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

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Slavoj Plays Fresh Prince of Persia

Amnesty says at least four children among those killed by state forces since start of protests over woman’s death in custody

At least 450 people have been arrested in Mazandaran, a northern province of Iran, during the last 10 days of protests, according to the province’s chief prosecutor.

Protests sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini have spread across the country. They have been met with internet shutdowns and violent repression.

The official death toll in the unrest is 41, while human rights groups say the true number is more than 75.

Amnesty International said at least four children had been killed by state forces since the beginning of the protests. It described a “harrowing pattern” of “deliberate and unlawful firing of live ammunition at protesters”.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and north Africa director, said: “The rising death toll is an alarming indication of just how ruthless the authorities’ assault on human life has been under the darkness of the internet shutdown.”

Iranian officials said on Monday that more than 1,200 people had been arrested as the dragnet against the protests widened. Demonstrators took to the streets again on Monday night in Tehran and elsewhere, witnesses told Agence France-Presse.

Video filmed from several floors above street level, purportedly in the city of Tabriz, showed people protesting to the sound of tear gas canisters being fired by security forces, in images published by Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.

The group said at least 76 people had been killed in the crackdown.

Amini was visiting Tehran when she was arrested by morality police who took issue with the way she had veiled her hair. While the police maintain she died of natural causes, her family say she was tortured and killed.

“During the journey to the police station she was tortured and insulted,” Amini’s cousin Erfan Mortezaei told Sky News. “She suffered a concussion from a blow to the head. There is a report from Kasra hospital [in Tehran] that says effectively by the time she reached the hospital she was already dead from a medical point of view.”

Despite efforts to stop Iranians from accessing apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp, videos of people allegedly killed during the protests have been spreading on social media.

Parents of young people killed during the protests have expressed disappointment at the response from the international community. “People expect the UN to defend us and the protesters,” said the father of 21-year-old Milan Haghigi, quoted by Amnesty International. “I too can condemn [the Iranian authorities], the whole world can condemn them, but to what end this condemnation?”

Videos showed protests on Sunday night in Tehran and cities including Yazd, Isfahan and Bushehr.

The Norway-based Kurdish rights group Hengaw said a protest was held in Amini’s home town of Saqqez despite a heavy military presence, and there were reports of a 10-year-old girl being taken to hospital after she was shot in the northern town of Bukan.

Other reports said students at three universities in Tehran were refusing to attend lessons.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
This article was amended on 26 September 2022. An early version referred to a viral video that reportedly showed a young woman, Hadis Najafi, tying up her hair before joining the protest in which she was killed by state forces. This detail has been removed after another woman told the BBC’s Persian service that she was the protester in the video, not Hadis Najaf 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Ukraine Again


Slavoj Zizek, "Ukraine Is Palestine, Not Israel"

For international relations to work, all parties must at least speak the same language when they use concepts like freedom and occupation. By putting themselves in the same boat as the Israelis, rather than the Palestinians, the Ukrainians are ceding a large chunk of the moral high ground.

LJUBLJANA – I once asked my younger son if he could pass the salt, only to be met with the response, "Of course I can!" When I repeated my request, he snapped back: "You asked me if I could do it, and I answered you." You didn't tell me that I should do it."

Who was freer in this situation – me or my son? If we understand freedom as freedom of choice, my son was freer, because he had an additional choice about how to interpret my question. He could take it literally, or he could interpret it in the usual sense, as a request that was formulated as a question out of politeness. By contrast, I effectively renounced this choice and automatically relied on the conventional sense.

Now, imagine a world where many more people acted in everyday life the way my son did when he was teasing me. We would never know for sure what our partners in conversation wanted to say, and we would lose an immense amount of time pursuing pointless interpretations. Is this not an apt description of political life over the last decade? Donald Trump and other alt-right populists have capitalized on the fact that democratic politics relies on certain unwritten rules and customs, which they have violated when it suits them, while avoiding accountability by not always explicitly breaking the law.

In the United States, Trump's Republican Party lackeys are pursuing such a strategy ahead of the next presidential election. According to a fringe legal theory that they have embraced, a loophole in federal election law would allow a state's legislature to appoint its own presidential electors if the secretary of state decides that he or she cannot certify the result of an election. Republican election deniers are now running for the offices that they will need to override the will of the voters in 2024. The GOP thus is attempting to destroy one of the basic conditions of democracy: that all political participants speak the same language and follow the same rules. Otherwise, a country will find itself on the verge of civil war – an outcome that almost one-half of Americans now expect.

The same conditions apply to global politics. For international relations to work, all parties must at least speak the same language when they talk about concepts like freedom and occupation. Russia is obviously undermining this condition by describing its war of aggression in Ukraine as a " special operation " to "liberate" the country. But Ukraine's government has also fallen into this trap. Addressing the Israeli Knesset on March 20, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said : "We are in different countries and in completely different conditions. But the threat is the same: for both us and you – the total destruction of the people, state, culture. And even of the names: Ukraine, Israel."

Palestinian political scientist Asad Ghanem described Zelensky's speech as "a disgrace when it comes to global struggles for freedom and liberation, particularly of the Palestinian people." Zelensky "reversed the roles of occupier and occupied." I agree. And I also agree with Ghanem that, "every possible support must be given to Ukrainians as they resist [Russia's] barbaric aggression." Without Western military support, most of Ukraine would now be under Russian occupation, destroying a pillar of international peace and order: the integrity of borders.

