Saturday, January 30, 2021

Can't Get You Out of My Head...

Amon Düül II, "You're not alone"

You sit in your room, and you talk to the wall
You're feeling small but still have a ball
And you can't explain what's anyway in vain
And you paint your face and dress in black
Wear your shades and still can't express
The way you feel about a lousy fill
And you dance until the morning
All by yourself
And somehow you know
You're not alone
And you dance until the morning
All by yourself
And somehow you know
You're not alone


You're playing pool against yourself
And you look at your watch
At a quarter to twelve
And you still didn't win against yourself
You think it's time to quit the game
Maybe change your name and search for fame
And you still have a ball and you don't care after all
And they catch you hiding in a love affair
And you know again
You're not alone
And they catch you hiding in a love affair
And you know again
You're not alone


God ain't jive and I can feel his love
Run through the strings of my guitar
Just watch out and see what it's all about
And still I stand my foot in my hand
Talking to my wall and still don't care at all
Just having a ball
And heavy after all
I've borrowed your time I'm sorry I called
Forget what I've said
But remember
You're not alone
I've borrowed your time I'm sorry I called
Forget what I've said
But remember
You're not alone

Sunday, January 24, 2021

2021 - The Fakeness was HyperNormal

Foucault's "Medical Gaze" has been totally surplanted by the "Commercial Gaze". The "Male Gaze" is but one oppositely posited "variety". Scopophilia for all consumers! Now let the training of (female) "desire" begin! You won't know your 'objet petit a' until the 'other' (the one without the penis) shows/ tells it to you. The joys of marketplace-based hypergamy can be yours. Up, up and AWAY!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Tragedy or Farce?



Slavoj Žižek, "First as a farce, then as a tragedy? Denying US divisions perpetuates Trumpism’s delusions"

President Joe Biden is indulging in an impossible dream of national “unity”, and the sooner we awaken from it the better for all of us. It was easy to defeat an obvious target like Trump — the real struggle begins now.
We all know Karl Marx’s remark that history repeats itself first as a tragedy and then as a farce — Marx had in mind the tragedy of the fall of Napoleon I and the later farce of the reign of his nephew Napoleon III. Back in the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse remarked that the lesson of Nazism seems to be the opposite one: first as a farce (throughout the 1920s, Hitler and his gang were mostly taken as a bunch of marginal political clowns), then as a tragedy (when Hitler effectively took power). The intrusion of the mob into the Capitol obviously also wasn’t a serious coup attempt, but a farce. Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter known to all of us as the horned “shaman”, personifies the fakery of the entire mob of protesters.

What happened on 6 January at the Capitol was not a coup attempt, but a carnival. The sometime fashionable idea that carnival can serve as a model for progressive protest movements — that such protests are carnivalesque not only in their form and atmosphere (theatrical performances, humorous chants), but also in their non-centralised organisation — was always deeply problematic: is late-capitalist social reality itself not already carnivalesque? Was the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938 — this half-organised, half-spontaneous outburst of violent attacks on Jewish homes, synagogues, businesses, and people themselves — not a carnival if there ever was one?

Furthermore, is “carnival” not also the name for the obscene underside of power — from gang rapes to mass lynchings? Let us not forget that Mikhail Bakhtin developed the notion of carnival in his book on Rabelais, written in the 1930s, as a direct reply to the carnival of the Stalinist purges. Traditionally, in resisting those in power, one of the strategies of the “lower classes” has regularly been to use terrifying displays of brutality to disturb the middle-class sense of decency. But with the events on Capitol, carnival again lost its innocence.

Will, then, in this case too, the farce repeat itself as tragedy? Will it be followed by a serious violent — or not so violent — coup d’état? There are certainly ominous signs pointing in this direction. As Warren Montag recently put it:
A poll taken the day after the assault on the Capitol revealed that 45 percent of Republicans approve of the action and believe Trump must be imposed as president by force, while 43 percent oppose or least do not support the use of violence to achieve this end. The far Right has thus created a base of about 30 million people, an increasing number of whom explicitly reject the principle of democracy and are ready to accept authoritarian rule. We are lucky that the object of their veneration is crippled by narcissism and cognitive decline. It is only a matter of time, however, before a new Trump emerges, less delusional and more competent; the pathway to the installation of an authoritarian regime against the will of the majority of the electorate is now well established.But it is not that Trump is “crippled by narcissism and cognitive decline” — these two characteristics are the basis of his success. His followers’ basic stance is that of a “cognitive decline”: of denying the true impact of the pandemic, of global warming, of racism and sexism in the United States — if there are any serious threats to the American way of life, they must be the result of a conspiracy. (The way the pandemic affected Trump is ambiguous: Trump basically lost the election because of COVID-19, but his movement also gained strength from the way he reacted to the pandemic by denying its full impact.)
Out of this “cognitive decline” has emerged a substantial radical-right movement: a synergy of white supremacy, and pandemic-denying, conspiracy theories. Its class base is, as in Fascism, a combination of a lower-middle class white mob afraid of losing their privileges, and their discreet billionaire enablers.

