The Thawing: Personal Reflections and Notes on Love, Life, Violence, Identity, Korea in 2012

I. Winter

I do not call myself a progressive, as it was a term used by left liberals to distance themselves from communism and for liberal-leaning communists to hide, furthermore as the demonization of the word liberal in the popular imagination and simplification of the political spectrum into a highly misleading and rather vapid binary. Yet in pondering the historicism of Hegel as well as Nietzsche and DeMaistre, there is a tension in all historical thinkers for even the most conservative ones realize that while time may not be moving in a presupposed teleos, it most definitely moves and Hegel supposed as did DeMaistre that history was the judge of right.

This, however, has always problematized the left. The left conception of history can not longer be simply linear. It cannot think this because history did not judge left projects well. One was seen two trends in left philosophy: to embrace and accelerate the end of history within liberal modernity or to see everything that has happened as regressive.  DeMaistre had the same conflict when he saw the Enlightenment win. The Right has not be judged well by history either.

Now I do see a validity to this later view yet this is in fundamental contradiction to a materialist conception of history without a teleos which is known. We cannot know the future, and even the past is but a rhyming dictionary. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. So this fundamental contradiction requires a self dialectic that remains unaddressed.

I say this on a day I am on a bus and ill with cold. The winter is over but peeking its head up for one more day, and the predictable unpredictability of the natural emerges yet the climate is altering slowly day by day. This actually primes my thought.

2. Spring

Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment.  Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s.  Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.

I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage.  With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce.  My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons:  it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.”   I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.

Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion.   I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage.   Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth.  The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.

That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic.   Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense.  In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation.  It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.

I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then  the female orgasm would not be so elusive.  Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one:  it’s an ad hoc universe  in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).

This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it.  But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.

Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract:  people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in  a variety of different contexts.   Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.

What is it Lacan says?  Lack is created by language.  Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?

So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right.  The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated:   while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I  do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop.  I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped.   The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.

Technology changes who you are.  How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?

This leads to all sorts of issues:  I am gay or straight or bisexual?  How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence?   Does it make sense to get married?

In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways:  I am getting married to a woman because I love her.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness.  The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range.  Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity  then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits?    I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.

In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.

Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions.  Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance  and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.

Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them.  Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.

But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.

3. Spring

Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment.  Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s.  Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.

I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage.  With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce.  My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons:  it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.”   I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.

Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion.   I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage.   Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth.  The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.

That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic.   Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense.  In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation.  It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.

I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then  the female orgasm would not be so elusive.  Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one:  it’s an ad hoc universe  in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).

This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it.  But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.

Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract:  people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in  a variety of different contexts.   Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.

What is it Lacan says?  Lack is created by language.  Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?

So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right.  The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated:   while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I  do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop.  I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped.   The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.

Technology changes who you are.  How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?

This leads to all sorts of issues:  I am gay or straight or bisexual?  How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence?   Does it make sense to get married?

In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways:  I am getting married to a woman because I love her.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness.  The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range.  Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity  then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits?    I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.

In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.

Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions.  Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance  and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.

Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them.  Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.

But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.

4.  Spring

Today, my lungs burn as I take the train from Daejeon to Seoul. It is an deeply regrettable thing to be so sick in the first days of the Korean spring when the tulip trees and cherry blossoms bloom, and the street vendors really come out in force. I have been thinking increasingly about science fiction and poetry, whose political variants are often just warmed over allegorical screeds. Political poetry in way captures the worse spirit of democracy, to render arguments emotive in a particularly unthinking way. In this sense, genre fiction may be better medium for sophisticated explorations of these sorts of topics, but often these experiments tend to be rather obvious thought experiments.

So it is very complicated, but very explicitly the natural situation influences my mood, and with spring there is a beauty that even my burning lungs cannot remove from me. I suppose the dialectical impulse leads me to distrust the romantic notion–too much Hegel, Marx, and Adorno on one end and too much Philip k Dick and Gene Wolfe on the other gets me: it is also like what Lukacs argued about Balzac, reactionary writers have an honesty about them that actually can lead to clearer “progressive” vision. Romanticism for all it’s hope, tends to justify completely problematic and soul crushingly reactionary ends.

Yet this something to remember: it is not wrong to say that humans are not so much a rational species as it is a rationalizing one. It is dangerous to draw too many generalizations, even with a sound dialectical approach, about the function of an artist or writer in a given moment. There I have long sense learned to trust a certain species of vulgar and dogmatic Marxist–like the vulgar and dogmatic American libertarian–that gives one a framework for making grand pronouncements on art, economics, sociology, psychology and philosophy often without having to have studies much in any of those categories. Bad dialectical materialism (again like bad praxeology) often remove any real specific critiques of doctrine. I suppose this sort of coherence has an attractiveness to both the logically inclined and/or the profoundly intellectually lazy.

Dialectics works because it’s a logic of dealing with ideas in the context of history, not because any early modern philosopher says so.

So in a strange way, this mirrors the double-edged sword of spring. Depolitical poems are problematic as they are rarely actually outside of politics, yet political poems of the explicit nature are often just bad in both polemic and aesthetic content such as the recent criticism of Israel in verse form by Gunter Grass, which is neither as politically profound as it needs to be nor as poetically competent (even in German) to make up for that fact.

So I offer little in axioms today, only working through some of the contradictions of art and politics as I warm in the spring sun and cough out my lungs.

5. Spring

Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama both appeared in a collection of essays by that title, Culture Matters.  Neo-conservatives are always talking about culture while making apologetic for liberal capitalism by illiberal means.  So, in a sense though, it is true that the culture wars and the cultural development over time does matter:

Economics and culture are different ways to explaining and conceptualization human relations whose very reification  effects the relationships it describes.  It becomes a rubric of description with a particular lens but over the time the lens affects the relationships themselves.   The descriptive drafts to the prescriptive: economic policy assumes economic descriptors,  traditions are standardized and even invented and forced into the collective memory, implicit and explicit laws develop from these code, etc.   To some degree getting in too much parlance between the “base and the supra-structure” to use an unfortunate conception from Marxist to which Engels gave the dominance “in last instance” to the economic base confuses things:  material conditions both changed and are changed by cultural practice.   It’s not a mechanical feedback loop, but it has a similar relationship.

This is why the Radical Enlightenment and the Radical Reformation in Europe as well as Buddhist encounters with Modernity and the tensions within Confucianism  fascinate me. In general, when economics confronts culture, economics wins: but the causal relationship is not all the clear.  South Korean and Japanese capitalism, even more than Chinese state capitalism, retains a strong familial piety and Confucian element: the Chaebols that run Korea are operated almost like clans with a dominant family often promoting based on seniority and familial status. There are Chaebols that deliberately tried to buck this trend: Samsung being the most prominent example. Japanese companies still function on a hybrid model of the family clan, but with CEO’s often adopting outside of family to keep the appearance of the clan up and keep nepotism at a minimum for such a system.

Now we can get into these academic debates over how many modernities there are (multiple or singular) in spatial relations, if the general population has ever been truly modern in its attitude (Latour, Eco, etc),  or if there can be a post-modernity (Latour again), but this is in a nexus of cultural existence.  We can argue about how to break the various modern cultures into typologies (as Hofstede and Huntington did).  We can argue about sub-strains within a culture like Haidt does.  These moves, however, sometimes seem arbitrary, or at the very least, a form of trying to fit a amorphous emergent complexity into a set of taxonomic categories.

Sociology and philosophy have science envy sometimes. Forgive them their insecurities.

Anyway, in the spirit of this some disclosed readings including some poetry and science fiction. This is what is in my cultural input at the moment:

 Anti-Nietzsche by Malcolm Bull.

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man by Jonathan I. Israel

Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy  by Francois Laruelle (trans by Rocco Gangle)

Introduction to Antiphilosophy  by Boris Groys

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

You are Not So Smart by David McRaney

Next Life: Poems by Rae Armentrout

The Orchards of Syon by Geoffery Hill

Infinite Thought by Alain Badiou (trans. and ed. by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens)

Consider this a sort of guide to what’s bouncing around in my head at the moment other than student essays and podcasts.   I will be trying to weave these in as I begin some real writing on culture, which has been on my mind in this period of returning to economics.

6.

It is interesting to me that two of the most Pacifistic variants of the Protestant reformation, the Quakers and the Mennonites, both have violent origins in the context of revolutionary change.  Recently, I have been sort of going through the histories of Norman Cohn, which itself has a strange relationship to the Situationist International which is documented in Lipstick Traces, on the Mennonites and the radical reformation.  While I often focus on the Radical Enlightenment as a locust point for history, it is important to remember that the early modern religious wars led to an establishment of a republic in England and began the fragmentation of the “Holy Roman Empire.”

While there is much to say on this topic, I noticed that both the Mennonites and the Quakers had particularly bloody origins: the Quakers were often the most militant in the New Model Army of Cromwell, and while they are only of the few sects from the period to survive in England (the levelers, the diggers, the ranters all being lost to history), the Quakers did not start adverse to violence:  taking a middle path between the levelers, who believed in universal equality, and the ranters, who may not even have existed but whose partaking in sin to earn forgiveness is sort of a Antinomianist Christian heretic urban legend that reappears periodically in history in which the Brethen of the Free Spirit and the Cainians are also representative, the Quakers, however, were much more radically egalitarian than the Calvinist puritans.  The Quaker pacifism, however, only emerges after the the Quaker Acts in the Restoration.

Similarly, Münster Rebellion and the radical Anabaptist violence in the Peasant wars after the Reformation  led to some particularly horrific results. This is covered by Norman Cohn quite well. Menno Simons seemed to proclaim radical pacifism only after the complete degeneration the anabaptist communities and their crushing at the combined hands of Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans.

While I think this period can be explored in more depth by a left perspective as sort of a precursor and largely divergent set of idea that led up to “The Enlightenment,” but without the belief in “reason.”  Anyway, what can be learned in the fact that many of the most radical protestant’s commitment to peace doesn’t seem to come out of religious dogma at first, but the experience of the excesses of violence?

It is an interesting question, isn’t it?

7.

In between grading student essays and reflecting on the history of some pacification of the militant protestant sects, I began thinking about Adorno’s “Resignation”  and the way I have seen Adorno rely on pure negativity as a means to dialectic. Now to get all Hegelian about things, this is a refusal to go to an axiomatic stage of the dialectic,  and thus is a refusal to conceptualize a way out. Now in a crude Hegelian manner, I can point out that this seems like an abnegation as much as a resignation: a refusal to accept the dialectic as more than a via negativa, a negative ecology. to use a phrase from Malcolm Bull:

Even political undertakings can sink into pseudo-activities, into theater. It is no coincidence that the ideals of immediate action, even the propaganda of the [deed], have been resurrected after the willing integration of formerly progressive organizations that now in all countries of the earth are developing the characteristic traits of what they once opposed. Yet this does not invalidate the critique of anarchism. Its return is that of a ghost. The impatience with theory that manifests itself with its return does not advance thought beyond itself. By forgetting thought, the impatience falls back below it. [Adorno, “Resignation,” (1969), in Critical Models, trans. Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 292.]

Now I have seen this read as a returning to Lenin’s critique of Left communism and as a embrace of nearly mystical Jewish eschatology, both of these have some rooting in fact no doubt. Yet one cannot help but note that despite Adorno’s Leninism, the Leninist project no longer resembled anything Adorno would be willing to defend (or most probably even Lenin would be willing to defend).   The more critical question would be that psuedo-activity is endemic and if the Frankfurt’s school own fate illustrates, pseudo-activity of the mind is something that dominates most theorists, and yet this is something that is distinct from any pronouncement of Lenin I know of:

This is made easier for the individual by his capitulation to the collective with which he identifies himself. He is spared from recognizing his powerlessness; the few become the many in their own eyes. This act, not unwavering thought, is resignative. No transparent relationship obtains between the interests of the ego and the collective it surrenders itself to. The ego must abolish itself so that it may be blessed with the grace of being chosen by the collective. . . . The sense of a new security is purchased with the sacrifice of autonomous thinking. The consolation that thinking improves in the context of collective action is deceptive: thinking, as a mere instrument of activist actions, atrophies like all instrumental reason. . . .

Notice then that while Adorno critiques seriously the autonomous of the spirit of anarchism, he also psychologizes solidarity politics in a way that makes it also fairly meaningless as a means of avoidance of abnegation of truth.  Adorno has put himself in a double-bind in left-wing politics and removed the meaningfulness of most action in the current context, rendering the situation to many a speed reader, much more eschatological than anything that would have slipped out of Lenin’s mouth.

Yet there is a point to this in which one begins to wonder if Adorno’s answer to this bind, similar to Kolakowski’s prior to him, is actually an answer:

By contrast the uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in. Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation. . . . Open thinking points beyond itself. . . .Whatever has once been thought can be suppressed, forgotten, can vanish. But it cannot be denied that something of it survives.For thinking has the element of the universal. What once was thought cogently must be thought elsewhere, by others: this confidence accompanies even the most solitary and powerless thought. . . . The happiness that dawns in the eye of the thinking person is the happiness of humanity. The universal tendency of oppression is opposed to thought as such. Thought is happiness, even where it defines unhappiness: by enunciating it. By this alone happiness reaches into the universal unhappiness. Whoever does not let it atrophy has not resigned.

One cannot ignore that whatever one thinks of this answer, it is a dramatic lowering of the bar from anything that ever left Lenin’s mouth.  Regression is the normal answer given, and yet as a concept, do not let any Marxist-academic fool you, regression is not a category that can be simply understood or demarcated as, for some strange reason, as many an academic will tell you the situation of socialist and capitalist society is ALWAYS regressing.  One has an almost inverted Steven Pinker/Pangloss “liberal modernity is the best of all possible current worlds” to “liberal modernity is best of all possible current worlds because we have regressed from prior possible visions.”  Negri and many an Italian Marxist have lost patience with this deconstructive impulse, and criticized Adorno for his lack of a positive construction.  Other friends see this as a point of failure of vision.  Some see it as bad Marxism, a friend of mine once quipped: “it’s all dialectics and no materialism” and at the end Adorno does retreat the field of battle outside of the material world and its temptations of pseudo-activity.  Regression has made that so?

But regression does imply a theory of history in which the future progressive standpoint can be known, which is why contingency is such a threat to the Adorno-influenced Marxist.  Yet as Hegel dialectics can take, if we look at Hegel’s Shorter logic,  both positive and negative forms and moves forward by positing new positives from prior situations.  Yes, Hegel thought philosophy could become objective, but outside from the eye of God, no one knows the outcome of a dialectical moment until it is passed through, contradictions sublated, and new contradictions emerging.

The negativity of the dialectic is a given, but it doesn’t end there.  Whatever you think of Lenin, thought was not a means out of resignation or a hope for a utopia, nor was it the belief that thought itself changed the world as an absolute idea in Lenin.  Thought moves through world because it emerges from it, and is in a feedback loop with it.  Therefore any thought that doesn’t change material condition as well as emerge from them is Utopian in the purely negative sense.

You can’t think your way out of a necessary historical situation.

8.