Unfortunately, Zelensky's Knesset speech was not a singular event. Ukraine regularly takes public positions in support of the Israeli occupation. In 2020, it quit the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; and just last month, its ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, declared that : "As a Ukrainian whose country is under a very brutal attack by its neighbor, I feel great sympathy towards the Israeli public."

This parallel between Israel and Ukraine is totally misplaced. If anything, the Ukrainians' situation is closest to that of the West Bank Palestinians. Yes, Israelis and Palestinians at least acknowledge their adversaries' otherness, whereas Russia claims that Ukrainians are really just Russians. But not only does Israel deny that the Palestinians are a nation (as Russia does with Ukraine); the Palestinians also have been denied a place in the Arab world (like Ukrainians vis-à-vis Europe before the war). Moreover, like Russia, Israel is a nuclear-armed military superpower that is de facto colonizing a smaller, much weaker entity. And like Russia in the occupied parts of Ukraine, Israel is practicing a policy of apartheid .

While Israel's leaders welcome Ukraine's support, they have not returned the favor . Instead, they have oscillated between Russia and Ukraine, because Israel needs Russia's continued tolerance of its own military strikes on targets in Syria. But Ukraine's full support for Israel mainly reflects its leaders' ideological interest in presenting their struggle as a defense of Europe and European civilization against a barbaric, totalitarian East.

This framing of the fight is untenable, because it requires glossing over Europe's own roles in slavery, colonialism, fascism, and so forth. It is crucial that Ukraine's cause be defended in universal terms, around shared concepts and interpretations of words like "occupation" and "freedom." To reduce Ukraine's war to a struggle for Europe is to use the same framing as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "court philosopher" Aleksandr Dugin, who draws a line between "Russian truth" and "European truth." Confining the conflict to Europe reinforces Russia's own global propaganda, which presents the invasion of Ukraine as an act of decolonization – part of the struggle against Western neoliberal domination and a necessary step towards a multipolar world.

By treating Israel's colonization of the West Bank as a defensive struggle for freedom, Ukraine is validating another power's aggression and thus compromising its own fully justified struggle for freedom. Sooner or later, it will have to make a choice. Will it be truly European, by participating in the universal emancipatory project that defines Europe? Or will it become a part of the new right's populist wave?

When Ukraine asked the West, "Can you pass the howitzers?" the West did not cynically quip, "Yes, we can!" and then do nothing. Western countries responded reasonably by sending weapons to fight the occupiers. Yet when Palestinians ask for support of any kind, they receive nothing but empty statements, often accompanied by declarations of solidarity with their oppressor. When they ask for the salt, it is handed to their opponent.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Wanna Play Hegelian Horseshoes? Thesis::Antithesis->Synthesis?

This summer, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went to the edge of space on a ship he built with his own earnings. A bunch of people saw the billionaire blast off and thought: "Screw that guy and his dumb rocket—the government should take his money because I have a much better idea of how to spend it."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) tweeted, "Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half our people live paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to feed themselves, struggling to see a doctor—but hey, the richest guys in the world are off in outer space! Yes. It's time to tax the billionaires." Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D–Ore.) said he'll introduce legislation that would tax wealthy space tourists in order to "support the public good." And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) reiterated their calls to abolish billionaires via a wealth tax.

The American right has long wanted to get its paws on Bezos as well. Former President Donald Trump has been beefing with Bezos for years, over the editorial line of The Washington Post (which Bezos owns) as well as the conduct of Amazon. In 2018 Trump tweeted, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!" Other conservatives weighed in with their own thoughts when Bezos flew. Matthew Walther, editor of the conservative Catholic publication The Lamp, wrote: "Maybe instead of sending idiots into a blank meaningless void at a gazillion bucks a pop we could build, I dunno, a functioning transit system in our capital city. Maybe we could even try real regional rail. Just spitballing."

The idea that left and right could be united by this moment of inspirational technological and commercial achievement to talk smack and do a cash grab isn't that unusual. There is historical precedent for such a strange-bedfellow slumber party, and plenty of examples of it in our present.

The horseshoe theory, like the Overton window, was a concept destined to be bastardized the moment it entered casual use. Its origins are murky, but the classic version posits that the political spectrum isn't linear, but bent like a horseshoe, with leftist and rightist extremists closer to each other than either side would like to admit.

The theory is typically used to explain why 20th century communists and fascists seemed to have so much in common, though it likely predates the last century. But in the United States in 2021, a softer version of this iron law is at play, with the center-left and the center-right mushily converging toward expensive authoritarian policies that look astonishingly similar despite their supposedly opposite goals. Still a horseshoe, but more like one of the marshmallow ones you can find in bowls of Lucky Charms.

Nowhere is the nouveau horseshoe more apparent than on the debate about Big Tech and free speech, with both the left and the right utterly convinced that large social media platforms and other tech firms are using their sinisterly large amount of power to benefit the other side. And both left and right are cheerfully willing to use the state to solve the supposed problem. Once again, their proposals look quite similar, yet they're far enough apart that never the twain shall meet. Governments absolutely need to tell tech companies what they can and can't publish or sell—on that power players and pundits of the American left and right agree. But does that mean more moderation to remove hate speech and misinformation, both of which can be defined as "stuff I don't like"? Or should moderation be banned altogether to prevent viewpoint discrimination? (More on that in Nick Gillespie's cover story, "Self-Cancellation, Deplatforming, and Censorship," page 16.)

