Against another Double Blackmail: Scientism and Primitivism (or Humanism and Anti-humanism)

I have just bought a copy of Slavoj Zizek’s book Disparities, a philosophical tour-de-force that would be considered anyone’s magnum opus were it not Zizek’s 50th or so book. Here Zizek outlines his concept of disparity and comments upon (and differentiates himself from) other philosophical opinions, or in Zizekian terms, recognizes the fundamental disparities between his vision, grounded in dialectical thought and the Hegelian tradition, and the positions of other philosophers. Here he sets up a fundamental opposition, one which runs through the book, between his view and the ontological position of Gilles Deleuze, namely opposing his views on rhizomes and the univocity of being (while still giving credit where credit is due). However that theoretical disagreement is not the aim of my article: my aim is to elaborate on my thoughts inspired by the first chapter of Disparities, called “From human to posthuman…and back to inhuman: the persistence of ontological difference”. In this chapter Zizek addresses and categorizes multiple types of “posthumanisms”, from transhumanism to structuralist anti-humanism. Interestingly, he also categorizes the “Gaia hypothesis” deep ecology view as another anti-humanism, in which humans are seen as a virus on the planet which in its hubris, destroyed the environment. Zizek sees transhumanism (which, briefly, is the theory popularized by Ray Kurzweil in which man will gradually merge with the technological machine and transcend the meek and mortal human) as a kind of reemergence of Soviet biocosmism, an ideology popular in the USSR in which the human being would be gradually overcome in the new Communist utopia.

Before I go on, it is interesting how both of these ideologies (and they are properly ideologies, because they rely on a fantastical element) are dependent on a utopian view of society, as either being saved by technology, or saved by Nature. Therefore, it is natural to oppose these utopian views of society, which have as their forbears the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment and Rousseauian concepts of human nature, with the properly Marxist or dialectical answer: that technology is simply a tool utilized by humans in a particular historical and economico-productive context. However, we must go further than Marx here. Technology is neither the alienating object which separates man from his true nature, as in the early Marx, or the means by which to propel man into the Communist utopia, as in the Communist Manifesto of middle period Marx. It is rather, that technology is just one of the means of production, or the means of reproducing society, and is as such neutral, a product and reflection of the social organization. Thus, the material base of society itself must be transformed along with the social organization of society if society is to be truly revolutionized. And, a proper Marxist would recognize that the material base of society does not propel society along as its single causal determinant, and that ideology is also a fundamental determinant, with superstructure and infrastructure intertwined and mutually dependent. Therefore, technology should neither be demonized nor fetishized, because demonization is another form of fetishization which misses the fact that all material goods are the product of labor, human labor to be precise.

However, from the Grundrisse, we can say that Marx toyed with the idea of technology itself doing the dominating. But this is only by design of the capitalist- yes, the machines handled by the factory workers are inherently dangerous, but we should not seek salvation in automation, thereby rendering human labor useless. Rather, we should seek to balance automation with a humane labor policy, enforced strictly by the revolutionary state. It is in this way that fetishizing nature, and lifestylist primitivism, can only do a disservice not only to the cause of Labor, which must by necessity deal with technology for its livelihood, but also the cause of indigenous and tribal people, who do not have to by choice.

However, if forced to pick one of these two poles of the false dichotomy, primitivism and technological transhumanism, I would much prefer primitivism, because at least that goes against the grain of technological capitalism and its commodity fetishism. Zizek has revealed how there are also new forms of ecological fetishism, but it is true that industrialization itself, as Marx recognized, produces new horrors, reductions in standards of living that not only class society entails. The factory itself oppresses not just because of machines which wear down the body, but also the polluted air, the lack of available farm labor, the appropriation of the land by business. Land reform may work in an already agricultural society, but in a society driven by technology, is it possible, or even good policy, to enact a redistribution of land, to agriculturalize an essentially industrial and post-industrial workforce? No, I don’t believe this will work culturally as well as bureaucratically. However, we do need to take the ecological crisis seriously, and seriously think about reorganizing our food production system so that not only the health of the consumer is emphasized, but the health of the producer and the health of the environment is as well (and throw on top of that the health of livestock, to please the animal rights activists and vegans).

To add another sufficiently Zizekian or Hegelian dialectical reversal (one I’m sure Zizek has already said)- transhumanism is not sufficiently anti-human enough, not only because it does not recognize the fundamental antagonisms within the human itself (the inhuman in the human, as Zizek says), but it also posits technology as an inherently moral good. To this we can ascribe this law of human historical development: technological progress does not equate to moral progress, and neither does moral progress equate to technological regress. This is because there are too many other complicating factors. However, as an anthropologist, I will make one more caveat: primitive tribal societies did just fine without modern technology, but that was not the only source of their relative abundance and happiness. It was also the egalitarian nature of their societies, societies which were almost eliminated by the development of class-society and the State, which emerged at the same time. Paradoxically, however, this does not mean we should eschew the state or technology, because neither are fundamentally sources of oppression, only with their coupling and emergence from stratified society. Thus, we should reimagine the State, transform it, just as we should reimagine and transform technology to suit human necessity, and not just the necessity of the elite.

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The Downfalls of Relationship and Life Coach blogs

 

https://www.leadpages.net/blog/types-of-blogs/

I was thinking of writing a post that considered more of the debate surrounding string theory, and discussing my recent foray into Roger Penrose’s absolutely stunning and fascinating book Shadows of the Mind, but I decided to put that off to talk about another subject that I hope won’t offend too many people, but then again, I don’t really care. It’s just an impression of what I’ve seen on the blogosphere, or more specifically, WordPress. Namely, that its all emotional drivel, relationships, and “seekers”. In other words, ideology at its most pure.

Why do I say this? Am I not heavily invested in a relationship? Yes I am, with my girlfriend, soon to be fiancé, that is the love of my life. But why is it necessary to broadcast one’s emotions for everyone to see online? And moreover- why do other people find it actually engrossing, downright fascinating, to read about other people’s deepest emotions and problems?

Granted, most of it isn’t purely like a public diary, but some of it really is! This is what’s referred to as the “Tell-All” type of blog (#8 on the list). There are all kinds of blogs of course- “niche” blogs, blogs related to cooking, etc. But here is something I noticed, and I have verified that it is something people do on purpose, probably as a way to market themselves and make money before they have any interest in the subject- the “Life Coach” blog. Here is a quote from an article about the 10 types of Popular Blogs (link above):

Blog Type #6: The Guide
The Guide writes posts that help readers with their personal lives. Many bloggers utilizing this blog type discuss topics like personal development, life coaching, and/or spirituality.

What can I say? This is ideology at its purest, what Eva Ilouz has referred to as American therapeutic culture, or what I prefer, self-help culture. The amount of self-help blogs I see being advertised is phenomenal! And newsflash: 90% of them are a waste of your time and mine.

