Category Archives: Political Philosophy

Notes on domination and the logic of psychiatry and similar professions

A fool says in his heart that he has no enemies. If he is a mystic, he believes that what everyone says or does is the act of an angel (a message from God). When most people are like this, the society will have ceased to become a republic. If it is a modern society where a theocracy is impossible, it will be one whose prevailing ethos is a therapeutic and at times exclusionary psychology.

Thus, the political is opposed by the psychological. In the political life of republican societies, having a problem means either that someone is unjust or some situation or institution or other social form is unhappy. In anti-political societies, theocratic or psychological, if you have a problem, it is just about you.

Anger is the political emotion. In republican social life, being angry means holding for true the belief, which will be normally recognized by others as possibly true, that one is affected by an injustice. This is expressed as a claim, and the claim is a claim upon the conscience of the persons to whom it is expressed. If the claim is made with passionate intensity, that is not normally assumed to portend violence, but rather reveals the intensity of the angry person’s care about the matter.

Whether or not it makes sense to believe in a God, republican or political life is only possible if there is no presupposed divine order of things that guarantees the good (justice and happiness). Politics is atheist because it cannot be pious. God has always been a principle of government. The first person who knew the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, had to demand of this God that he be just. This is because justice and the good generally are contingent. God may promise it, as in the covenant, but he cannot guarantee it and so cannot be merely trusted to bring it about. Whether it comes about or not depends on the only beings who have a conscience and also exist. God is not the name of a being and in that sense can have no existence. All he can really do is serve as an object of a faith whose poetry inspires us.

I see no reason at all to think that the Jewish Halakhah (law) is invalidated by this recognition, nor our notions of the holy.
In fact, Judaism played an important role in the development of our notions of time. But these notions depend partly on contingency. All the good and all the evil that can and do happen are the consequence either of the actions and behaviors of human persons, or must be concerned the consequence of chance. This means that not only politics but ethics are subject to historical change. Indeed, an ethics partly is a response to unpredicted events that is not merely appropriate to them but is appropriate to the desire and will of actors. An ethics like a politics must be, as science, art, and love are also, constructive. It certainly cannot be reparative (or therapeutic), which is why the Jewish idea of tikkun olam, which is used often to mean perfecting the world, but literally means healing it, is wrong. There is no salvation, life is not a project of healing, which is a medical metaphor that is necessarily conservative, nor can an ethics or politics be the implementation of a plan. There is morality, but politics exceeds it. Moral codes are applied, implemented, realized, executed. Thinking, which politics and ethics do involve, is constructive, innovative, inventive. If God is a force of creation as well as revelation and redemption, then his concept exceeds him as does his work, which is really ours.

Societies cannot be healed and do not need to be. They should not be thought of as organisms and cannot be healthy or sick, only judgably good or bad, just or unjust, happy or unhappiness. Happiness is not reducible to health because its possibilities are unlimited. The good of a body is normality. Only persons and other animals have health or sickness and can be healed. That society can be healed is related to the idea that it must be defended. It is an immunological idea, and immunity, which is absence of poison or contagion, illness brought on from without, is opposite of community, which is the common, which is constructed, which has no definable boundaries, and which does not even allow of a definite form, as a body must have.

From a political point of view, notions of health are simply irrelevant. It is not a judgment bearing upon the good of a community or the justice of an action to say that the community or person is sick. A person could be sick and this not be in essence his own problem at all. This is because only “I” can define what I need or desire, and so what “my problems” are, and I too and only I can decide what it means to have them. Maybe I think my problems are entirely about and caused by you. That would be a claim that could be falsified, and could only be decided by a judge who is not me or you. If “you” or the state or employees of it can decide what my problems are, what kind of person I am, what I need, then I have no liberty and am subject to a tyranny. “Give me liberty or give me death” does not mean “Give me what you decide I need (and put me to death or allow me to die if you judge that you no longer can, or no longer want to).” A society that has rulers who decide what people need is not only a tyranny with no citizens but a state in which people are infantilized, and not because they have been judged as unworthy of adult citizenship, but merely because (medical or therapeutic, moral yet not legal) judges judge what people “need.” What anyone who is not a child or judge incompetent needs independently of what they will or choose, is a matter of total irrelevance, unless one merely wants to offer them advice. Health and sickness are as irrelevant as normality and abnormality, of which they are the forms proper to the animal body from the point of view of medical science. These terms have no other meaning and are in particular inapplicable to the mind. Were that not true, either persons would be expected by their society’s government to be right not only by the law and in terms of what they do, but right in how and what they think and in how they feel. This means that if “I” am ill affected by something, including something “you” are doing, “you,” if you are a medical authority, can give me an involuntary “treatment” (that is, you do something to me that is designed to modify my behavior or person and that follows some official protocols; medical or otherwise, we can call any such actions “treatments”), because unhappiness or disaffection are not to be tolerated, and those persons who “feel” (that they are) ill affected are effectively punished, and in this way they cannot try to do anything that would in any way (including by speaking) affect anyone else. If I have a power to affect you and you not me, than I dominate you. Indeed, this is also why in such situations if you appear to be (feel) affected and express this affection, you can be punished, because if you are manifestly affected and appear to not like it, that is “violence.” Because the oppressed often use their oppression as a weapon, as Fassbinder once said of women, you can be sure that in many such situations if the power dynamics between powerful and powerless map onto such as female/male or black/white, the victim will be punished and called a perpetrator. The basic problem here is augmented by identity politics but does not stem from it but from the asymmetric nature of power relations. In the United States it is almost uniquely the case (some of the other English speaking nations come close) that relationships of domination are not even recognized as such.

