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Of Mice and Men and Other Things

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There are many fearful and wonderful things, but none is more fearful and wonderful than man. He makes his path over the storm-swept sea and harries old Earth with his plough. He takes the wild beasts captive and turns them into his servants. He has taught himself speech and wind-swift thought, and the habits that pertain to government. Against everything that confronts him he invents some resource – against death alone he has no resource.

Antigone, Sophocles

In our time nobody is content to stop with faith but wants to go further. It would perhaps be rash to ask where these people are going, but it is surely a sign of breeding and culture for me to assume that everybody has faith, for otherwise it would be queer for them to be…going further. In those old days it was different, then faith was a task for a whole lifetime, because it was assumed that dexterity in faith is not acquired in a few days or weeks.

Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard

No philosophy of political or social institutions can be complete without articulating the philosophy of the subject. Hence this postscript to a recent series of sketches, “In Defense of Anarchism,” parts I through IV.


True faith is a child of desperation born of human betrayal; desperation whose source is general human untrustworthiness, realized. (“In God We Trust,” not in man, so says our legal tender.) Likewise with courage, itself an offspring of faith and a true measure thereof. Both result in emotional alienation, having to live one’s life in an emotional desert populated with humans. Couple this now with alienation of the intellect and the circle is well-nigh complete. I call it alienation of the spirit. Hegel was on the right track, trying to imbue statehood with the quality of the Spirit. The ideal he was after approximated the Kingdom of God.

Alienation, whether emotional, intellectual, or spiritual, is the natural condition of humankind. (Durkheim called it anomie and identified it as the major cause of suicide.) If you haven’t tasted it yet, you haven’t arrived. Ayn Rand’s grave error was to accentuate the heroic at the expense of the tragic. By positing the individual vs. the collective as the battlefield of ideas, her characters were all too predictable and writ large. John Galt wasn’t a suffering hero, let alone a suffering servant, but a conqueror, glory and all, the stuff from which fairytales are made. Like Hannah Arendt before her, Rand was overreacting to the evils of totalitarianism.

The atheist makes the same mistake, for in taking the God concept out of the equation and in ridding the grand human narrative of the tragic, he or she reduces the human story to a truncated, if not banal, story of mere survival, aesthetically unsatisfying besides. Sorry, Mr. Hitchens, but Aeschylus and the Greek epics of old rate higher with me than your resoluteness and razor-sharp logic.


What’s an alienated being to do when faced with the sea of alienation? What’s the proper stance? One conception of freedom is to be able to choose and to be true to one’s purpose (Isaac Asimov, I, Robot). Thus restated, the question becomes: What freedoms are available to us, and what purposes?

Ms Athena has suggested two distinct, though not mutually exclusive, possibilities: a warrior and a medic. I have a problem with that. The notion of collective guilt (St. Augustine, Dostoyevsky) weighs heavily on me; so does the proverb, Physician, heal thyself!

Perhaps Ms Athena can tell us how the sick can keep on tending the sick, for I’ll be all ears. To make her task easier, let’s make a crucial distinction between perfect love and less-than-perfect care. The former is predicated on one’s exclusion from the community (again, God’s love, for Her creation and Her loneliness are unmatched by that of any human, for the reasons stated); not so with the latter. So yes, the warrior part, the role, the job description, is becoming more enticing by the minute. Besides, I know about the banality of evil; resisting it comes naturally to me.

An impeccable warrior? Again, one’s membership in the community, or non-membership, as the case may be, appears the decisive factor: non-membership makes perfection possible while membership seems to preclude it. But then again, perhaps being a warrior doesn’t call for the same kind of perfection as being a medic does. Perhaps the requirements are less stringent. Either way, perfection seems possible but only once you’re outside the community; once a part of it, you’re tainted. Which is why a terrorist, a modern-day term for an outlaw of old (think of the Robin Hood legend!), can be perfect in ways that a warrior cannot. He or she can be perfect in his or her love or hate of the community, just as God is perfect, while we humans, as willing or unwilling participants, cannot.


Giorgio Agamben has been known to remark that no democracy is worth protecting or saving; that if it needs either, it’s no longer a democracy.

Hold this thought if you dare. No people is worth protecting; no community, no human society, if it cannot stand on its own two feet. The same goes for individuals, wayward individuals.

The immediate implications of this philosophy are not only staggering but downright abhorrent. They argue against the natural inclination in all of us —against unconditional love and empathy. Being your brother’s keeper is one thing; tough love, the conservative’s rendition of the parable of the prodigal son, is another. To date, the latter carries a force not easily dispensed with.

The moral may well be that while empathy is a lifelong stance, it’s not a fuzzy warm feeling in the pit of your stomach. In fact, I’d like to compare it to mercy in relation to justice. It’s a mitigating factor, that’s all. Everything else being equal, all are equally responsible and equally complicit for being beholden to artificial values, for in so doing we’re only perpetuating human misery. Alternatively, one could speak here of varying degrees of guilt.

Which is why I don’t hold material disparity as the greatest of all evils. Sure, it’s a by-product of human injustice, of putting oneself above all others, but so is everything else that is wrong with the world. Besides, material parity is no guarantee that everything will be set aright. It’s not any kind of precondition either, nor is there any reliable evidence to support the contention that individuals who have attained it will be morally superior in any discernible way. It’s the spiritual impoverishment, I contend, which lies at the root of the human malaise, and the symptoms are myriad. Apropos of wealth and riches, perhaps Aristotle had it right in that the value of wealth consisted in one’s ability to share it. The emphasis was on sharing. If it’s not shared, if it doesn’t contribute to the general well-being of the community, it’s nothing.

To amplify perhaps, it’s our relationship to wealth which seems to lie at the root of most our social problems; and one could speak here of white collar/corporate crime and of ordinary crime as well. In the first instance, the motive is pure greed, enabled and made manifest by conditions which allow, if not promote, abuse of power; in the second, deprivation, the state of being excluded by the same system from all meaningful participation in communal well-being.


Diversity of views, opinions, and outlooks is a fact of life, tolerance of diversity our greatest strength. Pluralism and tolerance of pluralism was one of the principles upon which this nation was founded. E Pluribus Unum wasn’t meant as an empty phrase with which to adorn our once-finest coins but as a living truth. It’s only out of plurality that a true union can possibly emerge. If you put uniformity before plurality, before the latter works its wonders on the hearts and minds of men, the odds are you’re into parochialism, a self-serving outlook whose only purpose is to enhance the group’s cohesiveness by playing to its fears and narrowly-defined interests. We should be mindful of the false prophets, for they abound in every walk of life, from politicians to well-meaning preachers. “Factions” and “factional politics” were Madison’s terms for it, and he wasn’t speaking with approbation. A true union consists of, alas it can only be forged by, our acceptance, if not absorption, of all the relevant differences, and moving on. Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies remains a powerful antidote to Plato’s heavy-handed blueprint for an orderly society in The Republic.


That’s in essence my vision of an anarchistic, self-regulated community. Self-regulated is the operative term here, for it defines what I mean by anarchism to a T. By self-regulated, I don’t mean a community that issues edicts, well-intentioned as they may be, edicts which purport to benefit the community at large, with the intention of reforming its most wayward members. Apart from the well-proven impracticality of such endeavors, it smacks of authoritarianism; and if there is anything an anarchistic community is not, it’s that. That’s why prohibition is out: prohibition against alcohol, against drugs, against prostitution and pornography, against fast foods and what else have you. All of which, I say, amounts to a form of protection/ism.

We’re all responsible adults, are we not? We’re all willing, not unwitting, consumers of the things that harm us, from the trinkets we buy at a five-and-dime store to the food we eat, the movies we watch, the drugs we take. What’s the point, then, of trying to protect us from ourselves unless the object is to emasculate us, to make us subservient to the dictates of the nanny-state or some other power? This proposition is antithetical to the very tenets of anarchistic philosophy. Education is the key. You don’t change a person by trying to stop them from harming themselves. You change them by demonstrating that the kinds of things they crave, the values they espouse, the things they hold dear, the kind of life to which they aspire and which they try to actualize, that all those things are artificial, that each and every one of us is programmed to act in predictable ways, that we’re all puppets on a string in a manner of speaking, that the system’s very survival is contingent on our so acting, never questioning, always obeying.

Want a simple answer? Eliminate the need, I say, and you’ll have gone a long way towards licking the problem by rendering the corrupt system null and void. It can’t function without your active or passive participation.

An anarchistic community, contrary to what may be a common misconception, doesn’t consist of weaklings but of well-formed, self-reliant individuals. Of course, no community can be self-reliant if its members are not; the two go hand in hand. Individuals are transformed, not reformed, in the context of communal living (it takes a village to raise a child!), but so is the community itself when inspired by some of its members. It’s a two-way process, somewhat akin to trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; no easy undertaking by any means. The object is to reach the critical mass reflecting the right kind of mindset.

Perhaps I’m being unduly influenced here by Western philosophical tradition and peculiarly Western moral concepts, perhaps not. I disagree, however, with William E. Connolly who, after Nietzsche, is willing to replace an ethic of command with one of cultivation. Nothing wrong with the latter, but Connolly is too quick to reduce the gist of Greek moral teachings to Kant’s categorical imperative. I’d rather speak here of an ethic of virtue, already a dilution of sorts of the Greek term arête, pursuit of excellence. And virtue is a transcultural quality, methinks.

Hence another descriptor for a would-be anarchistic, self-regulated community: it’s a virtuous community as well.


I suppose I must respect the executive decision against ever revisiting the subject matter of the recent expulsion of a small number of writers from our Blogcritics midst, let alone discussing it at any length. In any case, my hands are tied, which makes me doubly grateful to the management for allowing me to make even this undefined, albeit topical, allusion to these personae non gratae vis-à-vis our tranquil little community while wrapping up my modest series of essays.

But seriously, folks, censorship has no place in the kind of community I envisage. One should hope that someday we shall muster the necessary courage and live up to our trade name, our nom de plume. In the meantime, I find it ironic that while we pride ourselves for being critical of virtually every subject under the sun, noticeable by its absence is self-criticism. How can we hope to change the world if we can’t change ourselves?


