.

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

Friday, December 31, 2021

On "Not Selfies" for Future Influencers

This is not a Selfie

You choose a sepia filter
To match your timeless visage
To match the clothes you've wandered into today
But it is not a selfie.

Your eyes pierce them through their iPhone screens
Your smile is casually not directed towards anyone in particular
Your outfit is recklessly on point
And it is not a selfie.

It is a punch in the gut
to everyone who has ever
said you are not good enough.
It is not a selfie.

The wings by your eyes will go out of style.
The dye in your hair will wash down the drain.
The clothes will wear out and you will take pictures again.

But you have fabricated a moment.
You are smiling towards yourself.
Slap your image onto every social media you know
Next to the supermodels and Kardashians and words of self hatred
This is the fulcrum with which you will lever the world.
This is not a selfie.

- Mathew (August, 2014)

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Problem of Communism...

Full movie here.

Communism/Communality has a problem that only Reciprocity-based social relationships like capitalism can solve.

I prefer to gain the social distance lacking in a Communality-based social relationship but inherent in a Reciprocity-based social relationship through the use of the "stored value" inherent in money.  I could impose my will with a Dominance based relationship, but then I'd spend all my time smacking fools around and ruining the skin on my knuckles.  I prefer not having to exert myself in such sporadic and typically painful bursts and rely on a less temporality dependent option.

Capitalism and Reciprocity have their own problems...
...related to their ubiquitous assimilation and imperative in "modern" culture.

The Internet is experimenting with new forms of social relationships.  Bitcoin/Paypal serve as money.  Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) serve as "art".  There are "communities" that practice communality.  And best of all, there are temporality independent hosting sites like Blogger.  Will we ever learn to apply these digital mediums in a socially constructive manner so as to form and maintain new social relationships in more pragmatic ways?  I suppose it remains to be seen.  Perhaps one day "intelligence" can somehow replace money in the maintenance of reciprocal social relations.

But not today...
In a society obsessed with "identity" and "authenticity", how will these values trade and support social relations in the future?
I doubt that the anxiety and often angst that accompanies Community-based social relations can ever be completely eliminated... it's sort of the glue that makes the whole family-friendship thing work.  But do we really want the ubiquitous assimilation of total detachment that accompanies post-modern corporate capitalist form of social relations so prevalent today?

Friday, December 17, 2021

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Assange

He compels us to publicly assume the knowledge we prefer to ignorant.

The British High Court ruled n Friday that Julian Assange can be extradited from the UK to the US. The US thus won its appeal against a January UK court ruling that he could not be extradited due to concerns over his mental health.

This latest twist in the endless Assange saga is just the culmination of the long and slow well-orchestrated campaign of character assassination that reached the lowest level imaginable with unverified rumors that Ecuadorians in their London embassy wanted to get rid of him because of his bad smell and dirty clothes.

In the first stage of the attacks on Assange, his ex-friends and collaborators went public with the claims that Wikileaks began well, but then got bogged down in Assange’s political bias (his anti-Hillary obsession, his suspicious ties with Russia…). More direct personal defamations followed: he is paranoid and arrogant, obsessed with power and control… Then we reached the bodily smells and stains. Yet the only thing that really reeks in this saga are some mainstream feminists who refuse any solidarity with Assange under the motto “no help to rapists.”

Is Assange a paranoiac? When you live permanently in an apartment that is bugged from above and below, and are the victim of constant surveillance organized by secret services, who wouldn’t be?

Is Assange a megalomaniac? When the (now former) CIA boss says your arrest is his priority, does not this imply that you are a “big” threat to some, at least?

Did Assange behave like the head of a spy organization? Well, Wikileaks is a spy organization, albeit one that serves the people, keeping them informed on what goes on behind the scenes.

So why is Assange such a trauma for the establishment? From whence does the ridiculously excessive desire for revenge stem from?

Assange and his colleagues like Edward Snowden are often accused of being traitors, but they are actually something much worse in the eyes of the authorities. As I wrote in 2014:

We are dealing with a gesture which questions the very logic, the very status quo, which for quite some time serves as the only foundation of all “Western” (non)politics. With a gesture which as it were risks everything, with no consideration of profit and without its own stakes: it takes the risk because it is based on the conclusion that what is going on is simply wrong.

Assange ironically designated himself a “spy for the people.” “Spying for the people” is not a direct negation of spying (which would rather be acting as a double agent, selling our secrets to the enemy). It undermines the very universal principles of spying and secrecy, since its goal is to make secrets public. But there is a deeper reason Assange causes such unease: he made it clear that the most dangerous threat to freedom does not come from an openly authoritarian power; it comes when our unfreedom itself is experienced as freedom.

How? At first, few things seem more “free” than browsing on the web, searching for the topics we like. But most of our activities — and passivities — are now registered in some digital cloud that permanently evaluates us, tracing not only our acts but our emotional states. The digital network gives new meaning to the old slogan “the personal is political.” And it’s not just control of our intimate lives that is at stake: everything is regulated by some digital network, from transport to health, from electricity to water. That’s why the web is our most important commons, and the struggle for its control is THE struggle of today. The enemy is the combination of corporations such as Google and Facebook and state security agencies such as the NSA.

Let’s take the case of Bill Gates. How did he become one of the richest men in the world? His wealth has nothing to do with the production costs of what Microsoft is selling — you can even argue that Microsoft is paying its intellectual workers a relatively high salary. Gates’ wealth is not the result of his success in producing good software for lower prices than his competitors, or in more exploitation of his hired intellectual workers.

Why, then, are millions still buying Microsoft? Because Microsoft imposed itself as an almost universal standard, (almost) monopolizing the field. In this, it’s similar to Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Apple, Facebook, etc. In all these cases, the commons themselves are privatized. This puts us, their users, into the position of serfs paying a tithe to the owner of a commons, a feudal master.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen recently told British MPs that Mark Zuckerberg “has unilateral control over three billion people.” The big achievement of modernity, the public space, is thus disappearing. Days after the Haugen revelations, Zuckerberg announced that his company would change its name from “Facebook” to “Meta,” and outlined his vision of “metaverse” in a speech that is a true neo-feudal manifesto.

As CUNY Queens College’s Douglas Rushkoff puts it:
Zuckerberg wants the metaverse to ultimately encompass the rest of our reality — connecting bits of real space here to real space there, while totally subsuming what we think of as the real world. In the virtual and augmented future Facebook has planned for us, it’s not that Zuckerberg’s simulations will rise to the level of reality, it’s that our behaviors and interactions will become so standardized and mechanical that it won’t even matter.
The metaverse will act as a virtual space beyond our fractured and hurtful reality, in which we will smoothly interact through our avatars, with elements of augmented reality. It will thus be nothing less than metaphysics actualized, fully subsuming reality, which will be allowed to enter only in fragments and only insofar as they will be overlaid by digital guidelines manipulating our perception and intervention. The catch is that we will get a commons that is privately owned, with a private feudal lord overseeing and regulating our interaction.

But that’s not all: the threat to our freedom disclosed by whistleblowers has even further systemic roots. Assange should be defended not only because his acts annoyed and embarrassed the US secret services. What he revealed is something that not only the US but also all other great (and not so great) powers are doing, to the extent they are technologically able to do it. His acts provided a factual foundation to our premonitions of how much we are all monitored and controlled. Their lesson is global, reaching far beyond the standard America-bashing.

