Monday, March 30, 2015

random thoughts on the symptom

Here is some miscellaneous information about the symptom.
a basic, simple definition to start with:
symptom--something in mind or body which intrudes into your life to bring you misery. The symptom represents a portion of jouissance which has not been dislodged, and which has come back to disrupt your existence.

The symptom is what we (we 'normal' neurotics) complain about. But the symptom can also function as a 'knot' to bind together the three registers of imaginary, symbolic, and Real. So, even though we complain about it, we don't really want to lose it, since it organizes our existence. I had a good friend (who recently died of pancreatic cancer). He used to complain all of the time to me about his wife. According to what he said, he might have been happy, except he was stuck with her. She was (allegedly) the source of all the misery in his life. I told him over and over to leave her. I told him life was too short to be miserable, etc., etc. But nothing I said ever did any good. He just came up with all kinds of elaborate excuses for why he needed to stay with her. I finally realized that he needed her somehow. It was easier for him to keep his symptom than to encounter the Real and be cured.

I think it is significant that many men say this about women: "You can't live with them, and you can't live without them."
This is interesting because, according to Lacanian theory, men would not even BE men without women. This means that when they say this, men are complaining about the very thing that makes them to be what they are.

Here is a Žižek quote: 
"the symptom is the exception which disturbs the surface of the false appearance, the point at which the repressed Other Scene erupts..."

Below is some relevant info I found online at

It is a summary of some ideas from Žižek's first book in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology:

In the first two chapters Žižek explains the psychoanalytical definition of ideology and its connection with Marxism: ideology 'is not simply a 'false consciousness', an illusory representation of reality, it is rather this reality itself which is already to be conceived as 'ideological'' (21) It is crucial to understand the futility of a critical or even cynical standpoint *vis a vis* an ideological problem, say, the condition of our society. The fetishist's 'I know, but nevertheless' is exactly the key to understanding this problem: 'The mask is not simply hiding the real state of things; the ideological distortion is written into its very essence.' (28). We know that the use value of Beanie Babies is next to zero, nevertheless we exchange them for hundreds of dollars. If the object itself (a kitschy bag full of pellets) were the fetish (or the ideology), it could be easily destroyed. We are indeed not fetishizing commodities or money, but actually the fantasy itself.

Lacan's formula for the relation of Subject and Object, equally the formula for the phantasma, is '$ <> a' (see: Lacan, Seminar XI). The Subject, split and 'barred' by language, is directing his desire onto the object a, to retrieve the 'lost', imaginary unity with the mother, situated 'before' the entry into the symbolic order. It is crucial to stress the difference between the fantasy as scenario, inscenating/illustrating the desire of the subject and the impossible gaze onto the 'objet petit a'. The sign '<>' must be read as screen: '[T]he 'object' of fantasy is not the fantasy scene itself, its content (the parental coitus, for example), but the impossible gaze witnessing it'. [1]

The sense of wholeness that ideology extends to one is an imaginary function, connected to the ideal ego. Thus fetish and symptom cannot be destroyed simply by explanation, they have to be analyzed (see here Žižek’s example of the ideological figure of the Jew, starting page 97, especially 125-28). To further illustrate his argument about the quasi-external nature of the symptom Žižek chooses the 'canned laughter' of sitcom: Somebody else (the laughing track) is having a good time for me (35). Though we know about the idiocy and irrelevancy of Seinfeld, we enjoy the show. This jouissance (enjoyment, enjoy-meant) is not a side effect, it is the only driving force, aiming at the fulfillment of an ultimately unsatisfiable desire, like the surplus value that drives capitalism.

As with every act of fetishisation, the mechanisms of metaphoric disavowal and metonymic replacements are covering a lack (the absence of the phallus, the void of the real, the desire of the Other/the death drive) and becoming a quasi-entity, that is more in the subject, than the subject itself. In Freudian terminology this paradoxical construction is the 'Vorstellungsrepraesentanz' (see 160-61). In the case of collecting Beanie Babies this might be considered a mere and harmless perversion of taste; the collecting of territory for the grandeur of the (German/Serbian/whatever) nation is something different. Nevertheless both of these symptomatic constructions, as unrelated as they might seem, follow a similar psychic construction, insofar as they 'quilt' our ideological field and in the same instant bind our surplus-enjoyment in this object-cause of desire. This paradoxical 'point de capiton', 'a signifier without the signified' (97) is the tautological, empty signifier, giving consistency to the ideological field: 'I collect Beanie Babies because they are rare. Why are they rare? Because they are collectibles.' Or in the worst case: 'What makes you special? I am a German! What does that mean? I have Aryan blood! Why do you have Aryan blood? Because I am a German!' And so on . . .

