Monday, October 31, 2022
Saturday, October 29, 2022
Thursday, October 27, 2022
Ukraine Again, Naturally
With Russian President Vladimir Putin desperately escalating his threats of nuclear war, some Ukrainians have responded by organizing massive sex parties. Far from representing a descent into depravity and despair, they are asserting the power of love over hate, and of civilization over barbarism.
LJUBLJANA – With Ukrainian forces reclaiming territory and sending Russia’s demoralized occupiers scurrying in retreat, Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated his threat to use nuclear weapons. Politicians have issued stern warnings to the Kremlin, and commentators have compared the current moment to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and other episodes of high tension that could have ended in nuclear Armageddon. But some 15,000 Ukrainians have met the prospect of annihilation in a less abstract way: They have reportedly signed up for a massive sex party.
Participants in “Orgy on Shchekavystsa: Official” outside Kyiv are expected to “decorate their hands with stripes denoting their sexual preference. People interested in anal sex have been asked to draw three stripes; those interested in oral sex have been asked to display four stripes.” Similar groups have popped up elsewhere, including one announcing an orgy on Derybasivska Street in Odessa.
Why, after eight months of Russian bombardment and brutal fighting, would anyone be interested in such an event? According to one eager participant: “It’s the opposite of despair. Even in the worst-case scenario, people will look for something good. That’s the mega-optimism of Ukrainians.”
One should accept this testimony on its face. In a time of extreme anguish, an orgy can be a life-affirming project. There is no need for a “deeper” pseudo-Freudian explanation in which collective trauma precipitates the disintegration of individual inhibitions and conventional social norms. The truly uncivilized sex acts are those being committed by Russian soldiers and their leaders. According to Pramila Patten, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence, Russian commanders are dispensing Viagra to their troops. Sexual assault of Ukrainian women is a “deliberate tactic to dehumanize the victims,” she told Agence France-Presse.
Sadly, other outside observers have effectively toed the Russian line. Much to my own country’s shame, Matjaž Gams, a member of the Slovenian state council, reacted to the orgy story by suggesting that when a civilization enters its period of decay, “strange, morbid ideas” appear. But, again, which is stranger and more morbid: a sex party (where all activity is voluntary and consensual), or Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civil infrastructure and civilians (including the use of systemic rape as a military tactic)?
Putin’s latest nuclear threats were accompanied by his illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories that he does not fully control, but which the Kremlin insists “are inalienable parts of the Russian Federation … Their security is provided for at the same level as the rest of Russia’s territory.” The implication, of course, is that Ukraine is already deserving of a nuclear strike, because it is making gains in territories that supposedly fall under Russia’s nuclear umbrella. No wonder online betting sites are offering odds on Russia carrying out a nuclear attack this year, with thousands putting money on “yes.”
Lending additional credibility to the threat, Russian officials have ordered an evacuation of Kherson, which is now almost encircled by Ukrainian forces. The intended message seems clear: If Ukrainians retake the city, they will be a perfect target for a nuclear bomb. In the struggle against “Satanism,” as Putin recently put it, everything is permitted.
But equally morbid is the Western peacenik argument that Europe should send a big delegation to Russia to start negotiating the terms of peace. Obviously, we should do everything possible to prevent a new world war; but to achieve that, we must begin with a realistic appreciation of what Russia has become. That means abandoning the idea of Eurasian unity and rejecting the argument that Europe should form a power bloc with Russia to avoid becoming a junior partner to the US in its conflict with China. At this point, it is Russia, not China, that poses the greater threat to Europe.
Moreover, for Europe to pursue negotiations with Russia, it also would have to pressure Ukraine to accept a compromise. That is precisely what the Kremlin wants; it would reinforce Putin’s own argument that Ukraine is merely a Western proxy, rather than a real country with its own agency.
What is to be done? Since Russia obviously cannot be ignored, the best option is to reach out to those in Russia and in its satellites who oppose the war. As Sławomir Sierakowski recently pointed out, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration has a natural ally in the Belarusian opposition, which has been quietly doing what it can to frustrate the Russian war effort. And yet, no alliance has emerged. Instead, Ukrainian officials have publicly shown contempt for Belarusians, depicting them as “wimps and conformists.” As Sierakowski points out, this is not only immoral, but also “politically stupid.”
Russian opponents of the war find themselves in the same predicament, criticized by Putin’s establishment as traitors and by Ukraine as Russians. In this way, the meaning of the Ukrainian war is obfuscated. It is not a struggle between “European truth” and “Russian truth,” as both Putin’s ideologist Aleksandr Dugin and some Ukrainians are claiming. Ukraine is a front in the global struggle against the new nationalist fundamentalism that is gaining strength everywhere, including in the United States, India, and China.
If there is anywhere that Ukrainians have ceded a sliver of the moral high ground, it is here, in the failure to universalize their fight, not in any Dionysian dissipation outside Kyiv.
Monday, October 24, 2022
In the 1990s, Russia embraced an extreme economics that led to chaos and corruption. Now, writes the maker of explosive new series TraumaZone, Liz Truss is taking Britain down the same toxic path
The central mystery of our time is why, at a moment when the whole political and social system is out of control and in total chaos, no one seems able to imagine any alternative. The economic system is not delivering the good life it once promised, but is instead creating chaos and hardship for millions. Meanwhile, those in charge of the system are profiting massively from that chaos, feeding off the uncertainty. And the political class are in thrall to an economic theory that has become absurd and corrupted.
I’ve just made TraumaZone, a series of films about another time when that was happening. It was in Russia in the 1990s after communism collapsed. Those in charge began an experiment to create an extreme form of capitalism. I made it because I don’t think we in the west understand what the Russians went through: a cataclysm that tore apart the foundations of society.
The films are made using a unique source of material: thousands of hours of raw footage recorded by BBC crews in Russia during that time, much of it never seen before. What makes it so extraordinary is that it records the experiences of Russians at every level of society as their world fell apart: from inside the Kremlin to the frozen mining cities of the Arctic circle, from life in the tiny villages of the vast steppes to the strange wars fought in the mountains and forests of the Caucasus.
As I watched the footage I decided that I shouldn’t use my voice or paste music over it. The material was so strong that I didn’t want to intrude pointlessly, but rather let viewers simply experience what was happening, because it is was out of this – the anger, violence, desperation and overwhelming corruption – that Vladimir Putin emerged. But as I made the films, the growing chaos here in Britain made me see parallels. There are of course vast differences between our society and the Russia of 30 years ago, but the more you find out about the extreme economic experiment there, and what is happening here now with the present government, the more you see that they both share very similar roots that have nothing to do with either capitalism or communism.
The clue lies in the man who imposed the “shock therapy” experiment on Russia. Called Yegor Gaidar, he was at the heart of the communist establishment. His grandfather was the most famous writer of children’s books in the Soviet Union, and Gaidar had married the daughter of one of the Strugatsky brothers, science-fiction writers who wrote the novel the film Stalker was based on. This economist who would become acting prime minister set out to create a perfect capitalist system in Russia. He had to do it fast, he said, to stop communism from ever returning. Overnight, he removed all controls over prices, while the government gave up on any attempt to manage the system. The aim, said Gaidar, was to create a new zone of perfect freedom in which, despite initial pain, the system would find its own natural equilibrium.