Q: “But Stephen, some of these people are licensed professionals. And even if they aren’t, they have good intentions”

Actually no, I don’t know if they have good intentions, as content on the internet nowadays is driven by likes, followers, and subscribers. I am pretty much driven by only my desire to get ideas out there I think are important and to find others out there with good ideas. Unfortunately, ideas aren’t sexy. Perhaps that is the name of the game. In other words, the Life Coach bloggers are also at the same time the Personal Brand bloggers, in the ceaseless logic of self-marketing that Deleuze talked about in the Postscript on the Society of Control (a piece that changed my life).

Q: “Stephen, your critique of the dominant mainstream culture only serves to reinforce it by the model of transgression. Being upset at the mainstream culture just reveals that you are motivated by either jealousy or at best your critique will only serve to reinforce the opinions of people that already agree with you”

I believe in the concept of changing people’s minds. As the old saying goes, one can only change one’s own mind. But I don’t accept that at all. Whenever I am presented with new information, I try to keep a very open mind generally. If I find that someone has superior reasoning than another person I respect, I accept that superior reasoning (rather like what is happening to me while I’m reading Roger Penrose, but that’s another story).

In short, self-help blogging and self-help culture, the social media culture of sharing stories about love and life, are part of the ideological glue of capitalist society. It tells us that stories always have happy endings, that we are good no matter what we do, that we can always be forgiven, to be positive, and most importantly, never ever ever ever bring up politics. I’m referring to a certain strand of (mature) person in America that really does have this kind of naïve optimism. I’m not referring to the largely new phenomenon of social media self-obsession- I’m referring mainly to what is called “New Age” culture, or rather the sanitized, capitalist, new equivalent of New Age culture (actually New Age culture was really a counterculture originally- I’m serious!).

I have too much self-esteem already to have other people tell me how to live my life. Even giving someone advice to me always comes with a degree of suspicion- why do you think you know what’s best for me? Perhaps their really is a self-esteem problem in America in a way, and everything that is being done to fight it by “positive reinforcement” isn’t helping.

Now, I’m not going the way of internet reactionaries, the “Red Pill” crowd, who tells you to grow up and stop being PC and stop being a special snowflake. In a way, I’m targeting people who I believe are mostly sincere, good people. But that’s not my point. My point is simply that one should maintain critical distance towards these things. Many of you already do, and for those that do- congratulations! But I would argue we need to (as always) delve even deeper into these social phenomena- much good anthropological work is being done on medical narratives and self-help narratives. Arthur Kleinman and Susan Sontag come to mind, particularly Susan’s book Illness as Metaphor. Even though its a work of critical theory though, deep in history and actual cultural analysis, even Sontag’s book could be co-opted into some kind of “self-help” narrative. I won’t give a full argument for that here, but its enough to know that good anthropological and sociological scholarship is being done now on self-help culture. Eva Ilouz stands apart as a pioneer in this field of research, with very remarkable results.

There is another blog type that is also fascinating to me- #7 “the Homer”:

No, the Homer is not a label reserved for blogs about doughnuts, nuclear power, or Duff beer.
It’s reserved for bloggers who write posts of epic proportions — posts that take readers on a 2,500+ word journey every time.

My friends have told me my posts are very long- I just checked the word count of this one- around 1,100 words so far. Not bad- not on Homer level apparently! Is this article trying to say this blog type is the “intellectual” type? No not exactly, its referring to the Odyssey -badly, they don’t mention the Odyssey, or Iliad, don’t use any metaphors about a journey, and just that Homer just wrote big books. Thus, it doesn’t matter what kind of words you use or the topic! Granted, they may be a little less pedestrian (see the example given in this section, from the blog Johnny B. Truant “The Universe doesn’t give a fuck about you”).

Well, take Johnny’s blog. Its about a big existential question- do we matter in the grand scheme of things? Maybe just to us. But he doesn’t say it this way- in fact he says it in the most pedestrian simple way possible that makes it into a self-help message-simultaneously!

“There is only now. If you have power, it’s now. If you can change anything, you have to do it now. If you want to be or to have that next great thing, be it. Have it. Take it. Own it. Do it. Become it.
Be awesome. Do epic shit.
Do it now. The clock is ticking.”

I’ll admit its funny, a little tongue in cheek. But I can’t help but be jaded at posts like these. This is a slightly more pedantic version of #YOLO, to be frank. It’s also ripping off the Power of Now (look it up- its New Age bullshit masquerading as Buddhism).

This is why in terms of REAL self-help, I can’t recommend this book enough- and I haven’t even read it! But I know that Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is a very great master of the Buddhist tradition- and its his book Not for Happiness. 

Woah! Not for Happiness- a book about religion! Then what is it for?? Spirituality that is. Well, in short, wisdom. I’ll give a link to an academic talk that discusses this in further depth:

I hate to be a “Buddhist jihadi” as Khyentse Rinpoche likes to say, but I do believe that what people are searching for is really even deeper than what unenlightened beings have to say. The leap is to believe that what the Buddha had to say came from an enlightened perspective. But this is not necessary actually. One should come to one’s own conclusions about this, but I believe that people should not ignore these ancient wisdom traditions in favor of a watered down version of it that may be diluted by desires for material gain or whatever.

I will say though, that there is no guarantee of finding what you desire in Buddhism as well. There is such a thing as Buddhist fundamentalism and fanaticism:

Revisiting the Crisis in Burma and Buddhism’s Role in it

So for me, the Buddhadharma has been so helpful to me in helping me through life. But at the end of the day, what’s needed is love for other people. That is the true antidote to suffering. So are the perpetrators of genocide in Burma “true Buddhists?” Of course not, to claim otherwise would be unfair to Buddhism, ” not any more than ISIS is true Islam or the KKK is true Christianity” as Buddhism Controversy blog states.

I hope I haven’t digressed from the original point at all, but I believe I can wrap it into a coherent framework. Instead of more self-care, self-love, what this world needs is more Other-love, and Other-care. The self-obsession one sees among the younger generation in the West is just a byproduct of Western individualism. Thus we need the antidote, and what is the ultimate antidote? Trying to alleviate the suffering of others- this is true road to happiness.

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

Homage to Great Compassion!

 

The Riemann Hypothesis, String Theory, and the Scientific/Mathematical obsession with absolute truth

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riemann_hypothesis#Location_of_the_zeros

If I tried to submit a paper like this to an actual scientific journal, I would be laughed out of the room, probably for not following protocol, secondly for not being one of them. However this is how it looks to a fledgling student of “science studies” to look at the debates currently going on in physics and mathematics and to be dumbfounded that ideas and theories that are entirely plausible to still receive some skepticism because they aren’t  proven “indubitably and undeniably true”. Let’s enter into a discussion about scientific convention through the process of analyzing two current scientific debates, one in physics and one in mathematics- string theory and the Riemann hypothesis.

