The Fruit of the Earth: Of Personal and Impersonal Ecological Conservationism as Forms of an Instinct
“Shall I take a knife and tear my mother’s bosom? Then when I die she will not take me into her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like white men! But how dare I cut off my mother’s hair?”
Chief of the Native American Wanapum Tribe, 19th Century (Sheldrake, R. 2007)
The adornment of nature with the lived experiences of man used as nominal and formal characteristics for its agentic description, or personification, is not peculiar to animists or primitivisms. Even the mechanist, the positivist and the determinist invoke figures of metaphor, metonymy and personification in the elaboration of their theories and findings. Bachelard’s pronouncement on metaphor as “…an invisible grain of hashish…”, though itself a metaphor, allows us equally well for its obliquity in relation with diurnal experience to enter the realm of oneiric, and then even sublime, imagination. The passage from the oneiric to the sublime, however, is one fraught with a perilous scope for [mis]translation of affects from the impersonal domain of unconscious object-libido cathexis [as in hallucinatory fantasy] to the possibility of sublimation by a conscious decision to take charge of the duty of “…being-for-the-outside”, and vice versa. The formation of images, both oneiric and sublime, is ultimately linguistic; in this capacity these images are representations of instincts in two important senses: the suerpegotic ordering of cultural meanings that prefigure images by the impersonal process of the emergence of languages in society and the egotic coming to grips, or being-for-the-outside, of colloquial and idiomatic language use and various coexisting individual styles of expression. By using the terms personal and impersonal we are still referring to the collective level where the various ecological conversation discourses operate: the use of impersonal, personal and suprapersonal, here, is the organisation of levels of ecological conservationist discourse as they correspond with the Freudian topography of id, ego and superego.
The push and pull between the personal and the impersonal is thus only the conflict of instinctual representatives, or ideas, defined by their fidelity to a suprapersonal, or theoretical and formal domain of discourse which makes ecological conservation a field of human knowledge and practice. Between the potentially oneiric or hallucinatory personal unconscious and its sublime realisation on one hand and the potentially hallucinatory cultural unconscious and its capacity for sublimation on the other there is a charged space of interaction: the transference of the analytic session can be invoked here by treating the interactions between personal and impersonal narratives of ecological activism that become coherent as artefacts of instincts in an archive of suprapersonal psychisms—geared towards a human desire that becomes more and more concrete through a dialectical movement between personal ecological activism and impersonal ecological activism.
The polarity between biocentric and anthropocentric ecology perfectly represents the impersonal being-for-the-outside of the psychism of ecological conservationism as such. This opposition is not simply one between irrevocably disjointed worldviews, rather it represents the gap between a superegotic demand for complete biocentricity, where man is made a limb on the body of the earth with no special privilege of place as in Deep Ecology, on the underlying occult anthropocentricism of all ecological conservation projects as such. Here, the seeming opposition between two ecological conservationist ideologies functionally comes to embody an oneiric imago of the conservationist psychism as such reaching outwards to the possibility of sublimation through its antecedent stages of identification with the Earth and idealisation of the Earth, through an arduous and partial process of reality-testing; from the traumatic situation of having to live through an industrialised and consumerist ego-consciousness, the psychism of conservationism arises to defend Mother Earth from phallic spoilage by contemplating a voluntary castration, a formal, or superegotic, limitation on the instinct of the suprapersonal signifier of ecological conservation, and from this a part of the activist shrinks back—no one likes being curtailed, unless by a ruse of desire turned inwards like in hallucination the curtailment itself becomes a possession of the object in the ego.
Now, the warring between Deep Ecologists and Bright Green Environmentalists, for instance, is not a fundamental mismatch between ideas that share a common goal, they are the adaptations of discourse to the upheavals imposed upon it by science, world affairs and individually conflicting ideologies, or representatives of instinct, that are influencing the manifest discourse of an instinctual drive towards ecological conservatism. Thus each position contains a baseline reactionary element: the biocentric position entails a capitulation to the status of humanity without a right to thrive on Earth, it is a surrender to the very idea which inspires the need to conserve ecological integrity, namely the risk that human and animal exploitation will irremediably tarnish it; the anthropocentric position claiming to conserve Earth for man’s benefit, though more apparently realistic, is still an adaptation of the superegotic biocentric absolutism which issues the first formalised statement of intent, or instinct to preserve ecological integrity […for gods’ sake!, even].
