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

Monday, January 30, 2023

Zizek on the Poetico-Military Complex: The Actuality of Plato's Critique of Poetry, et al


Peter Jungblut, "Slavoj Žižek calls for "democratic militarisation" of the West" (Google translate from German)
The prominent Slovenian philosopher is once again pugnacious and provocative: In order to defeat Putin, the West must not only rely on the free market, but needs something like a "war communism": "That's how real, good leftists think."

Thus, the philosopher Slavoj Žižek (73) will probably bring even more opponents in the political left. Speaking to the Russian exile medium Meduza, he settled accounts with all those who oppose arms deliveries to Ukraine and called their point of view "incredibly stupid," not for moral but for "logical" reasons. In particular, he attacked his professional colleague Noam Chomsky (94): "The old left still thinks that the US and Western Europe are the most important imperialists. Accordingly, 'their enemy is my friend'. They still cling to the belief that Russia is fighting global imperialism." In fact, however, "neo-fascism" prevails in Russia under Putin.

"State intervention is needed"
Žižek praised the German Greens for their "pragmatism" because they used the detachment from Russia's oil and gas supplies for the ecological turnaround: "That's how real, good leftists think." In order to "annoy and provoke the people," the intellectual called for the introduction of "elements of war communism," meaning greater possibilities for state intervention, for example in health care and the environment: "Of course, the West does not need a communist dictatorship."

However, Žižek speaks of "democratic militarization": "Of course I don't mean handing over power to the army. But during the war you must not surrender yourself to the chance of the market, it needs state intervention." The political and economic crisis caused by the war must be combated with "military measures". On the other hand, Žižek called the disputes over LGBT+ people "pseudo-conflicts" that "strongly divided" people. Unfortunately, many leftists are "obsessed" with it.

"Every critique must begin with self-criticism"
"Western ideology works in such a way that the system constantly criticizes itself but does not change anything. If this is not remedied, the West will lose," the philosopher said. He accuses "progressive" intellectuals of secretly expecting a quick triumph for Putin, the Ukrainian resistance having surprised them: "This is a real miracle - they believe in their freedom and fight for it."

He called Russia a "very traumatized, divided country" whose undesirable development was also the responsibility of the West: "That will sound a little Stalinist, but any criticism must begin with self-criticism. The tragedy of Russia is that in the 1990s the West tried to impose a neoliberal model on it by force. The direct result is Putin and the war." Even more important than a victory over Putin is to preserve Ukraine's independence. In the long term, it could advance the democratization of Russia.

"Dangers of procrastination are growing"
Žižek is not alone with his radical demands: In the journal "Foreign Affairs", the former US ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul, called for a much tougher approach by the West. Specifically, he cites "more and better weapons, tougher sanctions, new economic aid, greater public diplomacy efforts, and a credible commitment to post-war reconstruction." The roughly $300 billion seized from Russia's central bank's reserves abroad was to be "transferred to the government of Ukraine."

McFaul fears that a protracted war risks losing public support in the West. Above all, US President Joe Biden will then have "difficulties" in putting together new aid packages for Ukraine, because he will lack the approval of Congress: "The dangers of a policy of procrastination grow over time."

"Signs of irresponsibility"
Indian-born columnist Pankaj Mishra takes a completely different view of the role of the West in the Washington Post. He criticizes that "in the absence of public debates" it is by no means certain whether a majority of the Western population supports an intensification of the confrontation with Russia. There is only a "consensus between think tanks and mainstream media". In any case, the balance sheet of recent years is "unpleasant" as far as interference attempts are concerned: "All the major countries of the Western alliance were involved in military fiascos that devastated entire regions of Asia, the Middle East and Africa."

Mishra criticises a "bizarre forgetfulness" because Germany is once again sending "equipment to the old battlefields" after two world wars: "Ukraine's future as a democracy is also getting bleaker when you consider the recent fate of countries that have been showered with weapons and dollars. Ukraine, one of the most corrupt countries in the world before the war, seems further away from the prospect of an honest and accountable elite."

The columnist sees "signs of irresponsibility" among Western institutions that have strengthened their military presence abroad while battling economic crises: "This is the clearest warning that we are facing a broader conflagration."

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Russian Air Forces Get Ready to Play...HVT! High... Value... Targets!



Byung-Chul Han, "Heidegger's Hand"

Heidegger is strongly dedicated to work and to the hand, as if he sensed that the human being of the future would be handless and inclined to play rather than work. One of his lectures on Aristotle begins thus: 'Aristotle was born, worked, and died.'57 Thinking is work. Later, Heidegger called thinking handwork: 'Perhaps thinking, too, is just something like building a cabinet [Schrein]. At any rate, it is handwork.'58 The hand makes thinking a decidedly analogue process. Heidegger would say: artificial intelligence does not think because it does not have a hand.

Heidegger's hand is determined to defend the terrestrial order against the digital order. Digital is derived from digtus, meaning finger. With our fingers, we count and calculate. They are numerical, that is, digital. Heidegger explicitly distinguishes between the hand and the fingers. The typewriter, requiring only the use of the fingertips, C withdraws from man the essential rank of the hand'.59 The typewriter destroys the 'word' by degrading it; the word becomes 'a means of communication', that is, information.60 The typewritten word 'no longer comes and goes by means of the writing hand, the prop- erly acting hand'.61 Only 'handwriting' approaches the essential realm of the word.62 The typewriter, Heidegger says, is a 'signless cloud [Wolke]',63 that is, a numerical cloud [Wolke], a Cloud that conceals the essence of the word. The hand is a 'sign' because it points towards what 'awards [zusprechen] itself to language'. Only the hand receives the gift of thinking. For Heidegger, the typewriter is the precursor of the computer. It turns the 'word' into 'information'. The typewriter foreshadows the digital. The construction of the computer is made possible by the 'process in which language increasingly becomes merely an instrument of information'.64 The hand does not count or compute. It represents the non-countable, the non-calculable, the 'singular as such, which, as one in its singleness, is uniquely the uniquely unifying One that precedes all number'.65

Heidegger's analysis of equipment in Being and Time shows that the hand is what discloses to us the environment in its original form. A thing appears initially as something available to our hands, as 'ready-to-hand'. When I reach for a pen, it does not appear to me as an object with certain qualities. If I want to imagine the pen as an object, I have to draw my hand back and purposefully stare at the pen. The grasping hand experiences the thing at a more primordial level than the representing intuition:
the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is — as equipment. The hammering itself uncovers the specific 'manipulability' [Handlichkeit] of the hammer. The kind of Being which equipment possesses — in which it manifests itself in its own right — we call 'readiness-to-hand' [Zuhandenheit].66
The hand anticipates [greift vor] every representation. Heidegger's thinking always attempts to advance to a sphere of experience that precedes but is blocked by representational and objectifying thinking. The hand has special access to the primordial sphere of being that precedes all forms of objectification.

In Being and Time, the thing, as equipment, is experienced as useful. In his second analysis of equipment in The Origin Of the Work of Art', Heidegger tries to advance to an even deeper sphere of the thing's being, one that precedes even usefulness: 'The equipmentality of equipment consists indeed in its usefulness. But this itself rests in the fullness of an essential being of the equipment. We call this reliability.'67 'Reliability' is a primary experience of the thing that precedes its usefulness. Heidegger illustrates 'reliability' through the example of a painting by Vincent Van Gogh of a pair of leather shoes. Why does Heidegger choose these shoes as an example? Shoes protect the foot, which is in many respects akin to the hand. Interestingly, Heidegger explicitly draws attention to the foot, which, given that everyone knows what shoes are for, is not necessary: 'We will take as an example an everyday piece of equipment, a pair of peasant shoes.... Equipment of this kind serves as footwear.'68

The Van Gogh painting actually seems to show the artist's own shoes. They are apparently men's shoes. But Heidegger makes idiosyncratic decisions in his reading:
The peasant woman wears her shoes in the field. Only then do they become what they are. They are all the more genuinely so the less the peasant woman thinks of her shoes while she is working, or even looks at them, or is aware of diem in anyway at all. This is how the shoes actually serve.69
This passage is reminiscent of the analysis of equipment in Being and Time. As soon as I take the hammer-Thing into my hand and hammer, instead of just staring at it, it appears to me for what it is, that is, as equipment. Similarly, the shoes actually serve as shoes when the peas- ant woman walks and stands in them. But the essence of the shoe-Thing is not usefulness. In a pictorial language, Heidegger points to a level of experience that precedes usefulness :
From out of the dark opening of the well-worn insides of the shoes the toil of the worker's tread stares forth. In the crudely solid heaviness of the shoes accumulates the tenacity of the slow trudge through the far-stretching and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lies the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. The shoes vibrate with the silent call of the earth, its silent gift of the ripening grain, its unexplained self-refusal in the wintry field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining worry as to the certainty of bread, wordless joy at having once more withstood want, trembling before the impending birth, and shivering at the surrounding menace Of death. This equipment belongs to the earth and finds protection in the world Of the peasant woman.70
The 'reliability' of things consists in the fact that they embed human beings in those relations to the world that make life stable. With its 'reliability', the thing is a world-thing. Its reliability is part Of the terrestrial order. Today, the thing is decoupled from this world-founding wealth of relations and exhausts itself in pure functionality. Thus, it is no longer reliable:
The individual piece of equipment becomes worn out and used up. ... In this way equipmental being withers away, sinks to the level of mere equipment. Such dwindling of equipmental being is the disappearance of its reliability. ... Now nothing but sheer utility remains visible.71
Human Dasein has its footings on the earth. Heidegger's foot stands for being grounded on the soil. It connects human beings with the earth, which gives them stability and abode. Heidegger's country' path 'quietly escorts one's Steps along the winding trail through the expanse of the sparse landscape'.72 The thing and its reliability take care that human beings establish a firm footing on the earth. The foot provides another clue as to why Heidegger holds on to the hand with such determination. Hand and foot point to the site of Heidegger's thinking. They embody the terrestrial order. The handless humans of the future are also footless. They hover above the earth in the digital Cloud.