Individual sovereignty and interdependence, personal freedoms and a sense of interconnectedness, empathy and accountability, a sense of community and a sense of self, tolerance of diversity while striving for unity; each forms the dialectic of a self-regulated, anarchistic community, the tension. They ought to be our guiding principles as well.

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About Roger Nowosielski

  • troll

    …purgery is a hallmark commonly stamped on totalitarian systems

  • … and it comes under the guise of benefiting the whole

  • Jane

    Not interested in truth then? God in the equation is only meaningful if He is true.

  • trol l

    …anarchist constructs are necessarily anathema in principle to ‘consensual’ dictatorship – the dominant business model of the recent manufacturing era and that on which blogcritics bases its rules governing the relationships between participants and individual behavior

    the question is can bc meet Agamben’s challenge and avoid an ‘inevitable’ slide into totalitarian suppression of ideas and communication styles – not so much whether it can function as an anarchistic venue

    and the trend ain’t good

  • You write, “We should be mindful of the false prophets, for they abound in every walk of life, from politicians to well-meaning preachers. “Factions” and “factional politics” were Madison’s terms for it, and he wasn’t speaking with approbation.” Yet, I am not sure your reading of Federalist 10 closely enough. Madison is most certainly concerned about factions, since they are by nature a disrupting and divisive force. He writes:

    “The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source … [Factious activity] will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.”

    This portion should not be taken to mean that the diversity of factions makes us more of a union (this would be retrofitting the past with an otherwise anachronistic liberal view of equality and diversity.) Rather, factions are not so dangerous because they likelihood of one forming and becoming a danger at the FEDERAL level is so small that we need not fear a civil war.

  • #4, correct. The anarchistic model is posited as an ideal, a relief. And yet, an online community offers a perfect medium, it seems, for implementation of the self-regulating principle.

  • I don’t think we disagree, Jared.

  • TAO Walker

    Could it be the dead-end dilemma of “collective” vs. “individual” only arises in those hot-house circumstances that attempt to set Humanity essentially ‘apart’ from the Whole Living Arrangement of Mother Earth who, after-all, engenders and sustains our Kind on the basis of actual immediate Living imperatives. She shows no interest-in or need-of all the CONceits of philosophy….and its idiot offspring ideology.

    “Anarch-ism,” like every permutation of its hierarchical “law-and-order” antitheses, is just another obsessively “self”-referential reaction to CONditions arising whenever a Person or a People lose The Tao of their Humanity….the place of our Kind in the larger scheme of The Ten Thousand Things. Getting trapped in some variation of the “vicious cycle” is the inevitable result.

    That’s not “ethics,” either….just plain old physics.


  • The kind of interconnectedness you’re talking about (and I allude to it, however tangentially in section VI), our sense of it, is also a by-product of self-transformation, even in the Buddhist tradition. You’re right, however, in pointing out that the Western intellectual tradition and heritage – from which perspective this article was written – is considerably more anthropocentric (you might say, full of itself) than the Eastern tropes.

  • addendum to comments #4 and 6

    The business model you’re alluding to is all the more perfidious precisely because (in this particular case) it governs the relations in what’s presumed to be a sphere of free and unhampered thought and expression.

    Chris Hedges’ latest article in the Truthdig, “Gone With the Papers, touches on the subject, and comments by such as Anarcissie and TAO Walker speak to the unholy alliance whereby the business interests infect the ethos of investigative reporting. The latter commenter, and for good reasons, I might add, is equally skeptical of the fate of the internet and social media, precisely because both operate on the basis of the same business model.

  • Roger!!! BBL to read your article. 🙂 I have been meaning to call you.

  • Have another number. Send me an email and I’ll post it.

  • Hi Roger! I’ve stopped by BC a few times to check–I see you’ve finished the article.

    You asked me a question about the sick healing the sick, Warriors and Medics. These days I’m thinking it’s the Listeners who accomplish most of what needs to get done, and most of THAT happens in spite of great opposition, including the sickness and sometimes even stupidity of the healer. Sorry for being so mystical, but “that’s all she wrote.” Do your own dang listening, Roger! 😀 (Happy July to you, Cindy and TrOlL)

  • (Roger, I think you also have a new email address. You may wish to email me instead. If you forgot my address, it is on my blog.)

    (Hiya there, Irene…and troll…) (-: 🙂

  • Anarcissie

    My criticism of Hedges’s article had to do with its retrograde hankering after capitalist authority. He seems to be rather popular with many people who call themselves ‘progressives’, so that may be a critique of ‘progressivism’ or ‘progress’ as well.

    TAO Walker notes, ‘”Anarch-ism,” like every permutation of its hierarchical “law-and-order” antitheses, is just another obsessively “self”-referential reaction to CONditions arising whenever a Person or a People lose The Tao of their Humanity….’ Yes, of course. Anarchism is a response to the invention of militarism and slavery, that is, the permanent institutionalization of coercive force in the social order, which either occasioned or was a result of the loss of the tao of humanity. It is necessarily grounded in its antithesis and preserves the very terms of the oppression it struggles against. We must begin where we are — at least in the shadow of slavery — and learn how to relearn what we have forgotten. If possible.

  • roger nowosielski

    My comment on your comment on Hedges was peripheral. Of course the so-called “progressives” are the most reactionary.

    TAO Walker’s commentary deserves far more great deal of thought. Are we talking here, or are we not, of two irreconcilable belief/conceptual systems, the Western and the Eastern/Occidental? Justice vs. Karma. The first presumes the reality of our experiences. the second, as per Gita, denies it. These two philosophical/belief systems appear to be at odds and call for different strategies. In the first case, what we do, how we respond to the world, matters; in the second, it doesn’t. In the first case, it’s of utmost importance how we position ourselves with respect to the injustices all around us; in the second, the notion of injustice is an illusion, the primary objective being that of attaining a state of individual elightenment, Nirvana.

    There is a sense in which my article raises these questions. An anarchistic oommunity, in a manner of speaking, transcends the conventional understanding of what we mean by community. As a matter of fact, the very idea of membership, in an anarchistic community, becomes problematic, about to fall by the wayside as one approaches the limit.

    And so the question becomes: is it a membership of the species? But why stop there? Why not be more inclusive than that and cover all animate and inanimate things, the entire cosmos in fact. Isn’t that what Taoism or Budhhism propose?

    Talk to you later

  • To get to the second part of your comment, Anarcissie, let my recall your earlier remark #142), as per link. You write:

    “I do have a mass-hypnosis theory, which I call ‘the shadow of slavery’ — the cultural after-effects of the seven thousand years or so, from the beginning of history until the initial victories of liberalism-capitalism, in which most humans were serfs or slaves.”

    In the immediately preceding comment, on this thread, you speak of shadowing again. Could you please extrapolate? I’d like to get a better feel for what you’re thinking.

    Furthermore, any more comments on my idea that an anarchistic community, when taken to extreme, disintegrates as it were [if membership is to count as an integral part of what it means to be a participant]? No borders, no boundaries, no restrictions to speak of! So again,I ask, isn’t the idea of membership obsolete? And if so, then perhaps the very notion of community itself, as commonly understood, obsolete as well? Perhaps we need another term/concept to describe what we’re after. A major re-conceptualization may well be in order, or the very construct of an anarchistic community may be spurious, indicative more of an individual mindset, a way of life, rather than serving as a principle of organization. Any thoughts?

    I’m counting on you guys, Mark and Cindy too. It’s bad enough I received a silent treatment from the usual suspects, the BC “regulars.” I expected none would touch the sensitive subject appertaining to self-criticism and censorship with a ten-foot pole. Equally revealing is the same silent treatment on the part of the “injured party,” the famous trio, whose case, however peripherally, I undertook to defend. No question, they think me too squeamish to take up their righteous cause.

    But these things are inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. Dialog with you and Cindy and Mark, however, is of utmost importance.

    The ball is in your corner. I’m not about to spoon-feed any of you with implications of what I consider a ground-breaking paper. Synoptic connections have to be made one person at a time; otherwise, they’re not lasting and not meaningful. I’m not anyone’s nanny. To the contrary, I expect each of you to think for themselves.

    So the final question is: Are you up to it?
    Speak up or hold your peace.

  • Anarcissie

    Roger — by the ‘shadow of slavery’ I refer to a hypothetical embedding of the values of slavery in modern culture. Some 19th-century anarchists thought that all that would be necessary to establish the good society would be a sudden demolition of the government, after which human beings would be free to regain the tao in their relationships with one another.

    But in the ensuing century, many, many states were smashed, and they were generally replaced by worse states. There was and is a public demand for the state. Indeed, many people, even those who call themselves ‘progressives’ or ‘leftists’, seem to not only love the state as it is but to desire its extension, its totalization.

    Since I find this desire contrary to reason and self-interest, I have to explain it, so I have conjured a sort of psychopolitical dark matter which I call ‘the shadow of slavery’. I have ideas from time to time about how to disperse it, but so far none of them have worked very well.

    In regard to anarchistic communities, I know what small ones look like, but I have little idea of what a large polity made up of them would look like. I need a file for my shackles and yours; when we can stand up and look around, maybe we can get some idea.

  • Wow, Anarcissie, a “psychopolitical dark matter”? We may as well speak of blind drives and forces a la Freud or Jung. I’m not making fun of it by any means, but therein lies the source of your pessimism.

    It was you, remember, who chided me for entertaining Connolly’s notion of a “global resonance machine” based on Calvinistic theology leading to resentment. Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation available, was your retort. And now you’re falling back deep psychology and metaphysics. Why not just say, after Socrates, that most of us lead unexamined lives and leave it at that?

    Your argument as to the disintegration of the institution of statehood fails to make your point as well. You attribute this disintegration to real or imaginary elements of the human psyche whereas what we’re dealing with in fact is the crumbling of an institution, institution which was flawed from the outset. There is no way for the states to go but down. Like any idea that has outlived its usefulness, they are supposed to get worse and worse; and that’s not a cause for despair, I contend, but for celebration.

    And yet, on the positive side, and for all of that, we have seen substantial gains in human rights all over the world. There is an increasing awareness and yearning for a true democracy, and the Arab spring is a testament to that. It’s only a matter of time when this realization will be joined by another, that a true democracy is not attainable within the confines of statehood, which only stifles it, but requires another, more enlightened political organization.

