And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Mods v. Rockers

from Wikipedia:
Mods and rockers were two conflicting British youth subcultures of the early/mid 1960s to early 1970s. Media coverage of mods and rockers fighting in 1964 sparked a moral panic about British youth, and the two groups became widely perceived as violent, unruly troublemakers.

The rocker subculture was centred on motorcycling, and their appearance reflected that. Rockers generally wore protective clothing such as black leather jackets and motorcycle boots (although they sometimes wore brothel creeper shoes). The style was heavily influenced by Marlon Brando in The Wild One.[1] The common rocker hairstyle was a pompadour, while their music genre of choice was 1950s rock and roll, played by artists including Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Bo Diddley.[2]

The mod subculture was centred on fashion and music, and many mods rode scooters. Mods wore suits and other cleancut outfits, and listened to 1960s music genres such as soul, rhythm and blues, ska, beat music, and British blues-rooted bands like The Yardbirds, the Small Faces, and The Who, who wrote an evocative portrait of the cultures with their 1973 album Quadrophenia.[3]

Expressive Individualism

Can You see the real me?
I went back to the doctor
To get another shrink
I sit and tell him 'bout my weekend
But he never betrays what he thinks

Can you see the real me, doctor?
Can you see the real me, doctor?

I went back to my mother
I said, "I'm crazy, ma, help me"
She said, "I know how it feels, son
'Cause it runs in the family"

Can you see the real me, mama?
Can you see the real me, mama?

Can you see?
Can you see the real me?
Can you see?
Can you see the real me?
The real me, the real me

The cracks between the paving stones
Like rivers of flowing veins
Strange people who know me
Peeping from behind every window pane

The girl I used to love
Lives in this yellow house
Yesterday she passed me by
She doesn't wanna know me now

Can you see the real me?
Can ya?
Can ya?
Can you see the real me?
Can ya?

I ended up with a preacher
Full of lies and hate
I seemed to scare him a little
So he showed me to the golden gate

Can you see the real me, preacher?
Can you see the real me, preacher?

Can you see?
Can you see?
Can you see?

Can you see the real me, doctor?
Can you see the real me, mother?

Can you see the real me?

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Unstoppable March of Neo-Liberal Globalism

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, "From Cold War to Hot Peace"
In a world shaped by the iron logic of markets and national interests, Vladimir Putin's atavistic war of conquest has mystified the "deep" strategists of realpolitik. Their mistake was to forget that under global capitalism, cultural, ethnic, and religious conflicts are the only forms of political struggle left.

LJUBLJANA – With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are entering a new phase of warfare and global politics. Aside from a heightened risk of nuclear catastrophe, we are already in a perfect storm of mutually reinforcing global crises – the pandemic, climate change, biodiversity loss, and food and water shortages. The situation exhibits a basic madness: at a time when humanity’s very survival is jeopardized by ecological (and other) factors, and when addressing those threats should be prioritized over everything else, our primary concern has suddenly shifted – again – to a new political crisis. Just when global cooperation is needed more than ever, the “clash of civilizations” returns with a vengeance.

Why does this happen? As is often the case, a little Hegel can go a long way toward answering such questions. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel famously describes the dialectic of master and servant, two “self-consciousnesses” locked in a life-or-death struggle. If each is ready to risk his own life to win, and if both persist in this, there is no winner: one dies, and the survivor no longer has anyone to recognize his own existence. The implication is that all of history and culture rest on a foundational compromise: in the eye-to-eye confrontation, one side (the future servant) “averts its eyes,” unwilling to go to the end.

But Hegel would hasten to note that there can be no final or lasting compromise between states. Relationships between sovereign nation-states are permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each epoch of peace being nothing more than a temporary armistice. Each state disciplines and educates its own members and guarantees civic peace among them, and this process produces an ethic that ultimately demands acts of heroism – a readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s country. The wild, barbarian relations between states thus serve as the foundation of the ethical life within states.

North Korea represents the clearest example of this logic, but there are also signs that China is moving in the same direction. According to friends in China (who must remain unnamed), many authors in Chinese military journals now complain that the Chinese army hasn’t had a real war to test its fighting ability. While the United States is permanently testing its army in places like Iraq, China hasn’t done so since its failed intervention in Vietnam in 1979.

At the same time, Chinese official media have begun to hint more openly that since the prospect of Taiwan’s peaceful integration into China is dwindling, a military “liberation” of the island will be needed. As ideological preparation for this, the Chinese propaganda machine has increasingly urged nationalist patriotism and suspicion toward everything foreign, with frequent accusations that the US is eager to go to war for Taiwan. Last fall, Chinese authorities advised the public to stock up on enough supplies to survive for two months “just in case.” It was a strange warning that many perceived as an announcement of imminent war.

This tendency runs directly against the urgent need to civilize our civilizations and establish a new mode of relating to our environs. We need universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities, but this objective is made far more difficult by the rise of sectarian religious and ethnic “heroic” violence and a readiness to sacrifice oneself (and the world) for one’s specific cause. In 2017, the French philosopher Alain Badiou noted that the contours of a future war are already discernible. He foresaw
“…the United States and their Western-Japanese group on the one side, China and Russia on the other side, atomic arms everywhere. We cannot but recall Lenin’s statement: ‘Either revolution will prevent the war or the war will trigger revolution.’ This is how we can define the maximal ambition of the political work to come: for the first time in history, the first hypothesis – revolution will prevent the war – should realize itself, and not the second one – a war will trigger revolution. It is effectively the second hypothesis which materialized itself in Russia in the context of the First World War, and in China in the context of the second. But at what price! And with what long-term consequences!”

