What is Love? (baby don’t hurt me)

So let’s get one thing out of the way- the title of my blog is Amorinoblog because that’s just my last name. But I think it was Jung who said that names sometimes direct the course of a person’s life in unseen ways. The deep unconscious definitely exists, that’s one thing I know for a fact through my experiences as a person. My unconscious is constantly operating and making connections for me and directing my life in ways I never consciously could. But a friend recently drew my attention to the fact that my blog could be read as “amor (love) in blog”. Now that’s something.

My last name is Portuguese in origin, and it translates to cupid or little love, the diminutive form of love. I don’t know the origin of this name or why it was the name of a family in Portugal, but I’ve always felt that my name has a certain guiding role for me or spiritual kind of power. At least personally. In Tibetan culture, indeed most cultures outside of the West, names have power, they are more directly attached to things in the world, their meanings aren’t obscure or etymological. But using Tibetan/Bhutanese culture as an example, children are named after holy or auspicious things such as jewels (Pema) and holy sceptres (Dorje). Sometimes they are just named Karma, pretty straightforward. Name is destiny. Tenzin Gyatso, the name of the Dalai Lama, literally means Ocean of Wisdom.

So what is love? Love for most of us is the personal feeling of loving specifically another person. It is based on certain characteristics about a person, based on familial familiarity, on things like kinship or friendship. Is love these things? On a relative level, the answer has to be yes. Simply “letting go” of these attachments often doesn’t work or is detrimental. But is love an attachment?

First of all, in my mind, there can be attachment that mutually fulfills two people, and attachment that is essentially negative in character. But the fundamental insight that the Buddha had was that love is based on the desire for permanence, a permanence that cannot ultimately be satisfied. Attachment leads to suffering. This does not mean that breaking attachments does not lead to suffering as well.

Is it possible to love without being attached? I think this is the meaning of karuna, or the Sanskrit term for compassion. In ultimate karuna, there is no desire for ANY kind of repayment in one’s love. Most love is selfish- it wants to be loved. Kind of like the John Lennon Love is Real- “Love is wanting to be loved”. Well hate to disagree with John, but real love does not need anything in return. A mother’s love approaches this kind of love, it is a good model for thinking about it, but even a mother desires her son or daughter to repay them with kindness, and this should be our desire as well. But this should, this ethical dimension to love, is what is lacking I think in people’s everyday understanding of love.

Christian love, brotherly love- this of course approaches this concept as well. But ultimately, even Christian dogma reproduces the idea that God is a “jealous” god (maybe more Judaism, but its still in the Bible, so sorry Slavoj). Now from a Buddhist point, the idea that God is jealous is very strange. The whole idea of divinity in Eastern religion is based on the idea that one has achieved liberation from negative emotion. The essential insight of Buddhist psychology is the idea of the near enemy. Love has as its near enemy jealousy, determination has as its near enemy stubbornness, and so on. Maybe the Nichomachean ethics is like this as well, but I’m not sure.

So maybe it could be phrased like this- love is a desire, but Love is a desire to not only help, but free any living being from suffering.

It is the identification of love purely with personal happiness that has caused many problems in our culture, even beyond material structural problems. It has caused us to ignore our neighbor, it has created callousness in the upper classes. This is why Jesus said “I come with the sword”, as well as the famous parable about the eye of the needle- because his message was one of righteous indignation at the treatment of the poor.

At the end of the day, its not that our understanding of love has to be reintegrated into any particular sort of Theology, as fundamentalists claim. True love for me actually isn’t God’s love, unless it is as an ideal. True love is compassion for the suffering.

I also believe, as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says in his book Not for Happiness, that we have to modify our Western idea of compassion as trying to materially aid the poor and the meek, the normal objects of compassion for probably most people. Ultimate highest compassion encompasses every single living thing, including our enemies, political or otherwise. For me this is a valuable lesson for leftist movements. We will never sway the masses with hatred. As much hate and resentment as we feel is justified for those that hoard resources at the expense of the “wretched of the Earth”, I feel fundamentally that the idea that revolution can only be achieved by violent revolution has to be wrong. For our mutual survival, it has to be wrong- the stakes are ultimately too high, in an age of nuclear weapons, to repeat the mistakes of the 20th century. Non-violence is the solution of the 21st century, where it was only a glimmer of hope in the 20th.

To me, one of the best exemplars and expressions of love in the recent past was Martin Luther King Jr. He represents for many people still today the hope and promise of a better tomorrow, a real fighter for social justice, who was not afraid to call out hypocrisy, but used his prophetic voice to advocate for a higher calling. It is people like MLK, Bishop Oscar Romero, the Dalai Lama- in short, advocates of Peace and Human Rights, who knew and advanced our notion of what love is. It is fitting that two of the people I just mentioned won the Nobel Prize for Peace, and one of them is in the process of becoming beatified as a saint.

I don’t want to turn this into a debate about non-violent vs. violent tactics of the oppressed- all I know is that despite certain gains made by violent revolution, they came at great cost, and often reproduced systems of oppression in the long run. Whether non-violent revolutions like the Indian revolution ultimately worked is a different story. But I know that our message now for how to change our world has to not only be practical but ethical. Non-violence or ahimsa is both practical and ethical. 

As the Dalai Lama says, “if you have to be selfish, be selfish wisely- love others!”

Also, kudos to the developers of wordpress for making it so that it saves your draft as you write. I accidentally swiped left on my keyboard and thought I lost my post. Saves a whole lot of frustration with that feature

OM MANI PADME HUM

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Tales from Iceland: the savageness of nature

Finally the blog will live up to its name!