Heidegger's thing is a world-thing: 'The thing things world.'73 The verb 'thinging', belonging to the thing, means 'gathering'. The thing 'gathers' the meaningful relations in which human Dasein is embedded. The world structure that founds meaning Heidegger calls the 'four- fold'. The world consists of four elements that provide meaning and stability: 'earth' and 'sky', the 'divinities' and the 'mortals'.74 For Heidegger, things include 'brook and hill' [Bach und Berg], 'heron and roe' [Reiher und Reh], 'mirror and clasp' [Spiegel und Spange], 'book and picture' [Buch und Bild] and 'crown and cross' [Krone und Kreuz].75 The consistent alliteration suggests a simple world order that has to be reflected in the things. Heidegger asks us to rely on the metre, on the rhythm, of the terrestrial order to place ourselves in the hands of the weight of the world.

Heidegger insists on the intrinsic measure of the earth. His belief is that there is an 'approval or ordering' beyond the human will, and that humans need to obey this ordering.76 An abode is not produced but approved. The later Heidegger had in mind a care-free Dasein, a 'safebeing' that is, however, beyond human influence:
Safe, securus, sine cura means: without care. Care has here the nature Of deliberate self-assertion along the ways and by the means Of absolute production.... The safebeing is the sheltered repose in the attraction-nexus of the whole attraction.77
Humans, Heidegger says, are the 'be-thinged'.78 The 'thing' shelters the 'attraction-nexus of the whole attraction' that takes care of the stabiliw, the 'safebeing'. Heidegger sets himself against the beginnings of the dig- ital order, in which the world 'remains orderable as a system of information'.79 The digital order strives for the un-thinged [das Un-Bedingte], whereas in the terrestrial order humans are the be-thinged:
Man is about to hurl himself upon the entire earth and its atmosphere, to arrogate to himself the hidden work- ing of nature in the form of energy... This same defiant man is incapable of saying simply what is; of saying what this is, that a thing is.80
Heidegger's hand is tied to the terrestrial order. Thus, it does not grasp the human future. Human beings have long since stopped dwelling between 'earth' and 'sky'. On the way towards the un-thinged [Unbedingtheit], they will also leave the 'mortals' and the 'divinities' behind. The last things (τὰ ἔσχατα) will also have to be elimi- nated. Human beings soar up towards the un-thinged, the unconditioned. We are headed towards a trans- human and post-human age in which human life will be a pure exchange of information. Human beings shed their being be-thinged, their facticity, even though this is precisely what makes them what they are. 'Human' is derived from humus, that is, soil. Digitalization is a resolute step along the way towards the abolition Of the humanum. The future Of humans seems mapped out: humans will abolish themselves in order to posit themselves as the absolute .

57. According to Hannah Arendt: Hannah Arendt — Martin Heidegger: Letters 1925-1975, Orlando: Harcourt, 2004, p. 154.
58. Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?, p. 16 (transl. amended).
59. Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998, p. 85.
60. Ibid., p. 81.
61. Ibid.
62. Ibid.
63. Ibid., p. 85.
64. Martin Heidegger, 'Johann Peter Hebel', in Reden und andere Zeugnisse eines Lebensweges, 1910—1976, Gesamtausgabe, vol. 16, Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2000, pp. 530-3; here: p. 532.
65. Martin Heidegger, 'Anaximander's Saying (1946)', in Off the Beaten Track, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 242-81; here: p. 260.
66. Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 98.
67. Martin Heidegger, 'The Origin of the Work of Art', in Off the Beaten Track, pp. 1—56; here: p. 14.
68. Ibid., p. 13.
69. Ibid., p. 13f.
70. Ibid., p. 14.
71. Ibid., p. 15.
72. Martin Heidegger, 'The Pathway', in Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker, ed. Thomas Sheehan, Chicago: Precedent Publishing, 1981, pp. 69—71; here: p. 71 (transl. amended). Note that the text is not included in the book's table of contents.
73. Martin Heidegger, 'The Thing', in Poetry, Language, Thought, New York: Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 164—84; here: p. 178.
74. Ibid, p. 177.
75. Ibid, p. 180.
76. Martin Heidegger, 'Anaximander's Saying (1946)', p. 276 (transl. amended).
77. Martin Heidegger, Why Poets?' , in Off the Beaten Track, pp. 200—41; here: pp. 223f.
78. Martin Heidegger, 'The Thing', p. 179
79. Martin Heidegger, 'The Question Concerning Technology', in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, New York: Garland Publishing, 1977, pp. 3—35; here: p. 23.
80. Martin Heidegger, 'Anaximander's Saying (1946)', pp. 280f.

 Salvador Dali, "Archeological Reminiscence of Millet's Angelus" (1935)

Friday, January 27, 2023

Distant Drumbeats Growing Louder...

Walt Whitman, "Beat! Beat! Drums!"

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying,
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

Monday, January 23, 2023

A Review of "The Disappearance of Rituals" by Byung-Chul Han


Christopher Garbowski, "Community and Rituals: A Review of Byung-Chul Han’s 'The Disappearance of Rituals'"
Toward the end of the twentieth century, give or take a decade or so, the idea that we were living in a post-secular age was making some headway among those interested in the place of religion in modern societies. The primary evidence was to be found in places such as the United States, with its highly religious population, and ditto Poland, as well as in several post-communist countries where religion seemed to be undergoing a revival after the official atheist ideology of communism was finally cast aside once the subjugated nations regained their sovereignty.[1] By and large, this optimism concerning the modest return of religion has faded, with a few significant exceptions, such as Africa, where the religious practice continues to experience growth for the time being at any rate.

Ronald Inglehart has linked the advancing progress of secularization with growing wealth and the rising standard of living in such societies where this process occurs. Furthermore, he claimed that, by and large, this is an emancipatory phenomenon.[2] One would likely be not far off to say that such an opinion is now reasonably mainstream and becoming more so in Poland, where I live. In his book Does Religion Do More Harm Than Good? Rupert Shortt presents several negative stereotypes concerning religion and his arguments against them.[3] However, even the most sensible argumentation will not carry much weight in contemporary polarized societies with a highly prejudiced meritocracy in this and other matters.[4]

Inglehart is a prominent social scientist, and his claims must be taken seriously whether one accepts them. However, a significant part of the accompanying phenomena he describes is a matter of interpretation. In his provocative essay The Disappearance of Rituals, cultural philosopher Byung-Chul Han, who teaches at the University of the Arts in Berlin, implicitly challenges the sanguine view that the socio-economic processes accompanying and also driving secularization are particularly emancipatory; on the contrary, he forcefully argues the disappearance of “rituals”—obviously so important in religious traditions, among others—drives the “erosion of community.”[5]

Han does not explicitly deal with secularism. Nevertheless, it is implicit in his diagnosis of the contemporary Western world, especially considering the importance of ritual in preserving community in a given society. Although other forces in society, for instance, historical memory in service of national communities, also generate rituals, it is not likely they do so to a more considerable degree or in more meaningful terms. Rituals, for the author, are symbolic acts that “represent, and pass on, the values and orders on which a community is based.”[6] Naturally, religion plays a vital role in this process, not only through ordinary rituals but also their heightened form in festivals, which imply rest and leisure through their circular treatment of time—that is, following the liturgical calendar—they respond to the profound fact that “humans regularly feel the need to unite.”[7]

Several decades ago, the self-centered nature of individuals in contemporary consumer society was labeled as a “culture of narcissism” by social thinker Christopher Lasch. The prominent communitarian philosopher Charles Taylor challenged that charge by forwarding an interpretation that members of these developed societies are primarily bound by an ethics of authenticity wherein they aspire to be true to themselves and their originality. “This is the background that gives moral force to the culture of authenticity,” he argued, “including its most degraded, absurd, or trivialized forms.”[8] He also proffered some ideas about how the ethos can avoid being trivialized or degraded to narcissism and better serve society. Now, Han cites but is not convinced by these arguments. Upending Taylor’s claims, he curtly retorts: “The narcissism of authenticity undermines community.”[9] Han rejects the moral façade of authenticity, claiming it leads to a form of self-exploitation, which the neoliberal regime appropriates into its production process. The seeming originality of individuals is a form of conformism, evident, among other places, in the fashion for tattoos, wherein the body becomes an “advertising space.” The narcissistic cult of authenticity rejects sociability and politeness, effectively leading to the brutalization of society. Even the arts have become increasingly profane and disenchanted, losing their playful nature through focusing on form and content. Thus “[t]he disenchantment of art is a symptom of narcissism, of narcissistic internalization.”[10] Significantly, the fashion for tattoos and—considering the public square—crude and brutal public demonstrations are evident in Polish society at present, symptoms of an atomized society, as Han would put it, or more accurately, a significant segment of Polish society. In a consumer society, this adds up to the phenomenon that, in symbolic terms, through self-absorption, we consume ourselves.

