.

And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Commonalities


Slavoj Žižek, "What the "Woke" Left and the Alt-Right Share"
The Canadian psychologist and alt-right media fixture Jordan Peterson recently stumbled onto an important insight. In a podcast episode titled "Russia vs. Ukraine or Civil War in the West?," he recognised a link between the war in Europe and the conflict between the liberal mainstream and the new populist right in North America and Europe.

Although Peterson initially condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin's war of aggression, his stance gradually morphs into a kind of metaphysical defence of Russia. Referencing Dostoevsky's Diaries, he suggests that Western European hedonist individualism is far inferior to Russian collective spirituality, before duly endorsing the Kremlin's designation of contemporary Western liberal civilisation as "degenerate." He describes postmodernism as a transformation of Marxism that seeks to destroy the foundations of Christian civilisation. Viewed in this light, the war in Ukraine is a contest between traditional Christian values and a new form of communist degeneracy.

This language will be familiar to anyone familiar with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's regime, or with the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. As CNN's John Blake put it, that day "marked the first time many Americans realised the US is facing a burgeoning White Christian nationalist movement," which "uses Christian language to cloak sexism and hostility to Black people and non-White immigrants in its quest to create a White Christian America." This worldview has now "infiltrated the religious mainstream so thoroughly that virtually any conservative Christian pastor who tries to challenge its ideology risks their career."

The fact that Peterson has assumed a pro-Russian, anti-communist position is indicative of a broader trend. In the United States, many Republican Party lawmakers have refused to support Ukraine. JD Vance, a Donald Trump-backed Republican Senate candidate from Ohio, finds it "insulting and strategically stupid to devote billions of resources to Ukraine while ignoring the problems in our own country." And Matt Gaetz, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Florida, is committed to ending US support for Ukraine if his party wins control of the chamber this November.

But does accepting Peterson's premise that Russia's war and the alt-right in the US are platoons of the same global movement mean that leftists should simply take the opposite side? Here, the situation gets more complicated. Although Peterson claims to oppose communism, he is attacking a major consequence of global capitalism. As Marx and Engels wrote more than 150 years ago in the first chapter of The Communist Manifesto:

"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. …All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. 
                   
This observation is studiously ignored by leftist cultural theorists who still focus their critique on patriarchal ideology and practice. Yet surely the critique of patriarchy has reached its apotheosis at precisely the historical moment when patriarchy has lost its hegemonic role – that is, when market individualism has swept it away. After all, what becomes of patriarchal family values when a child can sue her parents for neglect and abuse (implying that parenthood is just another temporary and dissolvable contract between utility-maximising individuals)?

Of course, such "leftists" are sheep in wolves' clothing, telling themselves that they are radical revolutionaries as they defend the reigning establishment. Today, the melting away of pre-modern social relations and forms has already gone much further than Marx could have imagined. All facets of human identity are now becoming a matter of choice; nature is becoming more and more an object of technological manipulation.

The "civil war" that Peterson sees in the developed West is thus a chimera, a conflict between two versions of the same global capitalist system: unrestrained liberal individualism versus neo-fascist conservativism, which seeks to unite capitalist dynamism with traditional values and hierarchies.

There is a double paradox here. Western political correctness ("wokeness") has displaced class struggle, producing a liberal elite that claims to protect threatened racial and sexual minorities in order to divert attention from its members' own economic and political power. At the same time, this lie allows alt-right populists to present themselves as defenders of "real" people against corporate and "deep state" elites, even though they, too, occupy positions at the commanding heights of economic and political power.

Ultimately, both sides are fighting over the spoils of a system in which they are wholly complicit. Neither side really stands up for the exploited or has any interest in working-class solidarity. The implication is not that "left" and "right" are outdated notions – as one often hears – but rather that culture wars have displaced class struggle as the engine of politics.

Where does that leave Europe? The Guardian's Simon Tisdall paints a bleak but accurate picture:

"Putin's aim is the immiseration of Europe. By weaponising energy, food, refugees and information, Russia's leader spreads the economic and political pain, creating wartime conditions for all. A long, cold, calamity-filled European winter of power shortages and turmoil looms. …Freezing pensioners, hungry children, empty supermarket shelves, unaffordable cost of living increases, devalued wages, strikes and street protests point to Sri Lanka-style meltdowns. An exaggeration? Not really."

To prevent a total collapse into disorder, the state apparatus, in close coordination with other states and relying on local mobilisations of people, will have to regulate the distribution of energy and food, perhaps resorting to administration by the armed forces. Europe thus has a unique chance to leave behind its charmed life of isolated welfare, a bubble in which gas and electricity prices were the biggest worries. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently told Vogue, "Just try to imagine what I'm talking about happening to your home, to your country. Would you still be thinking about gas prices or electricity prices?"

He's right. Europe is under attack, and it needs to mobilise, not just militarily but socially and economically as well. We should use the crisis to change our way of life, adopting values that will spare us from an ecological catastrophe in the coming decades. This may be our only chance.

The True Man Show

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Guy Debord - Critique of Separation

Guy Debord Quotes (1931-1994)
The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

The more powerful the class, the more it claims not to exist.

In our society now, we prefer to see ourselves living than living.

The spectacle is nothing more than the common language of this separation. What binds the spectators together is no more than an irreversible relation at the very center which maintains their isolation. The spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate.

Just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial culture has moved that focus from having to appearing.

With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning.

When art becomes independent and paints its world in dazzling colours, a moment of life has grown old. Such a moment cannot be rejuvenated by dazzling colours, it can only be evoked in memory. The greatness of art only emerges at the dusk of life.

Behind the mask of total choice, different forms of the same alienation confront each other.

Conversely, real life is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle, and ends up absorbing it and aligning itself with it.

Work is only justified by leisure time. To admit the emptiness of leisure time is to admit the impossibility of life.