In my travels I frequently end up talking to tour guides and paying very close attention to what they say. I had an excellent guide through the Golden Circle (a circle of three important stops outside Reykjavik- Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall) whom I had an excellent conversation with. The guy’s name is Elvar (sic) on the Grayline Iceland Golden Circle classic tour. Great guy- Elvar if you are out there, you’re a good bloke! He had an extensive knowledge of Icelandic folklore and we had a great conversation about Icelandic culture, history, and folklore. Elvar expertly woves tales of the Ejill saga with the history of the drowning pool at Thingvellir, the law rock of the Alþingi, the war of the bishops, and of course- elves! Tourists to Iceland get no shortage of stories of elves.

If you go to Iceland, you have to do the Golden Circle tour, its incredible. We got to pet Icelandic horses and everything- and it wasn’t that expensive at all! Iceland is a travel gem- just don’t eat very much in Reykjavik! The prices are as gargantuan as the snow capped peaks. Go to the Bonus grocery stores if you are on a budget.

But back to the real reason I’m writing about Iceland: it’s culture. My guide very adeptly identified that religion for Icelanders is a complicated matter because they became Christian very late- around 1000 AD, and even still they retained much of their folk belief. For instance, the bishops had regular discussions about what to do in case of encountered a giant or troll!

That’s Iceland for you, still a relatively remote region of the world, despite its connection to the larger Scandinavian area. The rural areas of Iceland are very cut off- there are many small towns of less than 1000 people. There are still a few houses I saw tucked away all by themselves on the mountainside amidst vast tundra plains of rock and moss.

In this way, Iceland reminded me very much incidentally of Bhutan, another mountainous country in which they have many stories of nature spirits who inhabit the waters and rocks. If there’s anything I learned, its that Icelandic folk belief is almost “indigenous”, and certainly animist. Their connection to the earth is strong, as well as the sea, a mountainous island that is unique among the world’s landscapes and unique in its culture.

Iceland retains much of its ruggedness well into the 21st century. They’ve experienced a lot of deforestation, but most of it occurred during the first years of colonization a millennium ago. Power lines cross the otherwise empty landscape, but otherwise it is still mostly unspoiled. In this way, Iceland is not very much different from some areas of the Himalayas I encountered- the powerlines mark both with the sign of modernity, but retain much of its natural brilliancy. Let’s hope the conservation of Iceland’s natural splendor is taken as seriously by its people as its 100% renewable geothermal and hydroelectric energy. And lets hope tourism to Iceland does not explode out of proportion with what it the land is willing to bear.

The raw power of nature in Iceland is something that is still unstoppable. The volcanic activity is substantial: the largest single eruption in modern times occurred here in the 1700s, purportedly shooting lava plumes 1 km in height into the sky! Incredible. Nature here is still something feared and respected, and not just considered pretty or even worshiped as “mother earth”. No- Mother Earth truly is a bitch here! She was the mother of Þórr after all! In Iceland, waterfalls still rage, volcanoes roar, and you truly do feel the power and glory of unspoiled nature. 

See those glaciers on top of the mountain up there in the picture? They may not be there for long. Icelanders- if you truly are as connected with nature as you say you are, you must protect these natural treasures for everyone to come, especially the rightful owners of this land- yourselves! If anything, do it for selfish reasons! Nature can be savage, but now humanity can even fell the mighty glaciers that once covered this great land. 

What does it mean to deterritorialize?

“For essential reasons: the unity of all that allows itself to be attempted today through the most diverse concepts of science and of writing, is, in principle, more or less covertly yet always, determined by an historicometaphysical epoch of which we merely glimpse the closure. I do not say the end. The idea of science and the idea of writing—therefore also of the science of writing—is meaningful for us only in terms of an origin and within a world to which a certain concept of the sign (later I shall call it the concept of sign) and a certain concept of the relationships between speech and writing, have already been assigned.”  –Derrida, Of Grammatology

It was Deleuze and Derrida who almost simultaneously recognized that writing or code inheres in the fabric of more than modern civilization- the code of a computer, genetic code, military secret code, the code of the law, etc. etc. Is this only because linguistic signs and metaphors permeate discourse itself- language not being able to escape language- or is this ontologically actually the case? One would probably go with the former at first in non-anthropomorphic cases, but what if information itself somehow is ontologically primary in reality? Quantum information theory says as much.

By referring to genetic material as code, what do we mean? We mean there is a sequence, a series of particular entities that in one combination produce one biological or chemical product, and in another produce another. The key aspects here of code are combinations, sequences, and corresponding production. Is the key aspect of this the sequence itself, the combination? No, it is reproduction, or corresponding production. Code reproduces itself. A code is stable, as a key or cipher it remains constant so that variable productions can occur. If we continue to use DNA as a model, we should recognize here the differences between transcription, translation, and replication. Code here reproduces itself but also produces new entities by means of mirror replication or half replication. Correspondingly, a signifier refers to other signifiers in the chain of meaning, referring to the original code in a semi-autonomous but never completely redundant way. Redundancy itself eliminates or reduces the possibility for errors, for mutations in intended meaning.

