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

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Palliative Society

Robert Kugelmann (Book Review of: "The Palliative Society: Pain Today" by Byung-Chul Han, translated by Daniel Steuer, Polity Press, 2021, 76 pp, $59.95, hardback ISBN: 13-978-5095-4723-4
The Palliative Society is one of many books by the philosopher and cultural critic Byung-Chul Han, whose other titles include The Burnout Society (2010/2015) and Capitalism and the Death Drive (2019/2021). Eleven brief chapters constitute the book, examining pain from various perspectives, including its meaninglessness, its cunning, as a mode of truth, as a revelation of being, and our fear of it, our algophobia, throughout. The Palliative Society is the critique of modernity, signaled by the opening quotation from Ernst Jünger: “Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you who you are” (Jünger, 1934/2008, p. 32, quoted on p. 1). This slim volume, written aphoristically, explores the philosophical complexities of pain in societies marked by an extreme aversion to pain and discomfort. For Han, pain is not simply a sensation or feeling of displeasure; rather it constitutes important ways of what it means to be human. Indeed, for Han we are so much the worse for our penchant to flee it. Pain is an opening via negation to otherness, and without it we are lost “in the hell of the same” (p. 6, emphasis in original). What Han calls “the neoliberal dispositif of happiness” (p. 13) distorts happiness, which “is not at one’s disposal. Inherent in it is a certain negativity” (p. 13). “Dispositif,” a term of Foucault, designated “discursive and nondiscursive elements, … [that are] historical and culturally bound to a certain area or civilization, and … are answers to certain greater problems in a particular society” (Peltonen, 2004, p. 216). This neoliberal dispositif is palliative, seeking happiness by eliminating pain and discomfort without addressing the issues that, if attended to, might lead to radical social change: “Instead of revolution we thus get depression” (p. 12, emphasis in original). The neoliberal imperative, “be happy” (p. 11), draws upon our desire for “self-improvement and self-optimization” (p. 11), so that we discipline ourselves to conform to requirements for productivity, fully believing we are free in our self-subjugation.

Central to Han’s critique is that our palliative society has made health its supreme value. Health, however, is described in a specific way, as the functioning of the body defined exclusively in anatomical and physiological terms: “Life is reduced to a biological process that must be optimized. It loses any meta-physical dimension” (p. 16). Ours is a society of “survival,” “a society of the undead” (p. 17), as we have no concept of what a “good life” might mean. We are like Paul Valéry’s Monsieur Teste, who cannot narrate his pain, as it is meaningless, “outside the symbolic order” (p. 19). Life that is “reduced to a biological process” (p. 22) has no story, no “meaningful horizon” (p. 22).

Pain will have its way, nevertheless, with Jünger speaking of the “cunning of pain” (cited, p. 26). Where does pain insinuate itself in a palliative society? Han refers to the spread of chronic pain, of “cutting” (p. 28) and other forms of self-harm. We are beset with loneliness and isolation, and “narcissism and egotism are intensifying” (p. 28), echoing Christopher Lasch’s (1991) diagnosis. Cultural anesthesia leads to a need for “increasingly stronger stimuli … to provide people in an anesthetic society with any sense of being alive” (Illich, 1976, p. 152, quoted on p. 33).

Pain is a way of knowing, and it is essential to experience (German Erfahrung), as “a painful process of transformation that contains an element of suffering, of undergoing something” (p. 39). An experience in this sense, as Gadamer (1960/1989) wrote, “thwarts an expectation” (p. 356), and one undergoes a reversal, which is painful, a “learning through suffering” (p. 356), as in the catharsis of tragedy. Indeed, drawing on Heidegger’s notion of mood (Stimmung), Han writes that “pain is the fundamental mood of human finitude” (p. 45), thinking of “that area of being ‘in which pain and death and love belong together’” (Heidegger, 1950/2002, p. 205, quoted on p. 45). This mood attunes us to the “non-available” (p. 45), making pain Orphic: Orpheus loves Eurydice and descends into the underworld to rescue her from death with the enchantment of his music, only to lose her again by turning around to see her, to keep her present and to possess her—to keep her visible, thus losing her as other. Essential to pain as mood, then, is a desire that would overcome death, a love that cannot negate death, a longing for the face of the other. Han cites Heidegger again, who proposed that “the spirit [muot] which answers to pain, the spirit attuned by pain and to pain, is melancholy [Schwermut]” (Heidegger, 1950/2002, p. 153, quoted on p. 46). Melancholy, the disease of the philosopher according to an ancient text, attuning us to the saturnine, the flaws, cracks, and limits of human life, is a way of negation that gets at essences. Melancholy, which draws its significance from pain as a fundamental mood, recognizes that “a crucial part of taking care … is the experience of unavailability … otherness and strangeness” (p. 47). Like the melancholy angel in Dürer’s woodcut, Melencolia I of 1514, our eyes are on what is beyond us, on otherness, when we do not flee pain.

Han’s ultimate remedy is not heroic endurance of pain. It is, with Levinas, “a sensibility for the other [that] presupposes an ‘exposure’ that ‘offer[s] itself even in suffering” (Levinas, 1974/1991, p. 15, quoted on p. 52). This is primal pain: “pain toward the other,” “meta-physical pain” (p. 52), openness to the suffering of others, cracking the complacency and pursuit of the comfortable that defines our palliative society. Han closes on a somber note: because we cherish comfort more than freedom, we face a “transhuman” future, without pain and always happy, which is “not a human life” (p. 60). The undead will inherit the earth.

Much of the book is a dialogue with Ernst Jünger, whom Han quotes extensively. Jünger was a prominent and controversial German thinker of the twentieth century, a fierce critic of bourgeois society for its desire for comfort and security and its rejection of heroic virtues of endurance and courage. As an example of what Jünger meant by heroic virtue, to amplify Han’s account, consider the story of the Roman soldier, Gaius Mucius Cordus Scaevola, who held his arm over a flame without flinching to show his enemy his contempt for his own body and pain. Han does not follow Jünger in a celebration of militaristic derring-do, submission to authority, and a willingness to endure pain and self-sacrifice. He is, however, clear that our algophobia—morbid fear of pain—is leading us down a primrose path to a loss of individual freedom, autonomy, and authenticity (see Taylor, 1991), virtues that modernity at its best strives to cultivate. We seem to have a predilection, according to Han, to what I would call an Esau complex, a willingness to surrender our birthright for a mess of porridge.

Han writes that “every critique of society must … provide a hermeneutics of pain” (p. 1). Pain is too important to be left to medicine, where it primarily resides today. This medicalization of pain progressively destroys any meaning that pain might have, as it is something to avoid, eliminate, or conceal (the word “palliative” comes from the Latin palliare, “conceal”). Neither Jünger nor Han have been the first to make the charge that algophobia is one of modernity’s besetting flaws. For Jünger, “the bourgeois individual typically dwells in a ‘zone of sensitivity,’ where ‘security,’ ‘ease,’ and ‘comfort’—and ultimately ‘the body’ itself—become the essential core of life. Here, one seeks to avoid pain at all cost” (Durst, 2008, section 2). Jünger thus captured societal “algophobia.”

The charge that we moderns are more sensitive to pain than people in the premodern world has been made repeatedly (Kugelmann, 2017). In the nineteenth century, commentators tied increased sensitivity to pain to the upper classes and to the “civilized” races of Europe: “In the ideology of the [American] slave owners, it was a commonplace that slaves were relatively insensitive to pain” (Armstrong, 2012, p. 146). Weir Mitchell (1892), an important nineteenth-century neurologist, found an increasing sensitivity to pain taking place in the United States. An article in The Living Age (“The Meaning of Pain,” 1906) stated that “it is a well-established conclusion of science that the higher we rise in the scale of nervous organization the greater the possibilities of pain,” with “civilized races” feeling pain more exquisitely than “savages,” and men more than women (p. 699). Indeed, among the civilized and the men, “brain workers” feel pain more acutely than do manual laborers, which accounted for the more frequent occurrence of neurasthenia among these privileged groups, a view shared by the prominent psychologist and anthropologist, W. H. R. Rivers (1920). Such views, connecting intellect, level of civilization, and increased sensitivity to pain, were shared by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (De Moulin, p. 541, n. 4).