In the second part of the book, Žižek traces this paradoxical point-without-location through several fields. My above-mentioned example, fascist ideology, can be explained with the self-referential emptiness of the Fuehrer's claim, that he is the embodiment of the people's will. The fascist 'Leader's point of reference, the instance to which he is referring to legitimize his rule (the People, the Class, the Nation) does not exist -- or, more precisely, exists only through and in its fetishistic representative, the Party and its Leader.' (146) Another example is the post-structuralist dogma 'There is no metalanguage!' The only point of reference for such a statement is indeed the impossible position outside of discourse (see 154-55). Or, in Žižek's words: 'The phallic signifier is, so to speak, an index of its own impossibility.' (157)
 [vanishingmediator’s comment: cf. Jacques Derrida: “By a strange paradox, meaning would isolate the concentrated purity of its ex-pressiveness just at that moment when the relation to a certain outside is suspended.” (Derrida, La Voix et le Phénomène)]
Finally, Zizek outlines Lacan's different approach to the problem of the Real -- is it the 'really real', an untouchable thing-as-such/'Thing-in-itself', is it something resisting symbolization, or is it the subject supposed to know, a cause, that doesn't exist, something like Hitchcock's MacGuffin (see 162-164)? Zizek quickly dismisses the first oversimplifying definition and argues along the lines of his ideas about the founding paradox: the Real 'is nothing at all, just a void, an emptiness in a symbolic structure marking some central impossibility' (173). And this, according to Zizek, is the difference between the so-called 'post-structuralist' position and Lacan's position: The former describes the subject as being the result of a subjectivating processes ('assujetissement'), while the latter conceives of the subject as an 'answer of the Real' -- because the signified can never find a signifier that would fully represent it, this void we call a subject is created (174-75). In the last chapter, Zizek gives another example of these 'impossible' founding things, the Sublime: 'The Sublime is . . . the paradox of an object which, in the very field of representation, provides a view, in a negative way, of the dimension of what is unrepresentable.' (202) Especially the last point, the Sublime, is a good example for how this book (and most of Zizek's work for that matter) can be used for film theory and analysis. The sublime beauty of Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Tippy Hedren in Marnie is not a separate 'entity' (e.g. 'a beautiful actress is portraying this and this character'), it is the impossible object of the male gaze. Both women appear in a similar movement from below the picture frame, throwing their hair back. The whole following story now centers around a man, trying to pin down, to frame their essence. The quintessential stripping away of this futile enterprise is Gilda's famous striptease. Johnny, a 'god of prosthesis' (Freud, Civilisation and its Discontent) in his bureau, equipped with surveillance microphones, can not prevent Gilda from performing her self-referential striptease. While taking the blame for everything, even for natural disasters, she performs the ultimate act of fetishization before the eyes of the nightclub guests (i.e. the big Other). This sequence starts significantly with a prophesy of the police officer that Johnny will fall apart (i.e. become a hysteric), and Johnny's point-of-view shot through the jalousie (sic!) on to the vulgar performance of the woman he is obsessed with. Gilda's subversive act destroys in one movement the illusion that there is 'something to see' and that there is something essential about woman. Her exposition thus exposes the fetish of the sexual arousing 'whore' and the sublime essence of the 'mother' as covering the lack in the Big Other. Or, as Lacan puts it (over and over): woman is the symptom of man.


He was born the only child of middle-class bureaucrats (who hoped he would become an economist) on 21 March 1949 in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia and, at that time, part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was, then, under the rule of Marshal Tito (1892-1980), one of the more 'liberal' communist countries in the Eastern Bloc, although, as Žižek points out, the freedoms the regime granted its subjects were rather ambivalent, inducing in the population a form of pernicious self-regulation. One aspect of state control that did have a positive effect on Žižek, however, was the law which required film companies to submit to local university archives a copy of every film they wished to distribute. Žižek was, therefore, able to watch every American and European release and establish a firm grasp of the traditions of Hollywood which have served him so well since.

