Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From "Shoplifters of the World Unite"

Please see the full essay at
http://www.lrb.co.uk/2011/08/19/slavoj-zizek/shoplifters-of-the-world-unite

[....]

But weren’t the Arab uprisings a collective act of resistance that avoided the false alternative of self-destructive violence and religious fundamentalism? Unfortunately, the Egyptian summer of 2011 will be remembered as marking the end of revolution, a time when its emancipatory potential was suffocated. Its gravediggers are the army and the Islamists. The contours of the pact between the army (which is Mubarak’s army) and the Islamists (who were marginalised in the early months of the upheaval but are now gaining ground) are increasingly clear: the Islamists will tolerate the army’s material privileges and in exchange will secure ideological hegemony. The losers will be the pro-Western liberals, too weak – in spite of the CIA funding they are getting – to ‘promote democracy’, as well as the true agents of the spring events, the emerging secular left that has been trying to set up a network of civil society organisations, from trade unions to feminists. The rapidly worsening economic situation will sooner or later bring the poor, who were largely absent from the spring protests, onto the streets. There is likely to be a new explosion, and the difficult question for Egypt’s political subjects is who will succeed in directing the rage of the poor? Who will translate it into a political programme: the new secular left or the Islamists?

The predominant reaction of Western public opinion to the pact between Islamists and the army will no doubt be a triumphant display of cynical wisdom: we will be told that, as the case of (non-Arab) Iran made clear, popular upheavals in Arab countries always end in militant Islamism. Mubarak will appear as having been a much lesser evil – better to stick with the devil you know than to play around with emancipation. Against such cynicism, one should remain unconditionally faithful to the radical-emancipatory core of the Egypt uprising.

But one should also avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause: it’s too easy to admire the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. Today’s left faces the problem of ‘determinate negation’: what new order should replace the old one after the uprising, when the sublime enthusiasm of the first moment is over? In this context, the manifesto of the Spanish indignados, issued after their demonstrations in May, is revealing. The first thing that meets the eye is the pointedly apolitical tone: ‘Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic and social outlook that we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice.’ They make their protest on behalf of the ‘inalienable truths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.’ Rejecting violence, they call for an ‘ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.’ Who will be the agents of this revolution? The indignados dismiss the entire political class, right and left, as corrupt and controlled by a lust for power, yet the manifesto nevertheless consists of a series of demands addressed at – whom? Not the people themselves: the indignados do not (yet) claim that no one else will do it for them, that they themselves have to be the change they want to see. And this is the fatal weakness of recent protests: they express an authentic rage which is not able to transform itself into a positive programme of sociopolitical change. They express a spirit of revolt without revolution.

The situation in Greece looks more promising, probably owing to the recent tradition of progressive self-organisation (which disappeared in Spain after the fall of the Franco regime). But even in Greece, the protest movement displays the limits of self-organisation: protesters sustain a space of egalitarian freedom with no central authority to regulate it, a public space where all are allotted the same amount of time to speak and so on. When the protesters started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties. This is clearly not enough to impose a reorganisation of social life. To do that, one needs a strong body able to reach quick decisions and to implement them with all necessary harshness.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

USA Corporate Fascism

Financial Terrorism in America
Please see the full report at
http://ampedstatus.org/exclusive-analysis-of-financial-terrorism-in-america-over-1-million-deaths-annually-62-million-people-with-zero-net-worth-as-the-economic-elite-make-off-with-46-trillion/
[....]

IV :: Declining Income

While the cost of living from 1990 – 2010 increased by 67%, worker income has declined. According to the most recent available IRS data, covering the year of 2009, average income fell 6.1%, a loss of $3,516 per worker, that year alone. Average income has declined 13.7% from 2007 – 2009, representing a $8,588 loss per worker.

The decline in worker income is due to the dramatic increase in CEO pay. CEO pay has consistently increased year-over-year since the mid-1970s. From 1975 – 2010, worker productivity increased 80%. Over this time frame, CEO pay and the income of the economic top 0.1% (one-tenth of one percent) of the population quadrupled. The income of the top 0.01% (one-hundredth of one percent) quintupled.

To understand the affect CEO pay increases have had on workers’ declining share of income on an annual basis, after analyzing 2008 tax data, leading tax reporter David Cay Johnston summed up the situation with these revealing statistics:

“Had income growth from 1950 to 1980 continued at the same rate for the next 28 years, the average income of the bottom 90 percent in 2008 would have been 68 percent higher…. That would have meant an average income for the vast majority of $52,051, or $21,110 more than actual 2008 incomes. How different America would be today if the typical family had $406 more each week…”

As shocking as that is, over the last two years, workers have lost an even higher share of income to CEOs. In the last year alone, CEO pay skyrocketed by 28%. Looking at 2009, according to a recent Dollars & Sense report, workers lost nearly $2 trillion in wages that year alone:

“In 2009, stock owners, bankers, brokers, hedge-fund wizards, highly paid corporate executives, corporations, and mid-ranking managers pocketed—as either income, benefits, or perks such as corporate jets—an estimated $1.91 trillion that 40 years ago would have collectively gone to non-supervisory and production workers in the form of higher wages and benefits.”