Well before these accounts of algophobia, Alexis de Tocqueville (1835/1966), in Democracy in America, based on his journey to the United States in 1831–1832, noted that Americans continuously seek “improvement” in all spheres of life, especially material improvement, and that Americans have a great “taste for physical comfort” (p. 503), unlike European aristocrats and lower classes, the former because they take comforts for granted, the latter because they take their absence for granted. Only autonomous selves, it would appear, would eliminate all displeasure in the pursuit of happiness.

There is more to the story. In the middle of the nineteenth century came surgical anesthesia, word of which spread around the globe like wildfire and eventually made endurance of surgical pain absurd. It was with good reason that Weir Mitchell (1900), on the fiftieth anniversary in 1896 of the introduction of surgical anesthesia, could read his poem, “The Birth and Death of Pain,” in which we hear: “Whatever triumphs still shall hold the mind,/ Whatever gift shall yet enrich mankind,/ … No hour as sweet as when hope, doubt, and fears,/ ‘Mid deepening stillness, watched one eager brain,/ With Godlike will, decree the Death of Pain” (p. 18). I assume that even modernity’s fiercest critics avail themselves of anesthesia before going under the knife. Anesthesia altered existential possibilities for responding to pain.

Daniël de Moulin (1974) documents that René Leriche, acclaimed author of The Surgery of Pain (1939), found that “modern man is more sensitive to pain than even his immediate ancestors” (De Moulin, p. 542), this sensitivity being for Leriche a consequence of moderns having more methods available to eliminate pain, including anesthetics and analgesics, such as aspirin. The Dutch phenomenologist and physiologist F. J. J. Buytendijk (1943/1961), living in occupied Netherlands, wrote: “Modern man is irritated by things which older generations accepted with equanimity. He is irritated by old age, long illness, and even by death; above all he is irritated by pain. Pain must simply not occur. … The consequence is an immoderate state of algophobia … which is itself an evil and sets a seal of timidity on the whole of life” (pp. 15–16). His colleague, the phenomenological psychiatrist, J. H. van den Berg (1975), repeated the claim that modernity brings increased sensitivity to pain, explaining it through a loss of community and greater individual autonomy. For van den Berg, pain has been disembedded from social relationships, and pain is more painful when we face it alone. Ivan Illich, to whom Han refers on this topic (p. 19), charged that our medicalization of pain results in a cultural shift: “People unlearn the acceptance of suffering as an inevitable part of their conscious coping with reality and learn to interpret every ache as an indicator of their need for padding or pampering” (Illich, 1976, p. 133).

Han has extended “algophobia” to imply that “we live in a society of positivity that tries to extinguish any form of negativity” (p. 2). Power operates today not primarily by repression and overt violence—although that continues, especially in minority communities—but by “self-optimization” (p. 3). We discipline ourselves by striving “to be all that you can be,” as states an advertisement used to attract recruits to the US military (Singer, 2008). Our palliative society is also a “performance society” that, eschewing negation, finds opportunities for increased performance in any situation, such that we speak of “post-traumatic growth” and “resilience” (p. 2) come what may. Drawing on social media, Han also characterizes the palliative society as “the society of the like [Gefällt-mir], increasingly a society characterized by a mania for liking” (p. 3): Nothing should hurt. Han at this juncture introduces his sed contra by asserting that “what has been forgotten is that pain purifies. It has a cathartic effect” (p. 3), a claim echoing Jünger’s contempt for pain-averse middle class couch potatoes.

Han does not make a case for military discipline or for the contempt for life and comfort symbolized by the suicide bomber. No, for Han the palliative society is, to use the phrase of John McKnight (1996), a “careless society,” in the double sense of “not having a care in the world” and “I don’t have to care about you, because experts can handle whatever is ailing you.” What our palliative, performance society of the like faces is a loss of “nakedness of soul, exposure, the pain toward the other” (p. 54). Our algophobia is fundamentally fear of “pain towards the other” (p. 54), and not the quivering of the flesh in the face of discomforts and negativity.

With that Levinasian perspective, space opens between Han’s cultural critique and that of Jünger’s. For Jünger (1934/2008), the bourgeois individual lacks the heroic spirit: “The heroic … world presents an entirely different relation to pain than does the world of sensitivity. While in the latter … it is a matter of marginalizing pain and sheltering life from it, in the former the point is to integrate pain and organize life in such a way that one is always armed against it” (p. 16). For Han, it is not this heroic attitude that ultimately matters. It is pain as a fundamental mood of existence, exposing us to the pain of the other, that matters. Thus, by contrast, Han can write: “Pain is a gift” (p. 49). How do individuals and cultures receive this gift? Han, with Illich, sees the drift toward greater medicalization of pain as rendering people unable to cultivate what Illich (1976) called the “craft of suffering well” (p. 145), to which Han (p. 19) refers, emphasizing how with the atrophy of cultural ways to reckon with pain and suffering, pain becomes a “purely physical agony” (p. 19). In the anesthetic state inculcated by the palliative society, exposure to the pain and suffering of the other vanishes, along with the capacity to tolerate discomfort.

Nevertheless, to some extent, this craft of suffering is still very much with us. For example, professional and not-so-professional athletes learn to bear pain in the course of their training, their askesis. It can be a badge of honor to play through the pain of an injury. The heroic spirit thus endures, even in a palliative society. The historian Esther Cohen (1995) describes earlier forms of this craft, from antiquity to the late Middle Ages. Even though our primary attitude toward pain, she writes, is that of “rejection,” for which “physical suffering is not considered inevitable or unavoidable” (p. 51), Cohen does not see the development of modern pain-killers as causing this rejection of pain: “Many primitive societies are familiar with the analgesic qualities of various plants, yet they do not resort to them in situations in which modern Westerners would automatically demand relief. More important, in many societies the acceptance of pain is a cultural imperative” (p. 51). This observation supports the diagnosis of algophobia in contemporary society. Indeed, probably less common today than formerly, is an art of suffering Cohen calls “impassivity, … to endure without flinching” (p. 51). The Roman soldier who held his arm in the flame demonstrated impassivity. Cultural patterns of enduring pain “stoically” and “keeping a stiff upper lip” are still with us, although they may appear unenlightened with analgesics abounding. “Impassibility” is an attitude that seeks “the capacity of transcending pain completely” (p. 52), through trance and ritual and arduous training. Cohen notes that in the West, such freedom from pain “was a miraculous quality, a gift from heaven granted only occasionally to saints and martyrs” (p. 52). In the later Middle Ages, “philopassianism” developed, the deliberate evocation of pain, an attitude absent earlier in Christian Europe. Cohen explains philopassianism: “The idea of Imitatio Christi, fervently preached throughout the period to clerics and laymen alike, insisted that in order to follow Christ’s footsteps one must carry his cross and feel his pain” (p. 59). Practices such as self-flagellation were a means to feel this pain, ultimately of sin and repentance. Ariel Glucklich (2003) found that such practices break down the boundaries of the self and can open a person up to what is other; hence their use in religious practices throughout the world. Even a mild ascetical practice such as fasting can change one’s attunement in the everyday world, disrupting routine and exposing one to one’s lack. Thus, arts of suffering occur across cultures and history, and endure even among us. These arts keep their practitioners exposed, even potentially to the other. Nevertheless, a palliative society does make such arts more difficult to justify and practice.