    Again, I’ll say that the arch of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.

    I’ll tend to the last part of your comment shortly.

  • Now to the second part.

    I realize now that when I spoke of the idea of membership (in an anarchistic community) as though dissolving, I was laboring under a misconception. The image of community I was working with was of an all-encompassing, global anarchistic community, there being no boundaries or borders. Naturally, given that kind of configuration, the notion of membership falls by the way side since the community, so envisaged, is all-inclusive: no one is excluded.

    So here’s the necessary corrective. The concept of community, by definition, must include some notion of boundary if it’s not to be vacuous. Sure, we can and do speak of a “global village,” but that’s metaphorical. Hence the real question which suggests itself: what are the proper boundaries for an(y) anarchistic community given that an anarchistic community, if it’s to be true to its spirit and principle, excludes no one. Well, my answer is the boundary must be a natural one, which is to say, local (or locally-defined). Consequently, we can speak of an array of anarchistic communities, each of which subscribing to the same anarchistic ideology and principles, and yet, which are distinct from one another if only in terms of their identity as defined by their different localities/geographies.

    The importance of identifying an anarchistic community in terms of its locality [as opposed to any other conceivable factor of identity politics, such as ethnicity or shared interests (Miranda Joseph’s work, for example, Against the Romance of Community, examines a gay community)] is not to be underestimated, for it goes to the very roots of all meaningful action in the sphere of politics and economics. All meaningful politics and economics must be local, community-based (think globally but act locally!). That’s the key to self-reliance on both the individual and communal level. Which is why any community which is not locally-based is a community only by extension. It lacks the generative power.

  • To Whom It May Concern:

    I have been invited by an ex-BC participant, recently expelled, to post derogatory comments concerning my experiences with the editorial staff prior to having this article published (see section VI, page 5). When I had told them that although frustrating, the experience was for the most part positive, resulting in a better finished product than it otherwise might have been, I was still invited to post on their site so the authors would provide counterexamples to my positive observations. I still refused.

    Out of frustration or sheer meanness, my communicant disclosed the content of my private conversation with him to the management. I’d like to therefore go on record as having broken all communications with this group, private or public, although my position on censorship in general, as expressed in section VI, still stands.

    Roger Nowosielski

  • tro ll

    …dissed by one of the pedantic pair – what a surprise

    so…how to deal with such malevolence in an anarchist setting?

  • I’m tempted to say a Soviet style re-education camp, but I know that’s not the answer.

  • Anarcissie

    ‘… It was you, remember, who chided me for entertaining Connolly’s notion of a “global resonance machine” based on Calvinistic theology leading to resentment. Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation available, was your retort. And now you’re falling back deep psychology and metaphysics. Why not just say, after Socrates, that most of us lead unexamined lives and leave it at that? …’

    As I recall, I thought the global resonance machine idea was too specific, too detailed. My ‘dark matter’ theory demands less belief, and evidence for it can be observed in daily life. However, they are related ideas. There’s no metaphysics involved unless in the perhaps excessively poetic nomenclature.

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you mention the deterioration of states. I have more than one theory about that. The smashing of states I most recently mentioned refers to events in Europe between 1914 and 1989 (mostly). The degeneration of liberal states into totalitarianism, another kind of deterioration (except for totalitarians) is a different category of phenomenon for me. I suppose they could be related by some universal appetite for domination which I hope doesn’t exist.

    The contradictory thrust for human rights and freedom on the part of the lower orders I see as a result of the inexorable tropism of liberalism-capitalism-industrialism toward overproduction. Although ruling classes intend to keep power and wealth to themselves, they are unable to do so and it leaks into the sphere of the working classes and the poor, leading to a less desperate life which gives some space for political activity. At least in its initial stages this seem to result in thrusts both towards increased freedom and increased repression. For example, we see both libertarian and authoritarian elements in the rebels of the Arab Spring — as in so many other such revolts, going back to the French Revolution, the English Civil War, and probably before. The poor get to have too much stuff to be ruled with any assurance. Recall this advice to housewives: ‘If you can make a cake you can make a bomb.’

    Presumably communities of anarchists, and communities made up of such communities, would have to be as voluntary as possible. Many such fantasies can be entertained. There is a little book named Bolo’bolo that contains one of them which may amuse you; try the title in the search engine of your choice. (If the results are too confusing, there’s a Wikipedia entry you can start with.) Whether this is the true tao of humanity I don’t know; I rather doubt we can know at this point. Any guess seems like a long shot.

  • Not sure whom it concerns or why the comment has reappeared, but sounds like you’ve learned the moral of “The Old Woman and the Snake.”

  • I believe I have, LB.

  • Clavos

    The Old Woman and the Snake is indeed an apt allegory at this juncture.

  • Always unfortunate when a trust is betrayed, but it speaks to the utter lack of character in the person you are dealing with.

    As far as the article, while I agree that the community members should have input, I don’t see how the owner who provides the setting doesn’t have final say. If you were in a bar and the owner didn’t like what you were saying and the trouble you were causing, you’d be ask to leave and possibly told not to return.

  • I’m not arguing, LB, that the owners don’t have propriety rights. My tacit argument, however, is that rights don’t always have to be exercised. I happen to agree with “troll,” see comments in the beginning of the comments space, which question the propriety of the “business model” (especially when applied to matters dealing with intellectual property and free speech.

    Lastly, I find the bar analogy less than totally convincing. For one thing, the risks aren’t the same.

  • Anarcissie, you’re a tough nut to crack.

    (1) Yes, I lumped the two kinds of phenomena together for essentially, aside from particular historical circumstances, the deterioration I’m speaking of proceeds from the same root cause: the concept of statehood, in light of competition for material resources (which requires constant strife for political and military domination), is incapable of making good on its original promise of delivering justice and true democracy to all its subjects. Of necessity, the state has become an institution all its own, more concerned with and driven by its own survival than the aims it was supposed to serve. The notion of the state of exception is the extreme example of how the interests of the state override all other interests, but there are milder forms. The bottom line is, given the competition between nation-states for resources, not to mention the failure on the part of the nation-states to deliver to its own citizens, the state is bound to have mortal enemies, foreign and domestic. And to protect itself, the state is bound to act immorally on both fronts. It’s a downhill spiral, and the institution is destined to fail. And just like any failed concept, it’s bound to be replaced by some other geopolitical configuration that would be free of its inherent defects (unless we blow ourselves first). And the failed concept will be replaced not because I have any grand illusions or an exorbitant faith in the idealistic component of human nature but out of practical considerations, those having to do with solving a (practical) problem. That’s my thesis which I’ve been at pains to elucidate in the preceding essays, but my impression is, Anarcissie, that you’re simply glossing over my line of thinking. So perhaps the first order of business is to take the bull by the horns. Do you essentially agree with my analysis or do you not? And if not, why not?

    (2) I essentially agree with your analysis of, as you put it, “the contradictory thrust.” Bear in mind, however, that it’s practical considerations – having to do with improved standard of living, etcetera – which provide the occasion for expansion of one’s horizon’s in terms of yearning for democracy and so on. So once again, it’s praxis (and the failure of praxis) which drive history, with the result that we end up with improved praxis (and concepts).

    (3) An aside to your remarks on the apparent push on the part of the liberals and so-called “progressives” for an all-encompassing, totalitarian state: it’s a by-product of a misplaced notion of empathy.

    (4) I happen to disagree with your characterization of invoking the notion of “psychopolitical dark matter” as not metaphysical. I see it as a cop-out, a way of explaining away what we either can’t understand or don’t want to understand. It comes awfully close to the invocation of the Meinongian entities/objects in theory of descriptions, or the ether theory in classical physics.

  • Roger,

    Interesting article. Here is my experience of it: “Ahhhh” (nods) followed by “Hrmmmmph” (scrunches up nose)…followed by another Nod and maybe a hmmmm or two thrown in. The bit regarding ’emasculation’ [a word meaning: to remove male power, the doing of which is normally associated with a vicious, nasty, female (who probably doesn’t shave her armpits)…(looks around quickly for (such) a female…”ah, there’s one”: The Nanny State)…was very amusing. If there is one thing most anarchists I have spoken to are worried aboot (said with a Scottish accent), it’s being emasculated. No, really! 😉

    Can you imagine that social censorship could exist in a community that operated in a manner that is consistent with anarchism? (What if it just comes from within and is a very Tao-like sorta thing.)

    Could a community/society/family/group consistent with anarchism just disapprove “bad” stuff really strongly?

    How would you know what is bad? If you begin with anarchist principles, perhaps you have a better chance than average of ascertaining that.

  • Got me there, Cindy. The term snuck up on me unawares. Goes to show the extent to which we all suffer from a blind side.

    Are you agreeing with me that anarchistic principles represent and can lead one to “higher” sense of values?

    Extrapolate further on paragraphs two and three, if you will.

  • Anarcissie, Cindy, troll

    Check out today’s show, Tuesday, July 5 on Democracy Now!, a full hour dedicated to a conversation between Julian Assange and Slavoj Žižek, Amy Goodman moderator. Look to part two, the conclusion, tomorrow.

    One highlight, Žižek’s conviction that the capitalist system’s undoing may come about as a result of its inability to deal with content dealing with intellectual property – kinda reminiscent of “troll’s” criticism of the “business model” (see comments on page one).

  • Costello

    Haha. #23 was a good one, Roger

  • Roger,

    Aboot the first part: I was just being silly. Probably was delirious.

    Okay, maybe I don’t mean social censorship? Maybe I mean social censure-ship? Or maybe not.

    I am referring to the sort of thing that may be discussed, but in many instances is not, where social ‘pressures’ (?), ‘expectations’ (?) influence what individuals do.

    Example: In this society no one walks around a metropolitan neighborhood nude. In others, nudity is typical. Consumers of pornography don’t often bring it to their church to view between sermons. That sort of, unspoken (but sometimes very spoken*) stuff.

    *My nephew was wont to listen to music that would have made me ill. He, therefore would warn me about some of the songs on his CDs Either changing them as soon as the came on, or deterring me should I unknowingly request a song I had not heard, but that would have made my hair stand on end. Self-censorhip. I also asked him not to view pornography. I told him what I though about how it effected views of women. And that I hoped he would find a sexuality that was an expression of his own lovely self. I, of course have no idea what he does. Perhaps he will discuss his views with me as an adult man, in time.