In the rush of cars outside in cool evening air calms me. I have written about a page on my short story today, gotten more house work done around my fiancee’s apartment, and went back to a politics and philosophy group I started almost a year ago.  I must admit: I am tired of the concept of the generic, non-liberal left.  I am tired of even the generic Marxian left as a concept and as a practice.  I would rather listen to the cars outside because it is about of the same usefulness.

I have already spelled out that I doubt that the teleological view of history, even the contingent or “dialectical,” teleological view of history avoids the fact that we speak as if we know what is good or possible, and we do not. We only know the probable. We can only have probable knowledge through a variety of processes.  We may call them “truth” processes.  Meta-theories about these processes, the content of philosophy and non-philosophy (to use term by Laruelle), are necessary just like science is justified in a variety of epistemological frameworks, but they cannot in any strict sense be known to be true.  Our evidence for them is in the effects.  Hence, my point about Hegel’s, History is the judge of human ideas.  These things can only be seen in hindsight, and the conservative caution about them is not unwarranted.

The problem with the conservative position is that historical contingencies do change: material conditions change, cultures interaction, events happen.  The rupture of an event changes everything, and just like the you who is a person tomorrow is not the same as a person today nor totally distinct from it, the needs of a culture do change over time.  The needs of an ecological system changes. The needs of an individual changes.  The individual is a complex system and the ecology is a complex system: neither a unitary nor a plurality.  Yet we can’t assume the needs of either scale up.  This is why the personal is political is a too reductive and simplistic to be useful.

One of the things I have noticed, sitting here thinking about it, is that I have been forced to try to defend or condemn the subject impulses of anarchists or Leninists, the pluralism of Lenin whose next moves after said pluralism were to ban all political parties opposed to him?  Or to defend Bakunin who endorsed “invisible dictatorship” and whose associations with barrack’s anarchist Sergey Gennadiyevich Nyechayev blacked his name when Nyechayev killed many of his own comrades. Nor I can defend Nestor Ivanovych Makhno, hero of so many left anarchists, who tried to ethnically purge the German Mnennonites from his city. It is not that I don’t understand that politics contains violence. Violence is a fact of human relationships. It is that I cannot make excuses for it.

To say that history has judged this harshly is to say that events have emerged that show the problems of these positions. The subjectivities or fidelities to the intention of these ideas is irrelevant, ultimately.

Don’t worry, I am not going to hand in my cards, and become a Democrat, and retire as a head of a non-profit. Nor will I take the false pretense of being a moderate: I do think violence is sometimes necessary, but these aims have historically been against real people. Marxism dominates among scholars, I think, because we can disconnect events from theories. After all, Marx only gave us critique: critique of the socialist movement (Blanquists, Saint-Simonians, LaSalleians), critique of political economy (against Proudhon, against Bentham, moderating and expanding Ricardo and Smith), and critique of Hegel and the Young Hegelians. The dialectics in Marx and Frankfurt School have only ever been negative, and in most Leninism and Maoism have only ever been justifications. That’s a huge generalization, but the incoherence of the practice indicate that theory lacked, not led, the discussion. In all “communism” states, positive political economy was given by another theory beyond Marxism. Take the Soviet example: for NEP-period and for Stalin, Taylorism. For the 1950s and early 1960s, US cybernetic theory. For late 1960 and 1970s, limited forms of social democracy. In China, you have similar issues: Mao borrowed much of his positive proscriptions from Chinese Legalism and from Stalin’s forced collectivization, and after Mao, we saw Mercentilism and development along state-capitalist lines like an accelerated form of policies from 17th century Europe. One of my friends says this because of the managerial class infecting Marxism, I go much further them him: it is from from lacking a positive vision of social organization that could actually work.

In a different way anarchists too have been primarily about opposition: to various forms of rulership, to the state, etc. Syndicalism was the only form of anarchism that I know actually developed a long-range coherent political economy, although Murray Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism did attempt to do this as well. Mostly, however, this is been active critique. Anarchist victories have been, well, small. Confederations have never been able to counter well-heeled states, nor have autonomous zones really been able to resist. Most anarchists I deal with instead of offering real fixes this, justify loses as virtues. Yet there is much to admire in the anarchist vitality and the Marxist historical rigor: much to admire and I used to think bring these groups together would lead to a way through this impasse. A lot of people believe this as it was the zeitgeist of Occupy. To be honest, I don’t think this works now.

I could go on about Social Democrats being unable to resist market forces, and left-liberals almost always letting conservatives define the debate for them.

Chastising the left alone, though, is a form of posturing. An exhausting one which hollows out one’s tactical political goals, and leaves one a husk of a person. Critique should always have an axiomatic aim: a dialectical process must be able to handle the sublation and know what it is not acceptable as an answer. Dialectics isn’t politics though, its a form of logic.

The “revolution”–which has become an over-full signifier–will not be televised. It will not be an “inner” revolution. In fact, I don’t know what it will be, but I am pretty sure it won’t be televized. I also have a feeling that most of the existing ideologically-driven left will not recognize until it hits them square in the head. Until then, we have to do the hard work: this is issue work, and its outside of electoral spectacles. Of course, we must make concessions to the societies we actually live in, but let’s not be false about it.

IF I go searching for pathology, I will find disease or possible disease, particularly if my guide isn’t anything objective. There is a point where this is a waste of time. I have issues I care about, I have axioms for what I find unacceptable: I don’t think electoral reform will fix these issues, but trying to battle this as a totality seems, well, like a recipe for failure.

History is the judge of ideas. This not mean there is some meta-historical or trans-historical meta-logic to which we will be able to have a theory of the correct idea, it can, however, show us with ideas where botched, maladjusted, and counter-adaptive. This is the way history shows us things. Anything thing else reifies the concept.

I am going to go back to listening to cars.

8.  End of Spring

There is a ideological binary opposition presented in much of the popular media for the last few decades about nature and nurture being opposed: it works itself up into the academy too with sometimes strong genetic determinist arguments–generally from scientifically questionable speculations by evolutionary psychologists–and then (admittedly rather rare) arguments from the humanities that everything is sociologically constructed (generally pulling from either Foucaultian influenced post-structuralism or structuralists visions of ideological apparatuses). Really, though, this dialectical opposition seems rooted in the early Enlightenment when both biological determinism and Cartesian special-pleading for the self set out two different visions of the human future.

I, however, increasingly doubt this move: The structural elements that wanted do deal only with the synchronic and not diachronic elements was a methodological move that gets reified into a stance that views ideas as either without a history or having a history, but biology is a historical science. It describes the development of organic life over time through processes that we have not entirely understood but have several mechanistic grasps of. This was why I always found the idea of nature problematic: nature implies as non-human totality, which seems to be special-pleading for the human species, or an undifferentiated totality, which is cognitively empty.

This has led to in re-reading Althusser, which I still find as problematic as I ever did as his hermeneutic for interpreting Marx implies that Marx either didn’t mean or didn’t understand his “true” methodology because even late works have “lingering” Hegelian idealism. This led me to take Althusser’s statement that ideology is not “ideal” but physical as manifested in the way we live and pair it, admittedly even to my mind, dangerously, with some ideas I have seen about the acceleration of human evolution. What I am about to articulate takes care of my view that Althusser’s synchronic understanding of historical materialism actually has the structure of the “means of productive forces” in ideology emerge almost without a history before there was an ideology there.

Even when I was in anthropology classes in the late 1990s, I remember being told that it was the consensus view that human evolution stopped with agriculture removing “natural” pressures from the evolutionary ecology of humans. I remember thinking though: How come Europeans developed lactose tolerance if this were true? Then I read Gregory Cochran’s The 10,000 Explosion, which is controversial and has some severe limitations even in my lay mind, but does talk about how social pressures would have genetically selective impulses and this could show up from disease immunities and, more controversially, relationships to authority and impulse control. Cochran admits that there are real limitations here and that there isn’t enough anthropological fieldwork paired with genetic testing to prove or disprove, but sexual selection in early agricultural society was exactly more extreme than in hunter-gather society since there was far more restrictions put on the survival of children, and in certain extreme examples, chieftains sometimes out reproduce serfs 1000 to 1.

Now I don’t know if we can take it as far as Cochran does, but he get to a point: Ideological and social impulses, which emerge from social arrangements in resource production and distribution actually change us physically. Furthermore, there is evidence that culture exists in any social mammal and thus emerges from “natural” conditions. This is say that both the “essentialist” view and the “social construction” view would largely miss the point: there is no dialectical opposition between “nature” and “nurture” nor does genetic determinism limit all social arrangements, but they modify each other in a feedback loop. Both the rubric of “nurtural” stances (or sociology) and “natural” stance (biology, comparative genetics) describe two different ways that human societies develop and interact. The question of dominance or innateness may miss the point: furthermore, both seem to assume that culture somehow emerges as a modern human conception out of nothing, or solely out of the means of production in ways that make “evolution” not possible. This confuses morphological differences with other differences too easily. There would be little morphological difference in modern humans because our social technologies have enabled us to stabilize our environment, but a variety of pressures socially would emerge to have influence on sexual selection.

So not only is ideology physical in the way Althusser meant as manifested by what we do and not just what we “believe,” but ideological pressures factor into to sexual selection ‘naturally” and thus have real effects there as well. It’s not eugenics or anything so crude at play here but developments from “natural” social responses because unless one believes the structures of production and the structures of society emerge ex nihilo, the social interactions come out of our biological and ecological limitations.

The dialectic of “nature/nurture” isn’t a dialectic at all. It is a false binary. Naturally.

9. Summer

Two posts on the interwebs came together to produce this:  Less Wrong, which while being meta-analytic rationalists to a point of almost obsession is still one of the best websites on logic out there, posted a piece on signaling, counter-signaling, and intelligence and the triadic moves of logic: 

A person who is somewhat upper-class will conspicuously signal eir wealth by buying difficult-to-obtain goods. A person who is very upper-class will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir wealth, by deliberately not buying difficult-to-obtain goods.

A person who is somewhat intelligent will conspicuously signal eir intelligence by holding difficult-to-understand opinions. A person who is very intelligent will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir intelligence, by deliberately not holding difficult-to-understand opinions.

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 1452. People on this site differ from the mainstream in that they are more willing to say death is bad, more willing to say that science, capitalism, and the like are good, and less willing to say that there’s some deep philosophical sense in which 1+1 = 3. That suggests people around that level of intelligence have reached the point where they no longer feel it necessary to differentiate themselves from the sort of people who aren’t smart enough to understand that there might be side benefits to death. Instead, they are at the level where they want to differentiate themselves from the somewhat smarter people who think the side benefits to death are great. They are, basically, meta-contrarians, who counter-signal by holding opinions contrary to those of the contrarians’ signals. And in the case of death, this cannot but be a good thing.

But just as contrarians risk becoming too contrary, moving from “actually, death has a few side benefits” to “DEATH IS GREAT!”, meta-contrarians are at risk of becoming too meta-contrary.

All the possible examples here are controversial, so I will just take the least controversial one I can think of and beg forgiveness. A naive person might think that industrial production is an absolute good thing. Someone smarter than that naive person might realize that global warming is a strong negative to industrial production and desperately needs to be stopped. Someone even smarter than that, to differentiate emself from the second person, might decide global warming wasn’t such a big deal after all, or doesn’t exist, or isn’t man-made.

In this case, the contrarian position happened to be right (well, maybe), and the third person’s meta-contrariness took em further from the truth. I do feel like there are more global warming skeptics among what Eliezer called “the atheist/libertarian/technophile/sf-fan/early-adopter/programmer empirical cluster in personspace” than among, say, college professors.

In fact, very often, the uneducated position of the five year old child may be deeply flawed and the contrarian position a necessary correction to those flaws. This makes meta-contrarianism a very dangerous business.

Remember, most everyone hates hipsters.

Without meaning to imply anything about whether or not any of these positions are correct or not3, the following triads come to mind as connected to an uneducated/contrarian/meta-contrarian divide:

– KKK-style racist / politically correct liberal / “but there are scientifically proven genetic differences”
– misogyny / women’s rights movement / men’s rights movement
– conservative / liberal / libertarian4
– herbal-spiritual-alternative medicine / conventional medicine / Robin Hanson
– don’t care about Africa / give aid to Africa / don’t give aid to Africa
– Obama is Muslim / Obama is obviously not Muslim, you idiot / PatriFriedman5

Now, anyone half-versed in Hegel will notice this looks like a dialectical sublation move, albeit a move that is based more on social signaling than logic.  As the author states in a footnote, often a person can be on different points in the triadic structure at different times, and no point generally has a hard frame of being right. Although the assumptions of the logic are interesting in another way, they out of hand discount a lot of socialist, communist, and anarchist politics as being anticapitalism, but between the move between conservative and liberal, the author sees the sublation as libertarian (or the meta-contrary position).   This is interesting because in the dialectical position in America this does seem to be case:  Libertarians take freedom/equality tension and favor freedom even do conservative ends.

Furthermore, it points out that there is often a lot of signaling going on in left positions that are complicated. For example, many would accuse our author of be meta-contrary even in his title of the blog (the loyal opposition to modernity), but it important to notice that the signaling here is different.  I am indicating a opposition to the dominant zeitgeists (or if you prefer paradigms) for failing to meet up to any possible potential not on the basis that they are simply wrong and the old way is better, but they for structural reasons that these will fail to live up to their promises.

This is the critique of capitalism that I hold: It is not just that capitalism is unfair or exploitative, and therefore we should go back to some pre-capitalist social formation: it is just that the contradictions in the capitalist production will lead to depletion of resources, an inability to steady-state in growth, and to massive impoverishments of the majority that it had enriched prior as their are no new markets for which capitalism to expand.   Globalism delivers the promise of markets to relative enrichment of prior social formations, but generally through the accumulation of resources into the hands of a few and thus leading to extractive economies.  Even conservatives are beginning to see this trend.

When libertarians and conservative talk about the knowledge problems markets fix, they are not wrong.  This lead to a logic of defending the early liberal revolutions from Marx and later Marxists are necessary steps.  This is also what justifies and justified  Chinese and Soviet State capitalism as necessary development since no liberal society produced a revolution that was not betrayed by liberal/social democratic forces.  Red Rosa was killed by shock troops–proto-fascists–who were invited into the briefly existing revolutionary states by Social Democrats.

So this means that while a leftists like myself must be careful of mere anti-capitalism, she must also be careful of mere meta-contrariness trying ideological decisions.  This is both actionism of the mind (in Adorno’s sense) and selfish social signaling of the Velbenian capricious consumption variety. But the last point led me  that leads me to look at is that while “liberalism” as an orientation opposed to conservatism does seem to rely both on abstract reason and orientation, but in power, liberalism almost immediately becomes illiberal. Ben at Marmalade blog has been discussing this:

This is where the real problems begin for liberals, beyond the basic challenges of organizing. Liberals are so flexible and so willing to change that they end up being prone to undermine their own liberal nature. On the opposite end, conservatives are so much less flexible and less willing to change that they are more effective in resisting what liberalism offers. This liberal weakness and conservative strength makes liberalism an easy target of anti-liberal tactics such as emotional manipulation and propaganda, especially in terms of fear and disgust which are the foundations of the conservative predisposition and moralistic ideology. Basically, when liberals are overly stressed to the point of feeling overwhelmed, they turn into conservatives.