The upshot is that Han uncovers the consequences of our pursuit of what we call health; algophobia-is-us. The book also addresses the Covid-19 pandemic, and here we see how the thesis that modernity puts us face to face with meaningless pain has its latest manifestation. The thrust of Han’s claims about the Covid pandemic center around “bare life,” our living defined in biological terms only. Let me extend Han’s critique to sources outside his text: Jeffrey Bishop on the “anticipatory corpse” and Illich on “life” as an idol. To put this into perspective, consider how Jeffrey Bishop (2011) distinguishes between zoē and bios in ancient Greek thought. Zoē is “bare life, the life we have by virtue of being alive” (p. 213). Bios is one’s “biography,” such as the “contemplative life,” the “life of pleasure,” and the “political life” (p. 213). Zoē “belongs to the realm of the oikos, or home, and not the realm of the polis, or city” (p. 214), whereas for us, with what Foucault called “biopolitics,” “the sphere of the polis reaches into the sphere of oikos” (Bishop, p. 214). We are thus confused, and do not know when this bare life begins or ends, and we tend to equate longevity, the continuance of zoē, as in itself a good. Illich (1992) goes further: In “The Institutional Construction of a New Fetish: Human Life,” Illich argued that “‘Human life’ is a recent construct, something which we now take so much for granted that we dare not seriously question it” (p. 219). Moreover, “thinking in terms of ‘a life’ and ‘human life’ vaguely connotes something of extreme importance and tends to abolish all limits that decency and common sense have so far imposed on the exercise of professional tutelage” (pp. 219–220). In his history of “a life,” Illich contended that our “a life” originated in a corruption of the Christian message that Christ was “Life,” such that today “life” is, in religious terms, an idol. While Han does not go that route, it is clear that he, along with Bishop and Illich, sees “bare life” as an impoverished rendering of human living. Bare life is visible in the x-ray and the lab results, in the anatomical text and health statistics. Bare life makes living available to increased biopolitical surveillance.

The pandemic accelerates the shift to “a biopolitical surveillance regime” (Han, p. 18) since the protection of zoē knows no limits. The privacy and autonomy of the modern individual succumbs to the demands for containing the spread of the virus. Thus, “the biopolitical regime of surveillance spells the end of liberalism” (p. 59). Han’s insight into bare life as an idol makes sense of what at first sounded to this reader as a rant against commonsense public health measures during the pandemic. For example: “Because of the pandemic, the society of survival has prohibited church services, even at Easter. Priests, too, practice ‘social distancing’ and wear protective masks. They sacrifice faith entirely to survival. … Virology deprives theology of its power” (p. 15). Finally, “faith degenerates into farce. It is replaced with intensive care units and respirators. The dead are counted daily” (p. 15). Han here engages in some sliding of the signifier as the Lacanians might say, with “distance” shifting from meaning steps taken to avoid infecting other people to meaning indifference and a lack of empathy. Indeed, Han asserts that “‘social distancing’ contributes to the loss of empathy” (p. 52), because we are apart and not near one another. That assertion is an empirical matter, with Pfattheicher et al. (2020) finding social distancing a sign of empathy. The encounter with an other is not measured in feet and inches. Han’s hyperbole in this matter—faith is replaced with intensive care units?—makes sense only if one sees that the idolatry of “bare life” is in play in public health measures, despite the goodwill that promotes them. The sacrifice of faith for survival is better understood in terms of Illich’s contention, surpassing Han’s on this point, that our efforts to preserve bare “life” perverts what it means to be an individual or a person. The palliative society’s valuation of bare life undermines the good that we would do in responding to the pandemic. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


Armstrong, T. (2012). The logic of slavery: Debt, technology, and pain in American literature. Cambridge University Press.

Bishop, J. P. (2011). The anticipatory corpse: Medicine, power, and the care of the dying. University of Notre Dame Press.

Buytendijk, F. J. J. (1961). Pain: Its modes and functions (E. O’ Shiel, Trans.). University of Chicago Press. (Originally published 1943)

Cohen, E. (1995). Towards a history of European physical sensibility: Pain in the later Middle Ages. Science in Context, 8(1), 47–74.

De Moulin, D. (1974). A historical-phenomenological study of bodily pain in Western man. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 48(4), 540–570.

Durst, D. C. (2008). Translator’s introduction. In E. Jünger, On pain. Telos Press.

Gadamer, H.-G. (1989). Truth and method (J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall, Trans.) (2nd ed.). Continuum. (Original work published 1960)

Glucklich, A. (2003). Sacred pain: Hurting the body for the sake of the soul. Oxford University Press.

Han, B.-C. (2015). The burnout society (E. Butler, Trans). Stanford University Press. (Original work published 2010)

Han, B.-C. (2021). Capitalism and the death drive. Polity Press. (Original work published 2019)

Heidegger, M. (2002). Off the beaten track (J. Young & K. Haynes, Eds. & Trans.). Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1950)

Illich, I. (1976). Medical nemesis: The expropriation of health. Pantheon Books.

Illich, I. (1992). In the mirror of the past: Lectures and addresses 1978–1990. Marion Boyars.

Jünger, E. (2008). On pain (D. C. Durst, Trans.). Telos Press. (Original work published 1934)

Kugelmann, R. (2017). Constructing pain: Historical, psychological, and critical perspectives. Routledge.

Lasch, C. (1991). The culture of narcissism: American life in an age of diminishing expectations. Norton.

Leriche, R. (1939). The surgery of pain (A. Young, Trans.). Williams & Wilkins.

Levinas, E. (1991). Otherwise than being or beyond essence (A. Lingis, Trans.). Kluwer Academic. (Original work published 1974)

McKnight, J. (1996). The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. Basic Books.

Mitchell, S. W. (1892). Characteristics (3rd ed.). Century Co.

Mitchell, S. W. (1900). The wager and other poems. Century.

Peltonen, M. (2004). From discourse to “dispositif”: Michel Foucault’s two histories. Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques, 30(2), 205–219.

Pfattheicher, S., Nockur, L., Böhm, R., Sassenrath, C., & Petersen, M. B. (2020). The emotional path to action: Empathy promotes physical distancing and wearing of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Science, 31(11), 1363–1373. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620964422

Rivers. W. H. R. (1920). Instinct and the unconscious: A contribution to a biological theory of the psycho-neuroses. Cambridge University Press.

Singer, P. W. (2008, May 2). How to be all that you can be: A look at the Pentagon’s five step plan for making Iron Man real. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/how-to-be-all-that-you-can-be-a-look-at-the-pentagons-five-step-plan-for-making-iron-man-real/

Taylor, C. (1991). The ethics of authenticity. Harvard University Press.

The meaning of pain. (1906, March 17). The Living Age, 7th series, 30(3219), 699–701.

Tocqueville, A. de. (1966). Democracy in America (J. P. Mayer & M. Lerner, Eds.; G. Lawrence, Trans.). Harper & Row. (Original work published 1835)

Van den Berg, J. H. (1975). Divided existence and complex society: An historical approach. Duquesne University Press.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Where's Anna?

Slavoj Žižek, "Anna is free" (Google translate)
How to be free in such a desperate age? Shonda Rhimes' series Inventing Anna (Netflix 2022) provides an answer to this question. Jessica Presses wrote the story of Anna Sorokin, who inspired the series: "How Anna Delvey Deceived the New York Party People" (New York Magazine, 2018) tells the fictional-genius-bizarre story of Russia's Anna Sorokin, who in her twenties became a brand as "Anna Delvey, the rich German heir" and sailed to very glamorous lives in the city's elite. Sorokin, who has fallen like a bomb on the internet, continues to leave the public opinion sad even though he has been sentenced to prison.