    So, is that social censorship? Maybe not, maybe I was using the wrong words.

    Are you agreeing with me that anarchistic principles represent and can lead one to “higher” sense of values?


    It can (it may not, but it seems to me to be the way to resolve the sicknesses and the violences and the disregard for other that is at the root of the world’s troubles.

    Because violence and competition and greed are aspects of a human nature is no reason to aim for them as guiding principles.

  • Roger,

    Here is something interesting.

    Kohlberg’s Stages of Morality

    A psychologist named Lawrence Kohlberg studied morality using many of the same techniques that Piaget used to study the development of common sense reasoning. Kohlberg presented subjects with a series of “moral dilemmas” and analyzed their reactions. It didn’t matter which solution subjects picked, but what their reasons were for picking it. From what he observed, he developed a stage theory of morality with six stages (summarized from [1]):

    Stage 1 — Punishment and obedience orientation (Preconventional)
    In this stage, rules of conduct derive their force from the power figures who back them. The primary focus is on avoiding punishment. Rules are looked at as concrete, prohibitory, and not universally applicable. There’s also no sense that the rules are necessary for maintaining greater social order.
    Stage 2 — Instrumental relativist orientation (Preconventional)
    The focus in this stage is on satisfying the desires of one’s self and of others who are cared about. Very practical and physical reciprocity is also incorporated into the moral system (e.g., “an eye for an eye”).

    Stage 3 — Interpersonal concordance (Conventional)
    In this stage, the rightness of actions is determined by intentions. The goal is to win approval from others by pleasing and helping them.

    Stage 4 — Law and order orientation (Conventional)
    Morality is absolutely determined by the rules and laws established by authority. Maintaining law and order is more important than selfish desires.

    Stage 5 — Social contract orientation (Postconventional)
    In this stage, what is right is determined by the laws which a community has chosen. However, the laws do not absolutely define values and principles, and the laws may be changed using established procedures.

    Stage 6 — Universal ethical principle orientation (Postconventional)
    Morality is defined in this stage by an ethical system defined and chosen by one’s self. The conscience is the guide to defining the principles, however one is not at liberty to choose arbitrary morals. The ethical system constructed must be universally applicable and logically consistent.

    Kohlberg discovered that many of the same results which applied to the development of common sense reasoning also applied to the development of morals. People seem to progress through the stages sequentially, with each stage relying on things learned in the previous stages. Higher stages can’t be explicitly taught, but can only be learned over time. People also showed an inability to fully understand stages higher than their own. There were also some differences from the common sense stages. Different people progress through the stages at different rates, and most people never reach the highest stage. In fact, stages three and four are the most common among adults (see Figure 2). In many experiments, no subjects were identified to be in stage six.

    I am a fan of Piaget’s method and I found this interesting piece when I went to find out if I really meant censorship or censure or not.

  • (The paper also has some remarks on empathy worth perusing.)

  • I think what you mean by self-censure is what I refer to by the term “self-regulation.” And if an anarchistic community to be “self-regulating,” as opposed to being regulated by others, so it goes for the individuals.

  • Anarcissie

    Postulating vague entities isn’t always the wrong move. A couple of planets were discovered by postulating hitherto unobserved bodies which were distorting the orbits of other planets. On the other hand, phlogiston didn’t work out very well. ‘The shadow of slavery’ is pretty informal because I don’t have the means to research the longevity and depth of cultural factors. Some things do seem to hang around for a long time. Not long ago I encountered a leaflet entitled ‘Why She Doesn’t Give A Fuck About Your Insurrection.’ Let me omit giving the arcane facts about insurrectionism; just assume it’s some sort of excuse for breaking windows and setting fire to trash. When I read it I realized that, forty-plus years since radical feminism appeared, many allegedly leftist males were still acting like total jerks. This anecdote indicates to me that cultural change is slow and difficult. I can see this, but I don’t have the means to measure it or even define it very well, so — vague entity.

    I’ve meditated a lot on the totalitarian ways in which communities might control their members. Small communities which do this are usually called ‘cults’ but larger ones could be much more effective; they might control the languages in which we think about and discuss things. I don’t see any reason why any sort of social organization might not become totalitarian. It seems to be an occupational hazard for the species.

    Otherwise I am not up to a major critique. I must quibble along one or two quibbles at a time.

  • Small communities which do this are usually called ‘cults’ but larger ones are called nations.

    (I can’t see any ‘real’ over-riding differences between cults and patriarchal cultures. Just differences in mechanism and content.)

  • IMO, if a person has not learned to question the dominating culture, to literally take it apart and examine every idea s/he has as suspect–then s/he is, ipso facto, a member of a brainwashing cult and has not achieved real liberation of view. The person cannot think clearly, nor make personal choices that are not influenced by brainwashing. The person is asleep.

  • tr oll

    Anarcissie – you say
    I realized that, forty-plus years since radical feminism appeared, many allegedly leftist males were still acting like total jerks.…perhaps you’ll appreciate this expression of frustration with ‘radical’ men

  • I apologize to all concerned for acting like a total jerk, but I had no idea this here thread was going to turn into a bitching contest (pun intended). So forgive me for trying to steer this discussion on topic.

    And BTW, Anarcissie, I wasn’t expressing my reservations about your resorting to the notion of “dark matter” as a critique, whether major or minor; that wasn’t the spirit. The point rather is that I find this aspect of your remarks singularly unproductive, a stumbling block in fact.

    To explain, I had no idea that the main purpose of my article was to provide an occasion for expression of varying degrees of optimism or pessimism, as the case may be, as regards the possibility of an anarchistic community. I can’t deny the reality that all utopian type of literature has its basis in some kind of hope, but there’s got to be more to it, I contend. And if the value of utopian literature must rise or fall with one’s feelings or disappointments, temporary or permanent, concerning the realization of one’s vision, then I say all such attempts are useless. I may as well quit writing then and get down to the nitty gritty and lose myself in doing the activist work.

    In short, it’s not that I don’t appreciate people expressing personal disappointments, and there’s time for a group therapy session, for we all need reinforcement and encouragement to stay the course, but that’s another matter. The point rather is, I can’t do much in a single session to turn a person’s pessimism into a more optimistic outlook. It would be like trying to convince the believers to stay true to their beliefs in spite of the fact that the Second Advent didn’t come about when they expected it. Sorry, I don’t have such powers.

    So by staying on topic, I simply mean suspending for the time beings our frustrations. I believe this article is groundbreaking in a manner of speaking, offering new ways of thinking about an anarchistic community, ways which are much more down to earth than the kind of picture that is prevalent in the annals of anarchistic literature, and that’s in spite of the rather abstract language. What amazes me, however, is that none of the heavyweights who have been kind enough to grace this thread with their presence (except for Cindy perhaps) have either picked up on it or made however slight an allusion to the possibilities I’m exploring.

    In a nutshell, that’s the source of MY frustration.

  • Anarcissie

    On the other hand one may not be able to question the dominant (or only) culture. For one thing, what we think seems to be controlled by our language (although there is a lot of debate about this); this theory crops up in the Whorfian hypothesis, Nietzsche’s remark that ‘God is in the grammar’, and George Orwell’s description of Newspeak in 1984. So our languages seem to form inescapable mental atmospheres. There are other channels of communication as well, in which what is missing may be as important as what is conveyed. In regard to feminism and its dicontents, it’s been noted (scientifically, not just anecdotally) that even small infants are handled differently by most people depending on their sex. Something is being communicated by that, perhaps that males should not think too much and be aggressive, with the slack of thinking, caring and communicating being taken up by females. I don’t really have a complete theory about cultural transmission and conformity; it is difficult to get at. As an antidote to patriarchal practices, however, maybe instead of lists of complaints, certain games should be engaged in to give each category a taste of the others’ life experiences. Hopefully these tastes would be enlightening more than retributive.

  • Comes close to what’s recommended by Mary Louise Pratt, Cindy’s favorite author, in “Arts of the Contact Zone.”

  • Hey, Cindy. Need to have a session with you, on the net. When will you have a window, for an hour let’s say.

  • (Probably tomorrow after lunch. Unless something unexpected happens. We have a doctor appt. at 10 am But I really don’t think he will order tests or anything. So, maybe around 2-4 pm my time. Will that work?)

  • OK, it will work. Perhaps you can call me meanwhile, this evening will be fine.

  • Anarcissie,

    I need some help clarifying what you mean about language. At the outset, my view is that narrative both informs and trumps language.

    Also by this, “On the other hand one may not be able to question the dominant (or only) culture.”, do you mean you think of the dominant culture as the only culture?

    If one is asleep, I grant that s/he can examine or question nothing. I also grant that even when we wholeheartedly desire change indoctrinated pov, it is often difficult slow-going with many impasses. But are you saying it is impossible?

    (Roger, Okay. I will do. And feel free to step in and tell me if I am using a different definition of something than Anarcissie.)

  • Cindy, why don’t you re-read the article by Pratt linked to in #45, in particular the part about autoethnographic texts, and how different language is being employed to generate the alternative narrative.

  • Anarcissie is on the right track, Cindy. The limits of language define the limits of our world, our form of life (rough paraphrase, Wittgenstein). In any case, language comes prior to any narrative, and the latter if defined/delimited by the language we use. Which is why I’ve always maintained that conceptual breakthrough, novel ways of thinking, are the surest way to expand our horizons. Think of Kohlbeg’s stages of morality, for instance, #36, which subject I’ll address later. The final stage, it’s arguable, is attainable only to those who can understand moral concepts in a novel way, a way which transcend our mere use of them, in which we’ve all been trained as part of learning the language. It’s the habit, which has to be ingrained, of our thinking about the use (meta-ethics) which makes all the difference.

    But I can’t speak for Anarcissie. She’s a big girl and she can speak for herself.

  • … and the latter is defined …

  • Here’s another paper by Pratt, Cindy: “BUILDING A NEW PUBLIC IDEA ABOUT LANGUAGE”.