This particular bias and typical move is interesting: the power of maintaining a moderate liberal vision and an openness to ideas actually leads to a conservatism that undermines itself. I have called liberalism the “current traditionalism” from a phrase we used in composition pedagogy about the beliefs of “standard grammar” that people believe are transhistorical but aren’t actually traditional.  Liberalism, even more than conservatism, has had massive influence on European and American society since the 1800s, and the orientation here is interesting:  liberalism as a ideology and liberalism as an orientation would have a tendency to shift into conservative modes of thinking to maintain itself, and thus would be hostile more to the left pushing it forward “too fast” and “risking everything” and thus would tend right overtime.   This would also go far to explaining how  things more.

Indeed, the liberal capitalism as the dominant intellectual category is the default position in almost every “average intelligent” contrary opinion to which meta-contrariness arises.  Hegel seems to be vindicated on structure more and more analytically, no?  This could be my own confirmation bias, but the social signaling mirroring Hegelian dialectics IS telling.  Then the way liberal position represents the “Current traditionalism” of the educated is also pretty clear.

What is clear is something is going to give because the stress of liberal positions will lead to profoundly illiberal politics.  Some of my friends who are Hegelian Marxists would call this regression in history, but I think this is regression to the mean and a conservatism to maintain it, which of course, actually undoes the attitude that enabled it.

10. End of Summer

Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence. – George Steiner

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. – attributed to Confucius

George Steiner’s speech on the central contradictions of Zionism and its relationship to the Prophet (future)/Priest (current) dialectic in the Hebrew consciousness.   This is one of the most insightful and fair understandings of the “sad miracle” that is modern Israel.  The arab spring is a bitter winter that indicates how sad the miracle has been and what the liberalization has been dependent.  There is a dialectic about the movement of Zionism which itself threatens the idea of a Jewish state and even a Jewish people.  It is not just that Israel is rooted, and is, a settler colonial state picks up on religious Zionist motives but exploits, but also is rooted in a real need for the traumized people.  The dialectical irony is there: It is the core of what made up modern anti-Jewish sentiment that also is the theory which undergrids secular Jewish Zionism, and the religious notion of Zionism opposes the existence of the very nation which is no serves as the primary population growth into.  In the diaspora, as Steiner says, the political humilation of others as torture of those outside of the community was unknown, and yet it is the basis on which Israel must be sustained: in order to survive.   Steiner says that this brutality is the price of nationhood, and it is the schism that will cause a drain a between Jews in the diaspora and Israel itself.

This brings me to another colonial dialectic: the dialectic between Korea and Japan.  Close to my life as I have Korean relatives and live in Korea, it is interesting how the invented tradition on both sides. Much of the modern notions of Korean traditions of Confucianism have Japanese imperial roots (this is particularly accelerated in North Korea, strangely), but I have not looked the way Korea changed Japan.  The ways it has was fascinating.  The master/servent dialectic can been seen in many places.

The last is the way in which the modernization of China has led to a confusion to between Post-Mao Marxist tradition, a state capitalist develoment, and a Confucian tradition which radiate from the core of development in Shanghai.  Shanghai, the site of two communes which were buried (first by the nationalists, the second by the Maoists slowly the cultural revolution), so history here is not a simple movement towards “the future” but an way in which one cultures struggles to pull to the future from current notions of the past.  This becomes really apparent in Shanghai.

To what Steiner says, “No city is so great that one should no run when it is unjust.” We are to be creatures of the air.

Perhaps then my long sojourn in Asia is a beckoning to my own diaspora, but I also know, as a good dialectician, there is now nowhere to run the movement of political economies and dying ideas, which often are not just commodity fetishs, but the digging of mass graves and the eating of cultures.

11. Summer

“Why don’t you blog more about this?” my girlfriend asks as another lantern rolls out of the plaza near Insadong neighborhood in Seoul.

“You mean commenting on flying Buddhas with weird television screens going down the center of a parade in Seoul?”

“Yes.”

“My readers have come to expect an impersonal obtuseness and a reliance of strange readings of Hegel that makes one seem hip.”

“To say ‘seems hip’ means you’re not, love.”

This was the first bit that started this reflection after seeing the fifth or sixth traditional Korean drum dance at Hoehyang Hanmadang. I avoid writing that way because there is some small solace in an impenetrable writing style and an insistence on absolute consistency over time. But there is a limit to that sort of thing when you realize that many of your readers are reifying concepts in a way that makes you wonder if you are doing it too: if you wonder this, it is probably too late. So when I talk about liberals or the left or regression, I realize that language is obfuscating and alienating. It’s part of a “discourse community” that frankly most people could not give two flying fucks about.

It also artificially lowers my own interests which are about left politics, but also the philosophy of science, ontology, epistemology, Buddhist and Confucian Studies, and poetry. While watching the lotus lantern parade, I kept thinking about objects, subjects, and the strange history of Korean and Japanese Buddhism. I kept them about how much I enjoyed a Subway sandwich after not eating them much for almost two years, and about how beautiful Korean started to sound to me, and how close Japanese sounds to it. I kept thinking about endless discussions about history and regression in which history is treated as a ontological force, like a good, which is both human and not. I kept thinking about all the reification of the idea of the left, which, like the reificaiton of religious concepts, becomes both emptier of cognitive and more full of intuitive content over time.

All these axioms can become exhausting, so I am trying to shift gears: To focus on my daily life and its context, the objects of philosophy and the limits to philosophy. More about religion and other cultural elements, and maybe less obscurity and more humor from my daily life.

You can thank a lantern of Buddha and my lovely fiancee for a reminder than even those of who spend time in highly abstract places need to be more rooted in daily life.

For that, I thank her, and move on to other notions: So coming up are more reflections on life here, more interviews in both politics and outside of it: An interview series on the Skeptic’s Movement and the Philosophy of science, a interview series on continental philosophy outside of Hegel, and an an interview series on various religious lefts as well as other things.

Also, a poem for you to enjoy, an excellent one by Gwendolyn Brooks, called “kitchenette building,” which despite it simplicity, one can feel the soft, almost dialectical build-up, of the tension between the humanizing of hope and the abstraction of dreams leading to despair. The simple rhythms build in a way that causes you to miss how much is pasting between the simpler shifts of pronouns and abstractions, which almost seem to dance between symbolic and non-symbolic uses.

12. Summer

I have talked to everyone from die-hard Eurasian (read: Russian) Nationalists, who seem to the think Putin is the walking manifestation of a meritocratic Russian nationalism that will one day rule of Europe and Asia.  Frankly, given the massive capital flight out of Russia, this seems like dreaming for  a second coming of Stalin.   I suppose one knows the future by its wish fulfillment.  As I write this there is almost monarchical pomp over Putin’s reassumption of power, and protests in the streets.   RT, which I call Radio Free US, has some great programming, but it is a Putin-friendly arm of Russian state and it good not to forget that.   Sadly, the same is true for most of the UK, and so the recent debacle involving Assuange’s show is met with the liberal critique of tepid variety: 

US cables released by WikiLeaks in December 2010 paint a dismal picture of Putin’s Russia as a “virtual mafia state”. Has Assange read them? It seems extraordinary that Assange – described by RT as the world’s most famous whistleblower – should team up with an opaque regime where investigative journalists are shot dead (16 unsolved murders) and human rights activists kidnapped and executed, especially in Chechnya and other southern Muslim republics. Strange and obscene.

There is a long dishonourable tradition of western intellectuals who have been duped by Moscow. The list includes Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, HG Wells and André Gide. So Assange – whether for idealistic reasons, or simply out of necessity, given his legal bills and fight against extradition to Sweden – isn’t the first. But The World Tomorrow confirms he is no fearless revolutionary. Instead he is a useful idiot.

But like the the Eurasian nationalists and Putin apologists that Luke Harding cannot stomach, he ultimately sees things in same jilted hope for a Cold War area unipolar world.  So why do so many leftists take the enemy of my enemy is my friend approach to politics?  It’s hard to say, but it is a simpletons move.  Still, this is what shows you who is serious in politics: the left is not neither is the right, because you see simple platitudes and not facts being marshalled for decision making.   We live in a broadly liberal movement, but not liberal-left in the way American’s understand it.  Chomsky is right to point out that if you Foreign Policy, The Financial  Times, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal (prior to Murdock), you got honest news and detailed specifics because those who are in power need that in way those who merely dream of power don’t.

NPR is an example of this: It is liberal media in both senses: in the sense that it serves soft capitalist interests and that it placates the sensibilities of the center-to-center-left liberal.  It is mid-brow/mid-cult capriciousness consumption plus decent news with a milder (but still dangerous) US-tinged corporate slant. In coverage of the French elections and the Greek elections, one could hear defenses of Sarkozy passed off as impartial:  the American left always secretly wants to be the European center right–capitalism with a human face. Although if one actually knew the rhetoric of in Sarkozy in daily life, or if one took time to see how religious the rhetoric of David Cameron was, the vapidity of the American left is the European center-right meme would be apparent.

Still, an example of the good news “liberals”  give to themselves:   Take the Planet Money podcast In A Leaderless World, Who Wins?, which is based on Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini‘s notion that “even is America is not declining, we aren’t a hegemon anymore, and despite word to contrary, it is unlikely that Russia or China will be it either as both have serious issues that largely unaddressed, and I’ll quote here instead of paraphrase:

This is not a G-20 world. Over the past several months, the expanded group of leading economies has gone from a would-be concert of nations to a cacophony of competing voices as the urgency of the financial crisis has waned and the diversity of political and economic values within the group has asserted itself. Nor is there a viable G-2 — a U.S.-Chinese solution for pressing transnational problems — because Beijing has no interest in accepting the burdens that come with international leadership. Nor is there a G-3 alternative, a grouping of the United States, Europe, and Japan that might ride to the rescue.

Today, the United States lacks the resources to continue as the primary provider of global public goods. Europe is fully occupied for the moment with saving the eurozone. Japan is likewise tied down with complex political and economic problems at home. None of these powers’ governments has the time, resources, or domestic political capital needed for a new bout of international heavy lifting. Meanwhile, there are no credible answers to transnational challenges without the direct involvement of emerging powers such as Brazil, China, and India. Yet these countries are far too focused on domestic development to welcome the burdens that come with new responsibilities abroad.

We are now living in a G-Zero world, one in which no single country or bloc of countries has the political and economic leverage — or the will — to drive a truly international agenda. The result will be intensified conflict on the international stage over vitally important issues, such as international macroeconomic coordination, financial regulatory reform, trade policy, and climate change. This new order has far-reaching implications for the global economy, as companies around the world sit on enormous stockpiles of cash, waiting for the current era of political and economic uncertainty to pass. Many of them can expect an extended wait.

In the interview, Bremmer talks about how the Chinese growth model must change, not be based on 21th century mercentilism, and raise net-GDP which makes it far more unstable than it appears now.  He points the contradictions exposed in the Bo Xilai, which of course is painted in the liberal media as a story of ruthlessness (I saw this headline in HuffPo, NYTimes, etc) and fails to mention Bo’s popularity among the Chinese Left, the fact that Aei Wei and other luminaries praised him. But the  liberal reformers (in both the positive and negative sense) have used this to push for change in China, against both the Dengish middle and the Maoists left, or at least that is what is passed along in the media in South Korea.    Bremmer has a point: there is a fundamental problem to the paradoxes of PRC’s strange blend of New Confucianism, Legalism, and Maoism with mercentilism-esque State Capitalism. Although as the London Review of books point it, it also points out that there is a move to try re-centralize as Maoism is beginning to start on a public now see the benefits:

In Chongqing there was more emphasis than in some other places on redistribution, justice and equality, and because the province was already highly industrialised, state-owned enterprises were important to its model. Chongqing’s experiment with inexpensive rented housing, its experiment with land trading certificates, its strategy of encouraging enterprises to go global: all these, under the rubric ‘the state sector progresses, the private sector progresses,’ contributed to society’s debate. Chongqing may not have offered a perfect blueprint, and it’s hard to know whether Bo himself was corrupt, but its architects stressed the importance of equality and common prosperity, and tried to work towards them.

The Chongqing experiment, launched in 2007, coincided with the global financial crisis, which made a new generation feel less confident of the benefits of free-market ideology. The policies followed in Chongqing demonstrated a move away from neoliberalism at a time when the national leadership was finding it harder to continue with its neoliberal reforms. What the Chongqing incident now offers the authorities is an opportunity to resume its neoliberal programme. Just after Bo was sacked the State Council’s Development and Research Centre held a forum in Beijing at which the most prominent neoliberals in China, including the economists Wu Jinglian and Zhang Weiying, announced their programme: privatisation of state enterprises, privatisation of land and liberalisation of the financial sector. At almost the same time, on 18 March, the National Development and Reform Commission issued a report on ‘Important Points and Perspectives on the Deepening of Economic Structural Reform Priorities’. It contained plans for the privatisation of large sections of the railways, education, healthcare, communications, energy resources and so on. The tide of neoliberalism is rising again. But it won’t go unchallenged, even when left-wing websites have been closed down. In the past ten days both the People’s Daily and the Guangming Dailyhave devoted several pages to the achievements of state-owned enterprises and the argument against privatisation.

So there is a limit to liberal honesty in the news, and the comments at the NYTimes section prove it.   What is missed that many International News carriers didn’t was this:

According to several reports, Bo and Zhou had been plotting a smear campaign against future Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while planning to install Bo as a high-level official.

So who knows if all those liberals know they are spreading p.r. related to the PRC’s politoburo.  I guess one can say that Assuage is not the only useful idiot.   But there this big trouble in big China, and the signal to move investment into India and Brazil as well as Latin America is telling.  Canada’s turning to China is telling too, but perhaps short-sited ultimately.   The one thing is true:  The 1%, to use Occupy’s somewhat vapid term, thinks in global terms in ways Occupiers, despite all their rhetoric, don’t comprehend.

While I am endorsing “Liberal” media for news, let me point you to a serious liberal podcast that I have come to like for its honest wonkiness: Bruno and the Professor is good, honest liberal Keynesianism.  That has all the weaknesses that Keynesianism does: It ignores that stagflation, not just neo-liberalization, was part of why things were abandoned: Neo-liberalization was a political project empowered by stagflation, and as Bruno and Professor point out, was often  started by Carter, not Reagan.   Anyway, their analysis of the brain-drain in Southern Europe to Germany,  explains, for the first time, what the ECB could be doing, no order explanation of the sado-monetarism adopted by the Germans was really that coherent.

Now, before you critique me with “Why are you endorsing managerialism and the state?” Who says I am, but to change the world, you must see the world as it is.  The abstractions, hypotheses, and refusal to understand managerial logic and the flows of capital that under-grid it is a refusal to be able to offer a real counter-point. To have a theory of what politics should be, one must see what politics is.

12. Still Summer

The one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws (Peirce, CP 6.25).