Civilizing our civilizations will require radical social change – a revolution, in fact. But we cannot afford to hope that a new war will trigger it. The far more likely outcome is the end of civilization as we know it, with the survivors (if there are any) organized in small authoritarian groups. We should harbor no illusions: in some basic sense, World War III has already begun, though for now it is still being fought mostly through proxies.
Abstract calls for peace are not enough. “Peace” is not a term that allows us to draw the key political distinction that we need. Occupiers always sincerely want peace in the territory they hold. Nazi Germany wanted peace in occupied France, Israel wants peace in the occupied West Bank, and Russian President Vladimir Putin wants peace in Ukraine. That is why, as the philosopher Étienne Balibar once put it, “pacifism is not an option.” The only way to prevent another Great War is by avoiding the kind of “peace” that requires constant local wars for its maintenance.

Whom can we rely on under these conditions? Should we place our confidence in artists and thinkers, or in pragmatic practitioners of realpolitik? The problem with artists and thinkers is that they, too, can lay the foundation for war. Recall William Butler Yeats’s apt verse: “I have spread my dreams under your feet, / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” We should apply these lines to poets themselves. When they spread their dreams under our feet, they should spread them carefully because actual people will read them and act upon them. Recall that the same Yeats continuously flirted with Fascism, going so far as to voice his approval of Germany’s anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in August 1938.

Plato’s reputation suffers because of his claim that poets should be thrown out of the city. Yet this is rather sensible advice, judging from the experience of recent decades, when the pretext for ethnic cleansing has been prepared by poets and “thinkers” like Putin’s house ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin. There is no longer ethnic cleansing without poetry, because we live in an era that is supposedly post-ideological. Since great secular causes no longer have the force to mobilize people for mass violence, a larger sacred motive is needed. Religion or ethnic belonging serve this role perfectly (pathological atheists who commit mass murder for pleasure are rare exceptions).

Realpolitik is no better guide. It has become a mere alibi for ideology, which often evokes some hidden dimension behind the veil of appearances in order to obscure the crime that is being committed openly. This double mystification is often announced by describing a situation as “complex.” An obvious fact – say, an instance of brutal military aggression – is relativized by evoking a “much more complex background.” The act of aggression is really an act of defense.

This is exactly what is happening today. Russia obviously attacked Ukraine, and is obviously targeting civilians and displacing millions. And yet commentators and pundits are eagerly searching for “complexity” behind it

There is complexity, of course. But that does not change the basic fact that Russia did it. Our mistake was that we did not interpret Putin’s threats literally enough; we thought he was just playing a game of strategic manipulation and brinkmanship. One is reminded of the famous joke that Sigmund Freud quotes:
“Two Jews met in a railway carriage at a station in Galicia. ‘Where are you going?’ asked one. ‘To Cracow,’ was the answer. ‘What a liar you are!’ broke out the other. ‘If you say you’re going to Cracow, you want me to believe you’re going to Lemberg. But I know that in fact you’re going to Cracow. So why are you lying to me?’”
When Putin announced a military intervention, we didn’t take him literally when he said he wanted to pacify and “denazify” Ukraine. Instead, the reproach from disappointed “deep” strategists amounts to: “Why did you tell me you are going to occupy Lviv when you really want to occupy Lviv?”

This double mystification exposes the end of realpolitik. As a rule, realpolitik is opposed to the naivety of binding diplomacy and foreign policy to (one’s version of) moral or political principles. Yet in the current situation, it is realpolitik that is naive. It is naive to suppose that the other side, the enemy, is also aiming at a limited pragmatic deal.


During the Cold War, the rules of superpower behavior were clearly delineated by the doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD). Each superpower could be sure that if it decided to launch a nuclear attack, the other side would respond with full destructive force. As a result, neither side started a war with the other.

By contrast, when North Korea’s Kim Jong-un talks about dealing a devastating blow to the US, one cannot but wonder where he sees his own position. He talks as if he is unaware that his country, himself included, would be destroyed. It is as if he is playing an altogether different game called NUTS (Nuclear Utilization Target Selection), whereby the enemy’s nuclear capabilities can be surgically destroyed before it can counterstrike.

Over the past few decades, even the US has oscillated between MAD and NUTS. Though it acts as if it continues to trust the MAD logic in its relations with Russia and China, it has occasionally been tempted to pursue a NUTS strategy vis-à-vis Iran and North Korea. With his hints about possibly launching a tactical nuclear strike, Putin follows the same reasoning. The very fact that two directly contradictory strategies are mobilized simultaneously by the same superpower attests to the fantasy character of it all.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, MADness is passé. Superpowers are increasingly testing each other, experimenting with the use of proxies as they try to impose their own version of global rules. On March 5, Putin called the sanctions imposed on Russia the “equivalent of a declaration of war.” But he has repeatedly stated since then that economic exchange with the West should continue, emphasizing that Russia is keeping its financial commitments and continuing to deliver hydrocarbons to Western Europe.

In other words, Putin is trying to impose a new model of international relations. Rather than cold war, there should be hot peace: a state of permanent hybrid war in which military interventions are declared under the guise of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.

Hence, on February 15, the Russian Duma (parliament) issued a declaration expressing “its unequivocal and consolidated support for the adequate humanitarian measures aimed at providing support to residents of certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine who have expressed a desire to speak and write in Russian language, who want freedom of religion to be respected, and who do not support the actions of the Ukrainian authorities violating their rights and freedoms.”