Now I’ve already done some stuff on string theory debate previously (see my earlier posts), so let’s tackle the Riemann hypothesis. A brief synopsis:

The Riemann hypothesis, called by some the “most important unsolved problem in mathematics” is about a function involving complex numbers with real and imaginary parts, called the Riemann zeta function. Bernard Riemann was one of the most famous mathematicians who basically invented the geometry of higher dimensional spaces (non-Euclidean geometry) that laid the foundation for Einstein’s general relativity. So if what Riemann said about the function is correct, that all the non-trivial zero values of the function lie on a critical line 1/2+i(t) and not outside that line, then the hypothesis is correct, and the function can be used to predict the distribution of prime numbers. It is the distribution of primes that makes this function useful and interesting, not that it is evaluated using real and imaginary numbers, that is a ubiquitous feature of complex analysis. The function itself is interesting in itself, in that it is a convergent series. I’ll show you what I mean:

{\displaystyle \zeta (s)=\sum _{n=1}^{\infty }{\frac {1}{n^{s}}}={\frac {1}{1^{s}}}+{\frac {1}{2^{s}}}+{\frac {1}{3^{s}}}+\cdots }

This is the actual Riemann Zeta function. So if you plug in 2 for s, you get 1/1^2 +1/2^2+1+3^2, etc. I.e you get the perfectly understandable 1+1/4+1/9…i.e the sum of the reciprocals of the squares. Here’s the interesting part (there are actually many interesting parts of the Riemann Zeta function, and you can go down the rabbit hole with how interesting it is). At s=2, the answer converges to something astonishing- \zeta (2)=1+{\frac  {1}{2^{2}}}+{\frac  {1}{3^{2}}}+\cdots ={\frac  {\pi ^{2}}{6}}=1.6449\dots \!

pi^2/6!! Where did pi come from? What does this function have to do with a circle? And that’s not all!

So to recap, the function is just a function, it exists by definition. What Riemann’s hypothesis is is that all the zeros of the function (except the ones on the x-axis) are on a critical vertical line when using complex numbers and imaginary numbers are given by the y dimension.

Ok so what does all this math mean? It means that Riemann came up with an astonishing theory that shines a light on something fundamental in mathematics- prime numbers, which seem to be randomly distributed, but actually according to this theory can be predicted using a formula. The only problem? The hypothesis isn’t proven.

Why? That’s a good question I’m still trying to figure out. The best we’ve come up with is we haven’t been able to disprove it. There is no logical/mathematical proof as of yet of the Riemann hypothesis. The theory rests on the fact that there are no zeros outside a certain line- despite having found BILLIONS of zeros (actually over 10 trillion) using supercomputers- and they are all on the line so far!!

So mathematicians, even when there are “probabilistic proofs” of the theory (given by Denjoy) still have to say “the jury is out” because math is not a science of probability, but requires, in the words of basically every mathematician, “absolute knowledge”. Things like the weak Goldbach conjecture, which were “first proved using the generalized Riemann hypothesis” were also later proved unconditionally true, but this is too indirect a line of evidence for mathematical minds.

My argument to the mathematicians- if we can’t do brute calculations to infinity, no matter how many computers we have, maybe its time to call a spade a spade. The “consensus of survey articles” is that it is probably true. That sounds good enough to me.

Maybe mathematics should take a page from quantum theory and accept imperfect knowledge a la the uncertainty principle. I’ve watched many talks now about how the cutting edge of mathematics is coming from physics. It sounds like mathematics needs to import some of that physics “can-do” mindset and drop the Platonism.

In addition, when it comes to string theory, “indirect” evidence for string theory is also very strong, almost implied by some observed phenomena about particle physics. It doesn’t take a genius to understand this- even a layman can understand this and sift through the morass to find the answers. String theory is probably correct, so is the Riemann hypothesis. I’d bet money on it.

A definitive proof of the Riemann hypothesis gets the mathematical prize of 1 million dollars from a certain institute. This is proof of the value, the actual monetary value, placed on absolute proof in the field of mathematics. In a sense, it is what everything in it is based on- geometric proofs for example, or just the simple fact that you get one answer to a math problem. 2+3=5 dammit, and nothing else! Now, you can get two values for a particular equation, but that equation still has One answer. But what I’m saying doesn’t contradict this grade school logic. All I’m asking is that alternative lines of proof, including mathematically rigorous lines of evidence, from a “probabilistic” perspective, be given credit. It seems always that in these debates, something is left unsaid to the general public. What is left out here for the RH is “its basically been proven already”. What’s been left out for string theory is that “we already have a theory of quantum gravity, it doesn’t even require string theory, etc.” More on that later.

For now, just realize that these “definitive proofs” that we lack of unsolved problems in physics and mathematics have many dimensions to them. It is more indicative to me of a cultural issue, an obsession with Absolute Truth, and not being satisfied with relative truth. Maybe we can go ahead and say that relatively, the Riemann hypothesis should be assumed to be correct. We already know that primes aren’t randomly distributed- they make spirals and diagonal lines when you chart them:

Image result for prime spirals

The black dots represent the primes. If this doesn’t represent proof that they aren’t random, then call me Ishmael.

Edit: sorry for the typos before, I wrote this late at night

Capitalism and Schizophrenia: a book for our century

THE text, the seminal text, written about our society, industrial and digital society, modern society, especially American society, in the 20th century, is not the Postmodern Condition. It is not Dialectic of Enlightenment. It is not even One Dimensional Man, or Empire by Antonio Negri. The seminal text, the Das Kapital of the 20th century, is not Civilization and its Discontents. That is THE text to be opposed. It is Capitalism and Schizophrenia by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Philosopher Michel Foucault agreed, “the 21st century will be the Deleuzian century”.

In an era of mass incarceration, of mass shootings, of one day of depressing news after another with no end in sight, why do we need to read a book written by an eccentric French philosopher with unkempt hair? Why not, as Marxists argue, should we not continue to comb the archives of a communism that failed? Why not Lenin? Well, we should read Lenin. We should read everything else I mentioned as well, and not be exclusive. Because at the heart, Deleuze is the philosopher of addition, not of subtraction or opposition, which is the dialectical logic. Are “dialectics” (whatever that means) still useful? They are one tool in our arsenal, our assault against the forces of oppression, which has begun to tear away at the fabric of social reality itself, and has begun to convince people that their servitude is their only chance at freedom. Deleuze offers us a theory for thinking the Whole, for rethinking what Being itself is, that offers us also a pragmatics of the possible.