A people could declare that they are sick of the way things are, and it is the way things are and the faction of people who want it that way that need transformation or destruction and replacement, even if they in fact are happy and as healthy as anyone could be.

Wherever there are institutions of governance, there is no politics. Disagreements then that involve both persons in power and those without it are likely to involve official violence, which is never recognized as violence, punishing the disaffected for having something wrong with them as they have behaved improperly. Since disaffection involves disagreement characteristically, and disagreements are political, governmental or managerial situations always involve the implicitly coercive and potentially violent suppression of disagreement as such, which then cannot be spoken. This is what the demand for politeness is about. And the differend here (in Lyotard’s sense: a difference involving claims of injustice that cannot be recognized) also tends to be manifest in a language policing. The institution and its functionaries will have a linguistic code that those hapless persons subject to them are expected to use. It then is very important to the authorities that you use only their vocabulary and never your own. Often the terminology applies to you and names your lack, which is then quantified and used to measure your behavior in its terms; your using this vocabulary signals that you are a compliant, docile subject. You must use their terms and not your own metaphors because the terms available are defined in what is effectively their rule book, which a priori excludes all claims that would be made against these persons or what they are doing. If you use a term of your own that describes an interpretation of your own of what they are doing, they will correct you, saying, “No, it is not A but B,” and you are expect then to indicate agreement or at least not disagreement. They will most likely not tell you why they call it B or what that means; the important thing is just that you show that you respect their professional authority and understand that they tell you what is what and that is how it is. They will actually believe, because this is part of the “code,” that your metaphorical term is an incorrect concept (there are no metaphors in this world, and individuals do not have the liberty to describe what is what: that power is carefully regulated and jealously guarded).

Who controls meaning, controls the state and its people.

This means that in such institutions and in most social life in countries like the United States where most people believe in a middle class managerial ideology that accords with these institutions, as a general rule one may not say anything about anything to anyone. You can speak, but you cannot say anything. Statements are controversial; otherwise they are mere utterances and do not say or state anything because they make no claim. Utterances may be performative ones or order-words; they are often presented as statements: “This is an X” means “I am ordering you to behave in accordance with the demand to treat this as an X.” The difference is that orders cannot be contested in discourse but only obeyed or disobeyed; they are assumed true, yet in fact they are the kind of speech acts that are neither true nor false. Much professional discourse is of this kind.

Professionals usually have discussions among themselves that can involve disagreements, but managerial professionals almost never do and are highly unwilling to be transparent in what they say in terms of what it means, why they say it, and whether it is true, with persons they are charged with managing. Doctors are an extreme of this; good luck trying to ever have a real discussion with a psychiatrist in which you learn anything about how they think and why; they tend to be quite adamant in keeping you in the dark. They want to be sure you know how to comply with what they tell you to do, and will tell you what they think you need to know for that purpose, and nothing else. It is astonishing in fact how opaque many of them, and frequently if not most of the time what they say is not on the level, and may be manipulative (said only to provoke some kind of response).
Claims are of two kinds: political claims, which can be and usually are made highly informally; and those in “debates,” that is, carefully delimited zones where only persons admitted professionally to the practice of official discourse in the field, can exchange opinions about a matter.

The important thing to grasp is that in any truly political situation, one person or group of persons contests the practices and the power of the other persons. You cannot contest another practices or statements without contesting their power. Doing so in institutional contexts can only be met with threats of official punitive violence, and this will most often be legitimated by the person whose actions or statements are being attacked claiming that he or she is, and thus is being assaulted or threatened, or at least disrespected. If your statement is allowed, it will only be because you are not saying what you want to say, except by speaking in their terms. In this way, you unwittingly collaborate in framing what you want to say in their terms. Some people become stupefied or begin to stutter or seem confused when they are habituated to being directed by such professionals and try to think along the lines permitted and available to them, and this is even true when they think they are engaged in some alternative or counter-institutional practice which is at most simply parallel. The shortest route to stupidity and a kind of intestinal blockage of the creative mind is to become too habituated to what official institutions in your society have urged and made available to you as paths of thinking.

In this way, the constitutive injustice of such bureaucracies cannot be recognized. That the good is possible within some bureaucratic organizations is only because the zones of greatest intensity in which purely the procedural regulations and coded speech are involved, these are restricted, so that if it is a university they also have scholars and learning, if it is an art museum they also have artworks, etc. But it is the nature of bureaucratic organization to cause the political as such to be ruled out so that it in fact is impossible. One sign that it is absent there but not in everyday life is the relative absence in the latter of enforceable codes of politeness.

