Sunday, May 23, 2021

Class Essentialism

Slavoj Zizek, "Class Struggle Against Classism"
In the ceremony of Biden’s inauguration, there was a lone figure who stole the show by just sitting there, sticking out as an element of discord disturbing the spectacle of bi-partisan unity: Bernie Sanders. The effect was not of a person left out at a party but rather of a person who has no interest in joining. Every philosopher knows how impressed Hegel was when he saw Napoleon riding through Jena. It was, for him, like seeing the world spirit (the predominant historical tendency) riding a horse… The fact that Bernie stole the show and that the image of him just sitting there instantly became an icon means that the true world spirit of our time was there, in his lone figure embodying skepticism about the fake normalization staged in the ceremony. There is still hope for our cause; people are aware that a more radical change is needed. Lines of separation thus seemed clearly drawn: the liberal establishment embodied in Biden versus democratic socialists, whose most popular representatives are Bernie Sanders and AOC.

However, something happened in the past few weeks which seems to disturb this clear picture. In her interviews and other public appearances, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in defending Biden against attacks from the Democratic Socialist Left. In her interview published on March 19 in the Democratic Socialists of America’s magazine Democratic Left, she “combines the most lavish praise for the Democratic Party with vicious denunciations of socialism” and “presents the Democratic Party as having been completely transformed into a working-class party. She says the Biden administration and incumbent Democrats are ‘totally reinvent[ing] themselves in a far more progressive direction.’ Pressure from the left has forced “almost a radical change” among entrenched Democratic leaders. The only barrier to the Democratic Party establishment achieving perfection is left-wing opposition. This politician who made a career criticizing the ‘Democratic establishment’ and posturing as an outsider has now transformed herself into the establishment’s fiercest defender and a most bitter opponent of outside critics.”

Along these lines, AOC consequently rejects the Leftist critique of Biden as a “really privileged critique,” mobilizing the old and very suspicious distinction between “good faith critique” and “bad faith critique”: “bad faith critique can destroy everything that we have built so swiftly. We do not have the time or the luxury to entertain bad faith actors in our movement.” (Incidentally, I remember clearly this distinction from my youth when Communists in power regularly opposed “constructive” criticism to destructive anti-Socialist critique.) If we do not have time to “entertain bad faith actors in our movement,” is this not a (not so) subtle call to a purge? AOC goes further, accusing the Leftist critics of Biden of betraying “their disdain for the poor and oppressed by criticizing the president,” plus she flirts with identity politics against ”class essentialism,” and resuscitates the old liberal-Left trick of accusing the Left critics of serving the Right: “When you say ‘nothing has changed,’ you are calling the people who are now protected from deportation ‘no one.’ And we cannot allow for that in our movement” – a hint at a purge again… (No wonder that the conflict between AOC and the Democratic Socialists now involves even police: “Police officers show up at Twitter user’s home for criticizing Congresswoman AOC on social media, her spokesperson denies involvement.”) Nevertheless, AOC’s strategy is double here: she also criticizes the Biden administration for not going far enough in the New Green Deal, for not investing enough into the renewal of the infrastructure, and she slams Biden’s “barbaric” border conditions… In this way, she follows a coherent strategy: she wants the radical Left to put their trust and faith in the Biden administration, but, simultaneously, to exert a “good faith critique” and push it further.

The problem I see in this reasoning attributed to AOC is its implicit premise that the radical Left goes too far in the direction of “class essentialism,” thereby neglecting anti-racist and feminist struggle pursued by the Biden administration. Does the Democratic Party really defend the importance of these two struggles against the radical Left? Do radical feminists and BLM partisans also not attack the Democratic establishment?[i] A part of the BLM broke from the larger movement, precisely because of the latter’s support for the Democratic Party, or, as they put it, “to ally with the Democratic Party is to ally against ourselves.” So, the split between the Democratic establishment and the radical Left has nothing to do with the issue of class essentialism.

The first point to be made here is that, to use Mao Zedong’s opposition, the conflict between AOC and the Democratic Left is not a “contradiction” between the people and its enemies but a contradiction within the people itself, to be resolved by debate, which means that, in our case, no side should treat the other as an agent secretly working for the enemy. But let’s go to the basic question: who is right here, in this conflict? Or, at least, who is less bad? I am tempted to use Stalin’s old formula: they are both worse. How, exactly?

In some abstract theoretical sense, the radical Left stance is true: Biden is not the long-term solution; global capitalism itself is the ultimate problem. However, this insight in no way justifies what one could call a principled opportunism: the comfortable position of criticizing every modest progressive measure as inadequate and waiting for a true movement which, of course, never comes. So, AOC is also right that Biden cannot be dismissed as “Trump with a human face,” as I myself wrote in a previous commentary. Many of the measures enacted or proposed by his administration should be supported: trillions to fight the pandemic, trillions for economic revival and ecological commitments… Another move of the Biden administration to be taken seriously is the tax reform advocated by the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, a reform which follows the steps proposed by Piketty: increase the US corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, plus put pressure on the international community to go along and raise the taxes to a comparable level. This IS “class essentialism” (a push towards economic justice) that has to be taken seriously. I agree with Chris Cillizza that the most important words in Biden’s speech to the joint session of the Congress on April 28 2021 are: “My fellow Americans, trickle-down, trickle-down economics has never worked.”