But if you look closer, you will see that his plan had little to do with freedom. It was in fact an odd, machine-like vision of the world driven by pseudoscientific ideas. Gaidar believed that by unleashing “free market forces” on an extreme scale, they would act as “market stimuli” that would then automatically lead people into “rational” patterns of behaviour. In reality, it was a simplified engineering system where human beings would be reshaped, turned into the right kinds of beings to make the new system work. In that way, it was like a reverse image of the Soviet plan. It was still a way of controlling behaviour through levers, but just a different way.
And it didn’t work. It led to total chaos.
The present government in Britain under Liz Truss has just announced its own experiment with extreme capitalism. The roots of her idea lie with the famous Austrian-British economist Friedrich Hayek. Both the right and the left see him as the man who masterminded the return of the free market, what is called “neoliberalism”. But I think Hayek, who was a powerful influence on Gaidar, was actually far stranger than that.
Hayek believed that economics was the key to the future of the world because it would stop governments trying to imagine new kinds of societies. He wrote a book called The Road to Serfdom, saying that in the new age of the mass, it was impossible to impose a vision of the future on to millions of people without leading to horror – like fascism and communism had. Instead, Hayek had an epic vision in which millions of people would together create a stable social system through the signals they send each other. At the heart of that was the pricing system. Governments should pull back and not control prices – and instead allow a “spontaneous order” without central control. The people, not politicians, would create the new society together as “economic actors”.
Up to that point, economics had been important in government, but only as a tool to help manage the societies politicians wanted to build. But in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, she began an experiment that brought economic logic into the very heart of the political system. The problem was that it almost immediately went haywire. It not only created massive inflation but was one of the main reasons for the de-industrialisation of British society. As her senior advisers admitted, Thatcher very quickly gave up on the experiment and turned instead to the banks to lend people money. And a wave of cheap money and debt covered up the problems until the financial crash of 2008.
In reality, the grand ideas of Gaidar and Hayek had very little to do with ideas of the free market. They were actually rooted in old dreams born in the 19th century that science and rational systems could be used on a grand scale to replace politics, because that would avoid the human messiness and uncertainties that continually push politics off course. In fact, the system Gaidar set out to replace – the Soviet plan – was also rooted in those pseudo-scientific dreams. It had little to do with communism.
In the 1930s, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, the old ideology fell away and was replaced by a giant experiment. Human beings became simplified into components in a system that could be managed in a rational way with predictable outcomes. Those ideas also flourished in America in the 1930s. A mass movement called “technocracy” rose up. Hundreds of men and women, dressed “rationally” in grey outfits, travelled through the US calling for what they called a “Technate”, a new kind of society that would be run rationally by engineers. One of their leading members was Elon Musk’s grandfather.
But all these movements were really the product of a weird overreach of science attempting to grab and colonise the political realm. And in reality, those experiments always failed. Whether in the Soviet Union, or in 1980s Britain, or under Gaidar’s shock therapy, and now with Liz Truss, it never creates a rational system. It actually creates the opposite: a system that becomes increasingly unequal and open to exploitation by a small elite. And there are no political levers to stop them.
In Russia, the films show moments that capture the terrifying speed with which the chasm between rich and poor opened up. Thousands couldn’t even afford food or pay for heating while the health service collapsed around them. Bewildered shoppers are told “there are no potatoes in Moscow”, while the new elite restage elaborate 18th-century balls in old palaces outside St Petersburg.
We see the ruthless self-interest of managers and gangsters as they discover more and more ways to loot the failing state, with machines in the oligarchs’ “banks” endlessly counting millions of rouble notes before they are moved into offshore zones. And no one in the political system could stop them. At the heart of all this was an increasingly drunken president Yeltsin who sat in the Kremlin staring at the wall saying to his bodyguard: “They are stealing Russia.”
And in Britain, quantitative easing and the extreme rise in asset prices and property it brought about are as destructive to the lives of millions of ordinary people as were the oligarchs in Russia in the 1990s. The kind of freedom that this sort of technate offers is always very limited: people are just components in a system, free to do what they want, but only within the narrow logic of the iron cage of pseudoscientific economics. A world where they dance, but only in those chains.
At this time of economic chaos, it feels imperative to reassess what both the west and Russia actually went through in the past 50 years. Perhaps it was neither communism nor the free market that failed, but the Technate. We should clear away the pseudoscience of economics that has politicians trapped in a death grip – and look again at both capitalism and communism for the human values and aspirations they contain. And from that could come real alternative visions of the future.
Sunday, October 23, 2022
Saturday, October 22, 2022
Thursday, October 20, 2022
The Current State of 'Normal' Science
-it would always be cold, or moving slowly compared to the speed of light,But is it something else (MOND)?
-it would exist in five times the abundance of normal matter,
-it would gravitate, but wouldn’t experience the electromagnetic or nuclear interactions,
-it wouldn’t collide with either itself or with any of the Standard Model particles,
-but it would curve space just as surely as any entity with mass or energy would
Monday, October 17, 2022
Despite his reputation for telling jokes and the central role that humor plays in his philosophy, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek does not have a theory of comedy. In his work, Žižek does not just tell jokes or explain the popularity of certain genres such as Holocaust comedy films. He has also made brief interventions in the theory of comedy that include mostly applications of Hegel’s theory of objective humor or Alenka Zupančič’s Hegelian theory of comedy. At the outset of the “The Christian Hegelian Comedy,” he even suggests a triadic Hegelian structure for jokes that moves from inclusion into a series, to an exclusion from a series, and finally to “tautology as supreme contradiction.”1
His oeuvre still lacks, nevertheless, an extended discussion of the political value of objective humor, in particular, and comedy, in general, in his Hegelian-Lacanian philosophy; nor does he discuss the role of objective humor in his emancipatory communist project. The urgency of such a Žižekian theory of objective humor should not be viewed merely as Žižek’s response to his liberal and leftist critics, who dismiss his jokes and humor, including the “safe” ones, as purportedly reactionary and politically incorrect.2 Rather, since Žižek views dominant forms of contemporary laughter and comedy as constitutive of the ideological hegemony of the global capitalist system today, it becomes imperative to question, in Zupančič’s words, “whether promoting comedy is not part of the same process.”3 If laughter should still be reloaded, then a theory of liberating or inherently subversive jokes and of their role in the class struggle is in order.
Žižek’s jokes: The power of negativity
It is commonly believed that Žižek uses jokes in his work to illuminate obscure and abstract philosophical concepts. For some scholars, jokes and philosophy inhabit an overlapping metaphysical space in his work, which is thus made easier to understand. As Todd McGowan observes, we are “secretly philosophizing when we engage in comedy” and “we are also implicitly theorizing about comedy when we philosophize.”4
Humor, writes John Morreall, “often embodies the critical, imaginative attitude prized by philosophers.”5 Unsurprisingly, Morreall identifies eight similarities between the (radical) stand-up comic and the philosopher, some of which could apply to Žižek’s humor. For example, Morreall notes that both comedians and philosophers do not only engage in reflections and ask questions about everyday life experiences, but also propose alternative surprising perspectives. Moreover, (emancipatory) comedy and philosophy oppose “blind belief and unquestioning obedience” and question, or reject, authority and tradition.6
Nonetheless, Morreall believes comics and philosophers view issues “from a higher perspective than our normal one.”7 While Žižek’s dialectical materialist philosophy rejects the possibility of a philosophical or comedic metalanguage that Morreall claims is characteristic of philosophy and standup comedy, Morreall’s point might be partially true with regards to comic characters.
