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

Monday, September 30, 2019

All the east coast blue bloods come out west
And I watch them argue about who loved you the best
I was conspicuously of my kind
Overdressed, but woefully under-refined
Well, the story held together like boulders with a piece of twine

Three helicopters circling
Retreating and returning
Your photographs were on the news
And I was there just out of view

I was standing with a smile chiseled into my head
With a mind in retreat to the places I wished I would've been
When you caught my gaze, I turned away
Planned an exit like a grand escape
As I watched you spinning through the revelers like a cheap ballet

These words all sound familiar
Convictions are forever
You tied a wish to a balloon
Watched it fly to the moon

But you will find some day soon
That it will fall
Yes, it will fall on you

Because they all do
Because they all do
They all do
Because they all do

Friday, September 27, 2019

No Accounting for Taste...?

What has risen from the new-found foundation of political correctness is something called “cancel culture.” Cancel culture is, essentially, when people who have said or done problematic things, either now or in the past, are decidedly “canceled,” and people no longer support them or their endeavors. In this day and age, examples are everywhere. Celebrities getting called out for problematic behavior, or racially insensitive words, and losing network deals or TV shows, as a result.
More doxa

from Kevin Mims @ Quillette
The term “cancel culture” has become hotly contested of late. Critics say it is indiscriminately used to describe different degrees of mass opprobrium produced by transgressions that range from the trivial to the criminal. Now, while mob justice is never a particularly good idea, it is certainly true that some instances are more serious than others. Probably the worst kind involves a serious accusation made against a public figure, who is then investigated and cleared, but whose life and reputation are never allowed to completely recover.

I was reminded of this reading Claire Lehmann’s recent essay about the fate of Giovanni da Col, a young man driven from the journal he founded amid accusations of sexual and financial impropriety, despite the fact that these claims had been investigated and found to be baseless. Woody Allen, meanwhile, had his career belatedly derailed by the reemergence of child molestation allegations, first made by his estranged partner Mia Farrow during an ugly custody fight in 1992. These claims, too, were thoroughly investigated at the time and dismissed, but that has not prevented shame and reprisals 25 years later.

Injustices like these are obviously not unique to our time. If we look back 100 years or so, to the 1920s, we find similar instances of persecution and shunning that outlast vindication of the accused. It may be of little consolation to da Col and Allen today, but history has not been kind to those who participated in these campaigns and a lot more sympathetic to its victims.

During the so-called Roaring Twenties, prizefighter Jack Dempsey was one of America’s biggest celebrities, his fame surpassed only by that of Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, and a few stars of the silent screen. But in January of 1920, the San Francisco Chronicle published a letter by Dempsey’s ex-wife, Maxine, in which she accused the heavyweight champion of having illegally conspired with his manager and others to evade the draft during World War I. This was an explosive accusation. The war was still fresh in the minds of most Americans, many of whom had fought in it and/or lost loved ones in it. The idea that the country’s most famous fighting man might have illegally shirked his obligation to fight for his country struck many as scandalous. Soon editorial writers were calling Dempsey a slacker, a coward, or worse. In his biography of the champ, Jack Dempsey, The Manassa Mauler, writer Randy Roberts quotes this wretchedly wrought editorial from the New York Times as typical of the media pile-on that occurred after Maxine’s letter was published:
Dempsey says that he is not a draft dodger. Technical facts sustain him. His adherents assert that his negative patriotism, negative actions, brings [sic] him forth from the slacker shadows and put him, head up and dauntless, in the clear light of noble duty, nobly done…Dempsey, whose profession is fighting, whose living is combat, whose fame is battle; Dempsey, six feet one of strength, in the glowing splendor of youth, a man fashioned by nature as an athlete and a warrior—Dempsey did not go to the war, while weak-armed, strong-hearted clerks reeled under pack and rifle; while middle-aged men with families volunteered; while America asked for its manhood…There rests the reason for the Dempsey chorus of dispraise.
The main “technical fact” that sustained Dempsey’s argument that he was no draft dodger was the simple truth: he had been granted a 4-A exemption by the draft board in San Francisco, his home at the time. In the World War I era, a man could be exempted from military service if he could prove that he worked in an industry vital to national security, or if he could prove that he was the sole support of his family. Dempsey applied for an exemption on the grounds that he was the sole supporter of his wife, his parents, his widowed sister, and her children. This was true except for the fact that Maxine, a prostitute by trade, frequently grew bored during Dempsey’s long road trips and returned to her old profession, which meant she was not entirely dependent on Dempsey. It is understandable why Dempsey might have wanted to leave that information off his exemption request.

In his biography, Roberts points out that Dempsey was hardly the only celebrated American athlete to have avoided combat during WWI:
During a time of war, an athlete is placed in a unique position. Most men who return safely after serving in the military during their twenties can resume their normal occupation when they are discharged. But if an athlete is forced from his occupation for two or three years during his prime, the results can be disastrous.
He notes that Babe Ruth enlisted in the Massachusetts Home Guard, a reserve unit, which allowed him to serve both his country and the Boston Red Sox during the war years. Likewise, writes Roberts, “Bill Tilden literally served out his stint in the Signal Corps giving tennis lessons to his commanding officer in Pittsburgh. Hundreds of professional athletes followed this path, technically doing their duty but not missing a single season of athletic competition.”

