Tag Archives: socialism

April Fool’s Day 2014

24 Mar


April 1st, 2014 is approaching. May I still hold onto the hope that our president will come forth and tell his people that his plan is all an April Fool’s joke?

The government scoops a portion of the worker’s wages out of his hands with the assurance that, in return, immaterial rewards like ‘safety,’ ‘liberty,’ and ‘right to property’ will be granted to him. To survive, The State made it impossible for man to live without his labor-wages. How does the state—a symbolic structure which doesn’t provide any temporal goods—survive? By taking a portion of the earnings of the workers and capitalizing on the temporal goods of others. Taxed for earning. How vulgarly simple the newest state solution is! How come nobody thought of it before? Tax people for labor? No. Tax people for merely existing!

It’s quite simple. Who suffers? Those who have the fortune of existing and are in the position of being Americans. If you are an American, and you exist, you must pay the premium or be charged for your very existence.

What is being offered for these premiums? ‘Medical insurance’—in other words, that to be in the company of men and women who may or may not be able to cure your disease, patch up your wound or locate the physical solution to your mistake will not cost as much as it could in the future. A metaphysical state of grace, guarding all against the threat of harm—protection from future occurrences.

What happens to one who does not or cannot pay for these future occurrences? One is charged for every moment one exists without coverage. If one doesn’t pay the charges? It goes to collections. It damages one’s ‘credit’—‘good credit’ being a fictive stamp of capitalistic approval born out of the needs of big businesses to guard themselves against the dangers of future occurrences. Damage to one’s ‘credit’ prevents one’s ability to maintain or own property—a capitalistic Mark of Cain. Who, then, is on trial? People who do not have money. How will they be punished? By being pushed into the financial hole of ‘debt.’ ‘Debt’ in a world operating on ‘credit’ is just as much a fiction as the latter, even if the weight and resulting anxiety of that debt are real. The real punishment? Anxiety. Stress. The crushing of one’s spirit.

We’ve been invited into a logical circle. The relationship between the causes of commodity and the effects of fetishism has caused us to assume, as individuals, a relationship with the government that presupposes the discourse of ‘debt’ and many inherited gestures and thoughts that have been doubling up and adding to our psychic baggage for thousands upon thousands of years, reaching into pre-history. We are only beginning, as a whole, to ask those questions that all of society was built on—the question put forth by the debtor. ‘To whom does my debt belong and why am I in his debt?’ Ancient man, who had no kings or rulers, began with this question when dealing with personal transactions that benefited him temporally.

Capital is so built on this relationship between debt and the debtor that we often forget the very vehicle by which this debt was stressed—guilt; a sense of anxiety by which one party could remind the other of the ‘value’ at stake in failing to fulfill a contract. Because those in power have, for countless millennia, enforced punitive measures on those who have failed to fulfill debts—whether that debt be that of one party steeling something for which others would be required to pay or that of one who has caused irreversible damage—guilt has grown many limbs and taken on a terrible life of its own in the cultural psyche. It has grown so large that it has become a punishment itself. Where men of power in pre-history merely carried through with their contracts until the blood of the weaker party soiled the ground, men of power today merely remind us that because they are powerful, they require our constant debt to keep them powerful—thus the illusion of our security—and when the mere sensation of debt is refused, we are then guilty of not paying reverence to the sovereignty of power itself.

Systems that capitalize on a lack or complete negation of money are, in the long run, merely punitive.


Health, though a necessity (but never a right) belongs to the domain (that is to say, the limits) of science. Where the state has a hand in the domain of science, it has produced weapons strong enough to kill millions and strike fear into the rest. It has widened the divide between social classes by forcing workers to be agents of production for the well oiled state machine to continue running smoothly. We may deplore the crimes of the industrial age now. We may cast our eyes away from a history filled with millions of lives snuffed out by war like candle-flames before a fan, but we cannot afford to continue to believe—and if not to believe, then frivolously accept—this fiction perpetually peddled by our statesmen: that they own the scientists and have, therefore, traced the perimeters of the material world. I distrust any man who tells me that he owns the truth because he understands nature. Today’s ‘natural truth’ is tomorrow’s forced vaccination.