In Žižek’s Hegelian-Lacanian philosophy, metalanguage fails to account for the subject’s own position within reality—the subject remains the main gap and void that cannot be accounted for within reality. However, Žižek also maintains in a “properly Hegelian way,” that a comic character “always retains the ability to observe himself from outside, “making fun of himself.”8 Because of this intellectual overlap between comedy and philosophy, as Broderick Chow contends, Žižek “is rarely interested in whether or not anyone is laughing.”9 Ultimately, he claims, Žižek uses jokes in order to make a profound philosophical point (Chow thinks it has to do with the ontological incompleteness of reality), but the exact nature of this point is still open for debate.
Scholars have also explained the function of the comic mode in Žižek’s work in the context of twentieth century existentialist philosophies of finitude. For Thomas Brockelman, Žižek is ‘‘laughing at finitude’’ in Heidegger’s work, in a way that exposes the self-deception in Heidegger’s project and that repudiates the ‘tragic’ voice in existential treatments of finitude.”10 McGowan, in turn, makes a direct link between Žižek’s jokes and existentialist philosophies of finitude, reading his jokes as a direct response to these philosophies that prevailed in the last century. McGowan thus writes, “[Žižek] offers comic respite from the seriousness of the many philosophers of finitude who followed in Heidegger’s wake— Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, and so on.”11
Three main points can be made about the levity in Žižek’s work. First, his jokes about the absurdity of the human condition betray his pessimistic diagnoses of the coming apocalypse. The title of an article in The Guardian sums it up succinctly: “Slavoj Žižek’s Jokes Are No Laughing Matter.”12 Indeed, for him, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are at the door and disorder is not under heaven anymore, but more likely in heaven itself.13 In his post-Maoist analysis, Žižek insists that the fundamental antagonism is more clearly visible not between but “within each particular country.”14
Second, the power of comedy does not lie in its ability to mock human dignity or continuously laugh at the “ridiculous contingencies of our terrestrial existence.”15 Rather, as he says about Holocaust comedies, comedy testifies to the utter failure of tragedy to register the “banality of evil” today.16 There is nothing monstrous or impenetrable about the “radical evil” of the Nazi Other; they were just “average bureaucrats” and their “psychological profiles” fail to offer any insight into the horrors they committed. Only comedy, therefore, can accept “in advance its failure to render the horror of the holocaust,” since the Holocaust exists outside the limits of representation and signification.
Finally, comedy solemnizes the power of negativity itself that is embodied in concrete individuals as “the only true universality.” For Hegel, as Mark Roche notes, comedy is “immanent negation” and what it commonly negates is “the false elevation of subjectivity or particularity.”17 In comedy, as Hegel suggests, the limits of representation are overcome.
Drawing on Zupančič’s Hegelian theory of comedy as the work of concrete universality, Žižek maintains that comedy constitutes “the full assertion of universality, the immediate coincidence of universality with the character’s/actor’s singularity.”18 The gap between the actor and his persona is “posited as inherent” to either term, in a way that allows a comic character not only to identify with himself, but also to “observe himself from outside.” At this moment, the universal is actualized and takes on concrete form. As McGowan explains in relation to Zupančič’s theory, this provokes laughter, because when the universal is concretized, the “distance that we imagine between the universal and the concrete” disappears.19
The Mode of Žižek’s Jokes: Hegelian or Kantian?
Although Žižek explicitly draws on Zupančič’s Hegelian theory of comedy and the interplay of the universal and particular at its core, critics have offered different explanations for the philosophical traditions that ground the structure of his jokes. While McGowan claims that all Žižek’s jokes “reside in the spirit of Hegel” (106), Chow contends that his jokes can be understood as both Hegelian-Lacanian at the ontological and metaphysical levels and implicitly Kantian at the political level.
For McGowan, the dialectic of the infinite and the finite in Hegel’s philosophy “functions as the hidden source for Žižek’s humor.”20 He thus shows that Žižek’s jokes are organic to his political philosophy and the impossibility of confining “ourselves to finitude no matter how diligently we try.” Perhaps because he finds Zupančič’s theory limited in its application, McGowan does not interrogate Žižek’s appropriation of Zupančič’s theory and the workings of concrete universality in his writing about Christianity. Instead, he analyzes the structure of a couple of Žižek’s jokes along the finite-infinite dialectic, by showing how the infinite intrudes “on the finite world in ways that subjects do not expect and that thus trip them up.” When the impossible happens and contradictory events occur, we laugh because the “infinite returns in our acts.”21
His analysis of these jokes demonstrates the egalitarian potential of Žižek’s jokes. As McGowan points out, egalitarian comedy reveals not only the fundamental antagonisms within the social order, but also the contradictions and internal divisors that characterize “both the source of the comedy and its.”22 In addition, egalitarian comedy must also consider its effects on the audience.
A good example of this is the representation of ethnic stereotype in Chappelle’s “Dixie sketches.” As James O’Rourke shows, these racist sketches offer complex rhetorical strategies that leave the audience “wondering whether they really should have laughed at Chappelle being called a “big-lipped bitch.”23 Although the audience unquestionably doubted the legitimacy of these racist jokes, the doubt was “easily reabsorbed into a circuit of exchange in which the freedom of spontaneous laughter becomes the dominant commodity that obliterates all other values.”24 This is what Chappelle came to painfully realize about the egalitarian potential of comedy.
Furthermore, Chow is generally in agreement with McGowan’s analysis of the Hegelian subtext of Žižek’s jokes, but he adds a Lacanian and a Kantian twist to explain the role jokes play in Žižek’s oeuvre. For Žižek, he claims, the incommensurable and illogical structure of the joke “points to the gaps in our own symbolic universe.”25 The joke in Žižek’s work can appear as a meaningless distraction, but this meaninglessness is exactly what exposes the truth of the Real as jokes force us to “look awry” at reality (232).
The fact that jokes can expose the void of the Real makes them a source of anxiety. Invoking Zupančič’s analysis of the interplay between pleasure and “existential anxiety,” Chow shows that “laughter makes the joke an acceptable aesthetic object (or practice) but lessens its possibilities for radical discomfort” (229). Laughter, that is, covers up the void in the Real that results from the shifts in the “signifying chain” that structure the joke.
At the political level, moreover, Chow implicitly introduces a Kantian dimension to Žižek’s jokes. He contends that the function of the joke in the context of live stand-up performance, in particular, is not to “[in] produc[ing] a sensus communis but rather in inaugurating a deep, ontological dissensus, revealing the zero- level of politics itself.”26 As he explains:
“. . . comedy in performance oscillates between the enjoyment of laughter and the possibility of discomfort, always approaching the edge of failure. Performance comedy is most politically significant (and exciting) when it positions the comic in a place where he risks symbolic death (a stand- up set that goes badly is called ‘dying’ in the comedian’s argot, at least in the UK). In the midst of the pleasurable sensus communis of laughing together is the possibility of dissensus; in this way, performance comedy demonstrates the precariousness of our identifications and our ways of being together.” (231)
That said, Chow does not unpack the philosophical origins of his theory toolbox. In an article on Dave Chappelle’s controversial 2019 stand-up comedy special Sticks & Stones, however, Patrick Giamario demonstrates how laughter in Kant enacts dissensus, by disrupting and transforming sensus communis, or “the ways subjects see and hear the world in common that organize and structure a political community.”27
Disavowing Laughter: Laughing while Rejecting Laughter
Regardless of how and why Žižek uses laughter and humor and its philosophical sources, there is a central paradox in his approach to comedy. As Zupančič suggests, one cannot simply dismiss laughter because it is coopted under the global capitalist system today, while also engaging in the production of the same comic practices. It is not that you should not or cannot laugh anymore, but Žižek needs a theory to explain the principles, structures, and operation of such emancipatory laughter within the framework of his Hegelian-Lacanian philosophy and communist politics.