Žižek's interest in the films of Hollywood was matched only by a dislike for the films and, particularly, the literature of his own country. Much of Slovenian art was, for him, contaminated by either the ideology of the Communist Party or by a right-wing nationalism. Slovenian poetry specifically is still, according to Žižek, falsely venerated as "the fundamental cornerstone of Slovene society". Consequently, from his teenage years onwards, Žižek devoted himself to reading only literature written in English, particularly detective fiction. Pursuing his own cultural interests, Žižek developed an early taste for philosophy and knew by the age of 17 that he wanted to be a philosopher. Studying at the University of Ljubljana, Žižek published his first book when he was 20 and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts (philosophy and sociology) in 1971, and then went on to complete a Master of Arts (philosophy) in 1975. The 400-page thesis for the latter degree was entitled "The Theoretical and Practical Relevance of French Structuralism", a work which analysed the growing influence of the French thinkers Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Gilles Deleuze. Unfortunately, although Žižek had been promised a job at the university, his thesis was deemed by the officiating panel to be politically suspicious and he therefore lost the job to another candidate who was closer to the party line. According to his fellow Slovenian philosopher Mladen Dolar (b. 1951), the authorities were concerned that the charismatic teaching of Žižek might improperly influence students with his dissident thinking.

Disappointed by this rejection of his talents, Žižek spent the next couple of years in the professional wilderness, undertaking his National Service in the Yugoslav army, and supporting his wife and son as best he could by occasionally translating German philosophy. However, in 1977 several of his influential connections secured him a post at the Central Committee of the League of Slovene Communists where, despite his supposedly dissident politics, he occasionally wrote speeches for leading communists and, during the rest of the time, studied philosophy. In these years, Žižek became part of a significant group of Slovenian scholars working on the theories of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) and with whom he went on to found the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis in Ljubljana. This group, among whose best-known members are Dolar and Žižek's second wife Renata Salecl (b. 1962), established editorial control over a journal called Problem! (in which Žižek was not afraid to author bad reviews of his own books, or even to write reviews of books that did not exist), and began to publish a book series called Analecta. Žižek himself is unsure as to why so many Lacanians should have gathered in Ljubljana, but he does point out that, in contrast to the other countries in the former Yugoslavia, there was no established psychoanalytic community to hamper or mitigate their interest in the usually controversial work of the Frenchman.

Although still disbarred from a traditional university position, in 1979 Žižek's friends procured him a better job as Researcher at the University of Ljubljana's Institute for Sociology. At the time, Žižek thought that this was an intellectual cul-de-sac in which the communist regime placed those who were inconvenient to them. As it transpired, however, this job, which would be the envy of most academics, meant Žižek was able to pursue his research interests free from the pressures of teaching and bureaucracy. It was there that, in 1981, he earned his first Doctor of Arts degree in philosophy. It was also in 1981 that Žižek travelled to Paris for the first time to meet some of the thinkers he had been writing about for so long and writing to - (he has several books by Jacques Derrida, for example, dedicated to him). Although Lacan was chief among these thinkers, he died in 1981 and it was actually Lacan's son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, who was to prove more decisive in Žižek's development.

Miller conducted open discussions about Lacan in Paris (and he still does), but he also conducted a more exclusive thirty-student seminar at the Ecole de la Cause Freudienne in which he examined the works of Lacan on a page by page basis. As the only representatives of Eastern Europe, both Žižek and Dolar were invited to join this seminar and it is there that Žižek developed his understanding of the later works of Lacan which still informs his thinking today. Miller also procured a teaching fellowship for Žižek and became his analyst. It was during these analytical sessions with Miller, which often only lasted ten minutes, that Žižek learned the truth of his oft-reported assertion that educated patients report symptoms and dreams appropriate to the type of psychoanalysis they are receiving. The result of Žižek's fabrication was that the sessions with Miller often ended up as a game of intellectual cat-and-mouse.