Today, a prominent individual can find himself in the hot seat for behavior engaged in years ago (appearing in blackface, making a gay joke, etc.) which wasn’t all that controversial at the time. Likewise, back in the twenties, some hyperpatriotic types began retroactively trying to shame celebrities who had employed technical gambits during the war years to avoid combat. Still, the controversy surrounding Dempsey’s 4-A exemption might have died out quickly had Maxine (possibly prodded by a newspaperman who was paying her to keep the story alive) not continued to heap coal on the fire. Soon she was telling the Chronicle’s readers that she had letters written in Dempsey’s hand that proved her accusations. Before the end of January 1920, many American Legion posts had adopted resolutions condemning Dempsey’s war record—or lack thereof. Very soon the US Attorney’s office began looking into the matter.

By February, however, Maxine had tired of the game. She met with US Attorney Charles W. Thomas, the government’s point man on the case, and confessed that everything she had said about her ex-husband was untrue. She claimed she made up the charges because she had falsely believed Dempsey to have had an affair with another woman during the time that he was married to Maxine. Now Maxine had learned that her suspicions were ill-founded and wanted to clear her ex-husband’s name. She described him as “a wonderful man and husband” who had always supported his large extended family.

Alas, Thomas was already committed to his prosecution of Dempsey. He secured a grand jury indictment against Dempsey and his manager Jack Kearns for conspiracy to avoid the draft. The trial, held in San Francisco, was a national sensation. Thomas put Maxine on the witness stand and forced her to recount the work she did as a prostitute back in 1917, when she was still married to Dempsey but estranged from him. He also put two of her fellow prostitutes on the stand, to verify that Maxine was a working girl in 1917 and not dependent on her husband’s financial support. According to Roberts, “Although each of the women spent an hour or more in recounting events that had no bearing on the case, both agreed on one important thing: Jack Dempsey had never sent his wife a penny.”

The next day, Dempsey’s defense attorney, Gavin McNab, cross-examined Maxine extensively, eventually forcing her to concede that she had initiated the scandal in the hope of benefitting financially from it. Here’s Roberts again (the material he quotes is from contemporary newspaper accounts of the trial):
As McNab pressured, Maxine turned bitter. With “apparent enjoyment” she told of her adventures as a prostitute: “So eager was she to dwell on the sordid details of her life in one city after another that she ran ahead of the questions.” Dempsey sat silent as Maxine made it “unmistakably clear” that she tired of marriage after several months. For her the “underworld” life of prostitution and crime was preferable to holy wedlock. If she confessed that Dempsey did send her some money—the only part of her testimony germane to the case—she also accused him of being stingy and hard to live with.

The Dempseys’ marriage was largely a sham, but it was a complicated one. While Jack lived and trained in San Francisco, Maxine stayed with his Mormon parents in Salt Lake City. McNab was able to produce witnesses from the Salt Lake City offices of Western Union who provided written proof that Jack had wired considerable amounts of money to both his wife and his parents during the war years.

All of that might have been enough to earn Dempsey an acquittal, but the coup de grace to the government’s case came the following day when McNab put Dempsey’s mother, Celia Dempsey, on the stand. As Roberts notes, “Her story might well have won Dempsey’s nomination for sainthood.” Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a little white-haired, wrinkled woman with hands gnarled by hard work and shoulders bent by years,” she testified that her husband was crippled by arthritis and suffered from both addle-mindedness and melancholia. She also cared for a daughter, Effie Clarkson, who suffered from various physical afflictions. Her sons Johnny and Joseph had been exempted from the draft due to ill health. Another son was stabbed to death while selling newspapers in Salt Lake City. Without Jack, she told the court, “We wouldn’t have had anything.” She noted that after Jack defeated Jess Willard for the world heavyweight boxing title, he sent his family $20,000, so that they could buy a house.

Dempsey himself eventually took the stand and noted that he had raised $330,000 for the war effort by fighting in charity events. He also noted that his efforts as a recruiting officer in Philadelphia helped inspire several hundred young men to sign up for work in shipyards that built naval vessels. He also testified that, when he had the money and knew where to find her, he always sent Maxine support checks.

He was followed to the witness stand by Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy (not the future president), who testified that Dempsey had been in the process of enlisting when the war ended and the Secretary of the Navy ordered that enlistment be halted.

It took the jury only ten minutes to acquit Dempsey of all the charges against him. Alas, it took the public and the press a lot longer. Cliff Wheatley, a sportswriter for the Atlanta Constitution, opined in a column that Dempsey’s reputation was forever tainted by the scandal and that he was unworthy of holding the honor of being heavyweight champion. Wheatley argued that all patriotic Americans ought to hope that Dempsey would lose his title in an upcoming bout with Frenchman Georges Carpentier, who had fought valiantly in WWI. And, indeed, though the bout was held in New Jersey, the crowd heavily favored the foreigner (who was knocked out by Dempsey in the fourth round). Even Carpentier’s 1975 obituary in the New York Times rehashed the incident: “Considerable American public opinion favored Carpentier because he was a war hero, while Dempsey was considered a slacker who had avoided military service.”

