light
It may not make it any better, I'm just hopin' that it might
I'm not talkin' bout forever, how about just getting through the night
We're livin' in the future, so shine a little light

Friday, April 26, 2019

Weimar Flashbacks...

[Verse 1]
We were not allowed to belong
See, talk or hear nothing
But every night for an hour or two
Am I gone from this world
Every night a bit happy
My ear very close to the world receiver

[Refrain]
Radio, my radio
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

[Verse 2]
We were not allowed to belong
See, talk or disturb nothing
Every body of song was forbidden
So dangerous foreign notes
But every night a little happy
My ear very close to the world receiver

[Refrain]
Radio, my radio
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio (my radio)
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

[Bridge]
Every night I secretly climbed
On the back of the music
Put the ears to the wings
Sing quietly into the hands
Every night and again I fly
Just away with the music
Float through bright rooms
No borders, no fences

[Interlude]
Radio, radio
Radio, radio

[Refrain]
Radio, my radio (my radio)
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio (my radio)
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Redemption

Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.

In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possessiòn.

I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, "Your suit is granted," said, and died.
- George Herbert, "Redemption"

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Death of the Western

Zizek v. Peterson


Special Bonus: Is the Radical Left Responsible for White Nationalism?

Transcript of Zizek's Opening Remarks (only):
First, a brief introductory remark. I cannot but notice the irony of how Peterson and I, the participants in this duel of the century, are both marginalised by the official academic community. I am supposed to defend here the left, liberal line against neo-conservatives. Really? Most of the attacks on me are now precisely from left liberals. Just remember the outcry against my critique of LGBT+ ideology, and I’m sure that if the leading figures were to be asked if I were fit to stand for them, they would turn in their graves even if they are still alive.

So, let me begin by bringing together the three notions from the title – Happiness, Communism, Capitalism in one exemplary case – China today. China in the last decades is arguably the greatest economic success story in human history. Hundreds of millions raised from poverty into middle class existence. How did China achieve it? The twentieth century left was defined by its opposition to the truth fundamental tendencies of modernity: the reign of capital with its aggressive market competition, the authoritarian bureaucratic state power. Today’s China combines these two features in its extreme form – strong, totalitarian state, state-wide capitalist dynamics. And – it’s important to note – they do it on behalf of the majority of people. They don’t mention communism to legitimise their rule, they prefer the old Confucian notion of a harmonious society. But, are the Chinese any happier for all that? Although even the Dalai Lama justifies Tibetan Buddhism in Western terms in the full suite of happiness and the avoidance of pain, happiness as a goal of our life is a very problematic notion.

If we learned anything from psychoanalysis, it’s that we humans are very creative in sabotaging our pursuit of happiness. Happiness is a confused notion, basically it relies on the subject’s inability or unreadiness to fully confront the consequences of his / her / their desire. In our daily lives, we pretend to desire things which we do not really desire, so that ultimately the worst thing that can happen is to get what we officially desire. So, I agree that human life of freedom and dignity does not consist just in searching for happiness, no matter how much we spiritualise it, or in the effort to actualise our inner potentials. We have to find some meaningful cause beyond the mere struggle for pleasurable survival. However, I would like to add here a couple of qualifications.

First, since we live in a modern era, we cannot simply refer to an unquestionable authority to confer a mission or task on us. Modernity means that yes, we should carry the burden, but the main burden is freedom itself. We are responsible for our burdens. Not only are we not allowed cheap excuses for not doing our duty, duty itself should not serve as an excuse. We are never just instruments of some higher cause. Once traditional authority loses its substantial power, it is not possible to return to it. All such returns are today a post-modern fake. Does Donald Trump stand for traditional values? No – his conservatism is a post-modern performance, a gigantic ego trip. In this sense of playing with traditional values of mixing references to them with open obscenities, Trump is the ultimate post-modern president. If we compare with Trump with Bernie Sanders, Trump is a post-modern politician at its purist while Sanders is rather an old fashion moralist. Conservative thinkers claim that the origin of our crisis is the loss of our reliance on some transcendent divinity. If we are left to ourselves, if everything is historically conditioned and relative, then there is nothing preventing us from indulging in our lowest tendencies. But is this really the lesson to be learned from mob killing, looting and burning on behalf of religion? It is often claimed that true or not that religion makes some otherwise bad people do good things. From today’s experience, we should rather speak to Steven Weinberg’s claim that while without religion good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things. More than a century ago in his Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism – if god doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted. The French philosophy André Glucksmann applied Dostoyevsky’s critique of godless nihilism to September 11 and the title of his book, ‘Dostoyevsky in Manhattan’ suggests that he couldn’t have been more wrong. The lesson of today’s terrorism is that if there is a god then everything – even blowing up hundreds of innocent bystanders – is permitted to those who claim to act directly on behalf of god. The same goes also from godless, Stalinist Communists – they are the ultimate proof of it. Everything was permitted to them as they perceived themselves as direct instrument of their divinity – of historical necessity, as progress towards communism. That’s the big of ideologies – how to make good, decent people do horrible things.

Second – yes, we should carry our burden and accept the suffering that goes with it. But, a danger lurks here, that of a subtly reversal: don’t fall in love – that’s my position – with your suffering. Never presume that your suffering is in itself proof of your authenticity. A renunciation of pleasure can easily turn in pleasure of renunciation itself. For example, an example not from neo-conservatives. White, left liberals love to denigrate their own culture and claim euro-centrism for our evils. But, it is instantly clear how this self-denigration brings a profit of its own. Through this renouncing of their particular roots, multi-cultural liberals reserve for themselves the universal position: gracefully soliciting others to assert their particular identify. White, multi-culturalist liberals embody the lie of identity politics.

