Friday, February 28, 2020

The Wu WHO Flu

Slavoj Zizek, "Coronavirus is ‘Kill Bill’-esque blow to capitalism and could lead to reinvention of communism"
The ongoing spread of the coronavirus epidemic has also triggered vast epidemics of ideological viruses which were laying dormant in our societies: fake news, paranoiac conspiracy theories, explosions of racism.


The well-grounded medical need for quarantines found an echo in the ideological pressure to establish clear borders and to quarantine enemies that pose a threat to our identity.

But maybe another – and much more beneficial – ideological virus will spread and hopefully infect us: the virus of thinking about an alternate society, a society beyond nation-state, a society that actualizes itself in the forms of global solidarity and cooperation.

Speculation is often heard today that the coronavirus may lead to the fall of communist rule in China, in the same way that (as Gorbachev himself admitted) the Chernobyl catastrophe was the event which triggered the end of the Soviet communism. But there is a paradox here: the coronavirus will also compel us to re-invent communism based on trust in the people and in science.

In the final scene of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill 2,’ Beatrix disables the evil Bill and strikes him with the “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” – the most deadly blow in all of martial arts. The move consists of a combination of five strikes with one’s fingertips to five different pressure points on the target’s body. After the target walks away and has taken five steps, their heart explodes in their body and they fall to the ground.

This attack is part of martial arts mythology and is not possible in real hand-to-hand combat. But, back to the film, after Beatrix does it, Bill calmly makes his peace with her, takes five steps and dies
What makes this attack so fascinating is the time between being hit and the moment of death: I can have a nice conversation as long as I sit calmly, but I am all this time aware that the moment I start to walk, my heart will explode and I will drop dead.

Is the idea of those who speculate about how the coronavirus epidemic could lead to the fall of communist rule in China not similar? Like some kind of social “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” on the country’s communist regime, the authorities can sit, observe and go through the motions of quarantine, but any real change in the social order (like trusting the people) will result in their downfall.

My modest opinion is much more radical: the coronavirus epidemic is a kind of “Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique” attack on the global capitalist system – a signal that we cannot go on the way we were up until now, that a radical change is needed.

Sad fact, we need a catastrophe

Years ago, Fredric Jameson drew attention to the utopian potential in movies about a cosmic catastrophe (an asteroid threatening life on Earth, or a virus killing humanity). Such a global threat gives birth to global solidarity, our petty differences become insignificant, we all work together to find a solution – and here we are today, in real life. The point is not to sadistically enjoy widespread suffering insofar as it helps our cause – on the contrary, the point is to reflect upon a sad fact that we need a catastrophe to make us able to rethink the very basic features of the society in which we live.

The first vague model of such a global coordination is the World Health Organization, from which we are not getting the usual bureaucratic gibberish but precise warnings proclaimed without panic. Such organizations should be given more executive power.

Bernie Sanders is mocked by skeptics for his advocacy of universal healthcare in the US – is the lesson of the coronavirus epidemic not that even more is needed, that we should start to put together some kind of GLOBAL healthcare network?

A day after Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi appeared at a press conference in order to downplay the coronavirus spread and to assert that mass quarantines are not necessary, he made a short statement admitting that he has contracted the coronavirus and placed himself in isolation (already during his first TV appearance, he had shown signs of fever and weakness). Harirchi added: “This virus is democratic, and it doesn’t distinguish between poor and rich or between statesman and an ordinary citizen.”

In this, he was right – we are all in the same boat. It is difficult to miss the supreme irony of the fact that what brought us all together and pushed us into global solidarity expresses itself at the level of everyday life in strict commands to avoid close contacts with others, even to self-isolate.

And we are not dealing only with viral threats – other catastrophes are looming on the horizon or already taking place: droughts, heatwaves, massive storms, etc. In all these cases, the answer is not panic but hard and urgent work to establish some kind of efficient global coordination.

Will we only be safe in virtual reality?

The first illusion to dispel is the one formulated by US President Donald Trump during his recent visit to India, where he said that the epidemic would recede quickly and we just have to wait for the spike and then life will return to normal.

Against these all too easy hopes, the first thing to accept is that the threat is here to stay. Even if this wave recedes, it will reappear in new, maybe even more dangerous, forms.

For this reason, we can expect that viral epidemics will affect our most elementary interactions with other people and objects around us, including our own bodies – avoid touching things that may be (invisibly) dirty, don’t touch hooks, don’t sit on toilet seats or public benches, avoid embracing people or shaking their hands. We might even become more careful about spontaneous gestures: don’t touch your nose or rub your eyes.

So it’s not only the state and other agencies that will control us, we should also learn to control and discipline ourselves. Maybe only virtual reality will be considered safe, and moving freely in an open space will be restricted to the islands owned by the ultra-rich.

But even here, at the level of virtual reality and internet, we should remind ourselves that, in the last decades, the terms “virus” and “viral” were mostly used to designate digital viruses which were infecting our web-space and of which we were not aware, at least not until their destructive power (say, of destroying our data or our hard-drive) was unleashed. What we see now is a massive return to the original literal meaning of the term: viral infections work hand-in-hand in both dimensions, real and virtual.

Return of capitalist animism

Another weird phenomenon that we can observe is the triumphant return of capitalist animism, of treating social phenomena like markets or financial capital as living entities. If one reads our big media, the impression one gets is that what we should really worry about are not thousands who already died (and thousands more who will die) but the fact that “markets are getting nervous.” The coronavirus is increasingly disturbing the smooth running of the world market and, as we hear, growth may fall by two or three percent.