How often in the past have we heard similar arguments for US-led interventions in Latin America or the Middle East and North Africa? While Russia shells cities and bombs maternity wards in Ukraine, international commerce should continue. Outside of Ukraine, normal life should go on. That is what it means to have a permanent global peace sustained by never-ending peacekeeping interventions in isolated parts of the world.

Can anyone be free in such a predicament? Following Hegel, we should make a distinction between abstract and concrete freedom, which correspond to our notions of freedom and liberty. Abstract freedom is the ability to do what one wants independently of social rules and customs; concrete freedom is the freedom that is conferred and sustained by rules and customs. I can walk freely along a busy street only when I can be reasonably sure that others on the street will behave in a civilized way toward me – that drivers will obey traffic rules, and that other pedestrians will not rob me.

But there are moments of crisis when abstract freedom must intervene. In December 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces. ... And that is why the Resistance was a true democracy; for the soldier, as for his superior, the same danger, the same loneliness, the same responsibility, the same absolute freedom within the discipline.”

Sartre was describing freedom, not liberty. Liberty is what was established when post-war normality returned. In Ukraine today, those who are battling the Russian invasion are free and they are fighting for liberty. But this raises the question of how long the distinction can last. What happens if millions more people decide that they must freely violate the rules in order to protect their liberty? Is this not what drove a Trumpian mob to invade the US Capitol on January 6, 2021?


We still lack a proper word for today’s world. For her part, the philosopher Catherine Malabou believes we are witnessing the beginning of capitalism’s “anarchist turn”: “How else are we to describe such phenomena as decentralized currencies, the end of the state’s monopoly, the obsolescence of the mediating role played by banks, and the decentralization of exchanges and transactions?”

Those phenomena may sound appealing, but with the gradual disappearance of the state’s monopoly, state-imposed limits to ruthless exploitation and domination will also disappear. While anarcho-capitalism aims at transparency, it also “simultaneously authorizes the large-scale but opaque use of data, the dark web, and the fabrication of information.”

To prevent this descent into chaos, Malabou observes, policies increasingly follow a path of “Fascist evolution…with the excessive security and military build-up that goes along with it. Such phenomena do not contradict a drive towards anarchism. Rather, they indicate precisely the disappearance of the state, which, once its social function has been removed, expresses the obsolescence of its force through the use of violence. Ultra-nationalism thus signals the death agony of national authority.”

Viewed in these terms, the situation in Ukraine is not one nation-state attacking another nation-state. Rather, Ukraine is being attacked as an entity whose very ethnic identity is denied by the aggressor. The invasion is justified in the terms of geopolitical spheres of influence (which often extend well beyond ethnic spheres, as in the case of Syria). Russia refuses to use the word “war” for its “special military operation” not just to downplay the brutality of its intervention but above all to make clear that war in the old sense of an armed conflict between nation-states does not apply.

The Kremlin wants us to believe that it is merely securing “peace” in what it considers its geopolitical sphere of influence. Indeed, it is also already intervening through its proxies in Bosnia and Kosovo. On March 17, the Russian ambassador to Bosnia, Igor Kalabukhov, explained that, “If [Bosnia] decides to be a member of any alliance [such as NATO], that is an internal matter. Our response is a different matter. Ukraine’s example shows what we expect. Should there be any threat, we will respond.”

Moreover, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has gone so far as to suggest that the only comprehensive solution would be to demilitarize all of Europe, with Russia with its army maintaining peace through occasional humanitarian interventions. Similar ideas abound in the Russian press. As the political commentator Dmitry Evstafiev explains in a recent interview with a Croatian publication: “A new Russia is born which lets you know clearly that it doesn’t perceive you, Europe, as a partner. Russia has three partners: USA, China, and India. You are for us a trophy which shall be divided between us and Americans. You didn’t yet get this, although we are coming close to this.”

Dugin, Putin’s court philosopher, grounds the Kremlin’s stance in a weird version of historicist relativism. In 2016, he said:
“Post-modernity shows that every so-called truth is a matter of believing. So we believe in what we do, we believe in what we say. And that is the only way to define the truth. So we have our special Russian truth that you need to accept…. If the United States does not want to start a war, you should recognize that United States is not any more a unique master. And [with] the situation in Syria and Ukraine, Russia says, ‘No you are not any more the boss.’ That is the question of who rules the world. Only war could decide really.”
This raises an obvious question: What about the people of Syria and Ukraine? Can they not also choose their truth and belief, or are they just a playground – or battlefield – of the big “bosses”? The Kremlin would say they don’t count in the big division of power. Within the four spheres of influence, there are only peacekeeping interventions. War proper happens only when the four big bosses cannot agree on the borders of their spheres – as in the case of China’s claims to Taiwan and the South China Sea.


But if we can be mobilized only by the threat of war, not by the threat to our environment, the liberty we will get if our side wins may not be worth having. We are faced with an impossible choice: if we make compromises to maintain peace, we are feeding Russian expansionism, which only a “demilitarization” of all of Europe will satisfy. But if we endorse full confrontation, we run the high risk of precipitating a new world war. The only real solution is to change the lens through which we perceive the situation.