As a professional copy editor, I am told by my company to eliminate redundancy, but I have found that a certain amount of redundancy fills a paper out. There is a distinct difference between “to verb” and “in order to verb”, despite it being categorized as an “inflated phrase”. Of course there can be too much redundancy- this kind of redundancy would probably be eliminated quickly by helpful “editing proteins” in DNA. But the problem is that we are always operating on several codes at once- one’s professional code, one’s ethical code, one’s personal code, one’s biological code (sometimes my code tells me to sleep instead of writing long blog posts in the middle of the night). While we are slaves to our code, our pro-gram (credit to Derrida), we are also in some sense the programmers. Perhaps what it means to be human is that we are given a certain program, namely ourselves, and it is our task to hack it as much as humanly possible without “shorting the circuit”. Perhaps this is what Foucault drove at with the “limit experience”. Perhaps this is what Deleuze truly meant by deterritorialization, with all the warnings that come attached. Deleuze always formulated deterritorialization as a decoding explicitly. One only gets out of a territory by means of a decoding of a certain flow of X.

Oh boy, have we entered into the terrain of cliches? One hears the right-wing all the time say we need to “deprogram” ourselves from liberal hogwash. Cue the Matrix metaphors about taking the red pill! Here’s the problem with a cliche- it did mean something at one point. Yes, getting out of your territory is getting out of your comfort zone. So what? Its still good advice. But think about why its your comfort zone. Perhaps you have comfort zones you haven’t discovered yet- that’s a nice thought. For instance, I have recently found a passion for chess that I never thought I would have. I at one point never thought I would be into French postmodernism, but here I am.

And so, we come full circle to the quote at the beginning of the essay. What is Derrida saying is occurring? A deterritorialization of the whole field of language. Or, more precisely, the beginning of the end of a certain era having something to do with language. What he was referring to is also called the “Death of Speech”.

Is this Death of Speech a bad thing? Death can also be a rebirth, but here we should avoid the temptation to avoid historical and dialectical cliches. No- time really is linear. A death of speech cannot be reversed. But what is Derrida even referring to? A fundamental change in the nature of human communication. This fundamental change corresponds with changes in how we perceive communication itself, and thus, in social being itself.

Welcome to the Digital Age- stay tuned for more developments!

There’s no celebration of Posthumanism here, only a diagnosis of our present predicament. A historicometaphysical epoch is determinant, after all. Try as you might, one thing is for certain- there is no escaping the present.

Is there anything new I can offer to essentially the hodgepodge of already formulated ideas? Only the drawing of relationship, only creating the map at the edges of which we find the signifier for something more, a new direction. We have our web of concepts: code, Death of Speech, deterritorialization, and the modern importance of the digital or cybernetic. This has all been explored ad nauseam by Deleuze in Societies of Control, by Derrida, but lets dive head in, shall we?

There are two aspects to consider more closely- the prediction of the development of the current historicometaphysical epoch and outlining any concepts that we appear to have missed. Deleuze has indicated that deterritorialization by way of formation of new subjectivities through creative experimentation can counteract the effect of digital societies of control. In other words, in an era filled with new cybernetic mechanisms bent on shaping one’s self to be more penetrable to capitalist exploitation and marketing, through stimuli and response control in a Pavlovian sense, Desire itself is the target of an individual’s subjectivity.

Therefore, my recommendations for future areas of “research” or personal subjectivation: if the problem for forming a truly individual subjectivity is outside stimuli that creates and forms Desire, there are two possible avenues: the “ascetic” route of personal denial and the “tantric” route of shaping and playing with one’s desires.

If we truly want to reshape the world, we don’t only need to “look in the mirror”. We need to reevaluate our (shared) individual and collective desires.

So we have come to a useful conceptual distinction: individual and collective Desire. Nothing that hasn’t been said before, but a useful one. But perhaps more originally, I have offered a distinction between an “ascetic” and “tantric” route to subjectivation, and suggested a dichotomy. I am always intrigued by the concept of “unplugging” in the modern world: going a month without TV, etc. It would be difficult for me, I admit. I think this is exactly what our world needs right now. But I also believe that there must be a libidinal substitute for any kind of ascetic denial. TV is great! So if you plan on getting rid of TV for a month- make sure you are going somewhere nice and won’t be bothered it, or are planning on reading some good books. In a society that encourages binge watching, I purposefully try to watch an episode of my favorite shows per day.

Or, you could “go to the end”- the tantric route- use Desire to eliminate desire. Binge watch until you can go without TV for a year. Watch everything you want to watch, and then get sick of it. This route is NOT for the faint of heart!

And if you are interested in collective liberation, and think me talking about binge watching won’t effect anything, that I’m “feeding into the neoliberal paradigm”, think twice: I’m one step ahead of you! In an era of atomized individuals, we have to work on ourselves first. In other words: we have to deatomize. How? Before coming together in a big chemical reaction that will shake the foundations of the earth, we have to be chemically prepared. I’m saying- if you want a revolution, a political one, it needs to start by recognizing that our current industrial way of life is in the long term completely unsustainable. And no, Zizek, it won’t all be fixed by green energy and luxury space communism.

This kind of experimentation with alternative lifestyles, particularly associated with the green movement, is quickly co-opted by the capitalist hegemony. As Zizek points out, the true alternative is a liberatory framework for society, but this isn’t only in terms of changing the nature of production. Taking down consumer society starts with taking down the DESIRE FOR CONSUMER SOCIETY.

Unfortunately, we have to recognize that despite the enormous conveniences of modern capitalist society for the First World, it has never been that way for the Third World. And we can’t avoid what’s coming.

Yes, we do have to deprogram ourselves, and fast. The ocean is rising

Why does Jordan Peterson exist- SJWs or crowdfunding?