However, if each of the opposed stances (acceptance of the Democratic Party space versus empty Leftist radicalism) is in itself wrong, does the combination of the two, the claim that we should tactically support Biden even though we know his policy will not work, not amount to cynical manipulation, since officially we remain within the system, but in reality we pursue our own more radical darker aims? The truth of this stance is usually the opposite one: we think we pursue a hidden radical aim, but, in reality, we perfectly fit the system, or, to quote Duane Rousselle, “it is precisely this pragmatic attempt to remain relevant, to maintain a sphere of influence within the democratic party, that we should question.”[ii] Still, I think the strategy of supporting some of Biden’s measures involves no cynical manipulation, and it also doesn’t imply that we remain caught in the system. We can support some of his measures in a totally “sincere” way, but with the presumption that they are just the first step which will lead to further steps since the existing global system cannot endure these measures without some more radical measures. For example, if spending trillions will result in a financial crisis, much more radical measures of financial control will be necessary. All we have to do is to insist on these measures, to require their full actualization.

Why, then, are both sides in the conflict worse? The heart of the matter is in the reproach of “class essentialism,” which, I think, misses its target. We should of course discard the old Marxist cliché of the workers’ struggle as the only “real” one, so that all other struggles (ecological, decolonization and national liberation, women’s oppression, racism…) have to wait and will be more or less automatically resolved once we win the Big One. We should fully accept “class essentialism,” on condition that we use the term “essence” in the strict Hegelian sense. Although Mao Zedong did not really understand Hegel’s dialectics (see his ridiculous polemic against the negation of negation), his central contribution to Marxist philosophy, his elaborations on the notion of contradiction, is at the level of Hegel’s notion of essence. The main thesis of his great text “On Contradiction” on the two facets of contradictions, “the principal and the non-principal contradictions in a process, and the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction,” deserves a close reading.

Mao’s reproach to the “dogmatic Marxists” is that they “do not understand that it is precisely in the particularity of contradiction that the universality of contradiction resides”:

“For instance, in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction. The other contradictions, such as those between the remnant feudal class and the bourgeoisie, between the peasant petty bourgeoisie ant the bourgeoisie, between the proletariat and the peasant petty bourgeoisie, between the non-monopoly capitalists and the monopoly capitalists, between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, among the capitalist countries and between imperialism and the colonies, are all determined or influenced by this principal contradiction. / When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position.”[iii]

This is Mao’s key point: the principal (universal) contradiction does not overlap with the contradiction which should be treated as dominant in a particular situation: the universal dimension literally resides in this particular contradiction. In each concrete situation, a different “particular” contradiction is the predominant one, in the precise sense that, in order to win the fight for the resolution of the principal contradiction, one should treat a particular contradiction as the predominant one, to which all other struggles should be subordinated. In China under Japanese occupation, the patriotic unity against the Japanese was the predominant thing if Communists wanted to win the class struggle – in these conditions, any direct focusing on class struggle went against class struggle itself. Therein, perhaps, resides the main feature of “dogmatic opportunism,” namely its insistence on the centrality of the principal contradiction at a wrong moment. We can immediately see how this notion applies to today’s multiplicity of struggles: the true “class essentialism” means that class struggle is not a fixed essence but an over-determining principle which regulates the dynamic interaction of multiple struggles. Say, today in the US, one cannot talk about class struggle without bringing in the oppression and exploitation of the blacks: to focus on “pure” class struggle independently of the color of the skin ultimately serves class oppression.

Maurizio Lazzarato made a case against “class essentialism” referring to the Italian feminist Carla Lonzi’s formula “Let’s spit on Hegel.” Sputiamo su Hegel (1970), a seminal text of Italian feminism, stresses the patriarchal character of Hegel‘s dialectic and theory of recognition, and extends this ferocious critique of Hegel to Marxism: with its focus on production, hierarchic social organization and power, with politics in the form of a party which represents its base, Marxism views history as a dialectical progress through stages. Here, the blacks and women are “blocked” at lower “stages”; women can eventually attain the freedom of self-consciousness only if they rejoin male productivist logic… Lonzi rejects this entire vision as incompatible with an authentic revolution: the revolutionary process is a leap, a non-dialectical rupture of the order of history that will open onto the invention and discovery of something that history did not already contain.

In order to become an autonomous political subject, women have to invent a radical democracy: new horizontal, non-hierarchical relations that would create a collective awareness specific to women. The concept and practice of “representation” and delegation are absent, since the problem is not the seizure and management of power: women should get rid of the promises of emancipation through work and through the struggle for power, which are considered as values of the patriarchal culture (and of the workers’ movement). The feminist movement doesn’t demand any participation in power, but, quite the opposite, a placing into discussion of the concept of power and the seizure of power.

Lazzarato is aware of the traps of feminist or anti-colonialist essentialism. In the latest case, “the enemy becomes Europe as such; capitalism disappears beneath the racial division. These ambiguities will see an unfortunate reiteration in postcolonial thought, because revolution will be completely vacated.” So, class essentialism should not be simply replaced by feminist essentialism (the oppression of women is the basic form of all oppressions) or anti-colonialist essentialism (colonial domination and exploitation as the key to all others). Rather, Lazzarato asserts the irreducible plurality of struggles for emancipation and on the resonance among them. He quotes Jean-Marie Cleizel:

“A revolutionary movement does not spread by contamination / But by resonance / Something that constitutes itself here / Resonates with the shock wave given off by something that constituted itself elsewhere / The body that resonates does so in its own way.”