Those who scoff at the idea of revolution will always tell you- “the banks are too big to fail”, “not in my lifetime will that happen”. They have accepted life as it is- for how can they not? They don’t want to live a dreamlike reality. Deleuze takes the schizophrenic, who already lives in a dreamlike reality, the crazy, as the model of the subversive, as the model of a person who imminently fights against the capitalist model of a lifetime of servitude to work, because they truly have no other choice. Deleuze proposes that instead of going to “resolve your problems”, going to therapy or on the psychoanalyst’s couch will only put a band-aid on a problem that emanates fundamentally from the social field. This is what Freud missed, and this is why Deleuze titles the first book of Capitalism and Schizophrenia Anti-Oedipus. 

Deleuze starts by talking about schizophrenia in the abstract, and moves on to conceive of how we could remake the whole “socius”- we need a psychoanalysis of the social itself, society itself needs to go to therapy! Who would be the psychoanalyst for that? Well, we, each other, would be. Schizoanalysis is born- we realize we are all crazy together, and we can do something about it. Because before the father beats the son, the father is beaten by the system every day at work, by the boss, by the check out line, by the debt collectors, by his whole life. This is no justification of the way things are- it is a way to get out of the moralism that traditionally plagues psychology, the moralism attached to what are essentially just the norms of bourgeois society. And as Foucault and Deleuze realized, though Marx is the towering thinker of the 19th century, he still swims like a fish in 19th century water. The 21st century is here, Mao is dead, Marx is dead, and we have to carry on, with only the record and ghostly trails left in the tracks.

How do we make sense of reality, Deleuze claims, when one is constantly fed information by way of digital feedback? When the advertisers know exactly what to show you at any given time on your computer screen, how do you escape from the digital prison? Deleuze not only shows, like Guy Debord in the Society of the Spectacle, that modern subjectivity is formed by the media, but how they form an inseparable whole, how they together form a person-media-technology assemblage. Why is this important? Because it portrays reality the way it actually is, where two things that look separate actually are not. Deleuze’s conclusions start out looking like common sense, but put together, they challenge the fundamental wisdom of Capitalism. Put together, like the main character in They Live, we are able to see through the prison of how we were conditioned to see the world, and a whole new world of potentiality emerges, almost visible, sometimes perceptible on the margins.

Deleuze continues his saga in A Thousand Plateaus, considered in postmodern philosophy a conceptual breakthrough and a work of towering genius. It must be said at this junction that Deleuze co-wrote the book with anti-psychiatric radical Felix Guatarri, to whom I have not given enough credit. The only reason Deleuze has been marked here as the genius is because we are pre-programmed to prefer the work of One over many, even though there have been many productive intellectual pairs- Watson and Crick, Marx and Engels, Sartre and Beauvoir, and not enough women pairs. Deleuze is the philosopher of addition, of multiplication- we need new assemblages, new becomings. It is here that Deleuze elaborates on the concept of becoming. This may be too much of a poetic concept for those hardened political and social thinkers who are concerned about the value of the GDP, materialism. But Deleuze is also a materialist, and becoming is essentially material. There is materially a becoming that we experience concretely when we take a walk in the woods, we become more like the animals themselves. We don’t want to be told anymore about logic and maxims and means of production- feeling matters to us. We don’t want to be told our culture doesn’t matter, our traditions don’t matter- they do, and capitalism has been stripping them away from us, and we are continually alienated from ourselves. Of course there are material processes going on, and I could quote statistics about world hunger. But I could also tell you about the story of one woman who contracted AIDS from a soldier in Haiti she thought loved her, and before that worked as a maid in the capital city for pennies while her rich clients engorged themselves. That is what we aim to do! Our suffering is real, and also our happiness!

This is why Deleuze and Guatarri are important to me, and important to the world, and self-respecting “experts” on Deleuze should not look to his more “rigorous” books on Kant and Hume as examples of his “true genius”, for they are perpetuating the logocentric model of thinking that has driven people away from academia, from thinking, as yet another example of “disconnected elitism”. Philosophy can matter to our lives, so much so that can shape history. D&G can shape history, and should, or we may face even darker times

Physics in modern culture: more thoughts on the String Theory debate

https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/5168/why-physics-isnt-dead

It seems that every mathematician or physicist out there, whether they are working in string theory or not, has an opinion about the subject of string theory. My review of the debate currently surrounding string theory has revealed that there is an ongoing heated debate in the physics community that is revolving around a philosophical debate, that is being characterized as a debate between empiricism vs. rationalism. I will make the case here that regardless of what is actually true about this famous “Theory of Everything”, this debate has not made things more clear, but actually shrouded everything in a kind of conceptual haze that distracts from the details of the actual debate (of which I am NOT an expert).

Here is what I can say as a non-expert that I find fascinating:

The Large Hadron Collider, the famous particle accelerator, has continued to turn up nada for a proof of super-symmetry, one of the necessary predictions of string theory, and continued to make observations consistent with the Standard Model. This is fascinating because on its face value, theoretically, the Standard Model does have weaknesses, recognized weaknesses, most famously that it isn’t compatible with general relativity. String theory emerged not as a makeshift candidate for how to address these problems, but in trying to work out the problems of their own accord. So what does that mean? It means that in all the headlines you read about how “string theory may finally be killed!” it actually hasn’t definitively been killed or not killed. There has been no evidence found against it. Strangely enough, string theory has weaknesses as well, like preferring a cosmological constant that is negative or 0 (we know that the cosmological constant is in fact positive).

So it seems like we have an answer- that the Standard Model is incomplete, but string theory won’t do the job. The strangeness of this is that we really don’t have any other alternatives. Great scientists doing work in theoretical physics have looked at string theory and marveled at its elegance and how it gets rid of certain problems with quantum field theory. So it seems like everywhere we turn, we find more contradictions.

What strikes me as odd in this whole debate is that pop scientists and professional mathematicians who aren’t string theorists love to hate on string theory because of lack of evidence, but there is never any questioning of the methodology of the experiments. It seems to me that there is more room for human error in an experiment as complex as the LHC.

Let’s take a closer look at the Large Hadron Collider, which has famously announced the existence of the “God Particle”, or the Higgs Boson/field that gives particles mass.

The Large Hadron Collider, the largest single machine in the world, and therefore ever built, sits on the France-Switzerland border. Data from the LHC is analyzed by 170 computing centers in 42 countries, according to Wikipedia. Now, I’m not a math scientist [laughs], but that seems like a lot of room for potential error. At any given time, the beam pipe of the LHC needs to be almost a complete vacuum, with only the amount of hydrogen that can fit in a grain of sand allowed. With a total operating budget of $1 billion per year, and a construction cost of around $7.5 billion, the LHC has been more the object of marvel than of scientific scrutiny in the popular press.