A rule of approximation
It matters little if a conspiracy theory is true or not. If a man of power puts something into effect that even has the bad appearance of confirming the public’s ominous suspicions, it speaks badly of his discursive propriety. In a world where the masses rule, where the loudest truth is the truest and the most violent expression is the one that creates history, mere ‘bad appearances’ will cause nations to sink into the ground like the walls of Jericho. In other words, if we owe billions of dollars to a foreign country, it is in bad taste to charge everyone arbitrarily for insurance that we should, with good conscience, be able to pay for of our own volition. At least make it difficult for our suspicions!

Say what you will about the state’s propensity to glue words together, and not even with their proper compound word dash in between! Combining your last name with the word ‘care’ to denote a political entity is not only cute but also quite ingenuous. Everyone likes to be ‘cared for.’ Can we not continue this trend? Refer to war as ‘Bushwhacking.’ Refer to office sex as ‘Clinternizing.’ It is unfortunate, though, that words do not ennoble names when attached to them. It is the name that ennobles or cheapens the word.

What should I say to those who think that voting is duplicitous? That petitions are paltry? That protests are obnoxious and township rebellions are only invitations for tighter leashes? It is, perhaps, not for everyone to act. There are, of course, those who will not suffer from forced premiums. There are those who have much more to lose by way of ‘bad credit’ and ‘debt’ even if the disaffected no longer believe in those metaphysical, economic nouns. Perhaps it is not even for me to act. Could I justifiably call for others to willingly dive headlong into the anxiety of bad credit? Debt? Prison? Where does this state of discursive damnation, this ‘debt,’ not sink into with its talons? What fabric of life does it not now affect in some remote way? When things arrive at their worst, people will say, ‘If only we’d paid more attention earlier on!’ ‘If only we would have voted!’ Or even, ‘If only we would have met the state’s requirements!’ But suppose that a necessary change could not have come about through any other means. Suppose that an all out collapse in the modern value of ‘credit’ and ‘debt’ were to occur—for, realistically, it could only ever be a collapse in our concept of ‘value,’ as Marx was keen to show us. With more and more people having to exist and having to find some sort of vague contentment or mere will to go on, will our threshold for anxiety not be widened? Will we not be able to undergo more and more psychological hardship wrought by the metaphysics of this whole political bad faith? It will be at the expense of our comfort that we will finally have to appropriate and practice those gestures that we were warned we must start adopting long ago when all of this was merely a philosophical problem … Suddenly Heidegger’s ‘overcoming of metaphysics’ and ‘retrieval of being’ will have meaning beyond their use in dusty classrooms. Heinrich Heine will suddenly ring as true to us as he did to war-torn Europe in the twentieth century, an age he prophesied. Those ideas which for far too long only had strength as concepts in classrooms will suddenly reveal most of today’s mechanisms of control as mere concepts as well, thus revealing their weakness.


It is imperative that the state perpetually reevaluate its ability to give, otherwise it is merely a tyranny, like most states in the world. If the state wants to continue to exist and enjoy the temporal support of its people, it must recognize itself as nothing more than a clever fiction—The state must develop the ability to laugh at itself.

But then, can we really choose to see it this way, if we wish? That the state is nothing but a brutish, bumbling warrior who takes what he wills by strength and has no mind for managing the world beyond his own comfort, but that with a little learning and wisdom he might better learn how to take care of his people? I’m sorry, but it’s all quite a bit more sinister than that. The prices will always rise when there is war being had on many fronts.

Our leaders are quick to pay praise and respect to those men and women who risk and sacrifice their lives for us in wars. They are not brave enough to talk of the sacrifice that the common man must put up with when portions of his wage and most of his livelihood fund those wars. It is no longer sacrifice but forced debt. Of course, the state is unwilling to release information on just how much of the common man’s money is used for funding wars, just as the state is unable to release information on just how much money is used on making your society ‘safer’ and rife with ‘better education.’

When there is a war, all premiums and raises in price are immediately suspect.

Though Marx diagnosed the problem with capitalism, his solution was all too similar to the coming mandate of April 1st. Marx’s solution was little less than cutting out the cumbersome business of currency, and by doing so, he made human utility the currency. So his solution could be seen as an extreme opposite to the mandate of April 1st. Where his solution made humans into money, April 1st, merely supposes that it will make humans into commodities by which the state might make money.

