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day 52 – 55: our demands

… we have just discussed it. And together, as a team or nation or society or whatever the hell it is, we can do it! We can beat this normality back into the slimy hole from which it has once again begun to slither. Or the right off the barren promontory from which it has once again begun announcing itself. Like those poles with loudspeakers on them announcing the party line. We can hack it down, we can Hone Heke axe it down because the flag should not be a loudspeaker.

All that needs to happen… perhaps I should put it in bullet points, talking points, Trump decision points, that he prefers above facts … but it is no more than a suggestion. A necessary one.

All that needs to happen is that you and I and yours and mine, that we tell the government 2 things:

  1. government is about taking over permanent control of those controls that control the economy–including taking power over them from off the so-called automated mechanisms and systems of the market: such automatic systems were anyway installed sometime, their operation managed and maintained, by actual people, so can be suspended;
  2. we are going into lockdown on an annual basis. We are appropriating social isolation. We, the people. Whether bosses and managers and businesses and so on like it or not, every year, for a period not shorter than 4 weeks, we do not go to work, to school, and so on, except to engage in essential industries: we need food, and obviously, from our experiences this year, toilet paper and some other basic goods (and wine, or sake, or vodka, beer, marijuana, and other legal highs), and we need access to medical facilities for the vulnerable, and the vulnerable equally need our care, and the little errands we might run for them which make all the difference in our communities. And then we choose a date… And we do it.

This is better than the occupy movement, if you think about it.

But you want to know if the good will of banks and lending institutions and landlords and service providers for electricity and gas and water and telephone and internet connection will be there in the absence of a pandemic, like COVID-19?

We must insist that the government insists that it is.

Be kind, we say, to the planet and to our social and psychic ecologies, for the well-being of our hearts and spirits and minds and what is wrongly called psychological well-being, as if it were treatable (no, it simply exists under conditions which are less internal to human bodies and brains than social, under whatever (economic) conditions are those of society), so also for the social ecology, which term we today must use in preference to the more usual economy–for obvious reasons.

As for the planetary well-being, this should also be obvious. 8% reduction in carbon emissions. Each year until at least the end of the century. 2100.

80 years. 80 lockdowns x 4 weeks–or longer if you like? why not extend for six?

Not quite the sabbatical principle–but that’s OK.

We can. We can beat this thing. This capitalism. This normality. This planetary degradation. This human and species extinction.

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day 50, 51

but who’s counting?

The return to work. The return to normality.

Well, let’s not. It is as we have known for some time.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi writes, is worth quoting at length, because so good:

…we will never be able to return to normality ever again. Normality is what made the planetary organism so fragile and paved the way for the pandemic, to begin with.

Even before the pandemic exploded, the word “extinction” had begun to appear on the century horizon. Even before the pandemic, the year 2019 had shown an impressive crescendo of environmental and social collapses that culminated in November with New Delhi’s unbreathable nightmare and Australia’s terrifying fires.

The millions of kids who marched through the streets in many cities on March 15th, 2019 demanding to stop the death machine, have now reached the core and the climate change dynamics have been for the first time interrupted.

If we simply pretend to return to “normal” we might have to face violence, totalitarianism, massacres, and the extinction of the human race before the end of the century.

Normality must not return.

We won’t have to ask ourselves what is good for the stock market, or for the economy of debt and profit. Finance has gone to hell, we don’t want to hear about it anymore. We will have to ask ourselves what is really useful. The word “useful” must be the alpha and omega of production, technology and activity.

I realize that I am saying things bigger than myself, but we must prepare ourselves to face huge choices. When the story ends, if you want to be ready you need to start thinking about what’s useful, and how you can produce it without destroying the environment and the human body.

from here

This is perhaps the reason I am still counting the days.

Bifo ends with the question he says is the question the revolution must begin with: who decides what happens next?

If we let the powers that be, if we let be the powers that be, we are letting the political managers continue in the delusion they are taking temporary control–let us stress this: if we let the powers that be be, they, governments, will continue in the delusion their takeover of the controls governing economies from nation to nation across the globe to be a temporary one, pending the return to force, the resumption of normal mechanisms for economic governance and management.

We know these normal mechanisms to be markets and their governors, monopoly producers and financial institutions and ratings agencies (that is those rating economic performance for entire countries). (And by producers we should understand also those in the business of harvesting data, our data.)

Can we afford for governments to step back from economic control? Or ought we not be saying this is what governments ought to be doing?

And the proof they ought to be is that they can.

How extraordinary that governments have become the alternative to capitalism. But then who could really accept that capitalism and democracy are compatible, or able to be said in the same breath or phrase: Capitalist Democracy is like saying Cainist Abelism, or Abelist Cainism.

So the revolution is the renationalisation of national economies?

Normality must not return.

Instead of returning to work tomorrow, I am waiting for the results of my first COVID-19 test. I took the test yesterday.

I took the test because I went to a day of preparation for the public performance of my official role, as a representative of a social (civic) service, with a catch in my throat. Not a metaphorical one. Although the metaphor is appropriate.

