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

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The "Soft" Racism of Political Correctness


Annalisa Merelli,"Slavoj Žižek thinks political correctness is exactly what perpetuates prejudice and racism"
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek isn’t one to shy away from provocative observations. In a video published on the portal Big Think, he takes on something that is commonly employed as a sensible cultural practice: Political correctness. The academic calls it a form of “cold respect.” He argues that giving space to an occasional exchange of “friendly obscenities” allows for more closeness and gives way to honest exchanges.

Žižek reports several episodes in which his lack of politically correct boundaries has served him well, from dealing with the ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia to becoming friendly with two black Americans after jokingly making a racist remark: “You blacks, like the yellow guys, you all look the same” he reports saying to them, adding, “they embraced me and they told me, you can call me nigga.”)

“I’m well aware that we should not just walk around and humiliate each other,” says the philosopher. And yet he finds that “there is something so fake about political correctness”—something that, according to him, prevents a true overcoming of prejudice and racism. Žižek explains:

That’s my problem with po
litical correctness. It’s just a form of self discipline which really doesn’t allow you to overcome racism. It’s just oppressed, controlled racism.

Žižek’s words might be blunt, but his point is valid.

Political correctness stems from the understanding that racism and inequality exist, and that in lieu of fixing those problems, prettier language will do the trick—as if by using inoffensive words and avoiding crass jokes we are to paint over the filth of reality. Politically correct expressions, to Žižek, become patronizing because they actually highlight inequalities. As the philosopher notes, “one needs to be very precise not to fight racism in a way which ultimately reproduces, if not racism itself, at least the conditions of racism.”

The subtext of every carefully chosen, politically correct, expression is that there are still people in a position so privileged that they need to refer to “others” in a way that is not offensive—that doesn’t, for instance, make reference to their origin, or skin color. The implication is that there is nothing possibly offensive in the speaker’s skin tone or their origin. Jokes and blunt words can’t scratch their confidence—no, it’s only the rest of the population who needs the protection of politically correct language.

Beyond the offensive jokes, avoiding politically correct language is also about calling things by their name. Just like a family friend’s three-year-old nephew who, back from his first day of kindergarten, excitedly told his parents: “I have a new friend! He’s all brown!”

And it is not just race, of course, that Žižek talks about. Gender, disability–anything that diverges from norms presented in society or media–are all coated with neutral words and behaviors, by the very people who claim to be accepting of it. This special language, despite its intentions, serves to reinforce certain conditions as special, fragile, and weak.

Can we dare to see differences for what they are—nothing else than differences? And can we ever safely name them, perhaps even with the occasional offensive joke?

Perhaps adopting a little of Žižek’s attitude would indeed result in what he refers to as a ”wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity.” It might generate misunderstanding, but if a more light-hearted approach is adopted in a genuine way, that would reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level—hence can openly be made fun of, just as we do of ourselves.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Migration Patterns

Byung-Chul Han: "Why are people fleeing their home countries?" (Google Translate from Spanish)
The role of the West in the refugee crisis and its historical responsibility.

"Europe, quick and determined in bailing out banks in the 2008 financial crisis, shows a contrasting attitude when it comes to human life in danger." This is one of the statements made by the South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han in Where Do Refugees Come From? article where he analyzes the role of the West in the refugee crisis. Han points out that it is necessary to remember the historical responsibility of Western countries in generating the misery from which people are fleeing en masse. From colonialism to today's economic exploitation, the West has played a significant role in the situation in Africa and other affected regions. Through a critical eye, Han raises the need for resolute and reason-driven action to address the refugee crisis and assume greater political responsibility in the world.

Byung-Chul Han, a renowned Korean essayist and cultural critic, has become a leading figure in contemporary Western philosophy. Upon his arrival in Germany in the 1980s to continue his studies in philosophy, comparative literature and theology, he obtained his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Freiburg with a thesis on Martin Heidegger.

Since then, Han has published more than twenty essays, critically addressing Western capitalist society and coining terms that have generated debate and reflection, such as 'The Tiredness Society' and 'The Transparency Society'. His most recent works, including 'Psychopolitics' and 'The Expulsion of the Different', explore key issues in the contemporary political and social landscape. In addition to his outstanding writing career, Han has shared his knowledge as a professor at prestigious German institutions. In his 2019 book 'Capitalism and the death drive', the author takes us into the expansion of capitalism and its repercussions through 14 articles and 2 revealing conversations. This is one of them.