As bad as these numbers are, consider that the attack on American workers has increased significantly since 2009. From 2009 to the fourth-quarter of 2010, 88% of income growth went to corporate profits (i.e. CEOs), while just 1% went to workers.

As the NY Times reported in an article entitled, “Our Banana Republic,” from 1980 – 2005, “more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.” Again, as bad as that was, since 2005 it has gotten even worse, as Zero Hedge recently reported, labor’s current “share of national income has fallen to its lowest level in modern history.” This chart shows how workers’ percentage of income has been rapidly declining:

The bottom line, as statistics clearly demonstrate, these trends are getting worse and the attacks against us, as severe as they have been over the past four years, are dramatically escalating.

Part Two :: The Economic Elite

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class,
the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

– Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

[....]

Part Four :: Fascism in America

Other than driving large segments of the American population into poverty, and pushing the majority into massive debt and a state of financial desperation, there is an ever darker side to what is unfolding today. The Economic Elite have turned America into a modern day fascist state.

Fascism is a very powerful word which evokes many strong feelings. People may think that the term cannot be applied to modern day America. However, as Benito Mussolini once summed it up: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.” In the early 1900s, the Italians who invented the term fascism also described it as “estato corporativo,” meaning: the corporate state.

Very few Americans would argue the fact that corporations now control our government and have the dominant role in our society. Through a system of legalized bribery – campaign finance, lobbying and the revolving door between Washington and corporations – the most power global corporations dominant the legislative and political process like never before. Senator Huey Long had it right when he warned: “When fascism comes to America, it will come in the form of democracy.”

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt once described fascism: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes strong than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”

The most blatant modern example of this was the bailout of Wall Street, when the “too big to fail” banks got politicians to promptly hand out trillions of tax dollars in support and subsidies to the very people who caused the crisis, without any of them being held accountable.

XI :: Modern Day Slavery

Another shocking example of how far we have descended into fascism is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is a group of corporate executives who literally write government legislation. They have gone as far as setting up a system that imprisons the poor and then puts them to work, instead of paying living wages to non-imprisoned workers. Make no mistake, this is a modern day system of slavery unfolding before our eyes.

At the leadership of ALEC and various other Economic Elite organizations, poverty has essentially become a crime. To demonstrate these attacks against the poor, there was $17 billion cut from public housing programs, while there was an increase of $19 billion in programs for building prisons, “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the poor.” Before laws began to be rewritten in 1980, with direct input from ALEC, we had a prison population of 500,000 citizens. After laws were rewritten to target poor inner city citizens with much more severe penalties, the US prison population skyrocketed to 2.4 million people.

We now have the largest prison population in the world. With only 4% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s prison population. As I reported previously, in a report entitled, “American Gulag: World’s Largest Prison Complex“:

“The US, by far, has more of its citizens in prison than any other nation on earth. China, with a billion citizens, doesn’t imprison as many people as the US, with only 308 million American citizens. The US per capita statistics are 700 per 100,000 citizens. In comparison, China has 110 per 100,000. In the Middle East, the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia imprisons 45 per 100,000. US per capita levels are equivalent to the darkest days of the Soviet Gulag.
[....]

Friday, August 12, 2011

Slavoj Žižek The world’s hippest philosopher

Please see the full interview at

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/7871302/Slavoj-Zizek-the-worlds-hippest-philosopher.html

[....]

It follows that 21st-century fundamentalists do not want their beliefs “tolerated” by a liberalism they want to destroy. “Can we even imagine the change in the Western 'collective psyche’ when (not if but precisely when) some 'rogue nation’ or group obtains a nuclear device, or powerful biological or chemical weapon, and declares its 'irrational’ readiness to risk all in using it?” he writes in Living in End Times. The premise of this wide-ranging, often revelatory, frequently bewildering work is that the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point.

“Its four riders,” he writes, “are comprised of the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.”

From the ashes, he argues, we should be able to build a new communism. “The standard liberal-conservative argument against communism is that, since it wants to impose on reality an impossible dream, it necessarily ends in terror. What, however, if one should nonetheless insist on taking the risk of enforcing the Impossible onto reality? Even if, in this way, we do not get what we wanted and/or expected, we none the less change the coordinates of what appears as 'possible’ and give birth to something genuinely new.”

But the book offers no clear idea of how its readers might begin to go about doing this. When I ask Žižek if there are any pointers I’ve missed, he explodes one final time: “I despise the kind of book which tells you how to live, how to make yourself happy! Philosophers have no good news for you at this level! I believe the first duty of philosophy is making you understand what deep s--- you are in!”