    Although I don’t disagree with the main thrust of her thesis, I think her stress on multilingual abilities as representing the be all and end all, the all-decisive factor which would enable us to arrive at a transcultural, self-critical stance when faced with “contact zones,” is somewhat misplaced. No question that familiarity/mastery of other languages is conducive to adopting such a stance with regard to one’s own native language. Still, I contend that adopting a “self-critical” stance with respect to one’s own culture can came in a variety of ways, and that bilingual abilities are not the sufficient condition. In short, a “self-critical” stance can be attained even in a monolingual environment.

    But perhaps I’m not to speak since I’m not from here.

  • Anarcissie

    I was thinking, around the ‘Shadow of Slavery’ concept, that various ideas are often deeply embedded in language. In Latin, for example, there are various words for human being, including ‘homo’, ‘vir’ and ‘femina’. ‘Homo’ refers to any sort of human (the word ‘human’ comes from ‘homo’) and some linguists connect ‘homo’ with words like ‘humus’ (earth) from which we get ‘humble’. ‘Vir’ comes from the root ‘vi-‘ which means force, as in ‘vis’ (force, energy), ‘vita’ (life) and ‘violens’ (violent) and refers only to males, usually of high status. ‘Femina’ seems to be a combination of the roots ‘fe-‘ and ‘homo’, in which ‘fe-‘ denotes breeding (fecund) or nursing. Every natural speaker of Latin was reminded of these connotations whenever she or he used these words, quite possibly without being aware of it. In German, male words denoting roles or professions require the infix -in-, historically a diminutive, if they are applied to females. Here are some other aspects: in Indo-European languages, most verbs exhibit tense, that is, give a time relation for the state or event denoted: I am here, I was here, I will be here. There are other languages in which this attribute is normally omitted. In some, however, whether an event is unique or repeated has to be indicated. Do these factors imbue the speakers of these languages with a different sense of time? Whorf thought so, others thought he was crazy. In Japanese, the verb endings one chooses indicate one’s opinion of the social status of the person spoken to and possibly of the subject, and also the formality of the situation in which the conversation takes place. Since we can observe infants responding to language after only a few months of life, we could say that they are virtually imbibing large systems of concepts with their mother’s milk, and those of them who become mothers in turn will pass those conceptual systems along, possibly not much modified. To say nothing of the infant’s other relatives, friends, companions, neighbors, and so on.

    I doubt if superficial, school- or job-learned second languages are going to make a lot of difference since they will be acquired ‘later in life’, that is, after one is old enough to attend school or go to work, by which time most of one’s concepts, whether introjected or self-generated, will have been deeply set in the neural matrix. I would think.

    Sorry to be so prolix with this distraction. I shall try to get back on the track.

  • Roger,

    I am sure I just don’t have the background to see the idea clearly.

    And everything is dependent on what is actually meant by every word. If I am construing an unintended meaning then I’m not even really working with the idea that I am being presented with, but some other idea. I have no idea how precise people are being when they speak. When one says ‘never’ it can actually mean ‘never’ or it can mean generally not. I have gotten in a lot of trouble (winks at troll) from not being able to hear the person’s voice in the post and misinterpreting the meaning.

    So, you will forgive me if I ask, how can a language have any meaning if not for a narrative (or an implied narrative)?

    (btw, I stand by the position that the egg came first)

  • People are pretty unchangeable. The idea that it is language with the largest role that pins them in place is foreign to my sense. I would have to be much more educated in the subject to even begin to find such an idea sensible.

    I will read the Pratt thing.

    (Good article troll @42. My heart feels it is a little harsh, but my brain disagrees. In any case, it is a relief that some woman wrote that.)

  • I think you’re over-complicating things, Cindy. Think of language in its performative function, e.g., Searle’s notion of speech acts or John Austin’s How to do things with words.

  • Cindy, all along you speak of cultural indoctrination, etc. How do you suppose there can be such a thing apart from language?

    I’ll check out for tonite, watching a movie. Will post some more comments prior to our brain session. Feel free to post and I’ll do my best to field your questions manana.

  • Roger,

    I don’t see how those ideas (though I only briefly looked) explain why we behave as we do better than, say, theories based on socialization.

    Language controls us…how does this idea explain the wide gaps in personality, beliefs, attitudes, etc? The idea that we cannot change because we are embedded in language doesn’t explain all the variations that exist in people already.

    Besides, if we are just stuck in the amber of language, then I may as well spend the rest of my life shopping.

  • (Or some other frivolous occupation.)

  • …indoctrination, etc. How do you suppose there can be such a thing apart from language?

    I don’t think there can. I just want to understand the mechanism, as you do, and Anarcissie apparently does, by which language itself is the overiding control over human behavior.

    After I read the article troll posted. I considered the language. Son of a bitch, bastard, mother fucker–all pejoratives aimed at males, yet all are based on the female. Thinking about this is the closest I can come to having a sense of what you or Anarcissie means.

    There must be language, but there are differences in people. Why doesn’t language control all people the same way. What is responsible for the various outcomes. Do you see where I am having trouble?

  • There is no human behavior apart from language. We even speak of body language to refer to any non-verbal behavior. A mechanism? To most users, it comes as naturally as using one’s hands when eating or feet when walking. To become aware of the “mechanism,” you have start thinking about your use of language – something some people can do, because they’ve been train to, in their “philosophical moment.”

    Again, look up Wittgenstein’s analogy of a tool box (when referring to language, words and our uses of it). And it’s not so much the case that language “controls” us; it also enables us – two sides of the same coin. Even within the same culture, none of us are alike and not merely on account of genetic or psychological variation. We also differ greatly with respect to language proficiency.

    Language is a faculty, no less so than a mind is. In fact, I can’t imagine a mind without a language. And as far as faculty goes, it’s a scalar quality covering a broad spectrum.

    Later aligator.

  • Anarcissie’s comment #54 is the most interesting to me. Language does literally shape one’s view and understanding of the world and everything in it.

    I have had the good fortune to learn some of a variety of languages and found that I can’t just translate my English self into other languages.

    Can’t remember who it was but someone more insightful than me said that to speak another language is to grow another soul. Not sure I completely buy into the notion of a soul but it is certainly true that when speaking another language you become a different person.

    I am particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn quite a lot of Spanish, which has added far more than I ever imagined to my perception.

    I do, however, disagree with the notion that learning a new language later in life will not “make a lot of difference”, nor do I agree that people’s “concepts… will have been deeply set in the neural matrix”.

    If your “neural matrix” has become set in stone, then you have essentially died and I see many examples of people making radical changes in their lives all the time.

  • …how can a language have any meaning if not for a narrative…

    There is no human behavior apart from language.

    …but consider the work of the young tubercular Russian Lev Vygotsky and his notion of cultural mediation

    we learn language through our relationships with people already taken up by ‘the narrative’

    if an infant hears the language of love accompanied by violence will his understanding of the notions be the same as one who isn’t exposed to the same experience?

    hence the variation

    Posted by “troll”

  • I was too quick to use the term “proficiency” to characterize different levels of language mastery; facility, even adroitness is a better term.

    Point well taken, “troll.” However, you don’t need so drastic a case to make a point. Even assuming a “normal,” healthy environment and upbringing, we still go through stages of linguistic competence and maturation (especially as regards “deep” moral/ethical concepts. C.S. Lewis devoted much of his life’s work to this very subject, The Four Loves, for instance.

    For those who are more secular-minded, his Studies in Words is a delightful excursion into the history of the English language via the examination of some key concepts/terms (e.g., human nature, wit, free) and their “deterioration” over time – something akin to etymology and what Anarcissie was getting at in her #54 but much more detailed and focused. It would be a mistake, however, to think that we moderns are particularly handicapped when it comes to “loss of old meanings.” Evolution or devolution of language, take your pick, is an ongoing process from which no generation is excluded, and it reflects changes in (dominant) human practice. As practice (or ethos of the times) changes, so do our key concepts which merely reflect the change: old meanings fade away or become marginal (if not trivialized) and new ones replace them. “Virtue” is a good example. In Victorian England, the term, for the most part, had come to mean “chastity.” Still, the history of words is the history of human practice.

    I agree with Christopher’s comment about the so-called “neural matrix.” Nothing is written in stone. I’m certain Anarcissie’s use here is hyperbolic and an expression of frustration.

    As to troll’s comment about what comes first, the narrative or the language, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. It all depends on how much Cindy packs here into the term “narrative.”

  • Further comments on factors which trigger the adoption of a (self) critical stance (apart from mere multilingual ability), see #53. Exposure seems to be the key.

    The literary career of Southern writers offers some insights. Some, like Truman Capote, are driven away from their place of birth and embrace the Northern culture as safe haven; others, like Thomas Wolfe, simply for the love of it and the energy of the North; others yet, like Walker Percy (The Movie Goer), are too steeped in their culture and always maintain the outsider’s perspective. Flannery O’Connor has some interesting remarks concerning the importance of regional writing, see especially her Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, 1969. So here’s a case for a critical perspective, or an outsider’s viewpoint as it were, in spite of, arguably, the same language (though a different culture).

    In a way, my own history in the US mirrors this pattern with a twist or two. Though thoroughly acculturated, for thirty some years I cultivated a distinctly Eastern European perspective and point of view. It wasn’t until I established and ran a successful business enterprise that I internalized the essence of what it means to be an American – the possibilities which come with running a business, not in just in terms of the bottom line but the architecture of it. Then came the last stage, that of disenchantment and (self) criticism.

    And yet, all along to this very day, I have the outsider’s perspective (can never lose it, I suppose) and I’m not thinking “in Polish.”

  • Apropos of variance with respect to language mastery, see Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good, especially the first essay, “The Idea of Perfection.”

    Murdoch makes a heck of a case against a rather crude interpretation of Wittgenstein’s notion of the invariably public character of our language by demonstrating privatized use of concepts.

  • I am here, Roger. I will read the thread.

  • troll

    (while I found Blunden’s piece on the dialectical and materialist nature of Vygotsky’s work of interest I had intended to link to cultural mediation in #64)

  • we learn language through our relationships with people already taken up by ‘the narrative’

    Yes, okay. There is the ‘chicken’. And that is the precise way I mean the ‘narrative’ comes first. Now the problems I have been having make a bit more sense. (I am always starting with asking what is the world the infant is brought into. So, in the case of language, it only makes sense that the language is already rich with narrative.)

    if an infant hears the language of love accompanied by violence will his understanding of the notions be the same as one who isn’t exposed to the same experience?

    hence the variation

    Yes, I see that. It clarifies that maybe what I am calling ‘narrative’ is not what you all are. Language is not learned in a vacuum but a story or meaning is partially transmitted and is assimilated and modified by the learner. The language love and violence are not mere sounds or utterances or words (which I have been thinking is meant by ‘language’ and is what I mean when I say ‘language’).