We didn’t really learn from Assange (or Snowden or Manning) anything we didn’t already presume to be true — but it is one thing to know it in general, and another to get concrete proof. It’s a bit like discovering that a spouse you’ve long distrusted is cheating on you. You can accept the abstract knowledge of it, but pain arises when you learn the steamy details, when you get pictures of what they were doing.

The true target of Assange’s revelations is average hypocritical liberals who are aware of what state apparatuses and big companies do discreetly but prefer to ignore it. Publicly, we protest, at least from time to time, but silently we know that somebody must do the dirty job.

Assange blocks this way out. He compels us to publicly assume the knowledge we prefer to ignore. In this sense, he is fighting for us, against our complacency. This complacency explains why there is no large movement in support of Assange, why very few “big names” (like movie stars, writers or journalists) are ready to offer their support, enabling those in power to ignore us.

Freedom?

 


The story of a Chinese migrant worker who translated a book about 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger from English into Mandarin went viral last month. Could ordinary people studying philosophy save the world? 

Chen Zi was born in 1990 in Jiangxi, in southeast China. In 2008, having failed his exams, he dropped out of university, where he’d been studying mathematics, and roamed the country for over 10 years, working mainly in factories to make a living.

Despite often having to do exhausting 12-hour shifts of repetitive and debilitating labor, Chen, whose real passion had always been philosophy, managed to learn English and began reading Heidegger. This year, while working in a factory in Xiamen, over the course of four months, he finished a translation into Chinese of a book by an American philosophy professor, Richard Polt, titled ‘Heidegger: An Introduction’. Having also completed some other translations, he asked online if anyone could help him publish them, having been told his chances of finding a publisher were very slim. When his post was discovered by the media, he became a hot topic on the internet.

Is there something liberating in this dedication to Heidegger or is it a false way out? It is easy to imagine the orthodox Marxist answer: assembly line workers do not need Heidegger as an antidote; what they need is to change their miserable working conditions.

Heidegger appears to have been a really bad choice for Chen, and for obvious reasons. After the posthumous publication of his private jottings in his ‘Black Notebooks’ in 2017, attempts abounded to exclude him from the list of philosophers to be taken seriously, on account of his anti-Semitism and Nazi links.

However, for this very reason, one should insist that Heidegger remains pertinent: even when he is at his worst, unexpected links open themselves up. In the mid-1930s, he said: “There are human beings and human groups (Negroes like, for example, Kaffirs) who have no history ... however, animal and plant life has a thousand year long and eventful history ... within the human region, history can be missing, as with Negroes.” (“Kaffir” was, at the time of apartheid, an ethnic slur used to refer to black Africans in South Africa.) The quoted lines are strange, even by Heidegger’s standards: so, animals and plants do have history, but “Negroes” do not? “Animal and plant life has a thousand year long and eventful history” – but, for sure, not in Heidegger’s strict sense of the epochal disclosures of being. Besides, where then do countries such as China or India stand, given they are also not historical in Heidegger’s specific sense?

Is this it, then? Should the case of Grant Farred, a noted contemporary black philosopher, born in South Africa, who teaches at Cornell University, in Ithaka, New York, be dismissed as a simple case of misunderstanding?

Farred’s short book ‘Martin Heidegger Saved My Life’ was written in reaction to a racist encounter. In the fall of 2013, while he was raking leaves outside his home, a white woman stopped by and asked him, “Would you like another job?”, obviously mistaking him for a paid gardener of the family she assumed lived in the house. Farred sarcastically responded: “Only if you can match my Cornell faculty salary.” In order to understand what happened, Farred turned to Heidegger: “Heidegger saved me because he gave me the language to write about race in such a way as I’d never written it before. Heidegger enabled me to write in this way because he has made me think about how to think.”

What he found so useful in Heidegger was the notion of language as a “house of being” – not the abstract-universal language of science and state administration, but language rooted in a particular way of life, language as the medium of an always-unique life experience that discloses reality to us in a historically specific way. It is easy to imagine how such a stance enables a subject to resist being swallowed into a global universe of technological domination. However, is this the way to fight what is often called the “Americanization” of our lives? To answer this question, we have to think – and, as Farred repeatedly points out, this is what he learnt from Heidegger – not just to think but to think about thinking.

To make it clear, I am not a Heideggerian. But what I do know is that we live in a unique moment that gives rise to the urgency to think. It is not a peaceful time that provides the opportunity to comfortably withdraw into reflection on the world, but a time when our survival as humans is under threat from different directions: the prospect of total digital control that plans to invade our mind itself (“wired brain”), uncontrollable viral infections, the effects of global warming. We are all affected by these threats – and so-called ‘ordinary people’ even more than others.

So we should celebrate miracles such as the one involving Chen Zi. They demonstrate that philosophy is much more than an academic discipline – it is something that can, all of a sudden, interrupt the course of our daily life and make us perplexed.

French philosopher Alain Badiou opens his book ‘The True Life’ with the provocative claim that, from Socrates onward, the function of philosophy is to “corrupt the youth,” to alienate them from the predominant ideologico-political order. Such “corruption” is needed today, especially in the liberal, permissive West, where most people are not even aware of the way the establishment controls them precisely when they appear to be free. After all, the most dangerous unfreedom is the unfreedom that we experience as freedom.

Is a “free” populist who works on destroying the thick social network of customs really free? Mao Zedong famously said in the 1950s: “Let a hundred flowers bloom. Let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Today, we should say: Let a hundred Chen Zis study philosophy – for only in this way will we find a way out of our sad predicament.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Max Weber - Intro to Soc/ Pol (SOCY 151)


Gemende - an organized group subject to a charismatic authority or charismatic community based upon an emotional form of communal relationship (Vergemeinschaftung).

It is sharply opposed to rational and bureaucratic authority.

Charismatic want satisfaction is a typically anti-economic force... it constitutes an irregular unsystemtic act.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Joy Thieves - American Parasite

Songs of the Surplus Salaried Bourgeois Corporate Globalist New World Order (NWO)
ARE YOU BORED OF THE PEOPLE THAT YOU WANT TO DESTROY?
NOT DYING QUICK ENOUGH? TOO SICK TO EMPLOY?
THEY KEEP COMPLAINING AND YOU ROLL YOUR EYES,
AMERICAN ANTOINETTE, HERE TO DESPISE!

DO THEY KEEP INTERFERING WITH YOUR SHOPPING SPREES?
COUGHING UP BLOOD ON YOUR DESIGNER TEES?
FLAUNTING SQUALOR LIKE A BADGE OF HONOUR
AMERICAN PARASITES FEEDING UPON HER

FIND SOMETHING NEW
BEFORE WE COME TO FIND YOU
THEN YOU’RE FUCKED FOR LIFE
AMERICAN PARASITE

(THIS IS PARADISE THIS IS PARADISE, THIS IS PARADISE, PARASITE, PARASITE)

DO YOU WISH THEIR VOICES WERE A LITTLE MORE GRATEFUL?
YOU ALL GET TO LIVE IN THIS UTOPIAN STATE
AND IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, YOU CAN CHANGE THE SCENE!
A STARVING, PENNILESS AMERICAN DREAM!

“WE’RE TRYING TO WORK BESIDE YOU,
THOUGH: WE CAN’T STAND THE SIGHT OF YOU,
FIND SOMETHING NEW INSTEAD!
THOUGH YOU CAN’T EVEN LEAVE YOUR HOSPITAL BED…
MAYBE YOU’RE JUST BONE IDLE,
YOU WHINE THAT YOU’RE SUICIDAL,
MAYBE IT’S JUST BAD LUCK
BUT WE SURE DON’T GIVE A FUCK…

FIND SOMETHING NEW!
BEFORE WE COME TO FIND YOU
THEN YOU’RE FUCKED FOR LIFE
AMERICAN PARASITE

ARE YOU POUTING AND UNDER APPRECIATED?
OVERTURES UNHEARD AND UNDERRATED?
WELL WE CAN’T JUST SIT AND GIVE IT OUT FOR FREE!
THAT WOULD MEAN THERE’S NOTHING LEFT FOR ME!