Roberts sums up the damage done by the scandal in these words:
The draft issue did not end in 1920. Throughout the rest of his career Dempsey heard the word slacker often attached to his name. While walking down the streets of New York, boxing in exhibitions, or even acting on the Broadway stage, he would inevitably encounter questions…Always sensitive on the subject, he suffered psychologically from the cheap insults. A friend, Dan Daniel, said that one of Dempsey’s happiest days was when he enlisted for World War II. Only then could Dempsey let the issue sleep in his own mind.
Curiously, Dempsey’s 1920 trial in San Francisco would not be the biggest or most salacious celebrity trial in that town during the Roaring Twenties. The very next year, film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle would be put on trial for the alleged rape and manslaughter of an actress named Virginia Rappe, who died four days after attending a party in his room at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. The evidence against Arbuckle was weak. Rappe was examined by a hotel doctor on the day of the party and found to be suffering only from extreme alcohol intoxication. She was taken to a hospital, where a woman named Bambina Maude Delmont, a short-term friend of Rappe’s who had attended the party with her, told doctors that Rappe had been raped by Arbuckle. Rappe was examined by a physician who found no evidence of rape. She died the next day, after which Delmont repeated her rape accusation to the police, who turned over their findings to the district attorney. The case probably would never have been brought to trial if San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady hadn’t hoped to use the publicity from the trial as a springboard to the governor’s office. The story was exaggerated and sensationalized by a media culture that recognized that celebrity sells. According to Wikipedia, certain groups that claimed to be upholders of public morals called for Arbuckle to be executed.

It took three trials to settle the matter (Arbuckle was defended by Gavin McNab, the same attorney who handled Dempsey’s defense). The first jury voted 10-2 in favor of acquittal. The second jury voted 9-3 in favor of conviction. The jury in the third trial deliberated for only six minutes before declaring Arbuckle not guilty. The jury also took the nearly unprecedented step of issuing an apology to Arbuckle for the ordeal he had been through. It read:
Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and woman who have sat listening for thirty-one days to evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.
Alas, the acquittal didn’t do much for Arbuckle’s career. Here’s Wikipedia again on the aftermath:
Despite Arbuckle’s acquittal, the scandal has mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian. His films were banned after the trial and he was publicly ostracized. The ban was lifted within a year, but Arbuckle only worked sparingly through the 1920s…He later worked as a film director under the pseudonym William Goodrich…Arbuckle died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1933 at age 46.
Dempsey and Arbuckle were both innocent men. Dempsey’s career recovered from the scandal his legal troubles engendered. Arbuckle’s didn’t. Both men suffered serious psychological distress from which they never recovered.

Arbuckle has received some posthumous vindication from fiction writers. His story has been lightly fictionalized in novels such as Scandal in Eden, by Garet Rogers, Devil’s Garden, by Ace Atkins, and I, Fatty, by Jerry Stahl, all of which are sympathetic towards their protagonist. I know of only one novel that deals with both the Dempsey and Arbuckle scandals. Published in 1984, Shirley Streshinsky’s A Time Between is the story of Hallie Duer, a pioneering young feminist newspaperwoman who finds herself covering both trials for the fictional San Francisco Times (a stand-in for the Chronicle). Streshinsky uses an interview between the fictional Hallie Duer and the historical Gavin McNab, to highlight interesting similarities between Dempsey and Arbuckle:
“It seems to me [said Duer] that Dempsey and Arbuckle have some things in common. Both are from poor families, they had to work their way to the top, they knew hard times.”

McNab picked up, “Dempsey lived the hobo life and married a prostitute,” he said. “Both were born into a social stratum where drinking and womanizing were part of life. It isn’t surprising that Dempsey could move into the Hollywood crowd. He and Arbuckle have some mutual friends—did you know that? Then, when they become celebrities, their fans want to pretend—and want them to pretend—that they live a middle-class Methodist life, pure as the driven snow…the thing is, both Dempsey and Arbuckle are strong, silent men who are innately decent. Dempsey’s trouble was caused by a divorced wife who was put up to it by a sportswriter. Arbuckle’s troubles started with a sad incident, and were compounded by a liar [Delmont] and an ambitious politician [Brady] who tried to amplify those lies and have them accepted as truth. I suspect both Dempsey and Arbuckle will carry scars from their San Francisco trials till the end of their days.”
The 1920s—and the cases of Dempsey and Arbuckle in particular—offer warnings in these overheated and confusing times about the dangers of trial by media and a rush to judgment. Reputations and careers, once tainted by accusation may never recover, even if those accusations turn out to be based on nothing but hearsay and lies or motivated by nothing more noble than score-settling. There are those who may argue that people like Dempsey and Arbuckle are acceptable collateral damage in the fight over values. But it is more important still to ensure that we establish the truth of the matter at hand, and that the punishment fit the crime…should one turn out to have been committed at all.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Neocon Lullabye

Banksy's Parliament

from The Guardian
Devolved Parliament expected to sell for £1.5m-£2m, potentially becoming most expensive Banksy sold

Banksy’s withering view of the UK parliament, showing a Commons chamber packed full of chimpanzees, is to appear at auction for what could be a record amount of money.

The artist painted Devolved Parliament in 2009, when the word Brexit would have baffled people.

But timing is everything. The artwork will go on display in London for the first time later this month at Sotheby’s auction house, less than a mile from the House of Commons.

Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art, said Banksy was a modern-day Voltaire.

He said: “Regardless of where you sit in the Brexit debate, there’s no doubt that this work is more pertinent now than it has ever been, capturing unprecedented levels of political chaos and confirming Banksy as the satirical polemicist of our time.”

At nearly 4 metres (13ft), the work is the largest known canvas by Banksy. It is being sold with an auction estimate of £1.5m-£2m. That means it could exceed the record of $1.9m (£1.52m) paid for Keep it Spotless, a Damien Hirst spot painting on to which Banksy stencilled a maid cleaning.