To Be Continued…
Bachelard, Gaston. Trans. Jolas, Maria. The Poetics of Space. New York, USA: Orion Press, 1964.
Chew, Matthew, K. & Laubichler, Manfred, D. 2003. “Perceptions of Science: Natural Enemies–Metaphor or Misconception?”. Science: Essays on Science and Society. 4 July 2003: Vol. 301 no. 5629 pp. 52-53. DOI: 10.1126/science.1085274. Web. <http://www.sciencemag.org/content/301/5629/52.full>.
Nordgren, Anders. Responsible Genetics: The Moral Responsibility of Geneticists for the Consequences of Genetic Research. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 2008.
Scholarly Editions. Issues in Mechanical Engineering: 2011 Edition. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholarly Editions, 2012.
Sheldrake, Rupert. The Greening of Science and God: The Rebirth of Nature. Cochin, India: Editions India, 2007.
 The use of operational metaphors during the process of designing new technology has a tangible effect on the possible outcomes of mechanical engineering projects. The case of the move from Pocket PC OS to PDAs was facilitated and given it unique trajectory by the use of organising metaphors that allowed the creation of a truly compelling interface for the device (Scholarly Editions, 2012).
 “Evolutionary biologists customarily employ the metaphor “survival of the fittest,” which has a precise meaning in the context of mathematical population genetics, as a shorthand expression when describing evolutionary processes. Yet, outside of the shared interpretative context of evolutionary biology, the same metaphor has been employed to argue that evolutionary theory is fundamentally flawed. Natural Selection, the argument goes, leads to a survival of the fittest. The fittest are those that survive. Ergo, natural selection describes the survival of the survivors. Thus one of the core concepts of evolutionary theory is a tautology. While it is easy to see how such an argument represents a deliberate misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, it also alerts us to some problems inherent to the use of metaphors in science. Metaphors introduce a fundamental trade off between the generation of novel insights in science and the possibility of dangerous or even deadly misappropriation. The extension of genetics to eugenics owed much of its popularity in the United States and in Germany to its use of culturally resonant metaphors. Labeling people as a burden, a cancerous disease, or a foreign body (Fremdkörper) conveyed the “threat” to society in terms that people could relate to in their respective historical and cultural settings (5–8). Given this power of metaphorical language, it is understandable why several scientists have been concerned with the prevalence of metaphors in certain disciplines (9)” (Chew, Matthew, K. & Laubichler, Manfred, D. 2003).
 The surety with which genetic determinism has been championed as a breakthrough has aroused concern in the scientific and academic community about the potential social fatalism that might emerge in defence of entrenched positions of power and exploitation in society. The idea that genetic determinism necessitates that some people are better than others in a determined way can have unsavoury social consequences (Nordgren, A. 2001).
 Bachelard, Gaston (1964). p. 219
 Ricoeur, Paul. (2008) “Book II. Analytic. Ch. 2. From the Oneiric to the Sublime: The Clinical Approaches to Interpretation”. p. 180- 86.
 The id, ego and superego cannot be conceived of as entities or locations in themselves; they are the movement of instinctual desires and their representations in ideas that come to take on the characteristics of the id, the ego and the superego. The possible outcomes of instincts namely sublimation, identification and idealisation as modifications of desire in relation to ideas of reality and their opposites regression, introjection and illusion in relation to a rejection of reality by the instincts are only labels that become coherent when the conflict between the instincts and reality reconfigure the position of the analysand in the products of his free associations. Id is the constant motivator of instincts, the superego is a facilitator of the id and the ego is that which is driven by the instincts to test reality or abjure it. All readings of a particular psychism function inside this energetics and topography in reference to pleasure, unpleasure and reality. See, Ricoeur, Paul (2008) p. 217- 29.
 The biocentrist ecologists oppose the bland and impotent anthropocentrism of deep ecologists to be a ruse of man’s narcissism; the biocentrists believe this narcissism is what has put man in the danger of becoming an ecocide in the first place (Sheldrake, R. 2007).