Social Justice Warriors. SJWs. Is the term valid? As a progressive, I have an instinctive gut reaction against the “anti-SJW industry” or people like Jordan Peterson who make their living making “podcasts” or other internet drivel ranting. I swear to Buddha, I’ll drop dead before I accept cash for my opinion over the internet.

But do social justice warriors exist? Is it a caricature? I think something is developing that is far more disturbing- the SJW industry. What the liberal left and right fail to comprehend is that everything can be commodified. There is an SJW industry, a network of “passionate social justice activists” who put their opinions online for money in the name of justice, and then there are anti-feminists who…end up doing the exact same thing.

My hypothesis is that what fuels the creation of people like Jordan Peterson is not just “the internet” or “social media”. The fact that Peterson is crowdfunded by Patreon is a significant development. What does it mean?

I believe it means that the model of news/infotainment that was perfected by the cable news industry, now that it has moved online, has transformed into an infotainment “a la carte” menu, where people pick their opinion and fund it directly. In turn, people are increasingly driven to make their opinion or felt subjectivity into their career; they are programmed to commodify themselves ceaselessly. Peterson is the example of a success-story. The endless self-commodification of our culture (one could argue I’m also a victim, I’m “advertising myself” in some fashion right now) has managed to permeate discourse to the degree where speech itself, in a Deleuzian fashion, has become rotten. Meaningful speech has ceased to exist. There is always just an underlying profit motive.

If that’s not depressing enough, if discourse itself hasn’t just become one big farce, if we aren’t just talking past each other in a giant Tower of Babel (credit to Landzek at Constructive Undoing blog), then consider this:

We can now commodify things that have never been commodified before: feelings, thoughts, experiences, emotions. All virtual, all simulated, everything empty, shallow, and meaningless.

On a sidenote: crowdfunding is a byproduct of consumer capitalism, specifically of what Marx called the production of new needs, or even more specifically, the need to “fulfill your dream”. Want to become a successful rapper? Cook? Need to pay off your credit card debt? Indiegogo baby!

When you were a kid and you wouldn’t eat your peas, your mom told you there were starving kids in Africa. Millennial moms will just say “oh my poor precious baby, you don’t have to eat anything, you are my little precious angel!”

Do I believe that millennials are all completely narcissistic and entitled? No. But I do think you feed into conservative propaganda when you refuse to take your inherent First World economic privilege into account. Unless you are homeless or terminal, don’t come crying to me, we all have problems.

What created Jordan Peterson?

  1. Identity politics and a refusal to look at class as a primary determinant of life
  2. The modern “gender studies” focus on “transformative identity” which reinforces narcissistic individualism in today’s activist culture
  3. A dynamic of increasing self-promotion in modern cybercapitalism

Perhaps Zizek is right that we need to become more alienated from each other first to fix these problems.

 

Do Zizek and Peterson agree on religion?

Spoiler: no they do not.

Jordan Peterson is so fundamentally bad at making arguments that he can’t help but make the naturalistic fallacy every time he opens his mouth. Hierarchy is natural and good, religion is natural and therefore good- that’s his whole spiel, as many authors and columnists have pointed out explicitly. It’s pretty obvious when he engages in these kind of religious apologetics that his ultimate agenda is propping up conservative ideology and politics, but why does it appear in this video that Peterson is making a similar argument to one that Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek often repeats about God and the unconscious? Is it because Zizek is a closet fascist like his detractors claim?

What exactly is Zizek’s argument? Here’s a good video clip summarizing Zizek’s position on religion:

Zizek states in his works many times that the Dostoyevskyian assertion that “If God does not exist, than everything is permitted” is actually true in reverse: “If God does not exist, nothing is permitted”. Why? Because true believers or fundamentalists can violate seemingly inviolable moral law if they “fulfill God’s will” (think jihadists who martyr themselves for the cause of Islam). But why is nothing permitted to those that do not believe? Because for Zizek, they still unconsciously believe in a Big Other.

This bears a strange resemblance to Peterson’s argument that non-believers secretly believe, but not all is as it seems. Peterson is simply falling back on the old “no atheists in foxholes” argument: non-believers unconsciously believe they may be punished in the afterlife if they commit a sin.

Here Peterson commits a fundamental misreading of Christianity. As Zizek argues following Hegel, in Christianity God literally dies on the cross in the act of kenosis or becoming fully man. Thus for Christ, one’s fate in the afterlife should be inconsequential to you when considering what is right and wrong. Thus, atheists, in their conception of a moral law that is higher than God himself (if he exists at all) are more faithful to the spirit of Christianity than Christianity itself. This may seem just as obscurantist as Peterson’s claim, but it is clearly different. For Zizek, atheists who hold certain ethical standards as absolute do not do so because they believe in God, but they simply have been raised in a culture steeped in Christian history.

If Zizek were to raise this point to Peterson, Peterson might do a victory lap and claim religion, irrespective of whether it is right or not, invented art, morality, etc. However, notice how Peterson would attach a value judgement to the idea of absolute ethical standards being good. Absolute ethical standards have sometimes led to draconian laws and a perverted sense of justice – one need only mention the Inquisition. Peterson also, in proper New Age fashion, collapse in his apologetics of religion all religions into one, despite the fact that they hold vastly different moral codes. He would possibly claim that they share certain common elements, but one need only look at the moral system held by the Jains when it comes to food consumption and compare that to any religion that does not promote vegetarianism to conclude that there are complete incompatibilities between religions. If he were to claim that all religions promote love for mankind and certain basic ethical principles, I would actually agree with him- religion’s essential dimensions are the ethical and metaphysical or cosmological, which then concatenate with the social or cultural. But Peterson’s utter lack of nuance makes all of his pithy comebacks about everyone being religious “on the inside” ring hollow to avid atheists. If he were to claim that a central aspect of being human is spirituality, anthropologically I would have to agree with him. I would also agree with him if he couched his language in historicism, by claiming that the main source of inspiration for art and poetry for most of human history was the spiritual or religious traditions that were kept in a particular place and time. However, what Peterson fails to do is differentiate the existential dimension of being human from spirituality or spirituality from organized religion, thus rendering his naturalistic argument, which seems to make a claim about all future, as well as past, art and poetry, a moot point.