My examples may be of the crudest sort, and perhaps they may say very little about the mechanics of the whole political dynamic involved in the conversation, but is this not what the subject has reduced us to? The marginalization of various classes of people, various types of people, all in favor of a set of dead ideals? That something could be for the sake of social welfare and rob precisely the people who need it most? What we are dealing with is not ‘social healthcare’ as it has often been referred to, but a mere capitalistic imitation of it. It is no kind of radical democracy, as it would greatly like to fashion itself, but a means of widening the gap between rich and poor.

But who then is rich and who is poor? Is the poor man the one asking for food on the corner of the street or is it last year’s millionaire who’s electricity is about to be shut off? Perhaps there will come a time when it is not the gap between the rich and the poor that is widened, but the gap between the anxious and the vigorous. Debt may crush the spirit the same as food deficiency. In America, there is not yet a famine, and this is the final summit of the problem. Where there is no famine, there is no true annihilating, violent poverty. The poverty of America is a poverty of desperation, not a poverty of death. Desperation may earn one food, but so may cunning and persistence (not exclusive from desperation but not married to it). You mustn’t be afraid when you are cast into the margins and the abysses of society. Most of the weapons formed against you simply do battle with your mind.

Achieving Our Country by Richard Rorty

4 May

Achieving Our Country

What is it, exactly, that makes Richard Rorty a fairly easy read? I would equate it, not only to the conciseness of his prose, but to his uncanny ability to draw up perfectly lucid dichotomies. ‘Dichotomy’ has become something of a bad word in contemporary philosophy. The word is often associated with a sense of anti-gradation, usually into an idea which has become ‘over-determined’ and thus, worth ‘deconstructing.’

Rorty draws dichotomies, not to essentialize some thought-system, but to communicate to his reader. In his work, he expresses a sort of counter-distrust to people who too readily preach a message synonymous with saying that no good philosophy can be available to the masses. It is by this means of communication that Rorty, so often accused throughout his career of taking flippant attitudes toward ‘truth,’ actually turns out to take a quite political stance with his philosophy, and that serves this context to say, a moral stance as well.

It is by the same flippancy he was often accused of that Rorty was able to quickly raise the visions of Dewey and Whitman to the level of high praise reserved for Marx and Hegel in their respective circles. In Rorty’s mind, the sins of America should not wipe out our hope that she can still be better and that there is some way to put into action the dream for her that the founding fathers had.

I must say, Rorty’s writing has proved to be quite refreshing. In a time when the Anglo-analytical word-magicians have gained academic currency, placing their priorities in the world of grammar, it is nice to see a very serious form of ‘flippancy’ rendered with such passion, imagination and—the magic word again—hope. So what if at times Rorty’s writing appears to be a philosophy a la carte? So what if he pulls the best out and lets the worst drop away?

In his famous work, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty allows room for those who seek only their own salvation with no hope for the outside world in the form of ‘the ironist’, while also giving room to the separate but not incompatible project of ‘social hope.’ The flippancy for which he has often been accused can best be fit into the impulse from which his idea of personal autonomy in the mind of the ironist arose.

In Achieving Our Country, Rorty lays down some more localized ideas concerning his own country. When looked at closely, Rorty’s theory of the ironist paired with social hope is ultimately a democratic theory. It allows room for the individual while acting to diminish the highest amount of unnecessary suffering.

While it certainly helps to be somewhat familiar with the terms of dichotomy that Rorty plays with here, he is good at summary. Even if one doesn’t particularly trust his summaries as exhaustive, the various pairings are rendered in such a way that the curious reader can easily spring through Rorty’s interpretation and still gain some idea about the writers he references.

Imaginative, cross-textual relationships rule Rorty’s ideas. The most romantic ideas are not dismissed for not being Foucauldian enough. Nobody in Rorty’s book is too unfashionable to draw from. He puts just as much importance on the poets as he does the great thinkers, because Rorty is one of the few to realize that some politics need a sense of vision that philosophy, in its many fashionable permutations, is not always equipped to give it.