Ricoeur’s reading of Freud is a rare and sympathetic attempt to grapple philosophically with the anti-philosophy of psychoanalysis. In successive movements between Freud’s explicitly developed triads of id, ego and superego; unconscious, preconscious and conscious; cathexis, anticathexis and hypercathexis; Eros, Thanatos and Logos Ricoeur locates an occult dualism of human desire which defines the project of psychoanalysis as a working through of desire, against a social field of desires of the other. The project of psychoanalysis is purely diagnostic: to arrive at the truth beyond the pleasure principle is the working through of life in the analytic session. These various triads Ricoeur demonstrates, with peerless clarity and rigour, to be the interplay of an energetics, an economics and a series of topographies of psychisms that constantly stand in for reality in the mind of the analysand, and which are held together as a calculable interpretation only by the work of analysis which fuses each triad with its corresponding function in the service of the pleasure-ego. Only under the shifting gaze of the analyst who is aided by the process of transference can the work of interpretation begin because the analysand has only a very distorted access to his resistances. The truth, for Freud, is a thankless thing which comes with the collapse of all illusion. But illusion itself is a necessary prelude to any conception of a truth.
The Analytic Reading
The Energetics implicit in Freud’s word, often ignored by commentators, is much indebted to the naturalist ethos of his own time and draws heavily on a speculative quantity of neurons as contingent agents of repression and sublimation. This energetics is important to Freud inasmuch as he sought to differentiate his work from rival schools that held consciousness to be a parallelism of the neural system or a mere epiphenomenon by modifying the findings of biology to furnish an archaeology of instincts. Freud was interested in showing how quantitative tendencies of neurons effected qualitative changes in consciousness: “[d]esires and wishes enter [t]his mechanistic theory (pp. 383- 84) through the intermediary of the traces left behind by pleasure and unpleasure” (Ricoeur, P. 77) in the form of neuronal charges. But this quantity-to-quality conversion begs the question of how these quantities don’t get annulled by the minds relentless impetus towards pleasure and/ or unpleasure in an affective entropy. Freud’s answer radicalises this problem by positing the work of quantitative neuronal movements to be the regulation of affective states to preserve an inertia, a nirvana principle. Rather than running their course in surplus pleasure or unpleasure towards a total expenditure of affect/ neuronal charges they tended to a preservation of their initial state of libidinal investment. An affective homeostasis. But this answer eliminates the anatomical basis for the instinct’s quantitative transformation into indeterminate tendencies mainly because these neurons and their charges cannot be counted. They are of an uncertain number, and in the words of a commentator on Freud, possessed of a phlogistic character in psychoanalytic theory; in response to a constancy principle that is fundamentally at odds with the reality principle a homeostasis of affects demands a way to calculate neuronal charges if psychoanalysis is to be treated as the science Freud insisted it was. Reality is, Freud says, that which persists despite the Conscious system’s “peculiar cathexis”: it is classified in opposition to the Unconscious that is timeless and non-negative, and is “…classified with negation and contradiction, the tonic binding of energy, and reference to time” as an end of illusion and the maturity of man (Ricoeur, P. 268).
The periodicity and self-consistency of ideas in relation to a nirvana principle come to define the quantitative neuronal constitution of the triad unconsciousness, preconsciousness and consciousness; in this capacity they work as a spatial dimension where pleasure-seeking psychisms reacting with the conscious world of objects, and a strategy for working through of life in this world, can be understood by interpreting the representations of ego-instincts as they appear in comparison with a semiology of desire constructed from an archaeology of ego-instincts—arrived at by the detours of analytic session, the free association method and experience. The topography of psychoanalysis, then, is a spatial translation of the indeterminate and timeless qualities of the unconscious under a metaphorical mien; it allows for the analytic understanding of motor impulses pushed backwards into intentions, i.e. traces of unconscious neuronal impulsions in search of pleasure, as the cause for hallucination when the object of its desire is absent, or as conscious action when the object is present; “…motility and perception…” are its directional poles (Ricoeur, P. 107). Now, from the side of earlier ego-instincts an action can be read as a regression to hallucinatory union with a lost object, but from the side of the object to which the ego cathects by the detour of an ego-instinct an integration of impulses marked by a renunciation to necessity becomes discernible, and this process can now be read as sublimation—whatever repression and sublimation are defined as in qualitative terms. On the side of reality, in the Freudian topography, are Logos and Ananke the gods of the disillusioned and on the side of the neurotic ceremonials of desire are the archaisms of Eros and Thanatos marked by their tendency for a pleasure-seeking-unto-death; although it is Eros that impels men to action it is only the gaze of Thanatos that these actions come to bear their allegiance to Ananke, overcoming the ruses of infantile desire.