Was the US state apparatus really disturbed by the Capitol intrusion? It may appear so. As CNN reported: “America's most senior general Mark Milley and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff ... issued a statement [on 12 January 12] condemning the violent invasion of the US Capitol ... and reminding service members of their obligation to support and defend the Constitution and reject extremism.” The FBI is now investigating and prosecuting the protesters, but hidden traces of solidarity remain: as it was frequently noted, just imagine how much more brutally the authorities would have acted if Black Lives Matter protesters had laid siege to the Capitol. The protesters, moreover, were not detained or defeated — they simply “went home”, as Trump advised them to.

We are told that most of the Capitol protesters “flew from their affluent suburbs to the US Capitol, ready to die for the cause of white privilege” — true, but many of them were also part of a lower-middle class which sees their privileges threatened by the imagined coalition of big business (new digital media corporations, banks), state administration (controlling our daily lives, imposing lockdowns, masks, gun control, and other limitations to our basic freedoms), natural catastrophes (pandemic, forest fires), and “others” (the poor, “foreigners”, LGBTQ+ persons, and so on) who are allegedly exhausting the state’s financial resources and compelling it to raise taxes. Central is here the category of “our way of life”: socialising in bars and restaurants or at large sport events, free car movement and the right to possess guns. These protestors reject everything that poses a threat to this “way of life” (like masks and lockdowns), just like they reject state control (unless it is the control of “others”). Everything that threatens their freedoms is denounced as part of a vast plot. But this “way of life” is clearly not class-neutral: it is the way of life of the white middle-class who perceive themselves as the true embodiment of “America”.

So when we hear that the particular agent of this conspiracy — Joe Biden and the Democrats — did not just steal the election but is taking from us our way of life, we should apply here another category: that of the theft of enjoyment. To quote Russell Sbriglia (in private communication):
Could there possibly be a better exemplification of the logic of the “theft of enjoyment” than the mantra that Trump supporters were chanting while storming the Capitol: “Stop the steal!”? The hedonistic, carnivalesque nature of the storming of the Capitol to “stop the steal” wasn’t merely incidental to the attempted insurrection; insofar as it was all about taking back the enjoyment (supposedly) stolen from them by the nation’s others (i.e., Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQ+, etc.), the element of carnival was absolutely essential to it.
Jacques Lacan predicted way back in the early 1970s that capitalist globalisation will give rise to a new mode of racism focused on the figure of an “Other” who either threatens to snatch from us our enjoyment (the deep satisfaction provided by our immersion in our way of life), and/or who possesses and displays an excessive enjoyment that eludes our grasp (suffice it to recall the antisemitic fantasies about secret Jewish rituals, or the white supremacist fantasies about superior sexual prowess of black men, or the perception of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers). Enjoyment is not be confused here with sexual or other pleasures: it is a deeper satisfaction in our specific way of life or paranoia about the Other’s way of life — so what disturbs us in the Other is usually embodied in small details of daily lives (smell of their food, the loud sound of their music or laughter). (Incidentally, was not a similar mix of fascination and horror present in the left-liberal reaction to the protesters breaking into the Capitol? “Ordinary” people breaking into the sacred seat of power, a carnival that momentarily suspended our rules of public life — there was a little bit of envy mixed in with all the condemnation.) 
The dimension of what the Trumpist protesters are denying is truly terrifying. Despite the existence of a vaccine, the pandemic is still spreading. As for our environment, climate scientists warn that the planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” which “threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction”; and that “people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.”
But what we should focus on now is elements of a similar denial that continue into the presidency of Joe Biden. Here, for instance, are S.E. Cupp’s reflections on his inauguration:
It was almost as if none of it really happened. Except, of course it did. The last four years have tattooed a trauma on so many Americans, and it won’t fade overnight. There’s healing to do, and Biden has a long journey ahead. But at least for an hour or so at the United States Capitol, there was finally a much-needed respite from the madness, the moment of demarcation that will forever be 2020. 
Not only the Trump presidency happen, it emerged out of the very world celebrated in “The Hill We Climb”, the poem read by Young Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. Describing herself as “a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” who dreamt of becoming president “only to find herself reciting for one”, Gorman extoled:
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

This effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
 

 If the term “ideology” has any meaning, this is it: the fantasy of the establishment and progressives all joined together in a sublime moment of unity. When we are immersed in this unity, it effectively appears as if Trump never really happened.

The question remains, however: where did Trump and his followers come from? Does his rise not signal a deep crack in that very unity? If we want to have any future, we must not put our differences aside but do precisely the opposite: focus on our divisions and the antagonisms which run across US society — not what Biden called the “uncivil war” between the liberal establishment and Trump followers, but the actual class antagonism and all its implications (racism, sexism, ecological crises).

That’s why the calls for “unity” and the “healing of divisions” are false: Donald Trump as such stands for radical division, for us against them (the “enemies of the people”), and the only proper way to defeat him is to demonstrate that his division is a false one, that he is really one of “them” (a creature of the establishment “swamp”), and to replace this division with a more radical and authentic unity: the establishment, with all its expressions, and the broad solidarity of all emancipatory forces.