You can be sent to prison for saying “fuck” or appearing hostile to a bureaucrat, and while yesterday they might have just called you vulgar, today they will accuse you of violence. When feminists say that violence is implicit in, or the same as, aggressivity, they are enforcing a form of this. Presumably, they do not like sports, or else think aggression is permitted in them provided one plays by the rules. It is a myth that is part of the ideology of middle-class professionals that there is some of rules, stated or, as is usually the case in America, unstated so that people have to figure them out, and are responsible for doing so, and that all behavior of persons follows such rules. Some people do this in conversation: for instance, “You interrupted me, I wasn’t finished!” which is usually said with great anger, for “You are not following the rules!” There are people like this; I had a roommate like this once, a Black liberal from a very middle class background, and when he wanted to fight and win in words, he would accuse me of violating all kinds of social norms, which of course he knew and I did not, making me crazy in his eyes, and these rules are natural rules of society which fall from the sky as if from the Gods. Middle class people tend to have a police force in their mind, and they like this because they believe that if they live their whole lives by this set of rules, or believe that they do, then they will have good lives as part of the elite.

It’s funny if you pay attention to what middle class professionals and managers call “violence.” First, it is not said of what they will do to you if they want you punished, and those things are often violent in the literal sense that they involve the deliberate infliction of pain or injury on bodies in order to enforce the will of the persons executing the violence and those who commanded it (usually these persons are separate, which is why judges and psychiatrists do not normally have troubled sleep over the violence that they cause to happen). Secondly, it is said mainly of things that are not violent in fact. Your voice is too loud, you touched something or someone in the process of making a point, etc. Thirdly, these symbolic “violences” are usually named in order to legitimate the imminent violence of the authorities themselves. They need to enunciate this judgment in order to make their violence appear in their own eyes at least as necessary to counter yours.

All bureaucratic functionaries and people who think like them are hypocritical. What they accuse of they cannot be guilty of and may well be doing. It would be easy to show any unprejudiced person in most such situations that the essence of the matter is power, obedience, and compliance or insubordination. Most of the things that persons in power over you will be likely to accuse you of are things that not only could only be said by a person exercising domination of a subordinate, but that really amount in the end to nothing more than accusations of insubordination. Most relationships of this kind, between a professional and a non-professional, a functionary and an institutional client, etc., are of this kind and come down to: “I dominate here, you will obey me, or else. And you are not being obedient, and that is a crime.” Then they name the crime and it sounds like it really is one, and they believe it; such is the way of ideology.

The first person to recognize the radically contingent and thus atheistic character of true political life was Machiavelli. And that is why he is the founder of all modern political thought.

Hobbes, on the contrary, is anti-political, and Anglo-American society is Hobbesian because Lockean liberalism is a variant of it. Hobbes’s God is security. A totalizing authoritarian state can offer people security, protection, and the like. It can certainly protect and promote people’s “health,” and it can give them what they need, which can be something they want and ask for, or something the authorities decide to give them whether they like it or not. It cannot offer liberty. If there is a liberty, the state is subject to the people and not the people to it. If you were free, your doctor, for instance, would be working for you. The truth is closer to the other way around. Machiavelli’s God was liberty and she is a peculiar deity indeed.

The idea of a natural or divine or necessary order of things is what traditional political theology is about. In fact, it represents a way of thinking that is an incomplete movement away from paganism. A modern theology would have as ultimate principle only the recognition that what ought to be is not contained in any part of what is.

What all of this for American society is that it is not revolutionary. It probably is now less than ever; certainly it is become less and less so and more and more authoritarian since the early 1970s and the beginning of neoliberalism. The effect that the absence of a democratic character in social life in this country has on relationships in which one person believes himself oppressed (especially if he or she is Black or a woman) is devastating to all concerned. Because what inevitably results, since true equality and the democracy that would come with it, and make possible the only true liberty, is impossible, and people do sense this and that means: The only way “I” can avoid being treated like a slave by “you” is if I am able to treat you as my slave. (In this lies the explanation for the behavior, for example, of many Black men and women who work as security guards, or in professions that in fact amount to little more than that, such as hospital nurses. The authoritarian personality emerges in such situations as principled and angry opposition to “your” insulting or coercive attitude towards “me” (in fact, it might just be rebellious), perhaps because my exercise of domination over you is official, legitimated, I am doing my job, and there is a legislature that is elected and so all is right with the world.)

The United States of America is an anti-democratic country whose people would mostly prefer it to be democratic. Some think it is, others want it to be. It is a country that a limited revolution and whose history beginning at least by the time the Constitution was established renders that revolution and the revolutionary character of the society manifestly incomplete and indeed, we must say today, failed. There are forces that point in the opposite direction. Among them is the desire of many people to be free and to have a society in which people are free. For a merely liberal society that ties freedom to property and to independence from relations of domination cannot transform those relationships and be free as a society. It can only have individuals who are free when solitary or at least not at work or subject to any institutional authority. Neoliberalism is the ideology that says liberty is absence of authority. We can now see perhaps more than even that it only exists within democracy and that individuals are free only if a people are free, and that there is a collective liberty.

We do not need a war against the state, though the state is increasingly at war against many of us its citizens. We need to create a real democracy, which is this nation’s (its people’s) great unrealized desire. Processes of democratization do exist, and they are social movements (“revolutions” are one form thereof, in which theoretically the society, and not merely the state, are radically transformed from within), and what is essential to them is collective processes of thinking.

“No, you’re wrong!” When people can this and it is happy, not just unhappy, then there is democracy, then there is freedom.