Banksy originally painted Devolved Parliament for his takeover of his hometown museum in Bristol in 2009, a show that attracted more than 300,000 visitors and became one of the top 10 most visited exhibitions anywhere in the world that year.

It was lent earlier this year, by its anonymous owner, to a display at Bristol Museum marking both the exhibition’s 10th anniversary and Britain’s original planned exit from the EU on 29 March.

At the time, Banksy wrote on Instagram: “I made this 10 years ago. Bristol museum have just put it back on display to mark Brexit day. Laugh now, but one day no one will be in charge”.

Banksy recently addressed Brexit in a huge mural on a building in Dover showing a worker chiselling a star from the EU flag. It was mysteriously whitewashed over. He said he had been planning to update it on 31 October, with the blue crumpled on the ground, writing: “Never mind. I guess a big white flag says it just as well.”

Devolved Parliament goes on display on 28 September before its sale on 3 October. It will be the same auction room where Banksy a year ago stunned the art world by activating a shredder moments after one of his works was sold.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Not WWIII...

Slavoj Zizek, "The drone attack on the Saudi refinery is no game-changer. But is there a new ‘axis of evil’ in the Middle East?"
The Saudi-led destruction of Yemen - and the inevitable Houthi response - is part and parcel of the usual geopolitical games. Israel re-shaping the West Bank under the radar is where the rules are changing

When, a couple of days ago, Saudi Aramco’s crude-oil processing facilities were attacked with drones – it is thought by the Houthis in Yemen – our media repeatedly characterised this event as a “game-changer”. But was it really this? In some sense yes, since it perturbed the global oil supply and made a large armed conflict in the Middle East much more probable. However, one should be careful not to miss the cruel irony of this claim.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have been in an open war with Saudi Arabia for years, with Saudi armed forces (and the US and the UK supplying arms) practically destroying the entire country, indiscriminately bombing civilian objects. The Saudi intervention has led to one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the century with tens of thousands of children dead. As it was in the cases of Libya and Syria, destroying an entire country is obviously not a game-changer – just part and parcel of a very normal geopolitical game.

Even if we condemn the Houthis' alleged act, should we really be surprised to see them, cornered and in a desperate situation, striking back in whatever way they could? Far from changing the game, could the attack have been its logical culmination? They might have finally found the way to grab Saudi Arabia where it really hurts. Or, to paraphrase Brecht’s famous line from his Beggar’s Opera “what is robbing a bank compared to founding a new bank”, what is destroying a country compared to slightly disturbing the reproduction of global capital?

The media attention grabbed by the “game-changing” attack also conveniently distracted us from other truly game-changing projects like the Israeli plan to annex large, fertile chunks of the West Bank. What this means is that all the talk about the two state solution was just that; empty talk meant to obfuscate the ruthless realisation of a modern-day colonisation project in which what awaits the West Bank Palestinians will be in the best case a couple of tightly controlled Bantustans. One should also note that Israel is doing this with the silent connivance of Saudi Arabia – a further proof that a new axis of evil is emerging in the Middle East composed of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and the emirates. It is here that the rules of the game are truly changing!

And, to broaden the scope of our analysis, one should also be attentive to how the game is changing with Hong Kong protests. A dimension as a rule ignored in our media is that of class struggle which sustains the Hong Kong protests against China’s efforts to constrain its autonomy. Hong Kong protests first erupted in poor districts – the rich were prospering under Chinese control.

Then a new voice was heard: one banner carried at the march read “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong” in English. Some marchers sang the US national anthem as they moved towards the consulate. “We share the same US values of liberty and democracy,” 30-year-old banker David Wong said. Every serious analysis of the Hong Kong protests has to focus on how a social protest, potentially a true game-changer, was recuperated into the standard narrative of the democratic revolt against totalitarian rule.

And the same goes for mainland China itself. In the last few days our media have reported on how the Unirule Institute of Economics, one of China’s few remaining outposts of liberal thought, has been ordered to shut down. Another sign of the dramatically shrinking space for public debate under the government of the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping?

Yes, sure. But we are here far from the police intimidation, beatings and arrests to which leftist students are submitted to. Ironically, taking the official return to Marxism more seriously than it was meant, groups of students organised links with workers who suffer extreme exploitation in factories around Beijing. Pollution in chemical factories is largely uncontrolled and ignored by state power, and students have been helping workers to organise themselves and formulate their demands to improve their conditions.

It is these links – between students and workers – that pose the true challenge to the regime, while the struggle between the new hard line of Xi Jinping and the pro-capitalist liberals is ultimately part of the dominant game, the tension between the two versions of the unbridled capitalist development, authoritarian and liberal.

In all these cases, from Yemen to China, one should thus learn to distinguish between the conflicts which are part of the game and the true game-changers. These are either ominous turns to the worse masked as the continuation of the normal state of things (Israel annexing large parts of the West Bank), or the hopeful signs of something really new emerging. The predominant liberal view is obsessed by the first and largely ignores the second.


Slavoj Žižek, "What really makes me mad"
What really makes me mad when I read critical (and even some favorable) reactions to my work is the recurring characterization of me as a postmodern cultural critic – the one thing I don’t want to be. I consider myself a philosopher dealing with fundamental ontological questions, and, furthermore, a philosopher in the traditional vein of German Idealism.