FIND SOMETHING NEW!
BEFORE WE COME TO FIND YOU
THEN YOU’RE FUCKED FOR LIFE
AMERICAN PARASITE

WE’RE TRYING TO WORK BESIDE YOU,
THOUGH: WE CAN’T STAND THE SIGHT OF YOU,
FIND SOMETHING NEW INSTEAD!
THOUGH YOU CAN’T EVEN LEAVE YOUR HOSPITAL BED…
MAYBE YOU’RE JUST BONE IDLE,
YOU WHINE THAT YOU’RE SUICIDAL,
MAYBE IT’S JUST BAD LUCK
BUT WE SURE DON’T GIVE A FUCK….

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Omicron Days

Reaction to Covid’s latest strain has confirmed an unpalatable truth – while many embrace the idea of collaboration to fight the pandemic, they’re doing nothing tangible of any worth. Do we need an even greater crisis to rouse us?

 

We are all aware by now that the World Health Organization has declared a new variant of concern of Covid-19, named Omicron.

The new B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the WHO in South Africa on November 24. It comes with more than 30 mutations and the suspicion is that it spreads much faster than other variants – including the Delta one – so it is uncertain if the vaccines we currently have will work against it.

The reaction all around the world was predictable: flights from southern Africa canceled, stocks plunging, and so on.

Isn’t it appalling that such defensive moves as travel bans were the strongest reaction in developed countries to the specter of a new disaster? As Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, pointed out, “There was no word of support that they’re going to offer to African countries to help them control the pandemic and particularly no mention of addressing this vaccine inequity that we have been warning about all year and [of which] we are now seeing the consequences play out.”

The spread of the Omicron variant was facilitated by a triple scandalous neglect. Firstly, the virus is much more likely to mutate in places where vaccination is low and transmission high, so the huge gap between vaccination rates in the developed world and in the developing world is likely to blame. Some Western countries are even destroying vaccines whose date of usage has passed, rather than give them for free to countries with a lower vaccination rate.

Secondly, as was recorded in The Lancet in April, “Pharmaceutical companies have benefited greatly from huge sums of public funding for research and development: between US$2·2 billion and $4·1 billion (by Feb 1, 2021) were spent in Germany, the UK, and North America.” However, when the companies were solicited to allow free licensing of the vaccines, they all refused it, thus preventing many poorer countries – which couldn’t afford to pay the copyright price – from producing them.

Finally, even in the developed countries themselves, pandemic nationalism very quickly prevailed over a serious coordination of efforts.

In all three cases, the developed countries failed to pursue their own publicly proclaimed goals, and they are now paying the price. Like a boomerang, the catastrophe we tried to contain in the Third World has come back to haunt us. How?

Friedrich Jacobi, the German philosopher active around 1800, wrote: “La vérité en la repoussant, on l’embrasse,”– in repelling the truth, one embraces it. Examples of this paradox abound – say, the Enlightenment really won against traditional faith and authority when the partisans of traditional view began to use Enlightenment rational argumentation to justify their stance (a society needs firm unquestionable authority to enjoy a stable life etc.)

But does the same also hold the opposite way? Is it that in embracing the truth, one repels it? This is exactly what is happening today: ‘truth’ – the urgent need for global cooperation etc. – is repelled by publicly embracing the need for green action or collaboration in battling the pandemic, as was seen at the Glasgow COP26 conference, which was full of declarative blah blah but delivered very little in the way of precise obligations.

This mechanism was already described back in 1937 in ‘The Road To Wigan Pier’ by George Orwell, who deployed the ambiguity of the predominant leftist attitude toward the class difference: “We all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed. /…/ So long as it is merely a question of ameliorating the worker’s lot, every decent person is agreed. /…/ But unfortunately, you get no further by merely wishing class-distinctions away. More exactly, it is necessary to wish them away, but your wish has no efficacy unless you grasp what it involves. The fact that has got to be faced is that to abolish class-distinctions means abolishing a part of yourself. /…/ I have got to alter myself so completely that at the end I should hardly be recognizable as the same person.”

Orwell’s point is that radicals invoke the need for revolutionary change as a kind of superstitious token that should achieve the opposite – i.e. prevent the change from really occurring. Today’s academic leftists who criticize the capitalist cultural imperialism are, in reality, horrified at the idea that their field of study would break down.

And the same goes for our fight against the pandemic and global warming – a paraphrase of Orwell would be: “We all rail against global warming and the pandemic, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. So long as it is merely a question of ameliorating the lot of ordinary people, every decent person is agreed. But unfortunately, you get no further by merely wishing global warming and the pandemic away. More exactly, it is necessary to wish them away, but your wish has no efficacy unless you grasp what it involves. The fact that has got to be faced is that to abolish global warming and the pandemic means abolishing a part of yourself. Each of us will have to alter him/herself so completely that at the end s/he will hardly be recognizable as the same person.”

Is the reason for this inactivity simply the fear of losing one’s economic and other privileges? Things are more complex than that: the change that is required is double – subjective and objective.

The US philosopher Adrian Johnston characterized today’s geopolitical situation as one “in which the world’s societies and humanity as a whole are facing multiple acute crises (a global pandemic, environmental disasters, massive inequality, ballooning poverty, potentially devastating wars, etc.), yet seem unable to take the (admittedly radical or revolutionary) measures necessary to resolve these crises. We know things are broken. We know what needs fixing. We even sometimes have ideas about how to fix them. But, nevertheless, we keep doing nothing either to mend damage already done or to prevent further easily foreseeable damage.”

Where does this passivity come from? Our media often speculate which hidden motives make anti-vaxxers so adamantly persist in their stance, but as far as I know, they never evoke the most obvious reason: at some level, they want the pandemic to continue, and they know that refusing anti-pandemic measures will prolong it.

If this is the case, then the next question to be raised is: what makes the anti-vaxxers desire the continuation of the pandemic?

We should avoid here any pseudo-Freudian notions like some version of death-drive, of a wish to suffer and die. The idea that anti-vaxxers oppose anti-pandemic measures because they are not ready to sacrifice the Western liberal way of life, which for them is the only possible frame of freedom and dignity, is true, but not enough. We should add here a perverse enjoyment in the very renunciation to ordinary pleasures that the pandemic brings about. We should not underestimate the secret satisfaction provided by the passive life of depression and apathy, of just dragging on without a clear life project.

However, the change that is required is not just subjective, but a global social change. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote that the disease would deal a mortal blow to capitalism. I referred to the final scene of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill 2’ where Beatrix disables the evil Bill and strikes him with the ‘Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique’, the combination of five strikes with one’s fingertips to five different pressure points on the target’s body. After the target walks away and has taken five steps, their heart explodes in their body and they fall to the ground.

My point was that the coronavirus epidemic is a kind of ‘Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique’ attack on the global capitalist system – a signal that we cannot go on the way we have until now, that a radical change is needed.