The left and right frequently find themselves in uncomfortable agreement across a censor's tribunal table. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has been wearing a horseshoe around her neck for years, for example: first banned from the libraries of public schools at the behest of Christan conservatives for the allegedly demonic elements in her novels about tween wizards, then canceled for voicing politically incorrect views on trans issues by furious progressives who grew up wishing they could go to Hogwarts.

The squishy horseshoe also shows up in the debate over subsidized spawning. The right wants to encourage childbearing in order to maximize the percentage of native-born Americans in the population and promote family values, while also giving mothers more incentives to stay home with the resulting broods. The left has mixed feelings about whether more kids are good—we need them to prop up a massive welfare state, but they're also little carbon-emitting monsters who will bring about the climate end times—while being quite sure we need to make it easier for post-pregnant people (don't call them mothers!) to return to work.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) has proposed the Family Security Act, a universal kiddie income, "which would provide a monthly cash benefit for families, amounting to $350 a month for each young child, and $250 a month for each school-aged child." He wants to pay for this by eliminating various other competing programs and tax credits. Ivanka Trump backed something similar in her role as policy adviser to her father.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) tweeted that "Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure." The bluntness of those claims came in for criticism, but the sentiment is far from unusual in her party, which would like to insert all policy priorities into a debt-funded omnibus spending bill. (Read all about it in Eric Boehm's "Everything Is Infrastructure Now," page 24.) You get headlines like this one in The Washington Post's lady vertical, The Lily: "Child care wasn't prioritized in the first infrastructure package. It's 'cause for alarm,' experts say."

These two sets of goals produce very similar yet ultimately irreconcilable policy proposals. Families must be funded and nudged by the state using taxpayer money—on this they agree. But ask how much per child, on what terms, and via what mechanism, and the whole thing falls apart.

Once you start collecting horseshoes, it can be hard to stop. The classic "my body, my choice" slogan is now decorating placards at protests for a wide variety of issues, from abortion to vaccines and masking.

The labor left and cronyist right have both long championed "Buy American" policies. They hope to center our politics on the factory workers and manufacturing jobs that were once the mainstay of the American working class, a constituency that has been in play over the last several elections. The notion that we need to build things here is powerfully alluring to people with many different priors, even if it disregards the incredible gains in standard of living and consumer choice enabled by global trade.

The debate over race in public life repeatedly creates an odd juxtaposition in which a tiny number of white nationalists and an elite coterie of social justice activists both argue that, in fact, everything is about race and we should order our politics around that principle.

The notion that we might let people make their own decisions about their own lives in accordance with a liberal democratic legal order remains, luckily, the predominant view in this country. Most people who were not pathologically online or poisoned by power saw the news that Bezos went to space and thought, "Hey, cool. Kudos to that dude." That big curve in the middle of the horseshoe is where a majority of people will continue to reside.

Still, if you want a picture of the future, you could do worse than to imagine a horseshoe stamping on a human face—forever.
from Wiki:
The horseshoe metaphor was used as early as during the Weimar Republic to describe the ideology of the Black Front.[6]
The Combat League of Revolutionary National Socialists (German: Kampfgemeinschaft Revolutionärer Nationalsozialisten, KGRNS), more commonly known as the Black Front (German: Schwarze Front), was a political group formed by Otto Strasser in 1930 after he resigned from the Nazi Party (NSDAP) to avoid being expelled.[2][3]

Strasser formed the Black Front to continue what he saw as the original anti-capitalist stance of the Nazi Party, embodied in several items of its 1920 25-point Program that was in large part ignored by Adolf Hitler, which Strasser saw as a betrayal. The Black Front was composed of former radical Nazis who intended to cause a split in the party. The group published a newspaper, The German Revolution.[2] The Black Front adopted the crossed hammer and sword symbol which is still used by several Strasserite groups.

The Black Front, which never had more than a couple of thousand members,[3] was unable to effectively oppose the Nazis. Hitler’s rise to power as Chancellor of Germany proved to be the final straw. The remaining anti-capitalist elements of the Nazis were eradicated in 1934 during the Night of the Long Knives, in which Gregor Strasser, Otto's older brother, was killed. Strasser had previously broken with his brother over Otto's proclivity to act on his own.[3] Otto Strasser spent the years of the Third Reich in exile, first in Czechoslovakia and later in Canada.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Le passage a l'acte


Amal Hachet, "The Passage à l’acte in Adolescence: A Failed Attempt to Produce a Subject"
Psychoanalysis offers a complex and dynamic conception of the psychical organization, which is linked to desire and the law, in reference to the unconscious. Much more than a reservoir of drives, the unconscious is the discourse of the Other (Lacan, 1957). In this capacity it constitutes a production of society. Whereas the “modern” subject placed at the intersection between the healthcare and legals domain finds him- or herself increasingly cut off from any responsibility, psychoanalytical theory assigns the subject the locus of his or her subjective division by repatriating him within the meaning of his or her act, this “perfect alibi”. [1] Due to this fact, while psychoanalysis de-realizes the crime, it does not for all that de-humanize the criminal (Lacan 1950).