So-called systems have often been characterized and challenged in the assertion that they abrogate the distinction between good and evil, and destroy freedom. Perhaps one would express oneself quite as definitely, if one said that every such system fantastically dissipates the concept existence. … Being an individual man is a thing that has been abolished, and every speculative philosopher confuses himself with humanity at large; whereby he becomes something infinitely great, and at the same time nothing at all. – Kirkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments

There has been a move in philosophical circles since Marx, and most manifestly in Zizek, has been to take Hegel’s idealism, which is predicated on a formal necessary on the material being less real than the ideal form (an argument one sees as early as Plato), and this is key to the Hegel’s assertion in the longer logic:  the essential assertion that contingencies and materiality not fully “real” because they depend on other finite qualities to determine them, but Kirkegaard inverts the maxim on the absolute positing the whole as an illusion. However, the organism of the human person is, unique literally, a multiple totality of systems which are not all connected.

Something that has occurred to me is that Kirkegaard’s attack on Hegel was right, but wrong about the problem.  While we cannot ascribe our materialism, Marx turning Hegel on his head as the saying goes still fundamentally accepts the Hegelian totality but later Marxists (using the base/suprastructure metaphor) posits ideas as epiphenomenal from the stand-point of production, but then accept Hegelian terminology (as it required to see how Marx uses Hegelian abstraction in the structure of Das Kapital).  This is a problem, and it’s one at the core of misreading of Marx and vulgar economicism.

Instead, perhaps, we can realize something crucial:  The ideal is the form of matter, not just our comprehension of it. However, instead of consigning the “absolute” or the material to the less the than real, we can take them as an epistemological dialectic–the totality always breaks down into oppositions but the oppositions give form to the totality. The differentiation makes the undifferentiated comprehensible because both exist in our understanding of formal material. Mater isn’t stuff: it is the manifestation of energy, and energy here has its strict standard model of physics definition. In other words, this is not a case of the contradictions that are sublated, but the manifestation of a plurality that is also a totality.  It is the point of entrance which prioritizes either the total or the finite. It is related to the locus of understanding the emergence of a system, but a system is always, by definition, a reification of relations. A necessary reification to give one an entry way into contingency and necessity.

So I take heat from a obscure metaphysical note from Peirce:  what is meant by an effete or inactive mind?  What is the point or emergence?  How does this effect our view of politics relationship to the culture?  Or both essentially reification of the ecologies, which is itself a reification of social relations?    Is there actually a different from objective idealism and formal materialism?

I don’t yet know.

13. Still More Summer

Wahrlich, ein schmutziger Strom ist der Mensch. Man muß schon ein Meer sein, um einen schmutzigen Strom aufnehmen zu können, ohne unrein zu werden. 

– Nietzsche, Zarathustra’s Prologue, part 3

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

“Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

“Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!”

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

“We have invented happiness” -say the last men and blink–Zarathustra’s Prologue, §5, translated Thomas Common.

Why is that so many people that like Nietzsche don’t realize that are closer to his conception of the last man more often than not? Is it aspirational? Was it aspirational in Nietzsche himself who had a break with reality in the time of his best work?

I have seen people indicate this is at play with the left Nietzscheans from Battaille to Foucault and Derrida. But why do so many “traditionalist” members of the far right fall into the category of lumpen proletariat?  A friend of mine pointed that out to me–a traditionalist friend of mine–that most of the paleoconservative and Nietzschean right didn’t meet anything like a criterion of self-overcoming either.  So it the attraction to Nietzsche itself a sign of precarious closeness to the what Nietzsche is critiquing?

Nietzsche’s whole project as the quotes I have above was aspirational: the dedication to those who would make a new man?  Yet so many who are attracted to Nietzsche seem to be the kind that could not self-overcome and don’t want to.  Foucault’s and Baitalle’s reading of Nietzsche is based on trangression and indulgence as well as epistemic unreality, but not on self-overcoming. Evola’s Nietzsche is spiritualized in a way that Nietzsche would have probably asserted as problematic.    So many young men I know attracted to Nietzsche basically use it as a means of preserving a sense of ego in the same way the slightly less intellectual generally use Ayn Rand.  The closeness to the last man  can be smelled from a distance.

Yet the project of Nietzsche was always aspirational:  Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Ecco Homo are about what could be, not what is:   In a way, Nietzsche parallels Marx dictum: philosophy is not longer to understand the world, but the change it.   Yet you see almost no one able to live up to Nietzsche’s standard or even be a subject that could live up to it.  It would not be novel at all merely to point out that Nietzsche didn’t think he was an overman, he was clear about this. So this is not a critique of Nietzsche’s thought: he is, even his opponents realize, among the greatest thinkers of the  last two centuries, but one can see Nietzscheans as often self-oblivious to their own faults.

Malcolm Bull writes this, “Where is the Anti-Nietzsche?”

Opposed to everyone, Nietzsche has met with remarkably little opposition. In fact, his reputation has suffered only one apparent reverse—his enthusiastic adoption by the Nazis. But, save in Germany, Nietzsche’s association with the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust has served chiefly to stimulate further curiosity. Of course, the monster has had to be tamed, and Nietzsche’s thought has been cleverly reconstructed so as perpetually to evade the evils perpetrated in his name. Even those philosophies for which he consistently reserved his most biting contempt—socialism, feminism and Christianity—have sought to appropriate their tormentor. Almost everybody now claims Nietzsche as one of their own; he has become what he most wanted to be—irresistible.

Bull points out that one must adopt a subhuman response and identify with the last man to  move away from Nietzsche, but if recognize the ego saving function, the want to identity with the overman (which does not yet exist according to Nietzsche) is the seductive lure.  This puts on in a strange, almost dialectical, paradox: to be willing to identify with the last man one most have the strength of ego to be willing to consider one’s own subhumanism.  This is not something the weak can easily do.  Hence the lure of Neitzsche’s move:  there is a slavery morality in trying to overly identify with master morality now.     Did Nietzsche see this himself?  It’s hard to say but there are hints in Zarathustra’s worry about his “followers” in the last two sections that indicate that Nietzsche was aware of the paradox.

14. Still yet more Summer

I have been toying with sociological data on marriage shift in the larger society, and here are some trends. The first trend is that college educated people are increasingly more likely than the uneducated to get married, according to a Pew Study. :

Throughout the 20th century, college-educated adults in the United States had been less likely than their less-educated counterparts to be married by
age 30. In 1990, for example, 75% of all 30-yearolds who did not have a college degree were married or had been married, compared with just 69% of those with a college degree.As those numbers attest, marriage rates among adults in their 20s have declined sharply since 1990 for both the college-educated and those without a college degree. But the decline has been much steeper for young adults without a college education. Young adults who do not have a college degree are delaying marriage to such an extent that the median age at first marriage in 2008 was, for the first time ever, the same for the college-educated and those who were not
college-educated: 28. As recently as 2000, there had been a two-year gap, with the typical college-educated adult marrying for the first time at 28 and the typical adult lacking a college degree marrying for the first time at Among the possible explanations for this shift are the declining economic fortunes of young men without a college degree and their increasing tendency to cohabit with a partner rather than marry. From 1990 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted median annual earnings of college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by 5% (to $55,000 in 2008 from $52,300 in 1990), while the median annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma declined by 12% (to $32,000 in 2008 from $36,300 in 1990).

But it was moderated by this bit of information:

A major finding from the above analysis is that college appears to deter marriage for men and women from the least advantaged social backgrounds. For least advantaged individuals college attendance lessened men’s and women’s odds of marriage by 38 percent and 22 percent, respectively. For individuals enjoying status in the highest stratum college attendance increased their marriage chances by 31 percent for men and women by 8 percent.

Another important finding is the pattern of increasing marriage homogamy with increasing social advantage and consistent with a mismatch hypothesis, the authors found the more disadvantaged college attendees were less likely to be matched on education with their spouse.

So marriage is increasingly becoming a classed commodity. This leads me to another thought, the way we view the present in light of the immediate (but not very distant) past, and the distant past in light of the immediate past and the present. We think, for example, the nuclear family, which its love marriage and male provider, was an American norm prior to the 1960s, but was unique to the 1950s as a social creation. On in which female property was beginning to be liberalized and liberated from assumed ownership from men, but was predicated on stronger sexual differentiation than was held prior by most people. There are a lot of factors into this, and it is too easy to play reduce it to just one idea (liberalization of divorce, predominance of love marriage, the economic need for nuclear families for increased mobility within the US, etc), but there is some evidence that married people have tended to be less social than single people and less involved in the larger community. There is also evidence, however, that marriage bonds are pretty much the only social networks that are really strong by the time most people reach their 40s.

This is all very modern. I was reading Philip Larkin’s Ardunel Tomb and then doing research on the family of the tomb it describes. The love match Larkin is talking about was a political second marriage, the countess had probably never met the Earl of Ardunal when he was engaged to her, and his first wife had died in child birth. Larkin though makes the assumption that he didn’t love her, and it that was a show but that seems problematic too. There is evidence to the contrary in the posture, rare among married aristocracy, of the tomb.

The problem is that our ideas of love are based off of love marriage, which seems to privilege the dopamine phases of human sexual interaction, which fade off in most people after a few years. However, sexual bonding between humans does lead, in most cultures, to oxytocin bonds, which may be why arranged marriages have such high satisfaction rates (but then again, it may also be because other options just aren’t common). The privileging of our notions of love to the media portraits and romantic notions which are all based on dopamine reactions, and culturally primed ones at that.

What people say about history also seems to apply to human nature, we rhyme with our ancestors as much as merely replicate them. We are objects of and subjects to history, but we also produce it to paraphrase Marx and Hegel.

The idea that human nature is eternal and unchanging privileges the present, but the idea that we are radically and unknowably “other” to the humans to the past is so discontinuous with my experience of the natural world that it leads me to see the “Chomsky” and “Foucault” positions (Chomsky, human beings are innately what they are and Foucault, human beings are completely historical contingent) as both being sort of a false dichotomy. We are social by our “nature,” and thus primed by social cues, but these cue change us. They change mating habits, change environmental reactions, and even can cause stress hormone releases with change specific manifestations of genes. We are different from our ancestors, but in very consistent ways.

So in a way, we see that marriage has always been about the production of “society” which is to say, it is human relations that reproduce human relations: not just in the form of children. So it should be no surprise how much economic changes affect it, and our ideas about love, which in turn, affects economics. One can see the pull and push here.

15. Still Summer

People who read my short stories and, more likely since more of it is in print, my poetry, or even editorials I have written, are generally surprised by the strange idiosyncratic density to way I use language in polemic and philosophical writing. Often technical in a odd way, favoring very specific uses of the word, and privileging the technical to the everyday, but in a non-analytic way, which can be infuriating. I, like a strange macrobrew made from bitters, pumpkin, and ashes of Hegelian philosophers, can be an acquired taste in this form. I know it limits my readership, and often, pisses people off. You know, fine grain distinctions that I assume are sort of obvious really aren’t obvious. It’s my fault that I can’t seem to communicate without really subtle caveats, but I can’t. It is frustrating, however, to get accused of holding opinions you don’t hold: I get read as a post-modernist, anti-science, scientistic, conservative, liberal, moralistic, immoralistic.

I think everyday language, however, is often more obscure than the difficult to parse language I use here. My poetry is dense, but in a different way: one that involves expressionistic juxtaposition and odd imagery. I suppose using convoluted syntax, and somewhat arcane, technical language is a bad habit I picked up from continental philosophy, but in also, in a perverse way, ensures that when people understand me, they actually understand me. What is frustrating though is that the assumption of understanding can’t be made most of the time.

I suppose understanding is always a relative affair.

16. Still Summer.

 “Is pessimism necessarily a sign of decline, decay, malformation, of tired and debilitated instincts [. . .]? Is there a pessimism of strength? An intellectual preference for the hard, gruesome, malevolent and problematic aspects of existence which comes from a feeling of well-being, from overflowing health, from an abundance of existence? Is there perhaps such a thing as suffering from overabundance itself? Is there a tempting bravery in the sharpest eye which demands the terrifying as its foe, as a worthy foe against which it can test its strength and from which it intends to learn the meaning of fear?”. – Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Trans. Ronald Speirs. Ed. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Lacking strength, Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her what it cannot do. But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. — G. W. F. Hegel, “Preface” to Phenomenology of Spirit

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” ― Antonio Gramsci, Gramsci’s Prison Letters

“Other dogs bite only their enemies, whereas I bite also my friends in order to save them” – Attributed to Diogenes of Sinope by Stobaeus

I am an admitted pessimist, but my gloomy mood is actually rooted in something different from the caustic cynicism that has dominated the past two decades of popular entertainment.    This is frustrating because this gloom and ironic gloom is a pessimism that trains be to identity as positively what they should probably reject in themselves.   The writers at the rather enigmatic blogger at Spass ohne Grenzen cut to what I like to call “pessimism” of the will, which masks itself as an ideology of the gleeful ,ironic every-man:

I’m so intensely tired of cynicism, and particularly with the ways new entertainment encourages emotional atrophy by proliferating the archetype of the apathetic pseudo-anti-hero to normalize feelings of isolation so people can go, “hey I feel like shit too!” Here’s lookin at you Louis C.K. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy, but maybe if we didn’t have a communal comfort-fest culture making light of isolation, people would feel more motivated to get out of it. It’s as if almost every sitcom in both the United States and the UK are working to relieve people of a guilt that should not be relieved, by giving them something to identify with when they should not be allowed to identify; “Lol that guy has trouble with empathy! It must not be a big deal because I’m laughing about it!” I started watching a Houellebecq film adaptation today and had to turn it off because it’s such a dead end. Maybe the ending would have redeemed it, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. (Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy.) I try to avoid any itch of negativity like the plague now, and I’d rather be vain than depressed. By this I mean that I’d rather this paragraph contain weak reasoning to get the point across; yes, shows about emotional detachment are “working through” something in our society. I’m indifferent to this argument regardless of its validity because it’s all been going on for so long. It’s the equivalent of Jezebel articles which amount to little more than an effort to make lonely people feel happy and comfortable with themselves just as they are. Go ahead and have that extra cookie, and turn on some Louis while you’re at it.

Pessimism of the intellect is how an intelligent person colors their glasses: they see the world as it is.  As studies that depressives are more likely to think critically and be self-honest, optimists live longer. False hopes keeps many people alive, literally.  Yet the turn of the gleeful pessimism who makes these faults not seem like faults seems like the most perverse dialectical move: Indeed, it brings the hope to the strange place.   Your negative traits aren’t negative and you are fool for seeing them as such is the the implicit ideological impulse in the gap.   This move is the inverted Diogenes:  the man who bites himself so his friends can ignore their wounds.

So I want to dream Yes to the Nietzsche’s question and ignore this the excuse function that we see in the 1990s irony and the aughts lovable failures.   We need to look at things as they with respect that what we should reject.  To put Nietzsche into the dialectical mode of Hegel:  Amor Fati most be opposed by self-overcoming and sublated into something not yet seen.  

But the yes must be larger than this: we can not help but battle the dehumanizing pessimist in our heads but we must not step their.  We cannot want to see the world in the a certain way, but must see the world as it is to change it.   We should not be merely identifying with social faults and shrugging our shoulders and accepting our fate.    Yet that is the tenor of our media these days.

Thought is not enough to overcome anything where it be a cracked means of production or over-eating or the idea of the state.  One sees this pessimism of the will from even the likes of Eric Hobshawm.   An ethic settling. Of lesser evil. Of gradual reform. Of lessened expectations.

To say the Yes to a better a world, one must see things as they are.  One must learn to say no.