How does this resonance work between feminist struggles and workers’ struggles? Is the workers’ struggle irreducibly caught in the centralist-productive paradigm, or can a decentralized feminist form resonate in it? Plus, do anti-colonialist respect for premodern traditions and contemporary feminism really form a common front against modern organization and production? Is it not that modern feminism not only has nothing to do with premodern paradigms, but is also immanently antagonistic towards them? But the basic question here is: is class antagonism really just one in the series of antagonisms?

There is a nice joke from Germany about a debate between an identitarian progressive and a Marxist. The identitarian says “gender” and the Marxist replies “class.” The identitarian says “gender, race” and the Marxist replies “class, class.” The identitarian says “gender, race, class” and the Marxist replies “class, class, class”… Although the joke is supposed to make fun of the Marxist position, the Marxist is right here. There is truth in his tautology: class (struggle) overdetermines the totality of social identities.[iv] When an identitarian says “ethnic identity,” a Marxist analyzes how this identity is traversed by class struggle, how this group is included in – excluded from – social totality, which obstacles or privileges they face, which professions and educational institutions are open or closed to them, etc. The same applies to the oppression of women: how does capitalist reproduction in a country rely on their unpaid labor? To what extent are their freedom and autonomy sustained or prevented by their place in social and economic reproduction? Are parts of the feminist struggle dominated by middle-class values with a spin against immigrants and lower classes as not-feminist enough (as is the case in the US)?

In Germany and some other countries, recently a vogue is emerging of what is called “classism”: a class version of the politics of identity. Workers are taught to safeguard and promote their socio-cultural practices and self-respect; they are made aware of the crucial role they play in social reproduction… The workers’ movement thus becomes another element in the chain of identities, like a particular race or sexual orientation. Such a “solution” of the “workers’ problem” is what characterizes Fascism and populism: they respect workers and admit that the latter are often exploited, and they (often sincerely) want to make this position better within the coordinates of the existing system. Trump was doing this, by way of protecting the US workers from banks and unfair Chinese competition.

In the domain of cinema, the latest example of such “classism” is Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, 2020) which portrays the daily lives of our “nomadic proletarians,” workers without a permanent home who live in trailers and wander around from one temporary job to another. They are shown as decent people, full of spontaneous goodness and solidarity with each other, inhabiting their own world of small customs and rituals, enjoying their modest happiness – even the occasional work in an Amazon packaging center goes quite well… That’s how our hegemonic ideology likes to see workers. No wonder the movie was the big winner of the latest Oscars. Although the lives depicted are rather miserable, the movie bribes us into enjoying it with the charming details of a specific way of life, so its subtitle could have been: Enjoy being a nomadic proletarian!

It is precisely the refusal to be such an element in the chain of identities that defines the authentic workers’ movement. In India, I met with the representatives of the lowest group of the lowest caste of the Untouchables, the dry toilet cleaners. I asked them about the basic premise of their program, what they want, and they instantly gave me the answer: “We don’t want to be ourselves, to be what we are.” We encounter here an exemplary case of what Hegel and Marx called “oppositional determination”: universal class antagonism, which traverses the entire social field, encounters itself as one of its species, in the class of workers who are, to quote Jacques Ranciere, a “part of no-part” of the social body, lacking a proper place in it, an antagonism embodied.

So, what does class struggle mean in India in May 2021, with a record number of new daily infections? Arundhati Roy is right to claim that in India “we are witnessing a crime against humanity”– and not just in the humanitarian sense according to which we should forget political struggles and confront with all our forces the health catastrophe. To confront the health catastrophe with full force, one has to bring in many aspects of class struggle, global and local. Only now that it is already too late do we hear calls to help India. International solidarity often works like the proverbial husband who waits for his wife to do the kitchen work and then, when he makes sure that the works is mostly done, generously offers his help. India was proclaimed “the pharmacy of the world,” good to export medicines, but now that it needs them, the developed West continues with Covid nationalism instead of an urgent total “Communist” mobilization to contain the pandemic there. Plus, there are the obvious internal causes: India “has saved the world, entire humanity, from a major tragedy by effectively controlling coronavirus,” Modi boasted on January 28; however, his nationalist politics not only criminally ignored warnings about the danger of a new wave of infections, but also went on with its anti-Muslim offensive (including large public electoral meetings). India thus missed a unique opportunity to mobilize Hindu-Muslim solidarity in the struggle against the pandemic.

But does the same not hold the other way round? Is class antagonism also not traversed by racial and sexual tensions, i.e., as Lazzarato put it, do these antagonisms not interact in mutual resonances? We should reject this solution for a precise reason: there is a formal difference between class antagonism and other antagonisms. In the case of antagonisms in relations between sexes and sexual identities, the struggle for emancipation does not aim at annihilating some of the identities but at creating the conditions for their non-antagonistic co-existence, and the same goes for tensions between ethnic, cultural or religious identities. The goal is to bring about their peaceful co-existence, their mutual respect and recognition. Class struggle does not function like that; it aims at mutual recognition and respect of classes only in its Fascist or corporatist versions. Class struggle is a “pure” antagonism: the goal of the oppressed and exploited is to abolish classes as such, not to enact their reconciliation.[v] This is why class struggle “resonates” in other struggles in a different way than the others resonate in it: it introduces into others an element of irreconcilable antagonism.

