Category Archives: Against Psychiatry and the Culture of Therapy

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.

The eclipse of interiority? Note on Freud and the century

The massive influence of Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis ought to have led, along with increased literacy, to an increased cultivation of a reflective interiority. But instead it joined with consumer culture in making possible the sexual revolution. (Here as elsewhere art offers a solution, because it is both enjoyment and thought.)

On the utility of obedience as path to contentment

Humanistic psychology and all its avatars is just an ideology of the professional and managerial elite in a business society. The common error is the belief that there is some ethics that will enable you to be successful, and that that is all you need. In Biblical terms, that makes you a Noahide, one who only wants to save himself and perhaps those close to him. And yet “professional ethics” that tells you to care about the (poor) people affected by what you do is of course no answer either. There is no answer. And yet that does not call for despair. What it calls for is recognition that we are participants in something like a history, an open temporal process (it does not follow a line laid down in and by the past) within which we can and must dare to want and work towards what is utopian in the sense that it does not presently exist at all. If in the midst of this you want to successfully manage your own life, you will reduced to one of the available forms of conservatism. The only sensible way to negotiate that is to give it less than your full confidence. All these solutions have the contingency not of imperfect knowledge (which assumes a model of epistemic perfectibility) but of the true that is also false. 

Nothing should be more suspect than contentment, though of course every lack thereof can be punished. People are not supposed to Lack but adjust themselves to a Being that is a plenitude.

Thus, a hospital psychiatrist said to me, “This is a good country. And if you don’t agree with me, you can sue me.” He dared me to sue him because he knew that he is a one percent professional representing state authority and would probably win because the relevant “facts” would be so constituted, and already are, so as to prejudice any court in his favor.

He was also revealing that I was being punished for being disaffected and naming my disaffection through a political judgment that he wished to simply disallow. To him, “this country” is either good or bad in its entirety and essence, but that is absurd, and is a caricature of what I was actually being punished for. I was suspected of anti-American activities and even an anti-American personality. This was made explicit by an admitting psychiatrist who demanded (he said he was “welcoming” this) that I “be American” with him. What could that possibly mean?

I was suspected of being a malcontent and punished for this. I preach the gospel of discontent theorized and politicized.

Any relative contentment worth the name or the price must be a way of seizing a fundamental discontent.

Against “mental health” (rev.)

To be ill is to be not well. To be not well is not in the first place to have a disease in the way that a cancer is a disease: a part of the corporeal self has within it what may be considered a foreign body destructive of it. More fundamentally, disease is malaise, malady, malediction. Malaise is being ill at ease, uncomfortable. In French, la maladie, a term dating from the thirteenth century, originally meant to be troubled in soul or mind. Malediction, which also means curse, is to be ill-said. The damned are ill-said by a singular voice whose authoritative pronouncements have necessity and are not just some stranger’s opinion, like that of hostile critics if you are an artist. The modern world invented new forms of damnation… Liberty of the mind is the situation when people’s actions, statements and works can be judged without they themselves being judged. Americans worry far too much about being ill-said as persons. It’s like we are all afraid of rejection and get angry and cry “prejudice” when we think we are.
As it implies a culture that is no longer ad hominem and arts and ethics of impersonality, the Americans don’t really have it in any very reliable way.

What kind of God insists we be untroubled and happy? The Prophets were not untroubled; they faulted kings and people for not being troubled enough, as the world they lived in was troubling.

Strictly speaking, the concept of mental illness implies that everyone has it, and more importantly, should. And so it is meaningless. No human being is ever perfectly undisturbed and at ease. In fact, we are the creatures who are uniquely ill-prepared to live in the world we were born into, and we never really solve this problem, though maybe one reason we all must die is the danger that otherwise we might eventually think we had done so, perfected the world in our instance. In Western culture, as opposed to that of Buddhism, tranquility has never been a dominant virtue. No one should want to be perfectly at ease (the God we are mythically said to be reflections of certainly is not, if we trust the literary texts where he figures most authoritatively). The thing is to be troubled in the right way. Then we could have things like art and science, and not just technology, and politics and not just administration. We could have tragedy. Certainly the formidable and strange (“deinon”) character of humanity in Sophocles’s Antigone does not include not being bothered by anything.

But we understand malaises wrongly. Our therapeutic sciences have made illnesses like cancer their guiding metaphor. Or demon possession and exorcism. Something is wrong with you, and it must be cured or treated so that its expressions are limited or prevented. Our ideas of mental health and illness are immunological. They are securitarian. They are an ideology of war befitting the national security state, that is always at least implicitly at war against its own people, in a war that is fought as if it were bringing peace and happiness to all. They consider illness a dangerous threat or risk to be countered, contained, and managed. Every tyrant claims to love the people, which is supposed to be what makes him a legitimate ruler; and what if he does? Love is not dominating and being dominated, despite what many religious people think.

Along with this goes the eclipse of practices of cultivating “knowledge, insight, and understanding,” the first desideratum in the Jewish daily petitionary prayers. We think everyone can want and have these things. But our principal institutions of management do less than ever, and the truth is they never did much.

Most professionals reduce insight and understanding to knowledge, which does not require thought, though always demanding you speak their language, use their jargon and acknowledge the meanings they give it; for power is always partly the ability to impose a language and thus a manner of thinking on the subjected. Nothing will annoy a bureaucratic professional more than your insistence on using terms of your own that are common in the language of the society through not from their profession or organization. And it will not help that you can explain what you mean. Meaning in bureaucratic contexts is given by definitions, and definitions are legislated, they are law, and so the jargon they insist you use (including describing yourself as possessing the Lack they name; in other words, your must show deference to their understanding of Being and acknowledgement of the justice of their power over you by acknowledging the applicability to you of their statements about you. Like all authoritative statements and texts, they permit interpretive explication and application, but not semantic or epistemic doubt, for having been declared by a licensed authority, they are true beyond question. Everyone knows you cannot argue with the boss. Otherwise they will think you are denying your truth, which is their set of names and descriptions for you. The worst thing you can do is suggest that you do not acknowledge the legitimacy of their authority; every bureaucratic institution that is a part of a totalizing system of domination will label such miscreants with something analogous to the sin of pride, which always means thinking you are outside the Society of the Just, and thus the scope of their power. Always this is the ultimate and one unpardonable sin, that of pride, placing yourself above the law, outside society or the community, beyond the reach of legitimate authority. Rule number one is that everyone is a subjected subject, and you must never deny it. Even I must obey my own bosses, says your boss; we are all slaves of the institutional machine; obedience is the rule here. If you deny it, just who the hell do you think you are? Above the power that is universal? Blasphemy, apostasy, treason, insanity, reversion to the old faith and laws. You are a sinner and must confess your sin; every regime of toleration must be intolerant to those who refuse it; “intolerance of intolerance,” liberals say, imaging themselves Hegelians for whom truths are always negations of untruths just as in the mind of the warrior the good only is war against or suppression of, like St. George slaying the dragon, evil. The solider can be empty of mind like Buddha (ask the Japanese); he lets the enemy supply the matter and he goes work on that.