Does all this not clearly signal the urgent need for a reorganization of the global economy which will no longer be at the mercy of market mechanisms? We are not talking here about old-style communism, of course, just about some kind of global organization that can control and regulate the economy, as well as limit the sovereignty of nation-states when needed. Countries were able to do it against the backdrop of war in the past, and all of us are now effectively approaching a state of medical war.

Plus we should also not be afraid to note some potentially beneficial side effects of the epidemic. One of the symbols of the epidemic is passengers caught (quarantined) on large cruise ships – good riddance to the obscenity of such ships, I am tempted to say. (We only have to be careful that travel to lone islands or other exclusive resorts will not become again the privilege of the rich few, as it was decades ago with flying.) Car production is also seriously affected by the coronavirus – which is not too bad, as this may compel us to think about alternatives to our obsession with individual vehicles. The list goes on.

In a recent speech, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said: “There is no such thing as a liberal. A liberal is nothing more than a communist with a diploma.”

What if the opposite is true? If we designate as “liberals” all those who care for our freedoms, and as “communists” those who are aware that we can save these freedoms only with radical changes since global capitalism is approaching a crisis? Then we should say that, today, those who still recognize themselves as communists are liberals with a diploma – liberals who seriously studied why our liberal values are under threat and became aware that only radical change can save them.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Politics in the Post-Political Era

Nietzsche, "Will to Power":
493 (1885) Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live. The value for life is ultimately decisive.

534 (1887-1888) The criterion of truth resides in the enhancement of the feeling of power.
from Wikipedia:
Post-politics refers to the critique of the emergence, in the post-Cold War period, of a politics of consensus on a global scale: the dissolution of the Eastern Communist bloc following the collapse of the Berlin Wall instituted a promise for post-ideological consensus. The political development in post-communist countries went two different directions depending on the approach each of them take on dealing with the communist party members. Active decommunisation process took place in Eastern European states which later joined EU. While in Russia and majority of former USSR republics communists became one of many political parties on equal grounds.

Generated by a cohort of radical philosophers – namely Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek – and their concern with politics as the institution of radical, active equality, this critique claims that the post-ideological politics of consensus has occasioned the systematic foreclosure of the properly political moment: with the institution of a series of new “post-democratic" governmental techniques, internal politics proper is reduced to social administration. Meanwhile, with the rise of the postmodernist "politics of self" comes a concomitant new "politics of conduct", in which political values are replaced by moral ones (what Chantal Mouffe terms "politics in the register of morality").

---

Populism, as the residue of the properly political, is the ultimate symptom of the post-political condition. Firstly, the post-political consensus itself tends towards populist gestures as a substitute for the properly political. Secondly, popular frustration with the confines of consensual politics inevitably gives way to alternatives that, faced with the depoliticising strategies of the consensual order, often take a populist form.

One of the most characteristic features of populism is its invocation of a common, external threat or enemy. The homogenising, unifying effect of this invocation is what produces the mythical – but more importantly reactionary and invariably exclusionary – notion of "the people" that is so central to the populist gesture. Swyngedouw shows that in climate politics "the people" becomes a united "humanity" facing a common predicament, regardless of the differentiated responsibility for and capacity to respond to anthropogenic climate change. Following other scholars who have analysed the alarmist tone of climate discourse, Swyngedouw also underlines that the millenarian, apocalyptic imaginaries called forth by the latter create an external threat, while also giving way to an elite-led, almost crusade-like action (the latter being a further classic feature of populism). The environmental consensus therefore entails a populist dimension.

Meanwhile, as Žižek has shown, disaffection with the consensus tends to favour Far Right movements, whose populist tactics respond to the same need to substitute the properly political described above; and whose violent gestures mimic the properly political impetus towards antagonism. On the other hand, properly political claims that resist both consensual strategies of incorporation and what Žižek has called "the populist temptation" are made audible only as violent or fanatical outbursts. In the environmental arena, media coverage of "resource wars" is a prime example of disputes that may well have a properly political dimension (though may not, of course, necessarily be progressive or without populist dimensions, of course) being neutralised in this way.

The Dream Behind DiEM25

Slavoj Zizek, "The constitution is dead. Long live proper politics" (3 Jun 2005)
Like Amish teenagers, Europe's voters were not offered a truly free choice

Amish communities practise the institution of rumspringa. At 17 their children, until then subject to strict family discipline, are set free. They are allowed, solicited even, to go out and experience the ways of the modern world - they drive cars, listen to pop music, watch TV and get involved in drinking, drugs and wild sex. After a couple of years they are expected to decide: will they return to be full members of the Amish community or leave it forever and become ordinary American citizens?

But far from being permissive and allowing the youngsters a truly free choice, such a solution is biased in a most brutal way. It is a fake choice if ever there was one. When, after long years of discipline and fantasising about the illicit pleasures of the outside world, the adolescent Amish are thrown into it, of course they cannot help but indulge in extreme behaviour. They want to test it all - sex, drugs and drinking. And since they have no experience of regulating such a life they quickly run into trouble. There's a backlash that generates unbearable anxiety, so it is a safe bet that after a couple of years they will return to the seclusion of their community. No wonder that 90% of Amish children do exactly that.