Where do refugees come from? | By Byung-Chul Han
Swift and spectacular were the rescue actions of those banks seriously affected by the financial crisis of 2008. The states of the European Union saved them from bankruptcy with aid totaling 1.6 trillion euros. 1.6 trillion euros from taxes: that corresponds to 13 percent of the European Union's gross domestic product. In Germany alone, the financial crisis cost €187 billion. When the survival of the banks was at stake, Europe was resolute and willing to make sacrifices. On the contrary, when human lives are at risk, it no longer acts so decisively.

Angela Merkel's unequivocal statement in favour of refugee aid is the exception that proves the rule. At the same time, in view of the refugee crisis, it is worth remembering the extent to which the West is co-responsible for the misery from which people are fleeing en masse. Some facts concerning Africa, the continent from which most of the refugee boats coming through the Mediterranean come: European colonialism, which brought indescribable suffering to Africa, basically persists to this day, in a sublimated and internationally expanded form.

At the time, the European colonial powers divided the African continent with an arbitrary drawing of borders, thereby causing conflicts. Also after the end of their colonial empire, Europeans and the United States supported tyrants for decades to impose their own interests. And now it is the greed for cheap raw materials that causes political instability in Africa, and it is also one of the causes of wars with many thousands of victims.

You're interested: Byung-Chul Han: the most important and controversial philosopher you should know

States like the Congo are disintegrating into territories that are controlled by warlords who command armies of child soldiers. These warlords maintain commercial relations with Western companies, which only care about raw materials. Ethnic conflicts are secondary problems. Rare earths, which are used to make products we love, such as smartphones, tablets or video game consoles, are mined under catastrophic working conditions. The cause of this exploitation is above all China and all the industrial countries.

The well-being of the West is based on the misery of others: a constitutive asymmetry of global capitalism. Violence and injustice are immanent in the system. Global welfare would contradict the logic of capital. In 2013 France sent its troops to Mali. In the first place, it was a question of fighting Islamic terrorists, but here too mineral resources played an important role. The French state consortium Areva mines uranium in the neighbouring state of Niger for nuclear-generated electricity in Europe. Debris that comes out during uranium mining is left in the open. Clouds of radioactive dust sweep across the country. In a report for the magazine Spiegel could read as early as 2010 that the "Areva Clinic" hides the risk of cancer caused by uranium mining and makes malaria diagnoses to those who die of cancer. In his book Mass Destruction. Geopolitics of hunger, Jean Ziegler explains in a shocking way how famines occur worldwide. These famines are often caused by the policy of the International Monetary Fund, which wants to open the markets of the countries of the South to transcontinental food consortia.

But free trade ruins indigenous economies and is co-responsible for hunger and death. Looking at it this way, the Expo in Milan, which aimed to combat hunger in the world with new techniques, was pure cynicism. Or Eastern Europe: during the Kosovo war, NATO bombed the country in 1999 without a UN mandate. The German army also made air strikes. But the extensive reconstruction of the country promised by the German government did not come to fruition. Now the German government returns refugees coming from Kosovo. U Middle East and Middle East: European military intervention in Libya in 2011 plunged the country into chaos.

The current chaos in Iraq was preceded by the Second Gulf War, which the West legitimized with outright lies. Iraq was an area of great ethnic and religious instability and with great potential for conflict, a product of the British colonial empire, as was Afghanistan in the nineteenth century. With the Soviet intervention, the civil war became a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the mujahideen, supported by the United States.

People are now fleeing the Taliban. But here too the West is not entirely innocent. In their study Living Under Drones, lawyers from Stanford University and New York University conclude that preventive killing with drones does not diminish the terrorist threat. It has even increased after the use of drones, because that encourages revenge and hatred.

The more civilians killed, the more terrorists. And daily life is dominated by fear. The biggest threat at the moment is undoubtedly the "Islamic State", and it was also fertilized with the Iraq War. And it should be noted that radical Islamism and neoliberal capitalism are two sides of the same coin.

Al-Qaeda's slogan "You love life; We love death", makes us see that the consumer society, with its hysteria for health that turns life into a mere life emptied of meaning that must be prolonged at any price, and radical Islamism condition each other. And money, by itself, does not generate any identity. The marginalized not only lack identity, they also have no hope. An eloquent example are those teenagers from Dinslaken, a municipality in the Rhineland with a high unemployment rate, who go to fight the 'Holy War'. And finally Syria: the civil war is turning into a proxy war involving Russia, Iran, the United States and the Gulf countries.

Here too, it should be noted that the Gulf countries, with their oil reserves, are outposts of global capitalism. And in which millions of immigrants from Asia and Africa work there as slaves to create well-being. The celebrated culture of welcome, the empathy that leads to applause or the accusation of some European states of lack of solidarity do not solve the real problem. And feelings are short-sighted and fade quickly.