49 Steps by Roberto Calasso

26 Apr

49 Steps

In his interview with The Paris Review, Roberto Calasso said the following:

I feel thought in general, and in particular what is unfortunately called “philosophy,” should lead a sort of clandestine life for a while, just to renew itself. By clandestine I mean concealed in stories, in anecdotes, in numerous forms that are not the form of the treatise. Then thought can biologically renew itself, as it were.

It would appear that Roberto Calasso’s own works set out to do just that. The 49 steps alluded to in the title of Calasso’s book refer to a sequence of meaning in the Talmud. Here, however, the sequence, or something like it, is used not on the Talmud but on the whole plane of western thought in the past few centuries.

In freeing himself from the philosophical treatise of which he spoke, abandoning the essay as we know it today with a strong supportable thesis, and without resorting to the constant chain of overcoming that often happens in western thought—you know, the easy academic distinction which believes that analytic philosophy supersedes Derrida, who supersedes Heidegger, who supersedes Nietzsche, who supersedes Plato—Calasso resorts to those very anecdotes, stories and other forms he favors to weave a narrative of the modern world.

The project that Calasso seems to take on here is a means of exploring those more latent features of history that, while not belonging to the socially accepted sequence of historical influence, may have left a definite imprint on modern consciousness.

One can’t so easily accuse him of jazzing around unseriously with history. Calasso, rather, seems to ascertain that if one doesn’t weave one’s own narrative, one is weaved by someone else’s narrative. Yet, all the while, he feels somewhat easy with the recognition that we are always wrapped up in some narrative not of our own making; another feature of life.

Most systems of thought have come about through someone trying to escape history, whether it be Marxism, The French Revolution or The Society of the Best Sunday Cheeses. Revolutions and intended revolutions, gigantic cultural gestures, act as instant points by which we can map out human progress or history.

Rather than escaping history, Calasso, rather, digs deep into the sediment of history, burrows through its tunnels, pays careful attention to its sequential blips and interruptions, comes out the other side and explores the secret rooms of the ancient cities of civilization. He walks the dark alleyways of society, lying adjacent to the boulevards filled with the humbuggy chants of party members making political changes, and in these alleyways a secret history is played out.

In Calasso’s narrative, everything new is actually an eventuation of something incredibly ancient. The peculiar, bisexually misogynistic message of Otto Weininger, which captivated a few college boys and girls in the early part of the twentieth century, is not a new psychological breakthrough but merely a more immediate and honest manifestation of how men have viewed women for countless millennia. Likewise, the mostly discarded writings of Marx (even by most Marxists) on the role of women in society can be seen as a hyper-reduction of an almost primitive tendency to view women as mere agents of sexual utility.

In like manner, many specific artists, politicians and historical figures make ‘cameos’—to use a theatrical phrase—on Calasso’s stage in order to embody a specific problem or a very distinct yet ongoing thread of thought or behavior. Yet, because this is not a story in the classic sense, Calasso’s narrative takes the form, not of a theatrical stage, but a sort of web. Each thread is connected to a different branch. Each essay is a branch on which Calasso sits for a time to gain a different thought.

He returns frequently to Walter Benjamin and Karl Kraus. There is one amusing anecdote in which Calasso tells us that we can ascertain the shape of Walter Benjamin’s thought by some of the things he reviews—as is the case when Benjamin employs his knowledge of Freud alongside philosophy of identity and pleasure when reviewing a book about toys.

Calasso’s frequent return to Kraus gives special attention to his prolific periodical, Die Fackel, along with The Last Days of Mankind. Kraus is depicted as the careful scribbler of uncareful half-truths and truth-and-a-halfs. Calasso gives us a picture of Kraus holed up during the Nazi-apocalypse, more intent on determining the perfect placement of commas than fighting the devil, with the firm belief that good grammar prevents future genocide.

Max Stirner earns an awkward place in the anxiety of influence, as most philosophers who’ve read him seem anxious to even admit his obvious influence on their work.

As Calasso weaves this narrative, it is easy to get lost in the euphoria of his poetic command. As a reader, I want to believe that his various curiosities and interests give us a more likely sequence of historical movement, even if it is only along some sub-current. But to trust the very finitude of Calasso’s narrative, bound by the walls of the book and its bindings, is to betray the spirit of the work, for part of the euphoria offered by the reading experience, I suspect, comes from a sense of inexhaustibility.