Those who evaluated the series had uncanny feelings: Anna's portrayal did not seem convincing to them because the real person hiding behind so many masks was not reflected in the series... But what if that's the truth? What if there is no such thing as the self-consciousness of the manipulative subject that pushes all the buttons? Anna's action is not like the pyramid schemes you know, it is not just to postpone debts and settle one debt with another, it is not just to make people believe that their debts will be paid. Insanely, Anna included her own subjective life in the pyramid scheme: she does not only deceive others; In a sense, it borrows from itself, borrowing from the future that it supposes. That's what feminine attitude is, whereas Shimon Hayut, described on Tinder Swindler, is that at all? (noticeTinder Swindler is a documentary, Inventing Annais fiction) Hayut introduced himself as the son of Russian-Israeli diamond judge Lev Leviev in the places he traveled in Europe. This man, Simon Leviev, deceived the women he contacted on Tinder and took unrequited debts from them. He lured women with very expensive gifts, took them to meals on private jets, with money he received from other women he had previously deceived. Then he demanded financial assistance from his victims under the pretext of a 'vulnerability' that locked his credit cards and bank accounts. Many of these women helped him by taking out loans from the bank or issuing credit cards. The finale of his career also took place in a very appropriate way: in February 2022, he launched an NFT collection, opening up images and excerpts from the film about him (sale of digital/virtual goods).

The remarkable parallelism between the two stories should not prevent us from perceiving the crucial difference between them: Hayut is a fraudster who manipulates others in cold blood, he has no projects to identify with, his only skill is to leave behind a woman he has deceived and switch to another woman, and Anna has carried out a giant plan with a network of collaborators woven with permanent ties: to establish the Mother Delvey Foundation. What distinguishes him is that he is unconditionally faithful to appearances: he never kneels to his friends who repeatedly beg him to confess his lying and deceit, andhe neverdrops his mask. Every time he is confronted with facts that prove his lies, we witness another way to save Zawahiri.

Anna is immoral, but she is absolutely ethical. When her lawyer claims in her last speech before the jury that this girl, as her defender, has always lived in her own fantasy world from beginning to end and that she has not come "close enough to create danger" (she could not raise money for the giant project), Anna considers this defense a betrayal of her and reacts angrily. That is to say, a ridiculous little calculator prefers to "save himself" by being considered a dreamer of a ridiculous little calculator by being considered a person who is tangential to success.

It is this unconditional desire that makes Anna ethical: she follows Lacan's formula to "compromise your desire" to the letter. In fact, when some of those whom Anna had defrauded realized that she was not interested in "saving herself", they continued to have a partnership with Anna. As Lacan says, "a hero can survive betrayal unscathed," Anna continues her heroism until the end. Ordinary psycho-social explanations are therefore in vain: even his father is surprised at who and what he is.

If we adapt a famous quote from the old novels about Hannibal Lecter, nothing happened to him, he happened to the world (nothing happened to him, he happened to the world). Yes, his giant project was ridiculous and artificial, but he still became a supreme figure with this action because he raised this ridiculous projectto the dignity of the Thing, he laid down his whole life for this Cause. Whoever or whatever he is, it is certain that he is not ridiculed and is naïve, and we need such naivety in our age, for a very certain reason: Anna is free, and Hayut is tailing his own selfish needs while manipulating others and making gains. Freedom does not hide in the secret core of my Self, which others cannot succumb/reach/comprehend, nor does it give me a position in which I can manipulate others from a safe distance. Freedom lies in my unconditional identification with the role I have decided to play in the eyes of others.


Turkish: Işık Barış Fidaner

security vulnerability of the safe vulnerability

Sunday, November 27, 2022

From Zero to Hero

\\I would assume that the Logic of an algorithm is pure reason, but I suppose there could be practical aspects, as well, like choosing the language to program in.
Interesting idea.
Can I hope that you'll elaborate it further?

Limits to capability? Imaginary numbers?

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Seeking AI VC Funding?

In Memoriam, FreeThinke

Emily Dickinson, "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain"

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading - treading - till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through -

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum -
Kept beating - beating - till I thought
My mind was going numb -

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space - began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here -

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down -
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing - then -

You would have hated the music but loved the lyrics.  :(

Thursday, November 24, 2022

What is AI's 'Existential' Reward System? It's NOT 'Communication Ecstasy'.

Betrayal, The Inevitable Sine Qua Non of Love

The catastophe of Agape love is "indifference" towards individual members of the collective, and a hatred towards those individuals outside of the collective (liberal v. conservative).

Fidaner on Zizek

Slavoj Žižek,"The Master's 'arbitrary' declarations"
We must abandon the following view:
The Master always imposes old wisdom and established views with his authority, and so change always comes from those 'below', from those who doubt the master's wisdom.
We theorists need a master because we are hysterical.

Theoretical development is undemocratic: new discoveries do not emerge by improving reasoning; new discoveries arise by desperately trying to discover what it means for the master to make 'arbitrary' statements and their reversal of the common theoretical doctrine.

Such 'arbitrary' statements are not, of course, free from risk; it may not hit, it may miss, it may remain in the middle of irrelevant 'random' claims instead of activating new theoretical discoveries.

Let us not forget that what the Master's claim will lead to depends on us hysterical disciples. The Master is not a 'genius' by himself, but becomes a 'genius' by our diligence. [d.n. Sheikh does not fly, he flies disciples]

Therefore, after the master has finished his work, he must be abandoned, left alone; the impotence of an illusory transfer point will finally be revealed.

But is the work of the master (the so-called one) finished altogether? Yoo...

But if he wants to survive, the only place he can go is to become hysterical once again, to return to analyzation; This is what Lacan was doing all the time in his seminars...

Even if Lacan plays the role of analyst in his seminars, it cannot be said that those who listen to him are a collective analyst; Instead of the singular figure of the analyst, here is the 'enlightened' collective who supposedly share the same desire for psychoanalysis.

From More Than Pleasure

Turkish: Işık Barış Fidaner


 Işık Barış Fidaner, "Nevermind: Let it go and Let it be"
There are two ways to “nevermind!”:
1) Let it go

2) Let it be
In terms of the metaphor of digestion: “Let it go” is to digest something completely and to discharge it from the system; if you bear some resistance to a certain subject, if you are getting bellyaches when you think about it, if it contains elements you cannot digest, then you fail to discharge it from your system and it gets precipitated somewhere (un/conscious) within your constitution. This is when you cannot “let it go” and instead you cave in to “let it be”ism.

The most visible result of “let it be”ism is how issues you experience in personal relations are first thrown in to be accumulated/contained and then explode in the form of fights. But if you can “let it go”, you don’t throw in and accumulate/contain, instead you throw out and ex-cumulate/ex-contain [1].

Unlike accumulation, ex-cumulation does not “take it personally” but this does not mean that ex-cumulation is indifferent or that it doesn’t care. On the contrary!

Ex-cumulators are even more susceptible than accumulators, for they “take it impersonally”, they take what is said irregardless of their Ego construction, they take it as a generic subject of the symbolic order and digest it completely; whatever they are susceptible to in those words, they take all of them at once, they first infer the necessary consequences, and then discharge those words from their constitution by means of the mechanism of “letting it go”.

But if a word that you “take in” gets stuck at some imaginary obstacle such as an Ego construction, it cannot surpass the level of “taking it personally” and results in “let it be”ism.

Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “İçe Atılan Birikir, Dışa Atılan Öbürikir”, “Gerçek ve Salbırak”, “Hatice mi Netice mi? Sal gitsin!”, “Hazım İlkesinin Ötesi: Hazım Hazindir” 


Slavoj Zizek, "Ethics on the rocks"
The world is in the midst of a culture war in which the left and right are abandoning long-standing norms and principles that had previously been taken for granted

Ethical progress produces a beneficial form of dogmatism. A normal, healthy society does not debate whether rape and torture are acceptable, because the public “dogmatically” accepts that they are beyond the pale. By the same token, a society whose leaders speak of “legitimate rape” — as a former Republican US representative once did — or of tolerable torture is exhibiting clear signs of ethical decay, and previously unimaginable acts can quickly become possible.

Consider Russia today. In an unverified video that began circulating this month, a former mercenary from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group was accused of switching sides to “fight against the Russians,” whereupon an unidentified assailant smashes a sledgehammer into the side of the mercenary’s head.

When asked to comment on the video — posted under the header “The hammer of revenge” — Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s founder and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that “a dog receives a dog’s death.”