I. Winter

I do not call myself a progressive, as it was a term used by left liberals to distance themselves from communism and for liberal-leaning communists to hide, furthermore as the demonization of the word liberal in the popular imagination and simplification of the political spectrum into a highly misleading and rather vapid binary. Yet in pondering the historicism of Hegel as well as Nietzsche and DeMaistre, there is a tension in all historical thinkers for even the most conservative ones realize that while time may not be moving in a presupposed teleos, it most definitely moves and Hegel supposed as did DeMaistre that history was the judge of right.

This, however, has always problematized the left. The left conception of history can not longer be simply linear. It cannot think this because history did not judge left projects well. One was seen two trends in left philosophy: to embrace and accelerate the end of history within liberal modernity or to see everything that has happened as regressive.  DeMaistre had the same conflict when he saw the Enlightenment win. The Right has not be judged well by history either.

Now I do see a validity to this later view yet this is in fundamental contradiction to a materialist conception of history without a teleos which is known. We cannot know the future, and even the past is but a rhyming dictionary. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. So this fundamental contradiction requires a self dialectic that remains unaddressed.

I say this on a day I am on a bus and ill with cold. The winter is over but peeking its head up for one more day, and the predictable unpredictability of the natural emerges yet the climate is altering slowly day by day. This actually primes my thought.

2. Spring

Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment.  Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s.  Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.

I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage.  With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce.  My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons:  it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.”   I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.

Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion.   I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage.   Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth.  The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.

That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic.   Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense.  In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation.  It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.

I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then  the female orgasm would not be so elusive.  Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one:  it’s an ad hoc universe  in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).

This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it.  But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.

Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract:  people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in  a variety of different contexts.   Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.

What is it Lacan says?  Lack is created by language.  Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?

So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right.  The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated:   while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I  do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop.  I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped.   The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.

Technology changes who you are.  How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?

This leads to all sorts of issues:  I am gay or straight or bisexual?  How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence?   Does it make sense to get married?

In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways:  I am getting married to a woman because I love her.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness.  The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range.  Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity  then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits?    I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.

In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.

Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions.  Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance  and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.

Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them.  Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.

But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.

3. Spring

Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment.  Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s.  Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.

I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage.  With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce.  My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons:  it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.”   I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.

Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion.   I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage.   Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth.  The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.

That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic.   Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense.  In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation.  It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.

I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then  the female orgasm would not be so elusive.  Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one:  it’s an ad hoc universe  in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).

This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it.  But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.

Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract:  people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in  a variety of different contexts.   Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.

What is it Lacan says?  Lack is created by language.  Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?

So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right.  The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated:   while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I  do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop.  I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped.   The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.

Technology changes who you are.  How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?

This leads to all sorts of issues:  I am gay or straight or bisexual?  How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence?   Does it make sense to get married?

In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways:  I am getting married to a woman because I love her.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness.  The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range.  Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity  then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits?    I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.

In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.

Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions.  Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance  and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.

Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them.  Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.

But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.

4.  Spring

Today, my lungs burn as I take the train from Daejeon to Seoul. It is an deeply regrettable thing to be so sick in the first days of the Korean spring when the tulip trees and cherry blossoms bloom, and the street vendors really come out in force. I have been thinking increasingly about science fiction and poetry, whose political variants are often just warmed over allegorical screeds. Political poetry in way captures the worse spirit of democracy, to render arguments emotive in a particularly unthinking way. In this sense, genre fiction may be better medium for sophisticated explorations of these sorts of topics, but often these experiments tend to be rather obvious thought experiments.

So it is very complicated, but very explicitly the natural situation influences my mood, and with spring there is a beauty that even my burning lungs cannot remove from me. I suppose the dialectical impulse leads me to distrust the romantic notion–too much Hegel, Marx, and Adorno on one end and too much Philip k Dick and Gene Wolfe on the other gets me: it is also like what Lukacs argued about Balzac, reactionary writers have an honesty about them that actually can lead to clearer “progressive” vision. Romanticism for all it’s hope, tends to justify completely problematic and soul crushingly reactionary ends.

Yet this something to remember: it is not wrong to say that humans are not so much a rational species as it is a rationalizing one. It is dangerous to draw too many generalizations, even with a sound dialectical approach, about the function of an artist or writer in a given moment. There I have long sense learned to trust a certain species of vulgar and dogmatic Marxist–like the vulgar and dogmatic American libertarian–that gives one a framework for making grand pronouncements on art, economics, sociology, psychology and philosophy often without having to have studies much in any of those categories. Bad dialectical materialism (again like bad praxeology) often remove any real specific critiques of doctrine. I suppose this sort of coherence has an attractiveness to both the logically inclined and/or the profoundly intellectually lazy.

Dialectics works because it’s a logic of dealing with ideas in the context of history, not because any early modern philosopher says so.

So in a strange way, this mirrors the double-edged sword of spring. Depolitical poems are problematic as they are rarely actually outside of politics, yet political poems of the explicit nature are often just bad in both polemic and aesthetic content such as the recent criticism of Israel in verse form by Gunter Grass, which is neither as politically profound as it needs to be nor as poetically competent (even in German) to make up for that fact.

So I offer little in axioms today, only working through some of the contradictions of art and politics as I warm in the spring sun and cough out my lungs.

5. Spring

Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama both appeared in a collection of essays by that title, Culture Matters.  Neo-conservatives are always talking about culture while making apologetic for liberal capitalism by illiberal means.  So, in a sense though, it is true that the culture wars and the cultural development over time does matter:

Economics and culture are different ways to explaining and conceptualization human relations whose very reification  effects the relationships it describes.  It becomes a rubric of description with a particular lens but over the time the lens affects the relationships themselves.   The descriptive drafts to the prescriptive: economic policy assumes economic descriptors,  traditions are standardized and even invented and forced into the collective memory, implicit and explicit laws develop from these code, etc.   To some degree getting in too much parlance between the “base and the supra-structure” to use an unfortunate conception from Marxist to which Engels gave the dominance “in last instance” to the economic base confuses things:  material conditions both changed and are changed by cultural practice.   It’s not a mechanical feedback loop, but it has a similar relationship.

This is why the Radical Enlightenment and the Radical Reformation in Europe as well as Buddhist encounters with Modernity and the tensions within Confucianism  fascinate me. In general, when economics confronts culture, economics wins: but the causal relationship is not all the clear.  South Korean and Japanese capitalism, even more than Chinese state capitalism, retains a strong familial piety and Confucian element: the Chaebols that run Korea are operated almost like clans with a dominant family often promoting based on seniority and familial status. There are Chaebols that deliberately tried to buck this trend: Samsung being the most prominent example. Japanese companies still function on a hybrid model of the family clan, but with CEO’s often adopting outside of family to keep the appearance of the clan up and keep nepotism at a minimum for such a system.

Now we can get into these academic debates over how many modernities there are (multiple or singular) in spatial relations, if the general population has ever been truly modern in its attitude (Latour, Eco, etc),  or if there can be a post-modernity (Latour again), but this is in a nexus of cultural existence.  We can argue about how to break the various modern cultures into typologies (as Hofstede and Huntington did).  We can argue about sub-strains within a culture like Haidt does.  These moves, however, sometimes seem arbitrary, or at the very least, a form of trying to fit a amorphous emergent complexity into a set of taxonomic categories.

Sociology and philosophy have science envy sometimes. Forgive them their insecurities.

Anyway, in the spirit of this some disclosed readings including some poetry and science fiction. This is what is in my cultural input at the moment:

 Anti-Nietzsche by Malcolm Bull.

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man by Jonathan I. Israel

Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy  by Francois Laruelle (trans by Rocco Gangle)

Introduction to Antiphilosophy  by Boris Groys

Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

You are Not So Smart by David McRaney

Next Life: Poems by Rae Armentrout

The Orchards of Syon by Geoffery Hill

Infinite Thought by Alain Badiou (trans. and ed. by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens)

Consider this a sort of guide to what’s bouncing around in my head at the moment other than student essays and podcasts.   I will be trying to weave these in as I begin some real writing on culture, which has been on my mind in this period of returning to economics.

6.

It is interesting to me that two of the most Pacifistic variants of the Protestant reformation, the Quakers and the Mennonites, both have violent origins in the context of revolutionary change.  Recently, I have been sort of going through the histories of Norman Cohn, which itself has a strange relationship to the Situationist International which is documented in Lipstick Traces, on the Mennonites and the radical reformation.  While I often focus on the Radical Enlightenment as a locust point for history, it is important to remember that the early modern religious wars led to an establishment of a republic in England and began the fragmentation of the “Holy Roman Empire.”

While there is much to say on this topic, I noticed that both the Mennonites and the Quakers had particularly bloody origins: the Quakers were often the most militant in the New Model Army of Cromwell, and while they are only of the few sects from the period to survive in England (the levelers, the diggers, the ranters all being lost to history), the Quakers did not start adverse to violence:  taking a middle path between the levelers, who believed in universal equality, and the ranters, who may not even have existed but whose partaking in sin to earn forgiveness is sort of a Antinomianist Christian heretic urban legend that reappears periodically in history in which the Brethen of the Free Spirit and the Cainians are also representative, the Quakers, however, were much more radically egalitarian than the Calvinist puritans.  The Quaker pacifism, however, only emerges after the the Quaker Acts in the Restoration.

Similarly, Münster Rebellion and the radical Anabaptist violence in the Peasant wars after the Reformation  led to some particularly horrific results. This is covered by Norman Cohn quite well. Menno Simons seemed to proclaim radical pacifism only after the complete degeneration the anabaptist communities and their crushing at the combined hands of Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans.

While I think this period can be explored in more depth by a left perspective as sort of a precursor and largely divergent set of idea that led up to “The Enlightenment,” but without the belief in “reason.”  Anyway, what can be learned in the fact that many of the most radical protestant’s commitment to peace doesn’t seem to come out of religious dogma at first, but the experience of the excesses of violence?

It is an interesting question, isn’t it?

7.

In between grading student essays and reflecting on the history of some pacification of the militant protestant sects, I began thinking about Adorno’s “Resignation”  and the way I have seen Adorno rely on pure negativity as a means to dialectic. Now to get all Hegelian about things, this is a refusal to go to an axiomatic stage of the dialectic,  and thus is a refusal to conceptualize a way out. Now in a crude Hegelian manner, I can point out that this seems like an abnegation as much as a resignation: a refusal to accept the dialectic as more than a via negativa, a negative ecology. to use a phrase from Malcolm Bull:

Even political undertakings can sink into pseudo-activities, into theater. It is no coincidence that the ideals of immediate action, even the propaganda of the [deed], have been resurrected after the willing integration of formerly progressive organizations that now in all countries of the earth are developing the characteristic traits of what they once opposed. Yet this does not invalidate the critique of anarchism. Its return is that of a ghost. The impatience with theory that manifests itself with its return does not advance thought beyond itself. By forgetting thought, the impatience falls back below it. [Adorno, “Resignation,” (1969), in Critical Models, trans. Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 292.]

Now I have seen this read as a returning to Lenin’s critique of Left communism and as a embrace of nearly mystical Jewish eschatology, both of these have some rooting in fact no doubt. Yet one cannot help but note that despite Adorno’s Leninism, the Leninist project no longer resembled anything Adorno would be willing to defend (or most probably even Lenin would be willing to defend).   The more critical question would be that psuedo-activity is endemic and if the Frankfurt’s school own fate illustrates, pseudo-activity of the mind is something that dominates most theorists, and yet this is something that is distinct from any pronouncement of Lenin I know of:

This is made easier for the individual by his capitulation to the collective with which he identifies himself. He is spared from recognizing his powerlessness; the few become the many in their own eyes. This act, not unwavering thought, is resignative. No transparent relationship obtains between the interests of the ego and the collective it surrenders itself to. The ego must abolish itself so that it may be blessed with the grace of being chosen by the collective. . . . The sense of a new security is purchased with the sacrifice of autonomous thinking. The consolation that thinking improves in the context of collective action is deceptive: thinking, as a mere instrument of activist actions, atrophies like all instrumental reason. . . .

Notice then that while Adorno critiques seriously the autonomous of the spirit of anarchism, he also psychologizes solidarity politics in a way that makes it also fairly meaningless as a means of avoidance of abnegation of truth.  Adorno has put himself in a double-bind in left-wing politics and removed the meaningfulness of most action in the current context, rendering the situation to many a speed reader, much more eschatological than anything that would have slipped out of Lenin’s mouth.

Yet there is a point to this in which one begins to wonder if Adorno’s answer to this bind, similar to Kolakowski’s prior to him, is actually an answer:

By contrast the uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in. Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation. . . . Open thinking points beyond itself. . . .Whatever has once been thought can be suppressed, forgotten, can vanish. But it cannot be denied that something of it survives.For thinking has the element of the universal. What once was thought cogently must be thought elsewhere, by others: this confidence accompanies even the most solitary and powerless thought. . . . The happiness that dawns in the eye of the thinking person is the happiness of humanity. The universal tendency of oppression is opposed to thought as such. Thought is happiness, even where it defines unhappiness: by enunciating it. By this alone happiness reaches into the universal unhappiness. Whoever does not let it atrophy has not resigned.

One cannot ignore that whatever one thinks of this answer, it is a dramatic lowering of the bar from anything that ever left Lenin’s mouth.  Regression is the normal answer given, and yet as a concept, do not let any Marxist-academic fool you, regression is not a category that can be simply understood or demarcated as, for some strange reason, as many an academic will tell you the situation of socialist and capitalist society is ALWAYS regressing.  One has an almost inverted Steven Pinker/Pangloss “liberal modernity is the best of all possible current worlds” to “liberal modernity is best of all possible current worlds because we have regressed from prior possible visions.”  Negri and many an Italian Marxist have lost patience with this deconstructive impulse, and criticized Adorno for his lack of a positive construction.  Other friends see this as a point of failure of vision.  Some see it as bad Marxism, a friend of mine once quipped: “it’s all dialectics and no materialism” and at the end Adorno does retreat the field of battle outside of the material world and its temptations of pseudo-activity.  Regression has made that so?

But regression does imply a theory of history in which the future progressive standpoint can be known, which is why contingency is such a threat to the Adorno-influenced Marxist.  Yet as Hegel dialectics can take, if we look at Hegel’s Shorter logic,  both positive and negative forms and moves forward by positing new positives from prior situations.  Yes, Hegel thought philosophy could become objective, but outside from the eye of God, no one knows the outcome of a dialectical moment until it is passed through, contradictions sublated, and new contradictions emerging.

The negativity of the dialectic is a given, but it doesn’t end there.  Whatever you think of Lenin, thought was not a means out of resignation or a hope for a utopia, nor was it the belief that thought itself changed the world as an absolute idea in Lenin.  Thought moves through world because it emerges from it, and is in a feedback loop with it.  Therefore any thought that doesn’t change material condition as well as emerge from them is Utopian in the purely negative sense.

You can’t think your way out of a necessary historical situation.

8.

In the rush of cars outside in cool evening air calms me. I have written about a page on my short story today, gotten more house work done around my fiancee’s apartment, and went back to a politics and philosophy group I started almost a year ago.  I must admit: I am tired of the concept of the generic, non-liberal left.  I am tired of even the generic Marxian left as a concept and as a practice.  I would rather listen to the cars outside because it is about of the same usefulness.