The Freudian conception of crime postulates that the kernel of the criminal act resides in the Oedipus complex (Freud 1931), even if this is not its cause: the Oedipus complex does not kill! Based on a dialectical relationship between the (criminal) act and guilt, this act is seen as the expression of guilt and sometimes as its consequence (Freud, 1916-1917).

From the outset, this cluster of images integrates the (criminal) individual into a social and dynamic dimension, since the reference to the law of the fundamental and cultural prohibition against incest necessitates an identification with the Other.

Based on his re-reading of the oeuvre of Freud, and starting from a phenomenological approach, in particular on the subject of the unconscious and of aggressiveness, Lacan re-inscribed and confirmed once more this “social” dimension of the unconscious in a dialectic conception, and even an inter-subjective conception, which is linked to the act. The act that Lacan highlights is neither an action nor a behavior, but a locus of saying, and at the same time a locus of transgression of a symbolic law. As we go into greater detail, it is essential to recall the Lacanian distinction between the act (acting out) and the passage à l’acte (Lacan, 1963).
-The subject who acts out puts his or her body on the stage under the gaze of the other and asks the other to decipher this behavior; a behavior which is, all in all, fantasmatic.

-On the other hand, the subject of the passage à l’acte escapes, leaving the stage of his or her fantasy. In response to his or her impossibility of sustaining a subjective position faced with the weight of the demand that emanates from this other, the subject tips over into an integral break from the relationship with the other (Canonge & Pedinielli, 2014).
From this perspective, the drive, which is an integral part of human nature, does not suffice in and of itself to produce anything criminal. It is within the alienation from the desire of the other – where “I is an other” due to the fact of a fundamental dependence that binds the subject to his or her neighbor – that aggressiveness finds its point of origin.

Correlative with a mode of narcissistic identification “which determines the formal structure of man’s ego and of the register of entities characteristic of his world,” [2] aggressiveness is a tendency that “manifests itself in an experience that is subjective in its very constitution.” [3] This experience of structural ambivalence in which the self and the other are undifferentiated corresponds to the moment of the formation of the Ego thanks to the narcissistic identification with the other, which is realized during the mirror stage. The infant subject’s “identification with his specular image” represents the “most significant model, as well as the earliest moment, of the fundamentally alienating relationship in which man’s being is dialectically constituted.” [4]

If, as Lacan posits, “the unconscious is the social” [5] in the sense that the organization of our subjectivity would be not only the fact of the Oedipus complex but also the fact of the relation to the Other, the act, just like the symptom, is to be understood as a production of the social dimension, which is inter-subjective.

In his seminar of May 10th 1967 devoted to the logic of the fantasy, Lacan envisaged the Other as a reservoir of material for the act: “it is also the unconscious, that is to say, the symptom without its meaning, deprived of its truth.” [6]

By conferring upon the unconscious a structural dimension that belongs to the order of discourse, Lacan goes beyond the subjective. He integrates it into a collective scene that is linked to social reality, which is structured on the basis of the name of the father: “the unconscious would be the plane from which the individual and the social dimensions meet in so far as one duplicates the other, and so on, in an infinite fashion.” [7]

Neither the crime nor the criminal can, therefore, be conceived beyond their sociological reference (Assoun, 2004). On the basis of this postulate, the subject’s transgressive acts (as a fact of discourse) are to be understood as:
– on the one hand, as an attempt to produce meaning;

– on the other hand, as a modality by which the subject is produced, and even a modality of subjectification, through a repetition compulsion (Birman, 2007), to the extent that each phenomenon that possesses a meaning is the fact of a subject.
Accomplishing this psychical operation necessitates constructive labor in which the act is then examined as, at the same time, a repetition, a staging, and an attempt to give meaning that does not aim at the production of an already constituted meaning, even one that is inscribed in the psyche, but aims rather at producing meaning where previously there was none (Birman, 2007). As in psychosis, where acts “are absolutely deprived of any intentionality – in other words, they are purely automatic, and they leave the subject perplexed, or even radically ejected from his act.” [8] This ejection of the subject outside the coordinates of his or her act, which is structural in psychosis whereas it is fleeting in neurosis, does not cancel out the subject’s responsibility and duty to answer for it. It requires that the legal institution, and then, if this is possible, the analyst, enable the subject, with the specific “symboligenic” tools, to inscribe, little by little, the subject’s passage à l’acte – however bare of meaning it might seem to be at first – into his or her history, and to subjectify it.

There is neither synthesis nor resolution in the passage à l’acte. It is a modality of response that surges up where one was not expecting it. As a language reduced to its most straightforward structure, the passage à l’acte always responds to the Other: “as soon as there is speaking, there is a response.” [9] In other words, the passage à l’acte is an invasion that arises in response to another invasion, an automatic response to that which is dysfunctional in the social bond: the abdication [démission] or challenging [récusation] of important symbolic functions. The subject then takes “the place of the all-powerful primordial father, to the extent that the symbolic father has not been able to maintain this place, nor to keep his promise to be the mediator of the social bonds.” [10] In a correlative fashion, the non-recognition of the symbolic authority encountered in “psychopathic” adolescents is to be referred to a difficulty when it comes to mourning – a mourning triggered by the real father – the ideal father and his all powerfulness (Hoffmann, 2001).