The problem is I know exactly where he’s coming from, from a Jungian perspective, and its actually somewhat refreshing to see the New Atheist crowd taken to task and asked some tough questions. The dialogue is actually somewhat interesting, and I’m trying to lay my political prejudices aside in this theoretical debate. But everything, every intellectual terrain, is micropolitics. There is a micropolitics inside of linguistics, inside of anthropology – perhaps to the inside observer they are more than micro!

Peterson fails to understand the lingering legacy of the European Enlightenment. The man is definitive product of reactionary elements in the Romantic movement – Peterson would fit right at home in 19th century Europe, taking what he will from disparate cultures in a hodge-podge manner and filling it out with sophistry. Peterson reminds me most of armchair anthropologists and psychologists of the 19th century like James Frazer, author of the Golden Bough and one of the primary influences of Carl Jung.

One of the gifts of the Enlightenment and German idealism is that rational thought can be decoupled from tradition. Tradition and social custom, as even Diogenes the Cynic knew in ancient Greece, are the antithesis of free thinking. Organicist defenses of social custom and tradition divorced from the content of that tradition ignores many of the ills that have been created by art and poetry throughout the ages. Art has been the most useful tool for propagandists since the rule of Hammurabi, since the dawn of the first empires on Earth. One need only read the Mahabharata or the Iliad to realize that, as Walter Benjamin said in his Theses on the Philosophy of History:

“There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” 

I think we haven’t grappled with the true weight of Benjamin’s realization.

 

Boredom, transgression, and knowledge: The Borromean Knot

I never want to be a polemicist. Take what Milo Yiannopoulos does for a living: he makes money spouting his unproductive and vile political opinions to the masses- and what comes out of it? Perhaps the end game is getting more people to vote for Trump. Perhaps he thinks there is some sort of value for “society at large” (whatever that means), for civil society- “the value of free speech”.

To me, this is a symptom of a society with too much time on its hands. The alt-right is a product of internet culture- that much is known to the left-wing intelligentsia. But what is internet culture the product of? Boredom.

Surplus time: a commodity we seem to have too little and too much of at the same time. We rush to get to work, then waste our time when we are there. I’ve seen graphs of productivity rising over time for the average worker while wages have stagnated: I have to say I’m incredulous at those statistics. Average productivity has probably risen due to the effect of the rise of constant capital- in non-Marxist jargon, technological development. More mass production does not equate to higher worker productivity as an effect of the worker. Now, I’m willing to concede that worker productivity can also have risen due to other factors- namely, when I think of the service economy, I think of the drive to make minimum wage workers work as efficiently as possible, and there’s nothing they can do about it. But I’m not talking to the minimum wage worker. You know who I’m talking to.

Yes, you, the modern bourgeoisie- the middle classes. 

The middle class has the luxury of boredom, the dreadful curse of boredom. Coupled with a failed education system/intellectual culture, the disappearance of social sphere outside the cybersphere, and you have a recipe for a lot of “unproductive” nonsense.

As Zizek points out, modern consumer capitalist culture’s ideological underpinnings are no longer just “work hard and you will get what you need”, emphasizing personal responsibility: the motto of consumer culture is “Work Hard (not too hard), Play Hard”. In short- “Enjoy yourself”. I am certainly not immune to this inculcated attitude.

Here I believe Zizek, because of his Lacanian training, doesn’t use the right terminology. My disagreements with him often boil down to terminology- but I believe those differences are enlightening. This injunction “enjoy yourself” is not just the “ideological superstructure”- it is immanently the way society interacts with itself. In short, the mode of interaction of society is that phenomenon called culture, or behavior.

Everyone on the left knows counterculture has been co-opted. They can see it clear as day as far back as the “original” counterculture- even the hippies were already a brand, a style of clothing, a type of music you listen to.

The true “counterculture”, like Jesus, doesn’t go around announcing they are the counterculture to the world. The true iconoclasts, as Nietzsche realized, are in living in caves. And they don’t come back to write books either. Thus, the true counterculture doesn’t really exist.

“Ok, we’ve heard all this before, transgression exists in relation to the social norm in which it is supposed to be opposed, there is a secret libidinal link between them- what is the nature of the link?”

If you only think of this link in terms of psychoanalysis- the transgressor is the secret desire of the normative individual, and vice versa, you miss a lot of nuance (and I would argue, you miss reality). When Lacan says something to this effect, I believe he is not referring in a reductive way to an *actual* repressed desire, but a kind of *virtual* repressed desire. What does the transgressor represent to the normative person? What does he embody? What in him does he hate, and therefore forms the object of the fixation? Did Nixon really want to be a hippie and “let it all hang loose”, but he was afraid of what his close friends and family would say? Of course not.

But we can say that to the conservative middle classes, the hippie represents something unattainable- the state of ecstatic union, which is fundamentally denied to them by their Puritanical Christian theology.