So will the farce repeat itself as tragedy? There is no answer to this question in advance — it depends on all of us, on our political mobilisation (or the lack of it). “Be careful what you wish for!” Trump warned Biden apropos of the idea of having Trump deposed by evoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment; and maybe Trump himself should have been careful what he wished for when it comes to the support of Capitol protesters. However, maybe, in the long term, Trump made a pertinent point: Biden is indulging in a contradictory, impossible dream, and the sooner we awaken from it the better for all of us. It was easy to defeat an obvious target like Trump — the real struggle begins now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

 



T.S. Eliot, :The Wasteland" (excerpt)

IV. Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Populist Chimera's

Slavoj Zizek, "Trump’s GREATEST TREASON is the betrayal of populism"
In his erratic grasping at power, outgoing US President Donald Trump is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. The undemocratic electoral system needs to be dismantled, but he doesn’t have the good of his supporters in mind.


When the district judge Vanessa Baraitser rejected the US demand to extradite Julian Assange, many Leftist and liberal critics commented on this decision in terms which recall the famous lines from T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: “The last temptation is the greatest treason / To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” In the play, Becket is afraid that his “right thing” (the decision to resist the king and sacrifice himself) is grounded in a “wrong reason” (his egotist search for the glory of sainthood). Hegel would have answered to this predicament that what matters in our acts is their public content: if I do a heroic sacrifice, this is what counts, independently of the private motives for doing it, which may be pathological.

But the refusal to extradite Assange to the US is a different case: it was obviously the right thing to do, but what is wrong are the publicly stated reasons for doing it. The judge fully endorsed the US authorities’ assertion that Assange’s activities fell outside of the realm of journalism, and justified her decision purely on mental health grounds – she said: “The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future.” She added that Assange's high level of intelligence means he would probably succeed in taking his own life.

Evoking mental health is thus an excuse to deliver justice - the implicit but clear public message of the judge is: “I know the accusation is wrong, but I am not ready to admit it, so I prefer to focus on mental health.” (Plus, now that the court also rejected bail for Assange, he will remain in the solitary confinement in prison which brought him to suicidal despair…) Assange’s life is (maybe) saved, but his Cause – the freedom of the press, the struggle for the right to render public any state crimes – remains a crime. This is an indicative example of what the humanitarianism of our courts really amounts to.

But all this is common knowledge – what we should do is apply T.S. Eliot’s lines to two other recent political events. Is the comedy that took place in Washington on January 6 not the final proof – if one were needed – that Assange should not be extradited to the US? It would be like extraditing dissidents who escaped Hong Kong back to China.

The first event: when Trump put pressure on Mike Pence, his vice-president, not to certify electoral votes, he also asked Pence to do the right thing for the wrong reason: yes, the US electoral system is rigged and corrupted, it is one big fake, organized and controlled by the ‘deep state.’ The implications of Trump’s demand are interesting: he argued that Pence, instead of simply acting in his constitutionally-prescribed proforma role, could delay or obstruct the Electoral College certification in Congress.

After the votes are counted, the vice-president has just to declare the result, whose content is determined in advance – but Trump wanted Pence to act as if he is making an actual decision… What Trump demanded was not a revolution but a desperate attempt to save his day by forcing Pence to act within the institutional order, taking the letter of the law more literally than it was meant.

The second event: when pro-Trump protesters invaded Capitol on January 6, they also did the right thing for the wrong reasons. They were right in protesting the US electoral system, with its complicated mechanisms whose aim is to render impossible a direct expression of popular dissatisfaction (this was clearly stated by the Founding Fathers themselves). But their attempt was not a Fascist coup – prior to taking power, Fascists make a deal with big business, but now “Trump should be removed from office to preserve democracy, business leaders say.”

So did Trump incite the protesters against big business? Not really: recall that Steve Bannon was thrown out of the White House when he not only opposed Trump’s tax plan but openly advocated raising taxes for the rich to 40 per cent, plus he argued that rescuing banks with public money is “socialism for the rich.”

Trump advocating ordinary people’s interests is like Citizen Kane from Welles’ classic movie – when a rich banker accuses him of speaking for the poor mob, he answers that, yes, his newspaper speaks for the poor ordinary people in order to prevent the true danger which is that the poor ordinary people will speak for themselves.

‘Swamp’ creature with a populist facade

As Yuval Kremnitzer demonstrated, Trump is a populist who remains within the system. Like any populism, his version also distrusts political representation, pretending to speak directly for the people – it complains about how its hands are tied by the ‘deep state’ and financial establishment, so its message is: “if only we didn’t have our hands tied, we would be able to do away with our enemies once and for all.”