The psychological state as the essence of neoliberal fascism

If America has become fascist, it is because it began to move decisively in that direction in the early 1970s. While neoliberalism could only mean promotion of empty notions of personal liberty in tandem with authoritarianism in the service of property, and thus the eclipse of democracy as the political was made personal, the crowning achievement of this reaction was what was announced already in the post-hippie “New Age”: the complete triumph of the psychological over the political.

In the days of punk rock, you could still be angry. In popular culture, like music, it is still not considered abnormal to be if you are black, but they all increasingly are given to understand you don’t want to be caught black while driving, or walking (who told you you could breathe?) In a society that still is a republic, whose culture is still democratic, where it is not taking your life into your hands to say anything to anyone about anything, since criticism is assumed to be assault, then it is understood that those who are angry are annoyed by an injustice. Now it is understand that those who are disaffected are mentally ill, and angry people are criminals or terrorist. Which is why Giorgio Agamben is right to note that the citizen today is considered a terrorist; politics itself is crime, and that is what the police state must suppress at all costs. The police told me when I met with them t hat they were harassing me because of the terrorist threat (which is nonsense, because in that case they would have arrested and tortured me, or threatened to do so unless I told then everything about everyone I know, but they know all that anyway and they also know very well that I am a New Yorker who hates what they only pretend to — for the terrorists in fact are in tacit league with the police state; they get off on each other). The undercover officer who met with me said that they would hospitalize me psychiatrically only if it was “a matter of life and death,” in which case it would be a matter of “elimination.” He wanted to scare me and succeeded. Veery funny. They eventually did lock me up as mad anyway, and then there were more threats, this time from the staff inside, one of whom, the social worker, made a vague threat to have me locked up in a psychiatric hospice on a long-term basis in a far-away location. She batted her eyelashes so I would know she was lying. They typically want you, I discovered, to know what they are doing, but they always say it obliquely so that they have deniability. That is the way of bullies, and bullies in general are ultra-conservative and are doing the work of the bosses. On the unit the head doctor only had one thing really to say to me: “This is a good country. And if you don’t like what I’m doing, you can (that is, I dare you to) sue me.”

The disaffected person is mentally ill, the angry person is a criminal. He is an actual criminal by virtue of the criminal potentiality we ascribe to him in our “scientific” theory. That is: Potentiality itself is evil, the ordinary people that our country’s government is increasingly at war against (many of them, anyway) have a potentiality only for evil. “Mental illness” largely means such a potentiality, and it is thought to be actual in your diseased brain. You are not punished, then, for what you do but what you are.

This bears real similarities to the Third Reich. Which was obsessed with health and sickness and metaphors thereof, it was a state with a pseudo-revolutionary will to create a health and pure national body through an immunological war against foreign pathogens. And the “mentally ill,” like Communists and dissidents, and others, shared the fate of the Jews. Who like them had been transformed into morally inferior biological deviants.

The angry person is annoyed about an injustice. But today that is impossible, because injustice has been legislated out of existence; there is only individual crime. Institutions and states and authorities cannot be unjust (that is, in their essence, in their projects, what they will to do through their “science” of management). Anger simply is the emotion that corresponds to a judgment that there is unjust that one is affected by. Now anger itself is just illness.

Ultimately, the enemies of the people are to be cared for carefully, in part because there is a lot of money in this. They are special, as all of the people are, for life is sacred, which is the hanging judge will say “And may God have mercy on your soul,” as iterating this holiness justifies the crimes of the state. This means that the poor people trapped in the net of a predatory governing agency (now largely privatized, its professionals by far the highest paid of their kind in the world and history), that we “must not be sacrificed.” Sanctity and holiness go with rituals and governing bureaucracies are full of these, they sanctify the executioner, who was never without pity. The holy or special person, says Agamben, “must not be sacrificed, but may be killed with impunity.” And that is why the Shoah was called “holocaust,” which means sacrifice (through annhilation of the victim). Don’t trample on the poor people’s human rights, especially to be preserved now that we have reduced them to animals in cages. They are special, the chosen ones, and life is sacred, there is a God, truly, above our bureaucracy and techniques. But of course, if need be, if “necessity” calls for it, we are at war (our government against its hapless people, or a great many of them) they “may be killed with impunity.”

The concentration camp of the future will be, in our new Nazism, a health care facility. This is progressive because they will care for people, so carefully that after they have taken from you everything that connects you to everything and everyone you are involved with or care about, they will wipe your ass regularly to prove to you that you can’t even do that. And it is progressive because they can run up a bill, which they legally can make you pay!, for your own systematic degradation into pure animal life in the name of caring for you sick mind and body.

Just don’t say it isn’t a good country.

In a fascist society, the disaffected are sick or criminal in their potentiality, and the angry are terrorists. In a republican society with a democratic culture, the disaffected tend to become artists and generalized anger leads to a politics. The political person is angry; he or she is angry about injustice. If you cannot angry, then injustice has been legislated out of existence, and in that case, there may be good government, as that bully doctor so proudly asserted (and I am sure, given the incomes of people in his profession in this country, even at public agencies, that it is a good country for him; and you cannot gainsay them, because these professionals see no evil, they keep themselves out of it, just as a judge has typically no clue of the depth of horror and cruelty that is almost certainly going to be experienced by the one who is victim of his judgment; if people knew and recognized what are the actual consequent res, carried out of course by others (and if they are Black or something, then the victim of their violence is expected to be angry so that they can dismiss him as a racist, for bureaucracies are so cynical that paradoxically they will appeal to every idealism, and these always go together). – There may be good government, in theory (at any rate, there will be government, meaning some professionals will rule other people, who must always want to govern themselves (before being released from a hospital, patients are sometimes asked to testify to their own measures for self-surveilling their “illness,” which could at any moment get out of hand, like becoming involuntarily excited (!)…There may be government (which always wants to be good, and its professionals have a professional ethics and think they are fair, the important is to always trust the authorities, who are in loco parentis, since the people cannot be adults who are to truly be self-governing, that is, democracy,…There will be government but not politics: No contestation, no disagreement, no tolerance for political conflict or even disaffection. Nip disaffection in the bud before it becomes dissent and disobedience: that is their strategy.