Spectacle is the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity.

The advertisements during intermission are the truest reflection of an intermission from life.

Here, in order to remain human, men must remain the same.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Guilty!


Slavoj Žižek, "The Great Other: the guilty, the assurance of meaning, the threat to arbitrariness, the zawahiri to be saved" (Google translated from Turkish)
We don't just run away from guilt, we can run away from guilt, we can take refuge in guilt. To grasp this paradox, let us look at the relationship of subjective guilt to the inconsistency of the great Other (symbolic order), that is, to the fact that the great Other is "all-already dead."

This is how we should interpret Freud's dream of a "father who doesn't know he's dead": the father figure resists and remains consistent, until you tell him the truth. This is where the typical obsessional compulsion comes from: I must at all costs prevent the Other from learning (that he is dead, that he is helpless); I'd better die than know that terrible truth...

In sum, the subject assumes the crime himself: as long as the subject takes the blame and sacrifices himself, he frees the Other from destructive knowledge: the Other will remain ignorant of his own inconsistency, impotence, and absence. Who does not pass through this circle with the people with whom he has a relationship of transmission: Instead of the stupidity, helplessness, etc. of the other (the father, the beloved woman), I better take the blame immediately; this is what readily distinguishes lovers, the loving man is ready to be the scapegoat [1].

What more closely determines the relation of this logic of guilt to the inconsistency of the greater Other is the contradictory nature of the concept of the greater Other: the perpetrator of the Great Other takes place in two discrete modes in ideological discourse.

The "Great Other" first appears in the guise of a hidden perpetrator who "pulls the strings", that is, manages the spectacle on stage with the plots it turns backstage: Divine Providence, Hegelian "cunning of reason" (or rather its popular version) in Christian ideology, "the invisible hand of the market" in commodity economy, "objective logic of history" in Marxism-Leninism, "Jewish conspiracy" in the Nazis, etc.

In sum, the distance between what we want to achieve and the results of our activity, the excess that the subject imposes on the subject because the results of his actions do not match his original intention, is embodied in another agent, which is a higher subject (God, Reason, History, Jew). This reference to the Great Other certainly contains a deep-rooted ambivalence: it can also give a sense of security that soothes and strengthens man (the pious trusting in the will of God; The Stalinist believed that it served the historical imperative), but on the contrary, it could also be a paranoid perpetrator (just as Nazi ideologues identified the same hidden Jewish hand behind the economic crisis, national humiliation, moral degradation, and everything else).

The psychoanalyst figure combines these two contradictory aspects under the "supposedly known subject" (Lacan): in the psychoanalytic deva, the presence of the analyst is left hostage, as if it were a guarantee that all the inconsistently stringed "free associations" will make sense in the future. The presence of the analyst also embodies a threat to the arbitrariness of the analyst, it is felt that the analyst can plunder his arbitrariness by eroding his signs/symptoms; When the analytical panacea approaches its final stage, it often leads to a paranoid fear in the analyst, as if the analyst had laid eyes on the analysis's most secret treasure, as if he had set his eyes on the secret of the core of arbitrariness.

These two sides, which make you feel safe and threaten, are not, as you will immediately perceive, symmetrical tendencies: the assurance that the assumed subject provides to the analyst is based on meaning, and the threat is directed at his arbitrariness. In fact, in the anti-Semitic Jewish figure, these two sides are found together, it is both the guarantee of meaning – if we accept the thesis of the Jewish conspiracy, events suddenly become "clear" and we can identify the unique pattern behind the appearance of economic and moral turmoil – and it is an enemy that deprives us of the arbitrariness to which we are entitled.

The most important point that should not be overlooked is that the ideological "great Other" has assumed another function opposite to the hidden perpetrator pulling the strings: the activity of pure images, though it consists of images, is essential, that is, it must be saved at all costs. In "real socialism", which takes the logic of the necessity of these images to extremes, the sole purpose of the whole system was to maintain the image that "Our people, united under the support of the Party, are building Socialism with enthusiasm"; There was no one who "really believed" in the constantly renewed and repeated ritualistic demonstrations, and everyone knew this, but the Party bureaucrats were still terribly afraid of the possibility of the disintegration of the image of faith. According to their perception, such a disintegration would be a total disaster, and the entire social order would melt away.

The question here is simple: If there was no one who "really believed" and everyone knew this, then to which perpetrator was the evil eye addressed by the staged demonstration of faith? It is at this point that we encounter the purest form of the "great Other" function. The everyday reality of life can be awful and boring, but as long as we hide all this from the eyes of the "great Other," things are still on track.

The show "our happy and enthusiastic people, our people" should be staged once again every time for this evil eye. If the first meaning of the "great Other" is the function of "the subject who is supposed to know", then here on the contrary it assumes the function of "subject presumed not to know", it is necessary to hide from that perpetrator the arrogance of everyday reality [2]. In summary, if we recall once again Freud's dream of a "father who does not know that he is dead", the only thing that needs to be hidden from the great Other (embodied in the eyes of leadership) is that he is dead.

Zizek Notes: 

[1] We must add to the standard psychoanalytic interpretation that explains the son's guilt before the father through the return of the repressed desire for fatherly murder in the guise of guilt: one of the most traumatic moments for the son is when his father is forced to admit that he is "dead" (an incapable person who covers his own helplessness with a mask of authority); then the son assumes guilt so that the father, who represents the Law, can keep his dream pure. In other words, the desire for fatherly murder is actually a bait aimed at concealing the weakness of the father.