Next point. Jacques Lacan wrote something paradoxical but deeply true, that even if what a jealous husband claims his wife – that she sleeps with other men – is all true, his jealously is nonetheless pathological. The pathological element is the husbands need for jealousy as the only way for him to sustain his identity. Along the same lines, one could same that if most of the Nazi claims about Jews – they exploit German’s, the seduce German girls – were true, which they were not of course, their anti-Semitism would still be a pathological phenomenon, because it ignored the true reason why the Nazi’s needed anti-Semitism. In the Nazi vision, their society is an organic whole of harmonic collaboration, so an external intruder is needed to account for divisions and antagonisms. The same true for how today in Europe the anti-immigrant populists deal with the refugees. The cause of problems which are, I claim, immanent to today’s global capitalism, is projected onto an external intruder. Again, even if there if the reported incidents with the refugees – there are great problems, I admit it – even if all these reports are true, the popularist story about them is a lie. With anti-Semitism, we are approaching the topic of telling stories. Hitler was one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century. In the 1920s many Germans experienced their situation as a confused mess. They didn’t understand what is happening to them with military defeat, economic crisis, what they perceived as moral decay, and so on. Hitler provided a story, a plot, which was precisely that of a Jewish plot: ‘we are in this mess because of the Jews’.

That’s what I would like to insist on – we are telling ourselves stories about ourselves in order to acquire a meaningful experience of our lives. However, this is not enough. One of the most stupid wisdoms – and they’re mostly stupid – is ‘An enemy is just a story whose story you have not heard’. Really? Are you also ready to affirm that Hitler was our enemy because his story was not heard? The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, in order to account for what we are doing is – and this is what I call ideology – fundamentally a lie. The truth lies outside in what we do. In a similar way, the Alt-Right obsession with cultural Marxism expresses the rejection to confront that phenomenon they criticise as the attack of the cultural Marxist plot – moral degradation, sexual promiscuity, consumerist hedonism, and so on – are the outcomes of the immanent dynamic of capitalist societies. I would like to refer to a classic – Daniel Bell, Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism – written back in 1976, where the author argues that the unbounded drive of modern capitalism undermines the moral foundations of the original protestant ethics. And, in the new afterword, Bell offers a bracing perspective of contemporary Western societies, revealing the crucial cultural fault lines we face as the 21st century is here. The turn towards culture as a key component of capitalist reproduction and concurrent to it the commodification of cultural life itself are I think crucial moments of capitalism expanded reproduction. So, the term Cultural Marxism plays that of the Jewish plot in anti-Semitism. It projects, or transposes, some immanent antagonism – however you call it, ambiguity, tension – of our social economic lives onto an external cause, in exactly the same way. Now, let me give you a more problematic example – in exactly the same way, liberal critics of Trump and alt-right never seriously ask how our liberal society could give birth to Trump. In this sense, the image of Donald Trump is also a fetish, the last thing a liberal sees before confronting actual social tensions. Hegel’s motto – ‘Evil resides in the gaze which sees evil everywhere’ – fully applies here. The very liberal gaze with demonizes Trump is also evil because it ignores how its own failures opened up the space for Trump’s type of patriotic populism.

Next point – one should stop blaming hedonist egotism for our woes. The true opposite of egotist self-love is not altruism – a concern for the common good – but envy, resentment, which makes me act against my own interests. This is why as many perspicuous philosophers clearly saw, evil is profoundly spiritual, in some sense more spiritual than goodness. This is why egalitarianism itself should never be accepted at its face value. It can well secretly invert the standard renunciation accomplished to benefit others. Egalitarianism often de facto means, ‘I am ready to renounce something so that others will also not have it’. This is I think – now comes the problematic part for some of you maybe – the problem with political correctness. What appears as its excesses – its regulatory zeal – is I think an impotent reaction that masks the reality of a defeat. My hero is here a black lady, Tarana Burke, who created the #MeToo campaign more than a decade ago. She observed in a recent critical note that in the years since the movement began it deployed an unwavering obsession with the perpetrators. MeToo is all too often a genuine protest filtered through resentment. Should we then drop egalitarianism? No. Equality can also mean – and that’s the equality I advocate – creating the space for as many as possible individuals to develop their different potentials. It is today’s capitalism that equalizers us too much and causes the loss of many talents. So, what about the balance equality and hierarchy? Did we really move too much in the direction of equality? Is there, in today’s United States, really too much equality? I think a simple overview of the situation points in the opposite direction. Far from pushing us too far, the Left is gradually losing its ground already for decades. Its trademarks – universal health care, free education, and so on – are continually diminished. Look at Bernie Sanders program. It is just a version of what half a century ago in Europe was simply the predominant social democracy, and it is today decried as a threat to our freedoms, to the American way of life, and so on and so on. I can see no threat to free creativity in this program – on the contrary, I saw health care and education and so on as enabling me to focus my life on important creative issues. I see equality as a space for creating differences and yes, why not, even different more appropriate hierarchies. Furthermore, I find it very hard to ground todays inequalities as they are documented for example by Piketty in his book to ground todays inequalities in different competencies. Competencies for what? In totalitarian states, competencies are determined politically. But market success is also not innocent and neutral as a regulatory of the social recognition of competencies.