So now we see why, in the conflict between AOC and radical Democratic Socialists, both sides are wrong, although right against each other. What the two sides share is the danger of opportunism: pragmatic opportunism on the one hand (the danger of getting caught in hegemonic space, of working as its “radical” supplement) and principled opportunism on the other hand (the danger of rejecting any engagement as a compromise and in this way criticizing reality from a safe distance). What both sides (or hands) miss is the proper dialectical unity of theory and practice, in which theory not only justifies particular measures but also enables us to intervene “blindly” in a non-transparent situation, making us aware that the situation may change in an unpredictable way through our intervention. As Max Horkheimer said decades ago, the motto of the true radical Left should be: “pessimism in theory, optimism in practice.”
[i] Incidentally, one should note here that the BLM elevation of white policemen shooting blacks into the exemplary image of state violence today is not as innocent as it may appear: the fascinating force of such images of direct violence serves to obfuscate a much more dangerous and widespread invisible racist violence enacted daily by members of liberal establishment themselves. (I owe this insight to Angie Sparks.)

[ii] Douane Rousselle, personal communication.

[iii] Mao Tse-Tung, On Practice and Contradiction, p. 87. (All numbers in brackets in this and next subdivisions refer to this book.)

[iv] I owe this joke, as well as this entire line of thought, to a conversation with Arno Frank.

[v] There are two further problems to be addressed here: sexual antagonism, power. My view is that sexual antagonism is irreducible, constitutive of sexuality, i.e., that there is no way to bring out a non-antagonist sexual relationship, and that relations of power and domination precede class distinction and cannot be accounted for as an effect of economic exploitation. Both patriarchy and social domination emerged earlier, with the rise of Neolithic societies – Marx missed the importance of this rupture.


Why Time is a Library filled with Books

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Modern Charisma...

 ...the routinized evolution and degeneration of religious ideal structures into secular ones.

- Max Weber

Phases of the Image:
1.  It Reflects Reality
2. It Masks Reality
3. It Masks the Absence of Reality
4. It has no Relation to Reality Whatsoever
- Baudrilliard

Example:  The term "racist" has gone from symbolizing  "someone who hates black people" to meaning whatever black people say it means about that which they hate in other people (not themselves).
...the new "Opiate of the Masses."

Friday, May 21, 2021

Current Events

Slavoj Zizek: "Israelis’ SHAME over what their state is doing in West Bank would be sign of truly belonging to Israel"

The latest Arab-Jewish escalation reveals that rule of law is disintegrating in Israel – at least for Palestinians, who are left to themselves and cannot appeal to any higher agency that will intervene when they are attacked.

Sometimes the Slovene government does something that makes me deeply ashamed of being a citizen of Slovenia. One such moment came earlier this month when, in an act of solidarity with Israel, it decided (together with Austria and the Czech Republic) to fly Israeli flags along the national and EU flags on government buildings. The official explanation was that Israel is under rocket attacks from Gaza and has to defend itself – none of the usual calls for mutual restraint, just a clear assignation of guilt.

But the current escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not begin with rockets from Gaza; it began in East Jerusalem, where Israel is again trying to evict Palestinian families. The frustration of the Palestinians is easily understandable: for over 50 years following the 1967 Six-Day War, they have been stuck on the West Bank in a kind of limbo, with no identity, refugees in their own land.

This protraction is in Israel’s interest: they want the West Bank, but they don’t want to directly annex it, because in doing so they would have to make the Palestinians living there Israeli citizens. So the situation just drags on, and is from time to time interrupted by negotiations which were perfectly described by a Palestinian participant: both sides sit at the opposite sides of a table with a pizza in the middle, and while they negotiate over how to divide the pizza, one side constantly eats its parts.

When, as a sign of solidarity with protesting Palestinians on the West Bank, Hamas began to launch rockets against Israel, this act (which should be condemned) could have served as the perfect ground for Netanyahu to gain political points: a genuine desperate protest against the Israeli ethnic cleansing became yet another Hamas-Israel conflict, with Israel just responding to rocket attacks. But Netanyahu had to admit that the civil unrest in Israel was a greater threat than the rockets from Gaza. He condemned the “anarchy” of Jewish-Arab violence in cities across Israel.

One of the focal points of the protests is the Israeli city of Lod, south-east of Tel Aviv, with a strong Palestinian presence. Lod’s mayor has described the events as a “civil war.” Gangs from both sides are terrorizing individuals, families, and stores, up to direct lynchings.

“Far-right Jewish Israelis, often armed with pistols and operating in full view of police, have moved into mixed areas this week. In messages shared by one online Jewish supremacist group, Jews were called to flood into Lod. ‘Don’t come without any instrument for personal protection,’ one message read,” the Guardian reported on Saturday. “Amir Ohana, the public security minister, has encouraged vigilantism, announcing on Wednesday that ‘law-abiding citizens carrying weapons’ were an aid to authorities. He made the comments after a suspected Jewish gunman was accused of killing an Arab man in Lod. The minister, without presenting evidence, said it was in self-defence.”

The most dangerous aspect of the situation is that the Israeli police are not even pretending to be acting as a neutral agent of the law and public safety; they were reportedly applauding the far-right Jewish mob waving Israeli flags in Lod.

In short, the rule of law in disintegrating in Israel, at least for its Palestinian citizens – they are left to themselves, alone; they cannot appeal to any higher agency that would intervene when they are attacked. This scandalous situation is just a consequence of what has been going on in Israel in recent years: the openly racist extreme right (who want to assert what they obscenely call Israel’s “full sovereignty” over the West Bank and treat Palestinians who live there as unwelcome intruders) is more and more recognized as legitimate and becoming part of the public political discourse. This racist stance has always been the de facto foundation of Israeli politics, but it was never publicly acknowledged; it was just the secret – although known to everyone – motivation of the Israeli politicians whose public official position was always (at least until recently) the two-state solution and respect for international laws and obligations.