However, in contrast to old authoritarian populism (like Fascism) which is ready to abolish formal-representative democracy and really take over and impose a new order, today’s populism doesn’t have a coherent vision of some new order – the positive content of its ideology and politics is an inconsistent bricolage of measures to bribe “our own” poor, to lower the taxes for the rich, to focus the hatred on the immigrants and our own corrupted elite outsourcing jobs, etc. That’s why today’s populists don’t really want to get rid of the established representative democracy and fully take power: “without the ‘fetters’ of the liberal order to struggle against, the new right would actually have to take some real action,” and this would render obvious the vacuity of their program. Today’s populists can only function in the indefinite postponement of achieving their goal since they can only function as opposing the ‘deep state’ of the liberal establishment: “The new right does not, at least not at this stage, seek to establish a supreme value – for instance, the nation, or the leader – that would fully express the will of the people and thereby allow and perhaps even require the abolition of the mechanisms of representation.”

What this means is that the true victims of Trump are his ordinary supporters who take seriously his babble against liberal corporate elites and big banks. He is the traitor of his own populist cause. His liberal critics accuse him of just seemingly controlling his supporters ready to violently fight for him, while he is really at their side, inciting them to act, even violently. But he is NOT really ON their side. On the morning of January 6, he addressed the rally on the Ellipse: “We're going to walk down to the Capitol. And we're gonna cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you'll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong.” However, when the mob did this and approached the Capitol, Trump retreated to the White House and watched on television as the violence unfolded on Capitol Hill.

Unmasking fake democracy

Did Trump really want to effect a coup d’etat? Unambiguously, NO. When the mob penetrated the Capitol, he made a statement: “I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order.” Trump blamed his opponents for the violence and praised his supporters, saying, “We can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you; you’re very special.”

And when the mob began to disperse, Trump posted a tweet defending the actions of his supporters who stormed and vandalized the Capitol: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.” He concluded his tweet with: “Remember this day forever!” Yes, we should – because it displayed the fakeness of US democracy as well as the fakeness of the populist protest against it. Just a few elections in the US really mattered – like the California gubernatorial election in 1934: the Democratic candidate Upton Sinclair lost because the entire establishment organized a previously unheard-of campaign of lies and defamations (Hollywood announced that, if Sinclair wins, it will move to Florida, etc.).

On Thursday January 7, Trump gave another short speech in which, contradicting what he said before, he unambiguously condemned the attack on the Capitol as a threat to law and order, and promised to collaborate in the peaceful transition of power. Although he probably said this out of fear for his personal fate, this act just confirmed that he was and is a member of the establishment, not even a Rightist hero but a coward. No wonder masses of his fans are already describing him as a “traitor,” a part of the Washington “swamp” he’d promised to clear. This, of course, doesn’t mean that his supporters are in any sense progressives betrayed by Trump: they expressed their actual grievances in a Rightist populist way. There is a grain of truth in their complaints, but they themselves betrayed it by the form of their activity. Crazy as it may sound, if they mean it seriously, they should join Bernie Sanders.

The furious, dissatisfied crowd attacking the parliament on behalf of a popular president deprived of his power through parliamentary manipulations… sounds familiar? Yes: this should have happened in Brazil or in Bolivia – there, the crowd of the president’s supporters would have the full right to storm the parliament and re-install their president. A totally different game was going on in the US. So let’s hope that what happened on January 6 in Washington will at least stop the obscenity of the US sending observers to elections in other countries to judge their fairness – now the US elections themselves need foreign observers. The US is a rogue country, and not just when Trump became its President: the ongoing (almost) civil war displays a rift that was there all the time.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Antigone: How Dare We?


Melita Zajc, "The Last Warning"
Rewriting Antigone, the classic tragedy by Sophocles, the celebrated philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek sends a warning about the historic turning point we face today. Contemporary Antigone, the defendants of the just and ethical acts beyond the law, are those who oppose immigration and demand closure of European borders. The role of Creon the king and the defendant of the law is performed by the bureaucrats and heads of European institutions. Several things are wrong in contemporary Europe, but we must not forget that civil rights are respected here, while the cruelest version of contemporary capitalism is blossoming in the former communist regimes, warns Žižek. We live in a world where the president of the European central bank is worried about rising social inequalities.

Imaginary, symbolic, and the real

If you wanted to know better Slavoj Žižek and his psychoanalytic theory, this is the film for you. A group of authors who belong to his close circle of friends and acquaintances made it, meaning that the film is as close as it can be to his creation. It is based on the theatrical piece Slavoj Žižek: Trojno življenje Antigone, and will also appeal to all those who wonder what might the outcome of the present historic situation be. It helps us ask the right questions and this confirms the postulate of Žižek’s work, namely that psychoanalysis is a relevant tool not only to deal with psychological but also with larger social and political issues.