At root we can see that the semblance of a democracy of understanding of ourselves and others has been abandoned. Maybe in philosophy phenomenology was the last gasp of a subjectivism that insistently valorized personal experience, and asserted that everyone is entitled to their experience. It’s funny to have to put it that way. But the “deep” experiential modern self from Montaigne to Proust by way of Shakespeare, the modern novel, and so much else, seems to have been in eclipse for some time by our audiovisual media culture of immediacy. A cult of the obvious over that of wonder, the former calling for implementation and the latter for thought.

Though it is true that the immediacy of the image does not doom cinema to being advertising or propaganda, for the immediacy of the image can be compelling (to action and affection considered as closed and not the opening of a problematization; what you are feeling then is a truth you must confess if you are one of the ruled and may refer to if you are a ruler; in the West, power and domination are representational) or invocative, as images that evoke wonder in a temporal sequence can also situate that wonder as a kind of thinking, though juxtapositions, the implicit juxtapositions of allusions, or a question of the meaning of the image; cinema just does this in different ways than the novel. A culture of immediacy need not be one of the obvious. The obvious is the evident when its appearance is not needed or redundant. When something is all too obvious, remarking this is a rebuke, for aside from pedantry, why say it? Strong, silent ruling men and women only speak as enforcement (when the statement is revelatory or “true,” pointing something out that must be done or taken account of) or manipulation, when the statement is not true or need not be, perhaps is not part of Wilfrid Sellars’s game of “giving and asking for reasons,” since the point is to use a statement that is not meant to be sincere and revelatory not to evoke a more accurate seeing of a situation, but to provoke, typically in a reactive manner, a useful response; then, as in Foucault’s theory of power, people unwittingly serve the regime even and especially when they are resisting and think themselves opposing it). The evident is the truth that becomes obvious once it is seen, and is something that cannot be doubted and so is, as it were, frozen in time. The paradigm of the evident truth is a correlation of a statement with an image that exhibits what the statement says and thus shows that the statement is true. Curiously, this is a problem that not only has haunted philosophy in the form of the traditional “correspondence theory of truth” (I have written on this elsewhere, in a piece available on my blog), but that can be shown to be beset with inextricable unsolvable paradoxes, because two heterogenous modes of presentation are being said to be the same: only, yet not even, the right image will corroborate the statement. But there is no clear protocol for identifying “correct” images unless it is that they in turn correspond mimetically, as in traditional representational painting, to the “look” of the things and space of the world they depict. The true image is an image of a real image. But in fact all images have a reality effect that lies in their immediate and evident presentation of what the present as they present. It is tempting to say with some Heideggerian phenomenologists that truth is the revelation of the real through the things themselves showing themselves as themselves, as if authorial agency in its divine absoluteness is now removed from author and placed in the thing or work or text, so that it, as in self-management or autonomy, “shows itself,” as if the things in the world qua visible someone possess an agency directed at our experience and understanding. This is an origin imminent in the things rather than transcendent and prior to them; the modern understanding places transcendence temporality not in an irretrievable past but the always imminent possibility of a different yet redemptively familiar future. This is possibility as such, and its object is what various contemporary philosophers have called “the event.” In the end, that only is obvious that is the statement one has no wish to question because it would mean breaking with a habit that calls for the performance of an expected action invoked by the statement. Language is either thinking or order-words. Thinking is not representational; all of contemporary philosophy since Wittgenstein and Heidegger are in agreement on that. Thinking is always a process of producing meaning and truth out of the given, not of appropriation and distribution of products of thought as commodities for use or consumption by subjects supposed to know. Truth is not represented but constructed. Writing was introduced for governmental and merchant record-keeping and then appropriated by the older and universal practice of storytelling. I regret to inform you, sirs, but my poem is stronger than your list of names.

This is why psychoanalysis and psychiatry are ultimately incompatible. Psychoanalysis takes the brain for granted while focusing on language, for your mind is your brain on language. Psychiatry takes language and thought for granted and focuses on the brain, its chemical interventions targeting it directly, so there is nothing for you to understand. But note that when understanding and thought go, so too does learning and change. Neurochemical drugs are used not to cure diseases but to control symptoms. Psychoanalysis, because it works with language, is inescapably literary, and is also inseparable from its literary foundations in tragedy. Its central myth is not of parricide and incest so much as the desire to understand and its inextricability from a tragic moral blindness. But our society, or at least its governing apparatuses of financial, legal, and medical professionals, no longer has a need for tragedy, and so has abandoned the modes of experience proper to both tragedy and the novel. The typical novelistic hero is a bit of an antihero and takes from tragic heroes an irremediable social alienation. The novel has no chorus and it is not the tale we all tell, as with epic, nor a singular set of stories and statements of ethical and moral truth that we study and comment on; it is not “the Book.” It is more like a set of uncertain discourses about our certain stories and our uses of them. If tragedy and comedy set individual against state of things with the implicit promise of reconciliation, the novel will not hear of this. It isn’t even really about individuals so much as the form of life, which it is represents critically through forms of spoken and written discourse.

Ancient theater existed in a relationship to law and medicine. But storytelling had already broken with bureaucracy. Its reach has grown (look at universities) when it needs to be cropped back down to manageable size. And not because art is the true salvation or world of the spirituality we lack and seek. These concepts have little meaning today. And in any case, the novel and cinema constitutively lack the relationship to law and medicine that theater, because its focus is on individual characters revealed through performances requiring unities of person and presence, will always still have. Giving theater always a politics as well as a morality, but the novel and cinema (which share the feature that the texture of a presented world in principle always overwhelms and is primary in relation to the presentation and criticism of characters). Theater’s great question is what is the relationship between ethics and politics in situations of social conflict presented via conflicts between persons. The novel and cinema raise this question in an impersonal way, with consequences for our ethics and politics.

The mental health industry treats all deviance as illness, which it no more wants to cure than it wants to end crime; rather, the strategy is to take no steps to alleviate the causative social conditions but profitably and punitively treat the people who are designated criminal or mad. And ultimately these two categories become indiscernible as medicine takes over from law and medical judgments are made without the participation of the targeted person that he still ostensibly has in courtroom trials, though those are being eliminated too, as now 99% of all persons accused of a crime are railroaded by prosecutors into plea bargains by threatening them with outrageously long sentences if they dare to go to trial and lose, as all but the wealthy usually do.

What all this means is that for years we have moved towards and are now solidly within a governmental regime that is authoritarian. What Trump’s election has done is simply to announce this fact and the intent to wield this despotism openly and blatantly.
The regime of governance (including all that Marxists call “the state”: the legal, medical, corporate, financial, media, entertainment, educational, religious institutions that effectively govern the society through their professionalocracies) is anti-democratic and involves the rule of persons and not of law. Everyone who is incarcerated medically is the target of a generalized state of emergency that can be applied to everyone who can be called abnormal, which is everyone who is noticed, which is everyone.