While the global liberal-capitalist order is obviously approaching a crisis at many levels, the war in Ukraine is being falsely and dangerously simplified. Global problems like climate change play no role in the hackneyed narrative of a clash between barbaric-totalitarian countries and the civilized, free West. And yet the new wars and great-power conflicts are also reactions to such problems. If the issue is survival on a planet in trouble, one should secure a stronger position than others. Far from being the moment of clarifying truth, and when the basic antagonism is laid bare, the current crisis is a moment of deep deception.2

While we should stand firmly behind Ukraine, we must avoid the fascination with war that has clearly seized the imaginations of those who are pushing for an open confrontation with Russia. Something like a new non-aligned movement is needed, not in the sense that countries should be neutral in the ongoing war, but in the sense that we should question the entire notion of the “clash of civilizations.”1

According to Samuel Huntington, who coined the term, the stage for a clash of civilizations was set at the Cold War’s end, when the “iron curtain of ideology” was replaced by the “velvet curtain of culture.” At first blush, this dark vision may appear to be the very opposite of the end-of-history thesis advanced by Francis Fukuyama in response to the collapse of communism in Europe. What could be more different from Fukuyama’s pseudo-Hegelian idea that the best possible social order humanity could devise had at last been revealed to be capitalist liberal democracy?

We can now see that the two visions are fully compatible: the “clash of civilizations” is the politics that comes at the “end of history.” Ethnic and religious conflicts are the form of struggle that fits with global capitalism. In an age of “post-politics” – when politics proper is gradually replaced by expert social administration – the only remaining legitimate sources of conflict are cultural (ethnic, religious). The rise of “irrational” violence follows from the depoliticization of our societies.

Within this limited horizon, it is true that the only alternative to war is a peaceful coexistence of civilizations (of different “truths,” as Dugin put it, or, to use a more popular term today, of different “ways of life”). The implication is that forced marriages, homophobia, or the rape of women who dare to go out in public alone are tolerable if they happen in another country, so long as that country is fully integrated into the global market.

The new non-alignment must broaden the horizon by recognizing that our struggle should be global – and by counseling against Russophobia at all costs. We should offer our support to those within Russia who are protesting the invasion. They are not some abstract coterie of internationalists; they are the true Russian patriots – the people who truly love their country and have become deeply ashamed of it since February 24. There is no more morally repulsive and politically dangerous saying than, “My country, right or wrong.” Unfortunately, the first casualty of the Ukraine war has been universality.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Fabricating My Reality...

...and then checking its' coordinates to make sure that they fulfill my fantasy.
Will the mediators separating my fantasies from reality vanish/ disappear?  Or will they persist?  Only time will tell.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Everything We Think We Know is Wrong... Learn to Become Anti-Fragile!


So and here I have convexity effect in French and English. 
So the English is, don't cross a river that's on average four feet deep. Always bear in mind second-order effects. In the French, a convex function of an average, not the average of a convex function. Right and the Jensen's inequality or variations around it that I work with. Alright so

This is pretty much the response of the coffee cup. It has it is concave until it breaks. And then you know you can't break a coffee cup that's broken all right. so it doesn't it don't care as I say so you have everything it has nonlinearities at our local up to a point you benefit from uncertainty in a convex part and a concave one you don't. 

This another biblical thing is the Tower of Babel. All right. Bush now is Baghdad suburbs of Baghdad or they have Isis and so alright, so they had the idea, that when you build something very big it's more fragile than a lot of small houses. 

Okay so we continue why fragility is necessarily second order effect, with some intuition, and I am pulling this from the book because it seems to me that what interest speople the most is that you carry you work you worry more of a second-order effect than the first-order effect when you are very fragile okay by definition what's concave:

and here we have an example if you have grandmother... and you know she spent 48 hours at 70 degrees temperature you're very happy for her no. But if someone tells you 70 degrees on average but one day was zero degrees and the next day 140 degrees, you're not going to be very happy for your grandmother. Okay so you realize that the second-order effect dominates the first-order effect on your fragile, and that's one thing that's not very present in discourse.

Okay that when you start fragility and there's a second-order effect and we can see immediately what dominates the first-order effect okay. So, this is the s-curve in nature okay where you start at some level, you go up and notice what? That everything in nature that has an s-curve whose response has a phase in which is convex and a phase where it's concave. and you can have it, you know, convex concave and then convex again, like the one at the bottom for example going to a lecture at NYU is pleasant, okay, great you can invite a friend. It's a great thing, but two lectures are alright and twenty lectures it's a negative, you see? So you have this is those response okay? What is interesting is that the convex part of the response means you want to have volatility right? There people don't quite get, for example, that you should vary within the place you should have some randomness. 

Doctors aren't getting it because they can't, I'm just discovering from my fight over GMOs that, they're not too much into into equations, all right? But then you can show it that anything in medicine that has nonlinear response, all right, should respond to uncertainty. And we have evidence from I...I...I... for antifragile I.. I found 200 papers showing evidence, but they're not grouped together. For example lung ventilators, instead of giving right there instead of giving someone one hundred percent of the dose, you vary eighty percent- one hundred twenty percent, you have a convex response, okay? You do better and effectively people survive better.

It's the same thing with your your heart. The way you can predict someone's going to die is if their heart heart beats too regular. So same thing with with a gym. Same thing with feeding, alright? If you don't starve people.. religions know that, of protein, they get cancer so it's a second-order effect that matters more than first-order effect. 