Everyone who has seen Hitchcock’s Vertigo remembers the mysterious scene in the sequoia park where Madeleine walks over to a redwood cross-section of an over-thousand-year-old trunk showing its growth history by date, points to two circular lines close to the outer edge and says: “Here I was born . . . and here I died.” In a similar way, we can imagine a philosophy muse in front of a timeline of European history, pointing to two date markers close to each other and saying: “Here I was born . . . and here I died.” The first marker designates 1781, the publication date of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and the second one 1831, the year of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s death.

For me, in some sense, all of philosophy happened in these fifty years: the vast development prior to it was just a preparation for the rise of the notion of the transcendental, and in the post-Hegelian development, philosophy returns in the guise of the common Judy, i.e., the vulgar nineteenth-century empiricism. For me, all four great German idealists — Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel — articulated a distance towards idealist subjectivity and gained a non-metaphysical insight into the essence of history and the alienation of our existence. They struggled with how to break out of the horizon of absolute subjectivity without regressing to pre-transcendental realism.

But which Hegel am I referring to here? Where am I speaking from? To simplify it to the utmost, the triad that defines my philosophical stance is that of Baruch Spinoza, Kant and Hegel. Spinoza is arguably the pinnacle of realist ontology: there is substantial reality out there, and we can get to know it through our reason, dispelling the veil of illusions. Kant’s transcendental turn introduces a radical gap here: we cannot ever gain access to the way things are in themselves, our reason is constricted to the domain of phenomena, and if we try to reach beyond phenomena to the totality of being, our mind gets caught in necessary antinomies and inconsistencies. What Hegel does here is to posit that there is no reality in-itself beyond phenomena, which does not mean that all that there is is the interplay of phenomena. The phenomenal world is marked by the bar of impossibility, but beyond this bar there is nothing, no other world, no positive reality, so we are not returning to pre-Kantian realism; it is just that what for Kant is the limitation of our knowledge, the impossibility to reach the thing-in-itself, is inscribed into this thing itself.

Furthermore, Hegel is NOT a critical thinker: his basic stance is that of reconciliation – not reconciliation as a long-term goal but reconciliation as a fact which confronts us with the unexpected bitter truth of the actualized Ideal. If there is a Hegelian motto, it is something like: find a truth in how things turn wrong! The message of Hegel is not “the spirit of trust” (the title of Robert Brandom’s latest book on Hegel’s Phenomenology) but rather the spirit of distrust – his premise is that every large human project turns wrong and only in this way attests to its truth. The French Revolution wanted universal freedom and climaxed in terror, Communism wanted global emancipation and gave birth to Stalinist terror… Hegel’s lesson is thus a new version of Big Brother’s famous slogan from George Orwell’s 1984 ”freedom is slavery”: when we try to enforce freedom directly, the result is slavery. So whatever Hegel is, he is decidedly not a thinker of a perfect ideal that we approach infinitely.

Heinrich Heine (who was Hegel’s student in the philosopher’s last years) propagated the story that he once told Hegel he cannot endorse Hegel’s formula “all that is actual is rational,” and that Hegel looked carefully around and told his student not too loudly: “Perhaps, I should say: all that is actual should be rational.” Even if factually true, this anecdote is philosophically a lie – if not an outright invention of Heine, it represents Hegel’s attempt to cover up from his student the painful message or truth of his thinking.

Such a Hegel is the central point of reference of my entire work.

Don't Fear the Dark!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Bohlen-Pierce Scale

from Wikipedia:
The Bohlen–Pierce scale (BP scale) is a musical tuning and scale, first described in the 1970s, that offers an alternative to the octave-repeating scales typical in Western and other musics,[1] specifically the equal tempered diatonic scale.

The interval 3:1 (often called by a new name, tritave) serves as the fundamental harmonic ratio, replacing the diatonic scale's 2:1 (the octave). For any pitch that is part of the BP scale, all pitches one or more tritaves higher or lower are part of the system as well, and are considered equivalent.

The BP scale divides the tritave into 13 steps, either equal tempered (the most popular form), or in a justly tuned version. Compared with octave-repeating scales, the BP scale's intervals are more consonant with certain types of acoustic spectra.

The scale was independently described by Heinz Bohlen,[2] Kees van Prooijen[3] and John R. Pierce. Pierce, who, with Max Mathews and others, published his discovery in 1984,[4] renamed the Pierce 3579b scale and its chromatic variant the Bohlen–Pierce scale after learning of Bohlen's earlier publication. Bohlen had proposed the same scale based on consideration of the influence of combination tones on the Gestalt impression of intervals and chords.[5]

The intervals between BP scale pitch classes are based on odd integer frequency ratios, in contrast with the intervals in diatonic scales, which employ both odd and even ratios found in the harmonic series. Specifically, the BP scale steps are based on ratios of integers whose factors are 3, 5, and 7. Thus the scale contains consonant harmonies based on the odd harmonic overtones 3:5:7:9 (play (help·info)). The chord formed by the ratio 3:5:7 (play (help·info)) serves much the same role as the 4:5:6 chord (a major triad play (help·info)) does in diatonic scales (3:5:7 = 1:1 & 2/3:2 & 1/3 and 4:5:6 = 2:2 & 1/2:3 = 1:1 & 1/4:1 & 1/2).

OMG Particles + Dark Matter?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Fail Better!

As part of the activities marking the centenary of the University of Ljubljana, the Faculty of Arts is organising the Philosophy Summer School ‘Fail better!’ led by the internationally renowned scholars known as ‘the Ljubljana School’, Slavoj Žižek, Alenka Zupančič and Mladen Dolar, who will each give three extensive lectures and present their latest work. The programme will be concluded by a common session.

