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

Saturday, December 29, 2018

How to Watch the News

^^*Deep State Dreamer*^^

I have NO CONFIDENCE is the Deep State. Deep Staters gain no rewards from doing the right thing, only from doing the "expedient" thing.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Monday, December 24, 2018

Ring Out, Wild Bells!

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson (1850)

The Eve of Christmas


The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

This year I slept and woke with pain,
I almost wish’d no more to wake,
And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:

But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll’d me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Eve of Christmas"

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Humanism & Misinterpretting Today's Problems

- Slavoj Zizek, "How Mao would have evaluated the Yellow Vests"
The French Yellow Vest movement exposes a problem at the heart of today’s politics. Too much adherence to popular “opinion” and not enough innovation and fresh ideas.

Already a quick glance at the imbroglio makes it clear that we are caught in multiple social struggles. The tension between the liberal establishment and the new populism, the ecological struggle, efforts in support of feminism and sexual liberation, plus ethnic and religious battles and the desire for universal human rights. Not to mention, trying to resist digital control of our lives.

So, how to bring all these struggles together without simply privileging one of them as the “true” priority? Because this balance provides the key to all other struggles.

Old ideas

Half a century ago, when the Maoist wave was at its strongest, Mao Zedong’s distinction between “principal” and “secondary” contradictions (from his treatise “On Contradiction,” written in 1937) was a common currency in political debates. Perhaps, this distinction deserves to be brought back to life.

Let’s begin with a simple example: Macedonia – what’s in a name? A couple of months ago, the governments of Macedonia and Greece concluded an agreement on how to resolve the problem of the name “Macedonia.” It should change its name into “Northern Macedonia.”

This solution was instantly attacked by the radicals in both countries. Greek opponents insisted “Macedonia” is an old Greek name, and Macedonian opponents felt humiliated by being reduced to a “Northern” province since they are the only people who call themselves “Macedonians.”

Imperfect as it was, the solution offered a glimpse of hope to end a long and meaningless struggle with a reasonable compromise.

But it was caught in another “contradiction” – the struggle between big powers (the US and EU on the one side, Russia on the other side). The West put pressure on both sides to accept the compromise so that Macedonia could quickly join the EU and NATO, while, for exactly the same reason (seeing in it the danger of its loss of influence in the Balkans), Russia opposed it, supporting conservative nationalist forces in both countries, to varying degrees.

So, which side should we take here? I think we should decidedly take the side of compromise, for the simple reason that it is the only realist solution to the problem. Russia opposed it simply because of its geopolitical interests, without offering another solution, so supporting Russia here would have meant sacrificing the reasonable solution of the singular problem of Macedonian and Greek relations to international geopolitical interests.

Power games

Now let’s take the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and daughter of the firm’s founder, in Vancouver. She is accused of breaking US sanctions on Iran, and faces extradition to the US, where she could be jailed for up to 30 years if found guilty.

What is true here? In all probability, one way or another, all big corporations discreetly break the laws. But it’s more than evident that this is just a “secondary contradiction” and that another battle is being fought here. It’s not about trade with Iran, it’s about the big struggle for domination in the production of digital hardware and software.

What Huawei symbolizes is a China which is no longer the Foxconn China, the place of half-slave labor assembling machines developed elsewhere, but a place where software and hardware is also conceived. China has the potential to become a much stronger agent in the digital market than Japan with Sony or South Korea with Samsung, through economic heft and numbers.

But enough of particular examples. Things get more complex with the struggle for universal human rights. We get here the “contradiction” between proponents of these rights and those who warn that, in their standard version, universal human rights are not truly universal but implicitly privilege Western values (individuals have primacy over collectives, etc.) and are thereby a form of ideological neocolonialism. No wonder that the reference to human rights served as a justification of many military interventions, from Iraq to Libya.

Partisans of universal human rights counter that their rejection often serves to justify local forms of authoritarian rule and repression as elements of a particular way of life. But how to decide here?

A middle-of-the-road compromise is not enough, so one should give preference to universal human rights for a very precise reason. The dimension of universality has to serve as a medium in which multiple ways of life can coexist, and the Western notion of universality of human rights contains the self-critical dimension which makes visible its own limitations.

When the standard Western ideas are criticized for a particular bias, this critique itself has to refer to some notion of more authentic universality which makes us see the distortion of a false universality.

But some form of universality is always here, even a modest vision of the coexistence of different and ultimately incompatible ways of life has to rely on it. In short, what this means is that the “principal contradiction” is not that of the tension(s) between different ways of life but the “contradiction” within each way of life (“culture,” organization of its jouissance) between its particularity and its universal claim.

To use a technical term, each particular way of life is by definition caught in “pragmatic contradiction,” its claim to validity is undermined not by the presence of other ways of life but by its own inconsistency.

Social divides

Things get even more complex with the “contradiction” between the alt-right descent into racist/sexist vulgarity and the politically correct stiff regulatory moralism.

Thus, it is crucial, from the standpoint of the progressive struggle for emancipation, not to accept this “contradiction” as primary but to unravel in it the displaced and distorted echoes of class struggle.

In a fascist way, the rightist populist figure of the enemy (the combination of financial elites and invading immigrants) combines both extremes of the social hierarchy, thereby blurring the class struggle.

On the opposite end and in an almost symmetrical way, the politically-correct anti-racism and anti-sexism struggles barely conceal that their ultimate target is white working class racism and sexism, thereby also neutralizing class struggle.

That’s why the designation of political correctness as “cultural Marxism” is false. Political correctness in all its pseudo-radicality is, on the contrary, the last defense of “bourgeois” liberalism against Marxism, obfuscating/displacing class struggle as the “principal contradiction.”

The same goes for the transgender and #MeToo struggle. It is also overdetermined by the “principal contradiction” of the class struggle which introduces an antagonism into its very heart.

Tarana Burke, who created the #MeToo campaign more than a decade ago, observed in a recent critical note that in the years since the movement began, it deployed an unwavering obsession with the perpetrators — a cyclical circus of accusations, culpability, and indiscretions.

“We are working diligently so that the popular narrative about MeToo shifts from what it is,” Burke said.

“We have to shift the narrative that it’s a gender war, that it’s anti-male, that it’s men against women, that it’s only for a certain type of person — that it’s for white, cisgender, heterosexual, famous women.“

In short, one should struggle to refocus #MeToo onto the daily suffering of millions of ordinary working women and housewives. This emphatically can be done. For example, in South Korea, #MeToo exploded with tens of thousands of ordinary women demonstrating against their sexual exploitation.