When people studied Greece, and diet and medicine for example ,they look at what people eat. No morons, look at how frequently they eat right? They only had meats on on celebration days. And that was not just a Greek Orthodox Church that was from. You read any book on on ancient Greece, how they ate, they ate meat on festivals okay? But then they ate a lot of it. So they have, there is, definitely a convexity effect in that. And then, days when you don't eat meat, you cannibalize some of your bad thing, and you lower your cancer rate. It's in the literature but they don't get the universality of the point that everything that's convex likes variability. So okay, so I finished with one idea.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Pop Populism

Henry M. Littlefield, "The Wizard of Allegory"
In 1964, I had an article published that suggested a political allegory might be hidden in Lyman Frank Baum's first Oz story. Since then, as The Baum Bugle has informed its readers, much has been made of the idea, and other connections with Oz have been uncovered in such diverse fields as psychology, management and theology.

When I was a twelve-year old, living in New York City in the mid-1940s, a friend of mine introduced me to the Oz books. Being latch-key kids, and since school was no great fun for either of us, we'd go to his apartment in the afternoon and read. Today we'd be called nerds. In those days we had no category, we just went to Oz whenever we could. While I have since enjoyed science fiction and fantasy, I have never gotten too far away from Baum's very special world (or the Oz of Ruth Plumly Thompson, et al

Many adventures and some two decades later, in the early 1960s, I was a teacher and coach at Mount Vernon High School, in New York, just north of the Bronx. In the summer of 1963 I taught students who had to pass U.S. history in order to graduate. It was July, and it was hot and airless on the third floor of the old Davis High School building. But we had the usual public school understanding: the teacher needed the money, the students needed the credit, and we tolerated each other.

Toward the end of July, I was reading the opening chapters of The Wizard to my two daughters, then ages five and two. At the same time, in the history course I taught, we were going through the Populist period and the 1890s. I lived just a few blocks from the school and I remember running to class the next day, on that hot, airless third floor.

I said to my none-too-willing students, "Guess what? In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy wears the Wicked Witch of the East's silver shoes and walks on a yellow brick road!" I waited. And waited. Finally a hand went up, it was even warm in the morning up there on the third floor. "Nah, Teach," came the weary answer, "she wears red shoes, we know the movie."

"Remember yesterday," I said, "we were talking about the campaign of 1896? What about William Jennings Bryan's Populist issue of silver being added to the gold standard to give the farmers more money to borrow at easier rates?" I went on to explain that the Oz book, from which the movie was made, was published in 1900, and that movies often change things around. I showed them a W.W. Denslow illustration of the silver shoes--they knew about the yellow brick road--and from that silver and gold campaign issue, we began to brainstorm some other connections.

The Scarecrow as a farmer came easily to these urban kids, some of whose parents had migrated from the South. I knew about William Allen White's article, "What's the Matter With Kansas?", which historian Richard Hofstadter had anthologized for high school students. The farmers were ignorant and unschooled, White had editorialized in 1896, as the respected editor of the Emporia, Kansas, Gazette. Of course, the scarecrow wanted brains!

The Tin Woodman also seemed easy for kids whose parents were often without jobs. Hearing that the Witch of the East had put a hex on the Tin Woodman when he had his own wood-chopping business, made him a perfect symbol for those workers who feel dehumanized by modern mass industry. His being rusted and unable to move we connected metaphorically to the long industrial depression of 1893. Then we saw Coxey's Army of the unemployed marching on Washington, D.C., in 1894, as a kind of Ozian march on our own Emerald City. From those characters and that city, it was no great leap to see the Wizard as any president from Andrew Johnson to William McKinley, all of whom often "made believe" in office. In fact, our textbook political cartoons of a tiny President Benjamin Harrison in a large oval office chair bore a striking resemblance to Denslow's Wizard!

The Lion was more difficult. I suggested that the only contemporary group I had heard accused of being cowards were Populist politicians who had opposed the Spanish-American War. (Shades of the Persian Gulf!) Then we found that William Jennings Bryan could be referred to in lionesque terms, with his hair, his aggressive speaking style, and his big voice. When someone noticed that Bryan and lion rhymed, the fit seemed almost too perfect. We had a farmer, a worker, and a politician going to their leader to have their problems solved. It still sounds all too familiar, and it was the Populist program!

But who, then, was Dorothy? The girls in the class, who had been fairly quiet over the week of brainstorming, came to the rescue. "She's us," they said. "She wants to go home, so do we! We all have people to take care of and chores to do, and here we are talking about Oz, and wishing we could be home! She's real!"

Of all the characters, only Dorothy has a real problem--she has to go home. The others have largely solved their own self-concerns as they went West in Oz, and dealt with the Witch who used malign nature and the flying monkeys. The Wizard gives cosmetic solutions to each of the characters, but for Dorothy he gets out his hot air balloon. Those "humbug" responses fit most political reactions to constituent issues, real and imaginary, and I can picture Baum's smile!

Dorothy also finds that she has had the answer to her own problem all along. The power of silver in her sole? (Baum loved puns!) So she can go back to the people who need her. That is, after all, where home is.

My intention in this article was to suggest another means to teach a difficult period in American history. The Populists appear less than real to modern urban students. But kids all know Oz, thanks to Judy Garland and television. Oz and Populist America came together so easily that I keep thinking just maybe it was what a mischievous Mr. Baum might have had in mind. First he created a simple story for children, but at another level we can bring our own symbolism to it, with Baum's tacit support built in.

My students, by the way, understood the self-help message in the story. When the article came out they would say to me that it was pretty clear they weren't such bad students after all. They had Ozian proof of that!

The article took about six months to put together, and Professor Fred Kershner at Columbia Teachers College helped with sage advice. For example, he made sure I understood that with Baum, as with most successful writers, the story comes first and any allegorical intent decidedly second.