[2] One of the forms taken by the "supposedly unfamiliar subject" in ideology is the myth of the "noble savage" that lives in a world undisturbed by our rotten civilization. In this context, the enlightened West respects the typical obsessional economy: the "noble savage" must remain ignorant at all costs, it is imperative that we prevent his life from being undermined by accessing our degenerate knowledge. Aldous Huxley Jesting Pilate touched on this ambiguity in his book Jesting Pilate: The English, who greatly admired the wisdom of the Indians who resisted the pressure of our way of life and preserved their own ancient traditions, were ready to confess that unfathomable indigenous spiritual depth beyond the reach of vulgar materialists and utilitarians like us, but an unbearable unease in the face of a Indian who was more commanded of our knowledge and technology than we were. and he told me that they were resisting... In sum, everyone is ready to admit the "deep-rooted otherness" of the Indian; What really creates panic is that he looks too much like us, the moment when he "looks more like us than we do."
Enjoy Your Symptom (refurbished edition)

Turkish: Işık Barış Fidaner
Fidaner Notes: 
Another great burden The other
magic is the other:
1) you will grow!
2) You will be fascinated!

The Cultural 'Trans' Obsession

Seeking Identity through "Images/Appearance" (last part of video, above)

If la Ciccolina can now be elected to the Italian parliament, this is precisely because the transsexual and the trans-political have combined with the same ironic indifference. This performance, unthinkable just a few short years ago, testifies to the fact that it is not just sexual culture, but the whole of political culture that has now come beneath the banner of transvestitism.
 
This strategy for exercising the body by means of the signs of sex, for conjuring away desire through the overkill of its staging, is a good deal more efficient than good old repression founded on taboo. But where this new system really differs from the old is that one cannot see at all who stands to gain from it, for everyone suffers from it equally.

The rule of transvestitism has become the very basis of our behavior even in our search for identity and difference. We no longer have time to search for an identity for ourselves in the archives in a memory, in a project, or a future. Instead we are supposed to have an instant memory to which we can plug in directly for immediate access to a kind of public relations identity. What is sought today is not so much health, which is an organic equilibrium, as an ephemeral hygienic and promotional radiance from the body, much more a performance than an ideal state.

In terms of fashion and appearances, what we seek is less beauty or attractiveness than the right "look." Everyone seeks their look. Since it is no longer possible to base any claim on one's own existence, there is nothing for it but to perform an appearing act, without concerning oneself with being, or even with being seen. So it is not, "I exist. I am here." But rather, "I am visible. I am an image. Look, look." This is not even narcissism, merely an extroversion without depth. A sort of self-promoting ingenuousness, whereby everyone becomes the manager of their own appearance.

"The look" is a sort of minimal low definition image, like a video image, or what Mcluhan would call a tactile image. An image which draws neither attention, nor admiration, as fashion still does, but is no more than a special effect with no particular significance. "The look" is no longer a function of fashion, it is a form of fashion that has been overtaken. It no longer even appeals to a logic of distinction. It is no longer founded on an interplay of differences. It plays at difference, without believing in it. It is, in fact, indifference. Being oneself has become a transient performance with no sequel. A disabused mannerism in a world without manners.

The triumph of the transsexual and of transvestitism casts a strange light retrospectively upon the sexual liberation espoused by an earlier generation. It now appears that this liberation, which according to its own discourse, meant the bursting forth of the body's full erotic force, a process especially favorable to the principles of femininity and of sexual pleasure, may actually have been no more than an intermediate phase on the way to the confusion of categories that we have been discussing. The sexual revolution may thus turn out to have been just a stage in the genesis of transsexuality.

What is it issue here fundamentally, is the problematic fate of all revolutions. The cybernetic revolution, in view of the equivalence of brain and computer, places humanity before the crucial question, "Am I a man, or a machine?" The genetic revolution, that is taking place at the moment, raises the question, "Am I a man, or just a potential clone?" The sexual revolution, by liberating all the potentialities of desire, raises another fundamental question, "Am I a man, or a woman?"

If it has done nothing else, psychoanalysis has certainly added its weight to this principle of sexual uncertainty. As for the political and social revolution, the prototype for all others, it will turn out to have led man by an implacable logic, having offered him his own freedom, his own free will, to ask himself where his own will lies, what he wants in his heart of hearts, and what he's entitled to expect from himself. To these questions there are no answers. Such as the paradoxical outcome of every revolution.

Revolution opens the door to indeterminacy, anxiety, and confusion. Once the orgy was over, liberation was seen to have left everyone looking for their generic and sexual identity. And with fewer and fewer answers available in view of the traffic, and signs, and the multiplicity of pleasures on offer.

That is how we became transsexuals just as we became trans-politicals. In other words, politically indifferent and undifferentiated beings, androgynous and hermaphroditic. For by this time we had embraced, digested, and rejected the most contradictory ideologies, and were left wearing only their masks. We had become in our own heads and perhaps unbeknownst to ourselves, transvestites of the political realm.

-Jean Baudrillard, "Transsexuality" (excerpt)

Palash Ghosh, "A Star Is Porn: Whatever Became Of Italy’s Cicciolina?
This week's election in Italy has featured a carnival atmosphere – including the rise of a comic named Beppe Grillo, the possible return of the clownish Silvio Berlusconi and the potential for a political stalemate that could be disastrous for the country’s economic recovery.

However, one must wonder … whatever happened to one of the most compelling, bizarre and entertaining Italian politicians of recent years … the former porno actress known as La Cicciolina?

As it turns out, the now 61-year-old Hungarian-born Anna Ilona Staller – who catapulted to dubious fame in the 1980s when she was elected to the Italian Parliament (while still appearing in hard-core pornographic films) -- is alive and well.

In fact, according to reports, just last year, she and her partner, a criminal defense attorney named Luca di Carlo, formed a political organization called the Democrazia, Natura e Amore Partito (Democracy, Nature and Love Party), or DNA. Among other things, DNA seeks to legalize gay marriage, establish a guaranteed minimum wage for youths, guarantee a fair judicial system, take power away from entrenched interests and, oh yes, reopen the brothels.

According to results from Italy’s Interior Ministry, DNA did not appear to have gained any votes in the current election.