Let me now briefly deal with in a friendly way I claim with what became known – sorry for the irony – as the lobster topic. I’m far from a simple social constructionism here. I deeply appreciate evolutionary talk. Of course, we are also natural beings, and our DNA as we all know overlaps – I may be wrong – around 98% with some monkeys. This means something, but nature I think – we should never forget this – is not a stable hierarchical system but full of improvisations. It develops like French cuisine. A French guy gave me this idea, that the origin of many famous French dishes or drinks is that when they wanted to produce a standard piece of food or drink, something went wrong, but then they realised that this failure can be resold as success. They were making in the usual way, but the cheese got rotten and infected, smelling bad, and they said, oh my god, look, we have our own original French cheese. Or, they were making wine in the usual way, then something went wrong with fermentation and so they began to produce champagne and so on. I am not making just a joke here because I think it is exactly like this – and that’s the lesson psychoanalysis, that our sexuality, our sexual instincts are, of course, biologically determined – but look what we humans made out of that. They are not limited to the mating season. They can develop into a permanent obsession sustained by obstacles that demand to be overcome – in short, into a properly metaphysical passion that preserves the biologically rhythm, like endlessly prolonging satisfaction in courtly love, engaging in different perversions and so on and so on. So, it’s still ‘yes’, biologically conditioned sexuality, but it is – if I may use this term – transfunctionalised, it becomes a moment of a different cultural logic. And I claim the same goes for tradition. T. S. Eliot, the great conservative, wrote, quote – ‘what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the work of art which preceded it. The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past’ – end of quote. What does this mean? Let me mention the change enacted by Christianity. It’s not just that in spite of all our natural and cultural differences the same divine sparks dwells in everyone. But this divine spark enables us to create what Christian’s call ‘holy ghost’ or ‘holy spirit’ – a community which hierarchic family values are at some level, at least, abolished. Remember Paul’s words from Galatians – ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer male and female in Christ’. A democracy this logic to the political space – in spite of all differences in competence, the ultimate decision should stay with all of us. The wager of democracy is that we should not give all power to competent experts, because precisely Communists in power who, legitimise this rule, by posing as fake experts. And, incidentally I’m far from believing in ordinary people’s wisdom. We often need a master figure to push us out an inertia and, I’m not afraid to say, that forces us to be free. Freedom and responsibility hurt – they require an effort, and the highest function of an authentic master is to literally to awake in us to our freedom. We are spontaneously really free. Furthermore, I think that social power and authority cannot be directly grounded in competence. In our human universe, power, in the sense of exerting authority, is something much more mysterious, even irrational. Kierkegaard, mine and everybody’s favourite theologist, wrote – ‘If a child says he will obey his father because his father is a competent and good guy, this is an affront to father’s authority’. And here applies the same logic to Christ himself. Christ was justified by the fact of being God’s son not by his competencies or capacities, as Kierkegaard put it – ‘Every good student of theology can put things better than Christ’. If there is no such authority in nature, lobster’s may have hierarchy, undoubtedly, but the main guy among them does not have authority in this sense. Again, the wager of democracy is that – and that’s the subtle thing – not against competence and so on, but that political power and competence or expertise should be kept apart. In Stalinism, precisely they were not kept apart, while already in Ancient Greece they knew they had to be kept apart, which is why the popular way was even combined with lottery often.

So, where does Communism, just to conclude, where does Communism enter here? Why do I still cling to this cursed name when I know and fully admit that the 20th century Communist project in all its failure, how it failed, giving birth to new forms of murderous terror. Capitalism won, but today – and that’s my claim, we can debate about it – the question is, does today’s global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms that prevent its indefinite reproduction. I think there are such antagonisms. The threat of ecological catastrophe, the consequence of new techno-scientific developments, especially in biogenetics, and new forms of apartheid. All these antagonisms concern what Marx called ‘commons’ – the shared substance of our social being. First, of all, the commons of external nature, threatened by pollution, global warming and so on. Now, let me be precise here – I’m well aware uncertain analysis and projections are in this domain. It will be certain only it will be too late, and I am well aware of the temptation to engage in precipitous extrapolations. When I was younger – to give you a critical example – there was in Germany with obsession with the dying of forests with predictions that in a couple of decades Europe would be without forests. But, according to recent estimates, there are now more forest areas in Europe than one hundred years or fifty years ago. But there is nonetheless the prospect of a catastrophe here. Scientific data seems, to me at least, abundant enough. And we should act in a large scale, collective way. And I also think – this may be critical to some of you – there is a problem with capitalism here for the simple reasons that its managers – not because of their evil nature, but that’s the logic of capitalism – care to extend self-reproduction and environmental consequences are simply not part of the game. This is again not a moral reproach. Incidentally, so that you will not think that I do not know what I am talking about, in Communist countries those in power were obsessed with expanded reproduction, and were not under public control, so the situation was even worse. So, how to act? First by admitting we are in a deep mess. There is no simple democratic solution here. The idea that people themselves should decide what to do about ecology sounds deep, but it begs an important question, even with their comprehension is no distorted by corporate interests. What qualifies them to pass a judgement in such a delicate matter? Plus, the radical measures advocated by some ecologists can themselves trigger new catastrophes. Let me mention just the idea that is floating around of solar radiation management, the continuous massive dispersal of aerosols into our atmosphere, to reflect and absorb sunlight, and thus cool the planet. Can we even imagine how the fragile balance of our earth functions and in what unpredictable ways geo-engineering can disturb it? In such times of urgency, when we know we have to act but don’t know how to act, thinking is needed. Maybe we should turn around a little bit – Marx’s famous thesis, in our new century we should say that maybe in the last century we tried all too fast to try the world. The time has come to step back and interpret it.

The second threat, the commons of internal nature. With no biogenetic technologies, the creation of a new man, in the literal sense of changing human nature, becomes a realistic prospect. I mean primarily so called popularly neural-link, the direct link between our brain and digital machines, and then brains among themselves. This I think is the true game changed. The digitalisation of our brains opens up unheard of new possibilities of control. Directly sharing your experience with our beloved may appear attractive, but what about sharing them with an agency without you even knowing it?

Finally, the common space of humanity itself. We live in one and the same world which is more and more interconnected. But, nonetheless, deeply divided. So, how to react to this? The first and sadly predominate reaction is the one of protected self-enclosure – ‘The world out there is in a mess, let’s protect ourselves by all sorts of walls’. It seems that our countries are run relatively well, but is the mess the so-called rogue countries find themselves in not connected to how we interact with them? Take what is perhaps the ultimate rogue state – Congo. Warlords who rule provinces there are always dealing with Western companies, selling them minerals – where would our computers be without coltan from Congo? And what about foreign interventions in Iraq and Syria, or by our proxies like Saudi Arabia in Yemen? Here refugees are created. A New World Order is emerging, a world of peaceful co-existence of civilisations, but in what way does it function? Forced marriages and homophobia is ok, just as long as they are limited to another country which is otherwise fully included in the world market. This is how refugees are created. The second reaction is global capitalism with a human face – think about socially responsible corporate figures like Bill Gates and George Soros. They passionately support LGBT, they advocate charities and so on. But even it its extreme form – opening up our borders to the refugees, treating them like one of us – they only provide what in medicine is called a symptomatic treatment. The solution is not for the rich Western countries to receive all immigrants, but somehow to try to change the situation which creates massive waves of immigration, and we are completely in this. Is such a change a utopia? No. The true utopia is that we can survive without such a change. So, here I think – I know it’s provocative to call this a plea for communism, I do it a little bit to provoke things – but what is needed is nonetheless in all these fears I claim – ecology, digital control, unity of the world – a capitalist market which does great things, I admit it, has to be somehow limited, regulated and so on. Before you say, ‘it’s a utopia’, I will tell you – just think about in what way the market already functions today. I always thought that neoliberalism is a fake term. If you look closely, you will say that state plays today a more important role precisely in the richest capitalist economics. So, you know the market is already limited but not in the right way, to put it naively.