    So, maybe I am using the word ‘narrative’ in my own personal way. Narrative is what I call anything that informs, explains, clarifies, classifies, makes sense of, puts sense to, gives meaning, whether expressed or implied. Probably not a very philosophical way of using it.

    I’m not sure if I have progressed at all in my comprehension. I think maybe I have. Have I? Perhaps I need the definitions you all seem to be going by.

    I really like the speech acts, Roger. Just skimmed it. Very interesting.

  • (haven’t read the whole thread yet…onward and upward…)

  • I’m back too after a short nap. The birthday cake example was very helpful. I like the concept of “cultural mediation.” It’s very intuitive.

  • Me too. I like Vygotsky’s critique of Piaget, as well. I like his explanations. I think he makes sense.

    Look at the other link too, Roger, if you haven’t the Blunden one. If you scroll down their is a lot more information on Vygotsky’s observations and sense of language development.

  • Gonna try a little Julian Assange and Slavoj Žižek, Roger. What a find that is.

  • Indeed, it’s the cultural artifact which becomes the source of symbolic meaning in humans, over and above mere physical sensation. And the two are inextricably interwoven to produce many-layered meanings.

  • “The earliest speech of the child is … essentially social. … At a certain age the social speech of the child is quite sharply divided into egocentric and communicative speech … Egocentric speech emerges when the child transfers social, collaborative forms of behaviour to the sphere of inner-personal psychic functions … Egocentric speech, splintered off from general social speech, in time leads to inner speech, which serves both autistic and logical thinking. … the true direction of the development of thinking is not from the individual to the socialised, but from the social to the individual.” [Thought and Language, Chapter 2]

    Roger, did you see this bit? I think it is worth looking at if you wish understand my view on cultural indoctrination. I think he has something very good here and it is at odds with the typical theoretic construction.

  • There are two parts, Cindy. I linked only to the first. And since I’ve been posting for quite some time now today, perhaps we can resume our session tomorrow. You name the time. I want to be in my best form, and I’m afraid my energies are running low.

    OK by you?

  • U buy the idea in #76. The Wikipidia article Mark linked to is even more succinct.

  • Roger,

    My friend John comes every weekend. We will all be going to my niece’s 21st birthday party tomorrow.

    If we get home early enough and the two fellows go to bed early, I will pop on. If I can stay awake. 🙂

  • If not Saturday, then Sunday perhaps.

  • (Sunday eve, after dinner, would be perfect.)

  • OK then, let’s plan on it. I need you to help me flesh out my article. An hour should do it.

  • Cindy, here’s a link to a full two-hour uninterrupted video of the Assange-Žižek event.

  • First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, pdf.

    Žižek on private and public use of reason.

  • Cindy, you’ve just got to read Žižek’s book. His understanding of the capitalist system with all its paradoxes is beyond compare.

  • Anarcissie

    I would characterize narrative as something with story-like, sequential structure. There are other possible descriptive structures, such as a map (ordinary meaning, not mathematical meaning) which may have no particular implied sequence of reading. Of course one can take a route through a map and thereby make it into a narrative, and correspondingly transform a narrative into a map.

    Animals with short memories and some ability to communicate would tend to convey maps (‘There’s a hawk overhead!’) rather than histories, I would think. Nevertheless, the way in which a bee communicates the location of desirable flowers through ‘dance’ is unquestionably a narrative; it’s a low-resolution model of the experience of flying the route.

    Perhaps even genetic sequences are narratives.

  • You must be a follower of E. O. Wilson, Amarcissie, and Richard Dawkins perhaps.

  • Anarcissie, I hope you’re at least skimming through Žižek’s manuscript.

  • Roger,

    I am on my way. Back in about 20 minutes.

  • Anybody home?

  • Yes, been waiting for you.

  • Am I too late?

  • It’s OK. Have you glimpsed at Žižek’s manuscript, linked to earlier?

  • Not much. But, it looked great.

  • Powerful staff, Cindy. You have to read it.

  • Yes, I will. I am looking for a program that can read it too me while I work.

  • Like what, for example?

  • “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.” Mao Zedong

    p. 75

  • Roger,

    Are you trying to make John Lennon roll over in his grave? 😉

  • I’m falling asleep. Will try again another day. Couldn’t get here early enough. Sorry, about that. Maybe tomorrow. I’ll check back in.

  • After 5pm your time.

  • Well, Cindy, finally done with this difficult text.

    Your turn.

  • tro ll

    …noted the parallelism with Zizek’s focus on included/excluded as a fundamental and uniquely productive antagonism – you dogs’re sniffing up similar skirts

    …but then when I read Zizek I can’t help but imitate his thick accent and nervous run-on spoken style so I’m never sure what he’s writing about

  • parallelism with what? I’m at a loss here.

    I find this work disturbing. Can you think of a good Communist with anarchistic leanings? I’d love to read him or her.

  • Get you now! Of course, the excluded are the invisible, the part of no part. Or they become highly visible in the extreme case if for political or other reasons it’s convenient for us to re-present them as threatening. Then they become virtual bin Laden (vis-a-vis the community).

  • … bin Ladens …

  • troll

    you write: “…one’s membership in the community, or non-membership, as the case may be, appears the decisive factor: non-membership makes perfection possible while membership seems to preclude it.”

    Zizek writes: “..it is only…reference to the Excluded that justifies the use of the term communism.” p97

  • Even a “Utopian,” anarchistic community is tainted (short of perfect) with respect to both, those whom it excludes as well as includes. Communism’s aim is to leave no one excluded, which still falls short of a “perfect” political community. Only individual persons can be “perfect.”

  • Just skimmmed through R.P. Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchism, a very laborious and tortured text. It reads like a 19th century manuscript. I have no patience for these guys.

    Again, can you think of a good communist with anarchistic leanings? Zizek is very unhelpful here, not so much for what he says but what he fails to say. In particular, his account of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” presumably the near-final stage of a communist community/state, is lame.

  • troll

    sorry for the hesitation…I’m not clear on what a good communist would look like

  • I suppose it remains for me to bridge the gap.

  • Interestingly, Chomsky’s dated (1970) article, “Notes on Anarchism,” raises the chicken and egg question.

  • troll

    …Emmett Grogan?

  • Anarcissie

    I think TAO Walker’s early comment in this thread, and my response to it, explains why most anarchist texts are dreary. Bob Black’s famous rant is fun, but then they say Bob Black is bad. Or was. Fictions like Ursula LeGuin’s and fantasies like bolo’bolo are fun, though.

  • I think they’re dreary because anarchism, as a philosophical-social platform (as opposed to a depiction of a lifestyle or personal philosophy) is not taken seriously; most of it’s exponents are amateurs. Marxist tests by contrast, especially the one exemplified by Zizek’s, are anything but dreary; they’re dynamic, in fact.

    There must be a way of imbuing anarchist writings with the kind of energy and a sense of emergency that is present in the former.

  • Anarcissie

    E. O. Wilson is the one who’s on about ants, isn’t he? Or is he Mr. Consilience? As for Dawkins, I find him dull. Attributing intention to molecules is a bit of a stretch, unless one is playing mystic, which I thought Dawkins was against.

    I read an article by Žižek which asserted that anarchists have ‘secret masters’, unspecified of course, which caused me to push him back in my must-read queue just a bit. Also I knew a fellow who always ended his emails with this quote from Ž.: “The true ethical test is not only the readiness to save the victims, but also – even more, perhaps – the ruthless dedication to annihilating those who made them victims.” This principle turned out to make it okay for him to deride and punch out his girlfriend.

  • Do you have a link to the article by Žižek? I see why such a statement can be a turn-off. Still, the text I linked to has merits. His analysis of current events is uncanny. Some of the terms of his analysis are Lacanian, and therefore dense, but one can’t altogether dismiss Freud and Lacan, can one? In any case, the first part, dealing with the nature and the workings of ideology, is definitely worth a read.

    E. O. Wilson, ants it is. The founder of socio-biology.

  • As to Dawkins, yes I agree. I find the whole concept of “meme” on the obscurantist side. But that’s the scientism taking over philosophy in this day and age. Cognitive sciences move in the same direction (mind-brain identity thesis, reduction of mental to neural events, neurophilosophy, etc.).

    Nowadays, even electrons are assumed to have consciousness.

  • BTW, Žižek’s weakness, as best as I can surmise, derives from having spent too much time under the Communist boot. It’s also, at moments, is his greatest strength.

    I was fortunate enough to have left Poland early enough more or less unscathed and therefore relatively free of the need to react.

  • Anarcissie

    I don’t know where either of the Ž. quotes came from. The ‘secret masters’ thing was published on Usenet and much derided at the time; it may have been suppressed. The other thing may be fictitious, for all I know. I was not critiquing Ž., just explaining how I could so unhip as to have omitted reading etc. I do intend to watch the video (with Assange) but that is more an attraction to the dramas of Mr. Assange than anything else.

  • Anarcissie

    Marxism is wrong and anarchism is right; hence, Marxism is much more interesting. It’s like ‘Milton was of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’ (William Blake — speaking of whom, Blake is a good example of an interesting (quasi-)anarchist, but we don’t call him an anarchist.) That which is right is finished, completed, dead. That which is wrong is full of life. That’s what makes science interesting: it’s always wrong.

    If it weren’t for error, we wouldn’t be here.

    As for Bob Black arguing with Murray Bookchin — Bookchin is dull, so naturally Black became dull. One must choose one’s opponents wisely because one will become like them.

  • Hence the impasse, intellectual stagnation, the end of the road – results I anticipated the least.

    May I be spared in the future from Greeks and their gifts!

  • Not to force your hand, Anarcissie, but I’m going to highlight some of the key ideas from Žižek’s paper. Whether communism is all wrong and anarchism all right, I’m not ready to say. As presently articulated, both have their strengths and weaknesses (I’d venture to say) and stand to learn from one another. Žižek is one of the most dynamic philosophers around, so why not use him for a springboard?