The ongoing Yellow Vests (gilets jaunes) protests in France condense all we were talking about. Their fatal limitation resides precisely in their much-praised “leaderless” character, their chaotic self-organization.

In a typical populist way, the Yellow Vest movement bombards the state with a series of demands which are inconsistent and impossible to meet within the existing economic system. What it lacks is a leader who would not only listen to the people but translate their protest into a new, coherent vision of society.

The “contradiction” between the demands of the Yellow Vests and the state is “secondary”: their demands are rooted in the existing system. The true “contradiction” is between our entire socio-political system and (the vision of) a new society in which the demands formulated by the protesters no longer arise. How?

The old Henry Ford was right when he remarked that, when he offered the first serially produced car, he didn’t follow what people wanted. As he put it succinctly, if asked what they want, the people would have answer: “A better and stronger horse to pull our carriage!”

This insight finds an echo in Steve Jobs’ infamous motto that “a lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

In spite of all one has to criticize in the activity of Jobs, he was close to an authentic master in how he understood his motto. When he was asked how much customer feedback Apple uses, he snapped back: “It's not the customers’ job to know what they want… we figure out what we want.”

Note the surprising turn of this argumentation. After denying that customers know what they want, Jobs doesn’t go on with the expected direct reversal “it is our task (the task of creative capitalists) to figure out what customers want and then ‘show it to them’ on the market.”

Instead, he continues “we figure out what we want” – this is how a true master works. He doesn’t try to guess what people want. He simply obeys his own desire so that it is left to the people to decide if they will follow him.

In other words, his power stems from his fidelity to his vision, from not compromising it.

And the same goes for a political leader that is needed today. Protesters in France want a better (stronger and cheaper) horse – in this case, ironically, cheaper fuel for their cars.

They should be given the vision of a society where the price of fuel no longer matters in the same way that, after cars, the price of horse fodder no longer matters.

Foucault on "Humanism"

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Anybody Want an Ayn Rand Sandwich?

On Globalism

[Verse 2]
Who could look up from the numbers and say
"Something ain't right"?
Who could disrupt the abundance and pray
Not for weight but for light?
How could we risk the empire
As the apprentice descends into seasons of Idol
When our old, white Lincoln encrypted and high
Sputters down from the sky
Red-eyed in July, weeping glycol?

We shout out loud, megaphone
Kinda zoned but listening in
We browse our own episodes
That's a product, that's a brand, that's a lifestyle

'Cause the monster eats its young
Till they're gone, gone, gone
And the rules are there to hurt
And that's the way it's done
And the monster eats its young
Till they're gone, gone, gone
Till it's satisfied and done
It wants blood, blood, blood

Augmented Realities

Monday, December 17, 2018

Gilets Jaunes

The demands of the protesters aren’t possible to implement within the current capitalist system – and they aren't ambitious enough to provoke a change to a more egalitarian, ecologically sustainable system either

The ongoing protests of yellow vests (gilets jaunes) in France continue for the fifth weekend. They began as a grassroots movement that grew out of widespread discontent with a new eco-tax on petrol and diesel, seen as hitting those living and working outside metropolitan areas where there is no public transport. In the past weeks the movement has grown to include a panoply of demands, including Frexit (the exit of France from EU), lower taxes, higher pensions, and an improvement in ordinary French people’s spending power.

They offer an exemplary case of the leftist populism, of the explosion of people’s wrath in all its inconsistency: lower taxes and more money for education and health care, cheaper petrol and ecological struggle… Although the new petrol tax was obviously an excuse or, rather, pretext, not what the protests are “really about”, it is significant to note that what triggered the protests was a measure intended to act against global warming. No wonder Trump enthusiastically supported yellow vests (even hallucinating shouts of some of the protesters “We want Trump!”), noting that one among the demands was for France to step out of the Paris agreement.

The yellow vests movement fits the specific French left tradition of large public protests targeting political elites (more than business or financial elites). However, in contrast to the 68’ protests, the yellow vests are much more a movement of the France profonde, its revolt against big metropolitan areas, which means that its leftist orientation is much more blurred. (Both Le Pen and Melenchon support the protests.) As expected, commentators are asking which political force will appropriate the revolt energy, Le Pen or a new left, with purists demanding that it remains a “pure” protest movement at a distance from established politics.

One should be clear here: in all the explosion of demands and expression of dissatisfaction, it is clear the protesters don’t really know what they want, they don’t have a vision of a society they want, just a mixture of demands that are impossible to meet within the system although they address them at the system. This feature is crucial: their demands express their interests rooted in the existing system.

One should not forget that they are addressing these demands at the (political) system at its best, which, in France, means: Macron. The protests mark the end of the Macron dream. Recall the enthusiasm about Macron offering new hope not only of defeating the rightist populist threat but of provide a new vision of progressive European identity, which brought philosophers as opposed as Habermas and Sloterdijk to support Macron. Recall how every leftist critique of Macron, every warning about the fatal limitations of his project, was dismissed as “objectively” supporting Marine Le Pen.

Today, with the ongoing protests in France, we are brutally confronted with the sad truth of the pro-Macron enthusiasm. Macron’s TV address to the protesters on 10 December was a miserable performance, half-compromise half-apology, which convinced no one and stood out by its lack of vision. Macron may be the best of the existing system, but his politics is located within the liberal-democratic coordinates of the enlightened technocracy.

We should therefore give the protests a conditional yes – conditional since it is clear that left populism does not provide a feasible alternative to the system. That is to say, let’s imagine that the protesters somehow win, take power and act within the coordinates of the existing system (like Syriza did in Greece) – what would have happened then? Probably some kind of economic catastrophe. This doesn’t mean that we simply need a different socioeconomic system, a system which would be able to meet the protesters’ demands: the process of radical transformation would also give rise to different demands and expectations. Say, with regard to fuel costs, what is really needed is not just cheap fuel, the true goal is to diminish our dependency on oil for ecological reasons, to change not only our transportation but our entire way of life. The same holds for lower taxes plus better healthcare and education: the whole paradigm will have to change.

The same holds for our big ethical-political problem: how to deal with the flow of refugees? The solution is not to just open the borders to all who want to come in, and to ground this openness in our generalised guilt (“our colonisation is our greatest crime which we will have to repay forever”). If we remain at this level, we serve perfectly the interests of those in power who foment the conflict between immigrants and the local working class (which feels threatened by them) and retain their superior moral stance. (The moment one begins to think in this direction, the politically correct left instantly cries fascism – see the ferocious attacks on Angela Nagle for her outstanding essay “The Left Case against Open Borders”) Again, the “contradiction” between advocates of open borders and populist anti-immigrants is a false “secondary contradiction” whose ultimate function is to obfuscate the need to change the system itself: the entire international economic system which, in its present form, gives rise to refugees.