Another crucial element in Han’s list of pathologies of the neoliberal society is the lack of closure or at least a certain manner of closure. He lists nationalism as a negative, fundamentalist form of closure, while culture is a positive form that aids in providing an identity for a community. What is important, culture is also receptive to what is foreign; thus, it helps create an “including identity.” Globalization, on the other hand, creates a hyper-culture that perforates healthy boundaries and the natural attachment of people to sites. “A de-sited hyper-culture is additive” and thus hampers closure; what is more, it propagates “a cancerous proliferation of the same, even to the hell of the same,” argues Han.[11] This is one of the causes of the culture wars—although he does not use this term—since, as he puts it, “[t]he strengthening of site fundamentalism (…) is a reaction to hyper-cultural non-sitedness.”[12] Needless to say, the confrontation can be pretty hostile, and both sides are at fault to different degrees.

Rituals are important, among other things, since they provide structure to essential stages in life and give meaning to time. In this sense, it could be said they also help those of us who are, in a manner of speaking, abandoned by those who undergo the ultimate transition that awaits us all. Rites of passage are threatened in the current intense forms of communication and production. Thus, “temporally intense transitions are disintegrating into speedy passages, continuous links and endless clicks.”[13] One might add that this is likely a factor in creating the significant number of singletons: a symptom of the inability to build lasting relationships that form the base of the community.

The neoliberal order does not only wreak havoc in traditional societies. In the West, it has transformed the pursuit of knowledge initiated in the Enlightenment—although Han overlooks the influence of religion that led to the establishment of the universities in the Middle Ages, with their much earlier impact on that pursuit initiated in much earlier period. He adds that since the human being is no longer capable of producing it rapidly enough, machines now produce knowledge and do so mechanically. The human being is reduced “to a data set, a variable that can be calculated and manipulated.”[14] This augments an overabundance of communication without substance.

The above hardly does justice to Han’s rich discussion and proffered insights. Among his main points is that in a ritualistic society, as he succinctly puts it, much is implicitly understood by its members, and therefore effectively, there is the “community without communication,” while the reverse is true today, where there is a prevalence of “communication without community.”[15] Although he attempts to present the situation in a balanced manner, it is evident where his greater sympathies lie. When he claims the processes that create this situation are not emancipatory, that is putting what he describes more fully rather mildly.

In The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray astutely detects a palpable sense of ennui in the eponymous continent: the sense that “life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow and that life in modern Western Europe, in particular, has lost its sense of purpose.”[16] Han’s insightful essay suggests the roots of the continent’s malaise, in no small measure caused by the loss of religion, together with the rituals that hold a society together.[17] Murray felt the countries of Central Europe were something of an exception. To what degree was he right? As a vital country of the region undergoing a period of transition, Poland is worth looking at somewhat closer.

One might begin by noting that after the downfall of communism in the seminal year of 1989, Polish society has quite rapidly elevated its standard of living. Indeed, through its dynamic economy that fostered this change, the country has been dubbed “Europe’s growth champion” by one economist.[18] To attain this, Poles underwent a severe transformation that Han would describe in the broadest terms as incorporating a forceful version of neoliberalism together with its system of production. A number of the pathologies he ascribes to this combination have gripped society; although they might not yet have taken quite the powerful hold he describes in his book, in the historically short period of time the socio-economic system has been employed, the effects are nevertheless quite substantial. Will they continue to build up and—conversely—what forms of resistance to the erosion of community can be mustered are important to consider.

To better understand the specific form of the challenge, in his perceptive study Populism and the European Culture Wars, Frank Furedi points out that post-traditional and post-national sentiments, propagated by the likes of Jürgen Habermas, exercise substantial influence over the cultural elites and institutions of Western societies. This attitude tends toward specific aberrations; for instance, the author observes that the testimony to “the narrow technical vision of contemporary cosmopolitanism is that its worship of heterogeneity has contributed to the cultural valuation of parochial identity politics.”[19] This might be understood as one of the political forms of the narcissistic cult of authenticity, and it has also substantially taken hold of political and cultural elites in post-communist countries.

Among the last sources of ritual that remain in society is connected to one of the foundations of community: the family. Along with religion, the family was a target under communism since it created more independent individuals better able to withstand regime propaganda. Many post-communist societies are still affected by the decline of the family under communism. No doubt, it is among the factors that make Russian society, with the family in terrible condition and divorce rates relatively high, not to mention the accompanying substance abuse, so susceptible and passive toward the authoritarian state propaganda of the Putin regime. The strength of the Church—with the numerous accompanying rituals—was a crucial factor in maintaining the family in Poland. One critical study indirectly supports the notion that the strength of the family likewise helps in the EU.

It turns out that in Nordic countries, which are highly secular and gender equality is very high, there is a much greater level of partner violence than in Poland. In the study Violence Against Women: An EU-wide Survey published 2014, Scandinavian countries were at the top of the list for women reporting past abuse, ranging from 52% to 46%, while Poland was at the bottom with a couple of other countries at 13%.[20] It has been argued that the cause for this is likely connected with the high rate of cohabitation in Nordic countries: namely, relationships where partner turnover is comparatively rapid with all the heated emotions involved. While religion is not mentioned as a reason for the low rate of abuse in Poland, it plays a role in the popularity of marriage, with all the incumbent benefits, to the couple and the community.

The more “European” Poland becomes, the more the above pathologies infiltrate it. Among other matters, as was mentioned, the narcissistic cult of authenticity Han describes effectively rejects sociability and politeness, leading to the brutalization of society. This brutalization is more clearly visible now in Polish society, even if it has not yet been internalized to the extent that seems to be the case in Scandinavian countries. Once again, the family remains a source of possible growth of the community. How long this will be the case in Poland, among other countries, remains to be seen. Unfortunately, some of the current signs are not optimistic.

Cultural philosophy is not a science, and so its insights are on the intuitive side. Jacques Maritain placed a high value on creative intuition but felt its insights come to us through art. In the case of authors like Han, the intuitions of cultural philosophy can also be taken seriously. Indeed, the problem he tackles requires attention. Through its diagnosis of the breakdown of community at a fundamental juncture, Han’s The Disappearance of Rituals gives some idea of where the sources of strength can be found for any counteraction to the process, and that is what makes it such an important work.

[1] Peter Berger and Jose Casanova were among the prominent proponents of this thinking. See, for instance, Casanova’s seminal work on religion in the public sphere, which includes a chapter on Poland. José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

[2] Ronald Inglehart, “Giving Up on God: The Global Decline of Religion,” Foreign Affairs 99, (September/October 2020): 110–118.

[3] Rupert Shortt, Does Religion Do More Harm Than Good? (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2019).

[4] Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (London: Allen Lane, 2020).

[5] Byung-Chul Han, The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present, translated by Daniel Steuer (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2020), vi.

[6] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 1.

[7] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 39.

[8] Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 29.

[9] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 17.

[10] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 25.

[11] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 34.

[12] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 34.

[13] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 35.

[14] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 82.

[15] Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, 1, passim.

[16] Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 258.

[17] Murray, not personally religious himself, also claims that the loss of religion in the continent is part of the problem.

[18] Marcin Piatkowski, Europe’s Growth Champion: Insights from the Economic Rise of Poland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[19] Frank Furedi, Populism and the European Culture Wars: The Conflict of Values between Hungary and the EU (London: Routledge, 2018), 72–73.

[20] Carolyn Moynihan, “A Nordic Paradox: Higher Gender Equality, More Partner Violence,” Mercatornet.com, May 28, 2019, https://mercatornet.com/a-nordic-paradox-higher-gender-equality-more-partner-violence/24369/.

Friday, January 20, 2023

On the Offers (Promises) of Politicians...

Slavoj Žižek, "Man's Mind Is Such a Adamant Gentleman: The Excuse Is the Excuse/Occasion Dilemma" (Google Translated from Turkish)
In the British working-class film Brassed Off, our heroine walks a lovely young lady off at her home. When he arrives at the door, the woman invites the man to her house for coffee. The man replied:
"Well, I don't drink coffee!

Smiling at the lovely young lady, she says: "Well, I don't have coffee anyway, don't worry...
The erotic power of this answer lies in the fact that it is the negation of denial [or denial of denial?]: the woman who does not need to mention the name of lovemaking makes a shamefully straight sexual offer: by first inviting the man home for coffee and then confessing that he is not having coffee, he clarifies that the invitation to coffee is an excuse, that is, it has no autonomous meaning [1].

If we translate the same logic to the political level, we can assume that the ABE, which prepared for the invasion of Iraq in the last months of 2002, established a dialogue with Europe as follows:
— We are conducting an operation in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, would you join us?! (ABE)

— But we don't have the devices to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction!? (Europe)

— Well, there is no Weapon of Mass Destruction in Iraq anyway, don't worry... (Rumsfeld)
In fact, isn't this the most general formula for humanitarian interventions?
— Let's intervene in country X to carry humanitarian aid and alleviate deep suffering!

— Well, our intervention will bring more suffering and death!

— Well, we'll find an excuse to multiply the intervention, don't worry...
(Less Than Nothing)

[1] ç.n. Excuse is the dilemma of excuse/occasion. In the scene of the invitation to coffee, the man is a miner, a woman is a privatization worker: if the sexual offer made by the woman to the man comes from a neoliberal/neofeudal place, it is at best an excuse to become nothing, if not, maybe it can be an occasion for something.

In order to exist, the woman assumed the tensifying ambivalence of the excuse/occasion dilemma in the excuse and disguised herself as an 'unchangeable banknote' (or disguised as an uninterpretable symptom: the first if she excuses, the second if she is the occasion).

The ambiguous innuendo in the film is not without reason, either, but depends on the English homophony of 'coffee=cough-fee': "Sacrifice to Dead Presidents: Öhö Öhö Öhö Şahsın Ya!"