As many have observed, Russia’s behavior is identical to that of the Islamic State.

Consider Russia’s increasingly close ally, Iran, where young girls who have been arrested for protesting the regime are reportedly being married off to prison guards and then raped, on the grounds that a minor cannot legally be executed if she is a virgin.

Consider Israel, which proudly presents itself as a liberal democracy, even though it has gradually come to resemble some of the other fundamentalist-religious countries in its neighborhood.

The latest evidence of the trend is the news that Itamar Ben-Gvir is to be a part of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government. Before entering politics, Ben-Gvir was known to display a portrait in his living room of the Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 in Hebron in 1994.

Netanyahu, who was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister before being ousted in June last year, is fully implicated in this ethical decay. In 2019, the Times of Israel reported that he called “for a fight against rising Muslim and left-wing anti-Semitism in Europe, hours after the [Israeli] government published a report that said the far-right posed the greatest threat to Jews on the continent.”

Why does Netanyahu ignore far-right anti-Semitism? Because he relies on it. The Western new right might be anti-Semitic at home, but it also staunchly supports Israel, which it sees as one of the last remaining barriers against a Muslim invasion.

Unfortunately, all this is just one side of the story. Ethical decay is also increasingly apparent in the “woke” left, which has become increasingly authoritarian and intolerant as it advocates permissiveness for all forms of sexual and ethnic identity — except one.

Sociologist Duane Rousselle has characterized the new “cancel culture” as “racism in the time of the many without the one.” Whereas traditional racism vilifies the intruder who poses a threat to the unity of the one (the dominant in-group), the woke left wants to do the same to anyone who has not fully abandoned all the one’s old categories of gender, sexuality and ethnicity.

All sexual orientations and gender identities are acceptable unless you are a white man whose gender identity corresponds with your biological sex at birth. Members of this cisgender cohort are enjoined to feel guilty just for what they are — for being “comfortable in their skin” — while all others (even cisgender women) are encouraged to be whatever they feel they are.

This “new woke order” is increasingly discernible in absurd real-world episodes. Just this month, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania planned to sponsor a student-organized event for all those who are “tired of white cis men.” The plan was for attendees to “come paint and write about” their frustrations with “comfortable in skin” white men. Following an outcry and charges of racism, the event has since been postponed.

There is a paradox in how woke non-binary fluidity coincides with intolerance and exclusion. In Paris, the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure is debating a proposal to establish dormitory corridors reserved exclusively for individuals who have chosen mixity/diversity (mixite choisie) as their sexual identity, to exclude cisgender men. The proposed rules are strict: Anyone not fitting the criteria would be prohibited from setting foot in the corridors.

Of course, such rules would open a path to even tighter restrictions. For example, if enough people define their identity in even narrower terms, they presumably will be able to demand their own corridor.

Three features of this proposal are worth emphasizing: It excludes only cisgender men, not cisgender women; it is not based on any objective criteria of classification, but only on subjective self-designation; and it calls for further classificatory subdivisions.

This last point is crucial, because it demonstrates how all the emphasis on plasticity, choice and diversity ultimately leads to what can only be called a new apartheid — a network of fixed, essentialized identities.

Wokeism thus offers a quintessential study in how permissiveness becomes prohibition. Under a woke regime, we never know if and when some of us will be canceled for something we have said or done (the criteria are murky), or for simply being born into the forbidden category.

Far from opposing the new forms of barbarism, as it often claims to be doing, the woke left fully participate in it, promoting and practicing an oppressive discourse without irony. Although it advocates pluralism and promotes difference, its subjective position of enunciation — the place from which it speaks — is ruthlessly authoritarian, brooking no debate in efforts to impose arbitrary exclusions that previously would have been considered beyond the pale in a tolerant, liberal society.

That said, bear in mind that this mess is largely confined to the narrow world of academia (and various intellectual professions like journalism), whereas the rest of society is moving more in the opposite direction. In the US, for example, 12 Republican senators voted this month with the Democratic majority to codify the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Cancel culture, with its implicit paranoia, is a desperate and obviously self-defeating attempt to compensate for the real violence and intolerance that sexual minorities have long suffered. However, it is a retreat into a cultural fortress, a pseudo-“safe space” whose discursive fanaticism merely strengthens the majority’s resistance to it.

Monday, November 21, 2022


Gesine Borcherdt, "Byung-Chul Han: How Objects Lost their Magic"
The other day I accidentally dropped a silver art-deco teapot, which has been my constant companion for the past 20 years. The dent was huge, and so was the measure of my grief. I suffered sleepless nights until I found a silversmith who promised me she could fix it. Now I find myself waiting impatiently for its return, filled with dread that, when it arrives, it will no longer be the same. And yet the experience leaves me wondering: why have I unravelled in this way?

‘Things are points of stability in life,’ the South Korean-born, Swiss-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han writes in his new book, Undinge (Nonobjects), which is just out in German. (As is the way of things with philosophy books, English-language readers might need to wait some time for its appearance in translation). ‘Objects stabilise human life insofar as they give it a continuity,’ Han writes. Living matter and its history bestow on the object a presence, which activates its entire surroundings. Objects – especially well-designed, historically charged objects, and which are not necessarily artworks – can develop almost magical properties. Undinge is about the loss of this magic. ‘The digital order deobjectifies the world by rendering it information,’ he writes. ‘It’s not objects but information that rules the living world. We no longer inhabit heaven and earth, but the Cloud and Google Earth. The world is becoming progressively untouchable, foggy and ghostly.’

This type of critical stance towards the present, written in clear, zenlike sentences, is a feature of all Han’s books. From The Burnout Society (2010) to The Disappearance of Rituals (2019), he describes our current reality as one in which relations to the other – whether human or object – are being lost; as one in which the tap of finger on smart- phone has replaced real contact and real relationships. The fleeting quality of virtual information and communication, which obliterates, through amplification, any deeper meaning or stillness, displaces the object – whether it be the jukebox in the author’s apartment, or the telephone receivers of Walter Benjamin’s childhood, famously ‘heavy as a dumbbells’ – in whose physical presence resides a humane component, or even an aura, that makes the object mysterious and alive.

Information on the other hand does not illuminate the world, according to Han. It deforms it, levelling the boundary between true and false. ‘What counts is the short-term effect. Effectiveness replaces truth,’ he writes here. For Han, our postfactual stimulus culture is one that edges out time-consuming values such as loyalty, ritual and commitment. ‘Today we chase after information, without gaining knowledge. We take note of everything, without gaining insight. We communicate constantly, without participating in a community. We save masses of data, without keeping track of memories. We accumulate friends and followers, without encountering others. This is how information develops a lifeform: inexistant and impermanent.’

Han speaks of an infosphere, which has settled over the objects. The atmosphere that develops in real space through relations to others and to, as he puts it, ‘things close to the heart’ disappears in favour of fleeting swipes on screens, which suggest brief, disembodied experiences. It’s these types of positions that have earned Han the reputation of being a cultural pessimist – of being a moaning, reactionary romantic who loves to quote himself. Yes, naturally the ‘Like’ button, the ‘Hell of Sameness’ and Martin Heidegger as the earthbound antithesis to our affirmative, virtually defined world are topics he returns to here. These mantras – there is almost a meditative quality to his writing, providing insight and understanding without forcing the reader into higher spheres – have to be understood as anchors, binding you to the basic concept, leaving the horizon to expand as you read.

As a nonnative German speaker and writer, Han manages, in a fascinating way, to dissect the cumbersome semantics of Heidegger, the Black Forest philosopher, in his analysis of the contemporary and to carve out words in such a way that they appear to have the kind of physical quality that almost allows them to become objects in themselves. Indeed, many artists are attracted to Han’s work precisely because of this elision of form and meaning: the pictorial, minimal- existential language he deploys so pointedly, in much the same way as art manages to do when it’s at its best. It’s worth noting too that Han didn’t need to wait for a pandemic to describe how we are voluntarily tied to our laptops, how we exploit ourselves in the neoliberal home-office mode, how this makes us feel creative, smart and connected while we cover up our feelings of precarity with swipes and likes; he did that more than a decade ago.