I have already spelled out that I doubt that the teleological view of history, even the contingent or “dialectical,” teleological view of history avoids the fact that we speak as if we know what is good or possible, and we do not. We only know the probable. We can only have probable knowledge through a variety of processes.  We may call them “truth” processes.  Meta-theories about these processes, the content of philosophy and non-philosophy (to use term by Laruelle), are necessary just like science is justified in a variety of epistemological frameworks, but they cannot in any strict sense be known to be true.  Our evidence for them is in the effects.  Hence, my point about Hegel’s, History is the judge of human ideas.  These things can only be seen in hindsight, and the conservative caution about them is not unwarranted.

The problem with the conservative position is that historical contingencies do change: material conditions change, cultures interaction, events happen.  The rupture of an event changes everything, and just like the you who is a person tomorrow is not the same as a person today nor totally distinct from it, the needs of a culture do change over time.  The needs of an ecological system changes. The needs of an individual changes.  The individual is a complex system and the ecology is a complex system: neither a unitary nor a plurality.  Yet we can’t assume the needs of either scale up.  This is why the personal is political is a too reductive and simplistic to be useful.

One of the things I have noticed, sitting here thinking about it, is that I have been forced to try to defend or condemn the subject impulses of anarchists or Leninists, the pluralism of Lenin whose next moves after said pluralism were to ban all political parties opposed to him?  Or to defend Bakunin who endorsed “invisible dictatorship” and whose associations with barrack’s anarchist Sergey Gennadiyevich Nyechayev blacked his name when Nyechayev killed many of his own comrades. Nor I can defend Nestor Ivanovych Makhno, hero of so many left anarchists, who tried to ethnically purge the German Mnennonites from his city. It is not that I don’t understand that politics contains violence. Violence is a fact of human relationships. It is that I cannot make excuses for it.

To say that history has judged this harshly is to say that events have emerged that show the problems of these positions. The subjectivities or fidelities to the intention of these ideas is irrelevant, ultimately.

Don’t worry, I am not going to hand in my cards, and become a Democrat, and retire as a head of a non-profit. Nor will I take the false pretense of being a moderate: I do think violence is sometimes necessary, but these aims have historically been against real people. Marxism dominates among scholars, I think, because we can disconnect events from theories. After all, Marx only gave us critique: critique of the socialist movement (Blanquists, Saint-Simonians, LaSalleians), critique of political economy (against Proudhon, against Bentham, moderating and expanding Ricardo and Smith), and critique of Hegel and the Young Hegelians. The dialectics in Marx and Frankfurt School have only ever been negative, and in most Leninism and Maoism have only ever been justifications. That’s a huge generalization, but the incoherence of the practice indicate that theory lacked, not led, the discussion. In all “communism” states, positive political economy was given by another theory beyond Marxism. Take the Soviet example: for NEP-period and for Stalin, Taylorism. For the 1950s and early 1960s, US cybernetic theory. For late 1960 and 1970s, limited forms of social democracy. In China, you have similar issues: Mao borrowed much of his positive proscriptions from Chinese Legalism and from Stalin’s forced collectivization, and after Mao, we saw Mercentilism and development along state-capitalist lines like an accelerated form of policies from 17th century Europe. One of my friends says this because of the managerial class infecting Marxism, I go much further them him: it is from from lacking a positive vision of social organization that could actually work.

In a different way anarchists too have been primarily about opposition: to various forms of rulership, to the state, etc. Syndicalism was the only form of anarchism that I know actually developed a long-range coherent political economy, although Murray Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism did attempt to do this as well. Mostly, however, this is been active critique. Anarchist victories have been, well, small. Confederations have never been able to counter well-heeled states, nor have autonomous zones really been able to resist. Most anarchists I deal with instead of offering real fixes this, justify loses as virtues. Yet there is much to admire in the anarchist vitality and the Marxist historical rigor: much to admire and I used to think bring these groups together would lead to a way through this impasse. A lot of people believe this as it was the zeitgeist of Occupy. To be honest, I don’t think this works now.

I could go on about Social Democrats being unable to resist market forces, and left-liberals almost always letting conservatives define the debate for them.

Chastising the left alone, though, is a form of posturing. An exhausting one which hollows out one’s tactical political goals, and leaves one a husk of a person. Critique should always have an axiomatic aim: a dialectical process must be able to handle the sublation and know what it is not acceptable as an answer. Dialectics isn’t politics though, its a form of logic.

The “revolution”–which has become an over-full signifier–will not be televised. It will not be an “inner” revolution. In fact, I don’t know what it will be, but I am pretty sure it won’t be televized. I also have a feeling that most of the existing ideologically-driven left will not recognize until it hits them square in the head. Until then, we have to do the hard work: this is issue work, and its outside of electoral spectacles. Of course, we must make concessions to the societies we actually live in, but let’s not be false about it.

IF I go searching for pathology, I will find disease or possible disease, particularly if my guide isn’t anything objective. There is a point where this is a waste of time. I have issues I care about, I have axioms for what I find unacceptable: I don’t think electoral reform will fix these issues, but trying to battle this as a totality seems, well, like a recipe for failure.

History is the judge of ideas. This not mean there is some meta-historical or trans-historical meta-logic to which we will be able to have a theory of the correct idea, it can, however, show us with ideas where botched, maladjusted, and counter-adaptive. This is the way history shows us things. Anything thing else reifies the concept.

I am going to go back to listening to cars.

8.  End of Spring

There is a ideological binary opposition presented in much of the popular media for the last few decades about nature and nurture being opposed: it works itself up into the academy too with sometimes strong genetic determinist arguments–generally from scientifically questionable speculations by evolutionary psychologists–and then (admittedly rather rare) arguments from the humanities that everything is sociologically constructed (generally pulling from either Foucaultian influenced post-structuralism or structuralists visions of ideological apparatuses). Really, though, this dialectical opposition seems rooted in the early Enlightenment when both biological determinism and Cartesian special-pleading for the self set out two different visions of the human future.

I, however, increasingly doubt this move: The structural elements that wanted do deal only with the synchronic and not diachronic elements was a methodological move that gets reified into a stance that views ideas as either without a history or having a history, but biology is a historical science. It describes the development of organic life over time through processes that we have not entirely understood but have several mechanistic grasps of. This was why I always found the idea of nature problematic: nature implies as non-human totality, which seems to be special-pleading for the human species, or an undifferentiated totality, which is cognitively empty.

This has led to in re-reading Althusser, which I still find as problematic as I ever did as his hermeneutic for interpreting Marx implies that Marx either didn’t mean or didn’t understand his “true” methodology because even late works have “lingering” Hegelian idealism. This led me to take Althusser’s statement that ideology is not “ideal” but physical as manifested in the way we live and pair it, admittedly even to my mind, dangerously, with some ideas I have seen about the acceleration of human evolution. What I am about to articulate takes care of my view that Althusser’s synchronic understanding of historical materialism actually has the structure of the “means of productive forces” in ideology emerge almost without a history before there was an ideology there.

Even when I was in anthropology classes in the late 1990s, I remember being told that it was the consensus view that human evolution stopped with agriculture removing “natural” pressures from the evolutionary ecology of humans. I remember thinking though: How come Europeans developed lactose tolerance if this were true? Then I read Gregory Cochran’s The 10,000 Explosion, which is controversial and has some severe limitations even in my lay mind, but does talk about how social pressures would have genetically selective impulses and this could show up from disease immunities and, more controversially, relationships to authority and impulse control. Cochran admits that there are real limitations here and that there isn’t enough anthropological fieldwork paired with genetic testing to prove or disprove, but sexual selection in early agricultural society was exactly more extreme than in hunter-gather society since there was far more restrictions put on the survival of children, and in certain extreme examples, chieftains sometimes out reproduce serfs 1000 to 1.

Now I don’t know if we can take it as far as Cochran does, but he get to a point: Ideological and social impulses, which emerge from social arrangements in resource production and distribution actually change us physically. Furthermore, there is evidence that culture exists in any social mammal and thus emerges from “natural” conditions. This is say that both the “essentialist” view and the “social construction” view would largely miss the point: there is no dialectical opposition between “nature” and “nurture” nor does genetic determinism limit all social arrangements, but they modify each other in a feedback loop. Both the rubric of “nurtural” stances (or sociology) and “natural” stance (biology, comparative genetics) describe two different ways that human societies develop and interact. The question of dominance or innateness may miss the point: furthermore, both seem to assume that culture somehow emerges as a modern human conception out of nothing, or solely out of the means of production in ways that make “evolution” not possible. This confuses morphological differences with other differences too easily. There would be little morphological difference in modern humans because our social technologies have enabled us to stabilize our environment, but a variety of pressures socially would emerge to have influence on sexual selection.

So not only is ideology physical in the way Althusser meant as manifested by what we do and not just what we “believe,” but ideological pressures factor into to sexual selection ‘naturally” and thus have real effects there as well. It’s not eugenics or anything so crude at play here but developments from “natural” social responses because unless one believes the structures of production and the structures of society emerge ex nihilo, the social interactions come out of our biological and ecological limitations.

The dialectic of “nature/nurture” isn’t a dialectic at all. It is a false binary. Naturally.

9. Summer

Two posts on the interwebs came together to produce this:  Less Wrong, which while being meta-analytic rationalists to a point of almost obsession is still one of the best websites on logic out there, posted a piece on signaling, counter-signaling, and intelligence and the triadic moves of logic: 

A person who is somewhat upper-class will conspicuously signal eir wealth by buying difficult-to-obtain goods. A person who is very upper-class will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir wealth, by deliberately not buying difficult-to-obtain goods.

A person who is somewhat intelligent will conspicuously signal eir intelligence by holding difficult-to-understand opinions. A person who is very intelligent will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir intelligence, by deliberately not holding difficult-to-understand opinions.

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 1452. People on this site differ from the mainstream in that they are more willing to say death is bad, more willing to say that science, capitalism, and the like are good, and less willing to say that there’s some deep philosophical sense in which 1+1 = 3. That suggests people around that level of intelligence have reached the point where they no longer feel it necessary to differentiate themselves from the sort of people who aren’t smart enough to understand that there might be side benefits to death. Instead, they are at the level where they want to differentiate themselves from the somewhat smarter people who think the side benefits to death are great. They are, basically, meta-contrarians, who counter-signal by holding opinions contrary to those of the contrarians’ signals. And in the case of death, this cannot but be a good thing.

But just as contrarians risk becoming too contrary, moving from “actually, death has a few side benefits” to “DEATH IS GREAT!”, meta-contrarians are at risk of becoming too meta-contrary.

All the possible examples here are controversial, so I will just take the least controversial one I can think of and beg forgiveness. A naive person might think that industrial production is an absolute good thing. Someone smarter than that naive person might realize that global warming is a strong negative to industrial production and desperately needs to be stopped. Someone even smarter than that, to differentiate emself from the second person, might decide global warming wasn’t such a big deal after all, or doesn’t exist, or isn’t man-made.

In this case, the contrarian position happened to be right (well, maybe), and the third person’s meta-contrariness took em further from the truth. I do feel like there are more global warming skeptics among what Eliezer called “the atheist/libertarian/technophile/sf-fan/early-adopter/programmer empirical cluster in personspace” than among, say, college professors.

In fact, very often, the uneducated position of the five year old child may be deeply flawed and the contrarian position a necessary correction to those flaws. This makes meta-contrarianism a very dangerous business.

Remember, most everyone hates hipsters.

Without meaning to imply anything about whether or not any of these positions are correct or not3, the following triads come to mind as connected to an uneducated/contrarian/meta-contrarian divide:

– KKK-style racist / politically correct liberal / “but there are scientifically proven genetic differences”
– misogyny / women’s rights movement / men’s rights movement
– conservative / liberal / libertarian4
– herbal-spiritual-alternative medicine / conventional medicine / Robin Hanson
– don’t care about Africa / give aid to Africa / don’t give aid to Africa
– Obama is Muslim / Obama is obviously not Muslim, you idiot / PatriFriedman5

Now, anyone half-versed in Hegel will notice this looks like a dialectical sublation move, albeit a move that is based more on social signaling than logic.  As the author states in a footnote, often a person can be on different points in the triadic structure at different times, and no point generally has a hard frame of being right. Although the assumptions of the logic are interesting in another way, they out of hand discount a lot of socialist, communist, and anarchist politics as being anticapitalism, but between the move between conservative and liberal, the author sees the sublation as libertarian (or the meta-contrary position).   This is interesting because in the dialectical position in America this does seem to be case:  Libertarians take freedom/equality tension and favor freedom even do conservative ends.

Furthermore, it points out that there is often a lot of signaling going on in left positions that are complicated. For example, many would accuse our author of be meta-contrary even in his title of the blog (the loyal opposition to modernity), but it important to notice that the signaling here is different.  I am indicating a opposition to the dominant zeitgeists (or if you prefer paradigms) for failing to meet up to any possible potential not on the basis that they are simply wrong and the old way is better, but they for structural reasons that these will fail to live up to their promises.

This is the critique of capitalism that I hold: It is not just that capitalism is unfair or exploitative, and therefore we should go back to some pre-capitalist social formation: it is just that the contradictions in the capitalist production will lead to depletion of resources, an inability to steady-state in growth, and to massive impoverishments of the majority that it had enriched prior as their are no new markets for which capitalism to expand.   Globalism delivers the promise of markets to relative enrichment of prior social formations, but generally through the accumulation of resources into the hands of a few and thus leading to extractive economies.  Even conservatives are beginning to see this trend.

When libertarians and conservative talk about the knowledge problems markets fix, they are not wrong.  This lead to a logic of defending the early liberal revolutions from Marx and later Marxists are necessary steps.  This is also what justifies and justified  Chinese and Soviet State capitalism as necessary development since no liberal society produced a revolution that was not betrayed by liberal/social democratic forces.  Red Rosa was killed by shock troops–proto-fascists–who were invited into the briefly existing revolutionary states by Social Democrats.

So this means that while a leftists like myself must be careful of mere anti-capitalism, she must also be careful of mere meta-contrariness trying ideological decisions.  This is both actionism of the mind (in Adorno’s sense) and selfish social signaling of the Velbenian capricious consumption variety. But the last point led me  that leads me to look at is that while “liberalism” as an orientation opposed to conservatism does seem to rely both on abstract reason and orientation, but in power, liberalism almost immediately becomes illiberal. Ben at Marmalade blog has been discussing this:

This is where the real problems begin for liberals, beyond the basic challenges of organizing. Liberals are so flexible and so willing to change that they end up being prone to undermine their own liberal nature. On the opposite end, conservatives are so much less flexible and less willing to change that they are more effective in resisting what liberalism offers. This liberal weakness and conservative strength makes liberalism an easy target of anti-liberal tactics such as emotional manipulation and propaganda, especially in terms of fear and disgust which are the foundations of the conservative predisposition and moralistic ideology. Basically, when liberals are overly stressed to the point of feeling overwhelmed, they turn into conservatives.