Nowadays, the state of ecstatic union is commonplace- rave culture, your last one night stand at the bar.

And therefore, we must ask- what does the “bourgeois family” represent that is unattainable to the poly-amorous libertine? The unattainable stability and comfort which they constantly try to unconsciously undermine.

And so, does the truth lie somewhere in the middle? Hold your horses- the point is that these things are also unattainable for the hippie and the bourgeois stiff themselves- the family life they constantly try to rigidly enforce mechanically rather than organically, the party life which they use to try to achieve some sort of spiritual release.

And so we come to the hidden link between the hippie and the bourgeois- a fundamental religiosity, which I believe has something fundamental to do with being 1) a baby boomer (in the context of the 60s cultural divide) 2) being American.

We now have new manifestations of these phenomena- former hippies’ children rebelling in strange ways to their parents who were largely too detached, or simply fundamentalist families’ children being inevitably exposed to *anything* beyond the narrow confines in which they were raised. This creates a new kind of generational divide, taking the form of a more profound “rebellion” than usual in adolescence.

What is my ultimate point? If you go deep back into American culture- and I mean deep- you can see that none of this is new. Fights between atheists and theists that get so heated on the internet- despite the political implications, nothing that hasn’t been done before in the time of the Revolution. The most horrid realization I believe we should take away is- having a certain point of view is no guarantee of being a good person, or even a respectable personUnless you are person of considerable influence, ultimately it might not matter very much 

What do you do with that kind of knowledge? Your opinion matters with respect to the ultimate direction of mass movements, you are told- sure, ok.

So, you could wrap back around to the philosophy: “I should do what’s ultimately best for me (and my family)”. OK, hold your horses- that’s where we started, and we already tried to identify why that’s problematic beyond simple moralizing.

Here’s something to consider- isn’t that position- egoism- just more boring?

“But Stephen, I thought you said we shouldn’t make our decisions based off boredom”.

All thought and knowledge is inextricably linked with pleasure. Thank Foucault for that one.

When we get closer and closer to seeing how combating something called conformity requires producing a whole new form of subjectivity, something that could be called a life process, when we have to grapple with modern boredom, and not try to become un-bored, but *accept it*, then perhaps we can achieve a boring goal, a noble goal-

Not being a shitty person.

And perhaps the most unnerving thing we have to realize is- perhaps unless you work at it, you are a default shitty person (because of social and historical forces beyond your control). Or rather- this may be a useful fiction to believe.

I’d rather be a moralizer than a polemicist

 

 

The war begins: problems in framing the anti-war argument

 

The argument that is being used on progressive and Russian channels is summarized in the video above from RT: “the strike on Syria could cause World War III”.

Is this a believable argument? A hot war with Russia, in the sense of Russia supporting the Syrian regime, seems a definite possibility. The actual argument is as we speak being used by the fringe as well- Alex Jones just released a clickbait video with WWIII in the title. Should the anti-war movement continue to rely on the “slippery slope” argument to deter intervention in Syria? In addition, the anti-war position is being compromised by its association with the anti-Semitic position that the “global Zionists” are behind the attack.

We shouldn’t resort to hypothetical scenarios to argue against US and European involvement in Syria. The arguments we should fall back on should be based in anti-imperialism: the idea that in principle, the US should not start an offensive war against the Syrian regime, because in reality, the motive stated for the attack does not match up with the facts. It is true that an independent investigation into the chemical attacks has not been conducted. The body in charge of the upcoming investigation, the OPCW, was scheduled to arrive in Damascus tomorrow. The timing of the attack is not coincidental, and neither is the target- Damascus, the heart of Syria. This is a calculated psychological blow to the Syrian regime. If it is a one time attack, the propaganda message is clear- we can attack whenever we want without any sort of authorization.

The involvement of the UK and France is especially troubling, but maybe not all that surprising considering the current leadership of Theresa May and Macron. The almost naked way the war is being spun as “vital to US interest” demonstrates that the action is a clear violation of international law. And of course, the Democratic party does not oppose the strikes in principle- in fact, many believe the actions are “for show”, a ploy of Trump’s to distract against the Russia investigation (!).

Even if this doesn’t lead to further bloodshed, we should oppose these kind of actions in principle, as a clear act of aggression by a foreign power intervening in the civil war of another sovereign power, not to mention the civilian casualties that will inevitably result from bombing the capital of that sovereign country.

My prediction: regime change is on the way, in the next couple of months for Syria

Manufacturing Silence: The #Resistance and the build up to war in Syria

 

The headline right now on CNN’s website is “Comey Just Went to War with Trump”. Nowhere As Glenn Greenwald and people like Jimmy Dore continually point out, the Russiagate manufactured scandal is effectively functioning as a mechanism to suppress dissent and distract from real issues. The only thing on TV every day is “Russia Russia Russia”. What propaganda looks like in the 21st century is not express support for war- the anti-war movement could actually take hold if that were the case! But the media bets on the American public’s lack of awareness and notorious bad memory.

A majority of Americans now have a favorable view of George W. Bush, the President with the lowest approval rating in modern Presidential history. The reason why is because Bush has allied himself with the pundits who attack Trump from the Right, the neocons who say he is too soft on Russia. The only critique any of these people have against going to war in Syria- “you are Russia’s puppet!” Meanwhile, it seems that under the influence of John Bolton, Hillary Clinton is getting her way and Assad will be toppled in the near future. No Congressional or UN authorization needed- the conversation in the media is non-existent- except on Fox News!!