On Victor Frankl’s neo-Stoicist humanist accommodation to the Shoah

This neo-Stoic celebration of an ethics of responsibility that says that anyone can handle anything if they have enough faith, is false. Frankl shares this conventional view of God (or “meaning”) and the camps with Bruno Bettelheim and others. It announces a denial of the vulnerability (and mortal finitude) that is so much of what makes us human, in the name of the noble desire to overcome oppression and end its unnecessary suffering. It leads to neoliberalism, and is well refuted by Primo Levi in his own writings on the camps, unsurpassed for their moral realism and lucidity in describing the figure of the “Musselman,” and by Giorgio Agamben’s philosophical meditations on this in “Remnants of Auschwitz,” which stands as the most rigorous philosophical study of the Shoah to date. The truth of the matter is rather more interesting than the traditional inspiring, homiletical purpose befitting a sermon that is Frankl’s. It is the Levi/Agamben position that is more authentically Jewish, while the other and more popular position only seems to be, and in fact is closer to Christianity with its soteriology that renders ethics a purely psychological matter. In this regard, Judaism knows something that Christianity tends to forget: that man is a social and political animal.  Levi, one of the survivors who eventually would suicide (do the humanists of Frankl’s kind blame him for this sin and the despair behind it?), and whose complete works were recently made available in English translation, titled one of his books recounting his experience at Auschwitz, “The Drowned and the Saved.”  Just as one does not need a salvation to live a good life, drowning, perdition, damnation are conditions that we know, especially now, to be real enough that we can do without the moralizing.  Sermonizers, who do, or can, fulfill a useful role, may as well limit themselves to urging people to simply live the best lives they can; it is not an either/or matter such that a life would need, as in St. Paul and Luther, to be “justified.”

Holocaust Survivor Viktor Frankl Explains Why If We Have True Meaning in Our Lives, We Can Make It Through the Darkest of Times

Notes towards a Jewish philosophy after Deleuze and Badiou

Which philosopher or theorist in the 20th century is the most liberal, the freest? I think Gilles Deleuze. The African-American writer Ishmael Reed once said he wished that more Americans would look to native sources like jazz instead of to France. But actually Deleuze is the most philo-American of French thinkers (he preferred American and, oddly, even English, literature to French), and of course you cannot get a philosophy that is more like jazz than “A Thousand Plateaus” and “What is Philosophy?” (Both of which he wrote with Felix Guattari).

When I write my book “Towards a New Jewish Philosophy” I will include a chapter on Deleuze, which I hope to add to the book’s provocation since most people would tiresomely reiterate “Levinas, Levinas, Levinas, and maybe Derrida.” Sure, but are we going to opt for welcoming the stranger that we are to ourselves and the world is, and so for nomadology, or not? Set tables are, you know, oh so medieval. If the great question is the ethical one of how to live a good life, and thus, what is a life, the first principe in approaching an answer is that there is no rule book for living exactly. Of course there are obligations, and I’m ok with 613 I can understand and that are all subject to elaboration through careful study (God would withdraw any of them if a rigorous moral philosophy proved it wrong) –which beats 6000 that require a legal staff to inform you of only to avoid liabilities. If Levinas is right that God is an infinity (because Being is) and not the author of a totality, then the perfection of the world is not the eventual reiteration of the salvific plan of a Book, as even territories have no perfect maps but Being is not a territory, whatever your cosmology.

Badiou may well misunderstand infinity in relying too much on set theory. The problem with the Cantorian approach to infinity is that it is for him it is sets that are infinite, but actually any set is only unlimited in its count but is bounded and counts in some particular way, and that makes it limited, and so finite. The root here is the chaos/cosmos relation with the latter dependent on the concept or conceptual name. (A name that is not conceptual indicates a person independently of properties, and so God and so human persons, both persons without qualities). Badiou has too much faith in concepts. And yet we do not want to retreat to the antinominalism and antinomianism of, say, Buber. Badiou is a Platonist, and all Platonism refers to concepts or forms, such as images, as primary. His argument for atheism is: God is an idea of the infinite, but the infinite is really secular and so not transcendent because it is really finite. Totality and infinity may be both figures of Bigness and thus Power or Availability, and if not, what, and how? Badiou looks to ontology (theory of Being) to decide the ethical question; again, I am inclined to side with left Heideggerians like Agamben (perhaps most clearly in “The Coming Community”….)