Now that this facade of respect for the law is dissolving, it is not enough to say that the reality we see now was the truth behind the appearance all along. Appearances are essential; they oblige us to act in a certain way – so without the appearance, the way we act also changes. The distance between the public appearance and the dark reality behind it enabled Israel to present itself as a modern state of law in contrast to Arab religious fundamentalism, but with this public acceptance of the religious fundamentalist racism, Palestinians are now a force of secular neutrality, while the Israelis act like religious fundamentalists.

The wider context of this escalation of events in Israel makes the entire picture even darker: first in France, then in the US, a considerable group of military officers and retired generals published letters warning against the threat to the national identity and the way of life of their countries. In France, the letter attacked the tolerance of the state against Islamization, and in the US, they warned about the “socialist” and “Marxist” politics of the Biden administration. The myth of the depoliticized character of the armed forces is dispelled: a considerable part of the army supports the nationalist agenda. In short, what happens now in Israel is part of a global trend.

But what does this mean for the Jewish identity? As one of the Holocaust survivors said, “In the past, an anti-Semite was a person who dislikes Jews; now, an anti-Semite is a person whom Jews dislike.” The title of a recent dialogue on anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in Der Spiegel was: “Wer Antisemit ist, bestimmt der Jude und nicht der potenzielle Antisemit” (“The Jew, not the potential anti-Semite, determines who is an anti-Semite”). OK, sounds logical; the victim should decide their victim status, so in the same sense that this holds for a woman who claims she was raped it should hold also for Jews. But there are two problems here: (1) Shouldn't the same also hold for Palestinians on the West Bank, who should determine who is stealing their land and depriving them of elementary rights? (2) Who is “the Jew” who determines who is anti-Semitic? What about the quite numerous Jews who support the BDS or who, at least, have doubts about the State of Israel politics on the West Bank? Is it not the implication of the quoted stance that, although empirically Jews, they are in some “deeper” sense not Jews, they betrayed their Jewish identity? (I was once ferociously attacked as anti-Semitic for just using the term “the Jews”…)

Italian historian 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,” their statement read.

Maybe today, some Israelis will gather the courage to feel shame apropos of what the Israelis are doing in 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.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Material Existence of Ideology

Slavoj Žižek delivered an online paper earlier today for Department of English in St. Berchmans College in Kerala, India at the occasion of its centenary anniversary.

Žižek is a Hegelian philosopher and psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist interpretations of German Idealism and Marxist critique of ideology.

St. Berchmans is a Catholic college in India with 3000 students. Saint John Berchmans is venerated as the patron saint its students. Established in 1922, it has nineteen postgraduate and eight research departments. It was granted autonomy by the University Grants Commission on 13 June 2014. It was ranked 79 in India by the National Institutional Ranking Framework in 2020.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Who Needs Money When You Have Hyperreal Commodities...

Voltaire, "The Origin of Trades"
When with a skilful hand Prometheus made
A statue that the human form displayed,
Pandora, his own work, to wed he chose,
And from those two the human race arose.
When first to know herself the fair began,
She played her smile's enchantment upon man;
By softness and alluring speech she gained
The ascendant, and her master soon enchained;
Her beauty on Prometheus' sense ne'er palled,
And the first husband was the first enthralled.
The god of war soon saw the new-formed fair;
His manly beauty and his martial air,
His golden casque and all his glittering arms
Pandora pleased, and he enjoyed her charms.
When the sea's ruler in his humid court
Had heard of this intrigue from fame's report,
The fair he sought, a like reception found,
Could Neptune fail where Mars a triumph found?
Day's light-haired god from his resplendent height
Their pleasures saw, and hoped the same delight;
She could not to refuse him have the heart,
Who o'er the day presides and every art.
Mercury with eloquence declared his flame,
And in his turn he triumphed o'er the dame.
Squalid and sooty from his forge, at first
Vulcan was ill-received, and gave disgust;
But he by importunity obtained
What other gods with so much ease had gained.
Pandora's prime thus winged with pleasure flew,
Then she in languor lived, nor wherefore knew.
She that devotes to love her life's first spring,
As years increase can do no other thing;
For e'en to gods inconstancy is known,
And those who dwell in heaven to change are prone.
Pandora of her favors had been free
To gods who left her; happening then to see
A satyr who through plains and meadows strayed,
Smit with his mien, she love-advances made.
To these amours our race existence owes,
From such amusements all mankind arose;
Hence those varieties in talents spring,
In genius, passions, business, everything:
To Vulcan one, to Mars one owes his birth,
This to a satyr; very few on earth
Claim any kindred with the god of day,
Few that celestial origin display.
From parents each his taste and turn derives:
But most of all trades now Pandora's thrives;
The most delightful, though least rare it seems,
And is the trade all Paris most esteems.

Saturday, May 8, 2021


 Salvador Dali, "The Immobile Swallow" (1956)

 Salvador Dali, "Swallow" (1957)

The Curse....