The Russia story has completely eroded fair and open debate in this country, and brought back the Cold War mental tendencies of the American populous. It encourages every gross ideological distortion imaginable- party tribalism, lack of skepticism for government claims (especially from the FBI and CIA), and worst of all- lack of interest in anything approaching real issues.

Sadly, even the gun debate that has resurfaced (while I am a huge supporter of gun control) seems to fall in line with the primary contradiction of American politics- ignoring imperialism.

Why war? Why now? These are all questions only a sufficiently Marxist anti-imperialist analysis can answer.

To anyone who claims to be the defender of liberal humanitarianism in the case of Syria, one should simply respond- WHAT ABOUT YEMEN?

Aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen seems to be the unthinkable kernel, the traumatic truth in Lacanian terminology, that the American people can’t currently grasp. Only when the gaze of the media and therefore the attention of the people is on a certain subject is that subject given due consideration. There has been psychoanalytically a complete transference of the gaze of the populous to the mainstream corporate television media. Independent journalism, sought out only by activists and political junkies, is becoming stronger, but largely is still ignored by the largely reactionary American people.

Why do I say largely reactionary when most people support gay marriage? Look at the rise of the alt-right, of punching down, the pure definition of “reactionary”- reactive responses to politics, not proactive critical thinking.

Is Baudrillard right? Is our late capitalist moment really the death of history- has the spectacle of the simulacrum really triumphed? The answer to that question is a definitive YES. The Simulacrum, the “post-apocalyptic” nightmare, has come to pass.

So when Kyle Kulinski says the media is on board, what I would say is- their silence is the tacit assent. Largely, I see NPR very quietly whispering about how we should be pro-intervention. I see CNN and MSNBC caring about nothing but the Mueller probe. And the storm clouds gathering before the war have been seemingly ignored.

The moment is NOW. HANDS OFF SYRIA

Lacan at his best: The “arid era of scientism” and its relation to mass culture

A quote from Jacques Lacan’s Écrits, from the essay “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis: 

The list of disciplines Freud considered important sister sciences for an ideal Department of Psychoanalysis is well known. Alongside psychiatry and sexology we find ‘the history of civilization, mythology, the psychology of religion, literary history, and literary criticism’. This whole group of subjects, determining the curriculum for instruction in technique, can be easily accommodated in the epistemological triangle I have described, and would provide an advanced level of instruction in analytic theory and technique with its primer. 

For my part, I would be inclined to add: rhetoric, dialectic, (in the technical sense this term takes on in Aristotle’s Topics), grammar, and poetics-the supreme pinnacle of the aesthetics of language-which would include the neglected technique of witticisms. 

While these subject headings may sound somewhat old-fashioned to certain people, I would not hesitate to endorse them as a return to our sources. For psychoanalysis in its early development, intimately linked to the discovery and study of symbols, went so far as to partake in the structure of what was called ‘the liberal arts’ in the Middle Ages. Deprived, like them, of a true formalization, psychoanalysis became organized, like them, into a body of privileged problems, each one promoted by some felicitous relation of man to his own measure, taking on a charm and a humanity owing to this particularity that in our eyes might well make up for their somewhat recreational appearance. But let us not disdain this appearance in the early developments of psychoanalysis; indeed, it expresses nothing less than the re-creation of human meaning in an arid era of scientism”. 

Before we follow up on this important observation, let me relate an incredibly interesting finding, one which I will write an entire article about. There is a function on Google dictionary where one can look up any word, and see immediately below the graph of its usage over time. Now I challenge you, the reader: take any word upwards of three syllables and look at its use over time. In my experiment, I could not find a single complex word that went up over time- there was always a decline in the later part of the 20th century. Some words, if you look them up, chart exactly as one would expect: the word “communism” finds its peak in the 1960s, and then returns back down, rising with the counterculture and anti-war movement. More descriptive words like “covetous” just show a general trend of decline. Simple words with the same meaning like “greedy”, meanwhile, have risen.

There are some outliers, like the word “reclusive”, which skyrocketed in the 1950s, but words like “solitary” show the characteristic decline trend. For this experiment, I purposefully chose words that weren’t archaisms, but merely words that we would associate as “literary” words, colorful words, words not used in common speech. Even so, we see general trends of decline for these literary words. “Apathetic” has declined, but “lazy” has gone up since 1950. Perhaps most interestingly, the word “self” has steadily increased in usage since 1900, perhaps reflecting our self-absorbed individualistic society…

What does this actually demonstrate? It represents the poverty of our current intellectual culture, or rather, the takeover of intellectual and literary culture by rapacious scientism. 

Lacan emphasizes that Freud, far from biologizing the mind, in fact introduces the idea that the unconscious is primarily related to discourse in texts such as the Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. For Freud, unlike Jung, the study of mythology has far less to do with “archetypes” and “innate ideas” and far more to do with history. In this sense, when Lacan emphasizes the historicity of Freud’s theories, he is really emphasizing its relation to that concept anthropologists would call culture.

In David Harvey’s excellent book on Tolkien, The Song of Middle Earth, Harvey emphasizes that mythology is primarily a part of the literary tradition of a society- whether it be the Vedas and the Mahabharata for Indian society or Homer’s Iliad for Western Europe. When Lacan emphasizes that we should go back to the study of rhetoric, we are reminded of the difference between “classical” education of the 19th century and earlier and modern education. Rhetoric formed a part of the curriculum that emphasized what is now called the Classics, or philology- reading the writings of Horace or Cicero formed a part of the pre-modern European education not just in the formation of the “sensible and Enlightened” individual, but also one’s introduction into what has been called the “Western tradition”, the philosophical and literary culture which formerly was not voluntary.