And upon asking whether I ought to be amongst my colleagues, with respiratory symptoms–albeit of the lowest order, the matter was put to their vote.

I left in great uncertainty. Which the test entirely rid me of.

Even if I test negative, under NZ’s current status of a Level 2 Alert, those with respiratory symptoms should stay home.

It is extraordinary for governments to provide an alternative that is less devastating to humanity or the earth and its forms of life than free market capitalism simply by taking over the controls of national economies.

It is equally extraordinary at a much reduced scale that even a social (civic) service, such as my employer, should pursue the uncertainty which would allow it to return to business as usual.

The uncertainty now, 50, 51 days in from the announcement of lockdown in NZ, pertains to the difference between following the rules, which are social, voluntary, soft, and abiding by the law, set by the legislature–under a state of emergency as it would be under normality–that is the principle of democratic government: that is the principle that a democracy makes, imposes and imposes as enforceable, its own laws.

So I have misled you but not entirely.

I have misled you on the order of the instructional manuals masquerading as information, which come in powerpoint format, in facile slides with tasteless ornaments, sad graphic interventions, off the shelf.

(I remember in the 1980s the word for what was cheap or a bargain in the BDR–a country which like the DDR no longer exists–was democratisch. What was cheap, even if nasty, was called democratic.)

I have misled you because their voice is not declarative: they are not stating a case. The voice is imperative.

  • wash your hands
  • stand well back from the toilet
  • wipe the lid
  • lower it
  • raise it
  • sit on it
  • take 20 minutes to warm it up (COVID-19 hates warmth)

The imperatives they voice apply to the state of affairs which they do not articulate, let alone declare for, but which they assume.

Do these documents–these instructions in conduct, or what is called where I work, behaviours, in order to differentiate them from a code or discipline (itself assumed)–then produce the states of affairs to which they apply?

Yes.

It is like religious instruction–in fact has an element in this country of religiosity to it for the adoption of karakia, prayers that are the lipservice to honouring Treaty obligations through the adaptation to managerial ends by public institutions of Te Reo, Maori language.

It is like a discipline. But like the law of COVID-19 management that dare not speak its name, but chooses to go by a rule–a monastic rule. But like the government that dare not take on the command of the economy–even in the face of a pandemic! and the normality of the ongoing state of emergency that human society is in now. It is a voluntary discipline which has become one and the same thing as personal decision.

Who decides on normality these days?

I am also reminded of a scene in which Foucault, in Philip Horvitz’s account, remonstrates against the terrible and absurd fact that after all the freedoms won by gays, with AIDs it has been willing to give away to the experts the right to have the pleasure of sleeping with whom one pleases how one pleases.

The danger, is not the disease!, it is in renouncing desire that the danger lies.

(The need for a discourse of renunciation then is taken up in the document of instruction: the one it is imperative to read… before your return to work.

(It explains how to wash your hands,

(and how to go to the toilet.)

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day 45, 46, 47, 48, 49 a plethora of performative pamphleteers

If you’re anything like me which there is no reason to suppose to be the case you are being subjected to a plethora of performative pamphleteers.

You know which there is every reason to suppose the .ppt effect or the .pptx effect–not unlike the QR-code effect in being that of technology supposed to be dead and buried but now everywhere–: information presented as slides, landscape format documents, sometimes with graphic ’embellishment’–a colourfield brightening up the margin, a wavy line in orange, or other ornamental excrescence; and declarative statements in bullet points, usually passive but for that no less aggressive, paggro, as they say.

  • Bang: social distancing is to be observed
  • Bang: gloves are to be worn
  • Bang: hands are to be removed regularly and dipped in preserving fluid
  • Bang: this is the bullet point the point of the bullet pointy or hollow rubber and bouncy eyegouging and … just a warning. OR is it?

punctuation is to be used sparingly not to mess up the graphic effect

  • Bang

David Byrne used powerpoint as an artistic medium for his 2001 work called ENVISIONING EMOTIONAL EPISTEMOLOGICAL INFORMATION

it was not ironic. But prescient.

Although the product of an effect, what effect do they have, these informative presentations?

Is it, as David Byrne’s work suggests, an artistic one?

What do they do? They do not so much apply to a situation–say, for example, the return to work–aka the opening of the economy[!]–augured by NZ’s decreasing its level of alert–becoming less alert?–to the Level 2–as declare for one. And if that state of affairs did not exist before–as Level 2 did not for Level 3–they produce it.

In fact these patronising and pretentious powerpoint presentation style pamphlets or documents envisioning emotional epistemological information produce the states of affairs to which they apply.

They are therefore performative.