The title of the Summer School is taken from the famous quote by Samuel Beckett, ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ (Worstward Ho), and refers to a stark sense of failure of critical thought and of emancipatory politics, the rise of new populism, the emergence of previously unthinkable leaders, the looming social and economic contradictions, and the apocalyptic perspectives of global and ecological catastrophes. Such failure, however, is a starting point that instigates new intellectual engagement.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Zizekian

- Slavoj Zizek, "Margaret Atwood’s work illustrates our need to enjoy other people's pain"
Heaven is not enough, and has to be supplemented by the permission to take a look at another’s suffering — only in this way, as Aquinas says, the blessed souls 'may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly'

A well-crafted worldwide publicity campaign is raising expectations for The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her Handmaid’s Tale. This, perhaps, is the right moment to take a deeper look into the reasons of our fascination with the dark world of the Republic of Gilead.

Since Gilead is run by Christian fundamentalists, the best way to begin is with theology.

In his Summa Theologica, philosopher Thomas Aquinas concludes that the blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned in order that their bliss be more delightful for them. Aquinas, of course, takes care to avoid the obscene implication that good souls in heaven can find pleasure in observing the terrible suffering of other souls, because good Christians should feel pity when they see suffering. So, will the blessed in heaven also feel pity for the torments of the damned? Aquinas’s answer is no: not because they directly enjoy seeing suffering, but because they enjoy the exercise of divine justice.

But what if enjoying Divine Justice is the rationalisation, the moral cover-up, for sadistically enjoying the neighbour’s eternal suffering? What makes Aquinas’s formulation suspicious is the surplus enjoyment watching the pain of others secretly introduces: as if the simple pleasure of living in the bliss of heaven is not enough, and has to be supplemented by the enjoyment of being allowed to take a look at another’s suffering — only in this way, the blessed souls “may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly”.

We can easily imagine the appropriate scene in heaven: when some blessed souls complain that the nectar served was not as tasty as the last time, and that blissful life up there is rather boring after all, angels serving the blessed souls would snap back: “You don’t like it here? So take a look at how life is down there, at the other end, and maybe you will learn how lucky you are to be here!”

And the corresponding scene in hell should also be imagined in a totally different way: far away from the Divine gaze and control, the damned souls enjoy an intense and pleasurable life in hell — only from time to time, when the Devil’s administrators of hell learn that the blessed souls from heaven will be allowed to observe briefly life in hell, they kindly implore the damned souls to stage a performance and pretend to suffer terribly in order to impress the idiots from heaven.

In short, the sight of the other’s suffering is the obscure cause of desire which sustains our own happiness (bliss in heaven) — if we take it away, our bliss appears in all its sterile stupidity. And, incidentally, does the same not hold for our daily portion of Third World horrors – wars, starvations, violence – on TV screens? We need it to sustain the happiness of our consumerist heaven.

And this brings us to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: a case of the direct “critical” depiction of the oppressive atmosphere of an imagined conservative-fundamentalist rule. The novel and the television series allow us to dwell in the weird pleasure in fantasising a world of brutal patriarchal domination. Of course, nobody would openly admit the desire to live in such nightmarish world, but this assurance that we really don’t want it makes fantasising about it, imagining all the details of this world, all the more pleasurable. Yes, we feel pain while experiencing this pleasure, but psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s name for this pleasure-in-pain is jouissance.

The obverse of this ambiguity is the fundamental blindness of Atwood’s tale for the limitations of our liberal-permissive universe: the entire story is an exercise in what American literary critic Fredric Jameson called “nostalgia for the present” – it is permeated by the sentimental admiration for our liberal-permissive present ruined by the new Christian-fundamentalist rule, and it never even approaches the question of what is wrong in this present so that it gave birth to the nightmarish Republic of Gilead. “Nostalgia for the present” falls into the trap of ideology because it is blind for the fact that this present permissive Paradise is boring, and (exactly like the blessed souls in Paradise) it needs a look into the hell of religious fundamentalism to sustain itself.

This is ideology at its purest, ideology in the simple and brutal sense of legitimising the existing order and obfuscating its antagonisms. In exactly the same way, liberal critics of Trump and alt-right never seriously ask how our liberal society could give birth to Trump.

In this sense, the image of Donald Trump is also a fetish: the last thing a liberal sees before confronting class struggle. That’s why liberals are so fascinated and horrified by Trump: to avoid the class topic. German philosopher Friedrich Hegel’s motto, “evil resides in the gaze which sees evil everywhere”, fully applies here: the very liberal gaze which demonises Trump is also evil because it ignores how its own failures opened up the space for Trump’s type of patriotic populism. 

Note to Terrorists...

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Friday, September 6, 2019

Exploiting Liberal Left Stupidity

- Slavoj Zizek, "Trump will be re-elected because of left-liberal stupidity"
Through all his shocking vulgarities, he is providing his followers with a narrative which makes sense

Not such a long time ago, in a galaxy that now appears far, far away, the public space was clearly distinguished from the obscenities of private exchanges. Politicians, journalists and other media personalities were expected to address us with a minimum of dignity, talking and acting as if the common good is their main preoccupation, avoiding vulgar expressions and reference to personal intimacies. There were, of course, rumors about their private vices, but they remained that – private matters mentioned only in the yellow press. Today, however, not only we can read in the mass media about the intimate details of public personalities, populist politicians themselves often regress to shameless obscenity. It is the very public domain in which ‘fake news’ circulates, in which rumors and conspiracy theories abound.