    The New Enclosure of the Commons:

    -the commons of culture, the imediately socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, the postal system, and so on;

    -the commons of external nature, threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to rain forests and the natural habitat itself)

    – the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity); with new biogenetic technology, the creation of a New Man in the literal sense of changing human nature becomes a realistic prospect

    In this connection, he speaks of four antagonisms:

    the looming threat of an ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of the notion of private property in relation to so-called “intellectual property” ; the socioethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, the creation of new forms of apartheid, new Walls and slums. There is a qualitative difference between this last feature – the gap that separates the Excluded from the Included-and the other three, which designate different aspects of what Hardt and Negri call the “commons;’ the shared substance of our social being, the privatization of which involves violent acts which should, where necessary, be resisted with violent means. (pp.90-1)

    Again, the first three concern the matter of the species survival; only the last is ultimately concerned with justice (presumably only the communist’ concern, not the anarchist’s).

    Also note Žižek’s priorities: before we can concern ourselves with the potential problem of anarchistic communities not being able to provide for some of their needs other than through centralization, the first order of business must be to make certain that we don’t blow ourselves first.

  • Anarcissie

    ‘… Again, the first three concern the matter of the species survival; only the last is ultimately concerned with justice (presumably only the communist’ concern, not the anarchist’s). …’

    If we take The Cunning Of History seriously then Exclusion is also a problem for survival. Part of the process by which the bureaucratic state feasts on its victims is by making non-citizens, non-humans, unpersons of them. Presumably once one set of unpersons was identified and consumed, the state would have to go on to the next.

    We haven’t quite observed this in history. The Soviet and Nazi states consumed many millions of (un)persons, whereas the present chief imperium has knocked off only a few million in the last 30 or 40 years. A slowing-down or merely a breather?

  • The Public Use of Reason, Kant-Rorty dispute (p. 104):

    …communism refers to singular universality, to the direct link between the singular and the universal, bypassing particular determinations. When Paul says that, from a Christian standpoint, “there are no men or women, no Jews or Greeks;’ he thereby claims that ethnic roots, national identities, etc., are not a category of truth. To put it in precise Kantian terms: when we reflect upon our ethnic roots, we engage in a private use of reason, constrained by contingent dogmatic presuppositions; that is, we act as “immature” individuals, not as free humans who dwell in the dimension of the universality of reason. The opposition between Kant and Rorty with regard to this distinction of public and private is rarely noted, but is nonetheless crucial. Both sharply distinguish between the two domains, but in opposite ways. For Rotty, the great contemporary liberal par excellence, the private is the space of our idiosyncrasies where creativity and wild imagination rule and moral
    considerations are (almost) suspended; the public, on the contrary, is the space of social interaction where we are obliged to obey the rules in order not to hurt others. In Rorty’s own terms, the private is the space of irony, while the public is the space of solidarity. For Kant, however, the public space of the “world-civil-society” exemplifies the paradox of universal singularity, of a singular subject who, in a kind of short-circuit, bypassing the mediation of the particular, directly participates in the Universal. This then is what Kant, in a famous passage from his essay “What is Enlightenment?”
    means by “public” as opposed to “private”: “private” designates not one’s individual as opposed to communal ties, but the very communal institutional order of one’s particular identification; while “public” refers to the transnational universality of the exercise of one’s Reason:

    The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one’s reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a
    scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.1l

    The paradox of Kant’s formula “Think freely, but obey!” (which, of course, poses a series of problems of its own, since it also relies on the distinction between the “performative” level of social authority and the level of free thinking where performativity is suspended) is thus that one participates in the universal dimension of the “public” sphere precisely as a singular individual extracted from, or even opposed to, one’s substantial communal identification- one is truly universal only when radically singular, in the interstices of communal identities. It is Kant who should be read here as the critic of Rorty. In his vision of public space characterized by the unconstrained exercise of Reason, he invokes a dimension of emancipatory universality outside the confines of one’s social identity, of one’s position within the order of (social) being – precisely the dimension so crucially missing in Rorty.

    appears as the “Holy Spirit” – the space of a collective of believers subtracted from the field of organic communities, or of particular lifeworlds (“neither Greeks nor Jews”). Consequently, is Kant’s “Think freely, but obey!” not a new version of Christ’s “Render therefore unto 11 Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?” in Isaac Kramnick (ed.), The Portable Enlightenment Reader, New York: Penguin Books 1995, p. 5.
    Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” ? ” Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”: in other words, respect and obey the “private” particular life-world of your community; “and unto God the things that are God’s”: in other words, participate in the universal space of the community of believers.

    The Paulinian collective of believers is a proto-model of the Kantian “world-civil – society;’ and the domain of the state itself is thus in its own way “private”: private in the precise Kantian sense of the “private use of Reason” in the State administrative and ideological apparatuses.


    One could take issue, of course, with Žižek’s conclusion, relegating discourse concerning the state and its administrative and ideological apparatuses to the realm of “the private.” In so doing, Žižek’s creates an insurmountable gap between the social – even the State is regarded as parochial and idiosyncratic – and the individual (conscience, speech). If Žižek truly aims at universality,

  • cont’d

    … this idea should include not just humans but also human institutions to adequately reflect the notion. I’m afraid he doesn’t because deep down he’s resigned to the reality of statehood as a permanent feature of the human condition (even after the struggle is won).

  • In a manner of speaking, yes; when it comes to the quality of life, definitely. Ultimately, no one is immune from becoming homo sacer. Thanks to the morphing capitalism, however, always re-inventing itself by assuming a benign, even “progressive” face – another leitmotif running through Žižek’s work – there will be survivors. Capitalism can’t feed on itself. It needs consumers.

  • Anarcissie

    Liberalism-capitalism isn’t equal to the state, however; it’s a particular, temporary configuration of the state. (Or to be picky, a particular set or field of configurations, since there are quite a few varieties.) The dynamic nature of capitalism has saved it on occasion, but it also ensures that it will pass away.

    The fundamental fact of the state is not capitalism, it’s the Gewaltmonopol of government. I would think that, just as capitalism must create scarcity as a condition supporting its existence, so the Gewaltmonopol must create conditions requiring Gewalt.

  • Indeed, as an example of capitalism morphing and the state putting it to its best possible advantage, Zižek speaks of “capitalism with Asian values,” p.T 131.

    But to the second paragraph, it strikes me as a grammatical remark. Touche!

  • In practical terms, the first-order of business must be that of degrading the concept of national security and all the sins which come under the rubric – the War on Terror, the Patriot Act, the politics of fear – in short, all the things in virtue of which the State is deemed indispensable to our lives, all its claims to that effect, whether real or imaginary – even the idea of “entitlements” which seems to justify the existence and the necessity of the welfare state and upon which the underclass believes itself to be dependent.

  • Anarcissie

    I would think the first order of business would be to try to stop our government(s) from actively killing, maiming, terrorizing, torturing, robbing and imprisoning innocent people. One could find many allies for this project who are not yet ready to get rid of the nation-state, capitalism, Welfare, the police, and so forth.

    Of course, such a project calls the nation-state, etc., into question, which is one of its beneficial by-products.

  • trol l

    …our governments(s)?

    while it’s generally accepted these days that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ in the end somebody pulls the trigger

    so just say ‘no’ to “actively killing, maiming, terrorizing, torturing, robbing and imprisoning innocent people” on anybody’s orders boys and girls…keep that stuff personal

    and while we’re at it – just say ‘no’ to dominating and exploiting people as well

    it really is that simple

    …and remember Olaf glad and big – survival is not a moral imperative

  • Part of the problem here, they eliminated the draft, a well-learned lesson from the Vietnam era. The volunteers aren’t likely to object because they’re volunteers, and no one is picking up the mantle on their behalf. It a well-known strategy of divide and conquer. And given the low educational level of the average volunteer, their level of immaturity, and relatively next to no chance of finding a comparable deal outside the military, it’s almost a shoe-in. They have those poor guys and gals by the barrel.

    So to add to the list of must-dos, I say boycott all recruitment centers and military installations, ban them off the campuses, boycott the Democratic Party and the present administration, refuse to vote or if vote you must, vote for Pat Paulson or for Julian Assange. Anything that’s ridiculous is better than being serious.

  • Just an idea. Volunteerism into armed forces is equivalent, roughly speaking, to privatizing the army. Kusinich is a vociferous opponent of any US engagement, even in Libya against the monster Gadhafi, not even if it accords with a UN resolution and the action is carried out mainly by NATO.

    Let’s draft a resolution re-instituting the draft. Even some die-hard conservatives, Ron Paul comes to mind, might vote for it given the present impasse concerning the budget.

    If America’s wars are to be deemed truly just and thus required to be authorized by Congress, the draft is the logical way to go.

  • Anarcissie

    Reinstituting the Draft would mostly just increase propaganda costs. The government might also have to create more realistic enemies, which could be risky.

  • I’d like to revisit your earlier comment, Anarcissie, that Marxism is wrong (and that anarchism is right). Is it wrong historically or because it fails to envisage the withering of the state as a result of re-instituting the new paradigm of the economic processes? If the latter, then a reconciliation between Marxism and anarchism is definitely a conceptual and therefore a practical possibility, and it shouldn’t serve as a stumbling block.

    A somewhat related question, perhaps, and if not, an interesting one at least, concerns the relationship between Lacan’s writings on psychology and Žižek’s version of Marxism. So yes, I’m re-opening the dialogue if only to avert stagnation, an intellectual dead end.

    As an example of the type of questions thus raised, I’m providing this link, “Lacanian Psychology and Revolutionary Marxism”

  • Two points raised by the article linked to in #137:

    (a) The working class is not, in Žižek’s worldview, a class that will struggle to simultaneously take power and abolish itself in the very process of socialist revolution. For Žižek the ‘obstacle’ or ‘antagonism’ that he obsessively circles around is the condition of possibility for capitalism to exist; to remove this impediment would be to lose the very productivity that is generated by it, ‘if we take away the obstacle, the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates’[61] Despite some ultraleftist rhetoric that is occasionally wheeled out to annoy the likes of Laclau, Žižek does not think beyond the horizon of capitalism.[62]

    Žižek is not a Marxist, but this is not the main issue that concerns us here.[63] Although he addresses political-economic phenomena in commentary and critique and with a rhetoric that is infused with Marxist terminology,[64] this is merely the opportunity to play out themes from German idealist philosophy.