In his work, Žižek raises important questions about the value of comedy and laughter under late capitalism. In his critique of Umberto Eco’s popular novel, The Name of the Rose, Žižek argues that the most disturbing aspect of this text is its “underlying belief in the liberating, anti-totalitarian force of laughter, of ironic distance.”28 As such, the greatest form of totalitarianism today is not the lack of laughter, but, rather, the prevalence of cynicism, irony, and laughter.
Laughter, therefore, is internal to the cultural logic of late capitalism—it is a “part of the game.” That is, laughter cannot produce or deliver either emancipation or modes of resistance and transgression, if it ever did, since it is completely plugged into the structures of the global capitalist system itself and its economy of affect. 29 One can even make a direct link between Žižek’s pessimistic apocalypticism and his rejection of laughter. As Walter Benjamin writes, laughter expresses the magnitude of humanity’s self-alienation. For Benjamin, humanity’s “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”30
Žižek reiterates his main critique of laughter and comedy in his op-ed on Hegel and Trump’s objective humor for this publication. He notes the function of jokes in stabilizing totalitarian regimes, which presumably created a department to invent and disseminate anti-regime jokes.31 Moreover, he develops a Hegelian critique of subjective humor, which is “more actual than ever today,” especially in relation to liberal late-night talk shows. For Hegel, subjective humor marked art’s dissolution.32
Quoting Zupančič, Žižek implicitly invokes the supremacy theory of comedy in order to lambaste liberal and leftist late-night talk shows for arrogantly “scolding and insulting” the poor who “blindly” follow the populist elites. They keep forgetting that these people identify with Trump’s weaknesses, and the more they perceive him as a victim of liberal attacks, the more they identify with him. Parodying Trump, therefore, is useless. To paraphrase his point, the best jokes on Trump are nothing compared to “the joke that is Trump’s actual politics.” To this effect, Žižek cites Stephen Marche’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which he critiques this persistent singular parody of Trump as a “distraction from his real politics” at best. At worst, he adds, this parody “converts the whole of politics into a gag.”
The problem with such parodies is that they try to parody “a man who is a conscious self-parody.” As Žižek correctly points out, any parody of this self-parody is self-defeating, because it will never open a gap between the actual person and his own self-representation as a comic heel, as Marche says using the pro-wrestling lingo to describe Trump, and pop cultural icon. In short, subjective humor is “utterly impotent.” Instead of posing a serious threat to the system, subjective humor’s “namby-pamby and sentimental” tendencies, to use Hegel’s words, just reinforce the ironic subject’s “illusion of inner freedom and superiority.”33
The question must be raised at this point as to whether laughter can still be reloaded and used in the service of class struggle. During the first two decades after the October Revolution, comics, artists, and theorists contended with this same problem and vigorously debated the aesthetics and social and role of humor, laughter, and satire in the fledgling Soviet Union. Many of them, as per Dmitrii Orlov, believed that “art and laughter are implements of battle.”34
In those days, as Anne Gérin points out, poking fun at a high-ranking officials was acceptable, if not encouraged, and the “people who understood and loved Soviet power could make jokes, and no one would be offended by them.”35 However, some theorists like Nicolai Krynetskii, questioned the utility of satire in the post-revolutionary era. Rhetorically asking whether Soviet artists should engage in satire, Krynetskii wrote: “The pre-revolutionary press had no choice but to do this . . . . Angry laughter was its only weapon. The laughter of the liberal pre-revolutionary press was a measurement of its helplessness against absolutist tsarism.”36
The legacy of one of those theorists, Anatoly Lunacharskii, People’s Commissar for the Enlightenment from 1917 to 1929, reflects the challenges of using laughter and satire as an emancipatory tool. Gérin shows how Lunacharskii not only “appreciated and loved laughter”; he also firmly believed that “the role of laughter is as important as ever in our struggle, the last struggle for the emancipation of human beings.”37 In fact, he started working on a book manuscript tentatively titled “Laughter as a Weapon in Class Struggle,” but never had a chance to complete it.38
While he explicitly rejected propagandistic art, Lunacharskii subscribed to the superiority theory of comedy and believed in using laughter, satire and humor to announce the “thunder of the upcoming battle” and mock, humiliate and defeat “enemies of the regime.”39 Lunacharskii also believed that laughter and satire were instrumental in “opening up a space to imagine and enact the new” and for creating the “distance necessary for autocriticism.”40
Dobrenko and Jonsson-Skradol make clear that Luncharskii rejected mere laughter and its premise of superiority in favor of satire and reflexivity, self-criticism and division. As the years passed, they write, Lunacharskii abandoned his “egalitarian utopia of popular laughter,” which he described as a “sanitary worker,” a disinfectant “that drives away all this vermin,” and substituted it for satire.41 In his article “On Satire” (1930), therefore, he advocated mastery over “the freedom of true self-criticism.”42
It is not clear whether underlying this shift in Lunacharskii’s work is a Hegelian belief in the power of objective humor. As Moland states, Hegel introduced the idea of objective humor later (1828) in his lectures on aesthetics, offering a mode by which comics could express their subjectivity through the object.43 Objective humorists recognize the antagonisms that rend reality apart, including the subject and the object of comedy. To use Roche’s modified translation of the passage that Žižek quotes, “The comic is to show a person or a thing as it dissolves itself internally in its very gloating. If the thing is not itself its contradiction, the comic element is superficial and groundless.”44
Rather than directly subverting their objects, comics “vivify and expand the smallest details” about the way the object presents itself, “taking it more seriously than it takes itself, and in this way allows it to destroy itself.” This also means, as Moland notes, that they also invest these objects “with more subjectivity,” bring the subjective and the objective together, privilege everyday experiences, and acknowledge the role of humans in the “mutual shaping of reality.”45
When I started working on this article, my original plan was to explore the way comedy and philosophy intersected in Žižek’s and Dave Chappelle’s recent controversial positions on various political and social issues. After reflecting on their positions and how they overlap and diverge within the conventions and structures of stand-up comedy and philosophical interventions, I struggled with the problem of the absence of a theory of comedy and laughter in Žižek’s work. Chow’s article reminded me that I was not the first to pose this question to Žižek: in a lecture at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London, he was asked what immanent role jokes played in his theory. However, Žižek did not volunteer an answer to this question back then. Hopefully, we can get an answer this time around.
Notes:1. Slavoj Žižek, “The Christian Hegelian Comedy,” Cabinet Magazine, Laughter: Special Issue, Spring 2005, https://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/17/zizek.php
2. Needless to mention, Žižek’s critics have called him any number of pejorative terms that reduce him to jocularity and foolishness, but these critiques boil down to ad hominem attacks that either simply misunderstand his work in general or fail to explore the role that humor plays in his philosophy and politics more seriously. For a quick overview of some of these attacks, see Broderick Chow, “The Tickling Object: Žižek and Comedy,” Žižek and Performance, edited by Broderick Chow and Alex Mangold, Palgrave MacMillan, 2014, pp. 224-25.