Famously, public concern over the safety of the LHC, whether it could produce a black hole, etc. was met with scoffs and simple dismissals. Of course, it can be reasonably assumed that after years of operation, the real dangers of the LHC are not on the order of a “doomsday weapon” like in the Dan Brown novel Angels and Demons, but it is fascinating to me how it seems like the single largest machine ever constructed by mankind seems to be escaping scrutiny. The best demonstration of this I can find is how the LHC is described by “Rational Wiki”, the kind of site that is frequented by Sam Harris lovers and “sciencephiles”. The description of the LHC on Rational Wiki is “the LHC is a kick-ass piece of scientific designed to replicate conditions immediately after the Big Bang…” etc. Now, it seems to me that the term kick-ass is not very rational or logical, it seems pretty emotional to me. But of course, the defenders of Rationality will always be right by definition!

There is absolutely no doubt that this subject is fascinating, but there are of course two questions that come out of this debate:

  1. Are the questions we ask worth $1 billion a year? The answer is probably yes, considering if you compare the cost to America’s skyrocketing military budget, it seems trivial in comparison. Still, gone are the days where we can verify physical theories with simple telescope observations, expect the costs to only grow for particle accelerators.
  2. What are the potential technological benefits that could accrue from this device that essentially just runs experiments? Computers have not even reached the point where they are utilizing all the quantum phenomena we know about. Is verifying string theory or quantum gravity even necessary? Of course, these kind of questions are blasphemy for the scientific establishment, but that is exactly the kind of questions currently being asked by the directors of the LHC, who after not finding any evidence of super-symmetry this year, expect to move their focus to other areas that are admittedly less “sexy”.

Proponents of the LHC will invariably point to the achievement of discovering the celebrated Higgs boson. What I want to avoid is this kind of unthinking mindset, “oooh, muons! quarks! oh my!” as well as the simple dismissal of science. Oftentimes criticisms of scientific work as simply demonized as anti-Science. In short, there needs to be the kind of Latourian anthropological analysis of particle physics that currently goes on in other fields. I probably won’t be the one to do it, as it would require such a highly specialized knowledge of the field, and I am currently pursuing other projects. But I encourage others to!

What would a science studies analysis of the LHC yield? What would the “discoveries” be? Hopefully it would simply offer a realistic portrayal of what’s going on at the LHC on a daily basis.

Here’s a ray of hope that the people at CERN are concerned about practical applications of the LHC: applying the particle accelerator to developing radiation cancer treatments for people in developing countries:

https://home.cern/about/updates/2017/11/combatting-cancer-challenging-environments

This particularly hits home for me, because my father was a radiation oncologist who worked on developing treatments for prostate cancer. My father was a research scientist with an avid interest in physics (he was a physics major) – so I am no stranger to the wonders of science and what it can do for real people. In a severe twist of irony, my father passed away of cancer, and it wasn’t able to be treated with chemotherapy. Perhaps we need to do far more in the way of preventative treatment and larger policy changes, not just finding treatments for the worst case scenario. That’s not to say I’m devaluing the work my father did- he actually contracted a case of esophageal cancer that is far harder to treat.

In short, there always needs to be theoretical work done, and I recognize that. But perhaps with more humanists working in the field, more practical applications could be developed, burgeoning costs could be contained, and maybe even theoretical debates could be seen in a new light.

But my last and probably most crucial point is this: governments find no shortage of cash to throw at the largest scientific device ever created by man. Maybe they could throw some of that money at the refugee crisis, or eliminating poverty?

What we need now more than ever is a “string theory” of humanity- of how the economy, the environment, and society form an integral whole, and our arbitrary designations of where one ends and the other begins are only, well arbitrary. If string theory is meant to show the subtle interconnections between all aspects of physical reality, then maybe we should take the poetry of this elegant theory and apply it to social reality. Can we, for instance, demonstrate the relationship between human psychology and the environment, as Gregory Bateson has done in the Steps to an Ecology of the Mind? Could we not go further, and connect the philosophy of science with a political ecology? Anthropology continues to be the field that describes these interactions as all emanating from underlying dynamics within the social field, which have been revealed to be patterned, not meaningless and random. Kinship structures, political organization, ideology, cosmology, belief, values, norms- how do these function within, say, the search for a God particle? The answer we will get is pretty straightforward, as my adviser George Mentore has suggested, the cosmology that is operating here is the search for origins, the metaphor of discovery that is at the bottom of Western understandings of the self and the cosmos. Is this metaphor inhibiting “real” discovery? Is it helping? Are there different metaphorical patterns at work? An ethnographic study would reveal this in detail

Preliminary thoughts on Bruno Latour’s Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies

More and more when I delve into the subject of the interpretation of science this question keeps popping up: What is Reality? Does Reality exist? Moreover, does Objective Reality exist? Are those two terms different?

Now often, I jump the gun, I have barely scraped the introduction of Latour’s Pandora’s Hope and already I know what he is going to say (probably because I read the back of the book). I’m also simultaneously watching a talk by string theorist Leonard Susskind and reading the opening chapters of a book currently being written by quantum physicist Ron Garret. But I need to get my thoughts out on paper before I lose them, or they change given new information. Here goes:

Latour was inspired to write his book when a psychologist asked him “Do you believe in reality?” The intention behind the question is obvious- are you some kind of postmodernist that doesn’t believe in reality at all, undermining all of science? Latour answered of course he does (followed up by asking what’s your point) and he was offended because he thought scientists should understand that those doing science studies were trying to make the sciences even more objective. Then Latour realized the political dimensions of saying that scientists are fallible human creatures, etc…If I am stretching or misrepresenting what Latour thinks, I apologize, but I’m previously acquainted with his views in We have Never Been Modern.

Latour asks on the back cover- why did the idea of an independent reality free of human interaction emerge in the first place?

Here’s my answer to that, as yet uninfluenced by what Latour has said:

The idea of reality as independent of human interference is essentially a Western construct, necessary for the very existence of science in the first place. It was basically a postulate used to try investigating reality itself, to the point where reality and objective reality are synonymous.

However, now scientists have to deal with “observer bias” and all sorts of phenomena in which human interference changes the parameters of what’s being observed. It’s no secret that everything is connected- it’s intuitive! This doesn’t imply anything strange or mystical at all, its very simple. Step in a river, and its a different river than it would have been if you had not stepped in it (maybe not by much, but it is different). This principle goes for social sciences like psychology and anthropology as well as the hard sciences such as physics.

Therefore, quantum physicists, through various phenomenon that have to take into account the physical effects of observation, and the various laws that come out of that like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, were the first to abandon this notion of objective reality, or reality independent of human “observation” (I clear up some of the New Age misinterpretations of this in another post). What I’m getting at is that some scientists may be turned off to the notion of denying that there is such a thing as objective reality because our terms have been conflated. We are essentially talking at cross purposes. The other reason may be that like Latour says, it threatens their very reason for existence.