A Clinical Observation

The observation of Eric (Hachet, 2009) allows for an illustration of these considerations. We met Eric for a psychological assessment when he was seventeen years old. He had been held in custody for an attempted homicide that he committed on a homeless person, Mr. D, using a bladed weapon – a kitchen knife with a 5 inch blade. The victim, a man who was fifty years old, was found lying in the street. Having been stopped on the site of the attack, Eric declared that he had acted without reason. On seeing a homeless person who was sleeping under a cover, he took out the knife and stabbed him in the lower belly area. Mr. D was hospitalized immediately, and nearly lost his life.

Eric’s passage à l’acte is all the more disturbing given that the adolescent had never been violent and had no history of run ins with the law. On the contrary, Eric was considered to be a mentally fragile boy due to the fact of his sometimes disruptive attitude at school and his tendency to play truant and wander the streets. Due to this, and due to its paroxysmal character, the homicide attempt perpetrated by Eric cannot be attributed to the ordinary paranoia of the adolescent that characterizes the normal entry into the Oedipus complex of puberty (Marty, 2009). At the level of psychical economy, this detour via the criminal act (Blanchard, 2010) aims more to cancel out of a tension that is experienced as something unsustainable and uncontrollable (Declercq & Maleval, 2012) which drives one to run the alienating risk of being assigned, by the Other, to a permanent position of object (Vodovosoff, 2008).

The state of Eric’s mental health – which was initially declared by the legal medical emergency services (UMJ) at the Hôtel Dieu Hospital to present a danger for others and for himself, and was therefore, from a psychiatric point of view, judged as being with being remanded in custody – led to his placement under observation at the Psychiatric Infirmary close to the Paris Police Headquarters, and then to a compulsory hospitalization on the psychiatric wing of a general hospital in the Paris suburbs. In the course of this hospitalization, Eric confided in his doctor that he had attacked several homeless people under the same conditions, which the investigators were unable to confirm. After two weeks, this measure of compulsory hospitalization was lifted. Eric was allowed to leave the hospital on the grounds that his behavior in the psychiatric wing was appropriate, that the delusional elements had disappeared, and that there was no potential danger. Although he was unable to understand or to explain the reasons behind his gesture, Eric did nevertheless manage to explain during his first appearance before the judges that he had acted through a kind of anger, because he had just been robbed by a homeless person.

Eric’s sometimes agitated behavior in the classroom had led his mother to send him to a psychologist in a Psychological Medical Center, whom he had been seeing on a regular basis. Five days prior to his passage à l’acte, the adolescent had spoken of his desire to achieve some independence from his family, and had then gone roaming the streets immediately after his session. On the evening of the attack, he had wanted to take refuge in the hallway of a building in order to protect himself from the cold. He was then assailed by the watchman, who threw him out with brutality.

This violent encounter between Eric and an individual who is the agent of a concrete authority is thus the context in which the meaning of his passage à l’acte has to be inscribed. Indeed, this man’s intervention, which set out a brutal and non-negotiable limit, did not leave any room for Eric as a subject. For Eric, his gesture is a reproduction of an act of needless violence: “The watchman really laid into me. I did not know why. So, I did the same thing to the homeless man as the watchman did to me. I lost my temper. My intention was to take his knife (?). I stabbed him in the belly, but I was still angry.”

Our hypothesis is that, if the abusive and arbitrary character of the authority of this substitute for the real “father” was destabilizing to such an extent for Eric, it was because the signifier of the Name of the Father was foreclosed in the psyche of this adolescent.

The watchman in the building is a concrete actor of the application of a rule that is articulated with public order and extends it into a private space. Eric was thus chased out by a man who had been invested with an authority. Now, Lacan notes that the:
[…] devastating effects of the paternal figure are found with particular frequency in cases where the father really functions as a legislator or boasts that he does – whether he is, in fact, one of the people who makes the laws or presents himself as a pillar of faith, as a paragon of integrity […] these are all ideals that provide him with all too many opportunities to seem to be at fault, to fall short, and even to be fraudulent – in short, to exclude the Name of the Father from its position in the signifier. [11]
When the watchman of the building physically assailed Eric instead of leading him out in a non-violent manner, he truly and verily proved to be unworthy of his professional role: he committed an abuse of power.

Whether it is inscribed in or foreclosed from the psyche of a subject, the signifier of the Name of the Father is called upon by “a real father”, which is “not at all necessarily by the subject’s own father.” [12] Lacan names this person “One father”. This “One father” has to “situate himself in a tertiary position in any relationship that has as its base the imaginary couple a – a’, that is, ego object or ideal reality.” [13] Here, the violence performed by the watchman of the building shattered the adolescent’s hopes for some form of hospitality. While this One father is truly and verily situated as a third party who possesses a legal power, he used it in an arbitrary manner.

To shore up our analysis, we need to expose a number of elements from Eric’s family history. His parents divorced when he was six years old. Eric’s mother was behind the initiative of this break, which was prompted by her husband’s aberrant behavior: he was violent towards her (the child witnessed numerous “bloody” conjugal arguments), and unfaithful. Furthermore, his father had committed incest with his half-sister when she was aged fourteen. Of foreign origin, Eric’s father then left France for the country of his birth. He later came back from time to time, at irregular intervals, in order to see his children. Eric’s mother describes this father in an entirely negative way. Indeed, she mentions a man who is violent, impulsive, with a walkaway attitude, who does not contribute financially to the upbringing of his children and who manipulates them by displaying a “prestigious” attitude when he is in contact with them. Now, Lacan insists on the fact that the inscription of the Name of the Father does not concern “only […] the way the mother accommodates the father as a person, but also […] the importance she attributes to his speech – in a word, to his authority – in other words, with the place she reserves for the Name of the Father in the promotion of the law.” [14] Eric’s mother truly and verily excludes the father of their son from her discourse as a subject capable of bearing a pacifying law and authority.