When the article first appeared in 1964 it got a little publicity and I received a number of nice notes, often from professors, like Russel B. Nye, expert in that historical period. What surprised me was the reaction of some Oz fans. They seemed upset that a perfectly wonderful fantasy had been connected to reality, however tentatively. But teachers loved it, and the article now seems to have become a fixture in college readings about turn-of-the-century America, in keeping with the current emphasis on social history, and on American studies, which combines history and literature.

For me, the article did not cause much of a stir until Gore Vidal mentioned it in 1977 in The New York Review of Books. Earlier, Allison Lurie had cited it (mistakenly writing that I had seen the Wizard as Bryan!) as part of her study of reading and childhood beliefs. But nobody to my knowledge has gotten rich as a result of these allegorical connections.

As a public speaker, I love to give presentations on the story. Baum's comments on leadership, or on Dorothy as Team Builder--and Home Seeker--fairly shout for public forum! But I find it needs a great deal of selling for canny businessmen to hire me to use the story as a base for motivational or team building talks. So I don't see the article as having really been accepted. Nor am I dismayed at that. When I am told the story seems inappropriate for grown business people, I can only think, "Too bad, it's perfect!" Looking back over the twenty-five years since the publication of the article, I realize that it was Baum's genius that gave value to any commentary I might have added.

For Frederick Buechner, a writer who often deals in theology, as for me, fantasy turns out to be a very useful way in which to sense our world anew. He writes, "No matter how forgotten or neglected, there is a child in all of us who is not just willing to believe in the possibility that maybe fairy tales are true after all but who is to some degree in touch with that truth." Buechner reminds us in Baum's subsequent stories how often Dorothy goes back to Oz, "because Oz, not Kansas, is where her heart is, and the Wizard turns out to be not a humbug but the greatest of all wizards."

I can only add, Amen.

Slovenian Politics & Zizek

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Imago's Mirror Images


ima·​go | \ i-ˈmä-(ˌ)gō  -ˈmā-  \
plural imagoes or imagines\ i-​ˈmā-​gə-​ˌnēz  -​ˈmä-​ ; -​ˈmā-​jə-​ -​ˈma-​ \

Definition of imago

1an insect in its final, adult, sexually mature, and typically winged state
2an idealized mental image of another person or the self

Pre-Phase III - The Virtual Cultural War

Instead of Directly Fighting a War with Russia, America is Weaponizing Capitalism...

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, "What Will Grow Out of a Pocket Full of Sunflower Seeds?"
Michael Marder published in The Philosophical Salon a wonderful text on a Ukrainian woman giving sunflower seeds to a Russian soldier. I call this text wonderful because it does what is most needed today, namely it adds a deeper philosophical dimension to our reactions to the Ukrainian catastrophe. This incident brought to my mind Agatha Christie’s Marple novel A Pocket Full of Rye, in which a rich London businessman Rex Fortescue dies after drinking his morning tea, and a search of his clothing reveals a quantity of rye in his jacket pocket. In the novel, the reason rye was found there is that “pocket full or rye” is part of a nursery rhyme referred to by the murderer… This brings us back to Ukraine where something uncannily similar, described by Marder, happened, just not with rye but with sunflower seeds. In Henichesk, a port city on the sea of Azov, an old Ukrainian woman confronted a heavily-armed Russian soldier and offered him sunflower seeds to put them in his pocket — so that they might bloom when he dies and his rotting body in the earth would be of some good use, feeding the growing plant

The only thing that disturbs me in this gesture is the lack of sympathy for ordinary Russian soldiers who were sent on a mission to Ukraine, many of them without proper food supply and other provisions, some not even knowing where they were and why, so that cases are reported of Ukrainians bringing them food. It brought back to my mind memories from Prague 1968. I arrived there one day before the Soviet invasion, wandering around the city for a couple of days till transport for foreigners was organized. What immediately struck me was the confusion and poverty of ordinary soldiers in clear contrast to the higher officers, of whom the soldiers were much more afraid than of us, the protesting demonstrators.

Even in these crazy times, we should not be ashamed of sticking to the last vestiges of normality and invoke popular culture. So, let me mention another Christie classic, The Hollow (1946), in which the eccentric Lucy Angkatell has invited the Christows (John, a top Harley street doctor, and his wife Gerda, along with other members of her extended family, to her estate for the weekend. Hercule Poirot, who is staying nearby in his country cottage, is also invited to dinner. The next morning, he witnesses a scene that seems strangely staged: Gerda Christow stands with a gun in her hand next to John’s body, as it bleeds into the swimming pool. Lucy, Henrietta (John’s lover), and Edward (a cousin of Lucy’s and a second cousin of Henrietta) are also present at the scene. John utters a final urgent appeal—”Henrietta!”—and dies. It seems obvious that Gerda is the murderer. Henrietta steps forward to take the revolver from her hand, but apparently fumbles and drops it into the swimming pool, destroying the evidence. Poirot realizes that the dying man’s “Henrietta” was a call to his lover to protect his wife from imprisonment for his own death; without a conscious plan, the entire family joined the plot and deliberately misdirected Poirot, as they each know Gerda is the murderer and are attempting to save her…

The reversal of the standard formula (a murder is committed, there is a group of suspects who had a motive and an opportunity to do it, and even if the murderer seems obvious the detective discovers clues, which belie the scene of the murder staged by the true murderer to cover his tracks) is turned around here: the group of suspects produce clues pointing to themselves to cover up the fact that the true murderer is the obvious one who was caught at the scene of the murder with a gun in her hand. So, the scene of crime is staged, but in a reflexive way: the deception resides in the very fact that it appears artificially staged, i.e., truth masks itself as artificial appearance, so that the real fakes are the “clues” themselves – or, as Jane Marple says in yet another Christie classic, They Do It With Mirrors: “Never underestimate the power of the obvious.”