To me this is not rocket science at all. This is because from a young age I have learned the all the terms of Buddhist metaphysics, namely, dependent arising, interdependence, cause and conditions, the lack of inherent existence of any phenomenon, etc. This last one, the lack of inherent existence of any phenomenon (shunyata), or the lack of independent existence of any phenomenon, is what the lack of something called “objective reality” I think really means. No need to invoke general relativity at all. Its perfectly clear to anyone given enough thought, and every single student of Buddhism has had to be led through this “insight” meditation. Through a certain traditional “thought experiment” the student comes to realize that because no object is independent of any other, the designation of that object as an object as such is relative. This is the literal term that is used! In Buddhist metaphysics, there is absolute reality (in which there is no things as such) and relative reality, in which there are things that exist relative to other things and relative to our minds.

Maybe its because I have been sort of inculcated in Buddhist ways of thinking, namely the Middle Way school of thinking common to Tibetan Buddhism, that I find these debates about whether there is reality outside of human interaction generally very boring.

And this comes back to my original “critique” of Latour. My critique of Latour and company wasn’t that I disagreed with them- I do agree with them! It’s that the way they come up with their conclusions is basically reinventing the wheel. I contend that the only reason we were able to get outside this Western philosophical frame of reference (starting with Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc) is exposure to the non-West. It’s well known that Schopenhauer was one of the first to study Buddhism in Europe seriously based on new translations, and Schopenhauer was one of Nietzsche’s primary influences, etc.

What I am saying is this- if Latour came to his conclusions independently using science studies and his own “genealogy of thought”, then I give him all the credit in the world. A quick look through his index reveals references to Foucault, Leroi-Gourhan, Lyotard, etc. All people who have influenced me- but all I’m saying is that Latour is still using in what me and fellow philosophy blogger Landzek at Constructive Undoing are attempting to call the “scholar’s paradigm”, which is basically a reliance on Authors and Authorities with a capital A (something Foucault and Derrida, incidentally enough, wrote a lot about).

So what does Buddhist philosophy have to say about independent objective reality directly? Buddhist philosophy, before talking about reality in general, usually approaches the topic of emptiness of inherent existence by way of talking about selflessness, or the lack of an inherent self or “I”. The primary Buddhist philosophical text (as opposed to a strictly religious text or sutra) that relates to this concept is the 7th century philosopher Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Middle Way. In the Eighteenth Chapter of that treatise, Nagarjuna states that:

“If the aggregates were the self, it would be produced and disintegrate. If it were different from the aggregates, it would lack the aggregates’ characteristics”. 

This is a formulation of emptiness in terms of selflessness. In the commentary it explains that this verse means that because there is one self, because the self is made up of many aggregates, then it cannot be identical to its parts. Similarly, if it something completely different than the parts, then it would lack the characteristics of the parts. Seeing that humans lack an inherent identity is much easier to show then an object’s lack of inherent existence, however.

Nagarjuna goes on to say that:

“Whatever arises relying on something else, is from the outset not that. Nor is it other than that. Thus it is neither non-existent nor permanent.”

This is a statement about causality. A cause is neither completely identical to nor completely different than its effect, because the cause transforms into the effect. In the words of the commentary on the text, “dependently arising nominally imputed phenomena  are neither inherently one with nor inherently different from their causes and conditions or parts and their mode of existence is between the two extremes in that they are neither totally non-existent nor do they have any reified existence”.

This great tradition of the Middle Way (Madhyamika) school of philosophy founded by Nagarjuna was studied for at least 4 years by every monk in many great monasteries of Tibet. Maybe you will say that I am appealing to another kind of authority in asserting that Buddhist philosophy has something to say about this problem of objective reality. My biases aside, I can tell you that these fundamental truths are not dependent (funny enough) on any religion, they are truths about reality itself. But Buddhism has and will continue to have more to say on this subject precisely because it has been the topic of intellectual for well nigh two millennia. The idea that they were just all sitting around chanting in monasteries for two thousand years is a false one based on lack of exposure to the tradition. Many other  Eastern schools of thought have other things to say about this, namely Zen, Taoism, etc. It’s the lack of a single reference to Eastern philosophy in something like Latour that really bugs me, and it just furthers our Western mythology of scientific objectivity that Latour is trying, whether he likes it or not, to undermine.

Despite all I’ve said, I’m sure that I will thoroughly enjoy Latour’s book. To be accepted, Latour generally has to go through certain conventions and hoops, and I perfectly understand that. His project of science studies is something different than a rethinking of traditional Western ontology through Buddhist categories. My hope is that one day the name Nagarjuna will be cited like Hegel in an academic bibliography. Then maybe one day my job as an anthropologist has been accomplished.

 

A collection of aphorisms

I am going to do this post in Nietzschean aphorisms because, I feel like it. They are all connected, but cover a wide range of topics.