  • to put it into perspective, by Fabio Gironi (which I have helpfully reformatted to bulletpoints to aid informativability and so on):
  • It is obviously a medical science crisis, straining our current-best understanding of viral behavior.
  • It is a healthcare crisis, which should lead us to reconsider the political and economic attention we’ve so far given to our national healthcare systems, particularly for what it pertains to the care of the elderly.
  • It is an economic crisis, an unprecedented stop of the global productive machinery the effects of which nobody can completely predict, and once again questioning the sustainability of global capitalism.
  • It is a social crisis, highlighting the gaps that divide social classes in terms of access to healthcare and personal freedoms.
  • It is a psychological crisis, forcing millions of people worldwide to be locked in their houses and in their heads, shouldering the burden of a crippling anxiety about the future (or perhaps even fighting alone their own demons and pre-existing mental illnesses) as well as isolating children, for whom frequent social (and physical) interaction is a condition for a healthy development.
  • It is a technological crisis, demonstrating how many countries’ data communication infrastructure is far from ready to offer internet access to everyone, something that now as never before in history is being perceived as a basic need, on par with access to electricity and running water.
  • It is a logistical crisis, for both the spread of the virus and the consequent lockdown have highlighted the problems that accompany the constant movement of goods and people across the globe.
  • It is a political crisis (both at the national and at a global level) since the governments of most countries have proven unable to offer a convincing, effective, and unitary response to the crisis, almost invariably failing to quickly adopt containment measures, and since it is putting to a hard test political and economic international agreements, ill-equipped to truly face a global emergency.
  • It is a democratic crisis, since the current lockdown status quo raises questions about if and to what extent democratic countries have the right to curtail personal freedoms in the name of public health (or indeed if a democracy is at all able to deal with the problem), and since the state of forced captivity in which many are living is causing the emergence of selfish, illiberal and intolerant sentiments.
  • It is an educational crisis, for our school and university system was never designed around the remote delivery of knowledge, and both teachers and students are struggling to adapt to the constraints they have to deal with.
  • It is (the symptom of) an environmental crisis, where the emergence and spread of these new viral strains is facilitated by the unconstrained anthropic modification of animal environments. … there is essentially no domain of human activity that wasn’t (or will not be) touched by the consequence of this global viral outbreak.
  • [and just to be clear Fabio Gironi wrote these crisis-descriptions, I did not; he did not know how much more effectively they might be presented as bulletpoints, I did; although I did not go all the way and choose a slide format, landscape, that you might click through and so be thought to be engaging or activating the information herein presented; despite that neither your engagement nor your activation make any difference to the performance–it’s like participation in the old days. A pretence. Prescient.]

I have always thought sincerity to be the enemy of art. There is some distance between the humour of a great critic and the grim nit-picking sincerity of a minor one–and it resides in the grimness, the sincerity, the humourlessness. And this finding is backed up by Milan Kundera in Encounter. A friend contests the validity of works by a novelist who maintains his apolitical stance in the face of Communist occupation.

Hrabal is, the friend says, a collaborator. Kundera comes back at him: but his humour is the opposite of the regime which afflicts us, like a virus, with its grim certainties. Think of the pleasure a single one of his novels gives to people. (He published several under the regime; his apoliticism even though it could not be coopted to its cause was thought not to be a threat to it.) Think of the world without them!

So perhaps the threat to the sincere is the enjoyment people get from the insincere? And we must proceed here, as the great Raymond Ruyer says when approaching the notion consciousness is generalised over scales of self-survey rather than over species of animal including the human, with the greatest delicacy. Because comedy is sometimes sincerity at its worst, grimmest and most defensive. (NZ news is now dominated by comedian presenters.)

What then differentiates humour from humourlessness? What makes it decisive in the face of a regime like the Communist one?

Unfortunately we have the added complication of political correctness to deal with. But also the grimness and sincerity in the struggle to have identities recognised which fall outside the square, the straight, the white and the world as it is.

The millions who don’t fit in, as the brilliant Manifesto of Julian Rosefeldt has it. Remarkable for its humour. Brilliant also for dealing with artistic manifestos in this way, performatively, in a time when performativity itself is pursued with such grim seriousness. J.L. Austinesque.

But how to square this with the notion of the anaesthetic theatre–or music or painting or architecture–that does nothing to challenge existing values? That has a laugh.

Hence the delicacy.

Is every dystopia, when done right, quite apart from pushing out from the now to speculate on a worst possible scenario, not also very funny?

And is it not so because it does not take off from now but from a caricature arrive at the ridiculous?

And is it not not speculative–also such a grim category–but Rabelaisian? I seem to remember that Rabelais in English translation was placed in the same manger as that in which and from which English philosophy was swaddled and sprang. That is in that it was not better but already back in the seventeenth century, with Thomas Urquhart, already Pythonesque? or Jam-like in the age of Chris Morris? Possibly the one thing English philosophy ever had going for it. Until infected with the virus of analytical sincerity. Positivistically chaste, sober, correct and… grim.

Maori language is currently supported in the same spirit by public institutions in NZ. That is the support of Te Reo such as it is has a purism about it, a chastity, sobriety and correctness which have nothing to do with a language.

Humour is always on the side–language is–philosophy–and art are–of the mistake.

Preeminently, mistaken identity. The humour that is not one. The language that is not one. The philosophy that is not one. The art which is not. The ethics of an anti-ethics, of Vila-Matas‘s refusal! and Busi‘s No!