So, a pessimist conclusion, what will happen? In spite of protests here and there, we will probably continue to slide towards some kind of apocalypse, awaiting large catastrophes to awaken us. So, I don’t accept any cheap optimism. When somebody tries to convince me, ‘in spite of all these problems, there is a light at the end of the tunnel’, my instant reply is, ‘Yes, and it’s another train coming towards us’.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

End of a Dream

Slavoj Zizek, "the dream of universal liberal democracy is over"
Arjun Neil Alim speaks to the west’s most dangerous philosopher on how to resist radical right, the marginalisation of the UK after Brexit and the digital surveillance state

Sitting across from Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, I begin to discern a pattern to his thought. Things are bad, catastrophic even, but never in the way we understand. The #MeToo movement failed, not because it alienated moderate supporters, but because it didn’t go far enough in creating an authentic solidarity. China’s creeping totalitarianism is horrifying, because it disguises similar developments in the west. Favelas in Latin America are bad, because the impoverished can’t even afford to live in them anymore.

“They said that the Rwandan genocide was linked to colonialism and one of my black friends exploded, ‘you white people are so patronising, you don’t even allow us to be evil on our own’.” Žižek’s radical Marxist philosophy can only be described as pessimistic absurdism. The 70-year old thinker is explaining to me that the liberal left in the west has failed to understand identity. In creating a culture of victimisation, they have succeeded in patronising and alienating minorities: “Of course, immense injustices were done to them, but we shouldn’t say ‘so now we should show our great liberalness and give them charity’, we should empower them.”

On why only black people can use the n-word: “It is extremely racist and humiliating because it implies that blacks are like spoilt children, they are not adults like you and me, where an adult is someone who can control himself and follow certain ethical rules.”

To interview the so-called ‘Elvis of Cultural Theory’ is like playing a dozen games of chess at once, one never quite knows where the next move is coming from. Born in Tito’s Yugoslavia, he draws on an eclectic mix of experiences and ideology, including GWF Hegel and Jacques Lacan.

Now a professor of philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Žižek has written more than 80 books, most recently The Relevance of the Communist Manifesto, Incontinence of the Void, and Living in the End Times. He is known for his adept use of popular and elite culture to illustrate his philosophical points. When I probe his choice of examples, he retorts: “This is the Hegelian lesson of concrete universality. In politics ideas are never simply universal, there is always a concrete example which gives a spin to the universal idea.”

The popularity of Žižek’s philosophy has earned him a few enemies as well. He accepted a debate with clinical psychologist and cultural conservative Jordan Peterson, who also protests “political correctness” , blaming it on “postmodern neo-Marxism”. Having gained prominence through his opposition to a Canadian law that checks gender-based discrimination, Peterson took exception to an article Žižek wrote for The Independent, in which he blamed the popularity of Peterson’s “crazy conspiracy theory” on the liberal left’s failure to confront difficult social problems. They are due to meet in Toronto on 19 April for a battle of ideas.

Any hope I have for the 21st-century’s Great Debate is shattered when Žižek confesses “nothing will come out of this debate with Jordan Peterson”. His only hope is to show people that not only the new Right decry the apparent excesses of #MeToo culture. He dismisses Peterson as a “Wikipedia theorist”.

“My basic problem with Peterson is his term ‘postmodern neo-Marxism’, which is a very strange construct. Firstly, Marxism is in itself a modernist project. When postmodernism exploded in the 1980s, its main target was precisely this Marxist narrative, so it’s crazy to bring these terms together.”

He softens his tone: “[But] I know what Peterson means; this wave of political correctness. Here I don’t like his logic, he rightly sees this antagonism in today’s society. But he doesn’t see it as inherent in society, he needs an external enemy, hence Marxism. It recalls the alt-right who talk about ‘cultural Marxism’”. The latter is a reference to the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, which came to prominence near the end of the first half of the 20th century. Thinkers from the Frankfurt School sought to critically engage capitalist structures, but are accused by some on the Right of attempting to undermine the moral fabric of the west.

I recall Fredric Jameson’s “Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, which casts postmodernism as sceptical analysis of capitalist narratives, rather than simple nihilism. Žižek responds: “I am more negative towards postmodernism than my good friend Jameson. At an aesthetic level I am an old fashioned modernist – I still think the only really great thing in modern art was modernism, Kandinsky, Malevich in painting. For me, what is the typical postmodern view is basically a cynical view: we cannot get rid of theology or traditional values, but we should adopt them in a playful way, knowing they aren’t true.”

Our discussion inevitably moves to Donald Trump. “Trump is the first postmodern president. It’s so clear: can you look me in my eyes and tell me that Trump embodies traditional Christian values? My paradox is with Peterson, who is against postmodernism. My reply would be then how can you support Donald Trump?”

Žižek courted controversy in 2016 by provocatively stating that he would prefer a Trump presidency to a Hillary Clinton one. “My hope was this: Trump nonetheless introduced a deep split into American ideological hegemony. Trump is not simply an establishment figure, he is a trauma for the establishment.”

Sensing a contradiction, I query how a billionaire New Yorker and property developer is not part of the establishment. “One billionaire who didn’t support #MeToo or transgender bathrooms won. This tension is between more conservative, patriarchal ethics, and this new transgender plasticity non-fixed identity, Judith Butler logic. My central point is that this antagonism is inscribed into the core of today’s global capitalism, both foes are within the capitalism framework.”

So reactionary politics is as much a feature of capitalism as hyper liberal politics. “This is why I say that for liberals, Trump is a fetish, he is the last thing they see before they are forced to confront the logic of class struggle. This is why he got the vote of dissatisfied workers. Again, this is a complex problem.”