Does this mean that we should patiently wait for a big change? No, we can begin right now by measures which appear modest but nonetheless undermine the foundations of the existing system like a patient subterranean digging of a mole. What about the overhaul of our entire financial system which would affect the rules of how credits and investments work? What about imposing new regulations which would prevent the exploitation of the third world countries from which refugees come?

The old 68’ motto Soyons realists, demandons l’impossible! remains fully relevant – on condition that we take note of the shift to which it has to be submitted. First, there is “demanding the impossible” in the sense of bombarding the existing system with demands that it cannot meet: open borders, better healthcare, higher wages… Here we are today, in the midst of a hysterical provocation of our masters (technocratic experts). This provocation has to be followed by a key step further: not demanding the impossible from the system but demanding the “impossible” changes of the system itself. Although such changes appear “impossible” (unthinkable within the coordinates of the system), they are clearly required by our ecological and social predicament, offering the only realist solution.
-Slavoj Zizek, "The yellow vest protesters revolting against centrism mean well – but their left wing populism won’t change French politics"

Archeology of Knowledge

Friday, December 14, 2018

Cry "Power"...

...but ONLY if one has "cause and will and strength and means to do ’t!"
...otherwise you're naught but another, of many, nightingales...
The Nightingale, as soon as April bringeth
Unto her rested sense a perfect waking,
While late-bare Earth, proud of new clothing, springeth,
Sings out her woes, a thorn her song-book making;
And mournfully bewailing,
Her throat in tunes expresseth
What grief her breast oppresseth,
For Tereus' force on her chaste will prevailing.
O Philomela fair, O take some gladness
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness!
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

Alas! she hath no other cause of anguish
But Tereus' love, on her by strong hand wroken;
Wherein she suffering, all her spirits languish,
Full womanlike complains her will was broken
But I, who, daily craving,
Cannot have to content me,
Have more cause to lament me,
Since wanting is more woe than too much having.

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness
That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness!
Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;
Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.
- Sir Philip Sidney, "Philomela"
How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Of thinking too precisely on th' event—
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward—I do not know
Why yet I live to say “This thing’s to do,”
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do ’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me.
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor’s at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep—while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? Oh, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!
-Shakespeare, "Hamlet" (Act IV Sc 4)

The 1971 Garmin/Ways

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Viva la Resistance!

The flag of Brittany is called the Gwenn-ha-du, pronounced [ɡwɛnaˈdyː], which means white and black in Breton. It is also unofficially used in the département of Loire-Atlantique although this now belongs to the Pays de la Loire and not to the région of Brittany, as the territory of Loire-Atlantique is historically part of the province of Brittany. Nantes (Naoned), its préfecture, was once one of the two capital cities of Brittany.

The flag's dimensions are not fixed and may vary from 9 cm × 14 cm (3.5 in × 5.5 in) to 8 m × 12 m (26 ft × 39 ft). The flag is not only used by cultural associations or separatists but by other people. For years, the authorities considered the flag as a separatist symbol, but the attitude has now changed and the flag, no longer having any political connotations, can appear everywhere, even on public buildings, along with the other official flags. It is widely used throughout Brittany and can even be seen on town halls in the region. Because of the absence of legislation concerning regional flags in France the flag is also flown on sailboats and fishing boats. The design of the ermine spots can vary, but the version most frequently seen is shown above.[citation needed]

The flag was created in 1923 by Morvan Marchal. He used as his inspiration the flags of the United States and Greece as these two countries were seen at that time as the respective symbols of liberty and democracy.

The nine horizontal stripes represent the traditional dioceses of Brittany into which the duchy was divided historically. The five black stripes represent the French or Gallo speaking dioceses of Dol, Nantes, Rennes, Saint-Malo and Saint-Brieuc; the four white stripes represent the Breton speaking dioceses of Trégor, Léon, Cornouaille and Vannes. The ermine canton recalls the arms of the Duchy of Brittany.

The flag first came to notice by a wider public at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. It was adopted by various cultural and nationalist groups through the 1920s and 1930s. However, its association with nationalist and separatist groups during the Second World War brought suspicions of collaboration on the flag. A revival of interest in the flag took place in the 1960s. Since then, it has lost an association with separatism in the mind of the public and become a widely accepted symbol for all Brittany and Bretons. The older ermine field flag and black cross continue to be rarely used, though, by some individuals and groups

Exogamy or Endogamy? Helen of Troy, Where are You?

Farhad Mirza, "Love in a time of migrants: Rethinking arranged marriages and the dismissiveness of cultures"
In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of ‘risk-free love’, which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers ‘love, without falling in love’. For Badiou, the search for ‘perfect love without suffering’ signifies a ‘modern’ variant of ‘traditional’ arranged-marriage practices – a risk-averse, calculated approach to love that aims to diminish our exposure to differences: ‘Their idea is you calculate who has the same tastes, the same fantasies, the same holidays, wants the same number of children. [They try] to go back to arranged marriages,’ writes Badiou. The philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek subscribes to similar ideas about arranged marriages, referring to them as a ‘pre-modern procedure’.

When it comes to the view of arranged marriage in the West, Badiou and Žižek offer relatively genteel criticisms. Popular and learned representations of the practice almost always associate it with honour killings, acid attacks, and child marriages. It’s often presumed to be the same thing as a forced marriage; coerced, dutiful, predictable – the very opposite of individual agency and romantic love.

Due to the growth of international migration, the question of how Western states treat arranged marriages bears very serious consequences in terms of how we perceive the emotional lives of migrants and diasporic community members. The prevalent Western perception of illegitimacy is unwarranted, based both on ignorance of arranged marriage and on a lack of insight into Western norms.

Badiou criticises both libertinism (superficial and narcissistic) and arranged-marriage practices (empty of that organic, spontaneous and unsettling desire that inspires emotional transgressions). He argues that love is real when it is transgressive – a disruptive experience that opens people to new possibilities and a common vision of what they could be together. It possesses the power to floor the ego, overcome the selfish impulse, and transfigure a random encounter into a meaningful, shared continuity. To Badiou, love is not simply a search for an adequate partner, it is a construction of an almost traumatic transformation that compels us to look at the world ‘from the point of view of two and not one’.

Do arranged marriage practices suppress the transgressive power of love, as Badiou implies? Can choosing an arranged marriage be the act of a free person, and does that person then feel with as much depth as those who met through a friend, or at college, or via a dating app? Any answer must take into account that there are different arranged-marriage practices, and that what people experience as true love varies across different cultures.