More prescience [bulletpointed for ease of understanding let it slipdown with the well-lubricated ease of a spoonful-of-honey, or if too phlegmy think of a greased pig slipping quickly between your legs, whoops!, before you knew it]:

  • Even before
    • social media,
    • dating apps,
    • smart devices and
    • highly personalized forms of media streaming,
  • one can think of the
    • modern,
    • Western,
    • affluent social subject
  • as a distinct center of
    • self-management, for whom
    • the rest of the world
    • – including others – appears as so much
    • data to be managed. [Claire Colebrook]

The question is how much of this inanity can one put up with? before saying no. Before announcing an antiethics. Before calling it quits. Before quitting it and calling it.

All this would have benefited from being in slides. Like those TED talks have. Like any pitch worth its pitch–or is that pith?–has. (And isn’t it strange that academics now do this, like tech-app-designer-webbed-fingered persons seeking confirmation and money from the so-called angels?)

I set up square white world not to be. (And was assisted by K. at Version, thanks K. You will note that K. too is taking the art route.)

I already knew irony not to be the sort of fancy trick it was claimed to be. It was again David Byrne whom I first heard say

  • no more irony

So how about sarcasm? as the lowest form of wit

how about it? and cliché as the lowest form of critique

  • now we have ironic sorts of currency, like
    • Bitcoin

Of course, on an industrial scale–and scaling is key–irony becomes cynicism–as long as someone’s doing well out of it.

Can one ever do anything as sincere as saying no?

I’d given K. (another K.) an early epic to read: on a visit to her room she said she had read it, and, handing it back she added

  • Do you really feel like that?
    • Is it really how you feel?

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day 39-43: what is political beauty?

On day 33 why is religion the thought that corresponds to the preceding virtues of good wine & food, good politics & sex, good art & conversation? Why is it not philosophy? When it is a matter of thought.

Because it is a question of practice.

Is philosophy not a practice? Well, I ask you: Is philosophy a practice?

Or is it eminently impractical? Do we not look for a practical philosophy in our popular intellectuals? Alain de Botton. Even Slavoj Žižek. Or Noam Chomsky. And Naomi Klein. And those whose star is sinking or has sunk. Susan Sontag. Edward Said–who gave to intellectuals a task in wider society. Michel Foucault–now seen as a prophet, to the undoing of his philosophy (we might say, exactly). Who else?

The Classics? Aristotle is still rolled out to examine unexamined lives and provide a happy medium. Plato is disenfranchised of his franchise in Socrates, who is rehabilitated as the sceptic he was not. Manqué, perhaps.

Do we not look for an application first then fit a name to it, later? And are those public intellectuals not most popular who come with an application already flagged? Waving their flag? Kings and Queens and Jacks and Knaves of philosophical territories whose craftmarks are emblems sewn in appliqué into the general motley. Or melee. Houses and lineages of refereed citation. Schools and academies of followers?

The undoing of philosophy is in authorship and authority. Religion has no such qualms. And note: in the Western tradition, we still leap a couple of thousand years to prefer the Greeks over the sainted pedagogues, Anselm or Aquinas, or John the Scot. Or earlier, Augustine in Algeria: Lord make me pure but not yet.

Even the apostates are passed over for the pagans. Or we want to see in rebellion the scientific spirit not the philosophical one. (Spirit in the Humanist construction is not suspicious.) Religious means only a discipline of thought … How funny when you think of it that our scientific spirit is pursued religiously, without, except in academic journals, attribution of names; while philosophy is all who said what. (Mirowski maps the ramifications of opening science with the spiritual can-opener.)

In places Voltaire did not reach or that Rousseau did either a respect for the nobility of a Natural thought unsullied by Culture (i.e. Enlightenment Humanism) still prevails, or one is celebrated for not having suffered the castration of an original philosophy from its root in religion. Buddhism, as we know well, becomes a useful household cleaner. Yoga is the recognition the body is the spirit from many thousands of immeasurable years ago (time immemorial) (although a matter of Western projection). So also projectively, Islam spawns radicalism (although a matter of a Western inspiration for Pankaj Mishra (here) going back to our first two figures).

Nonwestern religious thought is seen to be superior in the same Rousseauean sense that gave us the noble savage. Few of nobility have resulted. But many optative savages, whose minority belonging need only be attested to by the declarative, I identify as … a cannibal or an algorithm?

Philosophy, the Enlightenment legacy, the cogito, the churchy inheritance which held onto the split between mind and body, materialising it in the discourse of neurology, like a psychic vacuum cleaner, sucking aesthetics into the bag–neuroaesthetics–and relegating metaphysics to a cultish following and the gender-class-race politics of Dead White Men: what could be more a religious undertaking than eternal return? But then Communism is now metaphysics. And metaphysics is a matter for belief. And its childish suspension. Studies in mental health have shown it’s healthy to have something to believe.

Isn’t a religious experience one we seek out?

Isn’t a philosophical experience one of consolation? (Boethius imprisoned could ask, where is this famous consolation of philosophy?)

Isn’t a poetic experience one of whimsy? made of fancy bread?

And isn’t scientific experience one of the mundanity of existence? engaging a loss of innocence that everything is really as dull as it appears to be.