This is a perfect example of the difficulties that always accompany the idea of a "free choice". While the Amish adolescents are formally given a free choice, the conditions they find themselves in while they are making that choice make the choice itself unfree. In order for them to have an effectively free choice they would have to be properly informed on all the options. But the only way to do this would be to extract them from their embeddedness in the Amish community.

So what has all this to do with the French no to the European constitution, whose aftershock waves are now spreading all around, immediately giving a boost to the Dutch, who rejected the constitution with an even higher percentage? Everything. The voters were treated exactly like the Amish youngsters: they were not given a clear symmetrical choice. The very terms of the choice privileged the yes lobby. The elite proposed to the people a choice that was effectively no choice at all. People were called to ratify the inevitable. Both the media and the political elite presented the choice as one between knowledge and ignorance, between expertise and ideology, between post-political administration and the old political passions of the left and the right.

The no was dismissed as a short-sighted reaction unaware of its own consequences. It was charged with being a murky reaction of fear of the emerging new global order, an instinct to protect the comfortable welfare state traditions, a gesture of refusal lacking any positive alternative programme. No wonder the only political parties whose official stance was no were those at the opposite extremes of the political spectrum. Furthermore, we are told, the no was really a no to many other things: to Anglo-Saxon neoliberalism, to the present government, to the influx of migrant workers, and so on.

However, even if there is an element of truth in all this, the very fact that the no in both countries was not sustained by a coherent alternative political vision is the strongest possible condemnation of the political and media elite. It is a monument to their inability to articulate the people's longings and dissatisfactions. Instead, in their reaction to the no results, they treated the people as retarded pupils who did not understand the lessons of the experts.

So although the choice was not a choice between two political options, nor was it a choice between the enlightened vision of a modern Europe, ready to embrace the new global order, and old, confused political passions. When commentators described the no as a message of befuddled fear, they were wrong. The real fear we are dealing with is the fear that the no itself provoked within the new European political elite. It was the fear that people would no longer be so easily convinced by their "post-political" vision.

And so for all others the no is a message and expression of hope. This is the hope that politics is still alive and possible, that the debate about what the new Europe shall and should be is still open. This is why we on the left must reject the sneering insinuations of the liberals that in our no we find ourselves with strange neo-fascist bedfellows. What the new populist right and the left share is just one thing: the awareness that politics proper is still alive.

There was a positive choice in the no: the choice of choice itself; the rejection of the blackmail by the new elite that offers us only the choice to confirm their expert knowledge or to display one's "irrational" immaturity. Our no is a positive decision to start a properly political debate about what kind of Europe we really want.

Late in his life, Freud asked the famous question " Was will das Weib? ", admitting his perplexity when faced with the enigma of female sexuality. Does the imbroglio with the European constitution not bear witness to the same puzzlement: what Europe do we want?

To put it bluntly, do we want to live in a world in which the only choice is between the American civilisation and the emerging Chinese authoritarian-capitalist one? If the answer is no then the only alternative is Europe. The third world cannot generate a strong enough resistance to the ideology of the American dream. In the present world constellation, it is only Europe that can do it. The true opposition today is not between the first world and the third world. Instead it is between the first and third world (ie the American global empire and its colonies), and the second world (ie Europe).

Apropos Freud, Theodor Adorno claimed that what we are seeing in the contemporary world with its "repressive desublimation" is no longer the old logic of repression of the id and its drives but a perverse pact between the superego (social authority) and the id (illicit aggressive drives) at the expense of the ego. Is not something structurally similar going on today at the political level: the weird pact between the postmodern global capitalism and the premodern societies at the expense of modernity proper? It is easy for the American multiculturalist global empire to integrate premodern local traditions. The foreign body that it cannot effectively assimilate is European modernity.

The message of the no to all of us who care for Europe is: no, anonymous experts whose merchandise is sold to us in a brightly coloured liberal-multiculturalist package will not prevent us from thinking. It is time for us, citizens of Europe, to become aware that we have to make a properly political decision about what we want. No enlightened administrator will do the job for us.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Does the Left Ever Reach the "Acceptance" Stage?

Slavoj Zizek, "What the coronavirus & France protests have in common (and is it time for ORGIES yet?)"
Epidemic outbreaks – just like social protests – don’t erupt and then disappear; they persist and lurk around, waiting to explode when it’s least expected. We should accept this, but there are two ways to do it.

People outside China thought that a quarantine would be enough to tackle the virus’s spread, and that they are more or less safe behind that ‘wall.’ But now that coronavirus cases have been reported in over 20 countries, a new approach is needed. How are we to deal with such traumatic threats?

Maybe we can learn something about our reactions to the coronavirus epidemics from psychiatrist and author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who, in On Death and Dying, proposed the famous schema of the five stages of how we react upon learning that we have, for example, a terminal illness: Denial (one simply refuses to accept the fact, as in “This can’t be happening, not to me.”); Anger (which explodes when we can no longer deny the fact, as in “How can this happen to me?”); Bargaining (the hope we can somehow postpone or diminish the fact, as in “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”); Depression (libidinal disinvestment, as in “I'm going to die, so why bother with anything?”); and finally Acceptance (“I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”).

Kübler-Ross later applied these stages to any form of catastrophic personal loss (joblessness, death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction) and also emphasized that they do not necessarily come in the same order, nor are all five stages experienced by all patients.

One can discern the same five stages whenever a society is confronted with some traumatic event. Let’s take the threat of ecological catastrophe.