  1.  All paradoxes about the infinite are not really paradoxes- all seemingly illogical conclusions that come from infinities and the mathematics of infinite series only seem that way, but actually there is a deeper intuition at play. The infinite must contain all within itself and yet be able to add more- that is the definition after all of infinite. Correspondingly, all mathematics about infinities is not fascinating, just simply boring.
  2.  This is what Nietzsche meant by the fact that “mystical explanations are thought to be deep, the truth is they are not even shallow.” However this aphorism itself will be misunderstood by those who think that Nietzsche only thought that religion tricked the foolish. Nietzsche elsewhere in his corpus praised the surface of things, the shallowness, as opposed to pretensions of being “deep”. Therefore, paradoxically, Nietzsche’s statement is a praise of mysticism, or rather, a recognition that those who have “mystical insight” only have relative insight to the “herd”.
  3. One could misinterpret Nietzsche’s above-mentioned aphorism as pretentious, as a claim to immediate understanding of all metaphysical insights. But rather, Nietzsche understood that mystical understandings of the world precisely work from taking what is everyday ordinary experience and making it uncommon. We all have experienced those moments (which may be profoundly uncomfortable) where suddenly we see something we thought we knew very well and suddenly it seems frightening or strange.
  4. Human beings only learn through experience. The constant sensory flux of information, combined with the overwhelming amount of stuff that is in the world and the fact that the world is always changing, means we only learn through repetition. (Oh there’s that thing again- what was it called? Cow!)
  5. This is what Tantric Buddhism or Zen means by the fact that ordinary mind is the basis for everything, or rather, why the ordinary itself is brought out as something to be exalted. Because behind what we view everyday, if we alter our perception, are entire worlds. Like in the scene at the beginning of Blue Velvet by David Lynch, where a dead man is laying on the ground, and they gradually begin to zoom into his ear, and one begins to see the bugs crawling on the grass. Behind our normal human way of viewing the world, there are things that are normally beyond our perception.
  6. Much of the unseen world has been conquered by humanity, through microscopes, telescopes, infrared detectors, or simply exploring places that were ignored, forgotten, or previously uncharted in our own world, like the bottom of the ocean. Most of the world is now aware of things that are invisible- how incredible is that! Things like viruses, bacteria, etc. Therefore, one day, humanity will not only be aware of levels below that of the microbiological (the protein, DNA), but one day organic chemistry will also become ubiquitous, even though it is generally still specialized knowledge.
  7. Most of the world is aware of the atom, probably because of the advances in nuclear physics that led to nuclear reactors and the atomic bomb. But the quantum world is so new of a discovery, that humanity hasn’t had time to situate it into its understanding of the world. With discoveries of phenomena like the Planck length, we have seemingly hit the bottom of the barrel. History should show us that there is no bottom of the barrel. The human can transcend the human, but not through merging with technology. Humanity will simply no longer apply to what we have become.
  8. Through all of the change that humanity has undergone, we are still mortal beings of flesh and blood for whom death is no abstract concept, but an ever-pressing reality. Science will not save us from this. But perhaps now the difference is this- in days gone by humanity accepted the infinite, made peace with it. Now it stands as a dark chasm that is both threatening and a challenge waiting to be explored. The question now is- will we, or have we, already reached those limits? Is knowledge of humanity’s theoretical limitations a prerequisite for a full understanding of what it means to be human?
  9. Heidegger undertook a project of full ontological understanding of Being, through the lens of understanding humanity, or Dasein. One was necessary for the other. Dasein is fundamentally, for Heidegger, a being towards death. If this is Dasein’s fundamental nature, can other aspects of Dasein be changed? Our lifespan? The way we act in the world? The way we relate to each other as a species?
  10. I think of Star Trek every time I want to understand what humans could be someday. The Vulcans are just a picture of what we could become, a society wholly based on logic, with an understanding of who they are in the cosmos. As knowledge continues to build over time, could we not, in some sci-fi future, approximate the Vulcans? Couldn’t all of humanity be given, from the time of birth, the tools to go through the world and all knowledge from prior generations, like the Vulcans do in their Science Academy? In my mind, what humanity has yet to achieve is a kind of worldwide planetary society.
  11. A worldwide planetary society would not be homogeneous, or tell everyone what to do. But it would instead allow the entire world to thrive, and create an end to things like hunger through automatic restitution of lost crops due to natural disasters, etc. It would require basically a UN that we pay taxes to, and is fully functional with no dominance of one nation (cough cough the United States). Only then could humanity look back collectively on our dark past and basically say- what the hell happened?
  12. Zizek is right when we say we need to go further and not admire local organization. We need new international solutions to our problems- international laws with real teeth, levels above the state level that can coordinate things with a degree of actual consistency. As it is, our fledgling attempt at world order has failed- it did not stop Rwanda, it did not Bosnia, or Darfur. And it certainly won’t stop Syria, because we have yet to let go of the doctrine of national sovereignty

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

Unintelligibility, paradox, and emotion- Deleuze and conceptions of the unconscious in anthropology

This essay is going to be very haphazard and schizophrenic, cover multiple topics at once, because of the distance between what I am reading at the moment. However I will try to spin them all together into a whole, a partial whole. So- it is fashionable nowadays in anthropological literature to criticize the overuse of “Continental buzzwords” and loanwords like biopolitics and deterritorialization. Again- context! If a concept fits, use it! Sure sometimes it is overused at the expense of coming up with new theories or thinking for oneself. But I see a certain trends happening in anthropology- a trend toward totalizing, conceiving the world system as a whole, and the postmodern trend toward incommensurability, cultural relativism, and reflexivity. Zizek likes to critically oppose these two poles- one the one hand is the continuation of the Enlightenment project, of conceiving history and social movements in a dialectical way, and on the other is the Foucaultian-Deleuzian project of history as a discontinuous set of events, each contained in their own cultural world. The only thing that seems to give any sort of continuity to it all is ideology, the continual flux of ideologies and practices that come with it. I believe there are insights in both of these theories.

“Postmodern” anthropology, particularly anthropology that looks at such hot topics such as violence, continues to be a hodgepodge of various theories that are, in describing various topics, very insightful, but depending on the geographical/historical area of study, still widely variant. There are certain trendy topics- a renewed interest in the topic of the Body, and with it all the biopolitics. I am thinking of a current reader, called Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology, edited by anthropologists Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois. The selections are not just anthropological canon, but contain excerpts from biographies, accounts of the Holocaust, Foucault and Sartre essays, an ethnography of Cambodia after the genocide, and Michael Taussig’s interpretation of Walter Benjamin. That is- anthropology and critical theory have made an interesting marriage, as applied critical theory. I find that as an anthropologist, even though my desire to contribute “new data” remains salient, there is a consistent lack of secondary or tertiary interpretation in anthropology. The closest we get is the theoretical “ontological turn”, which is another way of saying we have to think about philosophy and create philosophical anthropology. But the practice of philosophical anthropology, the interpretation and critical examination of ethnography, seems to be secondary still to the “holy canon”.

If anthropology is going to continue to make essays like “Why Do you Kill?: The Cambodian Genocide and the Dark Side of Face and Honor” using anthropological “thick description” to gain insight on deep questions about violence, there needs to be deep theoretical engagement with prior theories. Take theories of violence for example. Inclusion of Stanley Milgram’s obedience study is not enough. We have to take obedience as a sociological phenomenon, and the dynamics of obedience or hierarchy, and essentially make a model. Renato Rosaldo does a good job of doing this in Grief and the Headhunter’s Rage. There was one previous model of ritual, which he contrasts with his own model. I say- go further. Make diagrams, draw maps. How are these models of ritual as microcosmic deep culture and ritual as a busy intersection contrasting? If Rosaldo already has an article on this, then I apologize in advance, but what I’m saying is- MORE THEORY! How do these models of ritual play out in terms of models of human nature- i.e the psyche itself?

Once again, we are back in the trenches of the paradoxical unconscious, all at once possibly the realm of archetypes, dreams, drives, cognitive structures, desiring machines, languages, you name it! If one thing Lacan said is right, it is that the unconscious the biggest discovery of the 20th century, it upends the idea of the enlightened self-conscious entity at the center of the universe, or even at the center of the self. Processes as large as history flow through the individual to the point where the individual is no longer “himself”. This is why, if we are to rehabilitate “psychological anthropology” in the sense of a refocusing on cultural subjectivity, with new ways of thinking about identity, belonging, etc. we must continue to reference those theories of the past about concepts of the Self, what I have been calling Cartographies of Subjectivity. Each culture has one- a map of the soul. It is this deep map of the soul in relation to the world that has the capacity to produce emotions, and they are as informed by experience and everyday events as they are by processes of enculturation. In fact, they often serve to reinforce each other. This in other words is the process by which Ideology reproduces itself. How does the practice of headhunting in the Phillipines reproduce itself? How about the practice of renouncing worldly life in Tibet? We need to begin to think about the unconscious again, it is more important than ever in an age of subliminal advertisement, digital marketing, when capitalism has become the very fabric and texture of reality. How are revolutionary subjects produced? The subject as hunter? As wife, or how about as religious member? I think that the most important concept to remember and continue to say over and over again is Becoming. In a ritual, in a rite of passage, there is fundamentally a transformation, a passion, a becoming, one that has a spiritual pull that is hard to resist, because it is fundamentally communal. This is how one can become ready to kill, ready to serve the nation.