Until there is an unprecedented event …. “[The disease] can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences,” says cardiologist Harlan Krumholz of Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital, who is leading multiple efforts to gather clinical data on COVID-19. “Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.”

Good politics, what might this be? Does the Center for Political Beauty have the answer? (It is interesting how different it looks unEnglished.) Is good politics not now more problematic than good religion? (K. sent me links to this and this. And I find all I want to say is that to hinge political beauty on the Holocaust is the aesthetic effect which has been sought for it under neoliberalism to the abdication of the power in politics and the commendation of the beauty in letting the market–including the art market–run it.)

… where is that breath of fresh air? that mind breath Ginsberg said was a poem, is it here or hereunder

Or is it that data turns consumption against itself?

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What we are witnessing is the complete re-orientation of the global economy away from the petro-dollar to the data economy: days 34-37

I cannot reconstruct how I have got here, but I can tell you where I have got. You are probably not interested–who is? who has the time to be?–in the journey anyway. The conclusion will be bare. Just a bare line hanging without the scaffold of support.

What we are witnessing is the complete re-orientation of the global economy away from the petro-dollar to the data economy. We are seeing the completion of a process of re-orientation begun during the global crisis which had its inaugural moment with the bombing of the Twin Towers. At this time it became politically expedient to empower tech companies in the collection of data.

Data, farming it, harvesting it, owning it, selling it, mining for it, drilling into it, has become a more profitable industry than the oil industry. The data-dollar has outstripped the petro-dollar. The crashing in value of the petro-dollar and the crisis of oversupply in the energy market brought about by government-imposed lockdowns and the closing of national borders, particularly as it has affected the aviation industry, have leveraged the end of an era. COVID-19 marks the completion of a global re-orientation to the data-economy begun in pre-existing conditions of fear. Now the fear is of physical contact, digital contact is the solution.

It is as a spokesperson for a local social service writes, a contact-less digital solution, that without irony will be the complete solution to the contact tracing it is necessary to conduct. Asking our people to sign-in on a paper register and keep a diary of their movements can only go so far.

Social workers and educators move to online provision of services, often speaking to gains in efficiency and efficacy. Click and collect apps move the smallest transactions online, and whole stores migrate: New Hope is the name of the local dump shop, salvaging what people have thrown out for re-sale; it has now an online presence and offers click and collect, but not yet a proprietary app.

And this is where the frontline is: in compassionate examples and moral justifications. New Hope re-sells to benefit local initiatives. Social services take down names and personal details, aiding contact tracing, for the good of the society. The greater good has once again entered common parlance.

The farming of personal data from apps is for the greater good. For COVID-19 and for the complete re-orientation of the global economy. The complete solution.

He doesn’t like information,” the official said. “He likes decision points.”

I add this fragment as the most complete explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible statements of the POTUS.

I add the following fragment as ammunition for the frontline.

I went back to Milan Kundera for his view on kitsch, about the cruelty sentimentality and mawkishness cover over, and recalled how Kundera listened to Varèse and Xenakis, finding, especially in the latter, consolation. He asks himself why? Why, when he could be listening to Smetana? and recapitulating in its patriotism his nostalgia for homeland and for collective belonging.

He writes, equally brutally, perhaps, to the brutality he describes, and again, forgive me quoting at length:

“Despite Stravinsky’s denial that music expresses feeling, the naive listener cannot see it any other way. That is music’s curse, its mindless aspect. All it takes is a violinist playing the three long opening notes of a largo, and a sensitive listener will sigh, “Ah, how beautiful!” In those three notes that set off the emotional response, there is nothing, no invention, no creation, nothing at all: it’s the most ridiculous “sentimentality hoax.” But no one is proof against that perception of music, or against the foolish sigh it stirs.

“European music is founded on the artificial sound of a note and of a scale; in this it is the opposite of the objective sound of the world. Since its beginnings, Western music is bound, by an insurmountable convention, to the need to express subjectivity. It stands against the harsh sound of the outside world just as the sensitive soul stands against the insensibility of the universe.

“But the moment could come (in the life of a man or of a civilization) when sentiment (previously considered a force that makes man more human and relieves the coldness of his reason) is abruptly revealed as the “superstructure of brutality,” ever present in hatred, in vengeance, in the fervor of bloody victories. At that time I came to see music as the deafening noise of the emotions, whereas the world of noises in Xenakis’s works became beauty; beauty washed clean of affective filth, stripped of sentimental barbarity.”

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day 33

a propitious day to state the sabbatical principle, of one in seven is our rest taken, one day in seven, one year in seven

work is the saddest passion it will never be done

and rest relief on the seventh according to the seven virtues:

good wine

good food

good conversation

good sex

good art

good politics

good religion,

that follows them that is their thought and that accompanies each with thought and that follows rest relief from work

and from the sabbatical principle the good of birds mountains fish and seas, not men, women

and the virtuous things that are without number

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day 29, 30 & 31

I knew that the promise of this crisis, that it didn’t make any; least of all did it promise through the slippages entailed in the political management of the crisis any reevaluation of the principles by which that political management is in government informed.