Unlike contemporary non-fiction films, where their authors and subjects intertwine and several perspectives are provided, Antigone – How dare we! only offers three views: one is Žižek talking to the camera, the other is excerpts from the historical and contemporary world news footage, and the third is the recorded performance of Žižek’s theatre play. It looks staged and distant. Instead of watching reality unfold in front of your eyes, all you see are performances. But performance is key to psychoanalysis. The psychic reality of patients is only accessible to the analyst through signs. It is the work of the analyst to read these signs. The very same approach can be used with social reality. In this, psychoanalysis is similar to documentary cinema, they both deal with reality and explore the ways to read and mediate it. Yet, according to psychoanalysis, the social world is not structured as an opposition between the false and the true, but along the distinction between imaginary, symbolic, and the real. Žižek himself once used chess to illustrate these categories: the way we imagine the figures (peasants, fortresses…) is the imaginary, the rules of the game are the symbolic and the draw at the beginning of the game (the unpredictable, the chance) functions as the real. The real, in short, manifests itself by chance and there is no need to search for it within depths. The real shows itself on the surface, through symptoms.


psychoanalysis is a relevant tool not only to deal with psychological but also with larger social and political issues.



Slavoj Žižek is not a practicing psychoanalyst and social reality is the focus of his work. He reached world fame by analysing films and his insightful interpretations (of individual works and of oeuvres, say of Alfred Hitchcock) demonstrated the validity of psychoanalytic concepts way beyond the Freudian couch. Antigone – How dare we! (screening as part of Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival «Between the Seas» programme) is one step further, first because he is interpreting the world, not the films, then because it is his theatrical piece that we see performed, and also because the found footage material functions very well in the role of symptom. His narration, functioning as a «voice of God» style voice-over interprets the other two parts of the film. He exposes the absurdity of our social reality, which is getting more incomprehensible and chaotic every day but simultaneously also introduces some order into it.


Mixture and bravery


Another hero of the film is the theatre troupe, the group of young actors who managed to present the text, written in a high brow theatre language, by successfully combining it with a street style way of bodily movement. They sew together theatre performance and the found footage material. This brings to light some of the most uncanny moments of contemporary world politics, for example, Jean-Claude Juncker, former President of the European Commission defending Karl Marx. These alone make the film worth watching. But what counts is the mix and bravery of the team – the actors and the director Jani Sever – who managed to seamlessly blend the performance with the documentary. The constant shifts between performance and spontaneity eventually change the performance into the rehearsal and show the performers directly engage with the filmmakers.


This is the turning point of the film. The motive of rehearsal and technological means of repetition together reverse the narration. The possibility to repeat and to rewind evokes the possibility to remake, that is, to improve. The hope starts to show. Antigone and Creon of today are both equally unsympathetic, but the remaining part of this triad can be a source of a solution – the chorus. Žižek, ironically faithful to the analytical distance, describes the chorus as «The stupidity of proverbs, which is the common wisdom.» But the stupidity does not liberate one from the responsibility for the common future. Antigone – How dare we! is one of the most sage and frank documentaries about the world of today.

The End Result of Zizekian "Optimal Efficiency" State-Centric Progressivism...

Pandemic Capitalism...

 
The prayer of Death

Toll the bell

Call on them to toll the bell again

Tell them sing a little song like this :

Take a stand, take a stand, take a stand
If I never, never see you any more
Take a stand, take a stand, take a stand
I'll meet you on that other shore

I got his word, etc.

I'm satisfied, etc.

I have a right, etc.

I done left over here, etc
I'll meet you on that kingdom shore

I got his word, etc.

Now here my hand, etc.

Here where I hear old reverend (?) that stopped and went in prayer. Now hear him calling the Lord : "Oh Lord, oh Lordy."

Friday, January 8, 2021

Danger, Will Robinson...


The explosion of anger seen on the streets of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Bucharest is a sign of people’s exasperation and desire for change, with the hope that would bring. But we are in new economic territory: we do not know what we have to do, 
but we have to act now

During this year’s protests against the Eurozone’s austerity measures – in Greece and, on a smaller scale, Ireland, Italy and Spain – two stories have imposed themselves. The establishment story proposes a de-politicised naturalisation of the crisis: the regulatory measures are presented not as decisions grounded in political choices, but as the imperatives of a neutral financial logic – if we want our economies to stabilise, we have to swallow the bitter pill. The other story, of the protesting workers, students and pensioners, presents the austerity measures as yet another attempt by international financial capital to dismantle the last remainders of the welfare state. The International Monetary Fund appears from one perspective as a neutral agent of discipline and order: from the other, the oppressive agent of global capital.

While each story contains a grain of truth, both are fundamentally false. The European establishment’s story obfuscates the fact that the huge deficits have been run up as a result of massive financial sector bail-outs, as well as by falling government revenues during the recession: the big loan to Athens will be used to repay Greek debt to the great French and German banks. The true aim of the EU guarantees is to help private banks.

The protesters’ story bears witness yet again to the misery of today’s left: there is no positive programmatic content to its demands, just a generalised refusal to compromise the existing welfare state. The utopia here is not a radical change of the system, but the idea that one can maintain a welfare state within the system. But one should not miss the grain of truth in the countervailing argument: if we remain within the confines of the global capitalist system, then measures to wring further sums from workers, students and pensioners are necessary.