Now he has reached the stage of addressing commitment and responsibility, quoting famous phrases from The Little Prince (1943): ‘You become responsible forever for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose,’ as the fox tells our royal hero. And, ‘One sees clearly only with the heart.’ Moreover, Han does so in such a disarming way that you can understand why other philosophers snub him. In a discipline that revels in overt complexity and a lack of contact with reality, someone like him cannot be allowed to score points. Yet we should note that while those who stoically grasp the nettle have always been stung, more often than not their actions have been ultimately proved to be right.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Too Weak Willed to Even Tang Ping...

Byung-Chul Han, "All That Is Solid Melts Into Information" (Interview)
The torrent of accelerated time without narrative is disorienting our society and fragmenting community, says philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Art can help put the pieces back together.

Nathan Gardels: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once commented that: “When eras are on the decline, all tendencies are subjective; but, on the other hand, when matters are ripening for a new epoch, all tendencies are objective. Each worthy effort turns its force from the inward to the outward world.”

By that definition, ours is an era of decline that has turned from the outward to the inward obsession with identity and “authenticity,” both personal and tribal, fueled by digital connectivity. Paradoxically, social media in this sense is antisocial, leading to the disintegration of community through a kind of connected isolation.

What is the dynamic and what are the mechanisms behind what you call “the crisis of community?” What are the consequences for how we feel and live in our daily lives?

Byung-Chul Han: The inwardly turned, narcissistic ego with purely subjective access to the world is not the cause of social disintegration but the result of a fateful process at the objective level. Everything that binds and connects is disappearing. There are hardly any shared values or symbols, no common narratives that unite people.

Truth, the provider of meaning and orientation, is also a narrative. We are very well informed, yet somehow we cannot orient ourselves. The informatization of reality leads to its atomization — separated spheres of what is thought to be true.

But truth, unlike information, has a centripetal force that holds society together. Information, on the other hand, is centrifugal, with very destructive effects on social cohesion. If we want to comprehend what kind of society we are living in, we need to understand the nature of information.

Bits of information provide neither meaning nor orientation. They do not congeal into a narrative. They are purely additive. From a certain point onward, they no longer inform — they deform. They can even darken the world. This puts them in opposition to truth. Truth illuminates the world, while information lives off the attraction of surprise, pulling us into a permanent frenzy of fleeting moments.

We greet information with a fundamental suspicion: Things might be otherwise. Contingency is a trait of information, and for this reason, fake news is a necessary element of the informational order. So fake news is just another piece of information, and before any process of verification can begin, it has already done its work. It rushes past truth, and truth cannot catch up. Fake news is truth-proof.

Information goes along with fundamental suspicion. The more we are confronted with information, the more our suspicion grows. Information is Janus-faced — it simultaneously produces certainty and uncertainty. A fundamental structural ambivalence is inherent in an information society.

Truth, by contrast, reduces contingency. We cannot build a stable community or democracy on a mass of contingencies. Democracy requires binding values and ideals, and shared convictions. Today, democracy gives way to infocracy.

As you suggest in your question, another reason for the crisis of community, which is a crisis of democracy, is digitalization. Digital communication redirects the flows of communication. Information is spread without forming a public sphere. It is produced in private spaces and distributed to private spaces. The web does not create a public.

This has highly deleterious consequences for the democratic process. Social media intensify this kind of communication without community. You cannot forge a public sphere out of influencers and followers. Digital communities have the form of commodities; ultimately, they are commodities.

Of course, there was information in the past, too. But it did not determine society to such a degree as today. In antiquity, mythical narratives determined people’s lives and behavior. The Middle Ages were, for many, determined by the Christian narrative. But information was embedded in narration: An outbreak of the plague was not pure, simple information. It was integrated into the Christian narrative of sin.

Today, by contrast, we no longer have any narratives that provide meaning and orientation for our lives. Narratives crumble and decay into information. With some exaggeration, we might say that there is nothing but information without any hermeneutic horizon for interpretation, without any method of explanation. Pieces of information do not coalesce into knowledge or truth, which are forms of narration.

The narrative vacuum in an information society makes people feel discontent, especially in times of crisis, such as the pandemic. People invent narratives to explain a tsunami of disorienting figures and data. Often these narratives are called conspiracy theories, but they cannot simply be reduced to collective narcissism. They readily explain the world. On the web, spaces open to make experiences of identity and collectivity possible again. The web, thus, is tribalized — predominantly among right-wing political groups where there is a very strong need for identity. In these circles, conspiracy theories are taken up as offers for assuming an identity.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that our happiness consists of the possession of a non-negotiable truth. Today, we no longer have such non-negotiable truths. Instead, we have an over-abundance of information. I am not sure that the information society is a continuation of the Enlightenment. Maybe we need a new kind of enlightenment. On a new enlightenment, Nietzsche noted: “It does not suffice that you realize the ignorance in which humans and animals live, you also have to have the will to be ignorant and learn more. You need to comprehend that without this kind of ignorance life would become impossible, that only on condition of this ignorance can what lives preserve itself and flourish.”

Gardels: As you wrote in your most recent book, societal rituals once created that objective narrative bond that held societies together. They “stabilized life” as you put it.

Now such rituals are under assault by the wrecking ball of deconstruction as nothing more than the designs of the privileged who had the power to impose them in the past. In today’s horizontal world, with no legitimate value hierarchy, subjective projection steps in to fill the vacuum.

Out of these ruins of an objective order, how can stabilizing anchors of ritual ever be reestablished? On what basis? On whose authority? What will life look like if that is not possible?

Han: I would not promote a reactivation of past rituals. This is simply not possible because the rituals of Western culture are very closely associated with the Christian narrative. And everywhere the Christian narrative is losing its power. There is little left of it beyond Christmastime.

Rituals found a community. Contrary to the suggestion in your question, it is not inevitable that rituals solidify existing power relations. Quite the opposite. During Carnival, power relations are reversed, so that the slaves can criticize and even mock their masters. Often, roles are exchanged: The masters serve their slaves. And the fool ascends the throne as king. This ritualized temporary suspension of the power structure stabilizes the community.

In a world that is completely without rituals and wholly profane, all that is left are consumption and the satisfaction of needs. It is Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” in which every want is immediately gratified. The people are kept in good spirits with the help of fun, consumption and entertainment. The state distributes a drug called soma in order to increase feelings of happiness in the population. Maybe in our brave new world, people will receive a universal basic income and have unlimited access to video games. That would be the new version of panem et circenses (“bread and circuses”).

I am, however, not completely pessimistic. Perhaps we shall develop new narratives, ones that do not presuppose a hierarchy. We can easily imagine a flat narrative. Every narrative develops its own rituals for the purposes of making it habitual, embedding it in the physical body. Culture founds community.

After the pandemic, what is most in need of recovery is culture. Cultural events such as theater, dance and even football have a ritual character. The only way in which we can revitalize community is through ritual forms. Today, culture is held together solely by instrumental and economic relations. But that does not found communities — it isolates people. Art, in particular, should play a central role in the revitalization of rituals.

What we need most are temporal structures that stabilize life. When everything is short-term, life loses all stability. Stability comes over long stretches of time: faithfulness, bonds, integrity, commitment, promises, trust. These are the social practices that hold a community together. They all have a ritual character. They all require a lot of time. Today’s terror of short-termism — which, with fatal consequences, we mistake for freedom — destroys the practices that require time. To combat this terror, we need a very different temporal politics.

In “The Little Prince,” the fox wants to be visited by the little prince always at the same hour, so that his visit becomes a ritual. The little prince asks the fox what a ritual is, and the fox replies: “Those also are actions too often neglected. … They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”

Rituals can be defined as temporal technologies for housing oneself. They turn being in the world into being at home. Rituals are in time as things are in space. They stabilize life by structuring time. They give us festive spaces, so to speak, spaces we can enter in celebration.