First, we tend to deny it: ‘it’s just paranoia, all that really happens are the usual oscillations in weather patterns’. Then comes anger – at big corporations that pollute our environment and at the government which ignores the dangers. That is followed by bargaining: ‘if we recycle our waste, we can buy some time; plus, there are good sides to it also, we can now grow vegetables in Greenland, ships will be able to transport goods from China to the US much faster via the northern route, new fertile land is becoming available in northern Siberia due to the melting of permafrost.’ It is then followed by depression (‘it’s too late, we’re lost’), and, finally, acceptance – ‘we are dealing with a serious threat and we’ll have to change our entire way of life!’

The same holds for the growing threat of digital control over our lives. Again, first, we tend to deny it, and consider it ‘an exaggeration’, ‘more Leftist paranoia’, ‘no agency can control our daily activity.’ Then we explode in anger at big companies and secret state agencies who ‘know us better than we know ourselves’ and use this knowledge to control and manipulate us. It’s followed by bargaining (authorities have the right to search for terrorists, but not to infringe upon our privacy), depression (it’s too late, our privacy is lost, the age of personal freedoms is over). And, finally, comes acceptance: ‘digital control is a threat to our freedom, we should render the public aware of all its dimensions and engage ourselves to fight it!’

Even in the domain of politics, the same holds for those who are traumatized by Trump’s presidency: first, there was a denial (‘don’t worry, Trump is just posturing, nothing will really change if he takes power’), followed by anger (at the ‘dark forces’ that enabled him to take power, at the populists who support him and pose a threat to our moral substance), bargaining (‘all is not yet lost, maybe Trump can be contained, let’s just tolerate some of his excesses’), and depression (‘we are on the path to Fascism, democracy is lost in the US’), and then acceptance: ‘there is a new political regime in the US, the good old days of American democracy are over, let’s face the danger and calmly plan how can we overcome Trump’s populism.’

In medieval times, the population of an affected town reacted to the signs of plague in a similar way: first denial, then anger (at our sinful lives for which we are punished, or even at the cruel God who allowed it), then bargaining (it’s not so bad, let’s just avoid those who are ill), then depression (our life is over), then, interestingly, orgies (‘since our lives are over, let’s get all the pleasures still possible – drinking, sex…’). And, finally, there was acceptance: ‘here we are, let’s just behave as much as possible as if normal life goes on.’

And is this not also how we are dealing with the coronavirus epidemics that exploded at the end of 2019? First, there was a denial (nothing serious is going on, some irresponsible individuals are just spreading panic); then, anger (usually in a racist or anti-state form: the dirty Chinese are guilty, our state is not efficient…); next comes bargaining (OK, there are some victims, but it’s less serious than SARS, and we can limit the damage); if this doesn’t work, depression arises (let’s not kid ourselves, we are all doomed).

But how would our acceptance look here? It is a strange fact that these epidemics display a feature common with the latest round of social protests such as those in France or in Hong Kong: they don’t explode and then fizzle away, they stay here and just persist, bringing permanent fear and fragility to our lives.

What we should accept, what we should reconcile ourselves with, is that there is a sub-layer of life, the undead, stupidly repetitive, pre-sexual life of viruses, which always was here and which will always be with us as a dark shadow, posing a threat to our very survival, exploding when we least expect it.

And at an even more general level, viral epidemics remind us of the ultimate contingency and meaninglessness of our lives: no matter how magnificent spiritual edifices we, humanity, create, a stupid natural contingency like a virus or an asteroid can end it all. Not to mention the lesson of ecology which is that we, humanity, may also unknowingly contribute to this end.

But this acceptance can take two directions. It can mean just the re-normalization of illness: OK, people will be dying, but life will go on, maybe there will be even some good side effects. Or acceptance can (and should) propel us to mobilize ourselves without panic and illusions, to act in collective solidarity.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Embracing Universalism with "Wishful" Intellectual Superiority

… and demonstrating BOTH through the practice of Oikophobia

And, of course, the ideal form of ideology of this global capitalism is multiculturalism, the attitude which, from a kind of empty global position, treats each local culture the way the colonizer treats colonized people—as ‘natives’ whose mores are to be carefully studied and ‘respected’. That is to say, the relationship between traditional imperialist colonialism and global capitalist self-colonization is exactly the same as the relationship between Western cultural imperialism and multiculturalism: in the same way that global capitalism involves the paradox of colonization without the colonizing Nation-State metropole, multiculturalism involves patronizing Eurocentrist distance and/or respect for local cultures without roots in one’s own particular culture. In other words, multiculturalism is a disavowed, inverted, self-referential form of racism, a ‘racism with a distance’—it ‘respects’ the Other’s identity, conceiving the Other as a self-enclosed ‘authentic’ community towards which he, the multiculturalist, maintains a distance rendered possible by his privileged universal position. Multiculturalism is a racism which empties its own position of all positive content (the multiculturalist is not a direct racist, he doesn’t oppose to the Other the particular values of his own culture), but nonetheless retains this position as; the privileged empty point of universality from which one is able to appreciate (and depreciate) properly other particular cultures—the multiculturalist respect for the Other’s specificity is the very form of asserting one’s; own superiority.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Multiculturalism, or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism"