The triangulation between the lust for joyous survival, the stratagems of this lust for survival and the more, or less, realistic behaviour that emerges in response to this renewed understanding of reality become the definitional criteria which situate the disparate field of human desire under the purview of psychoanalysis. After enumerating the facts of discourse that constitute the sphere of personal desire under these three criteria we must analyse them by reading them against the bare facts of the analysand’s behaviour, the relation of this behaviour to a certain understanding of the world he occupies and the degree to which the analysand gives credence to his behaviour in light of the gap between bare facts and personal affects. This level of psychoanalytic discourse couched in the terminology of id, ego and superego comes to take on an economic aspect in that what the unconscious desires comes to be sought out by the conscious, i.e. in Freud’s words, “where the id was the ego shall be”. The gap between these occult movements of personal desires—impelled by the regulatory energetics of pleasure, and unpleasure—and the actual outcome of these desires pursued or repressed to their end becomes most coherent when it is read as an economic relation between the impersonal, personal and suprapersonal aspects of the psychism. The impersonal is the id because it desires without the knowledge of consciousness; the suprapersonal superego is a ruse of the id which convinces the conscious part of the mind by its rationalisations and order words, or the representatives of conscious thought in the ego, about a danger that must be averted by capitulating to its, or the id’s, dimly perceived demands; egoity or consciousness and rational behaviour is then in a triply precarious position right from its inception, buffeted by the impersonal and the suprapersonal, and insulted by the residual reality which resists the ego-instinct’s errands of pleasure.
The Dialectical Reading
It is evident that psychoanalysis only serves to guide the analytical reconstruction of the analysand’s psychisms or, an archaeology of human desire if you will, and a synthetic, or prescriptive, teleology is beyond the scope of psychoanalytic theory. This is simply because each successive reality can be read as an object-choice, or adequation of the ego formation to allow for pleasure, and is to be treated as a compromised choice of perceptual information and the way it relates to the demands of the id constellated in the interpreting authority of the superego with its ruses for maximising satisfaction. Here, Ricoeur offers a corrective to the solipsism of the psychoanalytic theory outside the session in proposing to pare down psychoanalysis with a phenomenology of reflective consciousness; this he achieves by a superimposed operation of the Hegelian dialectic over the Freudian epochȇ in reverse. “Where phenomenology begins with an act of ‘suspension’, with an epochȇ at the free disposition of the subject, psychoanalysis begins with the suspension of the control of consciousness, whereby the subject is made a slave equal to his bondage, to use Spinoza’s terms” (Ricoeur, P. 391). Thus the act of a conscious recapitulation of perception is not apt to survive the acid test of psychoanalysis; instincts that are discerned in affects of the conscious mind are reified as necessity and reason in the Hegelian grasping of man, he becomes the subject of his needs, which are only interpretable as representations [Freud's reprasentanz] of instincts: “…a realism of the knowable…a mythology…” (Ricoeur, P. 435). Thus, Ricoeur opposes the search for interpretation in the mythology of the instincts with the projection of a teleological destiny that Freud implicates while thematising the primal history of man and society.