There is a state machinery that enables functionaries of our government to kidnap anyone and lock him up, for any length of time they please, for any reason or none at all, and then to warehouse them, at their own (enormous) expense, after taking from them everything they have that connects them to their world: friends, the ability to go places and meet people, reading material of one’s choosing, the ability to use your laptop to write, the ability to keep and make contact with people online, the ability to watch the videos or listen to the music of one’s choosing, etc.

Make no mistake: This is done to punish. As Thomas Szasz has pointed out, almost everyone experiences it as punishment. And it can be done to punish one not only for being deviant or disaffected, though they are smart enough to know that dissidence like crime begins with disaffection, but also politically dissident, as was done in the Soviet Union.

Psychiatry vastly overreaches its possible competence, for: If there were a total theory of everything in the sphere of the studies of human persons and collectivities, their habits and discourses, it could not be a neurological and computational science of mind. It would have to pass through the mind’s expressions and forms of self-understanding.

Hegel was doubtless compelled to write a totalizing history of art and its philosophical significance because his idea of dialectic is phenomenological in this sense: An understanding of an other (person, collectivity, artwork or text, social practice, etc.) is an understanding of their subjective world via their articulation of it and its meaning for them. “Spirit” for Hegel is the social practice of understanding Being (the world, one’s self, one’s society, etc.) by understanding how an Other understands it. And this understanding must center around reasons. A good rational explanation of what You or They are doing can only be a good account of your or their account of what they are doing, and these accounts are always rational in explaining certain phenomena in terms of certain principles that appear to justify them. This means that I do you a violence if I think I can explain and give the meaning of what you are saying or doing in a way that ignores the meaning you give it. It would violate a principle of charity. Our legal and medical systems both do this. And that is why medicine cannot understand the mind. At least not without massive reliance upon artists and poets and philosophers and theorists. But their, our, truths are too big for doctors, lawyers, business owners, and managers, and they point in a different direction. It is philosophers and poets who understand the world more than people in any other profession, because their desire is to understand. This is not the same as knowledge, which in itself only really ever serve projects of mastery.

If ideas have meanings at all, they cannot be the property of specialists, nor are they merely given by their being represented in dictionaries of received ideas and terms legislated as authorized in terms of conformity to certain criteria of identification. As in psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. There are no truths that can simply be applied. Even if the epistemological questions (“is this really true?”) are considered satisfied for the time being, the hermeneutic ones never are. If ideas have meanings at all, they open onto inquiries that do not only unfold and elaborate these meanings as applicable to the case or matter at hand, but they also reciprocally placed in question the hypothesis that is the starting point. Unless the ideas are just implementations of a rule book. In that case, those who implement it are functionaries and not scientists.

When a society is dying, its reason is one of the first things to go.

Against “mental health”

To be ill is to be not well. To be not well is not in the first place to have a disease in the way that a cancer is a disease: a part of the corporeal self has within it what may be considered a foreign body destructive of it. More fundamental, disease is malaise, malady, malediction. Malaise is being ill at ease, uncomfortable. In French, la maladie, a term dating from the thirteenth century, originally meant to be troubled in soul or mind. Malediction, which also means curse, is to be ill-said. The damned are ill-said by a singular voice whose authoritative pronouncements have necessity and are not just some stranger’s opinion, even that of hostile critics if you are an artist. The modern world invented new forms of damnation… Liberty of the mind is the situation when people’s actions, statements and works can be judged without they themselves being judged. Americans worry far too much about being ill-said as persons. It’s like we are all afraid of rejection and get angry and cry “prejudice” when we think we are.  As it implies a culture that is no longer ad hominem and arts and ethics of impersonality, the Americans don’t really have it in any very secure way.

Strictly speaking, the concept of mental illness implies that everyone has it, and more importantly, should. And so it is meaningless. No human being is ever perfectly undisturbed and at ease. In Western culture, as opposed to that of Buddhism, tranquility has never been a dominant virtue. No one should want to be perfectly at ease (the God we are mythically said to be reflections of certainly is not, if we trust the literary texts where he figures most authoritatively). The thing is to be troubled in the right way. Then we could have things like art and science, and not just technology, and politics and not just administration. We could have tragedy. Certainly the formidable and strange (“deinon”) character of humanity in Sophocles’s Antigone does not include not being bothered by anything.

But we understand malaises wrongly. Our therapeutic sciences have made illnesses like a cancer their guiding metaphor. Or demon possession and exorcism. Something is wrong with you, and it must be cured or treated so that its expressions are limited or prevented. Our ideas of mental health and illness are immunological. They are securitarian. They consider illness a dangerous threat or risk to be countered, contained, and managed.

Along with this goes the eclipse of practices of cultivating “knowledge, insight, and understanding,” the first desideratum in the Jewish daily petitionary prayers. We think everyone can want and have these things. But our principal institutions of management do less than ever, and the truth is they never did much.

Most professionals reduce insight and understanding to knowledge, which does not require thought, though always demanding you speak their language, use their jargon and acknowledge the meanings they give it; for power is always partly the ability to impose a language and thus a manner of thinking on the subjected. Nothing will annoy a bureaucratic professional more than your insistence on using terms of your own that are common in the language of the society through not from their profession or organization. And it will not help that you can explain what you mean. Meaning in bureaucratic context is given by definitions, and definitions are legislated, they are law, and so the jargon they insist you use (including describing yourself as possessing the Lack they name; in other words, your must show deference to the understanding of Being and acknowledgement of the justice of their power over you by acknowledging the applicability to you of their statements about you. Otherwise they will think you are denying your truth, which is their set of names and descriptions for you. The worst thing you can do is suggest that you do not acknowledge the legitimacy of their authority; even bureaucratic institution that is a part of a totalizing system of domination will label such miscreants with something analogous to the sin of pride, which always means thinking you are outside the Society of the Just, and thus the scope of their power. Always this is the ultimate and one unpardonable sin. Rule number one is everyone is a subjected subject, and you must deny it. Even I must obey my own bosses, says your boss; we are all slaves of the institutional machine; obedience is the rule here. If you deny it, just who the hell do you think you are? Above the power that is universal?

At root we can see that the semblance of a democracy of understanding of ourselves and others has been abandoned. Maybe in philosophy phenomenology was the last gasp of a subjectivism that insistently valorized personal experience, and asserted that everyone is entitled to their experience. It’s funny to have to put it that way. But the “deep” experiential modern self from Montaigne to Proust by way of Shakespeare, the modern novel, and so much else, seems to have been in eclipse for some time by our audiovisual media culture of immediacy. A cult of the obvious over that of wonder, the former calling for implementation and the latter for thought.