This game ended in something of an impasse when Žižek completed his second Doctor of Arts (this time in psychoanalysis) at the Universite Paris-VIII in 1985. Miller, with whom Žižek had successfully defended his thesis, was the head of a publishing house but he delayed publishing Žižek's dissertation and so Žižek had to resort to a publisher outside the inner circle of Lacanians. This second major disappointment of his professional career threw Žižek back on his own resources. These resources were already being put to more obvious political ends back in Slovenia where Žižek became a regular columnist in a paper called Mladina. Mladina was a platform for the growing democratic opposition to the communist regime, a regime whose power was gradually diminishing throughout the second half of the 1980s in the face of growing political pluralism in both Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In 1990, the first democratic elections were held in Slovenia and Žižek stood for a place on the four-man Presidency - he came a narrow fifth. Although he stood as a Liberal Democrat candidate, this position was more strategic than a matter of conviction as he was attempting to defeat the conservative alliance between the nationalists and the ex-communists. Žižek does not, as he has often said, mind getting his political hands dirty. Nor did he mind becoming the Ambassador of Science for the Republic of Slovenia in 1991.

Although Žižek continues to provide informal advice to the Slovenian government, his energies over the past decade have been firmly geared towards his research. Indeed, since 1989 and the publication of The Sublime Object of Ideology, Žižek has launched over 15 monographs, and a number of edited works written in English, on an eager public. He has also written books in German, French and Slovene, as well as having his work translated into Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Slovak, Serbo-Croatian and Swedish. The prolific intensity of Žižek's written output has been matched by his international success as a lecturer where he has faithfully transcribed the molten energy of the word on the page to the word on the stage across four different continents. Apart from his post at what is now the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, Žižek has also held positions at SUNY Buffalo; the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; the Tulane University, New Orleans; the Cardozo Law School, New York; Columbia University, New York; Princeton University; the New School for Social Research, New York; and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor since 1991. He also maintains his editorial role for the Analecta series in Slovenia, as well as helping establish Wo es war (a series based on Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxism) and SIC (a series devoted to Lacanian analyses of culture and politics) in German and English.

At all stages in Žižek's life, then, we can detect the insistence of a theme. When he was growing up he preferred the films of Hollywood to the dominant culture of poetry in his own country. As a student he developed an interest in, and wrote about, French philosophy rather than the official communist paradigms of thought. When he began his professional career he preferred to read Lacan in terms of other philosophers rather than adhering to the orthodox Lacanian line. And, as we have seen, as a philosopher himself, he constantly refers to popular culture rather than those topics customarily studied by the subject. In each case, therefore, Žižek's intellectual development has been marked by a distance or heterogeneity to the official culture within which he works. He has always been a stain or point of opacity within the ruling orthodoxy and is never fully integrated by the social or philosophical conventions against which he operates.

The point is that although Žižek 's unauthorized approach has cost him the chance to become part of the established institutions on at least two occasions (once with his Master's thesis and once with his second Doctorate), he has defined his position only in his resistance to those institutions. This is not necessarily a question of Žižek initiating some kind of academic rebellion, nor even of proving how in the long run his talents have surpassed the obstacles erected against them, but rather of claiming that the character or identity of Žižek's philosophy is predicated upon the failure of the institutions to accomodate his thought. The eventual success of Žižekian theory proceeds partly from its clearly failure, from the fact that Žižek was able to perceive himself as alien to the system in which he worked. It was this alienation, this difference to the discourse of philosophy of which it was and is a part, which forged the identity of Žižek's own thought. Because Žižekian theory was no part of the objective system, it was in itself subjective. The reason that this is so pertinent is that Žižek describes the formation of what is known as the "subject" in a similar way. Indeed, one of Žižek's main contributions to critical theory is his detailed elaboration of the subject.

Did he or did he not give Germany the finger?

Greek finance minister's gesture was taken out of context but the finger was pointed in the right direction.
18 Mar 2015

As the two among the organisers and participants of the Subversive Festival in Zagreb in May 2013, we were happy to invite Yanis Varoufakis - now Greece's finance minister - to give a public lecture at the Festival and to present his book "The Global Minotaur".