It is important to emphasise the difference between arranged marriages – which respect consent of prospective spouses – and forced marriages, where such consent is absent. By distinguishing forced and arranged marriages, we can begin to see an overlap of the cultural logics that underpin arranged marriages and ‘modern’ match-making practices.

Arranged marriage usually refers to a broad spectrum of practises in which parents or relatives act as matchmakers. They introduce their young ones to ‘suitable’ partners and influence their personal decisions. Such arrangements are fairly common in much of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. Some arranged marriages are the result of several different introductions organised by families or professional matchmakers, followed by chaperoned or unchaperoned meetings of the prospective couple. The meetings serve as prelude to family discussions that culminate in a decision by the couple. Other marriages are arranged only in the sense that they receive the blessing of the families after a couple expresses the desire to marry (self-arranged).

To varying degrees, each arranged marriage is influenced by filial and social pressures on the agency of the prospective couple. But so are Western marriages, in form. In romantic love too, social class, education, profession, religion (factors that are deeply influenced by family), all mediate and shape attraction and compatibility. The social reality we are raised in shapes our freedom to choose partners, even to feel desire. For Badiou, love becomes meaningful when it is subsumed under anticonsumerist politics. Others find meaning in different ideals.

Couples in arranged marriages often find romance in family-initiated introductions because it speaks to their broader value system. For many, it is a smarter, more spiritual form of love because it prioritises collective will and emotional labour over sexual impulse and selfish individuality. This is perhaps one reason why couples in arranged marriages express high levels of satisfaction in their relationships, sometimes more so than couples in love marriages.

Another common criticism of arranged marriages goes something like this: arranged marriages are not built upon informed desire. Since partners lack familiarity with each other, they cannot be expected to possess any genuine feelings for each other. But as the British psychotherapist Adam Phillips has observed, the romantic euphoria we feel towards a desired partner is not always derived from our knowledge of them, but from prior expectations of meeting someone like them: In Missing Out (2013), he writes:
[T]he person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams; … you have dreamed them up before you met them. You recognise them with such certainty because you already, in a certain sense, know them; and because you have quite literally been expecting them, you feel as though you have known them for ever, and yet, at the same time, they are quite foreign to you. They are familiar foreign bodies.
This sense of dreamed-up familiarity inspires people to pursue real intimacy. Arranged marriages work in the same way.

It is hard to universalise notions of love because it is such a dynamic, delicate and complicated experience. What Western observers often forget is that people of other cultures are constantly carrying out subtle transgressions against the lazy stereotypes in which they are viewed.

Postcolonial feminist theory has demonstrated that women who opt for arranged marriages are not passive subscribers of patriarchal traditions, but engaged in negotiating the practice to shift the balance of power in their favour. Arranged marriage might not be the perfect solution to the problem of love, but it isn’t a fossilised holdover from archaic times. It’s an ever-evolving, modern phenomenon and should be understood as such.

Badiou’s definition of true love is limiting, idealistic and dismissive of the cultures and experiences of most people in the world. It gets in the way of understanding how love can be expressed and experienced within even the most seemingly ‘traditional’ practices. This misunderstanding and limitation poses real dangers in our current political climate.

As the volatile Western political world plunges deeper into xenophobia and nativism, empathy is ever more at risk. Dismissive and stigmatising caricatures of cultural differences can be – and often are – enlisted to cast migrants and people in diasporic communities as lesser or somehow not worthy of respect.

History has repeatedly shown us that imagining a group of people as unloving beings serves as a prerequisite to mistreating them. While it is necessary for us to condemn violent and coercive social practices such as forced marriages, we must not malign an entire culture as the loveless ‘other’. What would that say about the quality of our love?

Monday, December 3, 2018

Zionist Pizza

Slavoj Zizek: "Racism is alive and well in both Europe and Israel – with different victims
This week, a CNN poll revealed anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe. A question now is: where does honest criticism of Israeli state policy end and anti-Semitism begin?

The results are eye-opening and working. With 20 percent of young French people unaware of the Holocaust. Indeed, a similar number believe anti-Semitism is a response to Jewish people's own behavior. Also, a third of respondents think Jews have too much influence.

While we should, without any restraints, condemn and fight all forms of anti-Semitism, we should nonetheless add some other observations to the results of the poll.

First, it would be interesting to learn how the percentage of those with a negative stance towards Jews compares to the percentage of those with a negative stance towards Muslims and Blacks – just to make sure that we don't find some racism unacceptable and another racism normal.

Second, one should raise here the paradox of Zionist anti-Semitism: quite many European (and American) anti-Semites just don't want too many Jews in their own country but they fully support the expansion of Israel onto the West Bank. So, how do we count them?

This brings us to the key question: how do we measure anti-Semitism? Where does the legitimate criticism of Israeli politics in the West Bank end and anti-Semitism begin? Let's explain this through some further observations.

Two Faces

One of the best indications of the gradual disappearance of the sense of irony in our public space was the repetition of a certain metaphor about the negotiations between the state of Israel and Palestinians. About a decade ago, when some kind of peace talks were still going on, the Palestinian negotiator noted how while Israel was negotiating how to divide the West Bank, it was gradually building more and more settlements there.

He compared dealing with Israelis to two guys at a table negotiating how to split the pizza between them. But while their debate goes on and on, one of the guys is all the time eating parts of the pizza.

In a recent documentary report about the West Bank, a settler mentions the same anecdote, but with no sad irony, just with a brutal satisfaction: "Our negotiations with Palestinians are like debating about how to cut a pizza while we are all the time eating slices of it," accompanied by a mischievous smile.

There is something truly disturbing in the way the TV documentary from which we quoted the remark on eating pizza presents the West Bank settlements. We learn that, for the majority of the new settlers, what brought them to move there was not a Zionist dream but a simple wish to live in a nice and clean habitat close to a big city (Jerusalem, in this case).

They describe their life there as much better than living in a suburb of Los Angeles: green surroundings, clean air, cheap water and electricity, with a large city easily accessible by special highways. Plus all the local infrastructure (schools, shopping centers, etc.) but cheaper than in the US, built and sustained by Israeli state support.

The Unpeople

As for the Palestinian cities and villages which surround them, they are basically invisible, present in two main forms: cheap labor building the settlements with occasional acts of violence treated as a nuisance.

In short, the majority of settlers live in invisible bubbles, isolated from their surroundings outside and behaving as if what goes on outside their bubbles belongs to another world that doesn't really concern them.