Thus, very early on, Eric was placed in a paradoxical and ambiguous bond with the paternal object, whose instability and unpredictable character made it ungraspable as much through its absence as through its presence. In this capacity, Eric’s episodes of absence and roaming the streets (without there being any clear neurological dysfunction) set the stage for and re-actualized (in order to try to elaborate) the ambiguity of the paternal object – which is present through its absence and absent in its presence – in which it was enclosed. Within this context, Eric’s displays of absence from school and roaming the streets did not only constitute a way of identifying with his doubly absent father – really, in his relational landscape, and symbolically, in the discourse of his mother – but also allowed him to escape from an incestuous proximity that was exacerbated by the mother’s rejection of the paternal figure.

Along with the father’s failure to constitute a third party, there is also the fall of the ideal image (Houssier, 2012) that this man tried to develop for his children and which Eric sought desperately to cling to, before being forced – under the dual influence of the radical discourse of his mother and of the insistence of the facts – to accept its inescapable falsity. The fall of the paternal image was equivalent to the pedestal onto which he had mendaciously hauled himself in order to impose upon his children a representation of himself that was faultless.

Eric’s extreme difficulty when it comes to shoring himself up with the paternal image had more recently led him to carry over to religion his need for attachment and to develop rituals of cleanliness, which in all likelihood were defenses against a psychotic collapse. Indeed, Eric had wanted to become a priest, until the day when a teacher (a substitute for the father) insisted that “there is no place for priests in the Bible”, and therefore there is no place for an “ideal father”.

Eric was then placed in a situation of impasse in which giving up on the ideal of the father was equivalent to having to suppress it in reality, since he was unable to do so on the symbolic plane (Houssier, 2010) by means of wishes of parricide. The authoritarian and non-negotiable intervention of the watchman in the building (“You have no business being here” = there is no place for you) made Eric slip into this equivalence of parricide in the guise of an attempt to extract himself from this dead end. On the day of his father’s fiftieth birthday, Eric attacked the image of a “downfallen father” – Mr. D, of no fixed abode – whom he was to stab in the lower torso (was this an attempt at emasculation?). What is surprising is that Mr. D is himself the father of a son in his twenties, whom he had lost the right to see following his divorce from the boy’s mother (which had pushed him into social decline and serious marginality!) In the background, Mr. D’s situation is also the product of a parricidal society that, under the cover of economic liberalism, does not leave any place for the father, who is seen as something interchangeable (Legendre, 1989). If he is not suitable, the father now runs the risk of being deposed from his place of subject and of being relegated to the place of “trash”.

By attacking an unknown marginal figure who is liable to represent an image of the “downfallen father” for Eric, he was attacking the at once pitiful and hated figure of his failing father.

Through his passage à l’acte, and via his identification with the attacker, he also reproduced the authoritarian law of the “real father” who cancels out the place of the other as a “subject”. In effect, in conformity with the example of Eric when he came up against the hostility without concession from the watchman in the building, the victim of the adolescent was an inoffensive and vulnerable person to whom a place in the quality of a social bond had been refused.

Made from a discourse that is attached to desire, the passage à l’acte of this adolescent – a demand for recognition against the backdrop of despair issued by a subject who sees himself as a trash object to be evacuated (Hoffman & al., 2000) – is to be understood as an attempt to produce the subject. This attempt fails to the extent that it is an echo of what forms a symptom in the social dimension: neoliberal arbitrariness, which tends to identify each subject with a trash object. Against this arbitrary and the nonsensical logic of dehumanization, Eric opposes an act that is just as arbitrary and senseless.

In effect, his violence was not directed towards his attacker (the watchman in the building), but his fellow man (the homeless man), an emblematic figure of the downfallen subject (and, as an echo, Eric’s father).


The observation of Eric reminds us that confronting the adolescent’s passage à l’acte with judicial law, the collective embodiment of the symbolic law, is destined as much to defuse the load of violence that is inherent to a passage à l’acte such as this (Morhain, Chouvier, 2008) as to prime its re-inscription in the subject.

[1] Assoun, P.-L. (2004). L’inconscient du crime. La « criminologie freudienne ». Recherches en Psychanalyse, 2, 2, p. 38.

[2] Lacan, J. (2006). Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis (1948). Translated by B. Fink in collaboration with H. Fink and R. Grigg. In Lacan, J., Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English. New York / London: Norton & Co, p. 89.

[3] Ibid., p. 83.

[4] Lacan, J. & Cénac, M. (2006). A Theoretical Introduction to the Functions of Psychoanalysis in Crimonology (1950). Translated by B. Fink in collaboration with H. Fink and R. Grigg. In Lacan, J., Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English. New York / London: Norton & Co, p. 115.

[5] Lacan, J. (2006). The Seminar on “The Purloined Letter” (1957). Translated by B. Fink in collaboration with H. Fink and R. Grigg. In Lacan, J., Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English. New York / London: Norton & Co, p. 6-48.