Noting with relief that our hour is up, he tells me he must to get back to work on his “megabook” on Hegel. “Because time is running out. I am 61, I have diabetes.”

He holds out a slippery paw and shakes my hand with warmth and vigour. “This is all? My God! Good. Goodbye!”

The civilian victims of the CIA's drone war

A new study gives us the truest picture yet – in contrast to the CIA's own account – of drones' grim toll of 'collateral damage'

  • A six-year-old civilian victim of a US drone strike in Pakistan, 2009
    Sameeda Gul, 6, who was injured in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2009. Photograph: Getty Images

    I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won't stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance …

    George Orwell, "As I Please", Tribune, 30 June 1944

    George Orwell wrote of V2 attacks on London in 1944. Yet, there are many more in Britain who identify with that voice, speaking 67 years ago, than with events that are a regular reality in Pakistan today.

    This week, a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism gives us the best picture yet of the impact of the CIA's drone war in Pakistan. The CIA claims that there has been not one "non-combatant" killed in the past year. This claim always seemed to be biased advocacy rather than honest fact. Indeed, the Guardian recently published some of the pictures we have obtained of the aftermath of drone strikes. There were photos of a child called Naeem Ullah killed in Datta Khel and two kids in Piranho, both within the timeframe of the CIA's dubious declaration.

    The BIJ reporting begins to fill in the actual numbers. It's a bleak view: more people killed than previously thought, including an estimated 160 children overall. This study should help to create a greater sense of reality around what is going on in these remote regions of Pakistan. This is precisely what has been lacking in the one-sided reporting of the issue – and it doesn't take an intelligence analyst to realise that vague and one-sided is just the way the CIA wants to keep it.

    The BIJ's study is everything that the CIA version of events is not: transparent, drawn from as many credible sources as possible and essentially open. It is clear about where its material comes from and what the margin of error may be. You should look, and you should engage, not just with the bare numbers, but also some of the stories: the attack on would-be rescuers by drones that had lingered, circling over the site of a previous strike, and opened fire – on the cruel assumption that any Good Samaritan must be a Taliban Samaritan; or the teenager who lost both legs when his family home was hit.

    Sadaullah was 15 when the missiles, aimed at a militant leader who was never there, struck a family gathering, killing his wheelchair-bound uncle and two cousins. When he woke up in hospital, he was missing both legs and an eye. "The injured who survive with their severed limbs, they often tell me, 'you cannot really call me lucky'," says his lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar. "This is not London or Islamabad. There are no facilities for the disabled in Waziristan; such people can have zero opportunities ahead of them in life."

    The primary question the CIA should answer is how it comes to be conducting an undeclared and illegal war in Pakistan, which is nominally a US ally. But beyond this, every time we read news of the latest drone strike in Pakistan, we need an honest assessment of the civilian casualties – and of whether we feel comfortable with an unaccountable spy agency carrying out killings on a military scale (the CIA's strikes now outweigh the firepower used in the opening round of the Kosovo war).

    We also need to think about what it is like for ordinary people to live under George Orwell's circling threat, wondering whether it is going to strike, or to die away into the distance. And to note what lengths the CIA will go to silence human rights lawyers such as Akbar, who are trying to break the cycle of violence by bringing victims' cases against the CIA through the courts.

    Or we could think in terms of enlightened self-interest: what do these strikes do to people's views of the US and its allies? Sixty-seven years after Orwell warily wondered whether he would be the next victim, how many angry relatives of a Waziristan child are plotting an attack on London or Washington, DC?

    The BIJ study begins to bring the CIA's covert war out of the shadows. Since we may all become collateral damage, we should be grateful to them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011



"Dance with Laibach," lyrics in English:

we all are obsessed we all are cursed
we all are crucified and all are broken
by attractive technology, by economy of time
by quality of life and philosophy of war
one, two, three, four, little brother dance with me
one, two, three, four, both my hands I am giving you
one, two, three, four, come and dance with me my friends
one, two, three, four, round around this is not difficult

we dance Ado Hynkel - Benzino Napoloni
we dance Schiekelgrueber
and dance with Maitreya
with totalitarianism and with democracy
we dance with fascism and red anarchy
one, two, three, four, comrade come and dance with me
one, two, three, four, both my hands I am giving you
one, two, three, four, German people dance with me
one, two, three, four, round around this is not difficult

we dance and we jump
we bounce and we sing
we fall or rise we give or take
American friends and German comrade
we dance well together we dance to Baghdad
one, two, three, four, little brother dance with me
one, two, three, four, both my hands I am giving you
one, two, three, four, dance with me my friends
one, two, three, four, round around this is not difficult
one, two, three, four.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Vile Logic to Anders Breivik's Choice of Target

Please see the full article at guardian.co.uk

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/08/anders-behring-breivik-pim-fortuyn

In Anders Behring Breivik's ideological self-justification as well as in reactions to his murderous act there are things that should make us think. The manifesto of this Christian "Marxist hunter" who killed more than 70 people in Norway is precisely not a case of a deranged man's rambling; it is simply a consequent exposition of "Europe's crisis" which serves as the (more or less) implicit foundation of the rising anti-immigrant populism – its very inconsistencies are symptomatic of the inner contradictions of this view.