Now we shouldn’t reduce this to a sort of Durkheimian interpretation of ritual as a cultural glue, because its not like the ritual is a kind of “hoax” perpetrated by the elders to ensure order. This is what Nietzsche essentially thought- that religion was a way for hucksters and tricksters to profit off communal religious feeling. Certainly some of that goes on, but it happens much more deeply, at the level of understanding who one is in relation to other people. That is given to you very early. If one has grown up in the environment in which taking another’s life in ritual revenge is compensation for a loved one’s loss, that is simply one’s way of looking at the world- in other words, the spirit of the jaguar actually visits them, they feel it. This is the power of perception over the human mind. And this is what we as moderners have to be burdened with- the knowledge that these mystical experiences, which are quite normal for the “savage”, if experienced, are at best contrived. Castenada could get himself to believe that spirit of the Yaqui had actually visited him until he made a certain leap of faith.

If postmodern anthropology seems too “spacey” to neo-Marxists and neo-materialists, it is because they simply have never had a near-death experience, and don’t realize the way in which for much of the world what matters is not what is right here before us, but the beyond. This pull of the spiritual is a strong temptation, just as the pull of a Communist utopia is a strong spiritual ideal for many people. A transformed world- isn’t that what many people are looking for?

This line of thinking, of criticizing desire for revolution as millenarian, has some legitimate critiques by Marxist thinkers, but my point isn’t to discount the relevancy of material/historical analysis in anthropological thinking- its only to emphasize again that the convictions of an anthropologist, of any writer or philosopher, are fundamentally human or spiritual convictions. The desire to stop violence, to understand or prevent violence, systemic or otherwise, to people and our earth, is a sentiment current anthropology shares as a humanistic discipline. If anthropology is going to take its role seriously as an intellectual enterprise, not an enterprise in remaking the world, it should provide the applied anthropologists of the world with such a deep appreciation for culture as to evince a becoming in the subject. In my case, I desire in the reader a becoming-revolutionary, a becoming-minoritarian, as any good Deleuzian would have it.

At the end of the day, what I’m talking about is the intellectual’s choice of subject matter or area of study- there needs to be not just intellectual commitment, but human commitment. At the end of the day, real people become affected by anthropology, as the writings of Darrell Posey, Michael Taussig, or anyone would explain quite clearly. There is often a certain bond with the host community or family that is very deep. This is not necessary however. I think that the real goal of anthropologist should be to try to shift the culture at home. To hold up a mirror to ourselves and ask- is this all there really is?

Zizek on Deleuze- link to great blog

http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=229

 

This blog articulates my exact problem with Zizek’s critiques of Deleuze in Organs Without Bodies, and my problem with Zizek in general (his unexamined reliance on Hegel as the ultimate horizon of how he interprets everything). I haven’t read all of Organs without Bodies, but it seems like just a recap of Badiou in his book on Deleuze, The Clamor of Being.

My individual thoughts on Zizek and Deleuze that aren’t addressed in this blog:

Zizek’s strength is he tends to rely on history more than Deleuze, while Deleuze is more adept at the anthropological literature. This is representative of the essential divide between them- German/Eastern European dialecticism, materialism, historicism, rootedness, or the common sense attitude (even though Zizek would fiercely deny this), and Deleuze’s typical French concerns with “high” artistic culture, literature (Zizek deals a lot more with ‘lowbrow’ and mundane). But even beyond this divide. I really do believe Zizek, who has clearly tried to read all of Deleuze’s literature, did not understand it. He thinks that Deleuze’s poetics of “flows” can be easily reappropriated to capitalist apologetics, but he doesn’t understand that Deleuze was precisely making a model of capitalism when he introduces the concept of flows in Anti-Oedipus. Fundamentally, Zizek’s disdain for Anti-Oedipus is so obviously misplaced, because there is no fundamental engagement or “encounter” with it. He simply goes straight for the conclusions, does not bother with the theory.

Now as for their politics, its true that Deleuze disdains orthodox Marxism, and all hierarchies, while Zizek sees them as necessary for the creation of a new movement to oppose capitalism. But there is more agreement than meets the eye here, and as always, I think that a real dialogue (despite Deleuze’s dislike for this term) could have occurred, simply if Deleuze had lived!! But now we are talking at cross-purposes, because we are attempting to have a dialogue with the dead. It reminds of a quote from an X-files episode, “we always bury the dead alive”. They cry out to us, but we can’t understand them, we can only hear mumbles and imagine what they would have said.

What do I think Deleuze would have said to Zizek? I think he would have said:

Yes, yes, we must reimagine the Left, and capitalism is the enemy, but you yourself know the value of thinking outside the confines of a particular ideology, there are always unseen microfascisms at play, at best we can only make immanent critique, that is the job of a philosopher, this is why you yourself avoid prescription. A philosopher’s job is to create concepts, not be a historian- you have not understood your job description. In your books I see a consistent becoming in you Zizek, a becoming revolutionary, so many becomings, and your books act act as all books should, as rhizomes, as connections to so many territories of thought and culture. These territories are impossible to fully map, the map is not the territory itself. What we can only do, as philosophers, is point the way to certain territories, whether real or imagined. You, Zizek, your job should be that of a cartographer of the imagined territory of post-capitalist life

This is what I believe he would have said to Zizek, he would quickly see that Zizek’s greatest unfinished task is, as he admits, his greatest challenge- imagining the world without capitalism, which as he says is now more difficult than imagining the end of the world.

What rhizomes will form? What new territories will emerge? What is in the process of becoming? Is it too terrible for us to imagine? Deleuze and Zizek’s biggest point of convergence- ecology. Here Zizek has a lot to learn from Guatarri. Ecology- that’s all there ever is, or was. Ecologies- ecologies of ideas, ecologies of people. If all history is class struggle, all history and prehistory is also a complex web of interactions, flows, some that lead to arrangements of rigidity, some that lead to arrangements of plasticity. It is definitely not that Deleuze is not sufficiently Marxian- Marx was not sufficiently Deleuzian, or Nietzschean, or Conradian, or Sitting Bullian, or Black Elkian. What Marx missed is that for all the benefits of abstraction, immanence and detail is primary. Context, context, context, context

We should always attempt to be as Walt Whitman did, and contain multitudes