Only reason is far-sighted, and now political reason is needed. The endless discussion on quotas is nothing more than a pretext for insufficient policy. And erecting border fences is a policy of police action that declares refugees criminals. Only resolute action guided by reason can put an end to the proxy war in Syria and the unspeakable misery of the refugees. In this sense, Europe should have more confidence in itself and take more political responsibility for the world out of its history. Otherwise at some point we will get an unpleasant surprise.

Friday, May 26, 2023

On Byung-Chul Han's "Psychopolitics"

Anton Cebalo, "Living in a Time of Psychopolitics: How an idea by philosopher Byung-Chul Han helps us reframe our world"
In the early 1970s, psychologist Herbert Freudenberger wrote of a condition he was seeing more and more among his patients: emotional exhaustion coupled with a loss of motivation and commitment. He called it “burnout” — borrowing a term initially used in the underground by those suffering severe withdrawal from drug abuse.1

It quickly caught on both clinically and among everyday people, helped by Freudenberger’s autobiographical style in describing it. He had experienced the condition himself in bouts. But more importantly, the diagnosis came at a critical time in American society as it was transitioning to a more “post-industrial” way of life, yet another term coined around the same time.2 Americans were graduating in greater numbers and increasingly pursuing knowledge-based work in offices, which was especially susceptible to stress and psychological ailments.3

The “burnout” of professionals in a “post-industrial” society: the two ideas were clearly linked. They also provided a window into the new era, one that was loosely being called the “Information Age.” The immediate relevance of Freudenberger’s ideas was obvious, and would soon be made into wellness questionnaires by psychologist Christina Maslach and others. By the 1980s, corporate management realized this malady was here to stay and began to craft methods specifically for dealing with demotivated labor.

These developments have since had time to deepen and mature, and today are more relevant than ever. In the last two years, many workers have resigned, often suddenly, due to a lack of fulfillment and burnout in what’s been called the “Great Resignation.” These familiar sentiments are the starting point for philosopher Byung-Chul Han’s writings which have grown popular as of late.

In his 2017 work Psychopolitics, Han writes of how power today has grown reliant on manipulating psychological states, uniquely made possible by technologies of control. Its symptoms are of the mind, like burnout and diseases of despair, coupled with addiction and compulsion. Understanding psychopolitics helps us to reframe the time in which we live, where one’s mental state has become a leading place of conflict.

Life Under Psychopolitics

Psychopolitics opens with an ominous statement: “freedom will prove to have been merely an interlude," something that's most felt when "passing from one way of living to another."4 Byung-Chul Han views the current situation as the turning of a new page, whose psychological ailments constitute a “profound crisis of freedom." The forces responsible operate on a level which he calls “psychopolitics.”

While Byung-Chul Han writes clearly, he also has a tendency to write aphoristically, very much in the style of a pamphlet. He is best known for his social diagnoses, writing often on themes like alienation, burnout, and how market demands have broken up the social fabric. Psychopolitics itself is a collection of short essays and a distillation of his worldview.

The book, however, is not historical by any means which may confuse the reader over how any of this is unique to our time. After all, psychological techniques on the unconscious, either in the realm of politics or markets, have been used to great effect since the early 20th century. For example, can fascism be called a form of psychopolitics? It certainly relied on mass psychology.

Psychopolitics is not "psychology applied to politics," though. Han describes psychopolitics as a new stage in how we relate to power, made possible by online life. Long ago, in agrarian societies of the past, power was exercised by the sword and threat of death.5 In succeeding industrial societies, power was exercised not by the threat of death, but by discipline and regulation over life. It needed to efficiently manage the physical bodies needed for production.6 Now in post-industrial societies, power is exercised by allowing individuals to exploit themselves in an open, transparent, and increasingly zero-sum environment. Rather than controlling bodies, Han argues psychopolitics is mainly about souls and minds.7

Because sentiment travels fastest in the digital realm, Han likens psychopolitics to a "dictatorship of emotion" in its ability to manipulate desire and opinion.8 In such an environment, "freedom switches over to compulsion" and addiction is rampant.9 Participation is easily reduced to grievance and complaint.10 Grand narratives of the future that used to motivate the past break down.11 This is because there is no longer a "political we" like before nor are there clear classes of mutual antagonism, Han argues.12 Instead, a world dominated by psychopolitics produces a constant "inner struggle against oneself."13 The boundaries between work and leisure weaken as well.14 And trust altogether declines because “the more we are confronted with information, the more our suspicion grows.”15

The ideal subject for psychopolitics according to Han is the always-optimizing "self-entrepreneur" who is unable to form relationships "free of purpose."16 Such social relationships, he argues, would ideally be the basis for healthy, non-coercive freedom. Psychopolitics tends to instead produce generalized anti-sociality.