The situation in Turkish is different, coffee 'Kaf and...' It can be read:
"Come, for now, let's pick strawberries from Mount Kaf together, and then maybe we'll do something else.
See "Quatrain", "Anna Fğoyd, strawberry, mountain strawberryiii!" Sigmund Freud, "Strawberry Fields Endless Surface" The Beatles, "The Fanciently Emotional Birth of Busy Pecent Desire Witnessing the Occupation of Eating Mountain Strawberries with Appetite" Slavoj Žižek "What is Artisan-Style PreoccupationPesent Historiography?"

Turkish: Işık Barış Fidaner


Thursday, January 12, 2023

America and the Rise of Cultural Cannibalism

Jeju Uprising and Massacre
The Jeju uprising, known in South Korea as the Jeju April 3 incident (Korean: 제주 4·3 사건), was an uprising on Jeju Island from April 1948 to May 1949. Residents of Jeju opposed to the division of Korea had protested and had been on a general strike since 1947 against elections scheduled by the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) to be held only in the territory controlled by the United States Army Military Government in Korea. The Workers' Party of South Korea (WPSK) and its supporters launched an insurgency in April 1948, attacking the police, and Northwest Youth League members stationed on Jeju mobilized to violently suppress the protests: 166–167 The First Republic of Korea under President Syngman Rhee escalated the suppression of the uprising from August 1948, declaring martial law in November and beginning an "eradication campaign" against rebel forces in the rural areas of Jeju in March 1949, defeating them within two months. Many rebel veterans and suspected sympathizers were later killed upon the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, and the existence of the Jeju uprising was officially censored and repressed in South Korea for several decades: 41 

The Jeju uprising was notable for its extreme violence; between 14,000 and 30,000 people (10 percent of Jeju's population) were killed, and 40,000 fled to Japan: 139, 193  Atrocities and war crimes were committed by both sides, but historians have noted that the methods used by the South Korean government to suppress protesters and rebels were especially cruel, with violence against civilians by pro-government forces contributing to the Yeosu-Suncheon rebellion in South Jeolla during the conflict: 171: 13–14: 186  Some historians and scholars, including military historian Allan R. Millett, regard the Jeju uprising as the true beginning of the Korean War.

In 2006, almost 60 years after the Jeju uprising, the South Korean government apologized for its role in the killings and promised reparations. In 2019, the South Korean police and defense ministry apologized for the first time over the massacres.

From the Zizek video above: 
Did you notice that all, from the early modernity on, ALL leaders, since from modernity on cannot any longer rely unproblematically on some transcended source of authority... i.e.- "I'm a king because God invested in me my Authority" or "because of some higher Destiny my sacred Origins legitimately..." so the logical solution is that leaders, themselves Masters, proclaim themselves servants? Like Friedrich the Great the famous German person, Prussian King, who called himself the servant of State? And there are, of course, different modalities of this position of "serving the servants" from technocracy experts, who say "We just serve Society, we don't have any interest", to religious fundamentalism, to a new figure of obscene Master's clowns like Donald Trump.

The obscene Master is not a direct reaction to the failure of the traditional Master. This figure is a reaction to the fact that expert knowledge, pure technocracy, cannot properly function. It has to be supplemented by the new figure of a Master.

How should we react to this situation? The first, now I will try to be as short as possible, the first version is it's the most tragic version for me it's cynicism. It's that we reluctantly accept the need to return to some form of social Authority but we say "just act as if you accept it, pretend that you accept it play the game... don't accept it seriously."

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

On the New Art for the Masses and Blending of Low/ High Cultures (Walter Benjamin)

....Ease of Mechanical Reproduction Moves Art out of the Sphere of Authenticity of the "original" and thereby Murders the Aura of 'Ritual'.  The audience becomes "democratized" through "copies" and every "lay" viewer is elevated through the "director's camerawork" to status of 'expert".  The mass viewing experience becomes socialized through the socialization of the media (display in the theatre), and visa versa, the individual also socially conditioned to react in anticipation of a group social/ mass reaction.

It shifts the "cult value" of an Art form into an "exhibition value" in new media and thereby transforms "authenticity" into "profile-ism", imposing an "exhibition anxiety" upon the participatory mass audience members that leads to Byung-Chul Han's Burn-out Society under capitalism.

On Contemplating New Habits and Rituals for the 21st Century

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Yes We Can Byung-Chul Han! On the Virtues of Boredom.

Alessandro Sbordoni, "Semiotics of the End: Boredom at the End of the World"
Dreams about the end of the world are not, perhaps, anymore the fruits of despair and fear alone. They are also the frolics of boredom.

It is not only when the world is evil or ugly, but when it does not matter anymore whether the world exists or not that feverish dreams of destruction surge from the depths; it is amidst yawns, more often than whimpers and cries, that the world ends.

A friend once told me: ‘When I am bored, I would like to watch the world burn.’ The world thus ends, and it is just fantasy. That is because boredom does not really destroy anything, it does not create at all.

The paradox of boredom

As Byung-Chul Han writes in The Burnout Society, “deep boredom is the peak of mental relaxation. A purely hectic rush produces nothing new. It reproduces and accelerates what is already available” (p. 13). Boredom is pure repetition, reproduction without finality. If boredom does in fact produce dreams of the end, it is because the end turns out to have become impossible.

Everything is a copy. All days resemble each other. Week after week, it all repeats again. Then, a thought of creation or destruction. Boredom is thus eliminated; nothingness neutralizes mere repetition. A principle of nothingness is indeed necessary to both creation and destruction; it is when the temptation of nothingness overcomes the dullness of the here-and-now that creating and destroying become possible. Boredom then, since nothing new has been generated, repeats itself.

Dreams of the end

A new sort of nihilism is arising from the boredom that describes late capitalism. It is the nihilism according to which the end has lost its finality.

In a post from January 13, 2007, Mark Fisher argues that “we have ceased to imagine the end of the world just as surely as we have lost our ability to imagine the end of capitalism. Oddly, apocalyptic dread – so omnipresent during the Cold War – seems to have been extirpated from the popular unconscious. […] If it is increasingly difficult to imagine alternatives to capitalism, that is because the world has already ended.”

Disaster movies do not anymore appeal to feelings of fear or anxiety about the future. Instead, they aim at the elimination of boredom, successfully achieved through hyperstimulation. Films such as Sharknado (2013) or Godzilla vs Kong (2021) are for children what pornography is for adults.

Dreams of the end are over. And it is not because of cynicism, but because of deep boredom: nothing is possible, because nothing is impossible anymore.

The dreams of the end told by disaster “porn” movies represent the ultimate simulacrum. Representations of their own nothingness. Nihilism of the end.

“The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference” (p. 160) wrote Jean Baudrillard in 1981’s Simulacra and Simulation. Forty years after the end, it is the apocalypse of the boring: the triumph of hyperstimulation, digital recombination, pure repetition without difference. And as the thought of the end has been neutralized, with it, the seduction of images perishes. It is the land of boredom. The yawn and the abyss.


The solution to the paradox of boredom is hypernothingness: nothingness that is more than creation and destruction, reality and simulation. If dreams of the end today still depend on reality and representation, in the realm of hypernothingness the end is both possible and impossible.

The screen is black. There is no sound except for the whispering of the wind. As the film The Turin Horse (2011) is about to reach its conclusion, it is as if the world and the screen both disappear. Another nothingness then enters the dream. Absolute difference is thus introduced within nothingness itself. It is the representation of a new nothingness, which neither creates nor destructs. Instead, it returns dream to sleep.

And yet, hypernothingness does not restore reality nor its nihilistic negation. Rather, it abolishes the difference between the real and the hyperreal, boredom and its eschaton.

It is the realization of boredom at the end of the world.

0, or the sound of the end

The music industry is another apt example of the paradox of boredom and the nihilism of the end.

Once more, it is not hard to discover a pornographic approach to the imaginary of the end. “Sicker than the remix / Baby, let me blow your mind tonight,” then the chorus: “I can’t take it, take it, take no more / Never felt like, felt like this before / Come on get me get me on the floor.” This extract from Britney Spears’ lyrics of Till the World Ends (2011) follows a narrative of the end as consumerism without purpose, without finality. It is the catastrophe of meaning, where the end itself has become impossible since hyperstimulation and repetition have divested the end of its reality.

The future is no longer possible. The future does not exist if not as the simulacra of consumption, hence the pornographies of desire.

Today the future does not exist anymore if not as the reconfiguration of the past; ghosts of the past haunt the present via remixes, sequels, and remakes. The new almost does not mean anything anymore. Hyperstimulation and repetition already remove the possibility of the end. The paradox of boredom repostulates itself as long as nothing is created nor destructed. It is pure repetition without difference; the nothingness of the simulacra.

Again, the palliative against the nihilism of this culture of the end is hypernothingness.

A one-minute-long silence predates the end of The Caretaker’s album series Everywhere at the End of Time (2016–2019), partly dedicated to the memory of Mark Fisher, who disappeared in 2017. “The inability to distinguish the present from the past” (Mark Fisher’s words about The Caretaker’s sound-theory), produced by the remix and disfiguration of recordings from a long-forgotten past, now leaves space to hypernothingness.

But hypernothingness does not simply signify the end: it creates the end. In it, plenitude is abolished. The melancholia and nostalgia describing the recording fade away at last. Throughout this minute of hypernothingness, indifference is slowly converted into the atmosphere of the end itself.

There are no more sounds but wafts of nothingness.

The simulation of silence, rather than drawing the music to a close, further opens up a space for sleep and the ataraxy of the end. Boredom at the end of time. The hypernothingness of silence abolishes the difference between the representation of nothingness and nothingness itself, between deep listening and deep boredom.

Is it the sound of the end?