In answering a question from the public, Varoufakis did not point the middle finger at Germany or the Germans but was talking about a hypothetical situation referring to January 2010 when Greece owed not one Euro to German taxpayers. His idea was that Greece should have defaulted to its private creditors rather than take on a huge loan from its European partners (including of course Germany).

The recent outcry, Varoufakis's gesture (or a figure of speech) and its meaning were thus torn out of the context by German media and manipulated in the most brutal propaganda manner: his figure of speech from two years ago was related to a totally different situation.

Low level of attacks

So why bring out that forgotten detail from a conference in Zagreb? The answer is easy to guess: it is part of a very dubious strategy to discredit the Syriza government.

What should worry us all is the low personal level of the attacks on the key persons of the Syriza government. First, Alexis Tsipras was attacked for living in the same modest apartment as before the elections, and now Varoufakis is attacked for living in a comfortable apartment.

All the racist cliches about the lazy Greeks who want to live at the expense of hard-working Europeans are shamelessly mobilised. What reality does such an approach obfuscate?

In negotiations with the EU as well as in his public statements, Varoufakis consistently displayed a modest approach of finding a rational way out of the deadlock, expressing readiness for compromises which even triggered the first demonstrations against Syriza in Greece. What he and Greece are getting in response is a repeated humiliating refusal to engage in serious negotiations.

Rational debate

Clearly avoiding rational debate, German media are now more and more descending to the level of yellow press, presenting Varoufakis and Tsipras as eccentrics who just perform circus-like tricks and offer irresponsible demagogic proposals.

The sad message of all this is clear: to add insult to injury, Greece has to be not only kept in financial chains but also humiliated. And the ultimate victim of it will be all of us, in short: Europe.

Insofar as "sticking the finger to Germany", "Germany" clearly didn't refer to the state or people but to the German government which was at the time (and is today) the main representative of the disastrous austerity policies in the EU.

In this respect, it was the finger pointed in the right direction. That message was clearly understood by anyone present at the Subversive Festival in May 2013 as it should be today, especially in Germany.

Thus the real scandal is not the use of the good old Greek tradition of the middle finger (who hasn't shown the middle finger at least once in his life?), but what Germany (or the German government to be more precise) is doing to Greece and the rest of Europe.

So in the midst of this debate about fingers, let's not forget the big fat finger Berlin and Brussels are raising at Greece.

Srecko Horvat is a philosopher from Croatia. His latest books include "After the End of History. From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement" and "What Does Europe Want?", co-authored with Slavoj Zizek. 

Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian Marxist philosopher and cultural critic. He is currently a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy, University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Monday, March 9, 2015

European (Union) Nihilism by Santiago Zabala & Gianni Vattimo

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE AND MARTIN HEIDEGGER continue to be controversial political figures in European culture. But this should not hold us back from singling out the aspects of their thought that allow for an emancipation from nihilism — the same nihilism that, in our view, affects European politics today. Many continue to consider Nietzsche a precursor of Nazism; in Heidegger’s case, more evidence is now available of his indisputable involvement with the anti-Semitic regime in the 1930s. Still, both thinkers elucidated not only European nihilism but also its consequences. This is the philosophical background of Syriza’s recent election in Greece, the first representative of an anti-austerity party to obtain power within the European Union. This election should not only be conceived of as a political event, but also as a response to the European Union’s latent nihilism.

Heidegger, in his writings on Nietzsche in the 1950s, defined nihilism as the process in the course of which “there is nothing to Being itself.” He was not only thinking of the forgetting of Being (existence) in favor of beings (objects), but also of the future of Europe. And this future, as we have since been able to see, has turned out to be a metaphysical organization of society in which science and power reciprocally sustain themselves through technology Before we get to nihilism, then, a quick word about metaphysics.