Diverse interests are created that view each other as greater enemies than they do foreign threats. Since the common civilizational enemy has been successfully repulsed, it can no longer serve as an effective target for and outlet of people’s sense of superiority, and human psychology generally requires an adversary for the purpose of self-identification, and so a new adversary is crafted: other people in the same civilization. Since this condition of leisure and empowerment, as well as a perception of external threats as non-existential, are the results of a society’s success, success is, ironically, a prerequisite for a society’s self-hatred. What Freud has called the “narcissism of small differences” (in Civilization and Its Discontents)—the urge to compete against others even through minor distinctions like a virtuous action or the newest gadget—becomes one motivation through which a particular interest expresses its superiority over others.
-Benedict Beckeld, "Oikophobia: Our Western Self-Hatred"

Tributes

Charles Willson Peale. Peale accompanied Custis to Mount Vernon on May 18, 1772 and stayed a fortnight to paint miniatures of Martha Washington and her children, as well as an oil of George Washington in his Virginia militia uniform, reminiscent of his participation in the French and Indian War.
WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY by GEORGE HOWLAND

Welcome, thou festal morn!
Never be passed in scorn
Thy rising sun,
Thou day forever bright
With Freedom's holy light,
That gave the world the sight
Of Washington.

Unshaken 'mid the storm,
Behold that noble form--
That peerless one--
With his protecting hand,
Like Freedom's angel stand
The guardian of our land,
Our Washington.

Then with each coming year,
Whenever shall appear
That natal sun,
Will we attest the worth,
Of one true man to earth,
And celebrate the birth
Of Washington.

Traced there in lines of light,
Where all pure rays unite,
Obscured by none;
Brightest on history's page,
Of any clime or age,
As chieftain, man, and sage,
Stands Washington.

Name at which tyrants pale,
And their proud legions quail,
Their boasting done;
While Freedom lifts her head,
No longer filled with dread,
Her sons to victory led
By Washington.

Now the true patriot see,
The foremost of the free,
The victory won.
In Freedom's presence bow,
While sweetly smiling now,
She wreaths the smiling brow
Of Washington.

Then with each coming year,
Whenever shall appear
That natal sun,
Shall we attest the worth
Of one true man to earth,
And celebrate the birth
Of Washington.

---
'At a meeting of the Society of St. Tammany, at their wigwam in this
city, on Monday evening last, after finishing the ordinary business of
the evening, it was unanimously resolved: That the 22d day of February
be, from this day and ever after, commemorated by this society as the
birthday of the Illustrious George Washington, President of the United
States of America. The society then proceeded to the commemoration of
the auspicious day which gave birth to the distinguished chief, and the
following toasts were drank in porter, the produce of the United States,
accompanied with universal acclamations of applause:

1. May the auspicious birthday of our great Grand Sachem, George
Washington, ever be commemorated by all the real sons of St.
Tammany.

2. The birthday of those chiefs who lighted the great Council Fire
in 1775.

3. The glorious Fourth of July, 1776, the birth of American
Independence.

4. The perpetual memory of those Sachems and warriors who have been
called by the Kitchi Manitou to the Wigwam above since the
Revolution.

5. The births of the Sachems and warriors who have presided at the
different council fires of the thirteen tribes since 1776.

6. Our Chief Sachem, who presides over the council fire of our
tribe.

7. The 12th of May, which is the birthday of our titular saint and
patron.

8. The birth of Columbus, our secondary patron.

9. The memory of the great Odagh 'Segte, first Grand Sachem of the
Oneida Nation, and all his successors.

10. The friends and patrons of virtue and freedom from Tammany to
Washington.

11. The birth of the present National Constitution, 17th of
September, 1787.

12. The Sachems and warriors who composed that council.

13. May the guardian genius of freedom pronounce at the birth of
all her sons--Where Liberty dwells, there is his country.

"'After mutual reciprocations of friendship on the joyous occasion, the
society adjourned with their usual order and harmony.'

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

More Imaginaries

Party Re-Alignments?

Slavoj Zizek, "US enters brutal ideological civil war as four-party system begins to take form"
Despite Trump’s impeachment victory, the US is entering into an ideological civil war, because the real conflict is not between the Democrats and the Republicans, but within each of those parties themselves.

Two weeks ago, while promoting his new film in Mexico City, Harrison Ford said that “America has lost its moral leadership and credibility.”

Really? When did the US exert moral leadership over the world? Under Reagan or Bush? They lost what they never had, ie, they lost the illusion (the “credibility” made in Harrison’s claim) that they’ve had it. With Trump, what was already true merely became visible.

Back in 1948, at the outset of the Cold War, this truth was formulated with brutal candor by US diplomat and historian George Kennan: “[The US has] 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period…is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality…we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation.”

In this we find an explanation of what Trump means by “America first!” in much clearer and more honest terms. So we should not be shocked when we read that “the Trump administration, which came into office pledging to end ‘endless wars,’ has now embraced weapons prohibited by more than 160 countries, and is readying them for future use. Cluster bombs and anti-personnel landmines, deadly explosives known to maim and kill civilians long after fighting has ended, have become integral to the Pentagon’s future war plans.”

Those who act surprised by such news are simply hypocrites: in our upside-down world, Trump is innocent (not impeached) while Assange is guilty (for disclosing state crimes).

So what IS going on now?

It’s true that Trump exemplifies the new figure of an openly obscene political master in disdain of the basic rules of decency and democratic openness.

The logic that underlies Trump’s actions was spelled out by Alan Dershowitz (who is, among other things, an advocate of legalized torture). The Harvard Law professor stated that if a politician thinks his re-election is in the national interest, any actions he takes towards that end cannot by definition be impeachable. “And if a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” Dershowitz argues.

The nature of power out of any serious democratic control is clearly spelled out here.