In the first stage of the dialectic consciousness itself stands in place of a symptom that imposes representations of the instincts as a mythos, or hermeneutic approach, backward over the facts of perception. “Whereas Hegel links an explicit teleology of mind or spirit to an implicit archaeology of life and desire, Freud links a thematised archaeology of the unconscious to an unthematised teleology of the process of becoming conscious” (Ricoeur, P. 461). The reduplication of consciousness, the abortive or premature Cogito, in the movement of consciousness becoming conscious of itself in itself and in another is to be opposed to the exegetical movement of consciousness into representations of its own investment in the pleasure principle—this movement eludes the Freudian notion of narcissism involved in identification, or object-choice, since it is in itself a figure of necessity [Ananke] that deflates the abortive Cogito’s innate narcissism; brute necessity [Ananke] is inscribed in the external world of objects before its translation into psychisms which are merely ego-instincts that stand in for the world. This dialectic between archaeology and teleology is an “…opposition to the Freudian economics” of libidinal investment read into the metapsychology from without, as a procession of spirit that educates desire in transformation beyond regression towards the inertial vortex of an original “object-loss”, or primary repression, whose presence in absentia sets psychoanalytic re-interpretation in motion (Ricoeur 481). Since psychoanalysis does not make this synthetic move towards elucidating its normative field of desire beyond the pleasure principle, hinted at obliquely in the notion of sublimation which it fails to elucidate, it risks falling into the troubling inability to differentiate between progression and regression; movements of desire that psychoanalysis has so strongly opposed in the economic and topographic scheme of the analytic session as a measure of truth beyond illusions; the argument for the id’s prefiguration of the ego or the ego’s curtailment of the pleasure-ego’s, or abortive Cogito’s, formation respectively. Thus, the corrective of the dialectic of the phenomenology of spirit on the [psycho]analytic regression of the epochȇ in reverse comes to open up a field that is beyond the ruses of the pleasure principle and is simultaneously the condition of both regression and progression.
Ricoeur’s contribution to the elucidation of Freudianism as an epistemological enterprise opposed to the observational sciences and in opposition with the phenomenological school of philosophy opens the ground for a reflective philosophy which can proceed by the dialectics between an archaeology and a teleology of the psychisms of desire.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 2008. Print.
Yesterday was Adorno’s birthday [peace be upon him!]. And, while it remains enduringly fashionable among left-wing types to dismiss Adorno, and no less The Frankfurt School, in a single remonstrating gesture, it also remains a verifiable fact that few bother to engage him from beyond the miasma of elitism, essentialism and arrogance which our spectacular age has mounted on his diagnoses of culture. The general response to his work bespeaks a fear of raising the patina of intellectualism over praxis, of alienating popular culture, of subverting reasoned criticism to shirk the unconscionable biddings of political immediatisms where art has lost its frame of coherence and has become yet another product for popular consumption- a respite with sound and fury but no signification- yet such was never Adorno’s own project.
Among his copious folios of work there is one particular stream in which his thought permeated the very heart of the matter, and though he may have fallen off his hobby horse now and then into the pits of assumption and error, his reconnoitering remains exemplary in its scope, perspicacity and endurance. His critique of the nexus between artistic expression and the cultural trends that it capitulates to is damning and remains all too painfully pertinent; when we admit to ourselves and others that music means no more than entertainment, which may be as it may, do we really escape the indictment of abandoning the task of our own escape from the strictures of oppressive culture? It is highly suspect. Among the basic axioms of his procedure, Adorno gave special place to the unique recursive structure of thought applied to thought, one expects no less from a dialectician: he posited that a deep dissatisfaction with one’s culture presumed an immersion worth the name into its substance. Only those who partake of its products, paradoxically, are allowed the luxury to see in it the detritus of their conscience, the dregs of their resistance waylaid by the trite melodies of popular dance music and as they are struck petrific by the entrancing thaumaturgy of film. Today, were he around, he would most probably be goaded into citing himself- Simon Critchley calls self-citation an act of narcissism, but I digress- and pronounce upon us our dishonest evasion of our predicament. It is not that merely our desires are stifled by the culture that enables us our habituated libertinage but even their symptoms are effaced by the apparatus of “…a lavish display of light air and hygiene…[produced] by the gleaming transparency of rationalised big business…” (Adorno 2005, p. 58).
Our complicity with contemporaneous conditions makes us culpable for its failings, for the slippages of desire and damage incurred by acceding to the despots’ machinery of causeless effects. If indeed art were produced in vacua there would be no need for its justification but only since we are swarmed by it in a reciprocal configuration of desire versus desire we owe more than wrung hands to its integral form. It behooves us to draw strength from this involvement “…to dismiss it” in so far as it fails to arouse our sympathetic epiphany, our rising beyond the material conditions of the commoditised world to reclaim the tenacity of despoiled, alienated and thereby mystified desire. “What is true of the instinctual life is no less true of the intellectual: the painter or composer forbidding himself as trite this or that combination of colours or chords, the writer wincing at banal or pedantic verbal configurations, reacts so violently because layers of himself are drawn to them. Repudiation of the present cultural morass presupposes sufficient involvement in it to feel it itching in one’s finger-tips…” (Adorno 2005, § 8. p. 29).