Han’s writing tends to cut through the noise with concise insight, and I don’t want to quote the entire book here. But what is most convincing about his view is how abundantly clear its symptoms are.

In a previous post, I have already covered the ongoing “social recession” and community decline. Still, there are other signs we live in psychopolitical times: random acts of anti-social violence; deep democratic discontentment17; historical amnesia and memory loss18; and an unprecedented rise in mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, insomnia, and attention-deficit disorders.19

In many ways, it is evident we are living in a psychopolitical time, one especially susceptible to maladies of the mind and soul. A quote for today ought to be “protect me from what I want,” a phrase Han borrows from artist Jenny Holzer.

Byung-Chul Han’s Dystopia

While these are all pressing problems in their own right, what really strikes the reader when reading Han’s work is the alarming tone. Really, what he is intent on illustrating are the dire stakes if we do not undo “that which is changing freedom into coercion.”20

On this question, he unabashedly sets his target on “Big Data,” the platforms and market forces exploiting psychopolitics. The tech monopolies operate on a vast scale, transforming people into raw data and “quantifiable selves” amenable to surveillance, manipulation, and directed consumption. These entities allied with the state could leverage psychopolitics and its proclivity for emotion to simulate desired outcomes. It is creating a situation where, Han believes, “free will itself is at stake."21

He writes:

In the age of digital psychopolitics… influence takes place at the pre-reflexive level.

For human beings to be able to act freely, the future must be open. However, Big Data is making it possible to predict human behavior. This means that the future is becoming calculable and controllable. Digital psychopolitics transforms the negativity of freely made decisions into the positivity of factual states.

Persons are being positivized into things which can be quantified, measured and steered. Needless to say, no thing can be free. But at the same thing, things are more transparent than persons.22

The disciplinary power [of industrial society] discovered “population” as a productive and reproductive mass to be administered carefully. Reproductive cycles, birth and death rates, levels of general health, and life expectancy provided the objects for regulation.

However, this approach is unsuited to the neoliberal regime, which exploits the psyche above all. Big Data provides the means for establishing not just an individual but a collective psychogram, perhaps even the psychogram of the unconscious itself.23

[Digital psychopolitics] manages to intervene in psychic processes in a prospective fashion. Quite possibly, it is even faster than free will. As such, it could overtake it. If so, this would herald the end of freedom.

It is possible that Big Data can even read desires we do not know we habor… [thus] rendering the collective unconscious accessible... in the position to take control of mass behavior on a level that escapes detection.24
The invisible technological forces that Han describes are already in play, molding culture and politics. The thought of a society managed through algorithmic prediction and suggestion is a disturbing prospect. Yet, I am also encouraged by the fact that these systems have so far failed miserably in predicting the future. Human spontaneity is still clearly present nowadays, often expressing itself in spite of any attempt at control, albeit very chaotically. Society has not yet been reduced to just inputs and outputs.

Living in Spite of Psychopolitics

Byung-Chul Han illustrates a grim picture of technological control and emotional manipulation, whose complexity is hard to fathom. Still, we interact with it every day, and part of its appeal is it is mostly curated for us. A psychopolitical breakthrough was the popularization of the “infinite scroll” in the early 2010s, as timelines moved away from being strictly chronological, with Facebook leading the way.25 This also coincided with social media being less about connecting with real-life friends.

A while back, I stumbled upon an essay written in 2017 on a website called Graphite Journal. In it, an anonymous user writes, “the internet is larger than any one metropolis, but browsing it today feels like walking down a narrow circular hallway.”

They go on to recount a story of how in 1956, philosopher Guy Debord looked over some sociological studies on Parisian city-dwellers and noticed something similar. He was surprised to find their movements across the city quite limited, “forming a triangle with little deviation.” From such a realization, Debord proposed the idea of the dérive: the conscious decision to pass through areas and moods previously untraveled, drawn by whatever attraction one finds. The goal of dérive was to reject the narrow hallways one is forced into, and instead, turn them into bigger worlds. “It is high time that we develop a dérive for the internet,” the user writes.

When I read Han’s work, I’m reminded of the need to cultivate thoughts and worlds beyond what’s curated for us. And perhaps that also starts with cultivating our physical public spaces and third places as well, so that we have an actual home and community outside of psychopolitical dynamics. Oddly enough, I think the solution, in this case, seems fairly straightforward although admittedly difficult to carry out in practice.

1 Wilmar B. Schaufeli, “Burnout: A Short Socio-Cultural History.” Pg. 105, 107.

2 American sociologist Daniel Bell published The Coming of Post-Industrial Society in 1974.

3 What makes post-industrial society possible is the growth of knowledge-based work led by educated workers. In 1960, only 41% of Americans finished high school and just 7.7% graduated college. See below.