What is meant here by political management is shutting down economies; what is meant by principles are those on which the business-as-usual of economies is based. Then by reevaluation is meant the power of a political will, of government, to change those principles on which the business-as-usual of economies is based.

At best what we have had over the period of economic shutdown–which can be taken quite literally in the lockdown of the public realm to the private and domestic realm–is a vague period. It has been one of not knowing how it will come out, of not knowing if any political strategy is going to work, and of not knowing, or of having inadequate knowledge, of what is really going on.

On one side we have felt the state flexing its muscles, sometimes behind the vanity screen of voluntary adherence to social rules, and out in the open, the enforcement of an almost arbitrary authoritarianism, then through the complicity of private agents jamming police lines dobbing other citizens in for breaches, Stasi-like. On the other side we have experienced what has felt almost like an over-reaction. Although to say so is to fistpump with the types of people whose opinions Trump mainlines, so we won’t be saying that.

The enigma continues in the prospect of many workplaces becoming filled once more, but by people doing very little; the businesses themselves propped up by subsidy and returning to work workers who will have little work to do. This has been, will have been, another of those embarrassing moments when that light negligee of economic dogma has shifted–showing, unsurprisingly, but nonetheless still shockingly, no body, nobody!, underneath.

Others have been a universal living wage having been coughed out to millions without any government whining about if you don’t work for it, just die, you just die! (As it happened this was what a Russian friend said to a Chinese friend, then both laughed and said: And we both had revolutions!) And if we take into account that the pretext for this coughing up is not say so bad as some global pandemics (but we won’t say that), then has it been too easily sidelined, the economic orthodoxy of neoliberalism? Has it given up without a fight? (The enemy COVID-19 is… evil evil evil, but hardly lifethreatening to the world economy! or globalism!)

But some of the explanation can be found in the price-mechanism of Hayek-inspired (who said so? Mirowski said so!) neoliberal thinking. That is, the machine is supposed to run independently of government actions, government being relegated to irrelevance, otherwise known as governance.

Then what happens? State governments shut down the mechanisms of the market, almost as if they no longer know what they are; almost as if they have forgotten that these levers and stop buttons used to have big signs on them saying use by political prerogative IN EMERGENCY ONLY!

The market is the market’s to shut down!

What to say about the promise–some commentators have evoked the work of Mark Fisher, who talks of the present as haunted by the possible futures which have never come to pass, and now never can. Why haunted? because of the hope, because of the promise … even if it’s simply one of a technological utopia. (I recall undergoing training at primary school in how to deal with all the leisure time I was going to have to endure as an adult, when technological progress was going to have, was supposed to have, coincided with enlightened social policy.) Now the future’s here and it’s hardly what we expected. … But then the future gets here again, with COVID-19, and it’s really not what we expected!

And again it returns, the future, bearing the φάρμακον, the pharmakon, that Greek gift–think Troy as well as Austerity–Derrida so well interprets.

And with the promises of returns to work looming, for me and some young people I know, as if this were the promise, I picked up Kundera’s book Encounter. It reminded me about the role of kitsch in hiding human cruelty.

And in view of the certitudes of work, as opposed to the enigmas we have suffered through, and suffered from, I read: “The existential enigma has disappeared behind political certitude, and certitudes don’t give a damn about enigmas. This is why, despite the wealth of their lived experiences, people emerge from a historic ordeal still just as stupid as they were when they went into it.”

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day 23, 24: we are the destroyers of society

Yes, Je est un autre is become a collective and communal assertion: we are …

Or, if it remain a matter of me it still maintains and expects the collective endorsement of too, it is poised or it poses on the edge of common recognition, which is ours in general, which it assumes to make such good moral sense that you’d be a complete troll idiot not to recognise the righteousness of the numbers–and dissent.

But the sense of moral outrage is endlessly manipulable as Trump shows even when showing his small hands hamfistedly engaged in this sleight or slight.

We might ask, together, and unifying in our common moral outrage for or against, how does it hold up, the trick, when we can see how it is done, and how badly; how do they get away with it?

Should we think of them as the better magicians for it? Or of ourselves as the stupider? Dumb, and so on.

Who is behind the assumption of these positions if not us? Is it the fear of being left out–a real fear–that, by the speed of communication in the age of the interweb, is retrojected to precede the impulse on which each of us acts? Is this what pushes?–the statistical impasse in which not to recognise ourselves (with the other or others) is to deny our identity, to deny that with which we identify?

The big fear expressed by government in New Zealand over its handling of COVID-19 has been that the virus is in the community. Of course this is xenophobic. But we can sacrifice the bad meaning of fear of foreign agents for the good meaning, which is that those agents are not people. They are barely even life as we know it, but parasitical on life, not travellers, so much, not tourists,

but viral, which means foreign and subhuman…

…however: dissent in general does not exist…

except in society.

Society exists to protect us from community. What an outrageous claim!

But how many times have you heard, a number so large it is statistically absolute, I know my community

And: In my community this would never happen

But that it does.

It does with increasing, and statistically verifiable, frequency.