One thing is clear: after decades of the welfare state, when cutbacks were relatively limited and came with the promise that things would soon return to normal, we are now entering a period in which a kind of economic state of emergency is becoming permanent, turning into a constant, a way of life. It brings with it the threat of far more savage austerity measures, cuts in benefits, diminishing health and education services and more precarious employment. The left faces the difficult task of emphasizing that we are dealing with political economy - that there is nothing "natural" in such a crisis, that the existing global economic system relies on a series of political decisions. Simultaneously it is fully aware that, insofar as we remain within the capitalist system, the violation of its rules effectively causes economic breakdown, since the system obeys a pseudo-natural logic of its own.

It would be futile merely to hope that the ongoing crisis will be limited and that European capitalism will continue to guarantee a relatively high standard of living for a growing number of people. It would indeed be a strange radical politics, whose main hope is that circumstances will continue to render it inoperative and marginal. There is no lack of anti-capitalists today. We are even witnessing an overload of critiques of capitalism's horrors: newspaper investigations, TV reports and best-selling books abound on companies polluting our environment, corrupt bankers who continue to get fat bonuses while their firms are saved by public money, sweatshops where children work overtime.

There is, however, a catch to all this criticism, ruthless as it may appear: what is as a rule not questioned is the liberal-democratic framework within which these excesses should be fought. The goal, explicit or implied, is to regulate capitalism - through the pressure of the media, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, honest police investigations - but never to question the liberal-democratic institutional mechanisms of the bourgeois state of law.

The question of freedom

It is here that Marx's key insight remains valid, perhaps today more than ever. For Marx, the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere proper, as with the criteria the global financial institutions apply when they want to pronounce a judgement on a country. Does it have free elections? Are the judges independent? Is the press free from hidden pressures? Are human rights respected? The key to actual freedom resides rather in the "apolitical" network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed for effective improvement is not political reform, but a transformation in the social relations of production. We do not vote about who owns what, or about worker-management relations in a factory; all this is left to processes outside the sphere of the political. It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere, say, by organising "democratic" banks under the people's control.

The ABC of Marxist notions of class struggle is the thesis that "peaceful" social life is itself an expression of the (temporary) victory of one class - the ruling one. From the standpoint of the subordinated and oppressed, the very existence of the state, as an apparatus of class domination, is a fact of violence. The standard liberal motto - that it is sometimes necessary to resort to violence, but it is never legitimate - is not sufficient. From the radical-emancipatory perspective, one should turn it around: for the oppressed, violence is always legitimate - since their very status is the result of violence - but never necessary: it is always a matter of strategic consideration whether to use force against the enemy or not.

In the current economic emergency, too, we are clearly not dealing with blind market processes but with highly organised, strategic interventions by states and financial institutions, intent on resolving the crisis on their own terms - and in such conditions, are not defensive counter-measures in order?

These considerations cannot but shatter the comfortable subjective position of radical intellectuals. What if intellectuals lead basically safe and comfortable lives and, in order to justify their livelihoods, construct scenarios of radical catastrophe? For many, no doubt, if a revolution is taking place, it should occur at a safe distance - Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela - so that, while their hearts are warmed by thinking about faraway events, they can go on promoting their careers. But with the current collapse of properly functioning welfare states in the advanced industrial economies, radical intellectuals may be now approaching a moment of truth when they must make such clarifications: they wanted real change - now they can have it.

What has happened in the latest stage of post-68 capitalism is that the economy itself - the logic of market and competition - has progressively imposed itself as the hegemonic ideology. In education, the school system is less and less the compulsory network, elevated above the market and organised directly by the state, bearer of enlightened values - liberty, equality, fraternity. On behalf of the sacred formula of "lower costs, higher efficiency", it is progressively penetrated by different forms of public-private partnership (PPP). In the organisation and legitimisation of power, too, the electoral system is increasingly conceived on the model of market competition: elections are like a commercial exchange where voters "buy" the option that offers to do the job of maintaining social order, prosecuting crime, and so on, most efficiently.

On behalf of the same formula of "lower costs, higher efficiency", functions once exclusive to the domain of state power, like running prisons, can be privatised; the military is no longer based on universal conscription, but composed of hired mercenaries. Even the state bureaucracy is no longer perceived as the Hegelian universal class, as is becoming evident in the case of Berlusconi. In today's Italy, state power is directly exerted by the base bourgeois who ruthlessly and openly exploits it as a means to protect his personal interests. Even the process of engaging in emotional relations is increasingly organised along the lines of a market relationship. Such a procedure relies on self-commodification: for internet dating or marriage agencies, prospective partners present themselves as commodities, listing their qualities and posting their photos.

Can the impossible happen?

In such a constellation, the very idea of a radical social transformation may appear as an impossible dream - yet the term "impossible" should make us stop and think. Today, possible and impossible are distributed in a strange way, both simultaneously exploding into excess. In the domains of personal freedom and scientific technology, we are told that "nothing is impossible": we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions, entire archives of music, films and TV series are available to download, space travel is available to everyone (at a price). There is the prospect of enhancing our physical and psychic abilities, of manipulating our basic properties through interventions into the genome; even the tech-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into software that can be downloaded into one or another set of hardware.