According to Heidegger, thought is metaphysical when it tries to determine Being as presence, that is, as a simple set of descriptions of the present state of affairs, thus automatically privileging terms of temporal, spatial, and unified presentness. This is why Heidegger believed that “insofar as the pure relationship of the I-think-unity (basically a tautology) becomes the unconditioned relationship, the present that is present to itself becomes the measure for all beingness.” Even though these sets of measurable descriptions took diverse approaches throughout the history of philosophy (from Aristotle’s motionless true substances, to Kant's transcendental conditions of experience, to John Searle’s ontology of social functions), philosophers were always directed to consider Being as a motionless, nonhistorical, and geometric object or fact. Truth, in this form, became a correspondence that adapts or submits to Being’s descriptions; thought dissolves itself into a science, that is, into the global organization of all beings within a predictable structure of causes and effects. In the 1950s, when Heidegger stated in his course What is Called Thinking? that “science does not think,” he was not simply denigrating it, but rather pointing out that it functions exclusively within causes and effects previously established. Now, if science today has become an instrument of oppression, it’s not simply because its technicians pose as respected officers who organize Europe’s political, economical, and cultural life, but also for metaphysical reasons, because Being has been forgotten, discharged, and annihilated. This is probably why Heidegger was able to predict already back then that “Europe will one day be a single bureau, and those who ‘work together’ will be the employees of their own bureaucracy.” This bureaucracy has become the essence of EU measures, or better, science in Heidegger’s terms.

And here is where we return to nihilism. Syriza’s victory in Greece’s recent elections represents more than the emerging possibility of the weak redeeming themselves from the imposed austerity measures of the European Union. It also signals a breaking away from European (Union) nihilism. Arthur C. Danto explained that nihilism represented for Nietzsche “a thoroughly disillusioned conception of a world which is as hostile to human aspirations as he could imagine it to be. It is hostile, not because it, or anything other than us, has goals of its own, but because it is utterly indifferent to what we either believe or hope.” Although philosophical nihilism has little to do with the term’s ordinary political connotations, the European Union nonetheless has instantiated it through measures imposed by technicians predominantly indifferent to the aspirations of Europeans.

Haven’t we reached the moment, as Nietzsche explains in The Will to Power, where “the highest values devaluate themselves”? Europeans, as the last elections and polls show, are increasingly disillusioned about their economic conditions and their leaders and have almost lost all faith in the idea of European unity. We believe that this disillusionment is not caused exclusively by the EU’s controlling corporate interests, or by Germany’s interest in maintaining the debt of Greece and other southern countries. Rather, it is the Europeans themselves who reflect back and realize the EU’s latent nihilism.

Perhaps the “logic of decadence” that Nietzsche uses to explain nihilism’s development, tracing it back to three essential causes, can also be related to this declining faith in the Union. According to Nietzsche, nihilism commences when a providential order is assigned to history. However, when it turns out this providential order does not to exist, it loses meaning. Second, nihilism arises when the world and its unfolding are conceived as a totality in which every part has its place in a systematic whole. In this case, it is not so much that this whole or system has become false; it has simply turned out to be unbearable for human existence because it neutralizes politics, finance, and culture through globalization. This is how we arrive at the final, extreme form of nihilism: the loss of faith in the metaphysically relevant world and in truth itself, at least as it is traditionally understood (as temporal, spatial, and unified presentness, as we explained earlier on).
That loss of illusions can signify either the absolute incapacity to will any more, or the joyous and creative recognition of the fact that there exists no order, truth, or stability outside the will itself. Nihilism derives precisely from having wished, at all costs, to find these exterior organizing principles. It can thus be both the incapacity to experience a meaningful existence and a practical way to escape from this decadence. The first aspect of nihilism, where “a decline and retreat of the spirit’s power” takes place, is considered “passive.” The second is defined as “active,” a “sign of the increased power of the spirit.” But if the power of the spirit exerts itself primarily by dissolving everything that demands consent as objective structure, eternal value, and fixed meaning, then saying “no” to this is arguably a sign of activity, that is, of active nihilism.