4 Byung-Chul Han. Psychopolitics (2017), pg. 1.

5 Psychopolitics, pg. 19.

6 Industrial society concerned itself with administering bodies. One of its breakthroughs was Taylorism, a form of scientific management that became popular at the turn of the 20th century named after Frederick Winslow Taylor. It was a new way of organizing labor and capital in production. This would be applied to state planning, and later utilized by both fascist and communist-aligned governments to transform their public.

Some other focuses of modern industrial society were eugenics and demographic questions.

7 Han borrows this “body and soul” language from philosopher Gilles Deleuze who he quotes. Disciplinary society was about the body and psychopolitics is about the soul.

8 Psychopolitics, pg. 46.

9 Psychopolitics, pg. 2.

10 Psychopolitics, pg. 3.

11 In Revolt of the Public (2013), Martin Gurri writes that the new digital public is largely a negating force that tends to break down all authority and norms. This is because it struggles to form a positive vision of society. This fact is a core feature of psychopolitics as well according to Han.

12 Psychopolitics, pg. 6.

13 Psychopolitics, pg. 5.

14 Many can vouch for feeling like work and leisure bleed into each other. In some cases, online life can completely distort one’s internal rhythm and sense of time which is why sleep disorders are more common nowadays.

15 There’s a widely-shared quote by Harvard Biologist E.O. Wilson who said that “we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom.” It should be said that more and more information does not necessarily confer more meaning. In fact, it’s the opposite. Han talks about this in a recent interview with Noema Magazine.

16 Psychopolitics, pg. 2.

17 In 2019, Cambridge University’s Centre for the Future of Democracy recorded the highest level of discontentment across all democracies since it began conducting survey research in 1995. There’s been no follow-up since the pandemic.

18 L. M. Sacasas on his substack blog The Convivial Society has written some excellent essays on how the internet distorts our sense of time and memory.

He writes:
On the internet, there is no present, only variously organized fragments of the past.

We no longer encounter the past principally as a coherent narrative informing our present and future action into the world. The past, is now encoded in ponderous databases, and it can be readily and endlessly re-interpreted, reshuffled, recombined, and rearranged. This activity is what now consumes our time and energy.

On the internet, fighting about what has happened is far easier than imagining what could happen.

Because we live in the past when we are online, we will find ourselves fighting over the past. Because our fighting is itself inscribed and inscriptions cannot be defeated only overwhelmed, it very quickly becomes part of what is fought over. The casus belli recedes inexorably from view as it is layered over by the cascading inscriptions, which themselves become things to be fought over. Soon, it becomes impossible to map the course of the conflict or even make sense of it. And nothing changes.
19 The alarming rise of mental disorders is well-documented, largely affecting those who grew up digitally. A turning point seems to be around 2012. But there has been a steady increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants, SSRIs, and ADHD medication since the 1990s as well.

20 Psychopolitics, pg. 2.

21 Psychopolitics, pg. 60-61.

22 Psychopolitics, pg. 12.

23 Psychopolitics, pg. 21.

24 Psychopolitics, pg. 63-65.

25 https://www.theverge.com/2014/3/6/5469952/facebook-goes-back-to-basics-with-latest-news-feed-redesign

Friday, May 19, 2023

What is Life? What is a Good Life?

“As the entrepreneur of its own self, the neoliberal subject has no capacity for relationships with others that might be free of purpose. Nor do entrepreneurs know what purpose-free friendship would even look like. Originally, being free meant being among friends. ‘Freedom’ and ‘friendship’ have the same root in Indo-European languages. Fundamentally, freedom signifies a relationship. A real feeling of freedom occurs only in a fruitful relationship – when being with others brings happiness. But today’s neoliberal regime leads to utter isolation; as such, it does not really free us at all. Accordingly, the question now is whether we need to redefine freedom – to reinvent it – in order to escape from the fatal dialectic that is changing freedom into coercion.”
― Byung-Chul Han, "Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power"
from the Desert de Retz Folly Garden

Friday, May 5, 2023

On "Surviving Hyperculture" by Byung-Chul Han

Emma Melonic, "Surviving Hyperculture"
The following is a condensed version of "Surviving Hyperculture" by Emina Melonic, published at Law & Liberty.

Does the term “culture” even mean anything, given humanity’s turn away from particularity and toward a more fluid world of never-ending change? Philosopher Byung-Chul Han, known for his treatise-like reflections on modern life, combining philosophical inquiry with cultural critique. Han objectively delineates and clarifies modern society’s existential ailments, while trying to discern where we may be going on the current trajectory. His book Hyperculture: Culture and Globalization is a look at the way the world is shifting due to globalization.