Though it is true that the immediacy of the image does not doom film to being advertising or propaganda, for the immediacy of the image can be compelling (to action and affection considered as closed and not the opening of a problematization) or invocative, as images that evoke wonder in a temporal sequence can also situate that wonder as a kind of thinking, though juxtapositions, the implicit juxtapositions of allusions, or a question of the meaning of the image; cinema just does this in different ways than the novel. A culture of immediacy need not be one of the obvious. The obvious is the evident when its appearance is not needed or redundant. When something is all too obvious, remarking this is a rebuke, for aside from pedantry, why say it? The evident is the truth that becomes obvious once it is seen, and is something that cannot be doubted and so is, as it were, frozen in time. The paradigm of the evident truth is a correlation of a statement with an image that exhibits what the statements says and thus shows that the statement is true. Curiously, this is a problem that not only has haunted philosophy in the form of the traditional “correspondence theory of truth,” but that can be shown to be beset with inextricable unsolvable paradoxes, because two heterogenous modes of presentation are being said to be the same: only but not even the right image will corroborate the statement. In the end, that only is obvious that is the statement one has no wish to question because it would mean breaking with a habit that calls for the performance of an expected action invoked by the statement. Language is either thinking or order-words. Writing was introduced for governmental and merchant record-keeping and then appropriated by the older and universal practice of storytelling. I regret to inform you, sirs, but my poem is stronger than your list of names.

This is why psychoanalysis and psychiatry are ultimately incompatible. Psychoanalysis takes the brain for granted while focusing on language, for your mind is your brain on language. Psychiatry takes language and thought for granted and focuses on the brain, its chemical interventions targeting it directly, so there is nothing for you to understand. But note that when understanding and thought go, so too does learning and change. Neurochemical drugs are used not to cure diseases but to control symptoms. Psychoanalysis, because it works with language, is inescapably literary, and is also inseparable from its literary foundations in tragedy. Its central myth is not of parricide and incest so much as the desire to understand and its inextricability from a tragic moral blindness. But our society, or at least its governing apparatuses of financial, legal, and medical professionals, no longer has a need for tragedy, and so has abandoned the modes of experience proper to both tragedy and the novel. The typical novelistic hero is a bit of an antihero and takes from tragic heroes an irremediable social alienation. But the mental health industry treats all deviance as illness, which it no more wants to cure than it wants to end crime; rather, the strategy is to take no steps to alleviate the causative social conditions but profitably and punitively treat the people who are designated criminal or mad. And ultimately these two categories become indiscernible as medicine takes over from law and medical judgments are made without the participation of the targeted person that he still ostensibly has in courtroom trials, though those are being eliminated too, as now 99% of all persons accused of a crime are railroaded by prosecutors into plea bargains by threatening them with outrageously long sentences if they dare to go to trial and lose, which all but the wealthy usually do.

What all this means is that for years we have moved towards and are solidly within a governmental regime that is authoritarian. It is anti-democratic and is rule of persons and not of law. Everyone who is incarcerated medically is the target of a generalized state of emergency that can be applied to everyone who can be called abnormal, which is everyone who is notice, which is everyone.

There is a state machinery that enables functionaries of our government to kidnap and lock up, for any length of time they please, for any reason or none at all, and then to warehouse them, at their own (enormous) expensive, after taking from them everything they have that connects them to their world: friends, the ability to go places and meet people, reading material of one’s choosing, the ability to use your laptop to write, the ability to keep and make contact with people online, the ability to watch the videos or listen to the music of one’s choosing, etc.

Make no mistake: This is done to punish. As Thomas Szasz has pointed out, almost everyone experiences it as punishment. And it can be done to punish one not only for being deviant or disaffected, but also politically dissident, as was done in the Soviet Union.

Psychiatry vastly overreaches its possible competence, for: If there were a total theory of everything in the sphere of the studies of human persons and collectivities, their habits and discourses, it could not be a neurological and computational science of mind. It would have to pass through the mind’s expressions and forms of self-understanding.

Hegel was doubtless compelled to write a totalizing history of art and its philosophical significance because his idea of dialectic is phenomenological in this sense: An understanding of an other (person, collectivity, artwork or text, social practice, etc.) is an understanding of their subjective world. “Spirit” for Hegel is the social practice of understanding Being (the world, one’s self, one’s society, etc.) by understanding how an Other understands it. And this understanding must center around reasons. A good rational explanation of what You or They are doing can only be a good account of your or their account of what they are doing, and these accounts are always rational in explaining certain phenomena in terms of certain principles that appear to justify them. This means that I do you a violence if I think I can explain and give the meaning of what you are saying or doing in a way that ignores the meaning you give it. It would violate a principle of charity. Our legal and medical systems both do this. And that is why medicine cannot understand the mind. At least not without massive reliance upon artists and poets and philosophers and theorists.

If ideas have meanings at all, they cannot be the property of specialists, nor are they merely given by their being represented in dictionaries of received ideas and terms legislated as authorized in terms of conformity to certain criteria of identification. As in psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. There are no truths that can simply be applied. Even if the epistemological questions (is it really true?) are considered satisfied for the time being, the hermeneutic ones never are. If ideas have meanings at all, they open onto inquiries that do not only unfold and elaborate these meanings as applicable to the case or matter at hand, but they also reciprocally place in question the hypothesis that is the starting point. Unless the ideas are just implementations of a rule book. In that case, those who implement it are functionaries and not scientists.

When a society is dying, its reason is one of the first things to go.

Coping with psychiatrists: Summary of an indictment

Psychiatry does not know its bounds. These doctors are experts on only one thing: the science of how the brain works and how it can be modified by chemicals. But they pretend to be able to judge on everything, including all possible human behaviors every possible statement (which can only have the meaning to them of a symptom of your illness — so don’t say anything that is not necessary; mention the symptoms, keep your opinions and thoughts to yourself!). They should be required by law to stick within the bounds of what they are trained to do, and they should not have the right to do to you anything in their power just because it seems right in their judgment. Their faculty of judgment is not well developed, their understanding of how people think and feel and behave is extremely poor as they have not studied literature or the arts, and the number and percentage of the population that should come under their care should be a fraction of what it now is. They should also be paid a fraction of what they are now paid. And they should be required to take the Hippocratic Oath. To be a doctor, you should need to show that you care about people and have some understanding of them. I had a psychiatrist who when I told her I am a writer, she said she had never had another patient who was a writer before, and that she would like to see my writing out of pure disinterested curiosity. I believed the first statement and not the second.

Preliminary reflections on socialism, politics, and our tyranny upon reading Kundera on Kafka

The point of many criminal proceedings is to find that the accused had some personal and essentially infantile motive that was displaced onto his act.  It may be then be said that he is mentally ill, but the real question here is not immaturity but concerns the public/private distinction, which much of contemporary social life and politics refuses or aims to abolish.  To have acted in a way that you may have thought justified but that is really just about your own problems is be revealed as an idiot and thusly shamed.  Some people are quite vulnerable to this, and they are rightly called fools.  There is a kind of totalitarianism, which exists as a tendency even if, thank God, it can never be fully realized, in which the individual artist will be forced to struggle to prove that he is not a mere madman.   Maybe the solution philosophically speaking is to rearticulate the public/private distinction in the age of near-total surveillance.