Many people laughed at me afterwards: capitalism not only contained the crisis, but even exploited it to strengthen itself. I still think I was right, though. In the past few years, global capitalism has changed so radically that some (like Yanis Varoufakis or Jodi Dean) no longer call the new, emerging order capitalism, but corporate neo-feudalism. The pandemic gave a boost to this new corporate order, with new feudal lords like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg increasingly controlling our common spaces of communication and exchange.

The pessimistic conclusion that imposes itself is that even stronger shocks and crises will be needed to awaken us. Neoliberal capitalism is already dying, so the forthcoming battle will not be the one between neoliberalism and what lies beyond, but the one between two forms of this aftermath: corporate neo-feudalism which promises protective bubbles against the threats – like Zuckerberg’s ‘metaverse’, bubbles in which we can continue to dream – and the rude awakening which will compel us to invent new forms of solidarity.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Roland Barthes - Creating Myths through Second Order Significations


Nasrullah Mambrol, "Roland Barthes’ Concept of Mythologies"
Differing from the Saussurean view that the connection between the signifier and signified is arbitrary, Barthes argued that this connection, which is an act of signification, is the result of collective contract, and over a period of time, the connection becomes naturalised. In Mythologies (1957) Barthes undertook an ideological critique of various products of mass bourgeoise culture such as soap, advertisement, images of Rome, in an attempt to discover the “universal” nature behind this. Barthes considers myth as a mode of signification, a language that takes over reality. The structure of myth repeats the tridimensional pattern, in that myth is a second order signifying system with the sign of the first order signifying system as its signifier.

Myth is a type of speech defined more by its intention than its literal sense. Myth also has the character of making “itself look neutral and innocent” —it “naturalises the concept and transforms history into nature’. It deforms and dehistoricises the original connection between the signifier and the signified. The function of myth is to ’empty reality”, to establish a world “without depth” and to naturalise history. Thus the bourgeoise presents its own ideas and interests as those of the nation, or as universal.

Barthes illustrates the working of myth with the image of a young negro soldier saluting the French flag, that appeared on the cover of a Parisian magazine — where the denotation is that the French are militaristic, and the second order signification being that France is a great empire, and all her sons, irrespective of colour discrimination faithfully serve under her flag, and that all allegations of colonialism are false. Thus denotations serve the purpose of ideology, in naturalising all forms of oppression into what people think of as “common sense”. The most significant aspect of Barthes’ account of myth is his equation of the process of myth making with the process of bourgeoise ideologies.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Chinese #MeToo?

 

Slavoj Žižek, "The lessons we can learn from China’s silence on a ‘missing’ tennis player"
The case of Peng Shuai shows the obsession with ‘appearance’ in authoritarian regimes and contrasts with the public free-for-all we see in Western countries. Neither approach is successfully dealing with the world’s major issues.

 

The story has been well documented in the media. On 2 November, Peng Shuai, a leading Chinese tennis player, posted a lengthy message on her Weibo account, accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former senior Chinese vice premier and high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), of sexual assault.

This was the first time a member of the upper echelons of the CCP had faced such sexual misconduct allegations in public. The accusation drew attention to the #MeToo movement in China, but her post was removed within 20 minutes of being uploaded, and all discussion about the matter became subject to blanket censorship on all Chinese social media and news outlets, while Peng herself disappeared from public life.

In reaction to the growing concern worldwide over her whereabouts and safety, official media issued some unconvincing denials and explanations, which just deepened the mystery. And then the story took another turn. Zhang was part of a group opposed to President Xi Jinping, and there were suggestions that the whole incident had been staged by allies of Xi to get rid of his opponent – we had all been duped. Maybe the true mystery is why Peng’s post was removed after 20 minutes, just enough time for the news to spread around the world?

This sad anecdote – where all my sympathies go to Peng – is not just about oppression of women in an authoritarian society. It also highlights a weird feature of communist regimes: Obsession with appearances which have to be maintained whatever the cost.

When Deng Xiaoping was still alive, although retired from the post of general secretary of the CCP, one of the top nomenklatura members was purged, and the official reason given to the press was that, in an interview with a foreign journalist, he had divulged a state secret – namely that Deng was still the supreme authority making the decisions. The irony of this was that it was common knowledge – everybody knew that Deng was still pulling the strings.

This logic of appearance which is untouchable –although everyone knows it is just an appearance – has reached its extreme in North Korea. From time to time, we read in our media about the weird claims of the North Korean media – when Kim Jong-Il died, even birds descended from the sky and cried; their leader doesn’t defecate, etc. etc.

Our reaction to such claims is double-edged – either we presume that ordinary people secretly laugh at this, well aware that it is all nonsense, or we think they are so brainwashed that they really believe it.

But a third version is much more convincing – what if such stories are propagated by the regime, not as literal truths but more like folkloric tales told with respect (although we know they are a fiction)?

There is, however, a price to be paid for such respect of appearances. A couple of years ago, a young woman who was selling things at a flea market – which was tolerated, although not legally permitted – put the money she earned into a plastic bag and buried it in her garden.

Police discovered this, she was prosecuted and condemned… for what? Not for black market activity or illegal financial dealings, but for a wholly different reason – the plastic bag didn’t fully protect the cash, so the banknotes got humid and decomposed. And on the banknotes there are images of the leader, so the woman was sentenced for disrespectful treatment of the image of the ruler.

This regime of appearances was first fully established in Stalinism, and we all know how absolutely crucial they were then. The Stalinist regime reacted with total panic whenever there was a threat that appearances would be disturbed. For example, an incident or accident that illustrated the failure of the regime would not be reported in the public media. There were, in the Soviet media, no reports on crimes or prostitution, or protests from the public or workers. What characterized Stalinism was precisely the conjunction of raw brutal terror and the need to protect appearances – even if we all know something is not true, the big Other (of appearances) should not notice it…

In this order of appearances, prohibitions themselves are prohibited. In Stalin’s time, it was not only prohibited to criticize Stalin, it was also prohibited to publicly announce this prohibition. Is it not similar in the case of Peng Shuai? What we get from official sources is not even a clear denial that a sexual assault did not happen. Instead, we get erasure and, at its best, denials of something that is not clearly stated, only referred to as “that rumor,” or “what people are talking about.”

In today’s populist West, we seem to find ourselves at the opposite extreme. Traditionally (or in our retrospective view of tradition, at least), shameless obscenity worked as a subversion, as an undermining of traditional domination, as 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 make obscene gestures to embarrass figures of power and, so they claimed, denounce their hypocrisy.

However, what we are getting today, with the explosion in public obscenity, is not the disappearance of authority, of master figures, but their forceful reappearance. In fact, we are getting something unimaginable decades ago – obscene masters. But this obscenity is counterbalanced by the politically correct discourse in which, as in Stalinism, prohibitions themselves are prohibited – when something is erased, one does not want to admit that this was done for ideological reasons, so a more neutral reason is given.

On 5 September, The Guardian published a long interview with theorist Judith Butler; less than two days later, a question and answer in which Butler had attacked trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) as fascists disappeared, with a note appended saying: “This article was edited on 7 September 2021 to reflect developments which occurred after the interview took place.”

No specifics (explaining how something had happened that could make a problem of Butler’s principled answer) were given, but clearly, the article was censored due to TERF pressure. Yet this reason had to be concealed, because it would give rise to the spectre of ideological censorship.

The choice between fidelity to appearances and public obscenity is a difficult one, and the stakes are very high. It is ultimately a false choice – both sides are wrong, they were both aroused out of the disintegration of the social big Other, the set of customs and values that determine the basic features of decency in our social contacts. When the big Other disintegrates, the choice is between obscenity and enforced group terror.