Who are we as human in this strange world? Are we mere tourists, to use Han’s metaphor, or are we searching for a deeper meaning? By definition, a tourist collects experiences that are often superficial, and the way we experience culture today seems to operate on the same level. Rootlessness to such an extreme can lead to a total existential breakdown. Any notion of boundaries, be they metaphysical or geographical, will quickly dissipate and with that the perennial question of what it means to be human. After all, it is our differences that maintain creativity as well as, unfortunately, destruction.

The worlds are shifting, and the question is whether a new world is emerging. “After the end of culture,” writes Han, “should the new human being simply be called ‘tourist’? Or are we at long last living in a culture that affords us the freedom to spread into the wide open world? If we are, how might we describe this new culture?” Han is alluding to the “end of culture,” which is enough to make everyone quite depressed. Fast-moving technology has precipitated this change, and we cannot turn back the clock. Technology has tapped into human listlessness and spiritual torpor, taking many souls hostage.

What exactly is hyperculture? Han’s concept of “hyperculture” is drawn from Ted Nelson’s invention of hypertext. Han explains that, for Nelson, everything is connected, and hypertext is not necessarily limited to digital text. As Han writes, “Neither body nor thinking follows a linear pattern. … [H]ypertext promises a liberation from compulsion, [and] what Nelson imagines is a hypertextual universe, a network without centre, in which everything is wedded together.”

If we have reached the point in our society in which everything is connected in a way that renders us even more alienated from that very society, then we have to ask: what is culture in this context? What is humanity? Do such things even exist anymore? In the United States, for example, we like to speak of the so-called “culture wars,” which indeed are not imaginary, and they have serious consequences on different aspects of society. But given the all-pervasive reality of globalization, are we engaging in culture wars anymore, or are our battles shapeshifting, unable to be captured and properly dealt with?

In addition, the mere idea of God has been neglected, and by implication, our spiritual lives. Since he is concerned with “sitelessness” and “rootlessness,” Han looks at the notion of pilgrimage. Sacred language has all but disappeared from our existential and literal vocabulary (at least from the collective myriad of voices), and the concept of a pilgrim seems antiquated. But in fact, this may be one of the primary ways to return to God.

A pilgrim is not a modern human being at all. As Han writes, “A pilgrim is a peregrinus. He or she is not fully at home Here, and thus pilgrims are on their way to a special There. Modernity overcomes precisely this asymmetry between Here and There. … [I]nstead of being on its way towards a There, modernity progresses towards a better Here. But a necessary part of the pilgrim’s wandering across the desert is uncertainty and insecurity, that is, the possibility of going astray. Modernity, by contrast, thinks that it is moving along a straight road.”

A pilgrim is geared toward arrival, whereas modern or postmodern man (especially one whose existence is defined by globalization and digitization) couldn’t care less about that. Since everything is shapeshifting all the time, today’s digitized human being is quickly losing his or her humanity through such an endeavor.

In the hypercultural space,” Han tells us, “one does not ‘hike’; one ‘browses’ what is presently available.” There is no point of departure or arrival, and this will prove to be an existence devoid of meaning. If we look at ourselves as pilgrims, then we can also conclude that we desire belonging. This is one human desire that rarely goes away. But a “tourist” (to use Han’s word), or someone who is searching for nothing, will never care about belonging. As Václav Havel wrote, “The tragedy of modern man is not that he knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.”

Loving Sophie....

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Byung-Chul Han, "The Transparency Society"1

“Today the word “transparency” is haunting all spheres of life—not just politics but economics, too. Wherever information is very easy to obtain, as is the case today, the social system switches from trust to control. As total communication and total networking run their course, it proves harder than ever to be an outsider, to hold a different opinion. Transparent communication is communication that has a smoothing and leveling effect. It leads to synchronization and uniformity. It eliminates Otherness. Compulsive conformity proceeds from transparency. In this way, transparency stabilizes the dominant system. Transparency is a neoliberal dispositive. It forces everything inward in order to transform it into information. Under today’s immaterial relations of production, more information and communication mean more productivity and acceleration. In contrast, secrecy, foreignness, and otherness represent obstacles for communication without borders. They are to be dismantled in the name of transparency. Transparency makes the human being glassy. Therein lies its violence. Unrestricted freedom and communication switch into total control and surveillance.”1

Transparency is the order of the day. It is a term, a slogan, that dominates public discourse about corruption and freedom of information. Considered crucial to democracy, it touches our political and economic lives as well as our private lives. Anyone can obtain information about anything. Everything—and everyone—has become transparent: unveiled or exposed by the apparatuses that exert a kind of collective control over the post-capitalist world.