The dream that underlies this politics is best rendered by the wall that separates a settler's town from the Palestinian town on a nearby hill somewhere in the West Bank. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with the image of the countryside beyond the wall – but without the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, grass, trees… is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as it should be, empty, virginal and waiting to be settled?

So should we doubt that Israel sincerely wants peace in the Middle East? Of course it does. Because colonizers and occupiers in general always want peace, after they've got what they wanted, because peace means they can enjoy what they grabbed.

No doubt after Germany occupied most of Europe in 1941, it also sincerely wanted peace (and ruthlessly fought all resistance as terrorists). In fact, as for the use of the term "colonization," one should recall that the early Zionists themselves used it to designate their endeavor a century ago.

Now we should return to our starting point: if anyone who just read these lines considers them anti-Semitic, then, I think, he or she is not only totally wrong but also posing a threat to what is most valuable in the Jewish tradition.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The mysterious case of disappearing Chinese Marxists shows what happens when state ideology goes badly wrong

These days, the most dangerous thing to do today in China is to believe in the official doctrine itself

Today’s Cambodia is the emblem of the antagonisms of the “developing” part of our world. A short time ago, they condemned the last surviving Khmer Rouge leaders for their crimes – but where is Cambodia now, when (officially, at least) it settled accounts with the Khmer Rouge horrors? Full of sweatshops, child prostitution all around and foreigners owning most of restaurants and hotels – one form of misery is often replaced by another marginally better version. But is China not caught in a similar, although less extreme, predicament?

In dealing with critical voices, Chinese authorities increasingly seem to resort to a particular procedure: a person (an ecological activist, a Marxist student, the chief of Interpol, a religious preacher, a Hong Kong publisher, even a popular movie actress) suddenly disappears for a couple of weeks before reappearing in public with specific accusations raised against them. This protracted period of silence delivers a key message to citizens: China can exert impenetrable power on anyone without any requirement of any proof. Only when this is accepted does legal reasoning follow.

But the case of disappearing Marxist students is nonetheless specific. While all disappearances concern individuals whose activities can be somehow characterised as a threat to the state, the disappearing Marxist students legitimise their critical activity by a reference to the official ideology itself.

In the past few years, Chinese leadership decided to reassert ideological orthodoxy. There is less tolerance for religion, and texts of Marx, Lenin and Mao are massively reprinted. However, the message that comes with that is almost always, “don’t take it seriously”.

The disappeared students were doing exactly what was imposed on them: action upon official ideology, solidarity with over-exploited workers, ecology and women’s rights, the list goes on. Two of the best-known examples (at least in our media reports) are those of Zhang Shengye and Yue Xin. While strolling in the campus, Zhang, a graduate student at Peking University (also known as “Beida” university) in Beijing, was all of a sudden surrounded by a group of men in black jackets from a black car who, after beating him heavily, pushed him into a car and drove him away. Other students who filmed the event on their mobile phones were also beaten and compelled to erase the recordings. From that moment, nobody heard anything about Zhang.

Yue Xin, a 22-year-old student at the same university, who led the campaign to clarify the suicide of a student raped by a high party functionary, also disappeared. And when her mother tried to unearth what happened to her daughter, she too went missing. Yue was a member of a Marxist circle which combined struggle for workers’ rights with ecological concerns and a Chinese version of #MeToo. She joined dozens of other students from different universities who went to Shenzhen to support workers in a local robot factory in their demand for an independent trade union. Soon after, in a brutal police crackdown, 50 students and workers disappeared.

What triggered such a panicked reaction in the party leadership was, of course, the spectre of a network of self-organisation emerging through direct horizontal links between groups of students and workers, and based in Marxism, with sympathy in some old party cadres and even parts of the army.

Such a network directly undermines the legitimacy of the party rule and denounces it as an imposture. No wonder, then, that in recent years China closed down many Maoist websites and prohibited many Marxist debate groups at universities. These days, the most dangerous thing to do today in China is to believe in and take seriously the official ideology itself.

However, we should avoid the trap of throwing all sympathy behind Marxist students, hoping they will somehow win, or at least compel the party to change its line into taking workers’ concerns more seriously. We (and they) should rather raise a more basic and disturbing question: why is it that states in which Marxism was elevated into the official ideology were precisely the states where any independent workers’ movement was most brutally crushed and exploitation of workers given a free rein?

It is no longer enough to just to express regret that the Chinese party is not effectively faithful to its Marxist ideology. Rather, we must query whether something is wrong with the ideology itself, at least in its traditional form.
-Slavoj Zizek

Monday, November 5, 2018


THE red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.

But I send you a cream-white rosebud,
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.
- John Boyle O'Reilly, "A White Rose"

Friday, November 2, 2018

Allegory of Man

Surviving British paintings on religious subjects from this period are extremely few. The early history of this panel-painting is unknown, but as the inscriptions on it are in English, it must have been made for British usage. Such a combination of images, labels and texts is more usually found in prints from this period, but no engraved prototype for this work has so far been found.


The original purpose of this panel is not known. It could have been for personal devotional use. The trompe l'oeil framing of the cartouche at the bottom is incomplete, suggesting that it might have formed part of a larger structure, such as a funerary monument. The main inscription warns the viewer of the human soul's vulnerability to the vanities and dangers of the world. The central figure - Man - wears classical military attire, and much of the imagery is martial, suggesting that the panel could have been painted for a soldier. The figure is being invested with a shield of Christian Virtues (whose names are inscribed on the white scroll that spirals protectively about his figure) by an angel.

The painting is full of meticulous detail, such as the office from which a male figure aims the broad arrow of covetousness from a sporting crossbow. On the desk lie piles of coins, open books and purses, one of which has a projecting handle. From nails in the panelled settle back (echoing the nails on Christ's cross above) hang a string of papers, and a pencase and inkwell on a cord. The richly dressed lady above wears a jewel with an hourglass device suspended from her waist, presumably alluding to the time wasted by slothfulness. The figure immersed in a pit of flames, bottom right, has the visual attributes of a devil: horns, pointed ears, a tail emerging from the naked flesh of his back, a fringe of hair along his arms, and wings. Above him is a skeleton, representing Death aiming his dart - a long spear - at the figure of Man.

Among thick clouds, above this earthly group, small winged child angels turn their heads to the figure of the resurrected Christ, who stands grasping a large wooden cross. The features of Christ and of the man below appear to be identical. It is extremely unusual to find a representation of Christ in a British painting of this period because, following the Reformation in the late 1540s, it was not permitted to display religious images, at least in public.