The first thing that sticks out is how Breivik constructs his enemy: the combination of three elements (Marxism, multiculturalism and Islamism), each of which belongs to a different political space: the Marxist radical left, multiculturalist liberalism, Islamic religious fundamentalism. The old fascist habit of attributing to the enemy mutually exclusive features ("Bolshevik-plutocratic Jewish plot" – Bolshevik radical left, plutocratic capitalism, ethnic-religious identity) returns here in a new guise.

Even more indicative is the way Breivik's self-designation shuffles the cards of radical rightist ideology. Breivik advocates Christianity, but remains a secular agnostic: Christianity is for him merely a cultural construct to oppose Islam. He is anti-feminist and thinks women should be discouraged from pursuing higher education; but he favours a "secular" society, supports abortion and declares himself pro-gay.

[....]

But what if we are entering an era where this new reasoning will impose itself? What if Europe should accept the paradox that its democratic openness is based on exclusion – that there is "no freedom for the enemies of freedom", as Robespierre put it long ago? In principle, this is, of course, true, but it is here that one has to be very specific. In a way, there was a vile logic to Breivik's choice of target: he didn't attack foreigners but those within his own community who were too tolerant towards intruding foreigners. The problem is not foreigners, it is our own (European) identity.

Although the ongoing crisis of the European Union appears as a crisis of economy and finances, it is in its fundamental dimension an ideologico-political crisis: the failure of referendums about the EU constitution a couple of years ago gave a clear signal that voters perceived the EU as a "technocratic" economic union, lacking any vision which could mobilise people – until the recent protests, the only ideology able to mobilise people was the anti-immigrant defence of Europe.

Recent outbursts of homophobia in eastern European post-communist states should also give us pause for thought. In early 2011, there was a gay parade in Istanbul where thousands walked in peace, with no violence or other disturbances; in gay parades which took place at the same time in Serbia and Croatia (Belgrade, Split), police were not able to protect participants who were ferociously attacked by thousands of violent Christian fundamentalists. These fundamentalists, not Turkey's, are the true threat to the European legacy, so when the EU basically blocked Turkey's entry, we should ask the obvious question: what about applying the same rules to eastern Europe?

Antisemitism belongs to this series, alongside other forms of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. The state of Israel is here making a catastrophic mistake: it decided to downplay, if not completely ignore, the "old" (traditional European) antisemitism, focusing instead on the "new" and allegedly "progressive" antisemitism masked as the critique of the Zionist politics of the state of Israel. Along these lines, Bernard Henri-Lévy (in his Left in Dark Times) recently claimed that the antisemitism of the 21st century would be "progressive" or not exist at all. This thesis compels us to turn around the old Marxist interpretation of antisemitism as a mystified anti-capitalism (instead of blaming the capitalist system, the rage is focused on a specific ethnic group accused of corrupting the system): for Henri-Lévy and his partisans, today's anti-capitalism is a disguised form of antisemitism.

This unspoken but no less efficient dismissal of those who would attack the "old" antisemitism is taking place at the very moment when the "old" antisemitism is returning all around Europe, especially in post-communist eastern European countries, from Hungary to Latvia. Something that should worry us even more is the rise of a weird accommodation between Christian fundamentalists and Zionists in the US.

There is only one solution to this enigma: it is not that the US fundamentalists have changed, it is that Zionism itself has paradoxically come to adopt some antisemitic logic in its hatred of Jews who do not fully identify with the politics of the state of Israel. Their target, the figure of the Jew who doubts the Zionist project, is constructed in the same way as the European antisemites constructed the figures of the Jew – he is dangerous because he lives among us, but is not really one of us. Israel is playing a dangerous game here: Fox News, the main US voice of the radical right and a staunch supporter of Israeli expansionism, recently had to demote Glenn Beck, its most popular host, whose comments were getting openly antisemitic.

The standard Zionist argument against the critics of the policies of the state of Israel is that, of course, like every other state, Israel can and should be judged and eventually criticised, but that the critics of Israel misuse the justified critique of Israeli policy for antisemitic purposes. When the Christian fundamentalist supporters of the Israeli politics reject leftist critiques of Israeli policies, their implicit line of argument is illustrated by a wonderful cartoon published in July 2008 in the Viennese daily Die Presse: it shows two stocky, Nazi-looking Austrians, one of them holding in his hands a newspaper and commenting to his friend: "Here you can see again how a totally justified antisemitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!" These are today's allies of the state of Israel.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Religion between Knowledge and Jouissance

Please see the full article at

http://www.lacan.com/zizsmokeonthewater.html

[....]