What in our communities would never happen is happening in and to our society all the time. Which is what I would suggest is the virtue of society.

Not virtual society. That’s just dumb. But the reason why our social media empower the limited cognitive bubbles and lowest common denominators (ah, the old language!) of communities. Not societies.

(Media is of course also a misnomer: since what are called social media are privately owned commercial platforms.)

Societies should be set up to deal with an influx of foreigners, viral and other, and not be part of the setup in which social infrastructures, nonvirtual, are stretched to the limit by that kind of dissent from community which is foreign, viral and other.

Didn’t we all always know the end would be an inside job? Like me.

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days 21, 22: or an institution is defined by its freedoms

Now when it comes to community do we not normally consider it to be ours?

When we think of it are we not drawn to think of community as this one in particular of which we are a part, to which we belong?

And then when the association is invoked, of other communities having a claim to our attention, is it not normal to think of them being like ours, composed of men and women, of rainbows and children? That is to say LGBTIQ communities now want to be thought of as communities just like any other, just like ours, because we are them. So it is not facetious to talk about the rainbow community, of community as being inclusive, universal and… possibly absolute?

The communities that suffer suffer through causes external. They do not suffer through any inequality but that it is imposed from some outside cause.

We think of our community and we award it qualities we wish to see replicated in others, or we wish in our communities for those qualities to be replicated we see in others.

And when one says others one means communities of others not other’s: when community comes up it has normally the meaning that it is not other, not other than our own. It is meant to reduce differences. To equalise–opportunities to prosper, the opportunities to live and prosper of all those, all of us, who belong.

Spinoza writes that to any person nothing is more useful than another person. Because if their natures are in agreement together they are twice as powerful; and if they are to find a third whose nature agrees with theirs, thrice as powerful; and a fourth and fifth, and so on, and eventually a whole community as powerful as the sum of the number of members who belong to it. Or is it to the power of the number of members?

Spinoza doesn’t say. But it would make sense that a community’s power to be, which is how Spinoza understands power, as also its power to act is the sum of the differences it includes to the power of the number of individuals belonging to it. The rider would be that of the equalisation of differences, that we can put our differences aside in belonging and caring for community. But our differences still count here. We simply understand them as equivalences. Just as their community is like or is the same as ours, your differences are like or are the same as mine.

I am different in so many ways from you, and my friendship with you is not despite our differences, but sums them up in a greater unity with a greater power to be and act, a greater essence, that is to the power of us two.

So community is not the extension of relations necessary for the perpetuation of a race, people, class or genetic line but extends the advantage of friendship to a larger group of individuals.

So community includes friends as well: it includes the differences friends set aside for the enjoyment of the friendship, which is that of a greater power to be, to exist, as Spinoza says.

Now we understand community also from an evolutionary perspective. We think of it as a survival tactic, increasing our power to survive. We agree we need to unite in our community against a common foe; we agree to agree. And this before any need is our genetic advantage.

Humans form organisations taking in numbers of individuals of both genders impossible for other primates which makes human communities capable of defending themselves against apex predators. Other primate species are not so gifted at this: sexual competition for gene continuation leads to internal competition impossible to reconcile, to the internal predation of males on males. Experiments with chimpanzees in captivity have shown that their communities do not have the human capacity for setting aside the claims of sexual competition. Disagreements over who has a claim over whom have led to the devastation of their communities in human captivity. On the other hand, humans can unite into a single organism. Claims are not neutralised but one’s claim to the preservation of one’s genetic line can be seen to be the equivalent of an other’s; and at the ultimate this equivalence is a right to life, since it serves to the preservation of life.

And it serves to a right to life beyond the individual.

Now by individual, do we not normally mean the one who says I, who can say of herself I am, who can speak of himself in what grammarians call the first person?

Human individuality has a special status. Is it perhaps derived from the human propensity to communal organisation? and the attendant evolutionary advantages?

It is not like the individuality of blade of grass or grain of sand or mountain, river or blue whale. Rather than equivalent, these are interchangeable. One blue whale is worth another, down to the last few. One blade of grass is able to be substituted for another without the first being too much missed–unless it was the first, or most perfect, or ideal blade of grass. But every human individual is the first, most perfect and ideal example of human individuality. It is absolute.

We do not pit individuals against communities. We do not set the differences individuals can claim to absolutise them against the communities which make those differences equivalent in absolutising themselves, communities in fact which amplify those differences to the power of the number of their members; communities which are, like the individuals belonging to them, regardless of their number or their differences, in their absolute-ness absolutely equivalent.

I am like you, I am as they say because you are; we are like (plural) you, we are because (inclusive) we are.

But is to consider oneself an individual to consider one’s qualities as like an other’s? One is an individual inasmuch as one’s qualities are thought to be unique. They have arisen out of internal causes in which we can count our communities. These are our good qualities; our bad qualities however are said to have arisen from external causes–in which we cannot count our communities.

I wrote here of those who cast their problems at society that they do so out of inadequate understanding of their causes. That we can try to understand but that it would be unlikely for us to be given credit, or for us to win their credence, for us to be thanked, or for them to be grateful for our understanding on their behalf.