The dating of this work presents a puzzle. It had long been thought to date from about 1570, as the lady wears a fashion of c.1567-9. Moreover, it bears similarities of handling with another rare English religious painting on panel, the Allegory of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, reproduced Dynasties, p.74, fig.35, and Jones, p.142, fig.136) signed and dated 1570 by the Antwerp-trained Hans Eworth (active 1540-c.1574). Indeed, the present work had sometimes been tentatively attributed to Eworth himself. Dendrochronological analysis carried out by Dr Peter Klein in 1997 seems to show conclusively, however, that the earliest possible dating for its creation is about 1596.

Further Reading

K. Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate exhibition catalogue, London 1995, cat. no. 30, reproduced in colour
K. Hearn, 'Rewriting History on the Walls', Country Life, vol. 191, May 22 1997, p.53, fig.2, reproduced in colour
Rica Jones, 'British School: An Allegory of Man 1596 or after', in S. Hackney, R. Jones, J. Townsend (eds), Paint and Purpose, London 1999, pp.140-5, reproduced in colour

Karen Hearn
January 2001

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Shmendrik's Chelm

schmendrick: n. "stupid person," 1944, from Yiddish shmendrik , from the name of a character in an 1877 operetta ( "Shmendrik, oder Di komishe Chaseneh" ) by Avrom Goldfaden (1840-1908), "Father of Yiddish Theater."


In East European Jewish folklore, the city of Chelm (Pol., Chełm; Yid., Khelem) functions as an imaginary city of fools, similar to that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda, among numerous others. The legendary “town of fools,” often presented ironically as “The Wise Men of . . . ,” is a feature common to most European folklores. Chelm, as was the case with its counterparts in other cultures, spawned hundreds of tales describing outlandish naiveté and stupidity that have been printed in dozens of editions in a variety of languages. Many of these are titled The Wise Men of Chelm. Chelm, located approximately 65 kilometers southeast of Lublin, had a Jewish population from at least the fourteenth century, and was a real town whose residents bore no connection to the stories. If anything, the town was known for Torah scholarship.

There are many similarities between the stories of Khelemer khakhomim (Yiddish for “wise men of Chelm”) and those of other cultures, particularly those found in the Germanic variants. The stories became part of an oral folklore and, once placed within the cultural framework of East European Jewry, were Judaized. The first publication of Chelm-like stories appeared in Yiddish in 1597, and were tales of the town of Schildburg, translated from a German edition. Hence these stories first entered Jewish culture as Schildburger stories, and it is unclear when they became connected to the town of Chelm. During the nineteenth century, a number of other Jewish towns figured as fools’ towns, including Poyzn. Over time, however, Chelm became the central hub of such stories, the first specific publication of which occurred in an 1867 book of humorous anecdotes, allegedly written by Ayzik Meyer Dik. Later, particularly in the early twentieth century, dozens of collections of Khelemer mayses (Chelm stories) were published in Yiddish as well as in English and Hebrew translations.

It is thought that the use of Chelm as a locale for such folk stories began during the eighteenth or nineteenth century, became stabilized, and then remained a constant feature in Jewish folklore. It is unclear why Chelm was the locus for these stories. Some have speculated that it was a result of a rivalry with another town. Others claim that Chelm earned its reputation purely by chance. With no documentary evidence denoting the history of the use of Chelm as a center for Jewish morons, the city’s folkloric status is based solely on conjecture.

Repeated orally and printed frequently in book form, stories of Chelm became a significant popular phenomenon in East European Jewish folklore. A number of Yiddish writers, among them Y. L. Peretz, Leyb Kvitko, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, either used the folkloric themes of the wise men of Chelm as a source for humorous or satiric stories or published their own versions of them. Others, such as Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh and Sholem Aleichem, were influenced by the stories to construct their own fictional towns that included inhabitants with similar characteristics to those of Chelm—Kabtsansk (Poorville) and Glubsk (Idiotville) by the former and Kasrilevke by the latter.

Examples of Chelm stories are:
“Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” a citizen of Chelm asked the rabbi.

“What a silly question!” snapped the cleric. “The moon, of course! It shines at night when we really need it. But who needs the sun to shine when it is already broad daylight?”
The melamed of Chelm was speaking with his wife.
“If I were Rothschild, I’d be richer than he.”

“How can that be?” asked the wife. “You would both have the same amount of money.”

“True,” he agreed, “but I’d do a little teaching on the side.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What the Left Should Learn from Donald Trump?

Slavoj Zizek, "To end our global political crisis, the left needs to learn from Donald Trump"
Today’s left is in advance terrified of any radical acts – even when it is in power, it worries all the time. But it needs to fight to build a new consensus around the social democratic welfare state

A series of things took place in the US recently: the mess with Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, suspicious packages sent to outstanding liberal Democrats, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the sharpening of Trump’s rhetoric – from characterising the main public media in the US as the enemies of the people, to the hints that if Republicans will lose the midterm electoral results, he will not recognise them since they will be based on fraud.

Since all these phenomena occurred on the Republican side of the US political space, and since the colour of the Republican Party is red, one can see how the old anti-Communist motto from the days of the Cold War – “Better dead than red” – acquires an unexpected new meaning today. But one should be more precise here: what really goes on in this eruption of vulgarity in our political space?

As Yuval Noah Harari noted in his Homo Deus, people feel bound by democratic elections only when they share a basic bond with most other voters. If the experience of other voters is alien to me, and if I believe they don't understand my feelings and don't care about my vital interests, then even if I am outvoted by a hundred to one, I have absolutely no reason to accept the verdict. Democratic elections usually work only within populations that have some prior common bind, such as shared religious beliefs and national myths. They are a method to settle disagreements between people who already agree on the basics. When this agreement on basics falters, the only procedure at our disposal (outside outright war, of course) are negotiations. That's why the Middle East conflict cannot be solved by elections but only by war or negotiations.

However, the growing lack of the agreement on the basics in the US and elsewhere does not concern primarily ethnic or religious diversity, it cuts across the entire body politic: it confronts two visions of social and political life, populist-nationalist and liberal-democratic. This confrontation mirrors class struggle, but in a displaced way: the rightist populists present themselves as the voice of the oppressed working class, while the left liberals are the voice of the new elites.

There is ultimately no resolve of the tensions through negotiation possible: one side has to win or the entire field has to be transformed.