Before there were psychiatrists and mental illness, there were madmen, and madness was linked to folly and thus to lack of wisdom or prudence.  That is why Dostoevsky’s Russia had “holy fools,” and Jewish culture had its concept of “meshugge.”  Folly is not sanctioned because it precedes the modern absolutist state.  Indeed, in French “la folie” means both madness and folly and you can love “à la folie.”  To the extent that all notions of madness have always partly meant (a) abnormal and (b) disorderly, consider that American jazz was based on notions of the organization of experience in sonic textures that are quite foreign to classical European ideas of order.   Madness in the Renaissance (including that of Shakespeare) had a problematic relationship to reason but was not merely excluded in and by it.  Reason only becomes exclusive of madness or folly when it is purely Appollinian and excludes passion.  There is a tendency in German culture in particular, as well as European culture generally, to think that, and I know of this intimately, but it is an idea that was long contested, and of course partly by German romanticism, which is to say in a culture where order/passion was a structuring opposition.  French also has the concept of the mentally ill person as “aliené” (alienated socially), and surely there in this is a problematic legacy of French ideas of “society” that found their way into social science with Durkheim and have an origin in Rousseau and in the fact that the Revolution did not aim to end political absolutism, as in America (that was Jefferson’s aim, but Hamilton’s faction triumphed in the Constitution and finally with the Civil War), but simply democratized it, since modern republicanism in a way is a democratic absolutism.  This has had many benefits and may be the principal key to explaining why in a variety of intellectual fields, France at least in the last hundred years, has proven prodigiously productive of highly innovative thought in a way that has largely escaped the English-speaking mind on both sides of the Atlantic.  (Americans are kind of like aggressively militant Englishmen, refusing their moderation along with their irony, which can be quite bitter.  This probably is what has made us so more creative).  I think a writer friend of mine has a key to how America could eventually become more democratic and have more liberty again: The only thing you can join, he says, is the republic of aliens.

The police know that fools are those who do not understand how things are.  Once on the Berkeley campus, a cop thought I was both a fool and gay, and so he said, “Do you want to feel my gun?”  Cops are soldiers, and soldiers respect other soldiers and despise fools.  This raises the interesting question whether they despise civilians, in foreign lands or our own.  I think names matter, and most people who are called fools, mad, insane, or mentally ill are better called just — citizens.

And what is the citizen?  He has rights and duties defined by laws.  And he is part of the society, with which the state is identified.  The state must be identified by most of the people as legitimately representing them and ultimately and in principal identical to the “people” or “nation” as otherwise the state will lose legitimacy.  Then it can only rule by violent force and intimidation.  I can admit that our state (the term in social theory, particular in Marxism, is broader than government and is more like all the institutions of governance or simply all the institutions) sometimes seems to me nearly to have lost legitimacy at least in my own mind.  If the police are worried about me as they indicated they were, they would probably like it if I said that.  At the time of my encounter with them, I had circulated but not yet put up on my blog a story in which my character, upon his release from a week in a psych ward, said “I hate America.”  Is that my true position?  No, because I don’t know what it could mean.  It would be like a Bolshevik in Czarist Russia saying “I hate Russia.”  This is a mistake not only for moral and strategic reasons, but because it is impossible to be clear about what it means.  I don’t burn flags or advocating doing so for reasons not unrelated to the fact that I don’t worship them.  If you question your relationship to the state and question its legitimacy, it will have representatives or partisans who will remark your questioning your relationship to the state but think this places in doubt your legitimacy, not its or theirs, which probably cannot be made to disappear, while you can be.  But since they want me to focus on my own state of mind, and they have already made it clear that I can be declared by them to be not a writer with something to say but a mere crazy person who is dangerous and must be controlled (or harassed and threatened with horrible punishments if I get out of line), let’s do that.  What is the best state of mind that I would legislate for myself and anyone in my position or who shares my view of this country and the world and the situation in them at the present time?  First, to refuse intimidation is to refuse their authority internally.  This is to attribute contingency to the state of emergency that I sometimes feel as if I am living under, and wonder if persons like me are being, or can be, subjected to, particular surveillance (and harassment?  Such as threats of prosecution, of psychiatric incarceration, or….), doubtless because of something particular to us that they will say is either a criminal disposition or a mental illness (or are these forms of the same thing?) but that for me should be recognized as it is to my friends, as a different kind of potentiality altogether.  The potentiality to do my work as an artist, in the instance writer (I write essays in or about “theory” sometimes, but I insist that scholarly and scientific work are ultimately also “arts,” and not because art like the heart to Pascal has reasons or ways that escape reason, but because of the way in which for the artist self and society are intertwined.  A maxim: Refuse magical thinking, and so interrogate or work out your fears, other passions, and thoughts, but at the same time assume the actual and not just potential validity and meaning of all of your experience.  This results from the adoption of a phenomenological and hermeneutical rather than representational paradigm, and something most Americans who are aficionados of science do not know is that philosophy of science today is not an empiricism of collecting (and storing in an archive) objective facts.

If they can say you are mad and no one stops them, they can destroy forever your chance of writing or making art or music.  It is probably even more difficult to write a novel in a psychiatric hospital ward than it is in prison, particularly in America.  For one thing, unlike prisons, these hospitals do not have libraries.  I had a hard time securing writing paper and pencils I could use to write.  The first time, they made their rationing of this difficult enough that they could punish me when they suspected me of insisting or resisting in what I take to be their discernment of a kind of what the French novelist Nathalie Sarraute calls a “tropism”: a barely perceptible hint of some emotion.  The second time, I was forced to ask the social worker for paper, and of course social workers do not help people get anything they want, they give orders and otherwise act very coercively.  The first time she gave me on request a 90 page downloaded copy of Racine’s Andromaque from the French national library.  She may have wanted me to appreciate her largesse.  I intended to use the blank back side of the printout for my writing, though I find it almost impossibly hard to write with pencil and paper instead of on a keyboard, as I have been doing since I learned to write.  They confiscate your possessions on arrival, and you apparently cannot have a computer or cell phone.  When I asked if I could check my email, she uttered a firm “No!” in a tone that resembled what the hospital nurses and orderlies will all use in telling you to stay very clear of the sacred zone that surrounds the exit door.  Women in these positions will often show hostility when you ask them anything at all, as her colleague did when I approached her in the hallway to ask if I might speak to one of the social workers about a matter (not saying what it was).  You may get the feeling they are enforcing some primal Oedipal propriety like mothers telling an infant son that he cannot touch her there, or simply saying, “What do you want of me?  Don’t you know the Law of the Father?”  This is in keeping with the general project of infantilization they subject you to.