On the other hand, in the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the age of maturity in which humanity has abandoned the old millenarian utopian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality - read: capitalist socio-economic reality - with all its impossibilities. The commandment "you cannot" is its mot d'ordre: you cannot engage in large collective acts, which necessarily end in totalitarian terror; you cannot cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis; you cannot isolate yourself from the global market, without falling prey to the spectre of North Korean juche ideology. In its ideological version, ecology also adds its own list of impossibilities, so-called threshold values - no more than two degrees of global warming - based on "expert opinions".

Today, the ruling ideology endeavours to make us accept the "impossibility" of radical change, of abolishing capitalism, of a democracy not reduced to a corrupt parliamentary game, in order to render invisible the antagonism that cuts across capitalist societies. This is why Lacan's formula for overcoming an ideological impossibility is not "everything is possible", but "the impossible happens".

The Morales government in Bolivia, the Chavez government in Venezuela and the Maoist government in Nepal came to power through "fair" democratic elections, not through insurrection. Their situation is "objectively" hopeless: the whole drift of history is basically against them, they cannot rely on any "objective tendencies" pushing in their way, all they can do is to improvise, do what they can in a desperate situation. But does this not give them a unique freedom? And are we - today's left - not all in exactly the same situation?

Ours is thus the very opposite of the classical early 20th-century situation, in which the left knew what had to be done but had to wait patiently for the proper moment of execution. Today we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now because the consequence of non-action could be disastrous. We will be forced to live "as if we were free".

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Covid Train Wreck

 

Slavoj Zizek, "We’re at a grim crossroads in this pandemic: one path leads to utter despair, the other to total extinction"

A quote from Woody Allen, from back in 1979, is now an apt if disturbing description of mankind’s predicament with Covid. We have a stark choice to make if we are to survive and construct a new society.

We read again and again in our media that we are at the “beginning of the end” of the pandemic: although numbers of infections and deaths are still rising, millions are already vaccinated, so there is now at least the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

In spite of worries about how we will survive the next few months, there are signs of relief. We deserve this relaxation since what was so depressive about the pandemic was precisely that there was no clear exit in sight – the feeling of the end of the world dragged on without end. Now it looks like the nightmare will be over soon, we will try to obliterate it from our memory and return to normal life as soon as possible.

Some intellectuals bent on finding a deeper meaning in every catastrophe even evoke these famous lines from Friedrich Hölderlin’s hymn ‘Patmos’, “Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch” (“Where the danger is, that which saves is also growing”), as relevant for our predicament. In what precisely resides this relevance? Is it simply that science saved us by inventing vaccines in a record time? Is it that the pandemic reminded us of our mortality and vulnerability, and thus cured us of our arrogance, teaching us we are part of nature, not its masters?

However, it would be much more appropriate to turn around Hölderlin’s verses: “But where that which saves us is growing, there are dangers also.” And these dangers are multiple. Let’s begin with the World Health Organization experts’ warning that, though the effects of the pandemic have been very severe, it is ‘not necessarily the big one’, and the world will have to learn to live with Covid-19.

Not only is the Covid pandemic far from over, given numbers are still rising, but new pandemics are on the horizon; global warming, fires, and droughts are ruining our environment; the economic effects of the pandemic will strike later in 2021 giving a new boost to social protests; digital control of our lives will remain; mental health problems will explode… and we will have to learn to live not just with Covid-19, but with all this medley of interconnected phenomena. This is why we are now going through the most dangerous moment of the entire pandemic. To relax now would be like falling asleep behind the wheel of a car moving fast on a winding road. We have to make lots of decisions that cannot all be grounded in science – our moment is now the moment of radical political choices.

True, science may save us. Greta Thunberg was right that we should trust it, but in a true scientific spirit, we should also admit two things noted by Juergen Habermas: we didn’t just learn new things, we also got to know how many things we didn’t know, plus we were forced to act in an impenetrable situation without knowing what the effects of our acts would be.

This not-knowing does not concern only the pandemic itself – we at least have experts there – but even more its economic, social, and psychic consequences. It is not simply that we don’t know what is going on, but that we know we don’t know, and this not-knowing is itself a social fact, and it is inscribed into how our institutions act.

We should take even a step further here: it is not just that we know more and more what we don’t know, it sometimes appears as if reality itself acts as if it forgot its own laws. We know the joke about ‘knowledge in the real’ – that a stone knows the law it must obey when it’s falling down. But the basic lesson of quantum physics is that nature itself doesn’t know all its laws, and this is why Albert Einstein reacted with such anxiety to quantum physics and its basic premise of the indeterminacy of nature – for Einstein, this simply meant that quantum physics is an incomplete theory that ignores some unknown variables.

There is a supreme irony in the fact that, although both Einstein and physicist Niels Bohr were atheists, their most famous exchange is about God: Einstein remarked, “God does not play dice,” and Bohr snapped back, “Stop telling God what to do.” Their disagreement was not about God, but about the nature of our universe: Einstein couldn’t accept that nature itself is in some sense “incomplete”. The pandemic seems to be signaling that Bohr was right.