The import of his critical project would not have us wash our hands off art’s lifeblood at the scarce font of immediatisms accommodating the brutality of indifferent social systems. The mystical and poetical flourishes most contemporary artists employ to exonerate themselves from the duty of explaining their motivation only serves as a foil for the abject regression of the artistic self, which has miscarried all artistic intent before it can strive to redeem itself by its own toil. The artistic subject removed from ipseity at home in his milieu, thrown into the being of the market system which homogenises all in the currency of its one-all, has become a blight to the possibility of a conscience that has power to elevate art above human conditions and, so in due inversion, the possibility of also man’s elevation above the artefacts of [a]historical conditioning. “… [Herein] lies music’s [indeed, all arts’?] theological aspect. What music [art] says is a proposition at once distinct and concealed. Its idea is the form (Gestalt) of the name of God. It is demythologised prayer, freed from the magic of making anything happen, the human attempt, futile, as always, to name the name itself, not to communicate meanings” (Adorno 2002, p. 114).
The logic of the day, which makes so much of its clarity, has naively adopted this perverted notion of everyday speech. Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case. Rigorous formulation demands unequivocal comprehension, conceptual effort, to which people are deliberately disencouraged, and imposes on them in advance of any content a suspension of all received opinions, and thus an isolation that they violently resist (Adorno § 64, p. 101).
So, briefly, why read Adorno today? Because, it is imperative to act against the reactionaries, though they be ourselves. If we say too much has happened that has incontestably altered the course of art and its equation with consumption, thought and its relation to things are we not merely begging more reasons for surrendering to the beast that is already astride us? Read Adorno because, precisely because, he angers you with his obstinacy, his clinging to a hopeful differentiation from the abject form of alterity imposed upon popular consciousness. To fight the abstractions which generalise the self, artistic and otherwise, Adorno’s critical apparatus remains a worthy weapon, -though it sometimes is a knife all blade- what hurt is spared the self which cannot define art but can seek out a hadron’s theotechny? Wherein rests the aura of artistic inspiration; wherein the magic of its immaculate conception; wherein the titanic moment of its articulation and production through the very engines from which we derive our existence, let us inquire therein of the precise psychical automatisms that move us thusly to procure for its occult, atemporal archaeology the produce of our bodily culture, our arts. If our art is all sensuousness and corporeality what then is the mystery of its immaculate inspiration, how can we rest assured in the rejection of all inquiry and criticism of its material epigenesis? To do so is dishonesty shown home, in ourselves, in a world where selcouth artistic essences threaten the very existence of the thing itself; the world where art is two birds in a bush and we are left with age-old platitudes in our hand, kneeling before the disembodied flash which animates it with a cataclysm. In the end, to mystify the moment of our deepest impulses with the rhetoric of romance or respectable forgetfulness is to disavow the pompous claim history lays upon our culture: justify yourself despite your existence. Why must rational consciousness coil itself like an illusion, effacing its discernable origins, if it comes ascendant on Dickinson’s nimble winged hope? The emancipatory potential of art lies in the understanding of its brutal prehistory and natal experience, which must be unearthed and come to terms with on its own terms; thought, in order to be made intelligible and not mystical or sophistically narcissistic, must break free its jaw from its own tail. Adorno invites us, despite the neutralising haze of our critical conscience that settles itself on his work, to recreate the topology of desire and study the imbrications and scarifications lathed upon it as so many warts only so we may excise them now, though it is too late. For, we are moving in the circle of unreason so long as we attribute to some divine preordainment the subordination of art to both commerce and magic, the repression of self to the bad infinity of the body which speculates about the end of history. The end of history situates itself in our aeon, and we must resist becoming anachronisms in this inauthentic becoming. Else, why art at all?
Theodor Adorno. Trans. Gillespie, S. Ed. Leppert, R. “Music, Language and Composition (1956)”. Essays on Music: Theodore W. Adorno. USA: University of California, 2002. Print.