3. Alenka Zupančič, The Odd One In: On Comedy, MIT Press, 2008, p.7
4. Todd Mcgowan, Only a Joke can Save Us: A Theory of Comedy, Northwestern UP, 2017, p. 108.
5. John Morreall, Comic relief: A Comprehensive theory of humor, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, p. 129.
6. Op. Cit. p. 129.
7. Op. Cit. p. 127.
8. Slavoj Žižek and and Boris Gunjević, God in Pain: Inversion of the Apocalypse, Seven Stories Press, 2012, p. 179. Žižek’s claim here underpins his argument for reloading racist jokes in non-racist, obscene jokes about oneself. Instead of the PC prohibition against racist jokes, he suggests in a Big Think youtube video titled, “Slavoj Žižek on Political Correctness: Why ‘Tolerance’ Is Patronizing,” that these little obscenities can create a space for respect for and shared solidarity with others in a true egalitarian atmosphere.
9. Chow, ibid., p. 232.
10. Thomas Brockelman, “Laughing at Finitude: Slavoj Žižek Reads Being and Time” Continental Philosophy Review, vol. 41, no. 4, Dec. 2008, pp. 481–99, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11007-008-9094-5.
11. McGowan, ibid. p. 108. In a recent online symposium, “We should be Willing to Go to the End,” Graham Harman notes that Žižek’s work made an indelible impact on him as a graduate philosophy student, since Žižek’s style radically departed from contemporary common conventions in the field that were set by Derrida and Foucault, adding that his jokes made him laugh again!!
12. Lindesay Irvine, “Slavoj Žižek’s Jokes Are No Laughing Matter,” The Guardian, 6 Jan. 2012, www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/jan/06/slavoj-zizek-jokes.
13. Slavoj Žižek, Disorder in Heaven, Or Books, 2021, p.1.
14. Op. Cit. p. 2.
15. Žižek, God in Pain, p. 180.
16. Slavoj Žižek, “Laugh Yourself to Death: The New Wave of Holocaust Comedies!,” Lacan.com., Dec 15, 1999, https://www.lacan.com/zizekholocaust.htm
17. Mark W. Roche, “Hegel’s theory of comedy in the context of Hegelian and modern reflections on comedy,” Revue internationale de philosophie, vol. 221, no. 3, 2002, pp. 415.
18. Žižek, God in Pain, p. 180.
19. McGowan, ibid. p. 61.
20. McGowan, ibid. p. 107. McGowan also acknowledges the role that Žižek’s “particular personality” plays in making comedy “a major part of [his]theoretical program” (McGowan 12). One can also point to the influence of the tradition of obscene Balkan humor that makes comedy central to his work. In a short youtube video titled, “Where is Balkan,” from Hermann Vaske’s film, Balkan Spirit (2012), Žižek explains that obscene Balkan humor functioned as “a survival strategy” during the desperate times that people in the region had to go through.
21. McGowan, ibid. p. 108.
22. Op. Cit. p. 164.
23. James O’Rourke, “The guilty pleasures of bigotry: ethnic stereotypes in Trevor Nunn’s Merchant of Venice and Dave Chappelle’s pixie sketches,” Shakespeare, vol. 12, no. 3, 2016, pp. 288.
24. Op. Cit. p. 292.
25. Chow, ibid. p. 229.
26. Op. Cit. p. 227.
27. Patrick Giamario, “Laughter as dissensus: Kant and the limits of normative theorizing around laughter,” Contemporary Political Theory, vol. 20, no. 4, 2020, pp. 797.
28. Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Verso, 1989, p. 28.
29. Tyson Edward Lewis, “Paulo Freire’s Last Laugh: Rethinking critical pedagogy’s funny bone through Jacques Rancièr,” Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 42, no. 5-6, 2010, pp. 637.
30. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Penguin Books, 2008.
31. Slavoj Žižek, “Hegel on Trump’s Objective Humor,” The Philosophical Salon, 15 Jan, 2018, https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/hegel-on-donal-trumps-objective-humor/
32. Lydia Moland, Hegel’s Aesthetics: The art of idealism. Oxford UP, 2019, p. 139.
33. Žižek, “Hegel on Trump’s Objective Humor.”
34 Annie Gérin, Devastation and Laughter: Satire, Power, and Culture in the Early Soviet State (1920s-1930s), University of Toronto Press, 2018, p.3. Marcus Pound notes the political utility of Zupančič’s theory of comedy for Žižek’s radical politics, because she foregrounds the “subversive edge” of jokes. Although Pound analyzes Zupančič’s and Žižek’s “postmodern comic theory” as examples of the “so called Slovene-Lacan School,” his discussion focuses, for obvious reasons, exclusively on the former. Ironically, he still insists on referring to Žižek’s theory of comedy, even though he notes that he has taken up her work “entirely appreciatively—. . . as his own.” See Marcus Pound, “Comic Subjectivity: Žižek and Zupančič’s Spiritual Work of Art,” International Journal of Žižek Studies, vol. 4, no. 4, p. 5.
35. Op. Cit. p. 35.
36. Evgeny Dobrenko and Natalia Jonsson-Skradol, State Laughter: Stalinism, Populism, and Origins of Soviet Culture, Oxford University Press, 2022, p.48.
37, Gérin, ibid., p. 34.
38. Op. Cit. p. 14.
39. Op. Cit. p. 34.
40. Op. Cit. p. 140, p. 192.
41. Dobrenko and Jonsson-Skradol, ibid. p. 45.
42. Only a few years after the October Revolution, nevertheless, the power of laughter and satire was harnessed to the service of the Soviet state. For example, Gérin shows that the comedic community in Moscow worked in cahoots with the regime, and Dobrenko and Jonsson-Skradol argue that laughter became instrumental in the survival of the Soviet bureaucratic regime. They show that satire and popular humor became fundamental tools in interpellating citizens to state ideology and legitimizing Stalinist culture. In the era of Stalinist heroic narratives, “ “victorious laughter” was mobilized “against all the ‘remnants of the past’ that were swarming around the stage of the great heroic drama being acted out in the Soviet state” (44).
43. Moland, ibid. p. 139.
44. Roche, ibid. p. 415.
45. Moland, ibid. pp. 140-144.
Unfinished Eggs from Archimedes Workshop...
Archimedes, a Greek who lived in the Sicilian port of Syracuse in the third century BC, was an ingenious inventor, best known for shouting “Eureka!” after inspiration struck.
When Archimedes’ hometown was attacked by the Roman army and navy in 215 BC, the old inventor designed a number of war machines to fight back. Archimedes’ devices at the siege of Syracuse soon became legendary, and were chronicled by later historians Polybius, Livy, and Plutarch.
How Archimedes Defended the Walls of Syracuse
According to the historians, the Romans at Syracuse were repelled by a wide variety of clever devices. Archimedes had prepared large catapults for flinging stones of several hundred pounds to repel the attackers from a distance, and smaller, short-range engines for when they managed to get closer.
Into the walls Archimedes had cut a number of arrow-loops through which archers and “small scorpions,” small missile-engines possibly like crude crossbows, shot at the Romans.
Moreover, Archimedes had built contraptions into the walls themselves: these were great beams that would remain hidden until swinging out over the top of the walls and dropping heavy stones or grappling hooks onto any attackers that got too close.
Archimedes Destroys Roman Ships
The deluge of missiles from the city’s catapults also kept Roman ships at bay. But even when the Romans tried to sneak their ships to the city walls at night, shots from the arrow-loops decimated the sailors, while stones dropped from the walls smashed the ships.