During her heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cicciolina was an international sensation, guaranteeing screaming headlines almost every step of the way.

‘Dying Light 2’: How To Unlock The Grappling Hook

Her wildly improbable tale included such unforgettable incidents as offering to have sex with Saddam Hussein in exchange for a cessation of military hostilities and peace in Iraq and Kuwait (she later made the same offer to Osama bin Laden more than a decade later, but alas, both entreaties were apparently rejected by those gentlemen). She was also notorious for delivering speeches partially nude, not to mention her vast catalogue of soft- and hard-core celluloid endeavors.

During her term in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, she first represented the Partito Radicale (Radical Party) and then Partito dell'Amore (Love Party) for the constituency of Lazio, outside of Rome.

The Radicals, which Cicciolinia joined in 1985 after flirting with the original Green party of Italy, espoused some serious causes, including opposition to nuclear energy and NATO and the support of human rights.

Under the Radicals, she was elected to parliament on the strength of some 20,000 votes. She failed to be re-elected in 1991.

The Love Party, which Cicciolina joined in either 1991 or 1992, had the dubious distinction of having not one, but two, porno starlets, as its founders – Cicciolina and Moanna Pozzi. The party, which was actually run by Ricardo Schicchi, an Italian pornographer and Cicciolina’s manager, advocated for the legalization of brothels and improved sex education in the school system.

In 1992, Pozzi gained about 22,000 votes for a parliamentary seat, but lost. The following year she ran for mayor of Rome and again failed.

After the turn of the century, Cicciolina continued in vain to seek political power, even including an attempt in her native Hungary, but never got anywhere in her efforts.

Her 15 minutes of fame appeared to have expired – until late 2011 when it was revealed that, as a former parliamentarian, the one-time X-rated starlet was qualified to receive an annual pension of some 39,000 euros (about $51,000 in 2011 terms), causing some outrage among the public.

In typical bravado style, she declared, "I earned it and I'm proud of it."

Amidst all the chaos of her public life, Cicciolina also found time to record a number of CDs and marry the American artist Jeff Koons – with whom she had a child named Ludwig Maximillian. Although Koons won custody of the boy after their divorce, Ludwig remains in Italy with his mother.

Italian media reported that Cicciolina recently appeared on a TV show called “Sunday Live” with her son, who is now 20 years old. They discussed the bitter custody battle with Koons.

“Social workers did not allow me to speak to the court in which I wanted to say that I wanted to stay with my mother," the boy told host Barbara D’Urso.

"I have always been proud of my mother."

And, in keeping with the endless soap opera of their lives, Ludwig also denied charges that he was a drug dealer.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

What is the Nature of Science? Popper vs. Kuhn

The Global Warming Debate... Is it Popperian or Kuhnian?  Duck or Rabbit?
The Myth of "Falsifiability"  I wonder how many Okhamian terms are there in a Global Climate Model?
...I might have to go with Kuhn on this one.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Communist Desire


Slavoj Zizek, "The Communist Desire"
In her stupendous Yesterday’s Tomorrow,[1] Bini Adamczak provides nothing less than the definitive account of what one cannot but call the ineradicable, absolutely authentic, Communist desire, the Idea of a society which fully overcomes domination:
“Unlike the slaves, who only wished to be as free as their masters, unlike the peasants, who wanted to give the lords a tenth of their crop instead of a fifth, unlike the bourgeoisie, who only wanted political freedom, not economic freedom, what the workers demanded was a classless society. What the Communists promised was the abrogation of all domination. And as long as they are remembered, their promise remains.” (80)
This desire is “eternal” in the simple sense that it is a shadow that accompanies all hitherto history which is, as Marx and Engels wrote, the history of class struggle. What makes Adamczak’s book unique is that she detects this desire through a very close analysis of the failures of the (European) Communist movement in the twentieth century, tracing them backwards from Hitler-Stalin pact to the brutal suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion. The details she describes make it clear that, say, the Hitler-Stalin pact cannot be accounted for just in the terms of brutal realpolitik (Stalin needed time to prepare for the war that loomed on the horizon). Weird excesses disturb this image, like the fact that in 1940 guards in gulags were forbidden to shout at prisoners “Fascists!¨” not to insult the Nazis:
“What remains incomprehensible, because irreducible to any calculation of power politics, is Beria’s order forbidding the guard stuff in the gulags from disparaging political prisoners – antifascists in the majority, frequently convicted of ‘Trotskyte-fascist deviations’ – with the epithet fascist”(34).
Adamczak’s focus is double, as the subtitle of her book makes it clear: “On the Loneliness of Communist Specters and the Reconstruction of the Future.” The absolute loneliness is that of the Communists who were purged but continued to believe in the Communist Idea embodied in the Party that liquidated them, i.e., to put it in Lacan’s terms, the Party remained for them the only big Other. The deadlock they faced is that the way out for them was not to insist on the purity of the Communist dream against its betrayal by the Party: this dream of the future itself had to be “reconstructed.” Most of them (just recall Arthur Koestler and Ignazio Silone) failed in this task, contributed to the liberal (or even conservative) critique of Communism, and produced writings in the style of “God that failed,” rejoining the anti-Communist Cold War warriors. As Adamczak notes, the absence of the Communist desire explains why, when European Communism disintegrated around 1990,
“the jubilant cries of the Cold War victors were so unconvincing: they lacked all joy. Instead of relief at averting looming danger or shared joy at the newfound fortune of the former oppressed, it expressed something resembling embittered malevolence: the schadenfreude those who stayed at home feel for their siblings drowned at sea.”(79)
Adamczak turns around here the well-known anti-Communist motto that those who do not want to talk about Stalinism should also keep quiet about Communism: “But what can be said about Stalinism by those who refuse to hear about Communism? Those who wish to write the history of this past without writing about the history of that future that was buried in it?”(80) Only Communism establishes the highest standards, by which it must be judged and critically rejected, which is why “the first reproach against anticommunism must be that of downplaying the crimes of Stalinism. Not because an idea was murdered alongside the people in the gulags – how cynical – but because Communism alone brought forth into the world the historically actionable demand to accept no disenfranchisements, to tolerate no more degradation.”(82) That’s why the worst thing a Communist can do is to half-heartedly defend Communist states in a modest comparative way:
“Communists react defensively to the (anticommunist) critique of Communism – not everything about Communism was bad – with parries – that wasn’t even Communism – or by attacking – criticism of the crimes of communism only serves to legitimate the crimes of the enemies. They are right on all counts. But what does it say about Communism to state that National Socialism was worse, that capitalism has been just as bad? What kind of verdict is it for Communism to say not everything but instead only almost everything was bad?”(140)
Just recall a similar defense of Cuba: yes, the revolution was a failure, but they do have good healthcare and education… And do we not hear a similar argumentation from those who “show understanding” for Russia, although they condemn the invasion of Ukraine: “the criticism of Russian crimes in Ukraine only serves to legitimate the crimes of the liberal West…”?