What was taking place in the ongoing debates about Trump’s impeachment was a case of the dissolution of the shared common ethical substance which makes argumentative polemical dialogue possible: the US is entering into an ideological civil war in which there is no shared ground to which both parties to the conflict can appeal – the more each side elaborates its position, the more it becomes clear that no dialogue, even a polemical one, is possible.

We shouldn’t be too fascinated by the theatrics of the impeachment process (Trump refusing Pelosi’s handshake, Pelosi tearing up a copy of his State of the Union address) because the true conflict is not between the Democrats and the Republicans but within each of the parties.

The US is now transforming itself from a two-party state into a four-party state: there are really four parties that fill in the political space - the establishment Republicans, establishment Democrats, alt-right populists and democratic socialists.

There are already offers of coalitions across party lines: Joe Biden hinted that he might nominate as his vice-president a moderate Republican, while Steve Bannon mentioned, a few times, his ideal of a coalition between Trump and Sanders.

The big difference is that, while Trump’s populism easily asserted its hegemony over the Republican establishment (a clear proof, if one was ever needed, that, in spite of all Bannon’s ranting against the “system,” Trump’s reference to ordinary workers is a lie), the split within the Democratic party is getting stronger and stronger – no wonder, since the struggle between the Democratic establishment and the Sanders wing is the only true political struggle going on.

To use a little bit of theoretical jargon, we are thus dealing with two antagonisms (“contradictions”), the one between Trump and the liberal establishment (this is what the impeachment was about), and the one between the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party and all the others.

Brutal battle ahead

The move to impeach Trump was a desperate attempt to regain the moral leadership and credibility of the US – a comic exercise in hypocrisy. This is why all the moral fervor of the Democratic establishment should not deceive us: Trump’s open obscenity just brought out what was always there. The Sanders camp sees this clearly: there is no way back, US political life has to be radically reinvented.

But is Sanders a true alternative or, as some “radical Leftists” claim, is he just a (rather moderate) social democrat who wants to save the system? The answer is that this dilemma is false: Democratic Socialists started a mass movement of radical re-awakening, and the fate of such movements is not predestined.

Only one thing is certain: the worst imaginable stance is the one of some Western “radical Leftists” who tend to write off the working class in developed countries as a “workers’ aristocracy” living off the exploitation of developing countries and caught in racist-chauvinist ideologies. In their view, the only radical change can come from “nomadic proletarians” (immigrants and the poor of the Third World) as a revolutionary agent (maybe linked to some impoverished middle-class intellectuals in developed countries) – but does this diagnosis hold?

True, today’s situation is global, but not in this simplistic Maoist sense of opposing bourgeois nations and proletarian nations. Immigrants are sub-proletarians, their position is very specific, they are not exploited in the Marxist sense and are as such not predestined to be the agents of radical change. Consequently, I consider this “radical” choice suicidal for the Left: Sanders is to be unconditionally supported.

The battle will be cruel, the campaign against Sanders will be much more brutal than the one against Corbyn in the UK. On the top of the usual card of anti-Semitism, there will be wide use of the race and gender cards – Sanders as on old white man… Just recall the brutality of Hillary Clinton's latest attack on him.

And all these cards will be played on grounds of a fear of Socialism. Critics of Sanders repeat again and again that Trump cannot be beaten from his (Sanders’) all-too-leftist platform, and the main thing is to get rid of Trump. To this we should just answer that the true message hidden in this argument is: if the choice is between Trump and Sanders, we prefer Trump…

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Inside the Moving Horse...



We want to plough through life
Walking through Troy's gates
Lying and cheating
And looking down on you with a laugh

So we get into this horse
Be it a gift to you
We ride up to your stove with
With poisonous drink

We will soon be everywhere
And the best horse in the stable

Come in, we are the poison in the wine
Our will hard as stone - enter the doors
Come on - we accept blows
With us the sun rises - Roll the city from the inside
Until Troy burns!

Never to be seen never to hear
If there is a lighter in the straw
Waiting there for stupid gods
Are only happy in hot flames

Drum up the cups are ready
Drink only out you will long
And if you are beautifully drunk
We're going to turn your neck around

We will soon be everywhere
And the best horse in the stable

Come in, we are the poison in the wine
Our will hard as stone - enter the doors
Come on - we accept blows
With us the sun rises - Roll the city from the inside
Until Troy burns!

Come in, we are the poison in the wine
Our will hard as stone - enter the doors
Come on - we accept blows
With us the sun rises - Roll the city from the inside
Until Troy burns!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Variation Upon a Finger Wagging

-Slavoj Žižek, "My Dream of Wuhan"
All those, who want to put all of China under quarantine, should be ashamed, says philosopher Slavoj Žižek. And longs for a world, where a dreadful event like the corona epidemic would have positive consequences.

So much was already written about the coronavirus epidemic - what can I add to it as a non-specialist observer with a very limited access to data? But perhaps, one should raise the question here: where do data end and where does ideology begin?

The first obvious enigma: there are much worse epidemics going on, so why such an obsession with this one when thousands die daily for other infectious diseases? No need to remember the1918-1920 influenza pandemic known as Spanish flu whose death toll is estimated to have been at least 50 million: now, influenza has infected 15 million Americans: at least 140.000 people have been hospitalized and more than 8.200 people killed this season alone.

Racist paranoia is obviously at work here – remember all the fantasies about the dirty old Chinese women in Wuhan skinning live snakes and slurping bat soup… At this point of time, a big Chinese city is probably one of the safest places in the world.