One should not lose sight of what is so surprising about this rise of shameless obscenity, so well noted and analyzed by Angela Nagle in her book Kill All Normies. Traditionally (or in our retroactive view of tradition, at least), shameless obscenity was subversive, an undermining of traditional domination, depriving the Master of his false dignity. I remember from my own youth how in the 1960s protesting students liked to use obscene words or gestures to embarrass figures of power and, so they claimed, denounce their hypocrisy. However, what we are seeing today is not the disappearance of authority, of Master figures, but its forceful reappearance – we are getting something unimaginable decades ago, obscene Masters.

Donald Trump is the emblematic figure of this new type of obscene populist Master, and the usual argument against him – that his populism (worry for the well-being of the poor ordinary people) is fake, that his actual politics protects the interests of the rich – is all too inadequate. The followers of Trump do not act ‘irrationally’, they are not victims of primitive ideological manipulations which make them vote against their interests. They are quite rational in their own terms: they vote for Trump because in the ‘patriotic’ vision he is selling around, he also addresses their ordinary everyday problems – guaranteeing them safety, a permanent job, et cetera.

When he was elected president, I was asked by a couple of publishers to write a book which would submit the Trump phenomenon to a psychoanalytic critics, and my answer was that we do not need psychoanalysis to explore the ‘pathology’ of his success – the only thing to psychoanalyze is the irrational stupidity of the left-liberal reactions to it, the stupidity which makes it more and more probable that Trump will be re-elected. To use what is perhaps the lowest point of Trump’s vulgarities, the left has not yet learned how to grab him by the pussy.

Trump is not winning just by shamelessly bombarding us with messages which generate obscene enjoyment at how he dares to violate the elementary norms of decency. Through all his shocking vulgarities, he is providing his followers with a narrative which makes sense – a very limited and twisted sense, but nonetheless a sense which obviously does a better job than the left-liberal narrative. His shameless obscenities serve as signs of solidarity with so-called ordinary people (‘you see, I am the same as you, we are all red under our skin’), and this solidarity also signals the point at which Trump’s obscenity reaches its limit. Trump is not totally obscene: when he talks about the greatness of America, when he dismisses his opponents as enemies of the people, et cetera, he intends to be taken seriously, and his obscenities are meant to precisely emphasize by contrast the level at which he is serious: they are meant to function as an obscene display of his belief in the greatness of America.

In order to undermine Trump, one should begin by displacing the site of his obscenity and treat as obscene his ‘serious’ statements. Trump is not truly obscene when he uses vulgar terms, he is truly obscene when he talks about America as the greatest country in the world, when he imposes his economic measures, et cetera. The obscenity of his speech masks this more basic obscenity. One could paraphrase here the well-known Marx brothers’ dictum: Trump acts and looks like a shamelessly obscene politician, but this should not deceive us – he really is a shamelessly obscene politician.

Public obscenity that proliferates today constitutes a third domain between the private and the public space: the private space elevated into the public sphere. It seems to be the form that fits best our immersion into cyberspace, our participation in all possible forums; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. No wonder, then, that Trump makes most of his decisions public through Twitter. However, we don’t get here the ‘real Trump’: the domain of public obscenities is not that of sharing intimate experiences, it is a public domain full of lies, hypocrisies and pure malevolence, a domain in which we engage in a way similar to that of wearing a disgusting mask. The standard relationship between my intimacy and the big Other of public dignity is thus turned around: obscenities are no longer limited to private exchanges, they explode in the public domain itself, allowing me to dwell in the illusion that it’s all just an obscene game while I remain innocent in my intimate purity. The first task of a critic is to demonstrate how fake this purity is.
Now Everybody Join ANTIFA to Fight the Imminent NAZI/ Trumpian Threat!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Failure of Global Capital to Maintain Regional Prosperity is Crashing Nation States

Democratic capitalism is in crisis and we are slowly approaching an alternative -- what is poetically called "capitalism with Asian values," which has nothing to do with Asia but is a more authoritarian one. And again, it's not just China or Singapore -- it's Russia, it's Turkey. Even in places where democracy is still formally alive, it's becoming more and more irrelevant as we see with this TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- a proposed trade agreement between the European Union and the United States) and other commercial agreements, which are incredibly important. They set the frame for what governments can do, but without any democratic consultation -- they're half-secret, and so on.
- Slavoj Zizek

Wednesday, September 4, 2019


- Slavoj Zizek, "The Amazon fires should make it clear. We have got everything wrong on the ‘climate crisis’"
Our meagre efforts are like a soccer fan in front of a TV screen at home, shouting and jumping from his seat, in a superstitious belief that this will somehow influence the outcome

Just when the burning of the Amazon forests drifted from our headlines, we learned that almost 4,000 new forest fires were started in Brazil in the two days after the government banned deliberate burning of the Amazon.

These figures trigger alarm: are we really heading towards a collective suicide? By destroying the Amazon rainforests, Brazilians are killing “the lungs of our Earth”. However, if we want to confront seriously threats to our environment, what we should avoid are precisely such quick extrapolations which fascinate our imagination.

Two or three decades ago, everyone in Europe was talking about Waldsterben, the dying of forests. The topic was on the covers of all popular weeklies, and there were calculations of how in half a century Europe will be without forests. Now there are more forests in Europe than at any point in the 20th century, and we are becoming aware of other dangers – of what happens in the depth of the oceans, for example.