The drive to pure autistic jouissance (through drugs or other trance-inducing means) arose at a precise political moment: when the emancipatory "sequence" of 1968 exhausted its potentials. At this critical point (mid-1970s), the only option left was a kind of direct, brutal, passage à l’acte, push-towards-the-Real, which assumed three main forms: the search for extreme forms of sexual jouissance; Leftist political terrorism (RAF in Germany, Red Brigades in Italy, etc.) whose wager was that, in an epoch in which the masses are totally immersed into the capitalist ideological sleep, the standard critique of ideology is no longer operative, so that only a resort to the raw Real of direct violence - l’action directe - can awaken the masses); and, finally, the turn towards the Real of an inner experience (Oriental mysticism). What all three share is the withdrawal from concrete socio-political engagement into a direct contact with the Real.

The problem with today’s superego injunction to enjoy is that, in contrast to previous modes of ideological interpellation, it opens up no "world" proper - it just refers to an obscure Unnameable. Even the Nazi anti-Semitism opened up a world: by way of describing the present critical situation, naming the enemy ("Jewish conspiracy"), the goal and the means to achieve it, Nazism disclosed reality in a way which allowed its subjects to acquire a global "cognitive mapping," inclusive of the space for their meaningful engagement. This is why Badiou recently started to elaborate this topic of world, the "logic of worlds": what if the impetus came from his deeper insight into capitalism? What if the concept of world was necessitated by the need to think the unique status of the capitalist universe as world-less? Badiou recently claimed that our time is devoid of world - [1] how are we to grasp this strange thesis?

Perhaps, it is here that one should locate the "danger" of capitalism: although it is global, encompassing the whole worlds, it sustains a stricto sensu "worldless" ideological constellation, depriving the large majority of people of any meaningful "cognitive mapping." The universality of capitalism resides in the fact that capitalism is not a name for a "civilization," for a specific cultural-symbolic world, but the name for a truly neutral economico-symbolic machine which operates with Asian values as well as with others, so that Europe's worldwide triumph is its defeat, self-obliteration, the cutting of the umbilical link to Europe. The critics of "Eurocentrism" who endeavor to unearth the secret European bias of capitalism fall short here: the problem with capitalism is not its secret Eurocentric bias, but the fact that it REALLY IS UNIVERSAL, a neutral matrix of social relations.

In what, more precisely, does this "worldlessness" consist? As Lacan points out in his Seminar XX, Encore, jouissance involves a logic strictly homologous to that of the ontological proof of the existence of God. In the classic version of this proof, my awareness of myself as a finite, limited, being immediately gives birth to the notion of an infinite, perfect, being, and since this being is perfect, its very notion contains its existence; in the same way, our experience of jouissance accessible to us as finite, located, partial, "castrated," immediately gives birth to the notion of a full, achieved, unlimited jouissance whose existence is necessarily presupposed by the subject who imputes it to another subject, his/her "subject supposed to enjoy."

Our first reaction here is, of course, that this absolute jouissance is a myth, that it never effectively existed, that its status is purely differential, i.e., that it exists only as a negative point of reference with regard to which every effectively experienced jouissance falls short ("pleasurable as this is, it is not THAT!"). However, the recent advances of brain studies open up another approach: one can (no longer only) imagine the situation in which pain (or pleasure) is not generated through sensory perceptions, but through a directly excitation of the appropriate neuronal centers (by means of drugs or electrical impulses) – what the subject will experience in this case will be "pure" pain, pain "as such," the REAL of pain, or, to put it in precise Kantian terms, the non-schematized pain, pain which is not yet rooted in the experience of reality constituted by transcendental categories.

"Neurotheologians" applied this insight to religion, by way of identifying the brain processes which accompany intense religious experiences: when a subject experiences himself as timeless and infinite, part of the cosmic All, delivered of the constraints of his Self, the region of his brain which processes information about space, time, and the orientation of the body in space "goes dark"; in the blocking of the sensory inputs which occurs during intense meditative concentration, the brain has no choice but to perceive the self as endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything. The same goes for visions: they clearly correspond to abnormal bursts of electrical activity in the temporal lobes (the "temporal-lobe epilepsy"). The counterargument here is: while, of course, everything we experience also exists as a neurological activity, this in no way resolves the question of causality. When we eat an apple, we also experience the satisfaction of its good taste as a neuronal activity, but this in no way affects the fact that the apple was really out there and caused our activity. In the same fashion, it is totally undecided whether our brain wiring creates (our experience of) God, or whether God created our brain wiring… Is, however, the question of causality not simple to resolve? If we (the experimenting doctor) directly intervene in the appropriate parts of the brain, causing the brain activity in question, and, if, during this activity of ours, the subject "experiences the divine dimension," does this not provide a conclusive answer? The further question here is: how will the subject who is aware of all this subjectivize his religious experience? Will he continue to experience it as "religious" in the appropriate ecstatic sense of the term? The extreme solution is here that of a US religious sect which claims that God, who observes us all the time and took note of the lack of authentic religious experiences among his believers, organized the discovery of drugs which can generate such experiences… Further experiments show that when individuals are able to directly stimulate their neuronal pleasure-centres, they do not get caught into a blind compulsive drive towards excessive pleasure, but provide themselves pleasure only when they judge that they "deserved" it (on account of their everyday acts) – however, do many of us not do the same with pleasures provided in a "normal" way? What all this indicates is that people who experienced directly generated pleasures do not suffer a breakdown of their symbolic universe, but integrate smoothly these pleasure experiences into it, or even rely on them to enhance their experience of sacred meaning. However, again, the question is what disavowals do such integrations involve: can I really accept that the industrially fabricated pill that I hold in my hand provides a contact with god?