Yet, transparency has a dark side that, ironically, has everything to do with a lack of mystery, shadow, and nuance. Behind the apparent accessibility of knowledge lies the disappearance of privacy, homogenization, and the collapse of trust. The anxiety to accumulate ever more information does not necessarily produce more knowledge or faith. Technology creates the illusion of total containment and the constant monitoring of information, but what we lack is adequate interpretation of the information. In this manifesto, Byung-Chul Han denounces transparency as a false ideal, the strongest and most pernicious of our contemporary mythologies.

Slavoj Zizek, "The Real of Capitalist Illusion", et al

"Narrative", the "essence" of the post-modern "Achievement/Palliative" Society of Control.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Last Man - Byung-Chul Han

Friedrich Nietzsche, "Thus Spake Zarathustra"

When Zarathustra had spoken these words, he again looked at the people, and was silent. “There they stand,” said he to his heart; “there they laugh: they understand me not; I am not the mouth for these ears.

Must one first batter their ears, that they may learn to hear with their eyes? Must one clatter like kettledrums and penitential preachers? Or do they only believe the stammerer?

They have something whereof they are proud. What do they call it, that which maketh them proud? Culture, they call it; it distinguisheth them from the goatherds.

They dislike, therefore, to hear of ‘contempt’ of themselves. So I will appeal to their pride.

I will speak unto them of the most contemptible thing: that, however, is THE LAST MAN!”

And thus spake Zarathustra unto the people:

It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope.

Still is his soil rich enough for it. But that soil will one day be poor and exhausted, and no lofty tree will any longer be able to grow thereon.

Alas! there cometh the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man—and the string of his bow will have unlearned to whizz!

I tell you: one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: ye have still chaos in you.

Alas! There cometh the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There cometh the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.

Lo! I show you THE LAST MAN.

“What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?”—so asketh the last man and blinketh.

The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest.

“We have discovered happiness”—say the last men, and blink thereby.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loveth one’s neighbour and rubbeth against him; for one needeth warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbleth over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that maketh pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.

One still worketh, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becometh poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wanteth to rule? Who still wanteth to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Every one wanteth the same; every one is equal: he who hath other sentiments goeth voluntarily into the madhouse.

“Formerly all the world was insane,”—say the subtlest of them, and blink thereby.

They are clever and know all that hath happened: so there is no end to their raillery. People still fall out, but are soon reconciled—otherwise it spoileth their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

“We have discovered happiness,”—say the last men, and blink thereby.—

And here ended the first discourse of Zarathustra, which is also called “The Prologue”: for at this point the shouting and mirth of the multitude interrupted him. “Give us this last man, O Zarathustra,”—they called out—“make us into these last men! Then will we make thee a present of the Superman!” And all the people exulted and smacked their lips. Zarathustra, however, turned sad, and said to his heart:

“They understand me not: I am not the mouth for these ears.

Too long, perhaps, have I lived in the mountains; too much have I hearkened unto the brooks and trees: now do I speak unto them as unto the goatherds.

Calm is my soul, and clear, like the mountains in the morning. But they think me cold, and a mocker with terrible jests.

And now do they look at me and laugh: and while they laugh they hate me too. There is ice in their laughter.”

Monday, May 1, 2023

Kawanio che Keeteru!

On May 3, 1788, appears in the daily papers (Independent Gazetteer, May 3, 1788) the advertisement of Edward Pole, as a real estate broker, and the chief property that he offers for sale is a tavern called " The Wigwam," situated on the east bank of the Schuylkill at Race Street.
Edward Pole, Notary Public, Conveyancer, Merchantile Broker, At his office in Market street, near the Court House, Philadelphia, He has also opened An Office for the Registering, Purchase, and Sale of Real Estates.

To Be Sold, That elegant situation the noted tavern called the Wigwam, Upon the banks of the Schuylkill, 2 miles from the Court House.

There are on the premises, a Brick House, 21 by 22, with a stone one adjoining 18 by 30 feet; the brick building consists of a very handsome, well finished Parlour 20 by 21 feet, with two well finished Chambers, and two Garrets, lathed and plastered, with two Piazzas round the same, and a Balcony with turned Ballustrades, from which may be seen the city of Philadelphia; a good Cellar and a Pump of Water at the door. The stone building consists of a Parlour and Kitchen adjoining, with a Room over the whole, and an oven.

There is also on the premises, a new Frame Building, built of the very best cedar and white oak, and finished in the modern style, 40 by 20 feet; the lower floor consists of a Dining Room 34 feet long, with a Bar Room adjoining, also two Plunging and two Shower Baths, each in separate genteel rooms; in the second story is a Room well finished 20 feet by 30, calculated for a Dancing Room, or the Entertainment of a large Company with a convenient Drawing Room adjoining; the third floor has three Lodging Rooms, the whole being well finished, lathed and plastered, under which is a complete Cellar or Kitchen with a Fire-Place and every Conveniency.