Adamczak also dismisses the “postmodern” Left which criticizes Communism for its focus on economy, while ignoring as “secondary” feminism, the struggle against sexual oppression, and all other domains of “cultural Marxism.” Such a critique comes all too close to comfortable historicism, which ignores the “eternity” of the Communist Idea. When an injustice happens, its historicist relativization by way of evoking specific circumstances (“he lived in another epoch when it was normal to be a racist or anti-feminist, so we shouldn’t judge him by today’s standards”) is wrong: we should do precisely that, measure the past wrongs by today’s standards. We should be shocked by how women were treated in past centuries, by how benevolent “civilized” people owned slaves, etc.

The actual Communist power is not only fighting its capitalist opponents; it is betraying the emancipatory dream, which brought it into existence. This is why a true critique of actually-existing socialism should not just point out that life in a Communist state was mostly worse than life in many capitalist states. Its greatest “contradiction” is the antinomy in its very heart, not just the stark contrast between the Idea and reality, but the less perceptible change in the Idea itself. The idealized image of the future promised by the Communist power is incompatible with the Communist Idea. In the last act of The Tempest, Prospero says to Caliban: “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” Every Communist has to say something similar about Stalinism, the largest “thing of darkness” in the history of Communism: in order to really understand it, the first gesture is to “acknowledge it as mine,” to fully accept that Stalinism is not a contingent deviation or misapplication of Marxism but is implied as a possibility by its very core… But does Hegel not say something similar in his famous lines on the French Revolution?
“Never since the sun had stood in its firmament and the planets revolved around him had it been perceived that man’s existence centers in his head, i.e., in thought. /…/ Anaxagoras had been the first to say that nous governs the world; but not until now had man advanced to the recognition of the principle that thought ought to govern spiritual reality. This was accordingly a glorious mental dawn. All thinking beings shared in the jubilation of this epoch. Emotions of a lofty character stirred men’s minds at that time; a spiritual enthusiasm thrilled through the world, as if the reconciliation between the divine and the secular was now first accomplished.”[2]
Note that Hegel says this a quarter of a century after the French Revolution, and also decades after he showed how the freedom the French Revolution wanted to actualize necessarily turned into terror. And we should say exactly the same about the October Revolution after experiencing Stalinism as its consequence: it also was “a glorious mental dawn. All thinking beings shared in the jubilation of this epoch. Emotions of a lofty character stirred men’s minds at that time; a spiritual enthusiasm thrilled through the world…” We have to endure fully this antinomy, avoiding both traps: the dismissal of Stalinism as an error due to contingent circumstances, as well as the quick conclusion that Stalinism is the “truth” of the Communist desire. This antinomy is brought to extreme in Lenin’s State and Revolution, a book whose vision of the revolution is definitely grounded in the authentic Communist desire: as Lenin writes, with the revolution,
“for the first time in the history of civilized society, the mass of the population will rise to take an independent part, not only in voting and elections, but also in the everyday administration of the state. Under socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing.”[3]
This properly Communist dimension is condensed in Lenin’s famous formula “Every kitchen maid should learn to rule the state,” which was endlessly repeated through the 1920s as a slogan of women’s emancipation. However, it is worth taking a closer look at the precise context of Lenin’s justification of this slogan which, at first sight, may appear extremely utopian, especially since he emphasizes that the slogan designates something that “can and must be done at once, overnight,” not in some later Communist future. Lenin begins his line of argumentation by denying being utopian: against anarchists, he asserts his utter realism. He is not counting on “new men” but on “people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and ‘foremen and accountants’”:
“We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and “foremen and accountants”. This subordination, however, must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working people, i.e., to the proletariat. A beginning can and must be made at once, overnight, to replace the specific “bossing” of state officials by the simple functions of “foremen and accountants”, functions which are already fully within the ability of the average town dweller and can well be performed for “workmen’s wages”.”
But how to do this? Here comes the key moment of Lenin’s argumentation: “the mechanism of social management is here already to hand” in modern capitalism—the mechanism of the automatic functioning of a large production process where the bosses (representing the owner) just give formal orders. This mechanism runs so smoothly that, without disturbing it, the role of the boss is reduced to simple decisions and can be played by an ordinary person. So, all the Socialist revolution has to do is to replace the capitalist or state-appointed boss with a (randomly selected) ordinary person.