Archimedes also employed cranes, which would drop grappling-hooks onto the ships, seize and lift their bows from the water, and then release them, overturning, capsizing, or filling them with sea-water.
The Roman soldiers became terrified and fled “whenever they saw a bit of rope or stick of timber projecting a little over the wall”, convinced that Archimedes was about to unleash some fantastic new weapon upon them. As a result, the Roman commanders resigned themselves to a long siege, and it would be three years before the city finally fell.
Later Myths About Archimedes’ War Machines
Despite some exaggeration, all that Polybius, Livy, and Plutarch describe is plausible. But the story that Archimedes set the Roman ships on fire appears to be a later invention, as it is not found in the classical historians.
The first mention of it occurs in Lucian (c. 120–180 AD), who only states that Archimedes was able to burn the ships by artificial means. One variation tells of Archimedes using an elaborate combination of mirrors or polished shields to focus the sun’s rays on the Roman ships like a giant magnifying glass. This version, however, can be traced back only as far as to Galen (130–200 AD).
Leonardo da Vinci claimed to have read how Archimedes, while in Spain, had employed some form of Greek Fire – a mixture of burning liquids – in naval warfare; possibly that is to what Lucian referred. However, Greek Fire did not come into regular use until the seventh century AD.
It is likely that myths of Archimedes had, over the centuries, grown to the point where he received credit for weapons that were invented long after his death. That is a testament to the creativity of the Greek inventor who held off the most powerful army of his day for so long.
Sources:1. Mark C. Bartusis, The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society, 1204-1453, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
2. E. J. Dijksterhuis, Archimedes, trans. C. Dikshoorn, Ejnar Munksgaard, 1956.
3. Livy (Titus Livius), Ab Urbe Condita, trans. Frank Gardner Moore, Harvard University Press, 1961.
4. Plutarch, “Life of Marcellus,” Plutarch’s Lives, trans. Bernadotte Perrin, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1917.
5. Polybius, The Histories, trans. W. R. Paton, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1923.
Sunday, October 16, 2022
"White Lies Matter": The "Grease" of Social Capital...
"Lies are told only to convey to someone that one has no need either of him or his good opinion."Theodor W. Adorno
Readers had many thoughts on that artifact of the current cultural wars, namely, political correctness. Below are some of the most thoughtful and provocative, led by Melanie Huff, the Assistant Dean of Students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where I am currently a visiting professor. She offers some illuminating personal history.Back in the late 80s when I was in grad school, I ran with an unabashedly liberal crowd whose favorite acronym was PC for Politically Correct. I do not know when the term was coined but it felt fresh and exciting. If we had had a mission statement it would have been to render the world more PC. We devoted much time and intellectual energy to deconstructing all that we encountered for white, male, wealthy, heterocentric exclusivity. PC summed up in two easy letters everything in which we believed.
Our zealousness was fueled in large part by anger at the AIDS epidemic. Several of my friends were active in ACT-UP.
AIDS and the world's reaction to it cast a bright light on many of the decidedly un-PC premises still in place in spite of the civil rights, women's rights and gay rights victories that had been achieved at that time.
The mood then was to view political correctness not as a long-range goal to be achieved through education, but as a concept whose time had come and whose immediate implementation was imperative—people were dying!They were not wrong and Act-Up and other activists of that time achieved a great deal.NPR newscaster Jamie McIntyre also weighed in:
But it is perhaps that urgency and sense of rigid orthodoxy—you are with us or against us—that made the term suspect. In disallowing discourse and seeming to attack those who didn't subscribe, the mission was undermined. Looking back, I think that is how the term devolved. While the underlying beliefs of the PC doctrine are absolutely something to which to aspire, the term is undeniably tainted and at this point likely counterproductive to a dialogue that can result in substantive, positive change.
I agree that being political can be noble. It is perhaps the word correct that is more problematic. Correct is understood to be the opposite of wrong. It is a fixed notion. Perhaps we need a new term that isn't so easily perceived as accusatory. Politically sensitive? Politically inclusive?After reading your thoughtful discourse on the use of the terms "politically correct," and "political correctness," and "political correctness gone too far," I was struck with the inescapable irony that labeling the phrase "politically correct" politically incorrect is the ultimate in political correctness gone too far.Julia Schauble (JuliaNadine) wrote, referring to NPR's vice president for diversity, Keith Woods, who considered the term a pejorative to be avoided:
The danger inherent in attempting to speak in a "politically correct" manner, is that in an effort to avoid offending the most sensitive members of our society or audience, we ban the use of perfectly good, accurate descriptive phrases for fear of running afoul of a small group of people with a political agenda. Hence the phrase "politically correct."
At its worst, political correctness can be a form of Orwellian newspeak in which non-pejorative descriptions that accurately convey clear unambiguous thoughts are demonized, and banned in favor of bland replacements. A "war-lord" becomes a "faction leader." Words are drained of their meanings.
Hence people who are in the country illegally are "illegal immigrants." We should NOT be afraid to use that description, which is, by the way the style followed by both the AP and New York Times. The phrase "undocumented immigrant" may be more accurate for a specific person, for whom we don't know their legal status. But it's not a great substitute for "illegal immigrants."
That's just one example. But to suggest that when we have debates about when political correctness goes too far, we can't or shouldn't use the perfectly serviceable and descriptive phrase "politically correct," well, that just strikes me as absurdly ironic.
People want to ban words because they don't like the ideas behind them. It's one step away from banning ideas.
That is not to excuse or to condone truly hurtful, hateful and inaccurate words and phrases that reinforce stereotypes and should have no place in civil discourse, much less our reporting. We need to choose words carefully, and avoid insulting formulations. I, for example never use "Mecca" to refer to a popular place, as in "shopping Mecca." I consider that insulting to Islam, even if many people don't.
But here's the real chilling effect of pretending political correctness is itself a pejorative: it means we can't talk about it in a meaningful way. It suggests that excessive political correctness doesn't exist. And it labels those of use who think of it is a real phenomena and a real problem insensitive Neanderthals.I agree with Keith Woods and am glad that you looked it up in the dictionary for me. The last time somebody used the term "politically correct" to describe something I said, I was offended because I thought that implied insincerity and saying what I thought I was "supposed to" say. Consideration and sensivity are good; political correctness is bad. So don't use the word unless you intend it to be pejorative.Tom Hanks (Not_The_Actor) wrote:It was bound to happen. It is no longer politically correct to call political correctness "political correctness."Miss M (Marceline) wrote:Political correctness is a pejorative term for what used to be called common courtesy. People who don't want to be bothered with thinking about how their words and action affect other people are usually the first to charge someone with political correctness.Cullen Seltzer wrote on Facebook:
For instance, is it politically correct to use the term "Native American" where we once said "Indian?" Or is it just accuracy? Some people don't want to have to think about such things. Those are the ones who are the first to complain about "political correctness."My sense is that the term "politically correct" is almost always used disdainfully as an objection to being unnaturally forced to accept something as true when the speaker knows it to be false. A typical example: "I know it's not 'politically correct,' but I walk across the street when I see a young black man walking towards me." The speaker wants the listener to believe he isn't a racist, he's just a realist, and that only a fool would ignore reality in service to some hyper-idealized notion of liberal sentimentality.As I expected, my idealistic conception of political correctness lost out to the pejorative connotation now attached to the expression. I agree with the apparent position of McIntyre and Hank, however, and not with Woods, over whether one can even use the term "political correctness." Your own continued thoughts are welcome.