Certainly they will not allow you any unsupervised and unregulated contact with the outside world.  Which means that if I were writing or studying anything personally and wanted to interact with a public or with other writers or scholars who share my interests, that would probably be prevented, but if not, it would be controlled by them.  The second time I asked merely for more paper, and she made a point of informing me that the hospital has limited resources and cannot afford more than a tiny bit.  So I was given only ten sheets of paper.  Since printer paper costs between 5 and 10 cents a page, she was begrudging me any more than 50 cents to be spent at suitable intervals determined by her and not my needs as a writer, out of the $2,000/day they were going to charge me (or presumably an insurance company or the city taxpayers, as the hospital is run by a city-owned corporation).  So I must relearn the laws of Oedipus and Austerity.   You owe and cannot have.  It happened that on the back of the 10 sheets was printed a set of admission procedures for an inpatient long-term psychiatric facility which just happened for some reason to be in Fairfax County, Virginia.  My sole connection to that is that my father lives in Fairfax County.  I think we can presume she knew that.  She never mentioned the document she had given me, and I am sure would have denied it then and would do so now.

One kind of harassment works in this way: You are threatened with something in such a way that you and they both know what they are threatening, but somehow or other, in the language they use, which might be allusive or implicit, or in what they do, so that they can count on you understanding very clearly what they are threatening you with but not being able to call them to account for doing so.  That she would bat her eyelashes at me confirms to me that she was lying.  Bullies often do this: If you call them on their shot, they will turn it against you, and you will understand that they want you to know that they can use your statement about them to do you further harm, and they know that they are lying and actually want you to know that too.  They want you to be intimidated and all the more so in knowing that you are powerless to do anything about it.  In other words, I’m the boss here.  The bully cannot relinquish his position of power, which depends on your recognition of it, but also on his ability to prevent you from the turning the tables discursively so that he might fear exposure.  That is, bullies don’t like to be recognized as bullies.  If you say, “You’re harassing me” to a bully, he will reply, “Ha! He thinks I’m harassing him!”  He will rely upon the expectation that you will not believed by anyone else, even though you know he will achieve this by lying.  In this way, legitimacy is reduced to what passes for such, and so the corruption of authority often occurs through its transformation into the harassment of the bully.  This is possible anytime the institutional hierarchy is so structured that the person wielding official power can easily forget that this power is subordinate to the laws and social equality of citizens in a republican society.  And it is then an easy step to the imposition of that forgetting.  In America, this is facilitated by the fact that professionals generally understand that they don’t have to answer in any way to the people they rule over, but only to their own professional confraternity and the ethical norms proper to it.  Rarely has any managerial professional ever even replied when I have asked their reasons for something they have said or done in my regard, and when they do reply, it may just be what they want you to hear, or it may be a personal attack on you, as if to say, “How dare you challenge my authority?  Are you prejudiced against my background or just trying to tell me my job?”

Psychiatrists are the worst in this respect, and a psychiatric hospital inpatient will get very few words and no answers from his doctor.  You could easily mistake them for dimwitted and barely educated people, since even when you ask them about their appraisal of your condition, they will only tell you what they have packaged for your consumption, like the patient version of prescription information you can find online.  They may well figure that the details are highly technical matters of their medical science of biochemical neuropsychology.  Certainly nothing they will say about you is a matter for discussion to which you are invited.  Indeed, nothing you say will be taken seriously in the usual sense that when a person says something to anyone about anything, it is understand that he is making a claim about something important that might be true, and to understand this, and him, you must understand what he means, in his terms, and why he says it.  But that is impossible; everything you say is to them evidence about your condition, which is understood to be a mental illness before they even meet you.  The only questions will be about the diagnostic category, which they usually arrive it in less than two minutes, preferring always the most extreme ones they can think of that might fit you, and perhaps what they should treat you with.  If they are trying to decide whether or not to involuntarily incarcerate you, you have little chance of winning, and no hope whatsoever of doing so by making any kind of argument.  All you can do is be as calm as possible, answer truthfully but minimize any admission of personal difficulties, try to behave like the upper-middle-class professionals they themselves are, and hope they think you are normal enough.  But of course they are prejudiced at the outset to assume that you are not, and that it is an emergency.  If you have been brought to an emergency room, than your condition is an emergency by virtue of where you are, as if architecture was character.  The fact that psychiatry has largely abandoned belief in psychotherapy makes all this worse, because it means they do not care about educating you in any way; your treatment does not depend on your understanding; it is as if you had a brain but not a mind, or mind were the expression of the brain, impacted by social life but not really in essence and destiny part of it.

Judging someone to be a criminal or to be a madman have in common that the person is now placed “outside society,” and of course the judgement accomplishes this, but claims to be representational of a truth that lies wholly within the condemned person (condemned, or damned (a synonym), mean ill-said, and just judging is correctly or properly – or authoritatively – saying ill of someone).  They will place you outside society because they believe you already are.  But the criminal’s exclusion is partial compared to that of the excluded madman.  Both essentially have no rights, and those they do have will likely only be recognized on paper, as happened in my case.  That social worker was threatening to end my life as a writer.  She did not say why, and I infer she wanted me to be left guessing what it was I was supposed to do or not do.  This was also the behavior of the police, who had told me they knew I am a writer, that they suspected me of wanting to live the sweet life and not recognizing that there is an critical state of emergency in my instance and that I had better address it, that they legitimated their concern with reference to the terrorist threat that they certainly know I have nothing to do with (otherwise they of course would have detained me right away and questioned me about my connections, thoughts, whatever, instead of doing what they did), and that “someone” might “say that” I am “schizophrenic.”  By coincidence, a short time before I spoke to them, certain people in my acquaintance began acting in a strange manner that in retrospect I can only recognize as harassment designed to drive me to either temporary real madness that they could use to legitimate a declaration that I a dangerous madman who warrants their particular concern, or to wonder if they are part of some conspiracy directed at me (one of them did say things blatantly suggesting this, and I think too blatantly, but that is the surest clue that the purpose was not to gain information about me or directly oppose any project of mine as a writer, but rather essentially just to harass and intimidate me partly by encouraging me to entertain various rational or irrational (and easily exaggerated) fears).  I have a lawyer’s assurance of this: If anyone was doing this intentionally and knowingly in conjunction with the police (which we can suspect but not know), than they will try to use any talk about this on my part to declare that I am paranoid, and therefore truly mad, and then they can use this to try to incarcerate me again.  And I have that social worker’s gesture to remind me of what it is, or one thing that, the relevant authorities who might be in a position to want to threaten this, want me to know will be in store for me if I am not careful.  They expect me to hew a line whose contours are not easily discernible.  But since we know who rules this country and what they want, and we know something about what they are concerned with and what they say are.  They are concerned with actual and potential politically relevant opposition to their rule and their projects and purposes; meaning in my case surely that I fall under the category of writers, artists, and intellectuals who are suspected of being political radicals; anyone who knows much about me will know this, as it is no secret.   And what do they say are concerned about?  As with me, they will claim to be concerned about the “terrorist threat.”  This surely does mean I face some dangers.  In accordance with a common logic of harassment, they may want me to know this, and be afraid.  And they hope that I will make a false move that they can exploit for their purposes.  To live under a tyranny, as writers like me at least do, is to have a difficult working life because one must balance the demands of wisdom or prudence with those of courage.  It is not enough to have Joyce’s “silence, exile, and cunning”; in a time of social crisis, the intellectual love of God requires the courage of a Moses, not the wisdom of a Solomon.