To illustrate his point, Lenin uses the example of postal service:
“A witty German Social-Democrat of the seventies of the last century called the postal service an example of the socialist economic system. This is very true. At the present the postal service is a business organized on the lines of state-capitalist monopoly. Imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organizations of a similar type, in which, standing over the “common” people, who are overworked and starved, one has the same bourgeois bureaucracy. But the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. Once we have overthrown the capitalists, crushed the resistance of these exploiters with the iron hand of the armed workers, and smashed the bureaucratic machinery of the modern state, we shall have a splendidly-equipped mechanism, freed from the “parasite”, a mechanism which can very well be set going by the united workers themselves, who will hire technicians, foremen and accountants, and pay them all, as indeed all “state” officials in general, workmen’s wages.”
What Lenin advocates here is “the transformation of public functions from political into simple functions of administration.” So where, in this depoliticized administrative machine, is the place for popular feedback of those who are supposed to obey “iron discipline”? Lenin’s solution was an almost Kantian one: freely debate at public meetings during weekends, but obey and work while at work! The Bolsheviks must
“stand at the head of the exhausted people who are wearily seeking a way out and lead them along the true path, along the path of labour discipline, along the path of co-ordinating the task of arguing at mass meetings about the conditions of work with the task of unquestioningly obeying the will of the Soviet leader, of the dictator, during the work. /…/ We must learn to combine the ‘public meeting’ democracy of the working people ‒ turbulent, surging, overflowing its banks like a spring flood ‒ with iron discipline while at work, with unquestioning obedience to the will of a single person, the Soviet leader, while at work.”[4]
It was often noted how Lenin gradually narrows the field here: first, it is the majority, the exploited mass of people; then, it is the proletariat, no longer a majority (remember that in Russia at that time more than 80% of the population were peasants) but a privileged minority; then, even this minority becomes a mass of confused “exhausted people” who have to be led by “the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working people”; and, as expected, we end with the unquestioning obedience to the will of a single person, the Soviet dictator. A Hegelian would immediately raise the question of mediation here: we have three levels, the Universal (working majority, “all”), the Particular (party, the “armed vanguard” that holds state power), and the Singular (leader). Lenin automatically identifies them, ignoring modes of mediation where the political struggle proper is taking place. This is why, as Ralph Millband noted, there is no debate on the role of the Party when Lenin described the functioning of the socialist economic edifice.[5] This absence is all the stranger if we take into account the fact that the focus of Lenin’s political work is the struggle within the Party between the true line and different revisionists.

This brings us to another one of Lenin’s antinomies: in spite of his total politicization of social life (for example, for him, there is no neutral “justice” in the courts: if judges are not on our side, they are on the side of the enemy), his vision of socialist economy is deeply technocratic. The economy is a neutral machine, which can run smoothly whoever is at its head. The fact that a kitchen maid can be at the head of a state means precisely that it doesn’t matter who is at its head. The kitchen maid strangely resembles the role attributed by Hegel to the monarch: she just gives a formal “yes” to proposals prepared by managers and specialists…

But why dwell of this old topic, which is today obviously outdated? Because it is not outdated at all: the latest trends in corporate capitalism provide a perverted version of Lenin’s dream. Let’s take companies like Amazon, Facebook, or Uber. Amazon and Facebook present themselves as just mediators: they are well-functioning algorithms, regulating the commons of our interaction. So, why not just nationalize them, cut off the head, which is their owner or boss, and replace him with an ordinary person who will care that the company will serve the interests of the company, i.e., that the machine will not be twisted into serving particular commercial interests, which made the previous owner multi-billionaire? In other words, can bosses like Bezos and Zuckerberg not be replaced by people’s “dictators” imagined by Lenin? Plus, take Uber: it also presents itself as pure mediator bringing together drivers (who own their cars, their “means of production”) and those who need a ride. They all allow us to keep (the appearance of) our freedom; they just control the space of our freedom. Do phenomena like these not justify Karl-Heinz Dellwo, who invokes “domination without subject”: today it is “reasonable to speak no longer about masters and servants but only about servants who command servants”?[6] Servants who command servants: is this not what Lenin envisions in his slogan that “every kitchen maid should learn to rule the state”?

Are elements of post-party politics not already visible here and there in today’s developed capitalism? Take the case of Switzerland. Who knows the names of the ministers in its government? Who knows which party is in power there? Decades ago, a Communist was repeatedly elected as the mayor of Geneva, the city which stands for big capital, and nothing changed… (But one should also mention that Switzerland is really run by a half-secret elite board of twenty men who decide everything.)

So, yes, we have to accept the fact that it is impossible for Communism to win (in the same sense that Ukraine cannot win over Russia), i.e., that, in this sense, Communism is a lost cause. But, as G.K. Chesterton put it in his “What’s Wrong With the World”: “The lost causes are exactly those which might have saved the world.” What can we do once we are fully aware of this antinomy?

In the last pages of the book, Adamczak plays with two extreme solutions. What if Communist revolutionaries, knowing they will bring a new terror, capitulate in advance to counter-revolution to keep their morals and prevent their own counter-revolution? Her example is Salvador Allende who renounced armed struggle against the military putsch. But we should add at least the debate in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s when, after it became clear that there will be no European revolution and the Bolsheviks realized they had no chance to begin to build socialism, some among them proposed that they should simply surrender power… Adamczak’s other extreme solution is that, after winning state power, the Communists should fight the terrorist temptation by using terror against themselves, consciously accepting the need of their own purge, of the liquidation of the first-generation revolutionaries. (But did in a way Stalin not do exactly this – liquidated the first generation of revolutionaries which won power?) What if the only imaginable solution to this antinomy is a weird short-circuit: taking power, Communists themselves organize a “counter-revolution” against their rule, shaping a state apparatus, which limits their own power?


Notes:
[1] See Bini Adamczak, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Cambridge: MIT Press 2021. After reading this book and trying to select quotes from it, I was overwhelmed by a weird feeling that the entire book should be quoted. Numbers in brackets are from this book.

[2] G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, New York: Dover 1956, p. 447.

[3] Quotes from The State and Revolution (marxists.org).