I take some hope from the embedded tendency of the French to use the term “interesting” to indicate what is good. We Americans want the “real” or the “true” or…. (and the religious perhaps want the holy, if anyone knows what that means anymore. I think that art captured aura long ago and religion is powerless to recolonize it because of our imaginary museum and the practically infinite multiplicity of Books, that have forever displaced all ideas of “the Book” (and author, authority, or origin as legitimating Being or value). (Derrida and the other left Heideggerians win that argument, among others; and yes, this is liberating! I would feel poor if I did drudgery all week and lived for a couple hours stolen from the night of study of the Great Text. But I live in the age of mechanical reproduction and the non-scarcity of an information economy. …)

There is an emergent new paradigm. We don ‘t have it, but it is in formation. Among other things, it already can be seen to include spectacular developments that rearticulate the division between the secular and the sacred.

So anyone tells you they are returning to “tradition” and find everything there, tell them we don’t advocate not reading the classics, but — well, send them to me, to my school, or give them my site address and bid them wait ten years for the book.

The Jewish God against “his” Theory/Story (Theology) as Injustice Justification

Most discussions are impossible, because at least one of the persons will not listen (that is, consider the argument the other is making). There is no point in discussing anything if you know already that you are right.

One difference between persons who are authoritarian and those who are liberal (in the old sense) and tolerant is just that the authoritarians do not even think this is a problem.

The better part of Western culture refutes them; the larger part of its institutions confirms their view. 

Part of the problem lies with mistaken views of language. It is something more or different from a tool (for getting what one wants). More fundamentally is making sense of experience.

The Western idea of God is tied to that project. Only if that were not the case could “God” be a power that arranges and controls all that happens, guaranteeing the good as product if not process (that much of what happens cannot be considered entirely good at least without reference to the teleology of some project for which it is means to an end: This is self-evident, and the idea that one need only change his perspective on unhappiness to be happy is so patently dishonest to be unworthy of consideration). Narratival teleology and justification of what is or what happens derives from the use of tools to accomplish tasks. There is something that gets left out, something crucial for human happiness, that is left out in that scheme.

One thing unique about the Jewish idea of God is that he was a figure of promise, and even of justice as project, as in the idea of liberation, and the temporality (“history”) that underlies it; but he was never quite a figure of justification. There is no Jewish theodicy. Theodicy is pagan, or at best, technological. Totality is a form of perfection, which is a property of created things, objects of the labor of our hands.

The conclusion to the book of Job is both less and more and less than a justificatory theodicy; God’s argument there is not that Job’s suffering was really happy or necessary, a false idea he well knows Job has too much moral courage to accept.

Rather, it is only that the book about it tells only the perhaps complete story of the experience of one man, while there are elsewhere other stories of losses and gains, and from an “absolute” point of view, the story of the world and its people is larger, if not more fortunate. It is as if God were suggesting to Job that he consider this, perhaps because it might give him something else to do besides complain (or seek reassurance). And maybe too God needs Job to patient with him, as the task of creating a world that is just and happy is unfinished, and Job has merely been given to understand something of the injustice that one has to start with.

Piety without Authoritarianism: The Lesson of Judaism

What above all makes Freud a Jewish thinker is the way he distinguishes morality and moralism. Morality is inseparable from the desire to understand (which is as fundamental a motif in the Oedipus story as is his finding himself unwittingly entangled in horribly displaced familial relationships). Morality is always a truth or discovery or the fidelity to one, which is why morality needs literature and the arts as moralism does not.

Thus, this distinction is related to that between knowledge and thinking. Heidegger says that guilt is “wanting to have a conscience”; to look at a situation from a moral point of view is to declare that something is at stake with regard to the better and worse as manifest in the experience of ourselves and others living int he world, and so something that we must care about are responsible for doing so, and acting without a conscience if we do not. Knowledge tells you what is the case in the matter at hand so that you know what to do; thinking asks what it means, what are the practical implications of the facts in the matter at hand. These are not the same thing exactly. In part because one is merely applied, implemented, enforced. 

Authoritarian moralists are usually explicit about this: “I don’t think, I know.” And they know the truth about you: it is a guilt they ascribe to you that has no content. (To ascribe an essential guilt they must ascribe an essence, but it need not have a more than referential or classificatory meaning). It’s not something you can change, or need to understand. It is no accident that by the time of Freud’s discoveries, it was already newly but well established that certain prejudices (such as those affecting Jews, homosexuals, and in America Blacks, who were said to lack intelligence as they are now often said to lack authority) had been biologized.

The displacement from something superficial, uninteresting, and potential deadly onto something that can be the impetus and object of rigorous thought is a replay of Judaism’s founding principle that God or the holy is not where you thought he was but somewhere else. So much was monotheism was made possible by idolatry that it derived much of its energy from various refusals of immanent and obvious truths and norms. And it transformed mere authority (face it, anyone can hear a “still, small voice”; there are madmen who do and then commit crime sprees) into literature. There, the same problematic exists whenever one wants to interpret the text, say what it means: then you have the author as causal principle. The others go on reading these ancient texts, with no regard to their untranslatable poetry or the labor of interpretation, as rule books for living. That isn’t reading, because it isn’t thinking, which is why it is not an ethics.

The three founding utopian beliefs of “the West”

The Western world has two great utopian desiderata:
1) Everyone is a thinker, and so too the republic is one of participating citizens who are thinkers.
2) Thinking is both mathematical and poetic.
The Jewish world added a third:
3) The world can and should be just and happy because everyone loves “God.”
If only we knew what that meant. (See therefore, (2) above).