The fool does not know that what he does is wildly imprudent or has a raison d’être that is purely idiotic, and may not even care.  Such folly can also be called naivete, which is the position of the innocent outside his family, in a world where people may seem, or be, cruel or indifferent as they do not have to love him.  Political notions of social “community” based on a fraternal sharing of a form of life represented as a project, as in some forms of both Christianity and socialism, attempt to take some minimal elements of familial life and legislate them as universal norms.  If the defining contradiction of the modern republican nation-state is between universality and particularity, a reflection of this might be that between citizen and friend, or the familiar and the strange.  If law’s moral presumptions mean making it sacred and not merely positive, it will evoke affects, and enforce distinctions between fundamental categories like this whose ultimate untenability will render them tenuous.  Manifest failures will then drive the interrogations and inventions of art and thought as well as the crisis-management of moral judgment and policy.  But policy-making knows it is imperfect, while moral judgment always claims some connection to God.  We would be better Jews and Christians (etc.) if as a society we were more atheist.  Our greatest liberal political leader since Lincoln, Martin Luther King, said people should be judged by the content of their character.  But that happens all the time now and is one of our biggest national problems.  Juries basically decide if they think of a person virtuous or not, and doctors can have someone detained in a carceral facility that they pretend is therapeutic (there are scant signs of this) if they think the person has a criminally abnormal personality.  This is a paranoid Oedipal moralism (on the part of state officials), and thus a hypertrophy of a familial paradigm.  What is wrong with patriarchy is not its gender but the idea of authority in it.  Our society is a business society that believes only in getting things done, ruled by a professionalocracy of people trained in the scientific management of the populace, and whose judgments are considered true by virtue of their authority, legitimated by their professional competence.  This means that in the final analysis, when the bottom line is represented, all institutional life in this country tends to be authoritarian, and this is typically legitimated through assertions of the rights of members of historically marginal demographic groups to participate in “leadership” (in an idea that dates from Luther, domination that normally does not appear as coercion; making sure that it does not is much of the function of the socialization of the professional middle class), or through aspersions cast on the mental health, and thus moral competence, of the social inferiors being judged.  The bottom line is always either what you owe us monetarily as a debtor, or your obligation to obey us, since we are part of a bureaucracy with a hierarchy.  Of course, they may say, “I obey too, everyone must,” to remind you that in bureaucratic social life people are equal (although some more than others).  Modern societies could be egalitarian because they were bureaucratic, and this was made possible by the French Revolution.  Napoleon’s project was accomplished in Europe 130 years after his own failure, with the end of the last world war.

We all want to live in a world that is liberal and democratic, and the old model of intensive democracy through the self-management of local communities of citizens and workers (this was called participatory democracy, and its purest representative may have been the Israeli Kibbutz) is less enchanting to most people than it once was.  (Other forms include the worker’s Soviets in Revolution Russia, in principle the Soviet collective farm and certain aspects of Maoist China.  But also the New England Town Hall, which preceded and contributed to the American Revolution, and workers’, tenants’, and consumers’ cooperatives.  Hannah Arendt thought the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was this tendency’s last stand.  The American Students for a Democratic Society of the 1960s paid lip service to this idea in their name, and Occupy Wall Street and France’s Nuit Debout movement made use of it in their meetings and assemblies, but they were “social movements” and not obviously models for the organization of an entire society).  The reason local participatory democracy cannot fully model the future is that it is based on a logic of economic scarcity and thus on labor.  Participatory democracy is not bureaucratic, but almost all functioning organizations are.

How a society can be egalitarian, liberal, and democratic when it is also bureaucratic and industrial (dependent on the generation of a distributable surplus of wealth, and the production of goods and services for the satisfaction of needs and desires) remains an unsolved political problem theoretically and practically.  The Trotskyists think that this is a problem that solves itself when the people (workers) have attained power as a class and the government represents them.  I think that they are mistaken in thinking that we know how to solve these problems.  Related to this is the even larger problem that no one knows exactly what the better society of tomorrow that we can wager on and fight for (and should and must) will look like.  This is more than an ontological truth, as there are specific aspects of the way the world is today economically and otherwise that, in part because some of them are quite new, add to the reasons we would have had already to call into question profoundly the likely contours if the future we or our descendants could live with or even live in.

I suggest one proposition for an ethics suited to the future and to the hope of the abandonment of the police state: The artist Joseph Beuys said that everyone is an artist.  I think that this is the alternative to the proposition that everyone is mentally ill, or, what is equivalent, that everyone has personal problems of social adjustment, living contentedly, being successful, etc. that destine all of us to spend our lives searching for truths and answers about how to live a good life.  In that case, in the broadest sense of the term, everyone must be continually, throughout their lives, in “therapy” in some way or other.  Even reading literature and enjoying art and music can be therapy.  This is like the German pre-Nazi romantic nationalist idea of “Buildung”  (self-formation or education as a life project, or one of maturation).  But the therapeutic society is not an alternative to the policing society; indeed, this just is self-policing.  It is psychically a form of the old idea of self-management.  The alternative to the police/therapy state is the society of artists.  This will be the only true republican and democratic society because it is the only one that is really based on liberty, equality, and fraternity and the idea of the citizen, as distinct from the subject.  A totalitarian and/or authoritarian state could very well be one devoted to the Health and Well-Being of its citizens.  The Third Reich was, or claimed to be; that was a major part of its ideology.  New Age Orientalism, which is a fetishization of Chinese and/or Indian antiquity, is certainly compatible with what the Chinese government calls “capitalism with Asian values.”  But the  idea of the artist in modern culture is not that of the Chinese literatus but comes from Western culture.  It is political whereas classical China’s ideology was merely governmental.  It linked the idea of health to that of order by way of harmony.  The modern idea of the artist that was first worked out in Europe is nothing of the kind, and at least since Aeschylus the art produced within it has always been intrinsically and essentially political.   This is incompatible with the idea of a society ruled by doctors and in which democracy with its agonistics and antagonisms is replaced by the support group.  If everyone needs a soul doctor to manage his life for him, then not only are we not free, but much worse, we all become infantilized.  The therapeutic culture inculcates the desire for that infantilization and enjoyment of it, and that is its function.

And if you don’t want this, they may threaten you with it, as they have done with me.  That is the kind of society we live in.  I don’t think it can endure for many more years.  Maybe the only real question here is how painful will be the transition.

Legislated folly: Note on liberal authoritarianism and the mental health industry

The fool says in his heart, “I can have no enemies.”

Liberalism is in part a program of management that enforces upon the hapless people being managed this kind of folly.

Underlying it is the proposition that the State has a monopoly on thinking about what is just and unjust. The authorities and their institutions, and the practices specific to them, by definition cannot be unjust as such; the only injustice is individual sin or crime.

The therapeutic society, in which all manifest disaffection is said to be an illness that accounts for the invalidity of the thinking of such persons, is the most advanced form to date of the domination of administrative and technological rationality at the expense of art and true thinking.