But there is a deeper paradox at work here: the more our world is connected, the more a local disaster can trigger a global fear and eventually a catastrophe. In the Spring of 2010, a cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Island – a small disturbance in the complex mechanism of the life on the Earth – put to a standstill the aerial traffic over most of Europe – a reminder of how, with all its tremendous activity of transforming nature, humankind remains just another living species on the planet Earth.

The very catastrophic socio-economic impact of such a minor outburst is due to our technological development (air travel): a century ago, such an eruption would have passed unnoticed. Technological development makes us more independent from nature and at the same time, at a different level, more dependent on nature’s whims. And the same holds for the spread of coronavirus: if it were happen before Deng Hsiao Ping’s reforms, we probably wouldn’t have even heard about it.

So how are we to fight the virus when it just multiplies as a weird invisible form of parasitic life, an undead (living dead) spectral entity whose precise mechanism remains basically unknown? It is this lack of knowledge which causes panic: what if the virus will mutate in an unpredictable way and trigger a true global catastrophe?

This is my private paranoia: does the reason of the panic displayed by authorities although the actual effects are till now relatively modest reside in the fact that they know (or suspect, at least) something about possible mutations that they don’t want to render public in order to avoid public confusion and unrest?

One thing is sure: isolation, new walls and further quarantines, will not do the job. Full unconditional solidarity and a globally coordinated response are needed, a new form of what was once called Communism. If we will not orient our efforts in this direction, then Wuhan today is maybe the image of a city of our future.

Many dystopias already imagined a similar future: we mostly stay at home, work on our computers, communicate through videoconferences, do fitness on a machine in the corner of our home office, occasionally masturbate in front of a screen displaying hardcore sex and get food by delivery…

There is, however, an unexpected emancipatory prospect hidden in this nightmarish vision. I must admit that during these last days I caught myself dreaming on visiting Wuhan. Do half-abandoned streets in a megalopolis – the usually bustling urban centers looking like ghost towns, stores with open doors and no customers, just a lone walker or car here and there, individuals with white masks – not provide the image of non-consumerist world at ease with itself?

The melancholic beauty of the empty avenues of Shanghai or Hong Kong remind me of some old post-apocalyptic movies like On the Beach, which show a city with most of the population wiped out - no big spectacular destruction, just the world out there no longer ready-at-hand, awaiting us, looking at us and for us… Even the white masks worn by the few people walking around provide a welcome anonymity and liberation from social pressure for recognition.

Many of us remember the famous conclusion of the students’ situationist manifest from 1966: «Vivre sans temps mort, jouir sans entraves» - to live without dead time, to enjoy without obstacles. If Freud and Lacan taught us anything, it is that this formula – the supreme case of a superego injunction since, as Lacan aptly demonstrated, superego is at its most basic a positive injunction to enjoy, not a negative act of prohibiting something - is a recipe for disaster: the urge to fill in every moment of the time allotted to us with intense engagement unavoidably ends up in a suffocating monotony.

Dead time – moments of withdrawal, of what old mystics called Gelassenheit, releasement – are crucial for the revitalization of our life experience. And, perhaps, one can hope that one of the unintended consequences of the coronavirus quarantines in Chinese cities will be that some people at least will use their dead time to be released from hectic activity and think about the (non)sense of their predicament.

I am fully aware of the danger I am courting in making public these thoughts of mine – am I not engaging in a new version of attributing to the suffering victims some deeper authentic insight from my safe external position and thus cynically legitimizing their suffering? When a masked citizen of Wuhan walks around searching for medicine or food, there are definitely no anti-consumerist thoughts on his or her mind, just panic, anger and fear. My plea is just that even horrible events can have unpredictable positive consequences.

Carlo Ginzburg proposed the notion that being ashamed of one’s country, not love of it, may be the true mark of belonging to it. Maybe, some Israelis will gather the courage to feel shame apropos Netanyahu and Trump politics done on their behalf – not, of course, in the sense of shame of being Jewish but, on the contrary, of feeling shame for what the Israeli politics in the West Bank is doing to the most precious legacy of Judaism itself. Maybe, some British should gather the courage to fell shame about the ideological dream that brought them Brexit.

But for the people of Wuhan, it’s not the time to feel ashamed and stigmatized but the time to gather the courage and patiently persist in their struggle. The only ones truly ashamed in China are those who publicly downplayed the epidemics while over-protecting themselves, acting like those Soviet functionaries around Chernobyl who publicly claimed there is no danger while immediately evacuating their own families, or those top managers who publicly deny global warming but are already buying houses in New Zealand or building survival bunkers in Rocky Mountains.

Maybe, the public outrage against such double behaviour (which is already compelling the authorities to promise transparency) will give birth to another unintended positive political development in China.

But those who should be truly ashamed are all of us around the world thinking just about how to quarantine the Chinese.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Public Health Concerns - The New Racism

– Slavoj Zizek, "Clear racist element to hysteria over new coronavirus"
Some of us, including myself, would secretly love to be in China’s Wuhan right now, experiencing a real-life, post-apocalyptic movie set. The city’s empty streets provide the image of a non-consumerist world at ease with itself.

Coronavirus is all over the news, and I don’t pretend to be a medical specialist, but there is a question I’d like to raise: Where do facts end and where does ideology begin?

The first obvious enigma: There are far worse epidemics taking place, so why is there such an obsession with this one when thousands die daily from other infectious diseases?