Today's achievements of brain sciences thus seem to fulfill the prospect envisaged by Freud of sciences supplanting psychoanalysis: once the biological mechanisms of pain, pleasure, trauma, repression, etc., will be known, psychoanalysis will no longer be needed, since, instead of intervening at the level of interpretation, one will be able to directly regulate the biological processes that generate pathological psychic phenomena. Hitherto there were two ways psychoanalysts replied to this challenge:

either they took recourse to the standard philosophico-transcendental gesture of pointing out how a positive science cannot ever encompass and account for the very horizon of meaning within which it is operative ("even if brain sciences will succeed in totally objectivizing a symptom, formulating its bioneuronal equivalent, the patient will still have to adopt a subjective stance towards this objectivity..."). However, this self-complacent answer is all too short: the success of the brain sciences, if really subjectively assumed, would undermine our very status as subjects of meaning. [2]
or they desperately cling to the parallels or structural homologies between posychoanalysis and brain sciences ("see, we were right, there is a neuronal process that corresponds to repression").

Both these approaches – which supplement each other in their two respective excesses, thed first one with its abstract arrogance, the second one with its subservient modesty – fall short of the challenge of brain sciences: the only proper reply to this challenge is to meet the brain sciences neuronal Real with another Real, not only to ground the Freudian semblant within the neuronal Real. In other words, if psychoanalysis is to survive and retain its key status, one has to find a place for it within the brain sciences themselves, from their inherent blanks and impossibilities. – However, within cognitive sciences themselves, things are no less confused when one tries to account for the emergence of consciousness - whither consciousness? The surprising thing is how "everything goes," all possible answers coexist, from dismissing the question as meaningless through evolutionist accounts of it up to declaring it an unsolvable mystery and proposing that consciousness has no (evolutionary) function at all, that it is a by-product, not a central phenomenon, but an epiphenomenon. What strikes the eye is how evolutionist or cognitivist accounts always seems to stumble upon the same deadlock: after we construct an artificial intelligence machine which can solve even very complex problems, the questions pops up "But it can do it precisely as a machine, as a blind operating entity - why does it need (self)awareness to do it?" So the more consciousness is demonstrated to be marginal, unnecessary, non-functional, the more it becomes enigmatic - it is consciousness itself which is here the Real of an indivisible remainder. – Generally, this multitude can be reduced to four main positions:

1. radical/reductive materialism (Patricia and Paul Churchland): there simply are no qualia, there is no "consciousness," they only exist as a kind of "naturalized" cognitive mistake. The anti-intuitional beauty of this position is that it turns around subjectivist phenomenalism (we are only aware of phenomena, there is no absolute certainty that anything beyond them exists) – here, it is pure phenomenality itself which does not exist!
2. anti-materialism (Chalmers): consciousness-awareness cannot be accounted for in the terms of other natural processes, it has to be conceived as a primordial dimension of nature, like gravity or magnetism.
3. the position of "cognitive closure" which asserts the inherent unknowability of consciousness (McGinn, even Pinker): although consciousness emerged out of material reality, it is necessarily unknowable.
4. non-reductive materialism (Dennett): consciousness exists, but is the result of natural processes and has a clear evolutionary function.

These four positions obviously form a Greimasian semiotic square: the main opposition is the one between 2 and 4, idealism and materialism; 1 and 3 each give to materialism or idealism a cognitive twist. That is to say, both 2 and 4 believe in the possibility of the scientific explanation of consciousness: there is an object ("consciousness") and its explanation, either accounting for it in the terms of non-conscious natural processes (materialism) or conceiving it as an irreducible dimension of its own (idealism). For 1, however, the scientific explanation of consciousness leads to the result that the object-to-be-explained itself does not exist, that it is an epistemological mistake like old notions of flogiston; 3 inverts this position: what disappears here is not the object but explanation itself (although materialism is true, it a priori cannot explain consciousness).

These cognitivist impasses bear witness to the fact that today's sciences shatter the basic presuppositions of our everyday life-world notion of reality. There are three main attitudes one can adopt towards this breakthrough.