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 him to reference the economic opening up that brought such development to China.

To their surprise, Deng answered: “It was when the leadership decided to open up the economy, I resisted the temptation to go all the way and open up political life to multi-party democracy.” (According to some sources, this preference was pretty strong in some party circles and the decision to maintain party control was in no way preordained.)

We should resist the liberal temptation to dream about how, had China also opened up to political democracy, its economic progress would have been even faster: What if democracy had generated new instabilities and tensions that hampered economic progress? What if this (capitalist) progress was feasible only in a society dominated by a strong authoritarian power?

Maybe, but something is nonetheless missing in China. In the famous passage of his essay ‘What is Enlightenment?’ Immanuel Kant opposes the “public” and “private” use of reason. “Private” is not one’s individual space as opposed to communal ties, but the very communal-institutional order of one’s particular identification; “public” is the trans-national universality of the exercise of one’s reason.

This is why Kant’s formula of Enlightenment is neither “Don’t obey, think freely!” nor “Don’t obey, think and rebel!” but “Think freely, state your thoughts publicly, and obey!” At the moment, this is particularly applicable to vaccine doubters: Debate, publish your doubts, but obey regulations once the public authority imposes them. Without such practical consensus, we will slowly drift into a society composed of tribal factions, as is happening in many Western countries. But without the space for the public use of reason, the state itself courts the danger of becoming just another instance of the private use of reason.

We saw at the beginning of the Covid outbreak the price a society has to pay for the absence of the public space of reason. By silencing the first scientists to discover the virus, China lost precious months in which it could have limited the pandemic to a small local incident. And now, regarding Peng Shuai, we should raise a similar question – how come a political struggle that should have been fought out in the open has to take the appearance of a sexual scandal?

The challenge for us today, when multi-party democracy is clearly less and less able to confront our big challenges like global warming, is this: How can we maintain the space for the public use of reason outside multi-party democracy in the Western liberal sense?

Monday, November 22, 2021

On Corporate Neo-Feudalism

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, "BEYOND A NEOCONSERVATIVE COMMUNISM"
An allegedly old Chinese curse (which has nothing to do with China – it was probably invented by some Western observer) says “May you live in interesting times!” Interesting times are the times of troubles, confusion and suffering. And it seems that in Western “democratic” countries, we are lately witnessing a weird phenomenon which proves that we live in interesting times.

One of Mao Zedong’s best-known sayings is: “There is great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.” It is easy to understand what Mao meant here: when the existing social order is disintegrating, the ensuing chaos offers revolutionary forces a great chance to act decisively and assume political power. Today, there certainly is great disorder under heaven: the Covid-19 pandemic, global warming, signs of a new Cold War, and the eruption of popular protests and social antagonisms are just a few of the crises that beset us. But does this chaos still make the situation excellent, or is the danger of self-destruction too high? The difference between the situation that Mao had in mind and our own situation can be best rendered by a tiny terminological distinction. Mao speaks about disorder UNDER heaven, wherein “heaven,” or the big Other in whatever form—the inexorable logic of historical processes, the laws of social development—still exists and discreetly regulates social chaos. Today, we should talk about HEAVEN ITSELF as being in disorder. What do I mean by this?

In Divided Heaven (1963), Christa Wolf’s classic GDR novel about the subjective impact of divided Germany, Manfred (who has chosen the West) says to his love Rita, when they meet for the last time: “But even if our land is divided, we still share the same heaven.” Rita (who has chosen to remain in the East) bitterly replies: “No, they first divided the heaven.” The novel offers the right insight into how our “earthly” divisions and fights are ultimately always grounded in a “divided heaven”; that is, in a much more radical and exclusive division of the very (symbolic) universe in which we dwell. Today, the situation is not the one in which Heaven is just divided into two spheres, as was the case in the Cold War period when two global world-views confronted each other. The divisions of Heaven today appear increasingly drawn within each particular country. In the United States, there is an ideological and political civil war between the populist alternative Right and the liberal-democratic establishment. In Europe, the Covid-deniers are becoming a true popular movement… places for common ground are ever diminishing, mirroring the ongoing enclosure of physical public space, and this is happening at a time when multiple intersecting crises mean that global solidarity and international cooperation are more needed than ever. What is preventing global solidarity and cooperation?

Many Leftists in the West are so obsessed with the critique of neoliberal capitalism that they neglect the big change, the passage from neoliberal capitalism to a strange post-capitalism which some analysts call “corporate neo-feudalism.” When, due to the crucial role of the “general intellect” (social knowledge and cooperation) in the creation of wealth, forms of wealth are more and more out of all proportion to the direct labor time spent on their production, the result is not, as Marx expected, the self-dissolution of capitalism, but the gradual transformation of the profit generated by the exploitation of labor into rent appropriated by the privatization of the “general intellect” and other commons. Let us take the case of Bill Gates: how did he become one of the richest men in the world? His wealth has nothing to do with the production costs of what Microsoft is selling (one can even argue that Microsoft is paying its intellectual workers a relatively high salary), i.e., Gates’s wealth is not the result of his success in producing good software for lower prices than his competitors, or in higher exploitation of his hired intellectual workers. Why, then, are millions still buying Microsoft? Because Microsoft imposed itself as an almost universal standard, (almost) monopolizing the field, a kind of direct embodiment of the “general intellect.” Things are similar with Jeff Bezos and Amazon, with Apple, Facebook, etc.etc. – in all these cases, commons themselves – the platforms (spaces of our social exchange and interaction) – are privatized, which puts us, their users, into the position of serfs paying a rent to the owner of a common as our feudal master. We recently learn that “2% of Elon Musk’s wealth could solve world hunger, says director of UN food scarcity organization”[1] – a clear indication of corporate neofeudalism.

With regard to Facebook, “Mark Zuckerberg ‘has unilateral control over 3 billion people’ due to his unassailable position at the top of Facebook, the whistleblower Frances Haugen told to the British MPs as she called for urgent external regulation to rein in the tech company’s management and reduce the harm being done to society.”[2] The big achievement of modernity, the public space, is thus disappearing. Days after the Haugen revelations, Zuckenberg announced that his company will change its name from “Facebook” to “Meta,” and outlined his vision of “metaverse” in a speech that is a true neo-feudal manifesto:

“Zuckerberg wants the metaverse to ultimately encompass the rest of our reality – connecting bits of real space here to real space there, while totally subsuming what we think of as the real world. In the virtual and augmented future Facebook has planned for us, it’s not that Zuckerberg’s simulations will rise to the level of reality, it’s that our behaviors and interactions will become so standardized and mechanical that it won’t even matter. Instead of making human facial expressions, our avatars can make iconic thumbs-up gestures. Instead of sharing air and space together, we can collaborate on a digital document. We learn to downgrade our experience of being together with another human being to seeing their projection overlaid into the room like an augmented reality Pokemon figure.”[3]

Metaverse will act as a virtual space beyond (meta) our fractured and hurtful reality, a virtual space in which we will smoothly interact through our avatars, with elements of augmented reality (reality overlaid with digital signs). It will thus be nothing less than meta-physics actualized: a meta-physical space fully subsuming reality which will be allowed to enter it in fragments only insofar as it will be overlaid by digital guidelines manipulating our perception and intervention. And the catch is that we will get a commons which is privately owned, with a private feudal Lord overseeing and regulating our interaction.