The professionals at their highest levels of sophistication have theories that explain all the thought, feeling, and behavior of the unfortunate rest of us whom they are assigned to manage. These theories are always in the end true by the authority of these people who are licensed to utter presumptively true statements. They will not tolerate your denying the legitimacy of their thought and practice, though it has nearly none. What remains is laughter. They are laughable in their stupidity, which they embrace so earnestly.

For an ethics of thinking, against the Americanism of “feeling good” (with a note on the politics and limits of Heideggerianism)

You must never insult an infantile person.
You of course cannot insult a wise adult man or woman.
Americans feel threatened by insult,
which they cannot distinguish from disagreement.
That must be why they not only are infantile,
but also why they want to be.

For how else to interpret the apotheosis of the therapy culture and normative femininity in the kind of left-liberal hysterical pseudo-militant outrage and the correspondent coddling of young minds to protect them from dissonant thoughts, like a Buddha who prefers not to have the smooth pond of his mind troubled by any thought at all?

They are demanding a right to infancy. Unfortunately, the militant outrage that seems today to come with the demanding of space for this seems destined at least de facto to constitute an appeal to authorities for protection against threats, and this logically culminates in the tendency to consider the Other as such as a threat, along with his opinions.  Americans handle this typically by being exuberantly friendly to all comers and quickly making superficial friends who are then jettisoned in the ugliest manner as soon as there is some matter of difference.

The “Jewish” ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas transformed the Hegelian ethics of demanded respect for the Other’s position through the validity of his claims into acknowledging the presence of the Neighbor as intrinsically threatening in a way that makes him holy, and the angelic representation of the holy as such.  Levinas also removes from his ethics of the encounter not only all traces of self-assertion (which Hegel shows, for historical reasons, may always be tragic, but is not always hubristic; surely talk of the sin of Pride makes for an insufficient politics) but also, with Heidegger, of the importance of commitment to any kind of propositional truth, so that his form of recognition is both absolutely altruistic, or one of alterity and a self-destitution worthy of some feminine Christian erotical mystics, and essentially ad hominem and personal, as in Buber, where all that matters in the encounter is affirmation of the transcendent and absolute value of the persons, independently of what they are committed to or believe, and so also indifferent to reason in the sense of that “game of giving and asking for reasons” the American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars spoke of (and whose thinking is at the origins of much of the American Hegelianism of the last 30 years).   Because of the trace in it of Heidegger’s “unheimlichkeit,” translatable variously as “uncanny” and “unsettled” but literally “not being (or feeling) at home” or “estrangement,” Levinas’s ethics is probably is a somewhat more “authentic” way of confronting “existentially” (Levinas was a Heideggerian and helped introduce Heidegger to France in Sartre’s generation, having returned like him from study in Germany on the eve of the coup d’état of the Third Reich) a certain condition of modernity that tends to make everything strange in measure perhaps as we still need to aggressively make ourselves at home or assert that we can be.  I think that the uncanniness of recognition of the presence of the Other (and, if you like, the “divine” in him, or the way in which his presence reveals, much as artworks can, some “truth” about the world that is affecting (and so affective or “emotional”; Buber and Levinas seem nearly to deny that the Other represents not only the divine in himself but also that of the world through what he says and presents not just of himself but of it), and I would key this to the “poetic” aspect of language and formal manipulations of the sensible in art, but without the “logical” aspect of language use which has to do with propositions understood as meaningful only if also true or false and so having a claim on us that requires and depends on our recognition and evaluation of their possible truth based on sufficient reasons, without this, the community in which people encounter each other will be as authoritarian in essence as Heidegger’s Germany, and that helps explain why he supported the Third Reich.

And yet Heidegger was also right in thinking that an eclipse of the poetic in modern thought and life was part of the triumph of technological and bureaucratic thinking, which he eventually had to recognize was at least as true of the Third Reich’s modernity as that of America and Soviet Russia.  The unfinished business in Heidegger’s legacy to European thought was that of working out an ethics for a world that would no longer be technological and bureaucratic, and to find this ethics in a manner of “Being in the world” as a manner of thinking.  Heidegger expelled logic, mathematics, and science from his poetic republic just as Plato had once rejected poets.  Could the key to this be in part Heidegger’s own “Platonism” insofar as his early philosophy at least moves within the figure of the Cave, his “unheimlichkeit” being an existential prise de conscience of the individual otherwise trapped in a habitual world of practice without something like art or religion (which then become its therapeutic redemptive treatment or cure)?  Does Heidegger’s later poetic thought move beyond this paradigm or remain within it?  Surely he poorly understood mathematics and science as mere techniques rather than procedures for discovering truths about Being or nature.  And we know his philosophy of art is a point of departure but was inadequate.  While an ethics must give us the paradigm of a new form of life that is both a manner of being together in what traditionally was called a “society” and a manner of thinking, that is, a poetics, which all art worthy of the name today is.

Doubtless, a careful reading of the tradition of European Christianity and its secular consequences will reveal that there are good and bad forms of “infancy,” a term that Giorgio Agamben (who was a student of Heidegger) took up affirmatively in an essay. Maybe we have a right in many cases to not be held liable for that of which we are ignorant. But it would be another thing entirely to insist on remaining that way. And yet I think that is what Americans most typically do. They would rather “feel good” (“Feeling Good” is the title of one of the most popular self-help manuals of all time, a guide to “cognitive therapy”) than think. It can hurt to think. There is in this a denial of evil, suffering, and death. An insistence on not seeing it. The need for vain people who are adults only in body for endless flattery. Ronald Reagan’s maxim, “Never speak ill of another Republican,” indicates precisely how American society is not republican. As any socialist activist will tell you, in the republican and democratic tradition of modern political thinking, criticism is crucial. They used to speak of “criticism/self-criticism,” an idea that unfortunately was sometimes imposed from above and so a travesty of itself, and that originated in monasteries. There is no sensational or sentimental love of God that is not also what Spinoza called an “intellectual love of God.” Modern politics is based on “the right to criticism.” Americans replaced this with the “pursuit of happiness.” There is no democracy without reason, and without it liberty becomes reduced to property. And we have the strange seeming paradox that “liberty” is always invoked by their powerful to legitimate their prerogatives. Nowhere is there freedom to not merely express your “opinion” (the very term consigns thought to irrelevance) but to active contest and disagree with what those exercising power over you are saying and doing, and demand from them an accounting, that they answer to you just as much as you to them. Until that principle is enacted and becomes part of everyday social life, there will be no real democracy. Representative democracy must rest on an idea of something like a civil society, which I understand in this sense, without which it is a sham, and political candidates are reduced to consumer goods in a society where the triumph of the popular will of sovereign individuals is realized through the final interment of all reason and thought. Freud understood this clearly: self-understanding will not necessarily make you happier, only more free. Liberty without liberation is domination of the stronger. Thought without liberation is management. Management without democracy reduces reason to technology. American society has never been less free than it is today. The infantile liberal-left does not want it to be, and would not know how to get there if it did.