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation (Trans. S. F. Glaser). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. (Original work published 1981).

Britney Spears (2011). Till the World Ends [Song recorded by Britney Spears]. On Femme Fatale. Jive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzU9OrZlKb8

Ferrante, A. C. (Director). (2013). Sharknado [Film]. Syfy Films.

Fisher, M. (2007, January 13). The Damage is Done. k-punk. http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/2007_01.html

Fisher, M. (2008, May 13). No Future 2012. k-punk. http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/010368.html

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

Tarr, B., & Hranitzky, Á. (Directors). (2011). The Turin Horse [Film]. T. T. Filmműhely.

The Caretaker (2016–2019). Everywhere at the End of Time [Album series]. History Always Favours the Winners. http://thecaretaker.bandcamp.com/album/everywhere-at-the-end-of-time

Wingard, A. (Director). (2021). Godzilla vs Kong [Film]. Legendary Pictures

Merry Orthodox Christmas?!

Many Orthodox Christians annually celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7 to remember Jesus Christ’s birth, described in the Christian Bible. This date works to the Julian calendar that pre-dates the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly observed.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Normal Science Dominance... Has it Now Become Punitive, Also, to "Protect the Paradigm's Bureaucracy?" If so, It's no longer "Science", it's "Dogma".

Max Kozlov, "‘Disruptive’ science has declined — and no one knows why"
The proportion of publications that send a field in a new direction has plummeted over the last half-century.

The number of science and technology research papers published has skyrocketed over the past few decades — but the ‘disruptiveness’ of those papers has dropped, according to an analysis of how radically papers depart from the previous literature1.

Data from millions of manuscripts show that, compared with the mid-twentieth century, research done in the 2000s was much more likely to incrementally push science forward than to veer off in a new direction and render previous work obsolete. Analysis of patents from 1976 to 2010 showed the same trend.

“The data suggest something is changing,” says Russell Funk, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a co-author of the analysis, which was published on 4 January in Nature. “You don’t have quite the same intensity of breakthrough discoveries you once had.”

Telltale citations

The authors reasoned that if a study was highly disruptive, subsequent research would be less likely to cite the study’s references, and instead cite the study itself. Using the citation data from 45 million manuscripts and 3.9 million patents, the researchers calculated a measure of disruptiveness, called the ‘CD index’, in which values ranged from –1 for the least disruptive work to 1 for the most disruptive.

The average CD index declined by more than 90% between 1945 and 2010 for research manuscripts (see ‘Disruptive science dwindles’), and by more than 78% from 1980 to 2010 for patents. Disruptiveness declined in all of the analysed research fields and patent types, even when factoring in potential differences in factors such as citation practices.

The authors also analysed the most common verbs used in manuscripts and found that whereas research in the 1950s was more likely to use words evoking creation or discovery such as, ‘produce’ or ‘determine’, that done in the 2010s was more likely to refer to incremental progress, using terms such as ‘improve’ or ‘enhance’.

“It’s great to see this [phenomenon] documented in such a meticulous manner,” says Dashun Wang, a computational social scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who studies disruptiveness in science. “They look at this in 100 different ways, and I find it very convincing overall.”

Other research2 has suggested that scientific innovation has slowed in recent decades, too, says Yian Yin, also a computational social scientist at Northwestern. But this study offers a “new start to a data-driven way to investigate how science changes”, he adds.

Disruptiveness is not inherently good, and incremental science is not necessarily bad, says Wang. The first direct observation of gravitational waves, for example, was both revolutionary and the product of incremental science, he says.

The ideal is a healthy mix of incremental and disruptive research, says John Walsh, a specialist in science and technology policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “In a world where we’re concerned with the validity of findings, it might be a good thing to have more replication and reproduction,” he says.

Why the slide?

It is important to understand the reasons for the drastic changes, Walsh says. The trend might stem in part from changes in the scientific enterprise. For example, there are now many more researchers than in the 1940s, which has created a more competitive environment and raised the stakes to publish research and seek patents. That, in turn, has changed the incentives for how researchers go about their work. Large research teams, for example, have become more common, and Wang and his colleagues have found3 that big teams are more likely to produce incremental than disruptive science.

Finding an explanation for the decline won’t be easy, Walsh says. Although the proportion of disruptive research dropped significantly between 1945 and 2010, the number of highly disruptive studies has remained about the same. The rate of decline is also puzzling: CD indices fell steeply from 1945 to 1970, then more gradually from the late 1990s to 2010. “Whatever explanation you have for disruptiveness dropping off, you need to also make sense of it levelling off” in the 2000s, he says.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-04577-5


Park, M., Leahey, E. & Funk, R. J. Nature 613, 138–144 (2023).


Google Scholar

Cowen, T. & Southwood, B. Preprint at SSRN http://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3822691 (2019).

Wu, L., Wang, D. & Evans, J. A. Nature 566, 378–382 (2019).
Jordan Peterson, "I will risk my licence to escape social media re-education"
The Ontario College of Psychologists wants to retrain me to behave properly — and this should concern everyone

The practice of psychology in Ontario, and in many other North American and western jurisdictions, is subject to regulation by “professional colleges” — essentially governmental organizations with a mandate to protect the public from misconduct on the part of physicians, lawyers, social workers, dentists, pharmacists, teachers, architects and many others, including (and most relevant to me) clinical psychologists.

Anyone anywhere in the world can levy a complaint to these regulatory bodies for any reason, regardless of whether the complainant has had any direct contact with the professional in question. The respective colleges have the responsibility to determine whether each complaint is serious and credible enough to warrant further investigation. Complaints can be deemed vexatious or frivolous and dispensed with. When the college decides to move forward, it is a serious move, essentially equivalent to a lawsuit. The Ontario College of Psychologists in fact recommends legal counsel under such conditions.

The Ontario College of Psychologists has levied a multitude of such lawsuits against me since my rise to public prominence six years ago (although none at all in the 20 years or so I practised as a psychologist before that). These have multiplied as of late, and now number more than a dozen. This may seem like a lot (and “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” or so people think), but I might point out that it is difficult to communicate with as many people as I do and to say anything of substance without rubbing at least a few of them the wrong way now and then.

For my crimes, I have been sentenced to a course of mandatory social-media communication training with the college’s so-called experts (although social media communication training is not a scientific and certainly not a clinical specialty of any standing). I am to do this at my own expense (some hundreds of dollars per hour) and for a length of time that is to be determined only by those retraining me and profiting from doing so. How will this be determined? When those very re-educators — those experts — have convinced themselves that I have learned my lesson, and will behave properly in the future.

If I agree to this, then I must admit that I have been unprofessional in my conduct, and to have that noted publicly, even as the college insists that I am not required to admit to any wrongdoing. If I refuse — and I have (of course) refused — the next step is a mandatory public disciplinary session/inquiry and the possible suspension of my clinical licence (all of which will be also announced publicly).

I should also point out that the steps already taken constitute the second most serious possible response to my transgressions on the part of the college. I have been placed in the category of repeat offender, with high risk of further repetition.

What exactly have I done that is so seriously unprofessional that I am now a danger not only to any new potential clients but to the public itself? It is hard to tell with some of the complaints (one involved the submission of the entire transcript of a three-hour discussion on the Joe Rogan podcast), but here are some examples that might produce some reasonable concern among Canadians who care about such niceties as freedom of belief, conscience and speech: 
I retweeted a comment made by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre about the unnecessary severity of the COVID lockdowns; 
I criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; 
I criticized Justin Trudeau’s former chief of staff, Gerald Butts; 
I criticized an Ottawa city councillor; and 
I made a joke about the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern.
I did all that “disrespectfully,” by the way, in a “horrific” manner that spread “misinformation”; that was “threatening” and “harassing”; that was “embarrassing to the profession.” I am also (these are separate offences) sexist, transphobic, incapable of the requisite body positivity in relationship to morbid obesity and, unforgivably of all, a climate change denialist.

Every single one of these accusations (and now accepted evidence of my professional misconduct) is independent of my clinical practice — which, by the way, has been suspended since 2017, when my rising notoriety or fame made continuing as a private therapist practically and ethically impossible. Every single accusation is not only independent of my clinical practice, but explicitly political — and not only that: unidirectionally explicitly political. Every single thing I have been sentenced to correction for saying is insufficiently leftist, politically. I’m simply too classically liberal — or, even more unforgivably — conservative.

For criticizing our prime minister and his cronies and peers, for retweeting Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the official Opposition in Canada, and for holding and for daring to express reprehensible political views, I have now been convicted by the College of Psychologists of “harming” people in some manner serious enough to justify my forced re-education. Now that I have refused, I will definitely face further exceptionally public, demanding, time-consuming and expensive disciplinary action, including the suspension of my licence. This, despite the fact that none of the people whose complaints are being currently pursued were ever clients of mine, or even knew clients of mine, or even knew or were acquainted with any of the people they claim I am harming. This, despite the fact (and please attend to this) that half the people who levied such complaints falsely claimed that they had in fact been or currently are clients of mine.

It may be of some interest to note that I wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week, informing him of this situation. Here is the letter, for public consideration — which by necessity repeats some of what I have just covered in this introduction:
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
I thought it my duty to inform you and your office of the following proceedings against me.

The Ontario College of Psychologists, the provincial government-mandated and supported professional body charged with regulating the practice of clinical psychology, is requiring that I undergo a lengthy course of “media training” so that I “more appropriately” conduct my online communication. This is occurring, by the way, despite my 20 years as a research psychologist at Harvard University and the University of Toronto (with an unblemished behavioural reputation), my extensive clinical experience and my history of bringing psychological knowledge to people around the world.