But this is the presumption which exists in that of the equivalence of our differences, whether differences between communities, or among individuals, where differences are not interchangeable: human individuality seems to be an absolute of a different order than human community. It might seem to have been hasty to have suggested community is or could be absolute.

If it was hasty to suggest human community is absolute, does this also obtain for the evolutionary advantage of forming a community?

What possible evolutionary advantage can be maintained for human individuality?

What stake do we set on it now?

Do we consider it to be an evolutionary liability?

Or is the idea of absolute individuality equally at fault?

Now I wrote at the end of this post that society is defined by the problems attributed to it.

Neither is it impugned by the problems attributed to it, nor, as Thatcher said, does it cease to exist.

We are more likely to attribute the problems we face in our communities to society than we are to attribute to it the problems we face as individuals. They are not one the same.

Problems faced by communities that are cast at society have a general equivalence. They could so easily be faced by our community, by mine or yours.

But problems faced by individuals do not. My problem is not interchangeable with yours.

Individual problems are in this way effaced by community problems.

Your problem is not and you cannot let it be exchanged with an other’s or lumped in with those of a community. With the absolute identity of a community. A community is never a community of others but a community of consent. In this consists its absolutism.

Now society is defined by the problems we have. Not together. We have never been together. Noone should ask us to be together. We should not unite.

To each granted what is common to all; from all excluded what is unique to each.

This law of exclusion is society’s. But it is in a deeper sense community’s law, its rule being there has never been a community of others but that it has been assumed to be the same.

I have been troubled by the convenience of the term biopolitics for the political emergence, emergency, we seem to be living through in the current state of exception, emergency. And what is troubling seems to be tied to a social emergence. But one that is buried. Was in fact buried approximately 35 years ago. Because it was relayed to the infrasocial emergence of communities of difference from the extrasocial politics producing difference. That is it was diverted. Was a diverted social passion, as Lordon calls politics.

Arthur Kroker, from a recent post to <<empyre>> here, seems to have provided a more adequate term in biofascism–on which we can catch the faint scent of community and communicability, and transmission, as being the problem.

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enjoy your resurrection, day 17, into day 18

Once resurrected then what?

And what bits will be and which won’t?

What will society lose? the weakest and most vulnerable?

…or the sense that they are… having lost the sense of their welfare being our responsibility and of our meaning society.

There may never have been any society in general. But it is just as true to say there may never have been any body in general.

Of course there is the external society.

Of course there is the external body.

But neither the body nor society are relations to true externalities–until they include the experience of a society-of-others and a body-as-other.

Just this, or that which Lingis calls in his eponymous work the community of those who have nothing in common, is what is meant by bearing responsibility for the weakest and most vulnerable. And we might say making accountable the strongest and most powerful.

When do we experience the otherness of the body? When we are deprived of the touch of the other. Our own limbs start to feel eerily bereft as if they have lost touch with the sense they made before. Why did I have this hand if not to caress? Was it always meant to tap tap tap at the keyboard, to turn the pages, to work the remote, to slice and dice, to be endlessly scrubbed?

When do we experience the otherness of the body? When part of it is infected. Or afflicted. It is the opposite of a phantom limb. A dead limb. An arm in a cast. A dismembered member. A face, even, swollen and strange, only the eyes recognisable as our own.

When do we experience the otherness of society? When every other person we meet might be the potential carrier of a disease.

When part of it is infected. Or afflicted. …Perhaps even when part of society is afflicted with being weak, or poor, or vulnerable, we experience its otherness.

When we feel power over a part of society we are haunted by the feeling that we are the same as them. We want to deny it. Sometimes we can. Sometimes we cannot.

Levinas writes that this is the response to the address the other makes, the imperative she places on us to respond, and as Lingis takes on this thought, it is the stranger, the diseased one in the street, who reaches out his hand to us… making us responsible. Sometimes we can deny it. We might turn around to make sure we are not being seen turning away. Sometimes we cannot. We are haunted by that sick face… haunted by our own powerlessness to help. But what really were we being called on to do?

All we are being asked to do in order to get through the absence of treatment for COVID-19 is to treat society as infected.

We are not asked to deny those parts of society infected exist.

We are asked to cut them off.

resurrected, what will that do?

Fisher wrote that we are haunted by futures, our futures sometimes imagined glorious, sometimes perfidious, the possibility of which actually occurring is absent.

They are the phantom limbs of our current society, of our current social organisation. And they itch. And we scratch. A literary scratch there. A cinematic one here. Utopian here. Dystopian there.

At least we can take refuge in the thought we were not responsible and are not accountable for the not-coming-to-pass of futures, global, environmental or social.

We can take refuge in the thought we are responsible and accountable only for our individual ones. That we did not put away savings for a son or daughter; that we did not buy health insurance… that our private dream was never realised …

But this presence of those present who are cut off because infected…

can we take refuge in the thought we were forced to

cut them off?

(Thank you Gloria Chan-Sook Kim whose phrase ‘phantom touch’ in a post to the <<empyre>> listserv gave occasion to think these thoughts.)

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