Of course, an extreme case was the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, known as Spanish flu, when the death toll is estimated to have been at least 50 million. Around this time, influenza has infected 15 million Americans: at least 140,000 people have been hospitalized and more than 8,200 people killed this season alone.

It seems racist paranoia is obviously at work here – remember all the fantasies about the Chinese women in Wuhan skinning live snakes and slurping bat soup. Whereas, in reality, a big Chinese city is probably one of the safest places in the world.

But there is a deeper paradox at work: The more our world is connected, the more a local disaster can trigger global fear and eventually a catastrophe.

In the spring of 2010, a cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Iceland brought to a standstill air traffic over most of Europe – a reminder of how, regardless of all its ability to transform nature, humankind remains just another living species on the planet Earth.

The catastrophic socio-economic impact of such a minor event is due to our technological development (air travel). A century ago, such an eruption would have passed unnoticed.

Technological development makes us more independent from nature and at the same time, at a different level, more dependent on nature’s whims. And the same holds for the spread of coronavirus – if it happened before Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, we probably wouldn’t have even heard about it.

Taking up cudgels

So how are we to fight the virus when it just multiplies as a weird invisible form of parasitic life and its precise mechanism remains basically unknown? It is this lack of knowledge which causes panic. What if the virus mutates in an unpredictable way and triggers a true global catastrophe?

This is my private paranoia: Is the reason why the authorities are displaying panic because they know (or suspect, at least) something about possible mutations that they don’t want to render public in order to avoid public confusion and unrest? Because the actual effects, up to now, have been now relatively modest. One thing is sure: Isolation, and further quarantines, will not do the job.

Full unconditional solidarity and a globally coordinated response is needed, a new form of what was once called communism. If we don’t orient our efforts in this direction, then Wuhan today is maybe the image of the city of our future.

Many dystopias already imagined a similar fate. We mostly stay at home, work on our computers, communicate through videoconferences, work out on a machine in the corner of our home office, occasionally masturbate in front of a screen displaying hardcore sex, and get food by delivery.

Holiday in Wuhan

There is, however, an unexpected emancipatory prospect hidden in this nightmarish vision. I must admit that during the last few days, I have found myself dreaming of visiting Wuhan.

Do half-abandoned streets in a megalopolis – the usually bustling urban centers looking like a ghost town, stores with open doors and no customers, just a lone walker or car here and there, individuals with white masks – not provide the image of a non-consumerist world at ease with itself?

The melancholic beauty of the empty avenues of Shanghai or Hong Kong remind me of some old post-apocalyptic movies like ‘On the Beach,’ which show a city with most of the population wiped out – no big spectacular destruction, just the world out there no longer ready-at-hand, awaiting us, looking at us and for us.

Even the white masks worn by the few people walking around provide a welcome anonymity and liberation from social pressure for recognition.

Many of us remember the famous conclusion of the students’ situationist manifesto from 1966: “Vivre sans temps mort, jouir sans entraves” – to live without dead time, to enjoy without obstacles.

If Freud and Lacan taught us anything, it is that this formula – the supreme case of a superego injunction since, as Lacan aptly demonstrated, superego is at its most basic a positive injunction to enjoy, not a negative act of prohibiting something – is a recipe for disaster. The urge to fill in every moment of the time allotted to us with intense engagement unavoidably ends up in a suffocating monotony.

Dead time – moments of withdrawal, of what old mystics called Gelassenheit, releasement – are crucial for the revitalization of our life experience. And, perhaps, one can hope that an unintended consequence of the coronavirus quarantines in Chinese cities will be that some people at least will use their dead time to be released from hectic activity and think about the (non)sense of their predicament.

I am fully aware of the danger I am courting in making public these thoughts of mine – am I not engaging in a new version of attributing to the suffering of victims some deeper authentic insight from my safe external position and thus cynically legitimizing their suffering?

Racist undertones

When a masked citizen of Wuhan walks around searching for medicine or food, there are definitely no anti-consumerist thoughts on his or her mind – just panic, anger and fear. My plea is just that even horrible events can have unpredictable positive consequences.

Carlo Ginzburg proposed the notion that being ashamed of one’s country, not love of it, may be the true mark of belonging to it.

Maybe some Israelis will gather the courage to feel shame apropos Netanyahu and Trump politics done on their behalf – not, of course, in the sense of shame of being Jewish. On the contrary, feeling shame for what actions in the West Bank are doing to the most precious legacy of Judaism itself.

Perhaps some Brits should also be honest enough to feel shame about the ideological dream that brought them Brexit. But for the people of Wuhan, it’s not the time to feel ashamed and stigmatized but the time to gather courage and patiently persist in their struggle.

If there were people in China who attempted to downplay epidemics, they should be ashamed just as those Soviet functionaries around Chernobyl who publicly claimed there was no danger while immediately evacuating their own families should. Or as those top managers who publicly deny global warming but are already buying houses in New Zealand or building survival bunkers in the Rocky Mountains should.

Maybe the public outrage against such alleged double behavior (which is already compelling the authorities to promise transparency) will give birth to another unintended positive political development in China.

But those who should be truly ashamed are all of us around the world thinking just about how to quarantine the Chinese.

Q-Where do facts end and where does ideology begin?

A- How about when you equate public health measures to racism?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Hooked on Feelings

"Voting in a democracy makes you feel powerful, much as playing the lottery makes you feel rich."
- Mencius Moldbug