This new phase of global economy also implies a different functioning of the financial sphere. Yanis Varoufakis noted a weird fact that took place in the Spring of 2020: on the same day that state statistics in the US and the UK registered a breath-taking fall of the GDP, comparable to the fall at the time of the Great Recession, stock-markets registered a gigantic rise. In short, although “real” economy is stagnating or even decreasing, stock markets go up – an indication that fictitious financial capital is caught in its own circle, decoupled from “real” economy. This is where the financial measures justified by the pandemic entered the game: they in a way turn around the traditional Keynesian procedure, i.e., their aim was not to help “real” economy but to invest enormous amounts of money into the financial sphere (to prevent a financial collapse like the one of 2008) while making it sure that most of this money will not flow into “real” economy (this could cause hyperinflation).

But what makes the situation really dangerous, pushing us into a new barbarism, is that privatized commons co-exist with a new wave of strong nation-state competition which runs directly against the urgent need to establish a new mode of relating to our environs, a radical politico-economic change called by Peter Sloterdijk “the domestication of the wild animal Culture.” Till now, each culture disciplined/educated its own members and guaranteed civic peace among them, but the relationship between different cultures and states was permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each epoch of peace nothing more than a temporary armistice. The entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism, the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s nation-state, which means that the wild barbarian relations between states serve as the foundation of the ethical life within a state.

Today, things are getting even worse. Instead of civilizing (the relations between) cultures, the ongoing privatization of commons undermines the ethical substance within each culture, pushing us back into barbarism. However, the moment we fully accept the fact that we live on a Spaceship Earth, the task that urgently imposes itself is that of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities. There is no higher historical necessity that pushes us in this direction, history is not on our side, it tends towards our collective suicide. As Walter Benjamin wrote, our task today is not to push forward the train of historical progress but to pull the emergency break before we all end in post-capitalist barbarism. In recent months, the often alarming ways in which the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic is intertwined with ongoing social, political, climatic, and economic crises are increasingly apparent. The pandemic must be treated together with global warming, erupting class antagonisms, patriarchy and misogyny, and the many other ongoing crises which resonate with it and with each other in a complex interplay. This interplay is uncontrollable and full of dangers, and we cannot count on any guarantee in Heaven to make the solution clearly imaginable. Such a risky situation makes our moment an eminently political one: the situation is decidedly NOT excellent, and that’s why one has to act.

It is only against this background that we can understand what is going now in China. The recent Chinese campaign against big corporations and the opening of a new stock exchange in Beijing dedicated to the promotion of small firms can also be seen as moves against neo-feudal corporatism, i.e., as attempts to bring back “normal” capitalism. The irony of the situation is obvious: a strong Communist regime is needed to keep alive capitalism against the threat of ne-feudal corporatist post-capitalism… Consequently, I follow with great interest the writings of Wang Huning, a current member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, and the director of Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization. Wang is correct in emphasizing the key role of culture, of the domain of symbolic fictions. The true materialist way to oppose the topic of the “fiction of reality” (subjectivist doubts in the style of “is what we perceive as reality not just another fiction?”) is not to strictly distinguish between fiction and reality but to focus on the reality of fictions. Fictions are not outside reality, they are materialized in our social interactions, in our institutions and customs – as we can see in today’s mess, if we destroy fictions on which our social interactions are based, our social reality itself begins to fall apart.

Wang designated himself as a neo-conservative – what does this mean? If one is to trust our big media, Wang is the brain against the recent new orientation of Chinese politics. When I read that one of the measures lately imposed by the Chinese government is the prohibition of “996”, I must admit my first association was a sexual one: “69” means in our slang the position in which man performs on the woman cunnilingus and woman on the man fellatio, and I thought “996” refers to some more perverted sexual practice becoming widespread in China and involving two men and a woman (since there is a lack of women there). Then I learned that “996” means a brutal work rhythm imposed by many corporations in China (a workday 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week). But in some sense I was not totally wrong: the ongoing campaign in China has a double target: more economic equality, inclusive of better conditions of work, and elimination of the Westernized popular culture focused on sex, consumerism, and fandom.

So what does being a neo-conservative mean in today’s conditions? In mid-October 2019, Chinese media launched an offensive promoting the claim that “demonstrations in Europe and South America are the direct result of Western tolerance of Hong Kong unrest.” In a commentary published in Beijing News, former Chinese diplomat Wang Zhen wrote that “the disastrous impact of a ‘chaotic Hong Kong’ has begun to influence the Western world,” i.e., that demonstrators in Chile and Spain were taking their cues from Hong Kong. Along the same lines, an editorial in Global Times accused Hong Kong demonstrators of “exporting revolution to the world”: “The West is paying the price for supporting riots in Hong Kong, which has quickly kindled violence in other parts of the world and foreboded the political risks that the West can’t manage. /…/ There are many problems in the West and all kinds of undercurrents of dissatisfaction. Many of them will eventually manifest in the way the Hong Kong protests did.” And the ominous conclusion: “Catalonia is probably just the beginning.”[4]

Although the idea that demonstrations in Barcelona and Chile are taking their cues from Hong Kong is far-fetched, these outbursts exploded into a general discontent which was obviously already there, lurking, waiting for a contingent trigger to explode, so that even when the particular law or measure was repealed, protests persisted. The Communist China discreetly plays on the solidarity of those in power all around the world against the rebellious populace, warning the West not to underestimate the dissatisfaction in their own countries – as if, beneath all ideological and geo-political tensions, they all share the same basic interest in holding onto power… But will this defense work?

In his interpretation of the fall of East European Communism, Jürgen Habermas proved to be the ultimate Left Fukuyamist, silently accepting that the existing liberal-democratic order is the best one possible, and that, while we should strive to make it more just, we should not challenge its basic premises. This is why he welcomed precisely what many leftists saw as the big deficiency of the anti-Communist protests in Eastern Europe: the fact that these protests were not motivated by any new visions of the post-Communist future. As he put it, the central and eastern European revolutions were just “rectifying” or “catch-up” (nachholende) revolutions, their aim being to enable those societies to gain what the western Europeans already possessed; in other words, to return to the West European normality.

However, the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) in France, the protests in Spain, and other similar protests today are definitely NOT catch-up movements. They embody what one cannot but call a profound dissatisfaction with the liberal-democratic capitalism. What is new is that the populist Right has proved to be much more adept in channeling these eruptions in its direction than the Left. Alain Badiou was thus fully justified to say apropos the gilets jaunes: “Tout ce qui bouge n’est pas rouge”—all that moves (makes unrest) is not red. Today’s populist Right participates in a long tradition of popular protests which were predominantly leftist. China seems to have chosen here the neoconservative side: to control the potentially-destructive dynamics of modern global economy and the ensuing popular dissatisfactions with a strong Nation-State that emphasizes patriotism and traditional values. Where is the limit of such an approach?

Wang sees his task as imposing a new heavenly order, and we should not dismiss this as an excuse to impose the full control of the Communist Party over social life. Wang is replying to a real problem. 30 years ago, he wrote a book America against America where he perspicuously noted the antagonisms of the American way of life, including its darker sides: social disintegration, lack of solidarity and shared values, nihilist consumerism and individualism… Trump’s populism is a false way out: it is the climax of social disintegration because it introduces obscenity into the public speech and thus deprives if of its dignity – something not only prohibited but totally unimaginable in China. We will definitely never see a Chinese high politician doing what Trump did publicly: talk about how large his penis is, imitating a woman’s orgasmic sounds… Wang’s fear was that the same disease may spread to China – which is now happening at the popular level of mass culture, and the ongoing reforms are a desperate attempt to put a stop to this trend. Again, will it work? I am sceptic about it. First, I see in the way the ongoing campaign is done a tension between content and form: the content – the establishment of stable values that hold a society together – is enforced in the form of mobilization which is experienced as a kind of emergency state imposed by the state apparatus. Although the goal is the opposite of the Cultural Revolution, there are similarities with it in the way the campaign is done. The danger I see is that such tensions can produce cynical disbelief in the population. More generally, the ongoing campaign in China seems to me all too close to the standard conservative attempts to enjoy the benefits of the capitalist dynamism but to control its destructive aspects through a strong Nation State pushing forward patriotic values.