Following a similar trajectory through history as 49 Steps, there are all kinds of places one can go, suspicions one can entertain and conclusions one can draw. It acts almost as a mystery story through the walls of history, as we try to trace, not necessarily its origins, but how we relate to it.

Toward the book’s close, in a chapter called ‘The Terror of Fables,’ Calasso talks about our modern relationship with the word ‘myth’ and its having become a sneering synonym for ‘lie.’ He tries to restore myth as an ancient form of truth.

Thus now we can own up to what was—what is—that ancient terror that the fables continue to arouse. It is no different from the terror that is the first one of all: terror of the world; terror in the face of its mute, deceptive, overwhelming enigma; terror before this place of constant metamorphosis and epiphany, which above all includes our own minds, where we witness without letup the tumult of simulacra.

No, if myth is precisely a sequence of simulacra that help to recognize simulacra, it is naïve to pretend to interpret myth, when it is myth itself that is already interpreting us.

Perhaps it should be no wonder that Roberto Calasso only wrote one novel. After that, history itself was novel enough.

Religion, by Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo

24 Feb


Derrida was responsible for the topic of discussion in this book, which is part of a series called Cultural Memory in the Present. The book is made up of essays, by various different thinkers, on the title subject.

In the opening essay, Derrida gives us a series of aphorisms relating to the title subject that then interweave until they seemingly bunch up in knots, at which point Derrida tries to find his way back out again. Leaving no stone unturned, Derrida’s long essay is just as careful to include everything as some less dangerous, more PC intellectual would be careful not to include certain elements. Here we have him weighing, considering and dissecting everything from televangelism to Islamic fundamentalism to the papacy, scripture and beyond.

Derrida seems to think that it is inevitable that we return to the subject of Christianity when talking about the west’s relationship with religion, rather than making a generalization that dialectically neutralizes the three big monotheistic faiths. As he notes the word ‘religion’ itself is Latin, which means little outside of the historical context of Christianity, and it is through this context that the west, whether it be through the eyes of secularism within religion or religion within the secularism, that we must look (the west having already found itself thrown into this contingency, to express it in Heideggerian terms).

Whether or not it is certain that we ‘must’ look at religion in this specific Latin context, one of ‘globalatinization’ as he puts it, it provides Derrida a point of focus to discuss the matter in such a way that he always has a point of departure and return with the subject, in order to provide structure to what is, really, a series of loose (if lucid) connections and approximations. This is hardly a crime (though his detractors have criminalized Derrida for this very method of thinking), nor is it an incredibly insightful thing for me to say about the text. Even ideas that started as a ‘deconstruction’ end up having some kind of architecture.

Though rigorous in thought, Derrida’s essay provides a pretty large context and maze-like way of wading through the subject. Or, perhaps, due to its aphoristic nature, it is like a big house in which each thought is a different room. By the time one has finished browsing, admiring this and that room, one steps out of the house and looks back on it as a whole.

Derrida’s varied way of tackling the subject is an interesting pair with the next essay by Gianni Vattimo, entitled ‘The Trace of the Trace.’ Vattimo is unapologetically hard to pin down (not that Derrida isn’t—he’s pretty much made a career out of it). To pair them in strictly binary terms, one could say that Derrida represents the ‘secular view’ while Vattimo represents (interprets) the ‘religious view.’ As a Catholic (of some sort), Vattimo centers his essay on the return of religion in the modern world.

Vattimo’s career, over the past decade or so, has taken a strong thematic turn. In the works of his early career, he offered both a means of interpreting and a series of interpretations, often coinciding with the explanation of his interpretation imbedded within the interpretation itself. It seemed that the ‘results’ (we’ll call them for now) of this incredibly nuanced way of doing philosophy upset people more than the actual method. Perhaps this is why the latter half of Vattimo’s career seems to be an apologetic for his own brand of hermeneutic philosophy that has been referred to for a while now as ‘Pensiero Debole’—‘Weak Thought.’