[6] Lacan, J. (1966-1967). Séminaire XIV, La logique du fantasme. Unpublished text (mimeograph).

[7] Scudéri, C. (2008). Entre social et individuel : l’inconscient lacanien d’après ‘Le séminaire sur la lettre volée’ (1957). In La philosophie au sens large. CNRS - UMR 8163 Université de Lille 3 and Université de Lille 1: text presented in a study group led by Pierre Macherey.

[8] Thibierge, S. (2007). Remarques sur l’abord contemporain des passages à l’acte. In Actes de Colloque International de Médecine, Psychanalyse et Droit “Passages à l’acte”. Poitiers, p. 313-320.

[9] Lacan, J., (1948). Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis, op. cit..

[10] Birman, J. (2007). Généalogie du passage à l’acte. In Actes de Colloque International de Médecine, Psychanalyse et Droit “Passages à l’acte”. Poitiers, p. 344.

[11] Lacan, J. (2006). On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis (1958). Translated by B. Fink in collaboration with H. Fink and R. Grigg. In Lacan, J., Écrits, The First Complete Edition in English. New York / London: Norton & Co, p. 482-483.

[12] Ibid., p. 481.

[13] Ibid., p. 481.

[14] Ibid., p. 482.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Tweaking the Gaze - the Role of Propaganda in Smoothing Over the Rough Edges of "Intersectionality"

...and what happens when the "vanished Mediator" re-appears and begins to demand financial compensation/ reparations for the cultural surplus values gained from its' contributions to the newly constituted whole.

Whiteness/ Eurocentrism, the "vanishing mediators" of Global Capitalism's "Multi-Culturalism" in the name of  a misperceived, yet unmistakably ideologically Eurocentric and subjective, "universal objectivity/ subjective neutrality".

Stephan Helgesen, "The Not-So-Great American U-turn"
There was a time when the millions of huddled masses yearning to breathe free (thank you, Emma Lazarus for your splendid poem) were grateful for the opportunity to make the month-long, often treacherous ocean voyage to the shores of the New World. Their willingness to jettison -- or at least subordinate -- their old national identities in exchange for a new American one that didn't pigeonhole them back into their old-world stereotypes seemed an exceptionally fair bargain.

To start fresh, absent ethnic or religious conflicts or tribalism, was a powerful lure and one that reinforced the notion that duplicating bias and prejudice from an old environment is never a good solution in a new one.

Granted, newcomers to America did initially band together by old-world identities in order to survive the first few years in their adopted country, but they soon discovered that more tribalism was not the cure for tribalism, itself. Embracing a common language and working alongside each other, bolstered by a set of shared values, the new immigrants quickly became convinced that by dropping their 'hyphens' they could find true equality under the umbrella of a Constitution that protected everyone's religions and cultural differences and not just those of the majority.

That reality did exactly what it was meant to do. It gave newly-minted Americans a choice: remain with your 'own kind' or join with others who valued personal choice over the old stereotypes they left behind in Europe and elsewhere. The American choice liberated them from their dependence on the old ways and freed them up to pursue their ambitions as one people. The importance of that one choice cannot be minimized for it established the bold, new, non-tribal American tribe whose values and virtues were both universal and translatable across the broad spectrum of cultural and ethnic differences.

Were there second-class citizens? Yes. Were there groups that desperately clung to their old traditional ways and prejudices? Yes. Were they the majority? No. And while it took a civil war and the deaths of 800,000 Americans in the 1860s to free Negro slaves from bondage in order to make good on the promise of equality to all Americans, it did happen. Understandably, because of generations of slavery and abuse, Blacks remained skeptical. Jim Crow assured that they would live among themselves for generations, uncertain that the promise of equality could be… or would ever be kept.

In the 20th century and on to the present day, the face of American immigration was changing. It was taking on the religious and tribal nuances of immigrants from Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Latin America. New immigrants were not quite convinced that the American dream translated well into their native languages and cultural traditions. Islam and a rapidly growing secularism were in occasional conflict with the prevailing Judeo-Christian mores that had been the cornerstone of America's strength and progress for two centuries. New questions about the relevance or usefulness of traditional American ideals, values and problem-solving were being asked. Was there room for a re-birth of tribalism in the USA? Was the retribalization of America and the move towards identity politics the only possible way to focus the spotlight on what many minority groups saw as discrimination?

Since the start of the new millennium, tribalism has been on the rise. Instead of e pluribus Unum we are experiencing a "many out of one" movement that is, effectively, taking America on a massive U-turn. This U-turn is a potentially dangerous one as it is moving our nation farther and farther away from its promise to build a strong, resilient society through national unity. The tribal/identity politics movement is focused on maximizing the differences between citizens and demographic groups in order to replace a power structure that relies on a Constitution for its lawmaking with a plebiscite-based democracy comprised of constantly competing special interests.

We must remember that history is both a carousel and a roller coaster. Our Civil War took place only six generations ago, and for most of us, the prospect of experiencing another one is unthinkable. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must take that roller coaster back to that time in American history and look at the divisions that existed in our society then and the forces that were working to exaggerate them and divide the country. If we do this, we will understand why the tribalization of men and countries is dangerous and never preferable to achieving national unity that is based on a set of common values that apply to every demographic group.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Ukraine on the Membrane

It would be tragic if Ukraine defeated Russian neo-imperialism only to yoke itself to Western neoliberalism. While being a Western economic colony is certainly better than being absorbed into a new Russian empire, neither outcome is worthy of the suffering Ukrainians are now enduring.