So how does one resist the radical right? The west’s most dangerous philosopher leans in to share a secret with me. “We need to start stealing motifs from the enemy. There is nothing more vulgar than today’s Right. Look at how Trump treats supposed heroes like John McCain. Ronald Reagan preached family values but Reaganomics did more to destroy family life than all gay liberals put together.”

He becomes more animated on this point: “Why should the Left automatically accept this idea that patriotism is bad? Patriotism means for me that you have great trust in the greatness of your nation, for example what Angela Merkel did: accepting one million refugees, this is true patriotism: trusting in the greatness, tolerance, productivity of Germany.”

On this he goes for checkmate: “My point is to label anti-immigrant populists as non-patriotic. They don’t trust their own nation. How can you believe like Trump in American greatness, if when a couple of thousand refugees are approaching your border you proclaim a state of emergency?”

Having previously stated that “we were once all Fukuyama-ists” who believed in the historic ascendancy of liberal democracy, Žižek has a much graver outlook on global order today. “My general political worry is the Fukuyama liberal dream of universal liberal democracy is over. Now we are approaching a nightmare where global capitalism coexists with assertions of strong ethnic nation states. Modi’s India is an exemplary case of this: economically a ruthless neoliberal, culturally strong state.”

His prognosis for Brexit Britain is no brighter. “The EU was not, even at a purely capitalist level, so bad. At least it guaranteed certain ecological standards, respect for workers’ rights, this will now go out of the window. I do not believe the UK will be stronger after Brexit, in fact it will be marginalised.” And if Julian Assange is indeed extradited to the US, the philosopher would see this as evidence that Britain must now play second fiddle to its American partner.

I guide the discussion back to the upcoming debate with Peterson. The theme is ”Happiness: Marxism vs Capitalism”, which appears odd, given that in an interview with the New Statesman Žižek stated “happiness is for wimps”. When asked to expand on this, he adds: “I meant something very ironic. Happiness is not when you get what you want. When you get what you want you are mostly disappointed. Happiness is what you get almost what you want, but you can keep the dream alive. My most evil example: when the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring [in 1968], to provoke my leftist friends, I said that Soviet intervention saved the dream of the Prague spring from a democratic socialism that would inevitably fail.”

I convince him to explore Peterson’s ideology more deeply: “Peterson’s big authority is Dostoevsky: if God doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted. But Jacques Lacan would say no, if God doesn’t exist, everything is prohibited. For believers, everything is permitted as you claim your activity is grounded in divine will.”

“What he is doing in his clinical practice with his patients, he is installing a sense of responsibility, I support him here. But then he always goes one step too far. In his book 12 Rules For Life, I haven’t read it, but I believe he says “before you want to change the world put your own house in order”, But you can put your house in order, only if you have a certain [social] stability. Would you really be ready to say to someone living in North Korea or under ISIS ‘don’t complain, put your house in order’?” For Žižek, without social change, the problems Peterson confronts can thus never be meaningfully resolved.

On the belief that we need to install narratives into our lives, Žižek warns that ‘higher values’ can oppress us. “The most shocking thing for me is how often horrible things you do publicly can be grounded in quite beautiful spiritual narratives. My usual example is Buddhism. If you follow the history of Zen Buddhism, almost the entire group supported Japanese imperialism, and also provided justifications for their actions.”

We move on to the critical dangers of modernity, and Žižek has a warning for techno-optimists: “The sad secret of today is that we are in the middle of an exploding arms race, it’s not just nuclear arms, but ultra-powerful computers and digital weapons. The traditional argument against a police state was that it was not productive, but today the computers are so strong that their secret dream of the police state is possible. Today we have a new form of state control, which doesn’t openly impeach or limit our freedom, we still experience ourselves as totally free, but we are already controlled and manipulated, it is utterly incredible.”

Žižek is an outspoken supporter of Julian Assange, who was recently arrested in London for missing a court summons after the Ecuadorian government revoked his asylum status. The Swedish government had previously issued an international arrest warrant for charges of rape. He believes he has been arbitrarily persecuted for his actions against the US surveillance regime.

“This was the message of Assange for me, how he made us aware of new forms of control. His most important work operates through the close link between private digital corporations and the state. We should never forget this obvious fact, digital space regulates everything today: water supplies, food. Those who control the digital space control everything.”

I question whether we can label the Internet a “public space” akin to Jürgen Habermas’s coffeehouse of the 19th and 20th centuries and Žižek hesitates for the first time. “This is a big question,” he concedes. “It is not a proper public space, it is a private space rendered public, but remains private. Public space in old sense is disappearing, on other hand, on the web there is still an alienation. It is this arena where everything, racism, violence, can flourish. Something really new is emerging here.”

Drawing to a close, I score a late victory. I find an area in which Žižek is optimistic: the role of philosophy in our time. “We are confronting a whole series of new situations where old traditional ethics no longer works. We have to invent new rules.” In bioengineering, cognitive sciences: “we have to make philosophical and theoretical decisions about freedom, some kind of wild philosophy is needed. Philosophy begins for me when everyday wisdom, basic ethics and traditional wisdom are challenged.”

Hegel thought that philosophy enters on stage in times of trouble and strife. “It is good news for philosophers that philosophy will be more and more needed, but bad for the world.” He laughs, “it means we will be in more and more deep shit.”

Things They Don't Tell You on the 6 O'Clock News...

Monday, April 15, 2019

Watchers of the Watchmen

Slavoj Žižek, "Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes" The Guardian (9/3/13)
We all remember President Obama’s smiling face, full of hope and trust, in his first campaign: “Yes, we can!” – we can get rid of the cynicism of the Bush era and bring justice and welfare to the American people. Now that the US continues its covert operations and expands its intelligence network, spying even on its allies, we can imagine protesters shouting at Obama: “How can you use drones for killing? How can you spy even on our allies?” Obama murmurs with a mockingly evil smile: “Yes, we can.”

But simple personalisation misses the point: the threat to freedom disclosed by whistleblowers has deeper, systemic roots. Edward Snowden should be defended not only because his acts annoyed and embarrassed US secret services; what he revealed is something that not only the US but also all great (and not so great) powers – from China to Russia, Germany to Israel – are doing (to the extent they are technologically able to do it).