[4] “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government,” in Collected Works, Moscow; Progress Publishers 1972, Volume 27, p. 261. Non-accredited quotes that follow are from this book.

[5] See Lenin’s The State and Revolution (jacobin.com).

[6] Karl-Heinz Dellwo, “Subjektlose Herrschaft und revolutionaeres Subjekt. Friady for Future?”, a talk in Leipzig on January 12, 2021. (Quoted from the manuscript.).

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Defending Establishment Power - The UniParty's Unwritten Rule


Slavoj Žižek, "The Betrayal of the Left"
At the end of David Fincher's 1999 film, Fight Club, the unnamed narrator (played by Edward Norton) dispatches his alter ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and then watches as the buildings around him burst into flames, fulfilling his and his alter ego's desire to destroy modern civilisation. But in the Chinese version released earlier this year, the ending was replaced with an English-language title card that explained, "The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to a lunatic asylum to receive psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012."

Why would the Chinese authorities change the ending of a film that is highly critical of Western liberal society, disqualifying its critical political stance as an expression of madness? The reason is simple: For China's leaders, defending established power is more important than advancing a particular ideological agenda.

Recall that in mid-October 2019, the Chinese media launched a propaganda campaign claiming that, as CNN puts it, "demonstrations in Europe and South America are the direct result of Western tolerance of Hong Kong unrest," the implication being that protesters in Chile and Spain were taking their cues from those in Hong Kong. As is often the case, the Communist Party of China (CPC) was discreetly promoting a sense of solidarity among all who hold power and face a rebellious or unhappy populace. Western and Chinese leaders, the CPC seemed to be saying, ultimately have the same basic interest – transcending ideological and geopolitical tensions – in maintaining political quiescence.

Now consider recent developments in the US. On June 18, Texas Republicans declared that President Joe Biden "was not legitimately elected," echoing similar statements by other Republicans around the country. The GOP's rejection of Biden's legitimacy amounts to a rejection of America's democratic system. The party increasingly has advocated raw power over government by consent.

Consider this fact alongside the American public's growing fatigue over the Ukraine war, and a dark prospect emerges: What if Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, wins the 2024 presidential election? In addition to cracking down on dissent and political opposition at home, he might also enter a pact with Russia, abandoning the Ukrainians in the same way that he did the Kurds in Syria. After all, Trump has never been reluctant to stand in solidarity with the world's autocrats.

During Ukraine's 2014 Maidan uprising, a leaked recording of a telephone call captured a senior US State Department official, Victoria Nuland, saying to the US ambassador to Ukraine, "F*** the EU." Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been pursuing precisely that objective, supporting Brexit, Catalonian separatism, and far-right figures such as Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy.

The anti-European axis that unites Putin with certain trends in the US is one of the most dangerous elements in today's politics. If African, Asian, and Latin American governments follow their old anti-European instincts and lean towards Russia, we will have entered a sad new world in which those in power stand in lockstep solidarity with each other. In this world, what would happen to the marginalised and oppressed victims of unaccountable power, whom the left traditionally has defended?

Sadly, some Western leftists, such as film director Oliver Stone, have long parroted the Kremlin's claim that Maidan was a US-orchestrated putsch against a democratically elected government. This is plainly false. The protests that began on November 21, 2013, in Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), may have been chaotic, featuring a variety of political tendencies and foreign interference, but there is no doubt that they were an authentic popular revolt.

During the uprising, Maidan became a huge protest camp, occupied by thousands of demonstrators and protected by makeshift barricades. It had kitchens, first-aid posts, and broadcasting facilities, as well as stages for speeches, lectures, debates, and performances. It was the furthest thing from a "Nazi" putsch that one can imagine. Indeed, the events in Maidan were of a piece with the Arab Spring and similar uprisings in Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Belarus. While the Belarusian protests of 2020-21 were brutally crushed, the demonstrators can be reproached only for being too naive in their pro-Europeanism; they ignored the divisions and antagonisms that cut across Europe today.

By contrast, the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol most certainly was not an "American Maidan." There is growing evidence to show that it was largely orchestrated ahead of time, and that Trump – then the most powerful man in the country – more or less knew what was in store for that day. Still, immediately following the insurrection, before all the details were known, some of my leftist friends channelled a sense of loss. "The wrong people are taking over the seat of power," they lamented. "We should be doing it!"

It is worth revisiting what Putin said on February 21, 2022. After claiming that Ukraine was created by Lenin, he went on to remark that the Bolsheviks' "grateful progeny" in Ukraine had "overturned monuments to Lenin. They call it decommunisation. You want decommunisation? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunisation would mean for Ukraine." With that, Putin launched his "special military operation."

Putin's logic is clear: since Ukraine is (supposedly) a Communist creation, true decommunisation requires that Ukraine be eliminated. But "decommunisation" also conjures an agenda that aims to erase the last traces of the welfare state – a central pillar of the left's legacy. We, therefore, must pity all the Western "leftists" who have emerged as apologists for Putin. They are like the "anti-imperialist" pacifists who claimed, in 1940, that the Nazi blitz across Europe should not be resisted.

For years, Russian and Chinese leaders have panicked whenever a popular rebellion has exploded somewhere in their sphere of influence. As a rule, they interpret such events as plots – their term for them is "colour revolutions" – instigated by the West. China's regime is now at least honest enough to admit that there is deep dissatisfaction around the world. Its answer is to appeal to the shared sense of insecurity that many in positions of power feel. The left's response, by contrast, should be to maintain solidarity with those who resist aggressive, arbitrary power, whether in Ukraine or elsewhere. Otherwise, well, we all know how that movie ends.


Monday, July 25, 2022

Last Man Consumerism - A Life Spent Curating a System of Objects

Clip from The Parallax View (movie)

Steven Rosenbaum, "A Framework For Living The Curated Life"
Once upon a time, the world was divided into neat little boxes. Work was work. Home was home. Being with your children at a their little league game meant you were cheering on the team.