While we should take ecological threats extremely seriously, we should also be fully aware of how uncertain analyses and projections are in this domain – we will know for sure what is going on only when it is too late. Fast extrapolations only hand arguments to climate change deniers. We should avoid at all costs the trap of an “ecology of fear,” a hasty, morbid fascination with looming catastrophe.

This ecology of fear has the hallmarks of a developing, predominant form of ideology in global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion. It takes over the old religion’s fundamental function, that of installing an unquestionable authority which can impose limits.

The lesson hammered into us is that of our own finitude: we are just one species on our Earth embedded in a biosphere which reaches far beyond our horizon. In our exploitation of natural resources, we are borrowing from the future, so one should treat our Earth with respect, as something ultimately sacred, something that should not be unveiled totally, that should and will forever remain a mystery, a power we should trust, not dominate.

While we cannot gain full mastery over our biosphere, it is, unfortunately, in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process. This is why, although ecologists are all the time demanding that we make radical changes to our way of life, underlying this demand is its opposite: a deep distrust of change, of development, of progress. Every radical change can have the unintended consequence of catastrophe.

Things get even more difficult here. Even when we profess the readiness to assume responsibility for ecological catastrophes, this can be a tricky stratagem to avoid facing the true scale of the threat. There is something deceptively reassuring in this readiness to assume the guilt for threats to our environment: we like to be guilty since, if we are guilty, then it all depends on us, we pull the strings of the catastrophe, so we can also save ourselves simply by changing our lives.

What is really difficult for us (at least for us in the west) to accept is that we might be reduced to a purely passive role of impotent observers who can only sit and watch our fate. To avoid this, we are prone to engage in frantic activity, we recycle old paper, buy organic food, whatever, just so that we can be sure we are doing something, making our contribution.

We are like a soccer fan who supports his team in front of a TV screen at home, shouting and jumping from his seat, in a superstitious belief that this will somehow influence the outcome.

It is true that the typical form of fetishist disavowal around ecology is: “I know very well (that we are all threatened), but I don’t really believe it (so I am not ready to do anything really important like changing my way of life).”

But there is also the opposite form of disavowal: “I know very well that I cannot really influence the process which can lead to my ruin (like a volcanic outburst), but it is nonetheless too traumatic for me to accept this, so I cannot resist the urge to do something, even if I know it is ultimately meaningless.”

Is it not for that reason we buy organic food? Who really believes that the half-rotten and expensive “organic” apples are really healthier? The point is that, by way of buying them, we do not just buy and consume a product – we simultaneously do something meaningful, show our care and global awareness, we participate in a large collective project.

The predominant ecological ideology treats us as a priori guilty, indebted to Mother Nature, under the constant pressure of the ecological superego agency which addresses us in our individuality: “What did you do today to repay your debt to nature? Did you put all your newspapers into a proper recycling bin? And all the bottles of beer or cans of Coke? Did you use your bike or public transport instead of your car? Did you open the windows wide rather than firing up the air conditioning?”

The ideological stakes of such individualisation are easy to see: I get lost in my own self-examination instead of raising much more pertinent global questions about our entire industrial civilization.

Ecology thus lends itself easily to ideological mystification. It can be a pretext for New Age obscuration (the praising of the pre-modern etc), or for neocolonialism (developed world complaints of the threat of rapid growth in developing countries such as Brazil or China), or as a cause to honour “green capitalists” (buy green and recycle, as if taking into account ecology justifies capitalist exploitation). All of these tensions exploded in our reactions to the recent Amazon fires.

There are five main strategies to distract from the true dimensions of the ecological threat. First there is simple ignorance: it’s a marginal phenomenon, not worthy of our preoccupation, life goes on, nature will take care of itself.

Second, there is the belief that science and technology can save us. Third, that we should leave the solution to the market (with higher taxation of polluters, etc). Fourth, we resort to the superego pressure on personal responsibility instead of large systemic measures (each of us should do what we can – recycle, consume less, etc).

And fifth, perhaps the worst, is the advocating of a return to natural balance, to a more modest, traditional life by means of which we renounce human hubris and become again respectful children of our Mother Nature.

This whole paradigm of Mother Nature derailed by our hubris is wrong. The fact that our main sources of energy (oil, coal) are remnants of past catastrophes which occurred prior to the advent of humanity is a clear reminder that Mother Nature is cold and cruel.

This, of course, in no way means that we should relax and trust our future: the fact that it is not clear what is going on makes the situation even more dangerous. Plus, as it is fast becoming evident, migrations (and walls meant to prevent them) are getting more and more intertwined with ecological disturbances like global warming. The ecological apocalypse and the refugees apocalypse are more and more overlapping in what Philip Alston, a UN special rapporteur, described entirely accurately:

“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario,” he said, “where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”

Those least responsible for global emissions also have the least capacity to protect themselves.

So, the Leninist question: what is to be done? We are in a deep mess: there is no simple “democratic” solution here. The idea that people themselves (not just governments and corporations) should decide sounds deep, but it begs an important question: even if their comprehension is not distorted by corporate interests, what qualifies them to pass judgement in such a delicate matter?

What we can do is at least set the priorities straight and admit the absurdity of our geopolitical war games when the very planet for which wars are fought is under threat.

In the Amazon, we see the ridiculous game of Europe blaming Brazil and Brazil blaming Europe. It has to stop. Ecological threats make it clear that the era of sovereign nation states is approaching its end – a strong global agency is needed with the power to coordinate the necessary measures. And does such the need for such an agency point in the direction of what we once called “communism”?