On the premises is a good Stable, also an excellent Garden of half an acre well laid out, and stocked with an assortment of the best grafted Fruit Trees, such as Peaches, Plumbs, Cherries, Pears, &c. together with a collection of valuable Flower Roots, in the ground ; there is also an Orchard adjoining well stocked with an assortment of grafted Apple Trees, which is enclosed by a Board Fence 7 feet high, and the Garden is under a Palisade Fence 7 feet high; in the orchard are eight well finished Summer Houses, one of which is elegantly finished after the Chinese taste.

The whole commands a beautiful and extensive prospect up and down the river Schuylkill, with a view of the bridges over the middle and upper ferries, being situated in the middle between the two; a plenty of fishing and fowling in the different seasons of the year, and the whole being a pleasant retreat for a gentleman retiring from business in the heat of summer.

This place being so well known renders it unnecessary to say much relative to it. By paying part of the purchase money down, some time will be given for the payment of the remainder.
The advertisement shows plainly that our Secretary of the Saint Tammany Society had met with misfortune and had to seek his living in this way, consequently there is no more mention of his place as being the headquarters of our Society. The exact meeting-places this year are not given, and we judge that the great controversy over the adoption of the Federal Constitution was being felt by our brethren; for when the Federal Commission came before the people of Pennsylvania, a very thorough and careful writer says, " An issue was raised, something was at stake; and the Whig Party was quickly rent in twain, slanders were set up? The name of Whig fell for a time into disuse, and under the appellation of Federalists and Antifederalists, the two sections of a once harmonious part drew farther and farther apart, and began a contest on a national scale." There are no toasts or names given; all we have in the way of a record of them is the following:
Thursday being the first of May, a variety of social circles composed of citizens of this place and New Jersey, assembled on the banks of the Delaware and Schuylkill, to commemorate the anniversary of King Tammany, the Tutelar Saint of America. A gentleman of New Jersey and one of the party at Lilliput, wrote the following Song in honour of the day, which was spent with great conviviality.
Tune? A Dauphin's born, &c.

How happy thus once more
To hail returning spring !
Friends, welcome to our shore,
And cheerful be the day :
Join every voice with loud acclaim,
Our Guardian's praise to sing;
Echo round his grateful name,
Let hills and valleys ring.
For Tammany demands our song,
Then swell the votive strain,
His name shall float along
The breeze that sweeps the plain.

Whilst vanquished monsters grace
The saints of distant lands,
No fabled tales we trace ;
For still recorded stands
How Tammany, in ages past,
Subdued our fathers' foes,
Till he, worn down with age at last,
A sainted hero rose :
Such was the chief who claims our song,?
Then swell, &c.

No wild ambitious strife
His equal mind could charm ;
No sullen scorn of life,
Impel 'd his vengeful arm,
Nor caprice or revenge could lead
His steadfast heart astray ;
If justice doomed his foes to bleed,
Reluctant he'd obey :
Such was the prince who claims our song,?
Then swell, &c.

When first our wandering sires,
Transplanted freedom here,
Bright burn'd his council fires,
Their sinking hopes to cheer ;
No ambush'd murder stain'd the wild,
Or midnight guile betrayed ;
Whene'er the mighty chieftain smil'd,
Ordained his pow'rful aid :
Such was the prince who claims our song,?
Then swell, &c.

His native force of mind
Pierc'd the incumbent gloom,
And thus in stile refind,
Portray'd our future doom :
Our tawny race, though fierce and bold,
Your sons shall overwhelm ;
And long shall they in freedom hold
This rich, extensive realm :
Such was the Saint who claims our song,?
Then swell, &c.

As through a misty cloud,
(And here he drop'd a tear)
I see a hostile crowd
Their bloody banners rear ;
Like you indeed the warriors seem,
But oft they're wrapt in fire :
How dreadful do their lightnings gleam,
And ah ! your sons retire :
Such was the chief who claims our song,?
Then swell, &c.

With aspect fierce he gaz'd
Then wild with rapture cry'd,
Your foes recoil amaz'd,
To shelter on the tide ;
And who is he serenely great
Who leads your columns on ?
But here was clos'd the book of fate,
Or he'd read Washington :
Such was the Saint who claims our song,?
Then swell, &c.

Still in returning May
His rights shall be our care,
And hallow'd be the day,
In each succeeding year :
Our sons shall sing his sainted name,
Till time shall be no more,
Now hov'ring on the wings of fame,
He marks and guards this shore.
Thus Tammany demands our song,
Then swell, &c.