His acts provided a factual foundation to our suspicions of being monitored and controlled – their lesson is global, reaching far beyond the standard US-bashing. We didn’t really learn from Snowden (or Manning) anything we didn’t already presume to be true. But it is one thing to know it in general, another to get concrete data. It is a little like knowing that one’s sexual partner is playing around – one can accept the abstract knowledge, but pain arises when one gets the steamy details, pictures of what they were doing…

Back in 1843, the young Karl Marx claimed that the German ancien regime “only imagines that it believes in itself and demands that the world should imagine the same thing”. In such a situation, to put shame on those in power becomes a weapon. Or, as Marx goes on: “The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicising it.”

This, exactly, is our situation today: we are facing the shameless cynicism of the representatives of the existing global order, who only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights etc. What happens in WikiLeaks disclosures is that the shame – theirs, and ours for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by publicising it. What we should be ashamed of is the worldwide process of the gradual narrowing of the space for what Kant called the “public use of reason”.

In his classic text, What Is Enlightenment?, Kant contrasts “public” and “private” use of reason – “private” is for Kant the communal-institutional order in which we dwell (our state, our nation …), while “public” is the transnational universality of the exercise of one’s reason: “The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one’s reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one’s reason I understand the use that a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.”

We see where Kant parts with our liberal common sense: the domain of state is “private” constrained by particular interests, while individuals reflecting on general issues use reason in a “public” way. This Kantian distinction is especially pertinent with internet and other new media torn between their free “public use” and their growing “private” control. In our era of cloud computing, we no longer need strong individual computers: software and information are provided on demand; users can access web-based tools or applications through browsers.

This wonderful new world is, however, only one side of the story. Users are accessing programs and software files that are kept far away in climate-controlled rooms with thousands of computers – or, to quote a propaganda-text on cloud computing: “Details are abstracted from consumers, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure ‘in the cloud’ that supports them.”

Here are two telltale words: abstraction and control. To manage a cloud there needs to be a monitoring system that controls its functioning, and this system is by definition hidden from users. The more the small item (smartphone) I hold in my hand is personalised, easy to use, “transparent” in its functioning, the more the entire setup has to rely on the work being done elsewhere, in a vast circuit of machines that co-ordinate the user’s experience. The more our experience is non-alienated, spontaneous, transparent, the more it is regulated by the invisible network controlled by state agencies and large private companies that follow their secret agendas.

Once we choose to follow the path of state secrets, we sooner or later reach the fateful point at which the legal regulations prescribing what is secret become secret. Kant formulated the basic axiom of the public law: “All actions relating to the right of other men are unjust if their maxim is not consistent with publicity.” A secret law, a law unknown to its subjects, legitimises the arbitrary despotism of those who exercise it, as indicated in the title of a recent report on China: “Even what’s secret is a secret in China.” Troublesome intellectuals who report on political oppression, ecological catastrophes, rural poverty etc, got years in prison for betraying a state secret, and the catch was that many of the laws and regulations that made up the state-secret regime were themselves classified, making it difficult for individuals to know how and when they are in violation.

What makes the all-encompassing control of our lives so dangerous is not that we lose our privacy, that all our intimate secrets are exposed to Big Brother. There is no state agency able to exert such control – not because they don’t know enough, but because they know too much. The sheer size of data is too large, and in spite of all intricate programs for detecting suspicious messages, computers that register billions of data are too stupid to interpret and evaluate them properly, ridiculous mistakes where innocent bystanders are listed as potential terrorists occur necessarily – and this makes state control of communications even more dangerous. Without knowing why, without doing anything illegal, we can all be listed as potential terrorists. Recall the legendary answer of a Hearst newspaper editor to Hearst’s inquiry as to why he doesn’t want to take a long-deserved holiday: “I am afraid that if I go, there will be chaos, everything will fall apart – but I am even more afraid to discover that if I go, things will just go on as normal without me, a proof that I am not really needed!” Something similar can be said about the state control of our communications: we should fear that we have no secrets, that secret state agencies know everything, but we should fear even more that they fail in this endeavour.

This is why whistleblowers play a crucial role in keeping the “public reason” alive. Assange, Manning, Snowden, these are our new heroes, exemplary cases of the new ethics that befits our era of digitalised control. They are no longer just whistleblowers who denounce the illegal practices of private companies to the public authorities; they denounce these public authorities themselves when they engage in “private use of reason”.

We need Mannings and Snowdens in China, in Russia, everywhere. There are states much more oppressive than the US – just imagine what would have happened to someone like Manning in a Russian or Chinese court (in all probability no public trial). However, one should not exaggerate the softness of the US: true, the US doesn’t treat prisoners as brutally as China or Russia – because of its technological priority, it simply does not need the brutal approach (which it is more than ready to apply when needed). In this sense, the US is even more dangerous than China insofar as its measures of control are not perceived as such, while Chinese brutality is openly displayed.

It is therefore not enough to play one state against the other (like Snowden, who used Russia against the US): we need a new international network to organise the protection of whistleblowers and the dissemination of their message. Whistleblowers are our heroes because they prove that if those in power can do it, we can also do it.
Slavoj Zizek, "Assange helped teach the people about our tarnished freedom – now we are all he has left to defend him"
The panic and fury with which those in power – those who control our digital commons – reacted to Assange, is proof that such activity hits a nerve

It finally happened – Julian Assange was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy and arrested. It was no surprise: many signs pointed in this direction.

A week or two ago, Wikileaks predicted the arrest, and the Ecuadorian foreign ministry responded with what we now know were lies. The recent rearrest of Chelsea Manning (largely ignored by the media) was also an element in this game. Her confinement, designed to force her to divulge information about links with Wikileaks, is part of the prosecution that awaits Assange when (if) the US gets hold of him.

There were also clues in the long, slow well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination which reached the lowest level imaginable a couple of months ago with unverified rumors that the Ecuadorians wanted to get rid of him because of his bad smell and dirty clothes.