A rupture is thus taking place in what philosophers call the “ethical substance” of our life. This rupture is getting too strong for normal democracy, and it is gradually drifting towards a kind of civil cold war. Trump’s perverted “greatness” is that he effectively acts – he is not afraid to break the unwritten (and written) rules to impose his decisions. Our public life is regulate by a thick web of unwritten customs, rules which teach us how to practice the explicit (written) rules. While Trump (more or less) sticks to explicit legal regulations, he tends to ignore the unwritten silent pacts which determine how we should practice these rules. The way he dealt with Kavanaugh was just the latest example.

Instead of just blaming Trump, the left should learn from him and do the same. When a situation demands it, we should shamelessly do the impossible and break the unwritten rules. Unfortunately, today’s left is in advance terrified of any radical acts – even when it is in power, it worries all the time: “If we do this, how will the world react? Will our act cause panic?” Ultimately, this fear means: “Will our enemies be mad and react?” In order to act in politics, one has to overcome this fear and assume the risk, make a step into the unknown.

Politicians such as Andrew Cuomo are making desperate appeals for return to civility, but this is not enough: it doesn’t take into account the fact that the rise of brutal populism filled in the lack opened up by the failure of the liberal consensus.

So what are we to do? We should quote Samuel Beckett here. In Malone Dies, he wrote: “Everything divides into itself, I suppose.” The basic division is not, as Mao Zedong claimed, that of the one which divides into two; it’s the division of a nondescript thing into one and its rest. Til the recent populist explosion, the “one” into which our societies divided was the liberal consensus with respect for established unwritten customs of democratic struggle shared by all; the excluded “rest” were the so-called extremists on both sides – they were tolerated, but precluded from participating in political power. With the rise of alt-right populism, the hegemony of liberal centre was undermined; a different political logic (not so much with regard to its content but primarily with regard to its style) asserted itself as part of the mainstream.

Such a situation cannot last indefinitely, there is a need for new consensus, the political life of our societies should divide itself into a new "one", and it is not determined in advance which this one will be. The situation comes with real dangers – who can guess the consequences if the victory of Borsonaro in Brazil not only for Brazil but for all of us? – but instead of losing nerves and resigning ourselves panic, we should gather the courage and use this dangerous moment as an opportunity.

To quote Mao again: “There is great chaos under heaven – the situation is excellent.”

The one, the new common space, that the left should offer is simply the modern Europe's greatest economic-political achievement: the social democratic welfare state. According to Peter Sloterdijk, our reality is - in Europe, at least - “objective Social Democracy” as opposed to the “subjective” Social Democracy: one should distinguish between social democracy as the panoply of political parties and Social Democracy as the “formula of a system” which “precisely describes the political-economic order of things, which is defined by the modern state as the state of taxes, as infrastructure-state, as the state of the rule of law and, not last, as the social state and the therapy state”: “We encounter everywhere a phenomenal and a structural Social Democracy, a manifest and a latent one, one which appears as a party and another one which is more or less irreversibly built into in the very definitions, functions, and procedures of the modern statehood as such.”

Are we thereby just returning to the old? No: the paradox is that, in today’s new situation, to insist on the old social-democratic welfare state is an almost revolutionary act. The proposals of Sanders and Corbyn are often less radical than those of a moderate Social Democracy half a century ago, but they are nonetheless decried as socialist radicals.

Although the populist right is nationalist, it is much better than left in organising itself as an international network. So the new leftist project can only come alive if it will match the populist internationalism and organise itself as a global movement. The emerging pact between Sanders, Corbyn, and Varoufakis is a first step in this direction. The reaction of the liberal establishment will be violent. The campaign against Corbyn’s alleged anti-Semitism is just a first indication of how the entire movement will be the victim of a campaign to discredit it. But there is no other way – risks will have to be taken.

In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, the great conservative TS Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between heresy and non-belief, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. This is what has to be done today: the only way to really defeat Trump and to redeem what is worth saving in liberal democracy is to perform a sectarian split from liberal democracy’s main corpse.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Clinton is the Problem, not Trump

Slavoj Žižek tells Owen Jones: ‘Clinton is the problem, not Trump’

Slavoj Žižek tells Owen Jones the collapse of the centre-left welfare state consensus has led to the global rise of the new right. He argues the left “ceased to question the fundamentals of the system” and says that the crucial political battleground in the US is not against Donald Trump but what happens within the Democratic party.


Slavoj Zizek, "Until the rich world thinks 'one world,' migration will intensify"
The "rich" world urgently needs to address the reasons behind mass migration, rather than its symptoms. And understand we live in one world.

Migration is, once again, headline news. Columns of migrants from Honduras are approaching the US border through Mexico; African migrants broke through barriers and entered the small Spanish exclave on the northern tip of Africa; Middle East migrants are trying to enter Croatia.

Although the numbers are comparatively small, they do signal a basic geopolitical fact.

In his World Interior of Capital, the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk demonstrates how, thanks to globalization, the capitalist system came to determine all conditions of life.

The first sign of this development was the Crystal Palace in London, the site of the first world exhibition in 1851. Its structure rendered palpable the exclusivity of globalization as the construction and expansion of a world interior whose boundaries are invisible, yet virtually insurmountable from without, and which is now inhabited the by one and a half billion winners of globalization.

However, three times this number are left standing outside the door. Consequently, "the world interior of capital is not an agora or a trade fair beneath the open sky, but rather a hothouse that has drawn inwards everything that was once on the outside."

Two orbits

This interior, built on capitalist excesses, determines everything: "The primary fact of the Modern Age was not that the earth goes around the sun, but that money goes around the earth." After the process that transformed the world into the globe, "social life could only take place in an expanded interior, a domestically and artificially climatized inner space."

What Sloterdijk correctly pointed out is that capitalist globalization does not stand only for openness & conquest, but also for a self-enclosed globe separating the inside from its outside.

The two aspects are inseparable: capitalism's global reach is grounded in the way it introduces a radical class division across the entire globe, separating those protected by the sphere from those outside its cover. The flow of refugees is a momentary reminder of the violent world outside our Cupola, a world which, for us, insiders, appears mostly on TV reports about distant violent countries, not as part of our reality but encroaching on it.

History lessons

Thus, our ethical-political duty is not just to become aware of the reality outside our Cupola, but to fully assume our co-responsibility for the horrors outside our Cupola. The hypocrisy of the reactions to the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi provides a nice example of how this Cupola works. In a broader sense, he was one of us, well located within the Cupola, so we are shocked and outraged.

But our care is ridiculously displaced care: the true scandal that the Istanbul murder caused a much greater scandal than Yemen where Saudi Arabia is destroying an entire country. In (probably) ordering the murder, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) forgot the lesson of Stalin: if you kill one person, you are a criminal; if you kill thousands, you are a hero. So MBS should have gone on killing thousands in Yemen.