But then - almost overnight - our lives changed. The walls came down. We were all connected, and those connections are engaging and important. We have in the palm of our hands the power to be in constant contact with our friends, our loved ones, our pursuits and our passions.

It is by any measure a magical moment in the history of the word.

And yet - this abundance of connectivity has created a conundrum. It’s what author and psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. Simply put - when we have too many options, too much input - we find ourselves overwhelmed with abundance. Young people called it FOMA. Fear of Missing Out. And that fear leaves us often frozen in a blizzard of choice, unable to manage the volume of unfiltered input.

We’re all there. And the flow of raw data and connections only going to increase.

So, how can we take control of this new normal?

The answer is adopting a new paradigm, a curated life.

So here's some tools to dive deep into a human-first philosophy that makes us more centered, more connected, more evolved -and more in control.

“When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. I will never understand the silent dying of the green pie-apple tree if I do not slow down and listen to what the Spirit is telling me, telling me of the death of trees, the death of planets, of people, and what all these deaths mean in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you.”

Madeline L’Engle – Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

The decision to live a curated life isn’t a decision to be made lightly. In fact, the tradeoffs have the potential to make you anti-social, out of touch, and operating outside the day to day norms that are make you a social creature. The decision to be tuned-out, digitally quiet, or simply off the grid won’t come without some complicated tradeoffs.

Here’s a 5 Point Plan to embrace your Curated Life, and shift from being controlled by the speed of social connectedness to being in control.
1. Take a personal ‘rhythm’ inventory.

2. Right Size your tools to your life

3. Filter your friends

4. Get offline - and explore Real World Experiences

5. You are what you Tweet and Eat

1. Take a personal ‘rhythm’ inventory.
a) Ask yourself the following questions (answer 1 - 5)
b) Are you a morning person (1) or a night owl? (5)
c) Are you a multi-tasker (1) or a ‘fierce focus’ person? (5)
d) Are you an extrovert (1) introvert (5)
e) Would you rather talk face to face (1) or text (5)
f) Do you like small groups (1) or large gatherings (5)
g) Are you a numbers person (1) or a words person (5)
h) Do you like fitting in (1) or standing out (5)
There's no good score, or bad score. The idea is to get an honest appraisal of how you want to set your rhythm in the world, and not let devices or content drive how you live your life.
2. Right Size your tools to your life
The truth is, we’re all trying the ever evolving tools that are being shared with us in a dazzling array of often ‘free’ choices. But if we’re going to Curate Our Life, the first place to start is with our devices. Open your phone, look at each and every app you have - and delete 2/3’s of them. You can do it. The truth is, most of them aren’t being used. Be harsh and honest. You can always add it back later if you miss it (hint: you won’t). Then do the same thing with your tablet, your desktop computer, your television OTT box, and any other piece of software that is causing you distraction, aggravation, or angst.
3. Filter your friends
Ok, that sounds harsh - but take a moment. On Facebook, the mother of all un-curated experiences, you have friends who over-share. Don’t unfriend them, you still want to keep them in your world. Just dial down the noise. Here’s link (http://www.mediabizbloggers.com/steve-rosenbaum/CURATING-FACEBOOK-Finding-Meaning-in-the-Noise---Steve-Rosenbaum.html) to how to do that I wrote a while back. The tools have changed a bit - but the basic effort is the same. It’s the little down arrow to the right of every post. Try it.
4. Get offline - and explore Real World Experiences
When Scott Heiferman founded Meetup it was with a simple message, “get offline.” Meetup was founded in the days after 9/11, and Scott was taken with just how different New York was when neighbors and friends came out of their apartments and spent time together. Today meetup is the largest ‘in-person’ social network in the world. Meetup has almost 20 million members, and half a million events per month.

Amanda Palmer, the musician and former lead singer of The Dresden Dolls, gave a world changing talk at TED a few years back. She told the audience that musicians and artists need to ask their fans to support them, and she said that fans love connecting with artist and becoming part of their world. The talk was amazing. Watch it here. And then, think about all the ways you can connect in a non-digital way with artists, creators, innovators, dreamers.

So here’s a simple ask to engage in a Curated Life. Go to a concert. Don’t watch it online, buy a ticket and go be in the audience. Go to meetup.com, type in something your passionate about - a hobby, an interest, a game you like to play, a dog breed you love. Don’t make it a work thing, you can always do that. This is about connecting - in a real world way - with people. Find a meetup. Attend. Rinse, repeat. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t like your first one - meet-ups aren’t always a perfect fit. But if it’s an hour of your life, exploring your world - how can you go wrong?
5. You are what you Tweet and Eat
There’s a growing buzz around the word “mindfulness.” As described by Psychology Today "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” Arianna Huffington wrote a book about the emerging Mindfulness movement - and her emerging understanding of focusing your attention to real world experiences. Her book is called Thrive, and you can read bit of it here.

Most of your life you’ll spend engaged - consuming information, ideas, food, art. Make those decisions actively. Don’t just watch what’s on. Watch what you love. And ask friends who’s taste and styles you like what they LOVE. People love sharing - and if someone shares a recommendation with you that you enjoyed, tell them. That kind of person to person connection is powerful, meaningful, and emotionally satisfying. At the same time - share carefully. Don’t just click the ‘like’ button, and carelessly re-tweet. Instead comment, share, and engage. Mindful creation and consumption of social media makes you a better friend, helps de-clutter the world, and will lead the way for your friends and followers to do the same.

We’re living in a time of digital abundance, which is wonderful. It promises to give us a new way to explore, connect, share, and learn. But it needs to be harnessed to make your life better, otherwise it threatens to turn is into hamsters in a wheel of information. So, embrace The Curated Life, and share with me the tools and techniques you’ve found that give you the ability to engage meaningfully in the world around you. I’d like to hear what works for you.