A Kantianism after All (after theology, psychoanalysis, and other thoughts)

A Kantianism after All

Injustice is not really a matter of who it is done to; it is in essence a matter of what is done.

While it is the nature of my sensations and thoughts (together, my “experiences”) that they are mine and be recognized as such, as Kant proves in the transcendental deduction, nothing concrete in an experience of perception or language is essentially private and uncommunicable rather than general. No one (personal or sentient creature) can have an experience that I cannot understand sharing only the description or expression of the feeling and not the feeling itself. That is why we can have “empathy,” which only exists in the arts of imagination and thought in language that are theater, the novel, cinema, and perhaps painting and photography, mimetic arts all, and not music, which is essentially expressive, and pure “feeling” without “reflection” or “thought”. And this is what gives imagination and thought their powers and interdependence, and why mimetic art is both identical to and different from “life.” Which also means that theatrical arts can never attain either pure authenticity or performativity. It is also why it was said that “God” is “one” and not an “incoherent multiplicity” (Cantor, Badiou) or unsythetizable manifold (Kant). Or rather, “God” is one precisely because “He” (It) can and must be, which is so precisely in a second time of recollection because in the first moment what is is scattered, fragmentary, incoherent. It is the unity and generality of thought that depends upon the incoherence, particularity, and haphazard (not willed) character of Being qua what happens prior to thought. That is why Freud thought that traumatic experience (which may be the event as such, not always given as miracle or grace, as Badiou sees to think) is paradoxically given as an experience that is not experience, or (re)cognized, except after the fact, in a time that is, like time as such for us, displacement. The poet/musician Patti Smith expressed this precisely in terms of thought as mastery, which supposes the unthought or unsaid and the unmasterable in experience: “Got to lose control, got to lose control, and then you can take control.” (Self-dispersion must be repeated, its count is multiple, but that of the declaration is singular; affect, not said but only sayable, is repetitive, thought is singular and so universal; that is, the singularity of the said). To say that the thinkable is universal or general is to say there is no possibility of experience that exists only for some persons and not others. If more people recognized this, there might be fewer transexuals, but alas, you can share the experiences of different kinds of bodies vicariously or virtually, but if you think that mind must be strictly tethered to body, your situation will be very much that of a fatality. That is ultimately why it is a logical truth that there can only be either universality (socialism) or “every man for himself” and “the war of all against all” (barbarism). And it is because language begins with an implied universality that it destines us to impersonality. Freud’s maxim should be reversed, and this is an ethical truth: “Where ‘I’ was, there ‘it’ (certainly not ‘we’, not even ‘all of us’) must be discovered.”

Immortality exists in form, not “spirit” (mind). Things we do can be immortalized by historians or those with memory if they are sufficiently memorable. The things we make are immortal in principle if in being mechanically reproducible they are separable from their material supports. A human animal body is itself a material support in this context. Since all that is required is the continued persistence or possible manufacture of machines capable of representing them, as language has the characteristic that a text is independent of all particular material inscriptions or performances of it.

Indeed, it is probably because texts are unrepresentable (independently) supports of performances that authors are thought to bear this relation to texts and artworks. The authority of the author to determine the meaning of a text is a principle that simply reiterates the idea that a text has an intrinsic meaning that is what authorizes all of its particular interpretations.
(Talmudism and all hermeneutics, legal and literary, such as their institutions are constituted, is based on this seeming paradox; an originally authority is a regulative idea that is posited as presupposed; interpretation will never quite find it, but will and can find only displacements of it, since it is unrepresentable, but it must suppose the possible construction of such a truth as a discovery, its invention as a finding or coming upon (in-venire).  Which is to say that it is the practice of commentary that calls into being the idea of the authorial voice.

And so Shakespeare’s works will probably survive as long as there are any beings capable of learning to read and understand them. The more unlike the men and women of his time those beings are, the more the understanding of the works will be scholarly rather than strongly situated. No matter.