As temporal structures, rituals arrest time. Temporal spaces we can enter in celebration do not pass away. Without such temporal structures, time becomes a torrent that tears us apart from each other and away from ourselves.

Gardels: You have said that you look to art as “the savior” from the conditions you’ve been describing, since philosophy today lacks the transformational quality it once had. What did you mean by that?

Han: Philosophy has the power to change the world: European science began only with Plato and Aristotle; without Rousseau, Voltaire and Kant, the European Enlightenment would be unthinkable. Nietzsche made the world appear in an entirely new light. Marx’s “Capital” founded a new epoch.

Today, however, philosophy has completely lost this world-changing power. It is no longer capable of producing a novel narrative. Philosophy degenerates into an academic, specialist discipline. It is not turned toward the world and the present.

How can we reverse this development and make sure that philosophy regains its world-changing power, its magic? My feeling is that art, as opposed to philosophy, is still in a position where it can evoke the glimmer of a new form of life.

Art has always brought forth a new reality, a new form of perception. All his life, Paul Klee said: “Immanently, I cannot be grasped at all. Because I live with the dead, just as I live with the unborn. A bit nearer to the heart of creation than is usual. And not near enough at all yet.”

It is possible that art is nearer to the heart of creation than philosophy. It is therefore capable of letting something entirely new begin. The revolution can begin with as little as an unheard-of color, an unheard-of sound.

Friday, November 18, 2022

CU On the Other Side!

Track Artemis

St. Mathew's Passion

The St Matthew Passion (German: Matthäus-Passion), BWV 244, is a Passion, a sacred oratorio written by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1727 for solo voices, double choir and double orchestra, with libretto by Picander. It sets the 26th and 27th chapters of the Gospel of Matthew (in the Luther Bible) to music, with interspersed chorales and arias. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of Baroque sacred music. The original Latin title Passio Domini nostri J.C. secundum Evangelistam Matthæum translates to "The Passion of our Lord J[esus] C[hrist] according to the Evangelist Matthew".

"Good Entertainment" 

The Revolt of the Swarm???

Byung-Chul Han, "In the Swarm"
Byung-Chul Han, In Seeking Transparency

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Covid Burnout


Covid-19 is a mirror that reflects back to us the crises in our society. It renders more visible the pathological symptoms that already existed before the pandemic. One of these symptoms is tiredness. We all somehow feel very tired. This is a fundamental tiredness that accompanies us everywhere and all the time, like our own shadows. During the pandemic we have felt even more tired. The idleness imposed on us during lockdown has made us tired. Some people claim that we might rediscover the beauty of leisure, that life might decelerate. In fact, time during the pandemic is ruled not by leisure and deceleration but by tiredness and depression.

Why do we feel so tired? Today, tiredness seems to be a global phenomenon. Ten years ago, I published a book, The Burnout Society, in which I described tiredness as an illness afflicting the neoliberal achievement society. The tiredness experienced during the pandemic has forced me to think about the subject again. Work, no matter how hard it might be, does not bring about fundamental tiredness. We may be exhausted after work, but this exhaustion is not the same as fundamental tiredness. Work ends at some point. The compulsion to achieve to which we subject ourselves extends beyond that point. It accompanies us during leisure time, torments us even in our sleep, and often leads to sleepless nights. It is not possible to recover from the compulsion to achieve. It is this internal pressure, specifically, that makes us tired. There is thus a difference between tiredness and exhaustion. The right kind of exhaustion could even free us from tiredness.

Psychological disorders such as depression or burnout are symptoms of a deep crisis of freedom. They are a pathological signal, indicating that freedom today often turns into compulsion. We think we are free. But we actually exploit ourselves passionately until we collapse. We realize ourselves, optimize ourselves unto death. The insidious logic of achievement permanently forces us to get ahead of ourselves. Once we have achieved something, we want to achieve more, that is, we want to get ahead of ourselves yet again. But, of course, it is impossible to get ahead of oneself. This absurd logic ultimately leads to a breakdown. The achievement subject believes that it is free but it is actually a slave. It is an absolute slave insofar as it voluntarily exploits itself, even without a master being present.

The neoliberal achievement society makes exploitation possible even without domination. The disciplinary society with its commandments and prohibitions, as analyzed by Michel Foucault in his Discipline and Punish, does not describe today’s achievement society. The achievement society exploits freedom itself. Self-exploitation is more efficient than exploitation by others because it goes hand in hand with a feeling of freedom. Kafka expressed with great clarity the paradox of the freedom of the slave who thinks he is the master. In one of his aphorisms he writes: “The animal wrests the whip from its master and whips itself in order to become master, not knowing that this is only a fantasy produced by a new knot in the master’s whiplash.” This permanent self-flagellation makes us tired and, ultimately, depressed. In a certain respect, neoliberalism is based on self-flagellation.

What is uncanny about Covid-19 is that those who catch it suffer from extreme tiredness and fatigue. The illness seems to simulate fundamental tiredness. And there are more and more reports of patients who have recovered but are continuing to suffer severe long-term symptoms, one of which is “chronic fatigue syndrome.” The expression “the batteries no longer charge” describes it very well. Those affected are no longer able to work and perform. They have to exert themselves just to pour a glass of water. When walking, they have to make frequent stops to catch their breath. They feel like the living dead. One patient reports: “It actually feels as if the mobile were only 4 percent charged, and you really only have 4 percent for the whole day, and it cannot be recharged.”

But the virus doesn’t only make Covid sufferers tired. It is now making even healthy people tired. In his book Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World, Slavoj Žižek dedicates a whole chapter to the question “Why are we tired all the time?” Žižek clearly also senses that the pandemic has made us tired. In this chapter, Žižek takes issue with my book The Burnout Society, arguing that exploitation by others has not been replaced by self-exploitation but has only been relocated to Third World countries. I agree with Žižek that this relocation has taken place. The Burnout Society mainly concerns Western neoliberal societies and not the situation of the Chinese factory worker. But through social media the neoliberal form of life is also expanding across the Third World. The rise of egotism, atomization, and narcissism in society is a global phenomenon. Social media turns all of us into producers, entrepreneurs whose selves are the businesses. It globalizes the ego culture that erodes community, erodes anything social. We produce ourselves and put ourselves on permanent display. This self-production, this ongoing “being-on-display” of the ego, makes us tired and depressed. Žižek does not address this fundamental tiredness, which is characteristic of our present times and has been aggravated by the pandemic.

Žižek appears in one passage of his pandemic book to warm to the thesis of self-exploitation, writing, “They [people working from home] may gain even more time to ‘exploit ourselves’ [sic].” During the pandemic, the neoliberal labor camp has acquired a new name: the home office. Work at the home office is more tiring than work at the office. However, this cannot be explained in terms of increased self-exploitation. What is tiring is the solitude involved, the endless sitting in one’s pajamas in front of the screen. We are confronted with our selves, compelled constantly to brood over and speculate about ourselves. Fundamental tiredness is ultimately a kind of ego tiredness. The home office intensifies it by entangling us even deeper in our selves. Other people, who could distract us from our ego, are missing. We tire because of the lack of social contact, of hugs, of bodily touch. Under quarantine conditions we begin to realize that perhaps other people are not “hell,” as Sartre wrote in No Exit, but healing. The virus also accelerates the disappearance of the other that I have described in The Expulsion of the Other.

An absence of ritual is another reason for the tiredness induced by the home office. In the name of flexibility, we are losing the fixed temporal structures and architectures that stabilize and invigorate life. The absence of rhythm, in particular, intensifies depression. Ritual creates community without communication, whereas today what prevails is communication without community. Even those rituals that we still had, such as football matches, concerts, and going out to the restaurant, theater, or cinema, have been canceled. Without greeting rituals, we are thrown back upon ourselves. Being able to greet someone cordially makes one’s self less of a burden. Social distancing dismantles social life. It makes us tired. Other people are reduced to potential carriers of the virus from whom physical distance must be maintained. The virus amplifies our present crises. It is destroying community, which was already in crisis. It alienates us from each other. It makes us even lonelier than we already were in this age of social media that reduce the social and isolate us.