LJUBLJANA – As everyone knows, Volodymyr Zelensky played a Ukrainian president in the television series Servant of the People before becoming Ukraine’s president in real life, and that irony led many not to take him seriously (as if a president who previously served in the KGB is better). But less well known is the basic plot of the series.

Zelensky played Vasily Petrovich Goloborodko, a schoolteacher whose students record him ranting about corruption, share the video online (where it goes viral), and then sign him up as a candidate in the country’s next presidential election. Having unwittingly tapped into Ukrainians’ widespread frustration over corruption, Goloborodko wins, faces a steep learning curve in office, and eventually starts to confront the country’s oligarchy from his new position of power.

The show’s depiction of Ukraine is apt. Of all the post-communist countries in Eastern Europe, it was the hardest hit by economic “shock therapy” (sweeping market reforms and privatization) in the 1990s. For three decades since independence, Ukrainian incomes have remained below where they were in 1990. Corruption has been rampant, and the courts have proven a farce.

As Luca Celada of il manifesto writes, “the ‘conversion’ to capitalism has followed the usual pattern: a class of oligarchs and a narrow elite have enriched themselves disproportionately by despoiling the public sector with the complicity of the political class.” Moreover, financial assistance from the West has always been “strongly tied to reforms that Ukraine was required to implement, all under the banner of fiscal restraint and austerity,” further immiserating much of the population. Such is the legacy of the capitalist West’s engagement with post-independence Ukraine.

Meanwhile, my sources in Russia tell me that President Vladimir Putin has assembled a group of Marxists to counsel him on how to present Russia’s position in the developing world. One can find traces of this influence in the speech he gave on August 16:

“The situation in the world is changing dynamically and the outlines of a multipolar world order are taking shape. An increasing number of countries and peoples are choosing a path of free and sovereign development based on their own distinct identity, traditions, and values. These objective processes are being opposed by the Western globalist elites, who provoke chaos, fanning long-standing and new conflicts and pursuing the so-called containment policy, which in fact amounts to the subversion of any alternative, sovereign development options.”

But, of course, two details spoil this “Marxist” critique. First, sovereignty “based on their own distinct identity, traditions, and values” implies that one should tolerate what the state is doing in places like North Korea or Afghanistan. Yet that is completely out of step with true leftist solidarity, which focuses squarely on antagonisms within each “distinct identity” in order to build bridges between struggling and oppressed groups across countries.

Second, Putin objects to “the subversion of any alternative, sovereign development options,” even though that is exactly what he is doing in Ukraine by seeking to deprive its people of self-determination.

Putin is not alone in pushing this pseudo-Marxist line. In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen now presents herself as the protector of ordinary working people against multinational corporations, which are said to be undermining national identities through the promotion of multiculturalism and sexual depravity. In the United States, the alt-right succeeds the old radical left with its calls to overthrow the “deep state.” Donald Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon is a self-proclaimed “Leninist” who sees a coalition of the alt-right and the radical left as the only way to end the reign of financial and digital elites. (And, lest we forget the progenitor of this model, Hitler led the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.)

More is at stake in Ukraine than many commentators seem to appreciate. In a world beset by the effects of climate change, fertile land will be an increasingly valuable asset. And if there is one thing Ukraine has in abundance, it is chernozem (“black earth”), an extraordinarily fertile soil with high concentrations of humus, phosphoric acids, phosphorus, and ammonia. That is why US and Western European agrobusiness firms have already bought up millions of hectares of Ukraine’s farmland – with just ten private companies reportedly controlling most of it.

Well aware of the threat of dispossession, the Ukrainian government imposed a moratorium on land sales to foreigners 20 years ago. For years thereafter, the US Department of State, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank repeatedly called for this restriction to be removed. It was only in 2021 that the Zelensky government, under immense pressure, finally started allowing farmers to sell their land. The moratorium on sales to foreigners remains in place, however, and Zelensky has said that lifting it must be put to a national referendum, which would almost certainly fail.

Nonetheless, the cruel irony is that, before Putin launched a war to colonize Ukraine by force, there was some truth to the Russian argument that Ukraine was becoming a Western economic colony. If the conflict has any silver lining, it is that the neoliberal project has been put on hold. Since war demands social mobilization and a coordination of production, it offers Ukraine a unique chance both to halt its expropriation by foreign corporate and financial entities and to rid itself of oligarchic corruption.

In pursuing this opportunity, Ukrainians must bear in mind that it is not enough simply to join the European Union and catch up to Western living standards. Western democracy itself is now in deep crisis, with the US veering toward ideological civil war, and Europe being challenged by authoritarian spoilers from within its own ranks. More immediately, if Ukraine can achieve a decisive military victory (as we should all hope), it will find itself deeply indebted to the US and the EU. Will it be able to resist even greater pressure to open itself up to economic colonization by Western multinationals?

This struggle is already playing out beneath the surface of Ukraine’s heroic resistance. It would be tragic if Ukraine defeated Russian neo-imperialism only to yoke itself to Western neoliberalism. To secure genuine freedom and independence, Ukraine must reinvent itself. While being a Western economic colony is certainly better than being absorbed into a new Russian empire, neither outcome is worthy of the suffering Ukrainians are now enduring.