Some 15-million people currently follow me on three main social media platforms, and the overwhelming majority of them appear to regard my words and the particular manner in which I formulate them as interesting, helpful and productive — some real evidence to the contrary with regard to the college’s accusations.

I have rejected this forced re-education request, and will in consequence soon be required to appear in front of an in-person “disciplinary hearing” to bring me into line — with the threat of the revocation of my clinical licence, and the public exposure and implied disgrace that would accompany that, hanging over my head.

It may be of interest to you to note that all of the complaints against me: (1) were brought by people with whom I had zero clinical contact; (2) have nothing whatsoever to do with my function as a clinical psychologist (except in the broadest possible public sense); and, most importantly with regard to this letter, (3) that half of them involve nothing more than political criticisms of you or the people around you (with all the remainder being complaints generated because I dared state some essentially conservative philosophical beliefs).

As the enclosed documentation indicates, I am being investigated and disciplined for, among a few other reasons not germane to my present communication with you:
retweeting Pierre Poilievre, the leader of Canada’s official Opposition; 
criticizing you, your former chief of staff Gerald Butts, New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern and an Ottawa city councillor; and
objecting to the Ottawa police threatening to apprehend the children of the trucker convoy protesters.
I am not suggesting or even presuming that you or any of the people associated with you had anything directly to do with this. However, the fact that it is happening (and that physicians and lawyers have become as terrified as psychologists now are of their own regulatory bodies) is something that has definitely happened on your watch, as a consequence of your own conduct and the increasingly compulsion-based and ideologically pure policies that you have promoted and legislated.

I simply cannot resign myself to the fact that in my lifetime I am required to resort to a public letter to the leader of my country to point out that political criticism has now become such a crime in Canada that if professionals dare engage in such activity, government-appointed commissars will threaten their livelihood and present them with the spectacle of denouncement and political disgrace.

There is simply and utterly no excuse whatsoever for such a state of affairs in a free country.

Jordan B Peterson, PhD, C. Psych (for now)
Professor emeritus, University of Toronto
Why should Canadians who read this care? Perhaps those reading in this country (and elsewhere) might ask themselves the following questions — and in all seriousness, painful as it might be do so; requiring as it does the almost unbelievable admission that something has gone dreadfully wrong in our lovely country:
What makes you think that something similar won’t happen to you, or to someone you know and respect or even love? 
What makes you think you are going to continue to be able to communicate honestly with your physicians, lawyers and psychologists (and representatives of many other regulated professions) if they are now so terrified of their regulatory boards that they can no longer tell you the truth? 
What are your children going to be taught when all their teachers (that’s a regulated profession, too) are so afraid of the woke mob that they swallow all the ideological lies that are now required of pedagogues — regardless if they believe what they are saying? 
Where are we going to be if we allow criticism of the public figures charged with the privilege of our governance to be grounds for the demolition of not only the critic’s reputation but their very livelihood? 
How far are we willing to go down this road, without forthright resistance?
In any case: I’m not complying. I’m not submitting to re-education. I am not admitting that my viewpoints — many of which have, by the way, been entirely justified by the facts that have emerged since the complaints were levied — were either wrong or unprofessional. I’m going to say what I have to say, and let the chips fall where they will. I have done nothing to compromise those in my care; quite the contrary — I have served all my clients and the millions of people I am communicating with to the best of my ability and in good faith, and that’s that.

And to the College of Psychologists, I issue this challenge: I am absolutely willing to make every single word of this legal battle fully public, so that the issue of my professional competence and my right to say what I have to say and stand by my words can be fought in full daylight. I would and could post all the correspondence with and accusations levied by those who complained about me and the college itself public, and will do so, if the college agrees. But I can’t, on legal grounds justified in normal times but rendered specious by the dominion of the politically correct and radical. I can’t, because of this, and because it is not in the interest of the college or the complainants they are sheltering and abetting to allow it. They’ll cite confidentiality concerns for their refusal, because it’s 100 per cent OK for them to come after me publicly while they and those who complained hide cravenly and cowardly behind a wall of self-serving and self-protective silence.

And this of course does little but embolden those who have learned to weaponize college disciplinary processes, and to give the accuser and his or her lackeys the upper hand, practically and legally. And such weaponization risks placing all our once justly trusted institutions firmly in the hands of those willing and able to manipulate them for reasons both political and personal.

The sad and sorry state of this once-great Dominion at the dawn of 2023 … and it’s still going to get worse before it gets better.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Buddha Boys


Slavoj Zizek, "Why Lacan is Not a Buddhist: A Belated Reply to My Critics"

Over the last decades, critiques of my reading of Buddhism have been abundant. Even those who are otherwise sympathetic to my general approach claim that I miss the point when I target Buddhism. Representative of my critics is “Nagarjuna and ecophilosophy” by Adrian J. Ivakhiv who also relies on John Clark’s “On Being None With Nature: Nagarjuna and the Ecology of Emptiness.” Ivakhiv’s starting point is the core Buddhist concept of “dependent origination”: every identity is process-relational position, which means that, say, a tree’s existence as a unitary object, as opposed to a collection of cells, is conventional: “Removing its properties leaves no core bearer behind.” In other words, “the thing we call a ‘tree’ is, as Buddhists say, empty of inherent self-existence; its essence is nothing other than the properties and conditions of its self-manifesting.”[1] This goes against Graham Harman’s (and others’) argument that there is something more to any object than its properties, relations, and conditions. For Buddhism, there is nothing (no-thing) left over. “But that is not to say that there is, in fact, nothing… There is the process-relational flux of what Clark calls ‘nature naturing,’ the continual coming into existence and passing away of the experiential bits of the world, all of which is quite real.”[2]

What the claim implies is that the “negative” and “deconstructive” project that Nagarjuna is best known for “goes hand in hand with an affirmative, ‘reality-based’ project of the sort that, in current continental philosophy, is best represented by Deleuze – or, to quote Clark:
“For Buddhism the negative path of the destruction of illusion is inseparably linked to the positive path of an open, awakened, and compassionate response to a living, non-objectifiable reality, the ‘nature that is no nature.’’’
And this brings us to what I see as the central challenge for Buddhism: how do we, humans, get caught in “a dream world of illusory, deceptively permanent objects and egos, and a futile quest to defend the ego and dominate reality”? Is it enough to say that this is a “fundamental human predicament,” i.e., a trans-historical invariant? Clark makes here a surprising move in a Marxist direction:
“Where most analyses (including most Buddhist analyses) of egocentric consciousness and the egoic flight from the trauma of lack stop short is in failing to investigate the social and historical roots of these phenomena. We must understand that the ego is not only a psychological and epistemological construct, but also a historical one. Its roots are to be found in the development of large-scale agrarian society and regimented labor, the rise of the state and ancient despotism, the emergence of economic class and acquisitive values, the triumph of patriarchy and warrior mentality – in short, in the evolution of the ancient system of social domination and the domination of nature. To put it in Buddhist terms, our true karmic burden, both personally and collectively, is our profound historicity and our deep materiality.”[3]
But the question remains: how far can we go in this direction of historicity? Were individuals in pre-class societies dwelling in a “living, non-objectifiable reality, the ‘nature that is no nature’”, and should the possible post-capitalist society also be conceived as a liberation from the “wheel of desire”? Another question lurks beneath this one: “Why should the destruction of illusion lead to compassion rather than to cynicism as it often seems to in everyday life, or to social conservatism as it has in the case of Humean and other forms of philosophical skepticism?”[4] I think that, in spite of all the desperate attempts to demonstrate that the way to Buddhist enlightenment passes through modesty and compassion, the only honest answer is that of D.T. Suzuki: Zen is a technique of meditation which is compatible with any political orientation: liberalism, fascism, Communism…

This brings us back to me and to the Buddhist critique of my work. For Ivakhiv, this is the point where Buddhism meets psychoanalysis: “The key difference between Freud/Lacan/Zizek/et al. and Nagarjuna is that the former presuppose that this /rise of dominating ego/ is unavoidable – the best we can do is to come to terms with the ego (etc.) process and try not to get too caught up in the delusional tricks it plays on us.”[5] This is why my work totally ignores “the real potential of actually reading Western Buddhism not just in light of Lacan, but the teachings of the Buddha and their lineage.”