In the first stage of attacks on Assange, his ex-friends and collaborators went public with claims that Wikileaks began well but then it got bogged down with Assange’s political bias (his anti-Hillary obsession, his suspicious ties with Russia…). This was followed by more direct personal defamations: he is paranoiac and arrogant, obsessed by power and control.

Assange a paranoiac? When you live permanently in an apartment which is bugged from above and below, victim of constant surveillance organised by secret services, who wouldn’t be that? Megalomaniac? When the (now ex-) head of the CIA says your arrest is his priority, does not this imply that you are a “big” threat to some, at least? Behaving like the head of a spy organisation? But Wikileaks IS a spy organisation, although one that serves the people, keeping them informed on what goes on behind the scenes.

So let’s move to the big question: why now? I think one name explains it all: Cambridge Analytica – a name which stands for all Assange is about, for what he fights against, and describes the link between great private corporations and government agencies.

Remember how big topic an obsession Russian meddling in the US elections became – now we know it was not Russian hackers (with Assange) who nudged the people towards Trump. Instead they were pushed our own data-processing agencies who joined up with political forces.

This doesn’t mean that Russia and their allies are innocent: they probably did try influence the outcome in the same way that the US does it in other countries (only in this case, it is called helping democracy). But it means the big bad wolf who distorts our democracy is here, not in the Kremlin – and this is what Assange was claiming all the time.

But where, exactly, is this big bad wolf? To grasp the whole scope of this control and manipulation, one should move beyond the link between private corporations and political parties (as is the case with Cambridge Analytica), to the interpenetration of data processing companies like Google or Facebook and state security agencies.

We shouldn't be shocked at China but at ourselves who have accepted the same regulation while believing that we retain out full freedom, and that our media just help us to realise our goals. In China people are fully aware that they are regulated.

The overall image emerging from it, combined with what we also know about the link between the latest developments in biogenetics (the wiring of the human brain etc.), provides an adequate and terrifying image of new forms of social control which make good old 20th century “totalitarianism” a rather primitive and clumsy machine of control.

The biggest achievement of the new cognitive-military complex is that direct and obvious oppression is no longer necessary: individuals are much better controlled and “nudged” in the desired direction when they continue to experience themselves as free and autonomous agents of their own life.

This is another key lesson of Wikileaks: our unfreedom is most dangerous when it is experienced as the very medium of our freedom – what can be more free that the incessant flow of communications which allows every individual to popularise their opinions and form virtual communities of their own free will?

In our societies, permissiveness and free choice are elevated into a supreme value, and so social control and domination can no longer appear to infringe on a subject’s freedom. It has to appear as (and be sustained by) the very self-experience of individuals as free. What can be more free than our unconstrained surfing on the web? This is how “fascism which smells like democracy” really operates today.

This is why it is absolutely imperative to keep the digital network out of the control of private capital and state power, and render it totally accessible to public debate. Assange was right in his strangely ignored book When Google Met WikiLeaks (New York: OR Books 2014): to understand how our lives are regulated today, and how this regulation is experienced as our freedom, we have to focus on the shadowy relation between private corporations which control our commons and secret state agencies.

Now we can see why Assange has to be silenced: after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded, all the efforts of those in power has gone into reducing it to a particular “misuse” by some private corporations and political parties – but where is the state itself, the half-invisible apparatuses of the so-called “deep state”?

Assange characterised himself as the spy of and for the people: he is not spying on the people for those in power, he is spying on those in power for the people. This is why his only assistance will have to come from us, the people. Only our pressure and mobilisation can alleviate his predicament. One often reads how the Soviet secret service not only punished its traitors (even if it took decades to do it), but also fought doggedly to free them when they were caught by the enemy. Assange has no state behind him, just us – so let us do Soviet secret service was doing, let’s fight for him no matter how long it will take!

Wikileaks is just the beginning, and our motto should be a Maoist one: Let a hundred Wikileaks blossom. The panic and fury with which those in power – those who control our digital commons – reacted to Assange, is proof that such activity hits a nerve.

There will be many blows below the belt in this fight – our side will be accused of playing into 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 each other in order to bring them all down.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Real of Capitalist Illusion


In 6 segments

Auto-Hypnosis

Slavoj Zizek, "Love Beyond Law" from Theory Leaks
The Lacanian Subject not only provides an excellent introduction into the fundamental coordinates of Jacques Lacan’s conceptual network; it also proposes original solutions to (or at least clarifications of) some of the crucial dilemmas left open by Lacan’s work. The principal two among them are the notion of “love beyond Law” mentioned by Lacan in the very last page of his Seminar XI, [1] and the no less enigmatic thesis of the late Lacan according to which, at the end of psychoanalytic treatment, the subject becomes its own cause. Since these two points run against the predominant doxa on Lacan (love as a narcissistic misrecognition which obscures the truth of desire; the irreducibly decentred status of the subject), it is well worth the while to elaborate them.

“Love beyond Law” involves a “feminine” sublimation of drives into love. As Bruce Fink emphasizes again and again, love is here no longer merely a narcissistic (mis)recognition to be opposed to desire as the subject’s ‘truth’ but a unique case of direct asexual sublimation (integration into the order of the signifier) of drives, of their jouissance, in the guise of the asexual Thing (music, religion, etc.) experienced in the ecstatic surrender. [2] What one should bear in mind apropos of this love beyond Law, this direct asexual sublimation of drive, is that it is inherently nonsensical, beyond meaning: meaning can only take place within the (symbolic) Law; the moment we trespass the domain of Law, meaning changes into enjoy-meant, jouis-sense.[3]