So, back to our Leninist question: what is to be done? The first and (sadly) predominant reaction is the one of protective self-enclosure: the world out there is in a mess, let's protect ourselves by all kinds of walls.

A New World Order is emerging in which the only alternative to the "clash of civilizations" remains the peaceful coexistence of civilizations (or of "ways of life," a more popular term today): forced marriages and homophobia (or the idea that a woman going alone to a public place calls for rape) are OK, just that they are limited to another country which is otherwise fully included in the world market.

The sad truth that sustains this new "tolerance" is that today's global capitalism can no longer afford a positive vision of emancipated humanity, even as an ideological dream.

One vision

Fukuyamaist liberal-democratic universalism failed because of its own immanent limitations and inconsistencies, and populism is the symptom of this failure, its Huntington's disease. But the solution is not populist nationalism, Rightist or Leftist. Instead, the only cure is a new universalism – it is demanded by the problems humanity is confronting today, from ecological threats to refugee crises.

The second reaction is global capitalism with a human face personified in socially-responsible corporate figures like Bill Gates and George Soros. Even in its extreme form – "open up our borders to the refugees, treat them like one of us."

Yet, the problem with this solution is that it only provides what in medicine is called a symptomatic treatment – a therapy of a disease leaves the basic global situation intact; it only affects its symptoms, not its cause.

Such a treatment is aimed at reducing the signs and symptoms for the comfort and well-being of the patient – but, in our case, this is obviously not enough since the solution is obviously not that all wretched of the world will move into the safety of the Cupola. We need to move from the humanitarian focus on the wretched of the Earth to the wretched Earth itself.

The third reaction is therefore to gather the courage and envisage a radical change which imposes itself when we fully assume the consequences of the fact that we live in ONE world. Is such a change a utopia? No, the true utopia is that we can survive without such a revolution.

The Future of Europe?

Slavoj Zizek, "Will our future be Chinese 'capitalist socialism'?"
Despite occasional exceptions, it was once considered almost gospel that democracy and capitalism went hand in hand. China's successful rise knocks the notion on the head.

Official Chinese social theorists paint a picture of today's world which basically remains the same as that of the Cold War.

Thus, the worldwide struggle between capitalism and Socialism goes on unabated, the fiasco of 1990 was just a temporary setback and, today, the big opponents are no longer the US and USSR but America and China, which remains a Socialist country.

Here, the explosion of capitalism in China is read as a gigantic case of what in the early Soviet Union they called New Economic Policy, so that what we have in China is a new "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" but still Socialism. The Communist party remains in power and tightly controls and direct market forces.

Indeed, Domenico Losurdo, the Italian Marxist who died in June this year, elaborated this point in detail, arguing against the "pure" Marxism which wants to establish a new Communist society directly after the revolution, and for a more "realist" view which advocates a gradual approach with turnarounds and failures.

Rationalising Reality

Roland Boer, a Beijing-based professor, evokes the memorable image of Losurdo drinking a cup of tea on a busy Shanghai street in September 2016: "In the midst of the bustle, traffic, advertising, shops, and clear economic drive of the place, Domenico said, 'I am happy with this. This is what socialism can do!' To my quizzical look, he replied with a smile, 'I am strongly in favour of the reform and opening up'."

Boer then goes on to resume the argument for this "opening up": "Most efforts had been directed at the relations of production, focusing on socialist equality and collective endeavour. This is all very well, but if everyone is equal simply because they are poor, few would see the benefit. So Deng and those working with him began to emphasise another dimension of Marxism: the need to unleash the forces of production."

For Marxism, however, "unleashing the forces of production" is not "another dimension" but the very goal of transforming relations of production.

And here is Marx's classic formulation: "At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution."

The irony is that, while, for Marx, Communism arises when capitalist aspects of production became an obstacle to the further development of the means of production. Which means this development can be secured only by (sudden or gradual) progress from a capitalist market economy to a socialized economy.

But Deng Xiaoping's "reforms" turn Marx around. At a certain point, one has to return to capitalism to enable the economic development of Socialism.

Complete Change

Of course, there is a further irony here that is difficult to surpass. The 20th century Left was defined by its opposition to two fundamental tendencies of modernity: the reign of capital with its aggressive individualism and alienating dynamics and authoritarian-bureaucratic state power.

What we get in today's China is exactly the combination of these two features in its extreme form: a strong authoritarian state and wild capitalist dynamics.
Orthodox Marxists liked to use the term "dialectical synthesis of the opposites": suggesting true progress takes place when we bring together the best of both opposing tendencies. But it looks like China succeeded by way of bringing together what we considered the worst in both opposing tendencies (liberal capitalism and Communist authoritarianism).

Years ago, a Chinese social theorist, with links to Deng Xiaoping's daughter, told me an interesting anecdote. When Deng was dying, an acolyte who visited him asked him what he thought his greatest act was, expecting the usual answer that he will mention his economic opening that brought such development to China.

To their surprise, he answered: "No, it was that, when the leadership decided to open up the economy, I resisted the temptation to go all the way and open up also the political life to multi-party democracy." (According to some sources, this tendency to go all the way was pretty strong in some Party circles and the decision to maintain party control was in no way preordained.)

Test case

We should resist here the liberal temptation to dream about how, in the case China were to open up also to political democracy, its economic progress would have been even faster: what if political democracy would have generated new instabilities and tensions that would have hampered economic progress? Such as were witnessed in most of the old USSR?

What if this (capitalist) progress was feasible only in a society dominated by a strong authoritarian power? Recall the classical Marxist thesis on early modern England: it was in the bourgeoisie's own interest to leave the political power to the aristocracy and keep for itself the economic power. Maybe something homologous is going on in today's China: it was in the interest of the new capitalists to leave political power to the Communist Party.

The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk remarked how if there is a person to whom they will build monuments a hundred years from now, it is Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean leader who invented and implemented so-called "capitalism with Asian values." (Which, of course, have nothing to do with Asia and all to do with authoritarian capitalism.)

Nevertheless, the virus of this authoritarian capitalism is slowly but surely spreading around the globe. Before setting in motion his reforms, Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and expressly praised it as a model all of China should follow.

This change has a world-historical meaning. Because, until now, capitalism seemed inextricably linked with democracy. There were, of course, from time to time, recourses to direct dictatorship, but, after a decade or two, democracy again imposed itself (recall just the cases of South Korea and Chile).

Now, however, the link between democracy and capitalism is broken. So it is quite possible that our future will be modelled upon a Chinese "capitalist socialism" – definitely not the socialism we were dreaming about.