Culture was the first thing to be abandoned during lockdown. What is culture? It engenders community! Without it, we come to resemble animals that want merely to survive. It is not the economy but most of all culture, namely communal life, that needs to recover from this crisis as soon as possible.

Constant Zoom meetings also make us tired. They turn us into Zoom zombies. They force us permanently to look into the mirror. Looking at your own face on the screen is tiring. We are continuously confronted with our own faces. Ironically, the virus appeared precisely at the time of the selfie, a fashion that can be explained as resulting from the narcissism of our society. The virus intensifies this narcissism. During the pandemic, we are all constantly confronted by our own faces; we produce a kind of never-ending selfie in front of our screens. That makes us tired.

Zoom narcissism produces peculiar side effects. It has led to a boom in cosmetic surgery. Distorted or blurred images on the screen lead people to despair over their appearance, while if the screen’s resolution happens to be good, we suddenly detect wrinkles, baldness, liver spots, bags under our eyes, or other unattractive skin imperfections. Since the beginning of the pandemic Google searches for cosmetic surgery have soared. During lockdown, cosmetic surgeons have been swamped with enquiries from customers seeking to improve their tired appearance. There is even talk of a “Zoom dysmorphia.” The digital mirror encourages this dysmorphia (an exaggerated concern with supposed flaws in one’s physical appearance). The virus pushes the frenzy of optimization, which already had us in its grip prior to the pandemic, to the limit. Here, too, the virus holds up a mirror to our society. And in the case of Zoom dysmorphia, the mirror is a real one! Pure despair over our own looks rises up in us. Zoom dysmorphia, this pathological concern with our egos, also makes us tired.

The pandemic has also revealed the negative side effects of digitalization. Digital communication is a very one-sided, attenuated affair: There is no gaze, no body. It lacks the physical presence of the other. The pandemic is ensuring that this essentially inhuman form of communication will become the norm. Digital communication makes us very, very tired. It is a communication without resonance, a communication devoid of happiness. At a Zoom meeting we cannot, for technical reasons, look each other in the eyes. All we do is stare at the screen. The absence of the other’s gaze makes us tired. The pandemic will hopefully make us realize that the physical presence of another person is something that brings happiness, that language implies physical experience, that a successful dialogue presupposes bodies, that we are physical creatures. The rituals we have been missing out on during the pandemic also imply physical experience. They represent forms of physical communication that create community and therefore bring happiness. Most of all, they lead us away from our egos. In the present situation, ritual would be an antidote for fundamental tiredness. A physical aspect is also inherent in community as such. Digitalization weakens community cohesion insofar as it has a disembodying effect. The virus alienates us from the body.

The mania for health was already rampant before the pandemic. Now, we are mainly concerned with survival, as if we were in a permanent state of war. In the battle for survival, the question of the good life does not arise. We call upon all of life’s forces only in order to prolong life at all costs. With the pandemic, this fierce battle for survival undergoes a viral escalation. The virus transforms the world into a quarantine ward on which all of life freezes into survival.

Today, health becomes the highest goal of humanity. The society of survival loses a sense of the good life. Even pleasure is sacrificed at the altar of health, which becomes an end in itself. Nietzsche already called it the new goddess. The strict ban on smoking also expresses the mania for survival. Pleasure has to give way to survival. The prolongation of life becomes the highest value. In the interests of survival, we willingly sacrifice everything that makes life worth living.

Reason demands that even in a pandemic we do not sacrifice all aspects of life. It is the task of politics to make sure that life is not reduced to bare life, to mere survival. I am a Catholic. I like to be in churches, especially in these strange times. Last year at Christmas, I attended a midnight mass that took place despite the pandemic. It made me glad. Unfortunately, there was no incense, which I love so much. I asked myself: Is there also a strict ban on incense during the pandemic? Why? When leaving the church, I habitually stretched out my hand into the stoup and startled: The stoup was empty. A bottle of disinfectant was placed next to it.

The “corona blues” is the name the Koreans have given to the depression that is spreading during the pandemic. Under quarantine conditions, without social interaction, depression deepens. Depression is the real pandemic. The Burnout Society set out from the following diagnosis:

Every age has its signature afflictions. Thus, a bacterial age existed; at the latest, it ended with the discovery of antibiotics. Despite widespread fear of an influenza epidemic, we are not living in a viral age. Thanks to immunological technology, we have already left it behind. From a pathological standpoint, the incipient twenty-first century is determined neither by bacteria nor by viruses, but by neurons. Neurological illnesses such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and burnout syndrome mark the landscape of pathology at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Soon we shall have sufficient vaccine to beat the virus. But there will be no vaccines against the pandemic of depression.

Depression is also a symptom of the burnout society. The achievement subject suffers burnout at the moment it is no longer able “to be able.” It fails to meet its self-imposed demand to achieve. No longer being able “to be able” leads to destructive self-recrimination and auto-aggression. The achievement subject wages a war against itself and perishes in it. Victory in this war against oneself is called burnout.

Several thousand people commit suicide every year in South Korea. The main cause is depression. In 2018, about 700 school children attempted suicide. The media even talk of a “silent massacre.” By contrast, so far only 1,700 people have died of Covid-19 in South Korea. The very high suicide rate is simply accepted as collateral damage of the achievement society. No significant measures have been taken to reduce the rate. The pandemic has intensified the problem of suicide—the suicide rate in South Korea has risen rapidly since it broke out. The virus apparently also aggravates depression. But around the globe not enough attention is being paid to the psychological consequences of the pandemic. People have been reduced to biological existence. Everyone listens just to the virologists, who have assumed absolute authority when it comes to interpreting the situation. The real crisis caused by the pandemic is the fact that bare life has been transformed into an absolute value.

The Covid-19 virus wears out our burnout society by deepening pathological social fault lines. It drives us into a collective fatigue. The coronavirus could thus also be called the tiredness virus. But the virus is also a crisis in the Greek sense of krisis, meaning a turning point. For it may also allow us to reverse our fate and turn away from our distress. It appeals to us, urgently: you must change your life! But we can only do so if we radically revise our society, if we succeed in finding a new form of life that is immune to the tiredness virus.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Friday, November 11, 2022

Why Can't I find my Dark Matter...?

...what an Ultraviolet Catastrophe!

If Golem XiV had a Thalamus...

...Consolidate all but the sense of Smell... ;)

Stanislaw Lem, "Golem XIV"
When man wants to learn about himself, he must move circuitously, he must explore himself and penetrate from the outside, with instruments and hypotheses, for your genuinely immediate world is the outside world. A discipline which you have never created (a fact that at one time rather surprised me), the philosophy of the body, ought to have been asking as early as preanatomical times why that body of yours, which to some extent obeys you, says nothing and lies to you ¬タヤwhy it hides and defends itself against you, alert to the environment with every sense and yet opaque and mistrustful toward its owner. With a finger you can feel every grain of sand, and with your vision you can clearly distinguish the branchings of distant trees, but the arterial branchings of your own heart you are totally unable to feel, although life depends on them. You must content yourselves with information from the shell of your body, which is efficient as long as it is not sensate in its innards, whose every injury reaches you as a vague rumor through the affliction of obscure pain, since you cannot distinguish, from it, between a trifling indisposition and the precursor of destruction.
This ignorance, a rule of the unconsciously efficient body, has been established by Evolution according to a design that does not provide for assistance given, in the body's interior, by its possessor, an assistance in the form of intelligent support in the enduring of pain.

...or in support of creating an 'identity" of one from many. A singular consciousness out of a "collective" outcry from a multiplicity of communications from billions of living cells.