This particular bias and typical move is interesting: the power of maintaining a moderate liberal vision and an openness to ideas actually leads to a conservatism that undermines itself. I have called liberalism the “current traditionalism” from a phrase we used in composition pedagogy about the beliefs of “standard grammar” that people believe are transhistorical but aren’t actually traditional.  Liberalism, even more than conservatism, has had massive influence on European and American society since the 1800s, and the orientation here is interesting:  liberalism as a ideology and liberalism as an orientation would have a tendency to shift into conservative modes of thinking to maintain itself, and thus would be hostile more to the left pushing it forward “too fast” and “risking everything” and thus would tend right overtime.   This would also go far to explaining how  things more.

Indeed, the liberal capitalism as the dominant intellectual category is the default position in almost every “average intelligent” contrary opinion to which meta-contrariness arises.  Hegel seems to be vindicated on structure more and more analytically, no?  This could be my own confirmation bias, but the social signaling mirroring Hegelian dialectics IS telling.  Then the way liberal position represents the “Current traditionalism” of the educated is also pretty clear.

What is clear is something is going to give because the stress of liberal positions will lead to profoundly illiberal politics.  Some of my friends who are Hegelian Marxists would call this regression in history, but I think this is regression to the mean and a conservatism to maintain it, which of course, actually undoes the attitude that enabled it.

10. End of Summer

Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence. – George Steiner

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. – attributed to Confucius

George Steiner’s speech on the central contradictions of Zionism and its relationship to the Prophet (future)/Priest (current) dialectic in the Hebrew consciousness.   This is one of the most insightful and fair understandings of the “sad miracle” that is modern Israel.  The arab spring is a bitter winter that indicates how sad the miracle has been and what the liberalization has been dependent.  There is a dialectic about the movement of Zionism which itself threatens the idea of a Jewish state and even a Jewish people.  It is not just that Israel is rooted, and is, a settler colonial state picks up on religious Zionist motives but exploits, but also is rooted in a real need for the traumized people.  The dialectical irony is there: It is the core of what made up modern anti-Jewish sentiment that also is the theory which undergrids secular Jewish Zionism, and the religious notion of Zionism opposes the existence of the very nation which is no serves as the primary population growth into.  In the diaspora, as Steiner says, the political humilation of others as torture of those outside of the community was unknown, and yet it is the basis on which Israel must be sustained: in order to survive.   Steiner says that this brutality is the price of nationhood, and it is the schism that will cause a drain a between Jews in the diaspora and Israel itself.

This brings me to another colonial dialectic: the dialectic between Korea and Japan.  Close to my life as I have Korean relatives and live in Korea, it is interesting how the invented tradition on both sides. Much of the modern notions of Korean traditions of Confucianism have Japanese imperial roots (this is particularly accelerated in North Korea, strangely), but I have not looked the way Korea changed Japan.  The ways it has was fascinating.  The master/servent dialectic can been seen in many places.

The last is the way in which the modernization of China has led to a confusion to between Post-Mao Marxist tradition, a state capitalist develoment, and a Confucian tradition which radiate from the core of development in Shanghai.  Shanghai, the site of two communes which were buried (first by the nationalists, the second by the Maoists slowly the cultural revolution), so history here is not a simple movement towards “the future” but an way in which one cultures struggles to pull to the future from current notions of the past.  This becomes really apparent in Shanghai.

To what Steiner says, “No city is so great that one should no run when it is unjust.” We are to be creatures of the air.

Perhaps then my long sojourn in Asia is a beckoning to my own diaspora, but I also know, as a good dialectician, there is now nowhere to run the movement of political economies and dying ideas, which often are not just commodity fetishs, but the digging of mass graves and the eating of cultures.

11. Summer

“Why don’t you blog more about this?” my girlfriend asks as another lantern rolls out of the plaza near Insadong neighborhood in Seoul.

“You mean commenting on flying Buddhas with weird television screens going down the center of a parade in Seoul?”

“Yes.”

“My readers have come to expect an impersonal obtuseness and a reliance of strange readings of Hegel that makes one seem hip.”

“To say ‘seems hip’ means you’re not, love.”

This was the first bit that started this reflection after seeing the fifth or sixth traditional Korean drum dance at Hoehyang Hanmadang. I avoid writing that way because there is some small solace in an impenetrable writing style and an insistence on absolute consistency over time. But there is a limit to that sort of thing when you realize that many of your readers are reifying concepts in a way that makes you wonder if you are doing it too: if you wonder this, it is probably too late. So when I talk about liberals or the left or regression, I realize that language is obfuscating and alienating. It’s part of a “discourse community” that frankly most people could not give two flying fucks about.

It also artificially lowers my own interests which are about left politics, but also the philosophy of science, ontology, epistemology, Buddhist and Confucian Studies, and poetry. While watching the lotus lantern parade, I kept thinking about objects, subjects, and the strange history of Korean and Japanese Buddhism. I kept them about how much I enjoyed a Subway sandwich after not eating them much for almost two years, and about how beautiful Korean started to sound to me, and how close Japanese sounds to it. I kept thinking about endless discussions about history and regression in which history is treated as a ontological force, like a good, which is both human and not. I kept thinking about all the reification of the idea of the left, which, like the reificaiton of religious concepts, becomes both emptier of cognitive and more full of intuitive content over time.

All these axioms can become exhausting, so I am trying to shift gears: To focus on my daily life and its context, the objects of philosophy and the limits to philosophy. More about religion and other cultural elements, and maybe less obscurity and more humor from my daily life.

You can thank a lantern of Buddha and my lovely fiancee for a reminder than even those of who spend time in highly abstract places need to be more rooted in daily life.

For that, I thank her, and move on to other notions: So coming up are more reflections on life here, more interviews in both politics and outside of it: An interview series on the Skeptic’s Movement and the Philosophy of science, a interview series on continental philosophy outside of Hegel, and an an interview series on various religious lefts as well as other things.

Also, a poem for you to enjoy, an excellent one by Gwendolyn Brooks, called “kitchenette building,” which despite it simplicity, one can feel the soft, almost dialectical build-up, of the tension between the humanizing of hope and the abstraction of dreams leading to despair. The simple rhythms build in a way that causes you to miss how much is pasting between the simpler shifts of pronouns and abstractions, which almost seem to dance between symbolic and non-symbolic uses.

12. Summer

I have talked to everyone from die-hard Eurasian (read: Russian) Nationalists, who seem to the think Putin is the walking manifestation of a meritocratic Russian nationalism that will one day rule of Europe and Asia.  Frankly, given the massive capital flight out of Russia, this seems like dreaming for  a second coming of Stalin.   I suppose one knows the future by its wish fulfillment.  As I write this there is almost monarchical pomp over Putin’s reassumption of power, and protests in the streets.   RT, which I call Radio Free US, has some great programming, but it is a Putin-friendly arm of Russian state and it good not to forget that.   Sadly, the same is true for most of the UK, and so the recent debacle involving Assuange’s show is met with the liberal critique of tepid variety: 

US cables released by WikiLeaks in December 2010 paint a dismal picture of Putin’s Russia as a “virtual mafia state”. Has Assange read them? It seems extraordinary that Assange – described by RT as the world’s most famous whistleblower – should team up with an opaque regime where investigative journalists are shot dead (16 unsolved murders) and human rights activists kidnapped and executed, especially in Chechnya and other southern Muslim republics. Strange and obscene.

There is a long dishonourable tradition of western intellectuals who have been duped by Moscow. The list includes Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, HG Wells and André Gide. So Assange – whether for idealistic reasons, or simply out of necessity, given his legal bills and fight against extradition to Sweden – isn’t the first. But The World Tomorrow confirms he is no fearless revolutionary. Instead he is a useful idiot.

But like the the Eurasian nationalists and Putin apologists that Luke Harding cannot stomach, he ultimately sees things in same jilted hope for a Cold War area unipolar world.  So why do so many leftists take the enemy of my enemy is my friend approach to politics?  It’s hard to say, but it is a simpletons move.  Still, this is what shows you who is serious in politics: the left is not neither is the right, because you see simple platitudes and not facts being marshalled for decision making.   We live in a broadly liberal movement, but not liberal-left in the way American’s understand it.  Chomsky is right to point out that if you Foreign Policy, The Financial  Times, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal (prior to Murdock), you got honest news and detailed specifics because those who are in power need that in way those who merely dream of power don’t.

NPR is an example of this: It is liberal media in both senses: in the sense that it serves soft capitalist interests and that it placates the sensibilities of the center-to-center-left liberal.  It is mid-brow/mid-cult capriciousness consumption plus decent news with a milder (but still dangerous) US-tinged corporate slant. In coverage of the French elections and the Greek elections, one could hear defenses of Sarkozy passed off as impartial:  the American left always secretly wants to be the European center right–capitalism with a human face. Although if one actually knew the rhetoric of in Sarkozy in daily life, or if one took time to see how religious the rhetoric of David Cameron was, the vapidity of the American left is the European center-right meme would be apparent.

Still, an example of the good news “liberals”  give to themselves:   Take the Planet Money podcast In A Leaderless World, Who Wins?, which is based on Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini‘s notion that “even is America is not declining, we aren’t a hegemon anymore, and despite word to contrary, it is unlikely that Russia or China will be it either as both have serious issues that largely unaddressed, and I’ll quote here instead of paraphrase:

This is not a G-20 world. Over the past several months, the expanded group of leading economies has gone from a would-be concert of nations to a cacophony of competing voices as the urgency of the financial crisis has waned and the diversity of political and economic values within the group has asserted itself. Nor is there a viable G-2 — a U.S.-Chinese solution for pressing transnational problems — because Beijing has no interest in accepting the burdens that come with international leadership. Nor is there a G-3 alternative, a grouping of the United States, Europe, and Japan that might ride to the rescue.

Today, the United States lacks the resources to continue as the primary provider of global public goods. Europe is fully occupied for the moment with saving the eurozone. Japan is likewise tied down with complex political and economic problems at home. None of these powers’ governments has the time, resources, or domestic political capital needed for a new bout of international heavy lifting. Meanwhile, there are no credible answers to transnational challenges without the direct involvement of emerging powers such as Brazil, China, and India. Yet these countries are far too focused on domestic development to welcome the burdens that come with new responsibilities abroad.

We are now living in a G-Zero world, one in which no single country or bloc of countries has the political and economic leverage — or the will — to drive a truly international agenda. The result will be intensified conflict on the international stage over vitally important issues, such as international macroeconomic coordination, financial regulatory reform, trade policy, and climate change. This new order has far-reaching implications for the global economy, as companies around the world sit on enormous stockpiles of cash, waiting for the current era of political and economic uncertainty to pass. Many of them can expect an extended wait.

In the interview, Bremmer talks about how the Chinese growth model must change, not be based on 21th century mercentilism, and raise net-GDP which makes it far more unstable than it appears now.  He points the contradictions exposed in the Bo Xilai, which of course is painted in the liberal media as a story of ruthlessness (I saw this headline in HuffPo, NYTimes, etc) and fails to mention Bo’s popularity among the Chinese Left, the fact that Aei Wei and other luminaries praised him. But the  liberal reformers (in both the positive and negative sense) have used this to push for change in China, against both the Dengish middle and the Maoists left, or at least that is what is passed along in the media in South Korea.    Bremmer has a point: there is a fundamental problem to the paradoxes of PRC’s strange blend of New Confucianism, Legalism, and Maoism with mercentilism-esque State Capitalism. Although as the London Review of books point it, it also points out that there is a move to try re-centralize as Maoism is beginning to start on a public now see the benefits:

In Chongqing there was more emphasis than in some other places on redistribution, justice and equality, and because the province was already highly industrialised, state-owned enterprises were important to its model. Chongqing’s experiment with inexpensive rented housing, its experiment with land trading certificates, its strategy of encouraging enterprises to go global: all these, under the rubric ‘the state sector progresses, the private sector progresses,’ contributed to society’s debate. Chongqing may not have offered a perfect blueprint, and it’s hard to know whether Bo himself was corrupt, but its architects stressed the importance of equality and common prosperity, and tried to work towards them.

The Chongqing experiment, launched in 2007, coincided with the global financial crisis, which made a new generation feel less confident of the benefits of free-market ideology. The policies followed in Chongqing demonstrated a move away from neoliberalism at a time when the national leadership was finding it harder to continue with its neoliberal reforms. What the Chongqing incident now offers the authorities is an opportunity to resume its neoliberal programme. Just after Bo was sacked the State Council’s Development and Research Centre held a forum in Beijing at which the most prominent neoliberals in China, including the economists Wu Jinglian and Zhang Weiying, announced their programme: privatisation of state enterprises, privatisation of land and liberalisation of the financial sector. At almost the same time, on 18 March, the National Development and Reform Commission issued a report on ‘Important Points and Perspectives on the Deepening of Economic Structural Reform Priorities’. It contained plans for the privatisation of large sections of the railways, education, healthcare, communications, energy resources and so on. The tide of neoliberalism is rising again. But it won’t go unchallenged, even when left-wing websites have been closed down. In the past ten days both the People’s Daily and the Guangming Dailyhave devoted several pages to the achievements of state-owned enterprises and the argument against privatisation.

So there is a limit to liberal honesty in the news, and the comments at the NYTimes section prove it.   What is missed that many International News carriers didn’t was this:

According to several reports, Bo and Zhou had been plotting a smear campaign against future Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while planning to install Bo as a high-level official.

So who knows if all those liberals know they are spreading p.r. related to the PRC’s politoburo.  I guess one can say that Assuage is not the only useful idiot.   But there this big trouble in big China, and the signal to move investment into India and Brazil as well as Latin America is telling.  Canada’s turning to China is telling too, but perhaps short-sited ultimately.   The one thing is true:  The 1%, to use Occupy’s somewhat vapid term, thinks in global terms in ways Occupiers, despite all their rhetoric, don’t comprehend.

While I am endorsing “Liberal” media for news, let me point you to a serious liberal podcast that I have come to like for its honest wonkiness: Bruno and the Professor is good, honest liberal Keynesianism.  That has all the weaknesses that Keynesianism does: It ignores that stagflation, not just neo-liberalization, was part of why things were abandoned: Neo-liberalization was a political project empowered by stagflation, and as Bruno and Professor point out, was often  started by Carter, not Reagan.   Anyway, their analysis of the brain-drain in Southern Europe to Germany,  explains, for the first time, what the ECB could be doing, no order explanation of the sado-monetarism adopted by the Germans was really that coherent.

Now, before you critique me with “Why are you endorsing managerialism and the state?” Who says I am, but to change the world, you must see the world as it is.  The abstractions, hypotheses, and refusal to understand managerial logic and the flows of capital that under-grid it is a refusal to be able to offer a real counter-point. To have a theory of what politics should be, one must see what politics is.

12. Still Summer

The one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws (Peirce, CP 6.25).

So-called systems have often been characterized and challenged in the assertion that they abrogate the distinction between good and evil, and destroy freedom. Perhaps one would express oneself quite as definitely, if one said that every such system fantastically dissipates the concept existence. … Being an individual man is a thing that has been abolished, and every speculative philosopher confuses himself with humanity at large; whereby he becomes something infinitely great, and at the same time nothing at all. – Kirkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments

There has been a move in philosophical circles since Marx, and most manifestly in Zizek, has been to take Hegel’s idealism, which is predicated on a formal necessary on the material being less real than the ideal form (an argument one sees as early as Plato), and this is key to the Hegel’s assertion in the longer logic:  the essential assertion that contingencies and materiality not fully “real” because they depend on other finite qualities to determine them, but Kirkegaard inverts the maxim on the absolute positing the whole as an illusion. However, the organism of the human person is, unique literally, a multiple totality of systems which are not all connected.