Therein resides the trap. Carlo Ginzburg proposed the notion that a shame for one’s country, not love of it, may be the true mark of belonging to it. A supreme example of such shame occurred back in 2014 when hundreds of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors bought an ad in Saturday’s New York Times condemning what they referred to as “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine”: “We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch,” said the statement. Maybe, today, some Israelis will gather the courage to feel shame apropos of what the Israelis are doing on the West Bank and in Israel itself – not, of course, in the sense of shame of being Jewish but, on the contrary, of feeling shame for what the Israeli politics in the West Bank is doing to the most precious legacy of Judaism itself. “My country right or wrong” is one of the most disgusting mottos, and it illustrates perfectly what is wrong with unconditional patriotism. The same holds for China today. The space in which we can develop such critical thinking is the space of the public use of reason. In the famous passage of his “What is Enlightenment?”, Immanuel Kant opposes the “public” and the “private” use of reason: “private” is not one’s individual space as opposed to communal ties, but the very communal-institutional order of one’s particular identification; while “public” is the trans-national universality of the exercise of one’s Reason:

“The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one’s reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.”[5]

This is why Kant’s formula of Enlightenment is not “Don’t obey, think freely!” is not “Don’t obey, think and rebel!” but: “Think freely, state your thoughts publicly, and obey!” The same holds for vaccine doubters: debate, publish your doubts, but obey regulations once the public authority imposes them. Without such practical consensus we will slowly drift into a society composed of tribal factions, as it is happening in many Western countries. But without the space for the public use of reason, the state itself courts the danger of becoming just another instance of the private use of reason. The space for the public use of reason is not the same as democracy in the Western liberal sense – in his last active year, Lenin himself saw the necessity of such an organ embodying the public use of reason. While admitting the dictatorial nature of the Soviet regime, he proposed to establish a Central Control Commission: an independent, educational and controlling body with an ‘apolitical’ edge, consisting of the best teachers and technocratic specialists monitoring the ‘politicized’ CC and its organs. In “dreaming” (his expression) about the kind of work to be done by the CCC, he describes how this body should resort “to some semi-humorous trick, cunning device, piece of trickery or something of that sort. I know that in the staid and earnest states of Western Europe such an idea would horrify people and that not a single decent official would even entertain it. I hope, however, that we have not yet become as bureaucratic as all that and that in our midst the discussion of this idea will give rise to nothing more than amusement. Indeed, why not combine pleasure with utility? Why not resort to some humorous or semi-humorous trick to expose something ridiculous, something harmful, something semi-ridiculous, semi-harmful, etc.?”

Maybe, China needs a similar Central Control Commission. Its first task would be to notice the profound structural homology between the Maoist permanent self-revolutionizing, the permanent struggle against the ossification of State structures, and the inherent dynamics of capitalism. I think Wang is silently aware of this. I am tempted to paraphrase here Bertolt Brecht’s pun »What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?«: what are the violent and destructive outbursts of a Red Guardist caught in the Cultural Revolution compared to the true Cultural Revolution, the permanent dissolution of all life-forms necessitated by the capitalist reproduction? Today, the tragedy of the Great Leap Forward is repeating itself as the comedy of the rapid capitalist Great Leap Forward into modernization, with the old slogan “iron foundry into every village” re-emerging as “a skyscraper into every street.”

Some naïve Leftists claim that it is the legacy of the Cultural Revolution and Maoism in general which acts as a counter-force to the unbridled capitalism, preventing its worst excesses, maintaining a minimum of social solidarity. What if, however, it is exactly the opposite that is the case? What if, in a kind of unintended and for this reason all the more cruelly ironic way, the Cultural Revolution, with its brutal erasure of past traditions, was a shock which created the conditions for the ensuing capitalist explosion? What if China has to be added to Naomi Klein’s list of states in which a natural, military or social catastrophe cleared the slate for a new capitalist explosion?

The supreme irony of history is thus that it was Mao himself who created the ideological conditions for the rapid capitalist development by tearing apart the fabric of traditional society. What was his call to the people, especially the young ones, in the Cultural Revolution? Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do, you have the right to rebel! So think and act for yourselves, destroy cultural relics, denounce and attack not only your elders, but also government and party officials! Swipe away the repressive state mechanisms and organize yourself in communes! And Mao’s call was heard – what followed was an explosion of the unrestrained passion to de-legitimize all forms of authority, so that, at the end, the Army had to intervene to restore order.

With the neoconservative turn in China, a whole cycle of emancipatory politics has closed. In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, the great conservative T.S.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. Lenin did this with regard to traditional Marxism, Mao did this in his own way, and this is what today has to be done today.

When, in 1922, after winning the Civil War against all odds, the Bolsheviks had to retreat into NEP (the “New Economic Policy” of allowing a much wider scope of market economy and private property), Lenin wrote a short text “On Ascending a High Mountain.” He uses the simile of a climber who has to retreat back to the valley from his first attempt to reach a new mountain peak in order to describe what a retreat means in a revolutionary process, i.e., how does one retreat without opportunistically betraying one’s fidelity to the Cause. After enumerating the achievements and the failures of the Soviet state, Lenin concludes: “Communists who have no illusions, who do not give way to despondency, and who preserve their strength and flexibility ‘to begin from the beginning’ over and over again in approaching an extremely difficult task, are not doomed (and in all probability will not perish).”[7] This is Lenin at his Beckettian best, echoing the line from Worstward Ho: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” His conclusion – “to begin from the beginning over and over again” – makes it clear that he is not talking merely of slowing down the progress and fortifying what was already achieved, but precisely of descending back to the starting point: one should “begin from the beginning,” not from where one succeeded in ascending in the previous effort. In Kierkegaard’s terms, a revolutionary process is not a gradual progress, but a repetitive movement, a movement of repeating the beginning again and again… and this, exactly, is where we are today, after the “obscure disaster” of 1989, the definitive end of the epoch which began with the October Revolution. One should therefore reject the continuity with what Left meant in the last two centuries. Although sublime moments like the Jacobin climax of the French Revolution and the October Revolution will forever remain a key part of our memory, that story is over, everything should be re-thought, one should begin from the zero-point.

Today, capitalism is revolutionary much more than the traditional Left obsessed with protecting the old achievements of welfare-state – just recall how much capitalism changed the entire texture of our societies in the last decades…This is why the strategy of radical Left today should combine pragmatism with a principled stance in a sway which cannot but recall Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) from the early 1920s when the Soviet power allowed to a certain degree private property and market economy; NEP was obviously the original model for Deng Hsiao-Ping’s reforms which opened up the way for capitalist free market (under the control of the ruling Communist Party) – instead of a half decade of market liberalization, we have in China already half a century of what they euphemistically call the “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” So is China for over half a century following a gigantic New Economic Policy? Instead of making fun of these measures or simply denouncing them as a defeat of Socialism, as a step towards (authoritarian) capitalism, we should take the risk of extending this logic to its extreme. After the disintegration of East European Socialism in 1990, a joke was circulating according to which Socialism is a transition from capitalism back to capitalism.