The God of the chorus: community without tragedy

A closed society will appear to be one without tragedy, but actually it will be one with nothing but tragedies in which it is the chorus that has the last word. It will pass itself as comedy, but it is incapable of this also, because both tragedy and comedy are made possible by hubris, which is individual experience that is heterogeneous to the normal, and in such a way as to constitute a new truth incompatible with and greater than the normal, a normativity that is constituted through a work of thinking by a subjectivity that places itself at risk in order to question the given, that finds itself faced with a world it dares to judge inadequate rather than merely judging itself (as with Judeo-Christian “sin,” which is not hubris because it has no truth and cannot create any), and so problematizes the given rather than enforcing its norms. It is a thinking that is constructivist rather than representational. Representational thinking represents truths about how things are, including morals (not ethics, which is always constructivist, never merely given), that individuals must adapt and conform to. It reduces what ought to be from what can be, what is possible, and what can be imagined, to what is, and thereby also shifts transcendence from the projection of possibility to an authorizing origin of the given state of things (the usual metaphysical idea of God, misconstruing his most important quality in Western thought, which is the temporality of possibility and hope in a world that is (as in Judaism) constitutively imperfect. The point of view of the chorus is always that there is a given way that things are, and must be because that is how they are, and everyone knows this as a law in their heart, as the common sense, which is justice only as conformity to nature. History is impossible from this standpoint for the same reason that tragedy, comedy, and the novel (and cinema) are not: Experience no longer exists because it is never recognized, and people merely have behaviors of interest to those occupied with the scientific management of personnel. In this society, freedom will be the choice among commodities that differ only in their ornamentation as branding, and will be conceived as the absolutely undetermined ex nihilo acts of individuals with no history or situation. Such a society will have no creative workers, only enjoying consumers. Experience will survive only as therapy. Then, as in Christianity, what you think, experience, and do is only about you, as if we were each a solus ipse. Than it will be said alternately that society does not exist and that you must adapt to it. Christianity put its individual salvation in place of tragedy, philosophy, and democracy (which form a complex along with friendship and love: friendship as the conversation between citizens engaged in thinking about the common matters or res publicae), love as the interrogation of self, other, world, and relationship of the lovers). The heir to Christianity is the post-romanticist culture of therapy. Everyone is expected to work at getting right with what used to be called God, and this only means to become happy, or, let’s face it, contented. This is your duty as subject, when you are subject and not citizen, and don’t forget, Christianity was a religion of empire, born as accommodation to it, drawing on Hellenistic philosophy in an imperial age, and soon becoming the official religion of that empire. The chorus is always right, except from the point of view of the Pascalian wager on a different future that we can be passionate in wanting. Say no to spirituality and perfecting your individual self; say yes to politics, art, and the love that they embody and the risks of these engagements. On the Day of Judgment the Accuser will present some list of your acts of hubris, of the ways in which you were mistaken, but the only real way to live a life wrongly is not to think you are above error but to want to be and succeed therein. Damn perfection.

Nation of thugs, an essay in blaming the victim

A little over a year ago, a roommate threatened me with violence in a discourse plainly analogous to a threat of rape. I eventually was able to get him to leave, but when I told certain professionals of this, both female, one an hispanic hospital social worker fond of batting her eyelashes to show me she knew she was lying, and the other a white woman at a mediation agency, they both reacted with threats that could be activated by them in the event that I could not handle it myself. Did they think I was lying, or were they just relying, perhaps unconsciously, on a macho ideology to the effect that a man must be able to handle anything, and if he cannot, he is to blame.

I did not tell either woman that he was Black. We can imagine what they would have done in that case. In addition to being guilty of being unable to handle by myself a threat of violence, I would be “racist.”

My therapist said it is unfortunate that I am a man and not a woman, as were I woman I would have gotten sympathy. Everyone wants to help women in situations of difficulty, and to tell men in situations of difficult to man up and handle it. If you cannot deal with it, you’re not a real man, and may be suspected of being a criminal yourself, or an “incapable” who is crazy, which is effectively the same thing. Women in difficulties are supposed to be comforted, men are supposed to be challenged.

Which is exactly what this angry Black liberal was saying to me. He didn’t like me and had spent months harassing me to get me to see what a horrible person I am. He could have left but chose to stay for the satisfaction of being able to that and prove himself right in his own eyes and if possible, and through whatever violence, mine. He grabbed me by the arms and said, “Does that bother you?” No, I replied. “Well, how about this?” and he threw me against the wall. Then he said, “Now you what I can do.” Yes, mister, and more than that, I know what depths of evil and horror people in general are capable of. He was letting me know that he was in charge, he was master now, because he had a fantasy that, being white, I was trying to enslave him, and thought that the only way not to be another man’s slave is to make him your own. The deal was that, understanding that he is master and can hurt me, he’s going to fuck me (he was in fact gay), and it all depends on me how it goes. He can fuck me gently, and might prefer that, as long as I am “good” and don’t get angry and fight back. For then, if I do, he will fuck me hard and violently and I won’t like it. He was making a clear threat of some manner of actualized or merely threatened violence, and in a way clearly analogizing rape.

That social worker and that mediator were both activating America’s medieval ideology. According to which, at least for men, might makes right. If you want to prove that you are in the right, you have to use or threaten violence. That is what that man did with me, and he was a liberal, who thought he was in the right, and had a fantastic theory according to which I had wronged him, because, as he said, I said things that (because they were critical) “hurt his feelings.” And black men are so deficient in self-respect, he wanted me to believe, that they can and should extort it from white people, by any means necessary. For we all know that this culture and its leaders have long advocated violence, and it is not part of a politics that aims to change things in the country, but only one that is a respect extortion racket. Of course, he himself criticized me in many ways, unrelentingly, with his withering contemptuous moralism.

When I lived in France, one thing I noticed is that if you stand on a subway platform for one minute in Paris and then at another time in New York, you can see at a glance that the Americans, men and women, white, black, hispanic, and others, all seem to be saying with their body language, “I’m tough, so don’t nobody fuck with me!” This attitude is largely absent in Europe except among a smaller criminal class and the racist and nationalist far right.

The white woman at that mediation agency in Manhattan is pretty nice. She did what so many Americans do, and what this roommate was doing to me big time: Refusing to say what you actually think, refusing to respond to what people say if they are foolish enough to say what they actually think, and engaging in pure manipulation, with everything you say or everything that really matters part of the manipulative game. Game theory has replaced rational discourse.

This is a nation of thugs, and the liberal protect them. Because they have their own agenda and are equally corrupt.