- The first one is simply to insist on radical naturalism, i.e., to heroically pursue the logic of the scientific "disenchantment of reality" whatever the cost, even if the very fundamental coordinates of our horizon of meaningful experience are shattered. (In brain sciences, Patricia and Paul Churchland most radically opted for this attitude.)

- The second one is the attempt at some kind of New Age "synthesis" between the scientific Truth and the premodern world of Meaning: the claim is that new scientific results themselves (say, quantum physics) compel us to abandon materialism and point towards some new (Gnostic or Eastern) spirituality – here is a standard version of this motif: "The central event of the twentieth century is the overthrow of matter. In technology, economics, and the politics of nation, wealth in the form of physical resources is steadily declining in value and significance. The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things." [3] This line of reasoning stands for ideology at its worst: what the reinscription of proper scientific problematic (the role of waves and oscillations in quantum physics, etc.) into the ideological field of "mind versus brute things" obfuscates is the true paradoxical result of the notorious "disappearance of matter" in modern physics: how the very "immaterial" processes lost their spiritual character and become a legitimate topic of natural sciences.

- The third option is that of a neo-Kantian state philosophy whose exemplary case today is Habermas. It is a rather sad spectacle to see Habermas trying to control the explosive results of biogenetics, to curtail the philosophical consequences of biogenetics – his entire effort betrays the fear that something would effectively happen, that a new dimension of the "human" would emerge, that the old image of human dignity and autonomy would survive unscathed. The very excessive reactions are symptomatic here, like the ridiculous over-reaction to Sloterdijk's Elmau speech on biogenetics and Heidegger, [4] discerning the echoes of Nazi eugenics in the (quite reasonable) proposal that biogenetics compels us to formulate new rules of ethics. What this attitude towards scientific progress amount to is a kind of "temptation of (resisting) temptation": the temptation to be resisted is precisely the pseudo-ethical attitude of presenting scientific exploration as a temptation which can lead us into "going too far" - entering the forbidden territory (of biogenetic manipulations, etc.) and thus endangering the very core of our humanity.

The latest ethical "crisis" apropos biogenetics effectively created the need for what one is fully justified in calling a "state philosophy": a philosophy that would, on the one hand, condone scientific research and technical process, and, on the other hand, contain its full socio-symbolic impact, i.e., prevent it from posing a threat to the existing theologico-ethical constellation. No wonder those who come closest to meeting these demands are neo-Kantians: Kant himself was focused on the problem of how, while fully taking into account the Newtonian science, one can guarantee that there is a space of ethical responsibility exempted from the reach of science; as he himself put it, he limited the scope of knowledge to create the space for faith and morality. And are today’s state philosophers not facing the same task? Is their effort not focused on how, through different versions of transcendental reflection, to restrict science to its preordained horizon of meaning and thus to denounce as "illegitimate" its consequences for the ethico-religious sphere?

It is interesting to note how, although Sloterdijk was the target of a violent Habermasian attack, his proposed solution, a "humanist" synthesis of the new scientific Truth and the old horizon of Meaning, although much more refined and ironically-sceptical than the Habermasian "state philosophy," is ultimately separated from it by an almost invisible line of separation (more precisely, it seems to persist in the ambiguity between the Habermasian compromise and the New Age obscurantist synthesis). According to Sloterdijk, "humanism" always involves such a reconciliation, a bridge between the New and the Old: when scientific results undermine the old universe of meaning, one should find a way to reintegrate them into the universe of Meaning, or, rather, to metaphorically expand the old universe of Meaning so that it can "cover" also new scientific propositions. If we fail in this mediating task, we remain stuck in the brutal choice: either a reactionary refusal to accept scientific results, or the shattering loss of the very domain of meaning. Today, we confront the same challenge: "Mathematicians will have to become poets, cyberneticists philosophers of religion, /medical/ doctors composers, information-workers shamans." [5] Is this solution, however, not that of obscurantism in the precise sense of the attempt to keep meaning and truth harnessed together?

/.../ the simplest definition of God and of religion lies in the idea that truth and meaning are one and the same thing. The death of God is the end of the idea that posits truth and meaning as the same thing. And I would add that the death of Communism also implies the separation between meaning and truth as far as history is concerned. "The meaning of history" has two meanings: on the one hand "orientation," history goes somewhere; and then history has a meaning, which is the history of human emancipation by way of the proletariat, etc. In fact, the entire age of Communism was a period where the conviction that it was possible to take rightful political decisions existed; we were, at that moment, driven by the meaning of history. /.../ Then the death of Communism becomes the second death of God but in the territory of history. /.../ Today we may call ‘obscurantism’ the intention of keeping them harnessed together – meaning and truth. [6]