Theodor Adorno. Trans. Jephcott, E., F., N. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. UK: Verso, 2005. Print.
Professor Boer over at Stalin’s Moustache has been charitably pointing out the bright spots in Graeber’s Debt, although he indicates that he has some damning criticism to follow:
Indeed, one could judge how egalitarian a society really was by exactly this: whether those ostensibly in positions of authority are merely conduits for redistribution, or able to use their positions to accumulate riches. The latter seems most likely in aristocratic societies that add another element: war and plunder. After all, just about anyone who comes into a very large amount of wealth will ultimately give at least part of it away – often in grandiose and spectacular ways to large numbers of people. The more one’s wealth is obtained by plunder or extortion, the more spectacular and self-aggrandizing will be the forms in which it is given away. And what is true of warrior aristocracies is all the more true of ancient states, where rulers almost invariably represented themselves as protectors of the helpless, supporters of widows and orphans, and champions of the poor. The genealogy of the modern redistributive state – with its notorious tendency to foster identity politics – can be traced back not to any sort of “primitive communism” but ultimatelyto violence and war (Debt, p. 113).
So I noticed that Graeber points out what Bataille pointed out in the Accursed Share, it is often largess that redistributes, but often for achieve or maintain that largess, not out of primitive communism or a non-consumptive capacity. So unproductive wealth is shared more readily as it is gained more readily though primitive accumulation of capital. But I fail to see, as I suspect Dr. Boer fails to see as well, how this would be a particularly new insight? The genealogy of the welfare state is not a means to give into democratic impulses (or corruptions if one takes Nietszche at his word), but is part of the design of maintance. Identity politics means this easier to naturalize as an organic whole which is fundamentally a fetish. A physically real unreality. But this is already implied in Marx’s terminology, which is not to say that Marx articulated this as well, but does not contradict the general thrust of Das Kapital.
Yet it is easy to be, the Marxist watch-word, undialectical about this structure, as if the liberal revolutions did not have some element of truly liberatory mechanism: so Graeber sees the structure trans-historically and thus prefigurative to the form, but the management of the nation-state through the welfare state does have roots in the tension between a truly egalitarian notion of “the people” as a universal and “the people ” as a nation. In other words, Graeber tries to make this a fundamental characteristic of attempts at violence and war against “primitive communism” and which thus manifests in tact in the welfare state, bu this misses that both impulses existed within the liberal revolution, otherwise it would have never been seen as break with the past, which it must have been to unleash and accelerate both productive and consumptive capacities.
Graeber is often interesting despite his naturalizing of proto-capitalist production and thus his transhistoricizing of prefigurative politics. In fact, his is instructive because his misreadings because even his valid points, of which their are many, are often limited by trying make structures transhistorical.
Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment. Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s. Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.
I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage. With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce. My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons: it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.” I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.
Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion. I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth. The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.
That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic. Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense. In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation. It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.
I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then the female orgasm would not be so elusive. Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one: it’s an ad hoc universe in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).
This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it. But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.
Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract: people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in a variety of different contexts. Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.
What is it Lacan says? Lack is created by language. Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?
So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right. The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated: while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop. I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped. The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.
Technology changes who you are. How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?
This leads to all sorts of issues: I am gay or straight or bisexual? How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence? Does it make sense to get married?
In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways: I am getting married to a woman because I love her. Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness. The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range. Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits? I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.
In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.
Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions. Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.
Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them. Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.
But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.
“To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”-George Orwell
“Strictly speaking, as a Nationalist, he was an enemy, but since in every crisis he would exert himself to prevent violence — which, from the British point of view, meant preventing any effective action whatever — he could be regarded as “our man.” In private this was sometimes cynically admitted. The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, “in the end deceivers deceive only themselves”; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful.” – Orwell on Gandhi
“I believe it’s a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself.”- Malcolm X
I personally deplore violence: I have mild post-traumatic issue from watching a girlfriend die when I was young. I won’t go into detail, but I have seen more people die from drug addiction, car wrecks, and violence that someone from my relatively privileged background should be able to say, but such is the luck of life. Yet I find absolute statements of non-violence to be irresponsible if others are condemned for being willing to engage in defensive violence. Furthermore, I find that this tactic often is used in ways that defend and legitimatize power when non-violence is moved from a preferred tactic to a strategy.