The “real potential” is, of course, the affirmation of the flux of positive life, and Ivakhiv introduces it by way of a long quote from D.T. Suzuki:
“D.T. Suzuki, whom Zizek has probably never read,[6] a trained Zen Buddhist, as well as professor of Buddhist philosophy and delightfully fluent writer and speaker of English, echoes Vajjiya when he writes about Zen as life as ‘absolute affirmation’: ‘we live in affirmation and not in negation, for life is affirmation itself; and this affirmation must not be the one accompanied or conditioned by a negation, such an affirmation is relative and not at all absolute. With such an affirmation life loses its creative originality and turns into a mechanical process grinding forth nothing but soulless flesh and bones. To be free, life must be an absolute affirmation … Zen does not mean a mere escape from intellectual imprisonment, which sometimes ends in sheer wantonness. There is something in Zen that frees us from conditions and at the same time gives us a certain firm foothold … Zen abhors repetition or imitation of any kind, for it kills. For the same reason, Zen never explains but only affirms. Life is fact and no explanation is necessary or pertinent. To explain is to apologize and why should we apologize for living? To live – is that not enough? Let us then live, let us affirm. Herein lies Zen in all its purity and in all its nudity as well.’ (An Introduction to Zen Buddhism)”[7]
Ivakhiv’s “Lacanian” reading (supplemented by a critique of Lacan) is obvious here: far from advocating a renunciation of our desires, Buddha “is suggesting that staying true to our desire will yield the satisfaction of that (and all) desire, whereas Lacan is less interested in what it would mean to satisfy our desire, if it is once we have properly identified it.” How can this be? Ivakhiv introduces here sexual difference: he interprets (what Lacan calls) the impossibility of the sexual relationship as the impossibility to reach the goal of the masculine phallic subject which is to swallow/dominate the entire reality. From this phallic standpoint, Buddhism
“appears as a fantasmic spectre in the West, where masculine jouissance is predominant. Buddhism at once promises and threatens with the Other, dark, feminine jouissance. Buddhism is only conceivable in what Zizek might call the Western ideological matrix as this testament to its very failure to be conceived. Zizek’s critique of Western Buddhism, therefore, has much less to do with the teachings of the Buddha than he has made it seem, and significantly more to do with the mystical, feminine jouissance it suggests, which seems to be beyond and for that reason threatening to Zizek.”[8]
But is this equation of Buddhist enlightenment with the assertion of the mystical feminine jouissance not totally unfounded? Lorenzo Chiesa convincingly characterizes it as “an inverted mysticism”:
“Unlike Eastern polytheisms and their stress on enjoyment, Buddhism is thus in this sense a religion of desire, but it organises it in a way that is very different from that of Judeo-Christianity. More precisely, Buddhism short-circuits all the variations of desire (as poly-desire, we might add), which appear in it, in a most incarnate fashion, ‘with the ultimate apprehension of the radically illusory character of all desire.’”[9]
The formula of Buddhism would thus be: not the mystical “being one with the world” (my immersion into the divine One bringing full enjoyment) but “none with the world,” where I identify the void of my (in)existence, the nothingness of my Self, with the void of reality itself, which lacks any substantial (id)entity. While mysticism aims at the subject’s full immersion into divine jouissance, Buddhism focuses on desire as the ultimate cause of our suffering: desire is inconsistent and can never be fulfilled, fully satisfied, because its nature is inconsistent. Since its object is illusory, the false appearance of a void, the moment of desire’s fulfillment is the moment of its defeat. Buddhism draws the radical consequence from this insight: the only way to avoid suffering is to step out of (gain a distance towards) the “wheel of desire,” to avoid attachment to any object of desire, which means to accept (not only as a theoretical statement but also as an existential stance) that desires are illusory because all objects (of desire and in general) are non-substantial fluctuating appearances. Such an existential detachment is the only way for us to attain peace.

The key question that arises here is, of course: so, where does desire come from? How do we get caught in its illusion? Desire cannot be accounted for in the terms of the opposition between reified particular objects and the void beneath them, so that it arises when we get excessively attached to particular objects. The object-cause of desire (what Lacan calls objet a) is not an empirical object; it is a virtual element, which disturbs the harmonious natural circuit described and celebrated by my Buddhist critics. So, the vision, advocated by my critics, of a desire purified of its excess, is for Lacan totally illusory: desire is in itself a “pathological” excess, a de-stabilization of any balanced natural order. Suzuki seems to imply that what makes a desire mortifying is its “intellectualization,” its submission to rational categories that reify the fluid life experience of reality into a world of fixed substantial objects. However, desire is at its most basic not an effect of mechanic intellectual imprisonment; it is a “deviation” inscribed into life itself. In other words, if we subtract desire from life, we don’t get a more balanced life, but we lose life itself. To put it succinctly: Buddhism celebrates the stepping out of the “wheel of desire,” while Lacan celebrates the subject’s very fall into this “wheel”: “not compromising one’s desire” means a radical subjective engagement in a crazy desire which throws the entire reality out of balance.

Or, to put it in yet another way, while Buddhism accepts the common view that the purpose of life is happiness (to quote the Dalai Lama, “the purpose of our lives is to be happy”), it just defines this term differently. Here are a couple of statements by the Dalai Lama that make this difference clear: “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.” / “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” / “We don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate. Right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.” / “Human happiness and human satisfaction most ultimately come from within oneself.” Following Freud, Lacan, on the contrary, asserts death drive as the basic component of our libidinal lives that operate beyond the pleasure principle: what Lacan calls enjoyment (jouissance) emerges out of a self-sabotage of pleasure; it is an enjoyment in displeasure itself.

A Lacanian view is much closer to Dr. House who, in one of the episodes of the series, when he tries to diagnose a patient and one of his collaborators mentions that the patient radiates happiness, immediately adds “happiness” to the list of symptoms of the patient’s illness to be explained and abolished. The feeling of happiness is a dangerous symptom, not something we should strive for. And one should add here that the same goes for what is also considered the most spontaneous parental feeling: the immense love of one’s own small child. Small children are horror embodied: stupid, annoying, smelling bad, breaking our sleep… so the feeling of love for them is a clear case of what is called the „Stockholm syndrome,” a coping mechanism in a captive or abusive situation, when people develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time. Isn’t this the exact mechanism of how we cope with small children?

So, what about the desperate Lacano-Buddhist attempt to read what Buddhism calls nirvana as basically the same stance as that signaled by Lacan’s “traversing the fantasy”? We cannot simply dismiss it as a gross misunderstanding of Lacan because there is a grain of truth in it: desire is metonymic – every empirical positive object that we desire is a trap in the sense that, if we get it, our desire is not fully satisfied but disappointed, we experience a “ce n‘est pas ca” (this is not that what we really desired). So, let’s drop our attachment to particular objects and just persist in surfing along from one object to another. In other words, a true betrayal of our desire is precisely our full attachment to a particular object as its true object: if we renounce this, if we maintain a distance towards every object, we attain peace, we are faithful to our desire, i.e., to the void in its heart which cannot be abolished by any object…

But this logic ultimately fails: for Lacan, desire in its “purity” (considered without an empirical object of desire) cannot be transformed into a peaceful integration into a non-substantial changing multiplicity of our reality because desire is as such a gesture of breaking up the balance of reality. If we subtract particular objects, we get the gesture of breaking-up, of disturbing the balance, as such. What any particular empirical object of desire obfuscates is not the balance of a void, but this negative gesture as such: any particular object particularizes this rupture as such, transforming it into a desire for something that positively exists as a particular object… But where is here the dimension of intersubjectivity?

In her “Relational Dharma,” Jeannine A. Davies deploys a “liberating model of intersubjectivity.” Her starting point is the basic goal of practicing dharma, which is
“to discern the distinction between conventional and ultimate realities through direct experience. A simple example of the distinction between conventional and ultimate reality is the difference between the concept of water and the physical sensation of water. Its salient characteristics are of wetness and of a cool, warm, or hot temperature. As awareness discriminates between the concept of water and water’s physical sensations, an insightful penetration into the nature of conceptual ideation occurs. Concepts are then seen as abstractions within consciousness, mental overlays born through prior conditioning.”
Davies, of course, has to concede that the practice of meditation is primarily focused on solitary, introspective methods, where stages of insight unfold within a climate of extreme mental seclusion and interpersonal isolation. Her aim is to demonstrate how dharma can also be achieved through a new practice of social interaction. In order to deploy this claim, she has to engage in the opposition between two main orientations of Buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada. Theravada concentrates on achieving dharma by means of individual practice of introspection, while Mahayana emphasizes dharma achieved by social interaction. Say, when an individual is afflicted by a trauma which threatens to destroy her/his psychic balance and ability to interact with others, Mahayana practices the Relational Dharma approach which
“mediates and attunes within an environment of empathic union, nourishing an atmosphere that assuages anxiety and facilitates the generation of trust and safety to flow in the in-between. This process allows for the possibility of transforming negative or life-diminishing ’filters’ into associations that widen and deepen identity. In this experience, the appearance of something ‘foreign,’ ‘not part of,’ or ‘too much,’ is relaxed, so that one’s sense of what constitutes a ‘whole person’ naturally broadens and evolves, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the relationship between oneself and others emerges.”[10]
In such an approach, one achieves “the inner liberty to feel another’s suffering as inseparable to one’s own and the compassion to seek to alleviate it, thus respecting the freedom of others as inseparable to one’s own freedom,” a freedom to “forgive others for their transgressions. In order to forgive, the ability to ‘step back’ and recognize the conditions that gave rise to his or her actions versus reacting from a place of personalizing these actions, must be developed. As awareness into the causal relationships that led this individual to be wounded and act in harmful ways becomes recognized, relational objectivity emerges and compassion becomes possible.”[11] Such a stance opens up a path to peacefully revolutionize our world beset by violence and non-sustainable action: our
“insight into the conscious engagement of interrelatedness may be one of the most important in terms of its spiritual, social, and political implications. It is only when we see with greater clarity the intimate causation of how ’we,’ citizens of the Whole, affect totality that we find the inspiration to take personal responsibility for our presence and fine tune our physiological, emotional, and physical resonance within the Whole.”[12]
Suffering and obstacles to freedom do not simply vanish, they are not simply left behind. In an almost Hegelian way, they are re-experienced as vehicles for growth and freedom. They are deprived of their substantial identity and put in their relational context, in which they arise and disappear in co-dependence, resonating within the Whole.

Another difference between Theravada and Mahayana concerns the accessibility of nirvana which makes the subject a bodhisattva. In Theravada, encountering somebody who already is a Buddha is needed to truly make someone a bodhisattva; any other resolution to attain Buddhahood may easily be forgotten or abandoned during the long time ahead. Theravada thus held that the bodhisattva path was only for a rare set of individuals and has to be transmitted through exclusive lineage, in contrast to Mahayanists who universalized the bodhisattvayana as a path, which is open to everyone and is taught for all beings to follow.