Political Correctness, the polite lie's vanishing mediator becomes the new "truth".
Saturday, October 15, 2022
The Great 'En-Framing' (Gestell) within a Digital Ship of Theseus
When Gestell holds sway, "it drives out every other possibility of revealing" and that it "conceals that revealing which, in the sense of poiesis, lets what presences come forth into appearance.
“‘Cyclops, thou askest me my renowned name, and I will declare it unto thee, and do thou grant me a stranger’s gift, as thou didst promise. Noman is my name, and Noman they call me, my father and my mother and all my fellows.’
“So I spake, and straightway he answered me out of his pitiless heart:
“‘Noman will I eat last in the number of his fellows, and the others before him: that shall be thy gift.’
“Therewith he sank backwards and fell with face upturned, and there he lay with his great neck bent round, and sleep, that conquers all men, overcame him. And the wine and the fragments of men’s flesh issued forth from his mouth, and he vomited, being heavy with wine. Then I thrust in that stake under the deep ashes, until it should grow hot, and I spake to my companions comfortable words, lest any should hang back from me in fear. But when that bar of olive wood was just about to catch fire in the flame, green though it was, and began to glow terribly, even then I came nigh, and drew it from the coals, and my fellows gathered about me, and some god breathed great courage into us. For their part they seized the bar of olive wood, that was sharpened at the point, and thrust it into his eye, while I from my place aloft turned it about, as when a man bores a ship’s beam with a drill while his fellows below spin it with a strap, which they hold at either end, and the auger runs round continually. Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame. And as when a smith dips an axe or adze in chill water with a great hissing, when he would temper it—for hereby anon comes the strength of iron—even so did his eye hiss round the stake of olive. And he raised a great and terrible cry, that the rock rang around, and we fled away in fear, while he plucked forth from his eye the brand bedabbled in much blood. Then maddened with pain he cast it from him with his hands, and called with a loud voice on the Cyclôpes, who dwelt about him in the caves along the windy heights. And they heard the cry and flocked together from every side, and gathering round the cave asked him what ailed him:
“‘What hath so distressed thee, Polyphemus, that thou criest thus aloud through the immortal night, and makest us sleepless? Surely no mortal driveth off thy flocks against thy will: surely none slayeth thyself by force or craft?’
“And the strong Polyphemus spake to them again from out the cave: ‘My friends, Noman is slaying me by guile, nor at all by force.’
“And they answered and spake winged words: ‘If then no man is violently handling thee in thy solitude, it can in no wise be that thou shouldest escape the sickness sent by mighty Zeus. Nay, pray thou to thy father, the lord Poseidon.’
“On this wise they spake and departed; and my heart within me laughed to see how my name and cunning counsel had beguiled them.
Homer, "The Odyssey"
Difference between Ashlar masonry (left) and Cyclopean masonry (right), shown in the blue rectangle; Lion Gate, Mycenae, 13th century BCE
Dark Matter...The Modern Quintessence?
“Man is a rope,” Zarathustra cries out to the crowd, “fastened between animal and Superman – a rope over an abyss."- Nietzsche, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"
Nietzsche, "Thus Spake Zarathustra"
Then, however, something happened which made every mouth mute and every eye fixed. In the meantime, of course, the rope-dancer (-FJ) had commenced his performance: he had come out at a little door, and was going along the rope which was stretched between two towers, so that it hung above the market-place and the people. When he was just midway across, the little door opened once more, and a gaudily-dressed (beamish/ Q) fellow like a buffoon sprang out, and went rapidly after the first one. "Go on, halt-foot," cried his frightful voice, "go on, lazy-bones, interloper, sallow-face!—lest I tickle thee with my heel! What dost thou here between the towers? In the tower is the place for thee, thou shouldst be locked up; to one better than thyself thou blockest the way!"—And with every word he came nearer and nearer the first one. When, however, he was but a step behind, there happened the frightful thing which made every mouth mute and every eye fixed—he uttered a yell like a devil, and jumped over the other who was in his way. The latter, however, when he thus saw his rival triumph, lost at the same time his head and his footing on the rope; he threw his pole away, and shot downwards faster than it, like an eddy of arms and legs, into the depth. The market-place and the people were like the sea when the storm cometh on: they all flew apart and in disorder, especially where the body was about to fall.
Zarathustra, however, remained standing, and just beside him fell the body, badly injured and disfigured, but not yet dead. After a while consciousness returned to the shattered man (+FJ), and he saw Zarathustra kneeling beside him. "What art thou doing there?" said he at last, "I knew long ago that the devil would trip me up. Now he draggeth me to hell: wilt thou prevent him?"
"On mine honour, my friend," answered Zarathustra, "there is nothing of all that whereof thou speakest: there is no devil and no hell. Thy soul will be dead even sooner than thy body: fear, therefore, nothing any more!"
The man looked up distrustfully. "If thou speakest the truth," said he, "I lose nothing when I lose my life. I am not much more than an animal which hath been taught to dance by blows and scanty fare."
"Not at all," said Zarathustra, "thou hast made danger thy calling; therein there is nothing contemptible. Now thou perishest by thy calling: therefore will I bury thee with mine own hands."
When Zarathustra had said this the dying one did not reply further; but he moved his hand as if he sought the hand of Zarathustra in gratitude.
OMG! The sum of parts have become GREATER than THE black whole! My calculator must have broken! My remainder is 1/137! I'd best keep my Objet petit 'a to myself and lay off the sucker bets for a while. I'm not cut out for meta-Physics. :(
Zeno/ Parmenides, can you help us out, again? "If One is not, then Nothing is." Got it! There is no "remainder".
Friday, October 14, 2022
If Satellites were Visible in the Night Sky...
Actor and singer Ivan Okhlobystin made a diatribe at a rally on Red Square. Here is the analysis by our columnist Slavoj Zizek."Kopi Luwak" is the world's most expensive coffee, and it's literally made from poop: coffee beans that are partially digested and then excreted by the civet, a cat-like animal that lives in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The civet's digestive enzymes change the structure of the proteins in the coffee beans, removing some of the acidity and making the coffee milder. It is mainly made in Indonesia.
In the Us , a cup of kopi luwak can cost as much as $80. Isn't today's new right-wing populist ideology, both in the US and in Russia , a kind of ideological kopi luwak? Old ideas, some of which are even respectable (like the critique of the exploitation of ordinary people by the financial elite), are being processed and turned into shit by today's monkeys.
Lukashenko wants to cleanse the West
So, isn't the best metaphor for today's Russian and Belarusian ideological propaganda that their leaders and ideologues, as civet cats, devour some noble parts of our emancipatory tradition (anti-fascist and anti-racist struggle, rejection of our commercialized and hedonistic way of life, struggle against the financial elites, the efforts to clean up the remnants of colonization...) by allowing their neo-fascist digestive enzymes to cleanse away the radical acidity of the emancipatory tradition they've swallowed, so that tradition is pooped out as a piece of shit that fits neatly into the existing global system , even though they present themselves as its destruction?
Lukashenko recently called on "forgetful Europe" to undergo moral cleansing for the (fascist) sins of its grandfathers and fathers. The real purpose of this moral call, however, is precisely to shed the radical emancipatory tradition that is at the heart of Europe. No wonder such calls for moral cleansing lead to indiscriminate outbursts of pure destructiveness.