The problem with the way we talk about non-violent social justice movements is we speak as if violence wasn’t a necessity in them in two ways. In almost dialectical ways, actually. Let us look at the Satyagraha movement of Gandhi and the actually existing struggle for Indian Independence, not the stories we in America and Europe like to tell ourselves about it. First of all, the struggle for Indian independence had Satyagraha at its face, but as Orwell noted this was actually used by the British as a means to an end. It is important to remember that Gandhi was not the only face of the Indian independence movement: first there was the revolutionary Jugantar, then All India Forward Bloc, Communist Party of India, the Radical Democratic Party, and the various radical wings of INA. There was several conspiracies, two mutinies, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose appealing to the Axis powers, as well as the non-violent actions and self-sufficiency. Gandhi worked because there were Indian nationalists, socialists, and communist forces ready to rip throats out if he didn’t. Furthermore, the success of his non-violence was predicated on violent acts by the other side. Subtle violent actions and non-lethal means are also not likely to draw sympathy from non-violent protestors.
This, for all we like to deny it, was also true of the rather moderate successes of Martin Luther King Jr.
All of the arguments that Black Bloc instigations have been stupid and counter-productive are valid. But that is largely there hasn’t really begun a true battle that one can speak of winning. The Black Bloc tries to create battles artificially, and that’s either dumb or deliberate police infiltration. But the Occupy Movement has at most been shaping a terrain for future battles. We’re still a long way from there though. As long as it’s understood that the battle hasn’t really yet begun, then it is valid to counsel tactics of peaceful protest. That does not mean that peaceful protest will actually win a battle when the time comes. – PatrickSMcNally
I think their model fit the real conditions of mass consciousness and military capacity at the time. The Panthers took up their example, but gave it a politico-military party of combat, and then degenerated into adventurist ultra-leftism – including offensive operations against the State before mass consciousness and military capacity was present. This led them into a focoist mind-set, which like Che learned in Bolivia, doesn’t work.
A problem I see in all communists, anarchist, and socialist writing is the quiet acceptance of the false dichotomy between violence and non-violence pursued by liberals and reactionaries.
These a tactical questions, and for those who pursue non-violence as a strategy, we should tell them they are wrong not in the non-violent part, but the strategy part: it is a political error to take any tactic off the table.-SKS
No one is arguing for turning the Occupy movement into an armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie state. No one is arguing that all protests must include a suicidal direct assault on the forces of repression. It is true that wanna be street fighters are committed to breaking windows, throwing bottles, and setting fire to trash cans as a strategy, and that is a problem.
A bigger problem is to advocate absolute pacifism as the only acceptable means of resistance. A bigger problem is to distort the history of every popular uprising in the last hundred years in support of moralistic liberalism. This is what Gene Sharp does in his work and for his admirers here I suggest you try his cool tactic of dis-robbing in front of riot cops. It is supposed to confuse the forces of the state and for anyone stupid enough to take his advice, you will quickly find out what concentrated pepper spray does to all that exposed skin (in particular to those sensitive areas of the genitalia.)
I understand why people become pacifists, especially those with a strong religious background. I believe it is a luxury that we can not afford and this has nothing to do with a desire for violence.-Stiofan
As a tactic, I prefer non-violence and people advocating for armed insurrections of a small minority like the Weathermen are likely to find themselves dead or in imprison without doing a damn thing for the people they are trying to help. As a strategy, this is foolish as it gives the opponents a clear line they can cross. As a moral imperative, it’s incoherent because of the dialectical relationship I described between the success of non-violent reform/autonomy movements and the violence employed. What pascifism asks of people can be somewhat inhuman. Again, look at Gandhi:
If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy [...] the calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the God-fearing, death has no terror.
Even Karl Kautsky would not ask that of anyone. While Orwell has his flaws and is indeed no real dialectical thinker, he was dead on in encapsulating the unresolved dialectics:
If one harbours anywhere in one’s mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:
BRITISH TORY. Britian will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.
COMMUNIST. If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.
IRISH NATIONALIST. Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.
TROTSKYIST. The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.
PACIFIST. Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.