Pablo Neruda, "Curse"
Furrowed motherland, I swear that in your ashes
you will be born like a flower of eternal water
I swear that from your mouth of thirst will come to the air
the petals of bread, the spilt
inaugurated flower. Cursed,
cursed, cursed be those who with an ax and serpent
came to your earthly arena, cursed those
who waited for this day to open the door
of the dwelling to the moor and the bandit:
What have you achieved? Bring, bring the lamp,
see the soaked earth, see the blackened little bone
eaten by the flames, the garment
of murdered Spain

Friday, May 7, 2021

Agnotology - Is Global Warming a "Manufactured Ignorance" Cover for a Government Solution Searching for a Similar Problem to Solve?

Ever wonder what happened to acid rain?

Remember the big “acid rain” scare during the 1970s and 1980s attributing damage to lakes and forests to emissions from Midwestern utilities? If so, did you ever hear the results of a more than half-billion-dollar, 10-year-long national Acid Precipitation Assessment Program study that was initiated in 1980 to research the matter?

Probably not.

As it turned out, those widespread fears proved to be largely unfounded, since only one species of tree at a high elevation suffered any notable effect, and acidity in lakes was traced to natural causes. The investigating scientists reported that they had “turned up no smoking gun; that the problem is far more complicated than it been thought; that other factors combine to harm trees; and that sorting out the cause-and-effect was difficult and in some cases impossible.”

Robert Bruck, a North Carolina State University plant pathologist who worked on the project, observed: “if you're environmentally oriented, you going to find things to be concerned about; if you're one who finds no reason to get excited, you'll find much to support that too.”

Although the Reagan-Bush administration refused to sponsor any acid rain legislation before the results were in, the regulatory groundwork had already been established through the EPA to avoid letting a perfectly good crisis go to waste.

Senator John Heinz (R–PA) and Timothy Wirth (D-CO) had previously cosponsored a “Project 88” to provide a pathway for converting environmental issues into business opportunities. That media-fueled alarm about acid rain provided a great basis for new “allowance trading” legislation to create markets for buying and selling excess sulfur dioxide (SO2) credits. Project 88 became the Clean Air Act of 1990.

Carbon-Capping Cronies: Enron, Al Gore and Friends

One of the big traders in the SO2 allowance market was Enron. Back at that time in the 1990s the company was diversifying its energy business, and already owned the largest natural gas pipeline that existed outside of Russia, a colossal interstate network. However natural was having difficulties competing with coal.

The hype about global warming which had been ginned up by then-Senator Al Gore’s famous 1988 congressional hearings on the matter provided what Enron recognized as a dream opportunity. After all, since a cap-and-trade market had been established for SO2, why not do the same for CO2 which was already being blamed for a climate crisis? Natural gas was a lower CO2-emitter than coal. Besides, they knew exactly where to go in Washington to get some help.

Enron’s CEO Ken Lay had met with President Clinton and Vice President Gore in the White House on August 4, 1997 to prepare a strategy for the upcoming Kyoto conference in December. Kyoto was the first step toward creating a carbon market that Enron desperately wanted Congress to support.

But there was one very pesky problem. Unlike SO2 which really does produce unhealthy smog, CO2 wasn’t a pollutant…at least not yet…and therefore EPA had no authority to regulate it. So after Al Gore’s Senate pal Timothy Wirth was appointed to become undersecretary of state for global affairs in the Clinton-Gore administration, Enron’s boss Lay began working closely with him to lobby Congress to grant EPA necessary CO2 regulatory authority plus also gain public support for the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol initiative.

And lobby they did. Between 1994 and 1996 the Enron Foundation contributed nearly $1 million to the Nature Conservancy, and together with the Pew Center and the Heinz Foundation they engaged in an energetic and successful global warming fear campaign which included attacks on scientific dissenters. Incidentally, the Heinz Foundation, headed by Teresa Heinz Kerry, generously provided a $250,000 award to Al Gore's star congressional hearing witness, NASA’s James Hansen, who subsequently went on public record supporting her new husband John Kerry’s failed presidential bid.

An internal Enron memorandum stated that Kyoto would “do more to promote Enron's business than almost any other regulatory initiative outside the restructuring [of] the energy and natural gas industries in Europe and the United States."

The rest, as they say, is history. Al Gore and his partner David Blood, the former chief of Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) took big stakes in the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) which was poised to make windfall profits selling CO2 offsets if and when cap-and-trade was passed in Congress. Speaking before a 2007 Joint House Hearing of the Energy Science Committee, Gore told members: “As soon as carbon has a price, you’re going to see a wave [of investment] in it…There will be unchained investment.”

Thanks to a 2010 Republican mid-term House cleaning that didn’t occur.

Windy Hurricane Sensationalism Poses Extreme Science Threat

There’s nothing like terrible and destructive weather events to stir up climate scaremongering. A notable example occurred just prior to the release of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 Summary for Policymaker’s Report following the devastating 2004 summer storm season which witnessed five landfall hurricanes in Florida which captured media attention throughout the world.

Opportunities to link this unusual pattern to man-made global warming were not lost on some IPCC officials, particularly Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in New Zealand. In October of that year he participated in a press conference that announced: “Experts found global warming likely to continue spurring more outbreaks of intense activity.”

But there was a serious challenge. The IPCC studies released in 1995 and 2001 had found no evidence of a global warming–hurricane link, and there was no new analysis to suggest otherwise. Dr. Christopher Landsea, an expert on the subject at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, was astounded and perplexed when he was informed that the press conference was to take place.

As a contributing author on both of the IPCC's previous reports and an invited author for the upcoming 2007 report, Landsea believed there must be some huge mistake. He had not done any work to substantiate the claim. Nobody had. There were no studies that revealed an upward trend of hurricane frequency or intensity...not in the Atlantic basin or in any other basin.