Who, then, is the active nihilist in Europe today? The ones who state the accusation, as Slavoj Žižek put it, that the “government in Greece is composed of a bunch of populist extremists who advocate ‘irrational’ and ‘irresponsible’ populist measures”? Or those who “struggle for an entire way of life, the resistance of a world threatened by rapid globalization or, rather, of a culture with its daily rituals and manners, which are threatened by post-historical commodification.” Regardless of the EU’s warnings and threats, the people of Greece have accepted this risk by voting and supporting a party determined to dissolve the objective, fixed meanings as determined by the EU — or, as Heidegger would call it, to contest a condition that has become metaphysical. Metaphysics is the condition where “the only emergency is the absence of emergency,” that is, “where everything is held to be calculable, and especially where it has been decided, with no previous questioning, who we are and what we are supposed to do.” It is a form of passive nihilism. Greece, within the European Union, is considered an emergency, an alteration of the ongoing neutralization of politics. The active nihilism that Greece has endorsed is manifest not only in their minister of finance, Yanis Varoufakis, who has refused to engage with auditors from the Troika, but also in Alexis Tsipras’s role in promoting leftist anti-austerity politics throughout Europe. The emergency in Europe is not Syriza, but rather all those who submit “passively” to the Union’s flattening measures: its enforced absence of emergency.
In sum, the active nihilism or emergency that Syriza enacted by saying “no” to the Troika is an event that involves not only Greece but all of Europe. This might be the only possibility that allows Europe to wake up from the passive nihilism of its bureaucratic dream, which its governors (the commons, the council, and a substantial part of the Parliament) have imposed and wish to conserve. As Pope Francis recently said in his native Spanish, one must “hacer lio,” that is, generate non-violent disorder, disarray, or say “no” to the international capitalist establishments that are choking the European economies, and in particular those of the South. One must “make a mess.” 

This means being active European nihilists, the only ones who can confront the Union’s ongoing political, financial, and, most of all, spiritual decadence.

Divine violence in Ferguson

Violent protests like those in Ferguson happen more and more often. Are these merely irrational outbursts or symptoms of a new world order?

In August 2014, violent protests exploded in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, after a policeman shot to death an unarmed black teenager suspected of robbery. For days, police tried to disperse mostly black protesters. Although the details of the accident are murky, the poor black majority of the town took it as yet another proof of the systematic police violence against them. In U.S. slums and ghettos, police effectively function more and more as a force of occupation, something akin to Israeli patrols entering the Palestinian territories on the West Bank; media were surprised to discover that even their guns are more and more U.S. Army arms. Even when police units try just to impose peace, distribute humanitarian help, or organize medical measures, their modus operandi is that of controlling a foreign population. “The Rolling Stone” magazine recently drew the conclusion that imposes itself after the Ferguson incident:

“Nobody’s willing to say it yet. But after Ferguson, and especially after the Eric Garner case that exploded in New York after yet another non-indictment following a minority death-in-custody, the police suddenly have a legitimacy problem in this country. Law-enforcement resources are now distributed so unevenly, and justice is being administered with such brazen inconsistency, that people everywhere are going to start questioning the basic political authority of law enforcement.”

In such a situation, when police are no longer perceived as the agent of law, of the legal order, but as just another violent social agent, protests against the predominant social order also tend to take a different turn: that of exploding “abstract negativity” – in short, raw, aimless violence. When, in his “Group Psychology”, Freud described the “negativity” of untying social ties (Thanatos as opposed to Eros, the force of the social link), he all too easily dismissed the manifestations of this untying as the fanaticism of the “spontaneous” crowd (as opposed to artificial crowds: the Church and the Army). Against Freud, we should retain the ambiguity of this movement of untying: it is a zero level that opens up the space for political intervention. In other words, this untying is the pre-political condition of politics, and, with regard to it, every political intervention proper already goes “one step too far”, committing itself to a new project (or Master-Signifier).

Do they not hit the innocent?

Today, this apparently abstract topic is relevant once again: the “untying” energy is largely monopolized by the New Right (the Tea Party movement in the U.S., where the Republican Party is increasingly split between Order and its Untying). However, here also, every fascism is a sign of failed revolution, and the only way to combat this Rightist untying will be for the Left to engage in its own untying – and there are already signs of it (the large demonstrations all around Europe in 2010, from Greece to France and the UK, where the student demonstrations against university fees unexpectedly turned violent). In asserting the threat of “abstract negativity” to the existing order as a permanent feature which can never be aufgehoben, Hegel is here more materialist than Marx. In his theory of war (and of madness), he is aware of the repetitive return of the “abstract negativity” which violently unbinds social links. Marx re-binds violence into the process out of which a New Order arises (violence as the “midwife” of a new society), while in Hegel, the unbinding remains non-sublated.