On the outset, one would probably be tempted to say that Weak Thought (which ironically relies on a series of strong postulations in order to arrive at its ‘weak’-ness) is Vattimo taking Heidegger far too seriously as it concerns his preoccupation with retrieving Being and ‘leaving metaphysics to itself,’ while likewise taking Nietzsche far too seriously as it concerns his preoccupation with destructive nihilism verses constructive nihilism. By the way that Vattimo has routinely interpreted both thinkers, one would be tempted to think that Vattimo sees his ‘Weak Thought’ as a way of surpassing metaphysics while at once ‘retrieving Being’ and also superseding destructive nihilism with constructive nihilism.

If one were to read only the writings of the later stages of his career, one would probably ask, ‘Why this method? Why this conclusion?’ which brings us back to the initial interpretation. Like I said before, Vattimo’s method and resulting interpretations often have such a relationship that one doesn’t quite know where one ends and the other begins. One always gets the sense that Vattimo is being playful, but he’s sure not going to tell us which aspect of his thought is play, just as one would gather that some of the qualifying interpretations of certain ideas were developed after he found the result he wanted, as is the case with some of the ways he talks about religion.

However, this essay suggests differently. As Vattimo tries to map out a few possible thoughts on the return of religion in the modern world, he stays close to a serious investment of Heideggerian views on Being, which means that the ‘event-like-nature’ of Being, if we play fair, would have to pan out along one line of events, since to suggest that two separate lines of event—one in which religion reveals the nature of Being through itself and the other in which reflection on the phenomena surrounding religion as a historical mistake using the faculties of ‘Reason’ (unavailable through the previous epic of Being) gives us an ‘accurate’ picture of ‘how the world really is’—becomes contradictory and untenable.

Thus, according to Vattimo, we are no longer in a place where we can rightly dismiss or explain the ‘return’ of religion through convenient essentialist trappings—i.e.: psychology cannot ‘explain away’ the religious sentiment by saying that it is ‘merely’ a manifestation of people’s need to cope with fear, despair and impending cultural violence, but rather, that this means of coping is precisely one of many features of religion expressing itself through the nature of Being, thus legitimizing it on an existential level while giving room for the truth of its claims to enter dialogue with the world.

This is where Vattimo’s ‘Weak Thought’ as a form of constructive nihilism comes in. Though they arrive at it in different ways, Richard Rorty’s brand of ‘Neo-pragmatism’ and Vattimo’s ‘Weak Thought’ are similar in nature, and both thinkers have in the past subscribed to one another’s title. A vulgar reduction of both methods of thinking could be summed up in a statement that Rorty said of his own attitude, which was, ‘The only truth is the truth that’s best for you and me.’ In other words, the weakness of ‘Weak thought’ and the pragmatism of ‘Neo-pragmatism’ amounts to a dialogue, an attitude of friendliness in some achievable end.

Vattimo takes it a lot farther by saying that this attitude of ‘friendliness’ is precisely the attitude and center of Christianity. While much of the discourse in his philosophy returns to ‘the end of metaphysics,’ Vattimo suggests that Christianity, as a tradition, offers a form of transcendent dialogue that has a definite role in that end. The ‘strong’ systems of thought responsible for archaic religions, and even of modern ideologies, resemble the very strong system which collapsed in light of the doctrine of the incarnation. Vattimo could be seen as critical of post-Enlightenment thought by suggesting that the nature of religion digs itself into the marrow of the culture and always informs it, even if it appears to ‘go away’ for a while, its reemergence and dissipation both being aspects of the history of Being, and therefore, inseparable from any other knowledge of Being.

Rene Girard accused Vattimo’s treatment of philosophy as a kind of ‘game,’ which is not entirely groundless. Vattimo’s ‘weak thought’ is, among other things, a means of entertaining a possibility, an imaginative way of conversing. The next half dozen or so essays in the book could all be said to follow this same style of thinking though taking a different route and arriving at different results. In the same way that Vattimo adds some perspective to Heidegger, others bring us back to Kant, to Hegel, to Aristotle, to the original Judaic texts, all to entertain a series of possibilities and new ways of thinking about traditional ideas.

The book is concluded with an endearing essay by Hans-Georg Gadamer, who has been famously open to healthy dialogue with religion, probably as a means of maintaining ethical solidarity between radically different groups in a world in crisis. Gadamer’s speculative ‘solutions’ coupled with Derrida’s more ominous predictions open and close a much bigger conversation that ends up being as friendly as it is rewarding to discover.