Does ideology not often function like this, today especially? It presents itself as something mysterious, pointing towards a hidden underside, to cover up the crime that it is being committed or legitimized openly. The favored expression that announces such double mystification is “the situation is more complex.” An obvious fact—let’s say, brutal military aggression—is relativized by evoking a “much more complex situation in the background” that, as expected, makes the aggression an act of defense. Which is why, at some level, one should ignore the hidden “complexity” of the situation and trust simple numbers.

And is exactly the same not happening in Ukraine? Russia attacked it, but many are searching for “complexity” behind it. Yes, for sure, there is complexity, but the basic fact remains: Russia did it. Our mistake was not to take Putin’s threats literally enough. We thought he didn’t really mean it but was just playing a game of strategic manipulations. The supreme irony is that one cannot but recall here the famous Jewish joke quoted by Freud: “Why are you telling me you are going to Lviv when you are really going to Lviv?” where a lie assumes the form of factual truth: the two friends established an implicit code that, when you go to Lviv, you say you would go to Cracow and vice versa, such that, within this space, telling the literal truth means lying. When Putin announced military intervention, we didn’t take Putin’s declaration that he wanted to pacify and denazify all of Ukraine literally enough, so the reproach of “deep” strategists is now: “Why were you telling me you were going to occupy Lviv when you really wanted to occupy Lviv?”

So, what is going on? Remember a month or two ago when the big news items in our mass media were still about the pandemic? Now the pandemic has all but disappeared, and it is Ukraine in the headlines. And, if anything, the fear is now much greater; there is almost a nostalgia for the good old two years of fighting the pandemic. This sudden shift demonstrates the limit of our freedom: nobody has chosen this change, it just happened (except for conspiracy theorists who already claim that the Ukrainian crisis is another plot by the establishment to continue with the emergency state and keep us under control).

To grasp the difference between the pandemic and the Ukrainian crisis, we need to distinguish between two kinds of freedom: “freedom” and “liberty.” Let me take a risk and fix this opposition as the one between what Hegel called abstract freedom and concrete freedom. Abstract freedom is the ability to do what one wants independently of social rules and customs, to violate these rules and customs, as in an explosion of “radical negativity,” exemplarily in a revolt or revolutionary situation. Concrete freedom is the freedom sustained by a set of rules and customs. With regard to anti-vaxxers, the freedom to choose being vaccinated or not is of course a formal kind of freedom; however, to reject vaccination effectively implies limiting my actual freedom, as well as the freedom of others. My freedom is only actual as freedom within a certain social space regulated by rules and prohibitions. I can walk freely along a busy street because I can be reasonably sure that others on the street will behave in a civilized way towards me, will be punished if they attack me, if they insult me, etc. I can only exert the freedom to speak and communicate with others if I obey the commonly established rules of language with all their ambiguities, including the unwritten rules of messages between the lines. The language we speak is, of course, not ideologically neutral: it embodies many prejudices and makes it impossible for us to formulate clearly certain uncommon thoughts. Thinking always occurs in language and it brings with itself a commonsense metaphysics (view of reality), but to truly think, we have to think in a language against this language. The rules of language can be changed in order to open up new freedoms, but the trouble with Politically Correct newspeak clearly shows that a direct imposition of new rules can lead to ambiguous results and give birth to new more subtle forms of racism and sexism.

Hegel knew very well, however, that there were moments of crisis when abstract freedom had to intervene. In December 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote: “Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces. … And that is why the Resistance was a true democracy; for the soldier, as for his superior, the same danger, the same loneliness, the same responsibility, the same absolute freedom within the discipline.” This situation full of anxiety and danger was freedom, not liberty, which, in its turn, was established when post-war normality returned. And in Ukraine today, those who fight against the Russian invasion are free but they don’t have liberty. They fight for liberty, and the key question is what kind of liberty will prevail after the fight. Aleksander Dugin, Putin’s court-philosopher, added a post-modern spin of historicist relativism:

“Post-modernity shows that every so-called truth is a matter of believing. So, we believe in what we do, we believe in what we say. And that is the only way to define the truth. So, we have our special Russian truth that you need to accept. If the United States does not want to start a war, you should recognize that United States is not any more a unique master. And [with] the situation in Syria and Ukraine, Russia says, ‘No you are not any more the boss.’ That is the question of who rules the world. Only war could decide really.

The immediate question here is: but what about the people of Syria and of Ukraine? Can they also choose their truth/belief or are they just a playground of the big “bosses” and their struggle? Even some Leftists see Dugin as an opponent of global capitalist order, as an advocate for the irreducible diversity of ethnic-cultural identities. But the diversity advocated by Dugin is a diversity based on ethnic identities, not a diversity within ethnic groups, which is why “only war could decide really.” The rise of fundamentalist ethnic identities is ultimately the other side of global market, not its opposite. We need more globalization, not less: we need global solidarity and cooperation more than ever if we seriously want to cope with global warming.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote: “Take away the supernatural and what you are left with is the unnatural.” We should endorse this statement, but in the opposite sense, not in the sense intended by Chesterton: we should accept that nature is “unnatural,” a freak-show of contingent disturbances with no inner rhyme. At the end of June 2021, a “heat dome”—a weather phenomenon where a ridge of high pressure traps and compresses warm air, driving up temperatures and baking the region—over the Northwest of the US and the Southwest of Canada caused temperatures to approach 50 degrees Celsius, so that Vancouver was hotter than the Middle East. True, “heat dome” is a local phenomenon, but it is the result of a global disturbance of patterns, which clearly depends on human interventions into natural cycles, so we have act against it globally.