Are such “irrational” violent demonstrations with no concrete programmatic demands, sustained by just a vague call for justice, not today’s exemplary cases of what Walter Benjamin called “divine violence” (as opposed to “mythic violence”, i.e. the law-founding state violence)? They are, as Benjamin put it, means without ends, not part of a long-term strategy. The immediate counter-argument here is: but are such violent demonstrations not often unjust, do they not hit the innocent?

If we are to avoid the overstretched Politically Correct explanations according to which the victims of divine violence should humbly not resist it on account of their generic historical responsibility, the only solution is to simply accept the fact that divine violence is brutally unjust: it is often something terrifying, not a sublime intervention of divine goodness and justice. A left-liberal friend from the University of Chicago told me of his sad experience: when his son reached high-school age, he enrolled him in a high school north of the campus, close to a black ghetto, with a majority of black kids, but his son was then returning home almost regularly with bruises or broken teeth – so what should he have done? Put his son into another school with the white majority or let him stay? 

The point is that this dilemma is wrong. The dilemma cannot be solved at this level since the very gap between private interest (safety of my son) and global justice bears witness to a situation which has to be overcome in its entirety.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Four Reasons Young Americans Should Burn Their Student Loan Papers

'Hell No, We Won't Go' — 1967
'No Way, We Won't Pay' — 2015

Fifty years ago students burned their draft cards to protest an immoral war against the people of Vietnam. Today it's a different kind of war, immoral in another way, waged against young Americans of approximately the same age, and threatening them in a manner that endangers not their lives but their livelihoods.

There are at least four good reasons why America's young adults— and their parents—should take up the fight against financial firms who are holding high-interest student loans that total more than the nation's credit card debt, and more than the total income of the poorer half of America.

1. The Protest Has Already Begun

Fifteen former students of for-profit Corinthian Colleges recently announced a debt strikeagainst the company and its predatory loan practices. The 15 students, members of theDebt Collective initiative of debt abolisher Rolling Jubilee, have refused to repay their loans. Corinthian, which has been accused of false marketing, grade tampering, and recruitment improprieties, and which has 60 percent of its students default on loans, was sued in 2013 for employing a "predatory scheme" to recruit students.

2. For-Profit Colleges Use Taxpayer Money for False Marketing to Get MORE Taxpayer Money

Corinthian isn't the only loan predator. Of 15 for-profit colleges investigated by the Government Accountability Office, 13 were found guilty of deceptive marketing, with false job and salary guarantees. The 15 companies got a stunning 86 percent of their funding from the public, in the form of student loans and grants.

Worse yet, a Senate report found that they spend about a quarter of their revenue on marketing, and take 20 percent in profits, while spending only about 17 percent on instruction.

After all that, only 22 percent of students get a degree after six years.

3. Traditional Colleges Aren't Much Better: Students are Treated Like Products for Profit-Makers

Since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled.

To pay all the administrators, tenure-track teachers have been eliminated, and underpaid part-timers have taken their places. Adjunct and student teachers, who made up about 22 percent of instructional staff in 1969, now make up an estimated 76 percent of instructional staff in higher education, with a median wage in 2010 of about $2,700 per course, and with little or no benefits.

To further pay for all the administrators, and to pay for amenities like recreations centers, dining halls, and athletics, tuition has been steadily increasing, to twelve times its cost in 1978.

4. College Graduates Have Been Cheated out of Good Jobs

The unemployment rate may be going down, but the available jobs are well below the skill levels of college-trained adults. According to the New York Federal Reserve, 44 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, holding jobs that are normally held by high school graduates.

College graduates have not recovered from the recession. They took a 19 percent pay cut in the two years after the recession, and by 2013 they were part of the only age group withlower average wages in early 2013 than in 2000. As recently as July of 2014 the Federal Reserve of San Francisco wrote that recent college graduates "were and continue to be hit hard."

Progressive Unity

Progressives have no shortage of important causes, but an attack on predatory student loan policies could be a unifying force for us, particularly if the power of social networking is employed.

An Apple executive said, "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need." But almost the entirety of corporate profits are being spent on stock buybacks to enrich executives and shareholders, rather than on job training.

The proposal for an America Permanent Fund of $10,000 per household, based on the corporate debt to society for public research, is about the same, in numbers, as the $1.16 trillion of student loan debt. A protest against student loans is a good way to earn the first dividend.