But what if we make the opposite move and define capitalism itself as a socialist New Economic Policy, as a passage from feudalism (or premodern societies of domination in general) to socialism? With the abolishment of premodern relations of direct personal relations of servitude and domination, with the assertion of principles of personal freedom and human rights, capitalist modernity is in itself already socialist – no wonder that modernity again and again gave birth to revolts against domination which already pointed towards economic equality (large peasants’ revolts in Germany in early 1500s, Jacobins, etc.). Capitalism is a passage from pre-modernity to socialism in the sense of a compromise formation: it accepts the end of direct relations of domination, i.e., the principle of personal freedom and equality, but (as Marx put it in his classic formulation) it transposes domination from the relations between people to the relations between things (commodities): as individuals, we are all free, but domination persists in the relationship between commodities that we exchange on the market. This is why, for Marxism, the only way to reach an actual life of freedom is to abolish capitalism. For partisans of capitalism, of course, this solution is utopian: is the lesson of Stalinism not precisely that, if you abolish capitalism, freedom is also abolished and personal domination returns in a direct brutal way. And when capitalism is in a crisis, it can also resuscitate feudal elements to survive – is this not going on today with the role of mega-corporations which prompted some economists and social analysts to speak about neo-feudal corporate capitalism?

This, then, is the true alternative today: neither capitalism or socialism nor liberal democracy or Rightist populism but what kind of post-capitalism, corporate neo-feudalism or socialism. Will capitalism ultimately be just a passage from lower to higher stage of feudalism or will it be a passage from feudalism to socialism.


Notes:
[1] 2% of Elon Musk’s wealth could solve world hunger, says director of UN food scarcity organization – CNN.

[2] Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen calls for urgent external regulation | Facebook | The Guardian.

[3] See ttps://edition.cnn.com/2021/10/28/opinions/zuckerberg-facebook-meta-rushkoff/index.html.

[4] Quoted from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/21/asia/china-hong-kong-chile-spain-protests-intl-hnk/index.html.

[5] Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?,” in Isaac Kramnick, The Portable Enlightenment Reader, New York: Penguin Books 1995

[6] V.I.lenin, “Better Few, But Better” (1923), quoted from Better Fewer, But Better (marxists.org).

[7] Quoted from www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/feb/x01.htm.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

How One Covid-19 Vaccine is Not Like Another...

What types of vaccines are there?

Based on a number of these factors, scientists decide which type of vaccine they will make. There are several types of vaccines, including: 
a) Inactivated vaccines
b) Live-attenuated vaccines
c) Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines
d) Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines
e) Toxoid vaccines
f) Viral vector vaccines

 

 a) Inactivated vaccines

Inactivated vaccines use the killed version of the germ that causes a disease.

Inactivated vaccines usually don’t provide immunity (protection) that’s as strong as live vaccines. So you may need several doses over time (booster shots) in order to get ongoing immunity against diseases. 

Inactivated vaccines are used to protect against:
Hepatitis A
Flu (shot only)
Polio (shot only)
Rabies

 

 b) Live-attenuated vaccines

Live vaccines use a weakened (or attenuated) form of the germ that causes a disease.

Because these vaccines are so similar to the natural infection that they help prevent, they create a strong and long-lasting immune response. Just 1 or 2 doses of most live vaccines can give you a lifetime of protection against a germ and the disease it causes.

But live vaccines also have some limitations. For example:
Because they contain a small amount of the weakened live virus, some people should talk to their health care provider before receiving them, such as people with weakened immune systems, long-term health problems, or people who’ve had an organ transplant.
They need to be kept cool, so they don’t travel well. That means they can’t be used in countries with limited access to refrigerators.

Live vaccines are used to protect against:
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR combined vaccine)
Rotavirus
Smallpox
Chickenpox
Yellow fever

 

c) Messenger RNA vaccines—also called mRNA vaccines

Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades and this technology was used to make some of the COVID-19 vaccines. mRNA vaccines make proteins in order to trigger an immune response. mRNA vaccines have several benefits compared to other types of vaccines, including shorter manufacturing times and, because they do not contain a live virus, no risk of causing disease in the person getting vaccinated.

mRNA vaccines are used to protect against:
COVID-19

 

d) Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines

Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines use specific pieces of the germ—like its protein, sugar, or capsid (a casing around the germ).

Because these vaccines use only specific pieces of the germ, they give a very strong immune response that’s targeted to key parts of the germ. They can also be used on almost everyone who needs them, including people with weakened immune systems and long-term health problems.

One limitation of these vaccines is that you may need booster shots to get ongoing protection against diseases.

These vaccines are used to protect against:
Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) disease
Hepatitis B
HPV (Human papillomavirus)
Whooping cough (part of the DTaP combined vaccine)
Pneumococcal disease
Meningococcal disease
Shingles

 

e) Toxoid vaccines

Toxoid vaccines use a toxin (harmful product) made by the germ that causes a disease. They create immunity to the parts of the germ that cause a disease instead of the germ itself. That means the immune response is targeted to the toxin instead of the whole germ.

Like some other types of vaccines, you may need booster shots to get ongoing protection against diseases.

Toxoid vaccines are used to protect against:
Diphtheria
Tetanus

 

f) Viral vector vaccines

For decades, scientists studied viral vector vaccines. Some vaccines recently used for Ebola outbreaks have used viral vector technology, and a number of studies have focused on viral vector vaccines against other infectious diseases such as Zika, flu, and HIV. Scientists used this technology to make COVID-19 vaccines as well.

Viral vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus as a vector to deliver protection. Several different viruses have been used as vectors, including influenza, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), measles virus, and adenovirus, which causes the common cold. Adenovirus is one of the viral vectors used in some COVID-19 vaccines being studied in clinical trials. Viral vector vaccines are used to protect against:
COVID-19

 

The future of vaccines

Did you know that scientists are still working to create new types of vaccines? Here are 2 exciting examples:
DNA vaccines are easy and inexpensive to make—and they produce strong, long-term immunity. 
Recombinant vector vaccines (platform-based vaccines) act like a natural infection, so they're especially good at teaching the immune system how to fight germs.

 

Current Covid-19 Vaccine Types:
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are messenger RNA vaccines also called mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines are some of the first COVID-19 vaccines authorized and approved for use in the United States.

The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine, a viral vector vaccine, is among the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States.

 

New Covid-19 Vaccines with Stage III Trials Completed NOVAVAX:
NOVAVAX - NVX-CoV2373 is a subunit vaccine made from a stabilized form of the coronavirus spike protein using the company’s recombinant protein nanoparticle technology. The purified protein antigens in the vaccine cannot replicate or cause COVID-19. The vaccine also contains a proprietary adjuvant, MatrixM™. Adjuvants are additives that enhance desired immune system responses to vaccine. NVX-CoV2373 is administered by injection in liquid form and can be stored, handled and distributed at above-freezing temperatures (35° to 46°F.) A single vaccine dose contains 5 micrograms (mcg) of protein and 50 mcg of adjuvant. The vaccine is administered as two intramuscular injections 21 days apart. The technology used for this vaccine was developed under a long-standing contract with the Department of Defense.

Results from a Phase 3 clinical trial enrolling 15,000 adults in the United Kingdom showed a two-dose regimen of NVX-CoV2373 was highly effective(link is external) in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 overall and also demonstrated high efficacy against the Alpha variant strain of SARS-CoV-2.