Something that has occurred to me is that Kirkegaard’s attack on Hegel was right, but wrong about the problem.  While we cannot ascribe our materialism, Marx turning Hegel on his head as the saying goes still fundamentally accepts the Hegelian totality but later Marxists (using the base/suprastructure metaphor) posits ideas as epiphenomenal from the stand-point of production, but then accept Hegelian terminology (as it required to see how Marx uses Hegelian abstraction in the structure of Das Kapital).  This is a problem, and it’s one at the core of misreading of Marx and vulgar economicism.

Instead, perhaps, we can realize something crucial:  The ideal is the form of matter, not just our comprehension of it. However, instead of consigning the “absolute” or the material to the less the than real, we can take them as an epistemological dialectic–the totality always breaks down into oppositions but the oppositions give form to the totality. The differentiation makes the undifferentiated comprehensible because both exist in our understanding of formal material. Mater isn’t stuff: it is the manifestation of energy, and energy here has its strict standard model of physics definition. In other words, this is not a case of the contradictions that are sublated, but the manifestation of a plurality that is also a totality.  It is the point of entrance which prioritizes either the total or the finite. It is related to the locus of understanding the emergence of a system, but a system is always, by definition, a reification of relations. A necessary reification to give one an entry way into contingency and necessity.

So I take heat from a obscure metaphysical note from Peirce:  what is meant by an effete or inactive mind?  What is the point or emergence?  How does this effect our view of politics relationship to the culture?  Or both essentially reification of the ecologies, which is itself a reification of social relations?    Is there actually a different from objective idealism and formal materialism?

I don’t yet know.

13. Still More Summer

Wahrlich, ein schmutziger Strom ist der Mensch. Man muß schon ein Meer sein, um einen schmutzigen Strom aufnehmen zu können, ohne unrein zu werden. 

– Nietzsche, Zarathustra’s Prologue, part 3

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

“All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

“Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

“Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!”

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue, §3, trans. Walter Kaufmann

“We have invented happiness” -say the last men and blink–Zarathustra’s Prologue, §5, translated Thomas Common.

Why is that so many people that like Nietzsche don’t realize that are closer to his conception of the last man more often than not? Is it aspirational? Was it aspirational in Nietzsche himself who had a break with reality in the time of his best work?

I have seen people indicate this is at play with the left Nietzscheans from Battaille to Foucault and Derrida. But why do so many “traditionalist” members of the far right fall into the category of lumpen proletariat?  A friend of mine pointed that out to me–a traditionalist friend of mine–that most of the paleoconservative and Nietzschean right didn’t meet anything like a criterion of self-overcoming either.  So it the attraction to Nietzsche itself a sign of precarious closeness to the what Nietzsche is critiquing?

Nietzsche’s whole project as the quotes I have above was aspirational: the dedication to those who would make a new man?  Yet so many who are attracted to Nietzsche seem to be the kind that could not self-overcome and don’t want to.  Foucault’s and Baitalle’s reading of Nietzsche is based on trangression and indulgence as well as epistemic unreality, but not on self-overcoming. Evola’s Nietzsche is spiritualized in a way that Nietzsche would have probably asserted as problematic.    So many young men I know attracted to Nietzsche basically use it as a means of preserving a sense of ego in the same way the slightly less intellectual generally use Ayn Rand.  The closeness to the last man  can be smelled from a distance.

Yet the project of Nietzsche was always aspirational:  Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Ecco Homo are about what could be, not what is:   In a way, Nietzsche parallels Marx dictum: philosophy is not longer to understand the world, but the change it.   Yet you see almost no one able to live up to Nietzsche’s standard or even be a subject that could live up to it.  It would not be novel at all merely to point out that Nietzsche didn’t think he was an overman, he was clear about this. So this is not a critique of Nietzsche’s thought: he is, even his opponents realize, among the greatest thinkers of the  last two centuries, but one can see Nietzscheans as often self-oblivious to their own faults.

Malcolm Bull writes this, “Where is the Anti-Nietzsche?”

Opposed to everyone, Nietzsche has met with remarkably little opposition. In fact, his reputation has suffered only one apparent reverse—his enthusiastic adoption by the Nazis. But, save in Germany, Nietzsche’s association with the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust has served chiefly to stimulate further curiosity. Of course, the monster has had to be tamed, and Nietzsche’s thought has been cleverly reconstructed so as perpetually to evade the evils perpetrated in his name. Even those philosophies for which he consistently reserved his most biting contempt—socialism, feminism and Christianity—have sought to appropriate their tormentor. Almost everybody now claims Nietzsche as one of their own; he has become what he most wanted to be—irresistible.

Bull points out that one must adopt a subhuman response and identify with the last man to  move away from Nietzsche, but if recognize the ego saving function, the want to identity with the overman (which does not yet exist according to Nietzsche) is the seductive lure.  This puts on in a strange, almost dialectical, paradox: to be willing to identify with the last man one most have the strength of ego to be willing to consider one’s own subhumanism.  This is not something the weak can easily do.  Hence the lure of Neitzsche’s move:  there is a slavery morality in trying to overly identify with master morality now.     Did Nietzsche see this himself?  It’s hard to say but there are hints in Zarathustra’s worry about his “followers” in the last two sections that indicate that Nietzsche was aware of the paradox.

14. Still yet more Summer

I have been toying with sociological data on marriage shift in the larger society, and here are some trends. The first trend is that college educated people are increasingly more likely than the uneducated to get married, according to a Pew Study. :

Throughout the 20th century, college-educated adults in the United States had been less likely than their less-educated counterparts to be married by
age 30. In 1990, for example, 75% of all 30-yearolds who did not have a college degree were married or had been married, compared with just 69% of those with a college degree.As those numbers attest, marriage rates among adults in their 20s have declined sharply since 1990 for both the college-educated and those without a college degree. But the decline has been much steeper for young adults without a college education. Young adults who do not have a college degree are delaying marriage to such an extent that the median age at first marriage in 2008 was, for the first time ever, the same for the college-educated and those who were not
college-educated: 28. As recently as 2000, there had been a two-year gap, with the typical college-educated adult marrying for the first time at 28 and the typical adult lacking a college degree marrying for the first time at Among the possible explanations for this shift are the declining economic fortunes of young men without a college degree and their increasing tendency to cohabit with a partner rather than marry. From 1990 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted median annual earnings of college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by 5% (to $55,000 in 2008 from $52,300 in 1990), while the median annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma declined by 12% (to $32,000 in 2008 from $36,300 in 1990).

But it was moderated by this bit of information:

A major finding from the above analysis is that college appears to deter marriage for men and women from the least advantaged social backgrounds. For least advantaged individuals college attendance lessened men’s and women’s odds of marriage by 38 percent and 22 percent, respectively. For individuals enjoying status in the highest stratum college attendance increased their marriage chances by 31 percent for men and women by 8 percent.

Another important finding is the pattern of increasing marriage homogamy with increasing social advantage and consistent with a mismatch hypothesis, the authors found the more disadvantaged college attendees were less likely to be matched on education with their spouse.

So marriage is increasingly becoming a classed commodity. This leads me to another thought, the way we view the present in light of the immediate (but not very distant) past, and the distant past in light of the immediate past and the present. We think, for example, the nuclear family, which its love marriage and male provider, was an American norm prior to the 1960s, but was unique to the 1950s as a social creation. On in which female property was beginning to be liberalized and liberated from assumed ownership from men, but was predicated on stronger sexual differentiation than was held prior by most people. There are a lot of factors into this, and it is too easy to play reduce it to just one idea (liberalization of divorce, predominance of love marriage, the economic need for nuclear families for increased mobility within the US, etc), but there is some evidence that married people have tended to be less social than single people and less involved in the larger community. There is also evidence, however, that marriage bonds are pretty much the only social networks that are really strong by the time most people reach their 40s.

This is all very modern. I was reading Philip Larkin’s Ardunel Tomb and then doing research on the family of the tomb it describes. The love match Larkin is talking about was a political second marriage, the countess had probably never met the Earl of Ardunal when he was engaged to her, and his first wife had died in child birth. Larkin though makes the assumption that he didn’t love her, and it that was a show but that seems problematic too. There is evidence to the contrary in the posture, rare among married aristocracy, of the tomb.

The problem is that our ideas of love are based off of love marriage, which seems to privilege the dopamine phases of human sexual interaction, which fade off in most people after a few years. However, sexual bonding between humans does lead, in most cultures, to oxytocin bonds, which may be why arranged marriages have such high satisfaction rates (but then again, it may also be because other options just aren’t common). The privileging of our notions of love to the media portraits and romantic notions which are all based on dopamine reactions, and culturally primed ones at that.

What people say about history also seems to apply to human nature, we rhyme with our ancestors as much as merely replicate them. We are objects of and subjects to history, but we also produce it to paraphrase Marx and Hegel.

The idea that human nature is eternal and unchanging privileges the present, but the idea that we are radically and unknowably “other” to the humans to the past is so discontinuous with my experience of the natural world that it leads me to see the “Chomsky” and “Foucault” positions (Chomsky, human beings are innately what they are and Foucault, human beings are completely historical contingent) as both being sort of a false dichotomy. We are social by our “nature,” and thus primed by social cues, but these cue change us. They change mating habits, change environmental reactions, and even can cause stress hormone releases with change specific manifestations of genes. We are different from our ancestors, but in very consistent ways.

So in a way, we see that marriage has always been about the production of “society” which is to say, it is human relations that reproduce human relations: not just in the form of children. So it should be no surprise how much economic changes affect it, and our ideas about love, which in turn, affects economics. One can see the pull and push here.

15. Still Summer

People who read my short stories and, more likely since more of it is in print, my poetry, or even editorials I have written, are generally surprised by the strange idiosyncratic density to way I use language in polemic and philosophical writing. Often technical in a odd way, favoring very specific uses of the word, and privileging the technical to the everyday, but in a non-analytic way, which can be infuriating. I, like a strange macrobrew made from bitters, pumpkin, and ashes of Hegelian philosophers, can be an acquired taste in this form. I know it limits my readership, and often, pisses people off. You know, fine grain distinctions that I assume are sort of obvious really aren’t obvious. It’s my fault that I can’t seem to communicate without really subtle caveats, but I can’t. It is frustrating, however, to get accused of holding opinions you don’t hold: I get read as a post-modernist, anti-science, scientistic, conservative, liberal, moralistic, immoralistic.

I think everyday language, however, is often more obscure than the difficult to parse language I use here. My poetry is dense, but in a different way: one that involves expressionistic juxtaposition and odd imagery. I suppose using convoluted syntax, and somewhat arcane, technical language is a bad habit I picked up from continental philosophy, but in also, in a perverse way, ensures that when people understand me, they actually understand me. What is frustrating though is that the assumption of understanding can’t be made most of the time.

I suppose understanding is always a relative affair.

16. Still Summer.

 “Is pessimism necessarily a sign of decline, decay, malformation, of tired and debilitated instincts [. . .]? Is there a pessimism of strength? An intellectual preference for the hard, gruesome, malevolent and problematic aspects of existence which comes from a feeling of well-being, from overflowing health, from an abundance of existence? Is there perhaps such a thing as suffering from overabundance itself? Is there a tempting bravery in the sharpest eye which demands the terrifying as its foe, as a worthy foe against which it can test its strength and from which it intends to learn the meaning of fear?”. – Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Trans. Ronald Speirs. Ed. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Lacking strength, Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her what it cannot do. But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. — G. W. F. Hegel, “Preface” to Phenomenology of Spirit

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” ― Antonio Gramsci, Gramsci’s Prison Letters

“Other dogs bite only their enemies, whereas I bite also my friends in order to save them” – Attributed to Diogenes of Sinope by Stobaeus

I am an admitted pessimist, but my gloomy mood is actually rooted in something different from the caustic cynicism that has dominated the past two decades of popular entertainment.    This is frustrating because this gloom and ironic gloom is a pessimism that trains be to identity as positively what they should probably reject in themselves.   The writers at the rather enigmatic blogger at Spass ohne Grenzen cut to what I like to call “pessimism” of the will, which masks itself as an ideology of the gleeful ,ironic every-man:

I’m so intensely tired of cynicism, and particularly with the ways new entertainment encourages emotional atrophy by proliferating the archetype of the apathetic pseudo-anti-hero to normalize feelings of isolation so people can go, “hey I feel like shit too!” Here’s lookin at you Louis C.K. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy, but maybe if we didn’t have a communal comfort-fest culture making light of isolation, people would feel more motivated to get out of it. It’s as if almost every sitcom in both the United States and the UK are working to relieve people of a guilt that should not be relieved, by giving them something to identify with when they should not be allowed to identify; “Lol that guy has trouble with empathy! It must not be a big deal because I’m laughing about it!” I started watching a Houellebecq film adaptation today and had to turn it off because it’s such a dead end. Maybe the ending would have redeemed it, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. (Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy.) I try to avoid any itch of negativity like the plague now, and I’d rather be vain than depressed. By this I mean that I’d rather this paragraph contain weak reasoning to get the point across; yes, shows about emotional detachment are “working through” something in our society. I’m indifferent to this argument regardless of its validity because it’s all been going on for so long. It’s the equivalent of Jezebel articles which amount to little more than an effort to make lonely people feel happy and comfortable with themselves just as they are. Go ahead and have that extra cookie, and turn on some Louis while you’re at it.

Pessimism of the intellect is how an intelligent person colors their glasses: they see the world as it is.  As studies that depressives are more likely to think critically and be self-honest, optimists live longer. False hopes keeps many people alive, literally.  Yet the turn of the gleeful pessimism who makes these faults not seem like faults seems like the most perverse dialectical move: Indeed, it brings the hope to the strange place.   Your negative traits aren’t negative and you are fool for seeing them as such is the the implicit ideological impulse in the gap.   This move is the inverted Diogenes:  the man who bites himself so his friends can ignore their wounds.

So I want to dream Yes to the Nietzsche’s question and ignore this the excuse function that we see in the 1990s irony and the aughts lovable failures.   We need to look at things as they with respect that what we should reject.  To put Nietzsche into the dialectical mode of Hegel:  Amor Fati most be opposed by self-overcoming and sublated into something not yet seen.  

But the yes must be larger than this: we can not help but battle the dehumanizing pessimist in our heads but we must not step their.  We cannot want to see the world in the a certain way, but must see the world as it is to change it.   We should not be merely identifying with social faults and shrugging our shoulders and accepting our fate.    Yet that is the tenor of our media these days.

Thought is not enough to overcome anything where it be a cracked means of production or over-eating or the idea of the state.  One sees this pessimism of the will from even the likes of Eric Hobshawm.   An ethic settling. Of lesser evil. Of gradual reform. Of lessened expectations.

To say the Yes to a better a world, one must see things as they are.  One must learn to say no.

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