This indeterminacy, which reaches all the way down to subatomic level, opens up the space for our interventions, but only if we fully assume it – that is, if we reject determinism in both its main versions: naturalism and divine providence. A Slovene theologian who advocates keeping churches open in spite of quarantine regulations answered the reproach that many lives would be lost in a simple and straight way: “The mission of the Church is not health but salvation.”

In short, the death and suffering of thousands doesn’t matter with regard to their salvation in eternity through God. This is what Mother Theresa was doing in Kolkata: her mission was to take care of “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone” – but, as critics have demonstrated, more than their health, she took care of their salvation and deathbed conversion to Catholicism. So, we can easily imagine what she would have been doing now when the pandemic is ravaging the world: no vaccination, not even respirators, but just spiritual solace in a grey environment for the last hours of our life.

And we can also imagine what will happen in the near future if the pandemic explodes even more, through new mutations of the virus, and renders vaccines inefficient: people will be dying in even bigger numbers than from the Spanish flu and, lacking any vision of how to contain the pandemic, our authorities will resign themselves to just providing care for the dying, inclusive of pills for a painless death, while the Church will offer mass conversions to diminish depression with the promise of salvation for the faithful.

Our ultimate choice is thus best encapsulated by the beginning of a text written by Woody Allen back in 1979: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” The correct choice is the decision to assume the despair and utter hopelessness of our predicament: only if we pass through this zero-point we will be able to construct a new society-to-come.

The wrong step may lead us to a new divided society with the privileged living in isolated bubbles while the majority vegetates in barbaric conditions. Today, more than ever, egalitarianism is not just a vague ideal, but an urgent necessity: vaccines for all, universal healthcare, a global struggle against global warming… Here is a small unexpected sign in this direction: Uğur Şahin, BioNTech’s CEO, a Turk living in Germany who played a key role in inventing the best vaccine, said in an interview at the end of 2020: “At the moment, it doesn’t look good – a hole is appearing because there’s a lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill the gap with our own vaccine” – a wonderful moment when the CEO of a company wants the competitors to get stronger because he knows that only all together can they win the struggle against the pandemic.

So, maybe the proper way to conclude is to repeat the well-known warning that is sometimes added to the idea of the light at the end of the tunnel: let’s make sure that this light is not that of another train rushing towards us from the other side.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

 Du hast viel geweint                             You have cried a lot

Im Geist getrennt                                     In the mind apart

Im Herz vereint                                     In the heart united

 

Wir sind schon sehr lang zusammen     We have been together for a very long time

Dein Atem kalt                                         Your breath is cold

Das Herz in Flammen                             The heart in flames

Du                                                             You

Ich                                                              I

Wir                                                             Us

Ihr                                                             You

 

Deutschland                                             Germany

Mein Herz in Flammen                             My heart in flames

Will dich lieben und verdammen             want to love you want to damn you

Deutschland                                             Germany

Dein Atem kalt                                         Your breath is cold

So jung                                                     so young

Und doch so alt                                     and yet so old

Deutschland                                             Germany

 

Ich                                                             I

Ich will dich nie verlassen                     I never want to leave you

Man kann dich lieben                             One want to love you

Und will dich hassen                             and want to hate you

Überheblich                                             Overbearing (arrogant)

Überlegen                                             Superior

Übernehmen                                             to take over

Übergeben                                             to surrender

Überraschen                                             Surprising

Überfallen                                             to attack (to assault, raid, invade)

Deutschland Deutschland über allen     Germany Germany over everyone

 

Deutschland                                             Germany

Mein Herz in Flammen                             My heart in flames

Will dich lieben und verdammen             want to love you want to damn you

Deutschland                                             Germany

Dein Atem kalt                                         Your breath is cold

So jung                                                     so young

Und doch so alt                                     and yet so old

Deutschland                                             Germany

 

Deutschland                                             Germany

Deine Liebe ist Fluch und Segen             Your love is a curse and a blessing

Deutschland                                             Germany

Meine Liebe kann ich dir nicht geben     My love i cannot give to you

Deutschland                                             Germany

 

Deutschland                                             Germany

Du                                                             You

Ich                                                             I

Wir                                                             Us

Ihr                                                             You

 

Übermächtig                                             Superior

Überflüssig                                             Needles

Übermenschen                                     Beyond-Man*

Überdrüssig                                             Sick of

Wer hoch steigt, der wird tief fallen     The higher you climb, the farther you fall

Deutschland Deutschland über allen     Germany Germany over everyone

 

Deutschland                                             Germany

Dein Herz in Flammen                             My heart in flames

Will dich lieben und verdammen             want to love you want to damn you

Deutschland                                             Germany

Mein Atem kalt                                     My breath is cold

So jung                                                     so young

Und doch so alt                                     and yet so old

Deutschland                                             Germany

Deine Liebe ist Fluch und Segen             Your love is a curse and a blessing

Deutschland                                             Germany

Meine Liebe kann ich dir nicht geben     My love I cannot give to you

Deutschland                                             Germany

Saturday, January 2, 2021