The Russians want Holy War
As noted by Peter Sloterdijk , European civilization begins with Homer's "Iliad," which begins with the line about anger: "Achilles' wrath, for Greece the terrible source / Uncounted sorrows, heavenly goddess, sing!" (Another translation reads : "Anger goddess, sing the anger of Peleus' son Achilles, murderous, damned, / who cost the Achaeans untold losses.") Then the first line of a poem about the end of Europe will read as follows: "Sing the anger of President Putin , murderous, fateful, which cost Europe countless losses"?
Recent public events in Russia put a name to this anger: at a large gathering in Red Square celebrating the annexation of parts of Ukraine to Russia, actor and singer Ivan Okhlobystin delivered a diatribe, ending with the words: " We should call it a holy war! Holy was! In Russian there is an old word: Goida. Goda is a call for immediate action. We need such a war cry today! Goda, brothers and sisters! Goda! Fear us, people of the old world! Without beauty, without faith, without wisdom! A world ruled by lunatics, perverts and satanists! Fear us: WE COME! GOIDA!!!"
The crowd consisted mostly of state officials
Gojda means, especially today: Let's go! Don't think, just obey and do! It's not only an old Russian word, but also a word that was a rallying cry of the oprichniki, Ivan the Terrible's private army, known for terrorizing his enemies (real and imagined), so it's clearly ruthless terror, torture and killing implied.
Incidentally, the only speech that has a similar tone to Ochlobystin's is Goebbels ' infamous "total war" speech, which he gave in Berlin in early 1943 after the defeat of Stalingrad . A world of lunatics, perverts and satanists devoid of beauty, faith and wisdom is indeed an adequate description of Putin's world. However, it must be added that the celebration in Red Square was a sham: the crowd consisted mostly of state officials who were brought there by buses, and most of them reacted to Okhlobystin's speech not with enthusiasm but with indifference and fear (applause and shouts were added later by the TV studio).
However, we should not be fooled: the fact that the war calls of Putin and his clique do not have the support of the majority makes them potentially even more dangerous: as we all know (and fear), such a desperate situation can lead to a unleash global war to maintain their power. General Sergey Surovikin, the new commander of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine, immediately made it clear what this "Goyda!" will look like: he is destroying the infrastructure of large cities with rockets and killing civilians indiscriminately (the same thing Surovkin was doing in Aleppo when he Syria "liberated"). There is a supreme irony in the fact that "surov" in Slovene (and some other Slavic languages) means "crude, brutal, cruel".
Thursday, October 13, 2022
Slavoj Zizek, "The Ukraine Safari"
Western leftists argue that Russia needs an “off-ramp” that will allow it to “save face” in Ukraine. But that logic cuts both ways: After Russian leaders’ latest nuclear threats, it is Ukraine and the West that can no longer compromise and still save face.
LJUBLJANA – I don’t usually write about cultural products from my own country, but I must make an exception for Slovenian filmmaker Miran Zupanič’s new documentary Sarajevo Safari, which details one of the most bizarre and pathological episodes of the 1992-96 siege of the Bosnian capital.
It is well known that Serb snipers in the hills surrounding the city would arbitrarily shoot residents on the streets below, and that select Serb allies (mostly Russians) were invited to fire some shots of their own. Yet now we learn that this opportunity was provided not only as a gesture of appreciation but also as a kind of tourist activity for paying customers. Through “safaris” organized by the Bosnian Serb Army, dozens of rich foreigners – mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy, but also from Russia – paid top dollar for the chance to shoot at helpless civilians.
Consider the special form of subjectivity that such a safari would confer on the “hunter.” Though the victims were anonymous, this was no video game; the perverse thrill lay in the fact that it was real. And yet, by playing the “hunter,” these rich tourists, occupying a safe perch above the city, effectively excluded themselves from ordinary reality. For their targets, the stakes were life or death.
There is something perversely honest in this melding of reality and spectacle. After all, aren’t top politicians and corporate managers also engaged in a kind of safari? From their safe perch in the C-suite, executives often ruin many lives.
Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president who now serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, recently imputed a similar logic to Western political leaders. Dismissing warnings by the US and NATO about the consequences of a Russian tactical nuclear strike, Medvedev argued that:
“[T]he security of Washington, London, Brussels is much more important for the North Atlantic Alliance than the fate of a dying Ukraine that no one needs. The supply of modern weapons is just a business for Western countries. Overseas and European demagogues are not going to perish in a nuclear apocalypse. Therefore, they will swallow the use of any weapon in the current conflict.”
Medvedev has also said that the Kremlin will “do everything” to prevent “hostile neighbors” like “Nazi Ukraine” from acquiring or hosting nuclear weapons, as this supposedly would pose an existential threat to the Russian state. But since it is Russia that is threatening Ukraine’s existence as a state, Medvedev’s logic dictates that Ukraine, too, should have arms – and even nuclear weapons – to achieve military parity.
Recall Putin’s own words this past June: “… there is no in-between, no intermediate state: either a country is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the colonies are called.” Since he obviously views Ukraine as a Russian colony, the West should not treat Ukraine as though it agreed with him. That means rejecting the idea that Western powers should bypass Ukraine and broker a settlement with Russia.
Unfortunately, many Western leftists have been playing directly into Putin’s hands on this issue. Consider Harlan Ullman of the Atlantic Council, who writes: “Clemenceau observed that ‘war is too important to be left to the generals.’ In this case, is Ukraine too important to be left to Zelensky? The US needs a strategy with an off-ramp to seek an end to the violence and the war.”
Leftists from Noam Chomsky to Jeffrey Sachs (not to mention the many Russia apologists on the right) have adopted similar positions. After first insisting that Ukraine cannot win a war against Russia, they now imply that it should not win, because that would leave Putin cornered and therefore dangerous.
But if we had followed the peaceniks’ advice and not sent arms to Ukraine, that country would now be fully occupied, its subjugation accompanied by far greater atrocities than those found in Bucha, Izium, and many other places.
A far better stance has been adopted by the German Greens, who advocate not only full support for Ukraine but also structural reforms to accelerate the transition away from oil and gas, which in turn will steer humanity away from catastrophic climate change. The rest of the Western left has been on safari, refusing an intervention that will challenge its established way of life.
Peaceniks argue that Russia needs a victory or concession that will allow it to “save face.” But that logic cuts both ways. Following Medvedev and Putin’s nuclear threats, it is Ukraine and the West that can no longer compromise and still save face. Recall that Medvedev predicted that the West would refuse to respond militarily to a Russian nuclear strike because it is too cowardly and greedy to do so.
Here, we enter the domain of philosophy, because Putin and Medvedev’s words clearly echo Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. If two self-consciousnesses are engaged in a life-or-death struggle, there can be no winner, because one will die and the victor will no longer have another self-consciousness around who can recognize its own self-consciousness. The entire history of human culture rests on the original compromise by which someone becomes the servant that “averts its eyes” to prevent mutual assured destruction.
Medvedev and Putin presume that the decadent, hedonist West will avert its eyes. And that brings us back to the dynamic captured in Sarajevo Safari. Privileged elites feel as though they can intervene in the real world in strategic ways that entail no personal danger. But reality catches up with everyone eventually. When it does, we must not heed the advice of those concerned only with not provoking the beast in the valley
Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Wrestling with the Snark!
The particle, called Omega-minus, was discovered in 1964. That same year, Gell-Mann set forth the concept of quarks as the physical basis for the classification system, thereby establishing the foundation for the modern quark model of hadrons.