Insofar as, according to Lacan, at the conclusion of psychoanalytic treatment, the subject assumes the drive beyond fantasy and beyond (the Law of) desire, this problematic also compels us to confront the question of the conclusion of treatment in all its urgency. If we discard the discredited standard formulas (“reintegration into the symbolic space”, etc.), only two options remain open: desire or drive. That is to say, either we conceive the conclusion of treatment as the assertion of the subject’s radical openness to the enigma of the Other’s desire no longer veiled by fantasmatic formations, or we risk the step beyond desire itself and adopt the position of the saint who is no longer bothered by the Other’s desire as its decentred cause. In the case of the saint, the subject, in an unheard-of way, “causes itself”, becomes its own cause. Its cause is no longer decentred, i.e., the enigma of the Other’s desire no longer has any hold over it. How are we to understand this strange reversal on which Fink is quite justified to insist? In principle, things are clear enough: by way of positing itself as its own cause, the subject fully assumes the fact that the object-cause of its desire is not a cause that precedes its effects but is retroactively posited by the network of its effects: an event is never simply in itself traumatic, it only becomes a trauma retroactively, by being ‘secreted’ from the subject’s symbolic space as its inassimilable point of reference. In this precise sense, the subject “causes itself” by way of retroactively positing that X which acts as the object-cause of its desire. This loop is constitutive of the subject. That is, an entity that does not ’cause itself’ is precisely not a subject but an object. [4] However, one should avoid conceiving this assumption as a kind of symbolic integration of the decentred Real, whereby the subject ‘symbolizes’, assumes as an act of its free choice, the imposed trauma of the contingent encounter with the Real. One should always bear in mind that the status of the subject as such is hysterical: the subject ‘is’ only insofar as it confronts the enigma of Che vuoi? – “What do you want?” – insofar as the Other’s desire remains impenetrable, insofar as the subject doesn’t know what kind of object it is for the Other. Suspending this decentring of the cause is thus strictly equivalent to what Lacan called “subjective destitution”, the de- hystericization by means of which the subject loses its status as subject.

The most elementary matrix of fantasy, of its temporal loop, is that of the “impossible” gaze by means of which the subject is present at the act of his/her own conception. What is at stake in it is the enigma of the Other’s desire: by means of the fantasy-formation, the subject provides an answer to the question, ‘What am I for my parents, for their desire?’ and thus endeavours to arrive at the ‘deeper meaning’ of his or her existence, to discern the Fate involved in it. The reassuring lesson of fantasy is that “I was brought about with a special purpose”.5 Consequently, when, at the end of psychoanalytic treatment, I “traverse my fundamental fantasy”, the point of it is not that, instead of being bothered by the enigma of the Other’s desire, of what I am for the others, I “subjectivize” my fate in the sense of its symbolization, of recognizing myself in a symbolic network or narrative for which I am fully responsible, but rather that I fully assume the uttermost contingency of my being. The subject becomes ’cause of itself’ in the sense of no longer looking for a guarantee of his or her existence in another’s desire.

Another way to put it is to say that the “subjective destitution” changes the register from desire to drive. Desire is historical and subjectivized, always and by definition unsatisfied, metonymical, shifting from one object to another, since I do not actually desire what I want. What I actually desire is to sustain desire itself, to postpone the dreaded moment of its satisfaction. Drive, on the other hand, involves a kind of inert satisfaction which always finds its way. Drive is non-subjectivized (“acephalic”); perhaps its paradigmatic expressions are the repulsive private rituals (sniffing one’s own sweat, sticking one’s finger into one’s nose, etc.) that bring us intense satisfaction without our being aware of it-or, insofar as we are aware of it, without our being able to do anything to prevent it.

In Andersen’s fairy tale The Red Shoes, an impoverished young woman puts on a pair of magical shoes and almost dies when her feet won’t stop dancing. She is only saved when an executioner cuts off her feet with his axe. Her still-shod feet dance on, whereas she is given wooden feet and finds peace in religion. These shoes stand for drive at its purest: an ‘undead’ partial object that functions as a kind of impersonal willing: ‘it wants’, it persists in its repetitive movement (of dancing), it follows its path and exacts its satisfaction at any price, irrespective of the subject’s well-being. This drive is that which is ‘in the subject more than herself’: although the subject cannot ever ‘subjectivize’ it, assume it as ‘her own’ by way of saying ‘It is I who want to do this!’ it nonetheless operates in her very kernel. [6] As Fink’s book reminds us, Lacan’s wager is that it is possible to sublimate this dull satisfaction. This is what, ultimately, art and religion are about.


This paper was first published in the Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society 1 (1996), 160-61, as a review of Bruce Fink’s The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
Notes:

[1] See Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977), 263-76.

[2] See Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-73 (Encore), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 64-89.

[3] It is at this point that Peter Dews’ attempt to enlist the Lacanian problematic of ‘love beyond Law’ into his project of the ‘return to meaning’ (see his The Limits of Disenchantment, London and New York: Verso, 1996) falls short: it has to overlook the radical incompatibility of ‘love beyond Law’ and the field of meaning – i.e., the fact that within the Lacanian conceptual edifice, ‘love beyond Law’ entails the eclipse of meaning in jouis-sense.

[4] As to this paradoxical status of trauma, see Slavoj Žižek, Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality (London and New York: Verso, 1994), 29-53.

[5] We can see, now, in what precise sense a pervert lives his fantasy: in clear contrast to the hysteric (neurotic), the pervert doesn’t have any doubt as to what he is for the big Other’s desire: he is the instrument of the Other’s enjoyment. A simple, but nonetheless poignant, expression of this perverse attitude is found in Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire, when the devout Eric Liddel explains his fast running which brought him a gold medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics: “God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

[6] One should mention here Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes, a suicidal variation of the same motif. At the end of the film, the shoes the young ballerina is wearing also take on a life of their own. However, since there is no one there to cut her legs off the shoes carry the ballerina out onto a high balcony from which she is forced to leap onto the railroad tracks where she is hit by a train. The crucial thing this cinematic version adds to Andersen’s fairy tale is the opposition between the ‘partial drive’ embodied in the shoes and the normal sexual desire, i.e., the girl’s sexual interest in her partner.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

"Chicken or Egg?" Theories...

Did Global Capitalism Create Cultural Capitalism, or did Cultural Marxism Create Cultural Capitalism?

In the 1930's, Stalin drops Trotsky's World Domination and Communist Internationale ideal and becomes a Nationalist. In 1945, former Capitalist Nationalists Create the Bretton Woods International Monetary Agreement and Subsequent Global Market.

Or was it a Confluence of Interests Within BOTH Communist and Global Capitalist influences?
Hey, Hey, Ho, HO!
Western Civ has GOT to GO!
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "The Tower of Babel" (1563)
1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
— Genesis 11:1–9