Higher education has obviously abandoned these “liberal arts” ideals to which they still profess: even disciplines like philosophy have been “mathematicized” and scientized. And not that they shouldn’t talk about the philosophy of mathematics or science! But in their very character, analytical philosophy’s sensibility has colonized the terrain of the “literary”, and Nietzsche’s profound warnings about the Last Man, who echoes the assumptions of his age, have possibly come to pass. The Last Man is Nietzsche’s formulation of what Adorno called mass culture, or manufactured culture. It is a cliche to say that television and movies have replaced book reading, but the process is accelerating at an alarming rate: now the video game industry has surpassed the television and movie industry in terms of revenue, as well as the music industry! (link: https://www.nasdaq.com/article/investing-in-video-games-this-industry-pulls-in-more-revenue-than-movies-music-cm634585).

What even Adorno could not contemplate is what was considered “low brow” in his era (jazz) has become high culture, and we see a process of gradual “dumbing down” that is now becoming widely observed even in popular culture: the chords progressions of songs becoming more simple, etc. The connections are already made, the same ones Adorno made: the profit motive creates a kind of mass production of culture, of music, of television. The remake is overtaking the original production, the copy more successful than the original. Even the “indie” genre has been co-opted and marketed, everywhere the colonization of mass culture imminent to our very psyche- hell, even I like a good Blockbuster now and again- love me some Star Wars! But the cracks are starting to show: don’t believe I’ll be going to see the new Han Solo movie- the gimmick is too apparent.

What does all of this have to do with scientism? Scientism, for lack of a better word, is today’s intellectual zeitgeist. The popular “intellectuals” of the day, the ones doing the most harm, masquerade as simple arbiters of objectivity. The Sam Harrises and Jordan Petersons of the world offer their watered down versions of “race realism” and Social Darwinism to the internet, and the masses eat it up in droves. Never mind that “The Bell Curve” is junk science proved a million times over- the new motto of the Last Man is “facts are facts!” This manifests itself as a literal worship of Reason and Science, with science being synonymous with technology.

The 50s fascination for new technology has not dwindled, in fact it has only gotten worse with the advent of the computer age. No one is immune to it, but the obvious commodity fetishism and consumerism it generates is unprecedented. The lines for Apple products, and everything associated with “computer culture”: emojis, text lingo: these are the shared substance of our society.

Is there a kind of elitism in assuming that people should simply “read more Shakespeare” and get off their iPhones? On the contrary! It would be elitist to assume that Shakespeare is only for the elite! It would be elitist to assume that Shakespeare shouldn’t be made accessible to everyone from diverse backgrounds! Shakespeare in its day was the common man’s play. This is what our education system, to its credit, tries to do, but generally fails miserably to do, continually trying to “adapt” the curriculum to the needs of the time, introducing more computer coding classes. Is this inevitable? Am I being a kind of cultural grouch? Here’s the problem- you train all of our kids to be computer programmers, what happens when they all apply for those limited computer jobs? Who among them will be trained to be the next authors, the next Shakespeares? Will anyone care if they are?

One can take postmodern relativism too far in this case, saying that because Shakespeare and the Tale of Genji are equivalent, we should therefore teach neither. In fact, both are equivalent to Saturday morning cartoons! This is the road we are going down, and its not a pretty one.

And for the postmodern anthropologists in the crowd who point out my argument is somewhat “logocentric” in assuming that literary culture is the crowning achievement of society, I would merely point out that the oral high traditions of traditional societies are too being lost to the endless process of commoditization and the advance consumer capitalism that is eating away at the foundations of non-industrial societies. It would be great if we had any oral traditions to fall back on.

We live in an era of ever-expanding access to almost complete entertainment- 24/7 television, video games, and music on demand at our fingertips. The internet should be a tool to expand our access to the archive of classics: Project Gutenberg is a great resource to access all of the great works of literature which no longer have any kind of copyright. Unfortunately, if you compare the numbers of Project Gutenberg hits to videos of Lady Gaga, I’m sure the picture won’t be pretty.

I’m advocating for a new kind of entertainment, for a world in which one can seamlessly switch from rap to high literature, without any kind of stigma. As a huge contrast to my previous article, the “defense” of anti-intellectualism, in the sense of recognizing the value of “proleterian” and peasant values of hard work and the reproduction of society materially, here I’m offering a full throated endorsement of intellectualism, of the reclaiming of “mass education”, and not in the outdated Marxist sense of only being educated about Marxist orthodoxy. But as Marx stated, along with the alienation of the individual from the means of production, there is also a more fundamental alienation which accompanies capitalist material poverty that results in spiritual and intellectual poverty. These problems are just as real in our era of mass consumption. Never before has there been such an era of consumption for consumption’s sake: a kind of gilded prosperity where even the poor can live like king’s for a day, provided they go into heaping amounts of credit card debt. Once again, we see the value in Martin Luther King’s prophetic words about the Three Evils of Society: militarism, racism, and (MLK’s original wording) materialism, which he used interchangeably with poverty and capitalism.

We shouldn’t moralize this term materialism, but we should realize the structural problem that is materialist individualism in our late capitalist society, and realize its connection to intellectual poverty and the “mass culture” phenomenon. Rather than the endless postmodern process of combing through the classics for “racist and sexist” overtones, we should look for what is universal: stories of heroism, tragedy, loss, longing, belonging, and most of all, compassion, a word that too has declined in usage since the 1800s.