To maintain this universality, the Mahayana tradition has to introduce a distinction between two different notions of a bodhisattva’s relationship to nirvana. The basic goal is to become arhat (“the one who is worthy”), a perfected person, one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and has achieved nirvana (spiritual enlightenment). The arhat, having freed himself from the bonds of desire, will not be reborn. While the state of an arhat is considered in the Theravada tradition to be the proper goal of a Buddhist, Mahayana adds to it a still higher level,
“a kind of non-dual state in which one is neither limited to samsara nor nirvana. A being who has reached this kind of nirvana is not restricted from manifesting in the samsaric realms, and yet they remain fully detached from the defilements found in these realms (and thus they can help others).”
We thus obtain the distinction between two kinds of nirvāṇa: the nirvāṇa of an arhat and a superior type of nirvāṇa called apratiṣṭhita (non-abiding) that allows a Buddha to remain engaged in samsaric realms without being affected by them. However, the predominant Mahayana notion of bodhisattva silently concedes that to arrive at such a non-dual state is practically impossible, so he heroically sacrifices his own dharma and postpones his awakening until all living beings are liberated. Bodhisattvas thus take the following vow: “I shall not enter into final nirvana before all beings have been liberated,” or “I must lead all beings to Liberation. I will stay here till the end, even for the sake of one living soul.”

The bodhisattva who wants to reach Buddhahood for the sake of all beings is more loving and compassionate than the sravaka (who only wishes to end their own suffering): he practices the path for the good of others (par-ārtha), while the sravakas do so for their own good (sv-ārtha). I find this distinction between par-ārtha and sv-ārtha potentially very dangerous: although Mahayana appears more “democratic,” allowing everyone to attain dharma, does its notion of bodhisattva who refuses to enter nirvana not conceal a new form of elitism? The select few who remain caught in our ordinary reality (in the wheel of desire), legitimize their special privileged position by the fact that they could have reached nirvana but postponed it to help all others to reach it. In some radical sense nirvana thus becomes impossible: if I reach it, I act as an egoist, caring only for my own good; if I act for the good of others, I postpone my entry into nirvana…

I consider this privileged position dangerous because it remains caught in a dualism that authentic Buddhism promises to leave behind: the realm of nirvana becomes a Beyond which we strive to reach. The danger resides in the fact that this position relies on what one could call the basic syllogism of self-sacrifice: I want all living beings to overcome their suffering and achieve the supreme good; to do this, I have to sacrifice my own happiness and accept suffering – only in this way my own life has meaning. Again, the danger is that a short-circuit necessarily occurs here: I automatically take my own suffering as a proof that I am working for the good of others, so that I can reply to anyone who criticizes me: “Can’t you see my suffering? Who are you to criticize me when I sacrifice myself for you?” This is why the only authentic nirvana means that I fully remain in this world and just relate to it differently: “non-abiding” nirvana is the ONLY full and true nirvana. So, where does even this authentic nirvana fail?

Buddhism ignores the radical intersubjectivity of desire, the fact that desire is always reflexive (a desire for desire, a desire for being desired), and that the primordial lacking object of desire is myself, the enigma of what I am for my others. What this means is that, as Hegel clearly saw it, domination of others and violence towards them is a key moment of the painful process of intersubjective recognition. This violence is not an expression of my egotistic self-interest; it relies on an “evil,” for which I am ready to put my own welfare and even my life at risk. Relational dharma is not enough to account for this “evil” since this dimension of “evil” is constitutive of how I experience an Other: as an impenetrable abyss, which cannot be dissolved in a fluid network of appearances. At is most basic, “evil” has nothing to do with my egotist interests: it is more spiritual than simple self-interest. The Buddhist notion of samsara (“the wheel of desire”) ignores this spiritual aspect of “evil.”

This is where the already-quoted passage about the “key difference between Freud/ Lacan/ Zizek/ et al. and Nagarjuna” – “the former presuppose that this /rise of dominating ego/ is unavoidable; the best we can do is to come to terms with the ego (etc.) process and try not to get too caught up in the delusional tricks it plays on us”[13] – totally misses the point. Buddhism describes how we can gradually get rid of the egotistic stance of domination over others and of being enslaved to our desires that both cause suffering; our goal is to reach dharma, in which our ego dissolves in the flux of appearances and loses its substantial identity. Within this space, Freud and Lacan can only appear as going halfway: they clearly see the self-destructive nature of the dominating ego, but they ignore that there is a domain beyond the ego and its paradoxes, the domain of inner peace and happiness, so their ultimate reach is to describe the paradoxes of the ego. For Freud and Lacan, on the contrary, there is nothing beyond the antagonisms of our reality, nothing but the gap of impossibility that thwarts it from within: everything that we perceive as its Beyond, we project there. What this means is not that what Buddhists describe as nirvana or dharma is an illusion or fake: it is a profound experience of subjective destitution, but it nonetheless functions as the obfuscation of a more radical experience of a gap out of which our reality appears.

Since dharma is, as a rule, described as the highest freedom accessible to us, one should point out that, to anyone who knows a little bit about Hegel, the radical opposition between the Buddhist and Hegel’s notion of freedom cannot but strike the eye. For Buddhism, we are truly free when we liberate ourselves from the rational categories that cut into pieces and thus mortify the pure non-substantial flux of reality, while for Hegel, the basic form of freedom is precisely the infinite power of abstraction that pertains to our Understanding (not Reason), the power to interrupt the smooth flow of reality and to cut mechanically reality into its species. The very idea that there is something (the core of the substantial content of the analyzed thing) which eludes Understanding, a trans-rational Beyond out of reach, is the fundamental illusion of Understanding. In other words, all we have to do to get from Understanding to Reason is to subtract from Understanding its constitutive illusion! Understanding is not too abstract/violent; it is, on the contrary, as Hegel put it apropos of Kant, too soft towards things, afraid to locate its violent movement of tearing things apart in the things themselves. In a way, it is epistemology versus ontology: the illusion of Understanding is that its own analytic power – the power to make “an accident as such – that what is bound and held by something else and actual only by being connected with it – obtain an existence all its own, gain freedom and independence on its own account” – is only an “abstraction,” something external to “true reality” which persists out there intact in its inaccessible fullness. In other words, it is the standard critical view of Understanding and its power of abstraction (that it is just an impotent intellectual exercise missing the wealth of reality) that contains the core illusion of Understanding. To put it in yet another way, the mistake of Understanding is to perceive its own negative activity (of separating, tearing things apart) only in its negative aspect, ignoring its “positive” (productive) aspect: Reason is Understanding itself in its productive aspect.

The common counter-argument is here: but is for Hegel such a mortifying abstraction not just a negative moment followed by a notional mediation, by means of which we return to a higher form of organic unity? Yes, but this higher organic unity in no way returns to the reality of direct experience: in it, any reference to direct experience is obliterated, we move entirely within notional self-mediation. This doesn’t mean that Hegel does not allow for something that echoes the practice of meditation which (within Theravada Buddhism) “has primarily focused on solitary, introspective methods, where stages of insight unfold within a climate of extreme mental seclusion and interpersonal isolation.” However, while, in Buddhism, through such practice, the mind “experiences a kind of current of quiet peace,” for Hegel, introspection confronts us with an awful space, in which ghastly apparitions of partial objects float around. Here is his most famous and often quoted passage of this “night of the world”:
“The human being is this night, this empty nothing that contains everything in its simplicity – an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him – or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature, that exists here – pure self – in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head – there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye – into a night that becomes awful.”[14]
One should not be blinded by the poetic power of this description, but read it precisely. The first thing to note is how the objects that freely float around in this “night of the world” are membra disjecta, partial objects, objects detached from their organic Whole. Is there not a strange echo between this passage and Hegel’s description of the negative power of Understanding, which is able to abstract an entity (a process, a property) from its substantial context and treat it as if it has an existence of its own? “That an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its context with others, should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom—this is the tremendous power of the negative.”[15] It is thus as if, in the ghastly scenery of the “night of the world,” we encounter something like the power of Understanding in its natural state, spirit in the guise of a proto-spirit. This, perhaps, is the most precise definition of horror: when a higher state of development violently inscribes itself in the lower state, in its ground/presupposition, where it cannot but appear as a monstrous mess, a disintegration of order, a terrifying unnatural combination of natural elements. And Hegel’s ultimate lesson is to learn to “tarry with the negative,” not to dissolve its unbearable tensions into any kind of natural positive flux of appearances.
[1] Ivakhiv, op.cit.
[2] Op.cit.
[3] Clark, op.cit., p. 28.
[4] Ivakhiv, op.cit
[5] Op.cit.
[6] Incidentally, I DID read Suzuki, not only in my youth (when he was a key point of reference of the hippie movement) but also later, when I learned that, in the 1930s and early 40s, he fully supported the Japanese war against China and elaborated how Zen training can make individuals much better soldiers.
[7] Ivakhiv, op.cit.
[8] Op.cit.
[9] Lorenzo Chiesa and Adrian Johnston, God Is Undead: Psychoanalysis Between Agnosticism and Atheism, manuscript (to appear at Evanston: Northwestern University Press in 2023). Quotes within the quote are from The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book X: Anxiety, Cambridge: Polity Press 2016, p. 226.
[10] Op.cit.
[11] Op.cit.
[12] Op.cit.
[13] Ivakhiv, op.cit.
[14] G. W. F. Hegel, “Jenaer Realphilosophie,” in Frühe politische Systeme, Frankfurt: Ullstein 1974, p. 204; translation quoted from Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection, Albany: Suny Press 1985, pp. 7–8. 
[15] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977, p. 19.