Remember how, a day or two after the outbreak of the war, Putin called on TV the Ukrainian army to overthrow Zelensky’s government and take over, claiming that it would be much easier to negotiate peace with them. Maybe, it would be good for something like this to happen in Russia itself, where, in 1953, Marshall Zhukov did help Khruschev to overthrow Beria. So, does this mean we should simply demonize Putin? No. To really counter Putin, we have to gather the courage to take a critical look at ourselves.

What games was the liberal West playing with Russia in the last decades? How did it effectively push Russia towards Fascism? Just recall here the catastrophic economic “advices” given to Russia in the Yeltsin years… Yes, Putin was obviously preparing for this war for years, but the West knew it, so the war is absolutely not an unexpected shock. There are good reasons to believe that the West was consciously pushing Russia into a corner. The Russian fear of being encircled by NATO is far from paranoiac imagination. There is a moment of truth in what none other than Viktor Orban said: “How did the war come about? We’re caught in the crossfire between major geopolitical players: NATO has been expanding eastwards, and Russia has become less and less comfortable with that. The Russians made two demands: that Ukraine declare its neutrality, and that NATO would not admit Ukraine. These security guarantees weren’t given to the Russians, so they decided to take them by force of arms. This is the geopolitical significance of this war.” This small truth, of course, covers up a Big Lie: the crazy geopolitical game Russia is pursuing.

As for the situation now, there should be no taboos. Obviously, the Ukrainian side also cannot be fully trusted, and the situation in the Donbas region is far from clear. Furthermore, the wave of the exclusion of Russian artists is approaching madness. The Bicocca University in Milan, Italy, suspended a series of lectures on Dostoyevski’s novels by Paolo Nori with an argumentation that is very Putinesque: it is just a preventive gesture to keep the situation calm… (The suspension was cancelled a couple of days later.) But cultural contacts with Russia are now more important than ever. And what about the mega-scandal of allowing just Ukrainians into Europe from Ukraine, not the Third World students and workers currently in Ukraine who also try to escape the war? And the exploding racism in the West? CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata said last week that Ukraine “isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city, one where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen”. A former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine told BBC: “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair … being killed every day.” A French journalist Phillipe Corbé stated: “We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin. We’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives.” True, Iraq and Afghanistan have seen conflicts raging for decades. But what about our complicity in these conflicts? Today, when Afghanistan is really an Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, thirty years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, including a powerful Communist party which took power independently of the Soviet Union? But, then, first Soviet Union and then the US intervened, and we are where we are now…

The horror of our correspondents and commentators at what is going on in Ukraine is understandable but profoundly ambiguous. It can mean: now we see that horrors are not limited to the Third World, that they are not just something we watch comfortably on our screens, that they can happen also here, so if we want to live safely we should fight them everywhere… But it can also mean: let the horrors remain there, far away, let’s just protect ourselves from them. Putin is a war criminal—but did we only discover this now? Was he not already a war criminal a couple of years ago when, in order to save the Assad regime, Russian planes were bombing Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, and in a much more brutal way that they are doing now in Kyiv? We knew it then, but our indignation was purely moral and verbal. The feeling of a much greater sympathy for Ukrainians who are “like us” shows the limit of Frederic Lordon’s attempt to ground emancipatory politics in the sense of “belonging” sustained by what Spinoza called transindividual “imitation of affects.” We have to develop solidarity with those with whom we do not share affective belonging.

When President Zelensky called the Ukrainian resistance a defense of the civilized world, did this mean that he was excluding the non-civilized? What about thousands arrested in Russia for protesting the military intervention? What about the fact that Nazism came to power in a country which epitomizes the highest European culture? It is THERE that “Europeans with blue eyes and blond hair” were doing the killing. If we just “defend Europe”, we already speak Dugin’s and Putin’s language: it is the European truth versus the Russian truth. The limit between civilization and barbarism is internal to civilizations, which is why our struggle is universal. The only true universality today is the universality of a struggle.

Ukraine was the poorest country of all post-Soviet states. Even if they—hopefully—win, their victorious defense will be the moment of truth for them. They will have to learn the lesson that it is not enough for them to catch up with the West, since Western liberal democracy is itself in a deep crisis. The saddest thing about the ongoing war in Ukraine is that, while the global liberal-capitalist order is obviously approaching a crisis at many levels, the situation is now again falsely simplified into barbaric-totalitarian countries versus the civilized West… with global warming out of sight. If we follow this path, we are lost. The present moment is not the moment of truth when things become clear, when the basic antagonism is clearly seen. It is a moment of the deepest lie. If a Europe that excludes the “uncivilized” wins, then we don’t need Russia to destroy us. We alone will successfully accomplish the task.

...and America, through Global Capitalism and Cultural Hegemony (aka F.A.G.), is becoming the World's "Big Other" 

...and thereby allowing her  now Totalitarian  and Computerized/ Automated Administrative Bureaucracy to ever Increasingly Narrowly Define the Socially Acceptable "Limits" of Her Own Citizen's Liberty.  There will be no "off-Menu" behavioural ordering allowed.
...and All Hope/ Dreams for Abstract Freedom a Faded and Distant Memory.