Landsea wrote to top IPCC officials imploring, “What scientific, refereed publications substantiate these pronouncements? What studies being alluded to have shown a connection between observed warming trends on Earth and long–term trends of tropical cyclone activity?”

Having received no replies, he then requested IPCC leadership assurance that the 2007 report would present true science, saying: “[ Dr. Trenberth] seems to have come to a conclusion that global warming has altered hurricane activity, and has already stated so. This does not reflect consensus within the hurricane research community… Thus, I would like assurance that what will be included in the IPCC report will reflect the best available information consensus within the scientific community most expert on this specific topic.”

After the assurance didn’t come, Landsea resigned from the 2007 IPCC report activities and issued an open letter presenting his reasons.

And while the IPCC press conference proclaiming that global warming causes hurricanes received tumultuous responses in the international press, Mother Nature hasn’t paid much attention. In reality, there has been no increase in the strength or frequency of landfall hurricanes in the world’s five main hurricane basins during the past 50-70 years; there has been no increase in the strength or frequency in tropical Atlantic hurricane development during the past 370 years; and the U.S. is currently enjoying the longest period ever recorded without intense Category 3-5 hurricane landfall.

By the way, while there also hasn’t been any increase in mean global temperatures during lifetimes of most of today’s high school students, Kevin Trenberth’s theories still get lots of attention. Searching for answers as to where the “missing heat” that greenhouse gas emissions should have trapped in the Earth’s climate system went, he speculates that the oceans ate them. Unfortunately, the science to support this most recent assertion is once again missing as well.

The Big Himalayan Melting Glacier Snow Job

Although the IPCC is broadly represented to the public as the top authority on climate matters, the organization doesn’t actually carry out any original climate research at all. Instead, it simply issues assessments based upon supposedly independent surveys of published peer-reviewed research. However, some of the most influential conclusions summarized in its reports have neither been based upon truly independent research, nor properly vetted through accepted peer- review processes.

IPCC’s representation in its 2007 report that global warming would likely melt Himalayan glaciers by 2035 prompted great alarm across southern and eastern Asia where glaciers feed major rivers. As it turned out, that prediction was traced to a speculative magazine article authored by an Indian glaciologist, Syed Hasnain, which had absolutely no supporting science behind it. Hasnain worked for a research company headed by the IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri. IPCC’s report author, Marari Lai, later admitted to London’s Daily Mail, “We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policymakers and politicians and encourage them to take action.”

Well, they were successful and did get some action. This dire prediction prompted concern that rivers fed by the melting Himalayan glaciers would flood, then dry up once the glaciers retreated, endangering tens of millions of people in lowland Bangladesh.

Retired Air Marshal A.K. Singh, a former commander in India’s air force, then foresaw resulting mass migrations across national borders, with militaries (including ours) becoming involved. Purportedly influenced by this, Senate Armed Services Committee members Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John Warner (R-VA) snuck some language into the National Defense Authorization Act which required the Department of Defense to consider the threat of climate change effects in its long-range strategic plans. One of those national security threats that DOD planners mentioned in 2009 was that global warming would melt the massive Himalayan ice mass.

Political Science: The Winners and Losers

So just how well did this sort of this political science pay off in supporting the various agendas? Well, in the case of Enron…obviously not so great. As for Al Gore, even though his carbon cash-in plans got capped he still harvested lots of the green he was peddling. His pals did okay too. Timothy Worth landed a position as Vice Chair of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund. James Hansen who Al’s congressional hearings catapulted to fame is thankfully no longer at NASA, but is still scoring lucrative talking gigs in between routine arrests at Keystone XL Pipeline protest rallies.

EPA’s employment growth and regulatory ambitions have obviously benefited from IPCC’s alarmist agendas. Its 2009 “endangerment finding” decreeing that atmospheric concentrations of six greenhouse gases (including CO2) “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations” was based entirely upon IPCC claims which were refuted at the time even by its in-house “Internal Study on Climate” report conclusions. That report, authored by my friend Alan Carlin who was then a senior research analyst at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics stated: “…given the downward trend in temperatures since 1998 (which some think will continue until at least 2030), there is no particular reason to rush into decisions based upon a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data.”

Yet as IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer admitted in November 2010, “…one has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. Instead, climate change policy is about how we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth…”

And who are the real losers of such agenda-driven science? One of the biggest is climate science-related credibility. Fellow Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels recently posted an article quoting Dr. Garth Paltridge, a former chief research scientist with Australia’s prestigious Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Referring to a dilemma in the overselling of global warming, Partridge observes: “The trap was fully sprung when many of the world’s major national academies of science (such as the Royal Society in the U.K., the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S.A and the Australian Academy of Science) persuaded themselves to issue reports giving support to the conclusions of the IPCC. The reports were touted as national assessments that were supposedly independent of the IPCC and of each other, but of necessity were compiled with the assistance of, and in some cases at the behest of, many of the scientists involved in the IPCC international machinations. In effect, the academies, which are the most prestigious of the institutions of science, formally nailed their colours to the mast of the politically correct.”

Partridge then predicts some potentially horrific consequences when the day of reckoning finally arrives. Noting that this day is approaching, he states: “…the average man in the street, a sensible chap who by now can smell the signs of an oversold environmental campaign from miles away, is beginning to suspect that it is politics rather than science which is driving the issue.” This, he concludes: “is a particularly nasty trap in the context of science, because it risks destroying, perhaps for centuries to come, the unique and hard-won reputation for honesty which is the basis of society’s respect for scientific endeavour.”