What underlies this split between truth and meaning is capitalist globalization - what is capitalist globalization? Capitalism is the first socio-economic order which de-totalizes meaning: it is not global at the level of meaning (there is no global "capitalist world view," no "capitalist civilization" proper – the fundamental lesson of globalization is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu and Buddhist); its global dimension can only be formulated at the level of truth-without-meaning, as the "real" of the global market mechanism. Consequently, insofar as capitalism already enacts the rupture between meaning and truth, it can be opposed at two levels: either at the level of meaning (conservative reactions to re-enframe capitalism into some social field of meaning, to contain its self-propelling movement within the confines of a system of shared "values" which cement a "community" in its "organic unity"), or to question the real of capitalism with regard to its truth-outside-meaning (what, basically, Marx did). Of course, the predominant religious strategy today is that of trying to contain the scientific real within the confines of meaning – it is as an answer to the scientific real (materialized in the biogenetic threats) that religion is finding its new raison d’être:

Far from being effaced by science, religion, and even the syndicate of religions, in the process of formation, is progressing every day. Lacan said that ecumenism was for the poor of spirit. There is a marvellous agreement on these questions between the secular and all the religious authorities, in which they tell themselves they should agree somewhere in order to make echoes equally marvellous, even saying that finally the secular is a religion like the others. We see this because it is revealed in effect that the discourse of science has partly connected with the death drive. Religion is planted in the position of unconditional defense of the living, of life in mankind, as guardian of life, making life an absolute. And that extends to the protection of human nature. /…/ This is /…/ what gives a future to religion through meaning, namely by erecting barriers – to cloning, to the exploitation of human cells – and to inscribe science in a tempered progress. We see a marvellous effort, a new youthful vigour of religion in its effort to flood the real with meaning. [7]

So when the Pope opposes the Christian "culture of Life" against the modern "culture of Death," he is not merely exploiting in a hyperbolic way different attitudes towards abortion. His statements are to be taken much more literally and, at the same time, universally: it is not only that the Church harbors "good news," the trust in our future, the Hope that guarantees the Meaning of Life; the couple culture of Life / culture of Death has to be related to the Freudian opposition of Life and Death drives. "Life" stands for the rule of the "pleasure principle," for the homeostatic stability of pleasures protected from the stressful shocks of excessive jouissance, so that the Pope’s wager is that, paradoxically, not only is religious spirituality not opposed to earthly pleasures, but it is ONLY this spirituality that can provide the frame for a full and satisfied pleasurable life. "Death," on the contrary, stands for the domain "beyond the pleasure principle," for all the excesses through which the Real disturbs the homeostasis of life, from the excessive sexual jouissance up to the scientific Real which generates artificial monsters...

This simple, but salient, diagnosis ends up in a surprising paraphrase of Heidegger, defining the analyst as the "shepherd of the real." However, it leaves some key questions open. Is the death drive for which science stands, which it mobilizes in its activity, not simultaneously an EXCESS OF OBSCENE LIFE, of life as real, exempted from and external to meaning? One should not forget that death drive is a Freudian name for immortality, for a pressure, a compulsion, which insists beyond death (and let us also not forget that immortality is also implicitly promised by science).

From here, we can also elaborate a critique of the philosophy of finitude which predominates today. The idea is that, against the big metaphysical constructs, one should humbly accept our finitude as our ultimate horizon: there is no absolute Truth, all we can do is accept the contingency of our existence, the unsurpassable character of our being-thrown into a situation, the basic lack of any absolute point of reference, the playfulness of our predicament… However, the first thing that strikes the eye is here the utmost seriousness of this philosophy of finitude, its all-pervasive pathos which runs against the expected playfulness: the ultimate tone of the philosophy of finitude is that of ultra-serious heroic confrontation of one’s destiny – no wonder that the philosopher of finitude par excellence, Heidegger, is also the philosopher who utterly lacks any sense of humor. [8]

There is, unfortunately, also a Lacanian version of the philosophy of finitude: when, in a tragic tone, one is informed that one has to renounce the impossible striving for full jouissance and accept "symbolic castration," the ultimate constraint of our existence: as soon as we enter symbolic order, all jouissance has to pass through the mortification of the symbolic medium, every attainable object is already a displacement of the impossible-real object of desire which is constitutively lost...) Arguably, Kierkeggard relied so much on humor precisely because he insisted on the relationship to the Absolute and rejected the limitation to finitude. - So what is it that this emphasis on finitude as the ultimate horizon of our existence misses? How can we assert it in a materialist way, without any resort to spiritual transcendence? The answer is, precisely, objet petit a as the "undead" ("non-castrated") remainder which persists in its obscene immortality. No wonder the Wagnerian heroes want so desperately to die: they want to get rid of this obscene immortal supplement which stands for libido as an organ, for drive at its most radical, i.e., death drive. In other words, the properly Freudian paradox is that what explodes the constraints of our finitude is death drive itself. And it is here, in Freudian meta-psychology, that one should look for what one is tempted to call materialist theology.

[....]

Monday, August 1, 2011