When this occurs, we all lose.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Hegelian Abstract vs. Concrete Universalities

Concrete Universal: A key conception in the philosophy of Hegel, that certifies the reality of categories. A category is a synthesis of two opposed abstractions (e.g. becoming is a synthesis of being and not-being) and in turn will be one member of a pair of opposites: the dialectical progress of history unites or sublates the pair under a yet higher category. The only absolutely concrete universal is reality as a whole: an all-embracing system of thought. British absolute idealists, such as Bosanquet and Bradley, supposed that if the concrete universal is substantial and real it ought to be identified with individual things.
“In the serene world of mental illness, modern man no longer communicates with the madman: on one hand, the man of reason delegates the physician to madness, thereby authorizing a relation only through the abstract universality of disease; on the other, the man of madness communicates with society only by the intermediary of an equally abstract reason which is order, physical and moral constraint, the anonymous pressure of the group, the requirements of conformity.”
― Michel Foucault, "Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason"
The difference between philosophy and sophistry on this point could perhaps be summed up by saying that, while sophistry represents an abstract universality, philosophy's universality is essentially concrete.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Mood Indigo

NTOZAKE SHANGE, "i. Mood Indigo "
it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street
robeson no mere memory
du bois walked up my father’s stairs
hummed some tune over me
sleeping in the company of men
who changed the world

it wasnt always like this
why ray barretto used to be a side-man
& dizzy’s hair was not always grey
i remember i was there
i listened in the company of men
politics as necessary as collards
music even in our dreams

our house was filled with all kinda folks
our windows were not cement or steel
our doors opened like our daddy’s arms
held us safe & loved
children growing in the company of men
old southern men & young slick ones
sonny til was not a boy
the clovers no rag-tag orphans
our crooners/ we belonged to a whole world
nkrumah was no foreigner
virgil aikens was not the only fighter

it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street
Shot in 1967 and released in March 1968, by the young, engaged filmmaker Charles Belmont, Mood Indigo is a political interpretation of Boris Vian’s novel of 1947. The poetic world of Vian, mixing surrealism with jazz and symbolist literature, intersects in the film with references to 19th-century realist painting by Courbet and Millet. These appear as pictures on the walls, transformed into tableaux vivants, or as a personification of Courbet wandering in the landscape. Such paradoxical mobilization of realist painting, which professed to exclude the imagination, needs be considered as constituting a case of the reception of realism in the context of 1968. Over and beyond witnessing how “bourgeois” investments in the cultural heritage could be targeted on the part of militants of the extreme left, Mood Indigo contributes to the subversion of the traditional opposition between the real and the imaginary underlying the mythic graffiti “Be realistic, demand the impossible” that flourished on the walls of Paris that Spring.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

All Hail St. Tammany!

A Song for St. Tammany's Day.

"On Schuylkill's banks how sweet to rove!
Fidelia by my side;
The nymph's and swains in every grove
Walk like bridegroom and bride.

"Behold you cott in gayest mood!
Doth cleave the silver wave;
Whilst boys behind each corps of wood,
Their limbs do freely lave.

"The variegated hills and dales!
Are drest in lively green;
The orchards and embroider'd vales
With richest flowers are seen.

"The little lasses dance and sing!
And in the alcoves play;
All nature now is on the wing!
In all the pride of May."

“We sainted St. Tammany (King Tamanend III) because he embodied moral perfection and every divine qualification that a deity could possess. I hold him in higher esteem than the saints of the Roman Catholic Church. He'll forever be the patron saint of America.”
― George Washington
The cause is Ozymandian
The map of Sapokanikan
Is sanded and bevelled
The land lorn and levelled
By some unrecorded and powerful hand

Which plays along the monument
And drums upon a plastic bag
The brave-men-and-women-so-dear-to-God-
And-famous-to-all-of-the-ages rag

Sang: Do you love me?
Will you remember?
The snow falls above me
The renderer renders:
The event is in the hand of God

Beneath a patch of grass, her
Bones the old Dutch master hid
While elsewhere Tobias
And the angel disguise
What the scholars surmise was a mother and kid

Interred with other daughters
In dirt in other potters' fields
Above them, parades
Mark the passing of days
Through parks where pale colonnades arch in marble and steel

Where all of the twenty-thousand attending your footfall
And the causes they died for are lost in the idling bird calls
And the records they left are cryptic at best
Lost in obsolescence
The text will not yield, nor x-ray reveal
With any fluorescence
Where the hand of the master begins and ends

I fell, I tried to do well but I won't be
Will you tell the one that I love to remember and hold me
I call and call for the doctor
But the snow swallows me whole with ol' Florry Walker
And the event lives only in print

He said:
"It's alright"
And "It's all over now"
And boarded the plane
His belt unfastened
The boy was known to show unusual daring
And, called a "boy"
This alderman, confounding Tammany Hall
In whose employ King Tamanend himself preceeded John's fall

So we all raise a standard
To which the wise and honest soul may repair
To which a hunter
A hundred years from now, may look and despair
And see with wonder
The tributes we have left to rust in the parks
Swearing that our hair stood on end
To see John Purroy Mitchel depart

For the Western front where our work might count
O mercy! O God!
Go out, await the hunter to decipher the stone
And what lies under the city is gone

Look and despair
Look and despair