    (b) There is an important aspect of psychoanalysis that is neatly glossed over in the appropriations of it by social theory, one that we have not so far attended to, which is that it is as much a theory and practice of sexuality and sexual difference as it is of the unconscious. How could we bring this sexual element to play in political theory and practice? One way is by noticing that the antagonism between the domains of the individual and the social might well be characterised as being like the famous ‘impossibility’ of rapport that Lacan used to describe sexual difference,[70] but even then this highly abstract formulation only answers to an already too-generalised puzzle. Instead, if we were to ask what Lacanian psychoanalysis might be useful for as one specific element of class struggle, and in relation to what specific facets of Marxist revolutionary activity, it might then be useful to focus on the role of sexual difference and its intersection with class struggle. The separation of the ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres of life under capitalism and the corresponding separation between stereotypical masculinity and femininity is the key here.[71] This intersection between the overlapping and mutually-reinforcing axes of capitalist exploitation and patriarchal oppression has, of course, been worked at more intensively by feminists than by Marxists.[72]

  • The following is a link to footnote #72, comment #138, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, The Reinvention of Nature by Donna J. Haraway.

    Cindy, this should be of interest to you too.

  • Direct link to material cited above:

    Cyborgs, ….

  • Anybody there?

  • Link in #137 converted to a pdf file.

  • You must be in deep thought, Anarcissie.
    Still reading Donna Haraway’s MS?

  • Hiya Roger,

    Just popped on to say hello and sorry for not getting back. The last two weeks I lost both my helpers and we have switched to outpatient from in-home therapies.

    Things are moving along and I am keeping up with everything. (‘cept philosophy 🙂 Cya soon…

  • Perhaps we can pick it up when you’re up to it.

  • Anarcissie

    Was reading Žiž for awhile. Couldn’t find much to disagree with, which is discouraging. Now it’s hot as South Hell and I’m lying low.

  • Same in KY, temperature index reaching over 110.

  • Actually, I find Donna Haraway more disturbing.

  • Anarcissie, Cindy, Mark

    Perhaps we can get some mileage out of this article? I find it illuminating though parts of it, as of this moment, are still somewhat over my head, especially as relating to Heideggerian philosophy of Being and Dasein.

  • Problem with the link, Roger.

  • You mean the one in #149? Tell me exactly what’s wrong. It works to the best of my knowledge.

  • An addendum to the article linked to in #149, “Postmodernism and the ‘Death of the Subject.’”

  • Roger,

    Yes, the one in 149. Here is what I get when I open it:

    This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below.

    [open tag] body
    response status=”InvalidTicket” errorDetail=”Expired ticket”
    [close tag] body

    bracketed comments are mine

  • Cindy,

    Tell me if this link works.

  • The link in #149 is working now.

  • Thanks, Chris. I’m still working on conversion of PDF type files to incorporate the features which come with Adobe Reader X.

  • Mark, maybe you can help me with the Acrobat software, the technical support people aren’t exactly helpful.

    I want to be able to provide a link to PDF documents with the (free) Adobe Reader X features which include commenting and sticky notes capabilities. I can create a link to any PDF document, but once I post it on a bulletin board, such as BC, those “Reader X” features are lost in the translation.

    This is a general query. Any computer geek is free to jump in.

  • Anarcissie

    In reference to #149, I do not know if the author is reporting the writers he comments on accurately, but if he is, then there is a good deal of confusion between the various denotations of the term ‘subject’. The only subject which can be deconstructed will be one that has been constructed; this subject would not be ‘that which looks through the eye’ but the objectification of the subject, the Individual. At least, I do not experience I-the-one-who-looks-through-the-eye as constructed, whereas I-the-self which others observe or think they observe is certainly constructed, and in talking about myself (my self) I am certainly using that (those) construction(s). It is difficult to talk about I-the-one-who-looks-through-the-eye; it seems primordial, ubiquitous, yet impossible to grasp.

    Here is something I wrote on the other side of the question, against an asseveration of The Individual, which may bear on the question. As usual it is sketchy (in the pre-hip sense). No doubt there are many loose ends hanging out.

    I see _individualism_ — the ideology, not the status
    of being an ‘individual’ — as being fundamentally

    We usually experience life as undivided units of
    consciousness, separate from other such units except
    for narrow channels of communication like speech
    and gesture. (Group mind is rare or maybe non-existent,
    given the way in which our nervous systems are
    constructed.) Indeed, many see the situation as a
    kind of prison, ‘the great gulf between soul and
    soul.’ So regardless of our differences with or
    similarities to other beings, we are inevitably

    Being humans, we are also very highly social animals
    — a fact which both contradicts and complements
    our impregnable, inescapable individuality.

    As social beings each of us is at the center of a
    complex web of relationships with others, some of
    our kind, some not. Each such web is also part of
    higher-level webs: the sets of relations between
    sets of relations. We also have the capacity to
    think about the way in which these webs are constituted,
    and give them names: this or that family, state,
    business, market, church, club, mob, and so on.

    And since we can think about our webs, we can construe
    them in various ways, and criticize them, comparing
    one to another, or to others which don’t exist but
    are only imagined. We can make abstractions of the
    categories we have constructed and criticized.

    It is out of this layered, compounded ideational
    complex of thought about social facts, and not out
    of our inescapable individuality, that we construct
    an ideology like _individualism_ , in which the idea
    of _the_individual_ is created as an abstraction,
    and held to embody superior values against another
    abstraction, _collectivism_, perhaps, or _community_,
    neither of which is taken directly from nature but
    is rather cut out of it by thought. I think the
    irony here is obvious. It is not a matter of freedom:
    one can be persuaded or commanded against one’s
    desires and interests to resemble or join others to
    be, so to speak, more of an individual.

    This last expression of the irony of individualism
    shows up, of course, in expensive industrial
    advertising exhorting its mass audience to be
    _individualistic_. The genre ranges from Apple
    Computers to cars to vodkas to Maxwell House’s
    campaign of several years ago to lure Hispanic coffee
    drinkers to their pallid brew: ‘Digan lo que digan’,
    ‘Let them say what they want.’ The audience is
    challenged to defy their smaller community to
    individualistically join a much larger and more
    undifferentiated one, the ‘White’ Americans who
    drink Maxwell House. Apple, on its way to outsell
    Microsoft and put millions of iPods and iPhones in
    the hands of millions of evidently rather similar
    people, portrays itself as a lone runner with a
    hammer smashing a screen in front of an audience of

    One observes this irony in the arts as well. But
    maybe I have written enough for the moment.

  • Explain first what you mean (exactly) by a subject who “looks through the eye.” After all, that’s the contrast you posit with the subject which is objectified (and deconstructable). Help me understand that.

    I think I understand your distinction between the individual, qua individual, and individualism as ideology.

    To sidetrack somewhat, do you think the author misinterprets Derrida as well. And if not, try to connect your thinking to the following passage:

    But the deconstruction was not only directed outward towards the objective world, as the critics feared. The very promiscuity of the postmodern deconstruction of all grand narratives meant that the grandest of all narratives, that of the Subject itself, would not remain untouched. Jacques Derrida, for example, insists that difference is so primordial that it cannot be kept outside of the Subject, but must call into question the Subject itself:

    ‘What differs? Who differs? What is différance?….if we accepted this form of the question, in its meaning and its syntax (“What is? “Who is?” “What is that?”), we would have to conclude that différance has been derived, has happened, is to be mastered and governed on the basis of the point of a present being as a Subject a who.’[7]

    Derrida’s style is wilfully demanding. (In Of Grammatology he insists that his intention is ‘to make enigmatic … the very words with which we designate what is closest to us’.[8]) But allowing for his specialised vocabulary, the meaning is clear enough. It is not that there are differences between Subjects, he is saying. That much would simply be a pluralistic outlook: ‘different strokes for different folks’. But that does not go far enough for Derrida. If we were just talking about differences between people, then we would have already assumed the existence of these unitary Subjects prior to difference. And then difference would only be a predicate of these previously existing Subjects. But for Derrida, difference, or différance, comes before the Subject. To ask what or who differs assumes the prior existence of Subjects who differ. Derrida is insisting on the priority of difference over the Subject. The implication is that the Subject, too, cannot be assumed to be a unitary whole without difference, but rather, must in turn, itself be deconstructed.

    In Of Grammatology, Derrida makes it clear that his deconstruction of the claims of objectivity go hand in hand with the deconstruction of subjectivity.[9] Just as claims to objective truth are a narrative that must be dispelled, so too is subjectivity a myth. In his book Of Spirit, he goes one step further in rejecting subjectivity. The book is a discussion of the philosopher and Nazi Martin Heidegger. In it Derrida indicates that Heidegger’s appeal to the Spirit of the West is a perverse outcome of the rational Subject of Enlightenment thinking. Derrida goes on to criticise ‘opposition to racism, totalitarianism, to Nazism, to fascism’ that is undertaken ‘in the name of the spirit, and even of the freedom of (the) spirit, in the name of an axiomatic ??” for example, that of democracy or “human rights” ??” which directly or not comes back to this metaphysics of Subjectivity.’[10] Here, the narratives of freedom and democracy are being criticised because they imply the emancipation of a Subject (in this case a people). In Derrida’s eyes, that appeal to the ‘metaphysics of Subjectivity’ puts them on a par with fascism, because fascism, as represented here by Martin Heidegger, also appeals to a Subject, the Spirit of the West.

  • What I ought to have added, I’m rather humiliated by your intellect, comparable to that of Becket before he embarked on writing in French in order, IMHO, to simplify – i.e, make himself more readable. Must be the Irish in you.

    And for your info, it’s not an admission I make lightly. So forgive me for being slow on the uptake, bear with me please.

  • Roger,

    Does one have to pay to create pdfs on acrobat.com? It looks like it is $10/month.

    I was trying to help you, but their documentation is pretty sad. I was going to try to create a document and work with it from inside. Is there a way to do it for free?

  • Question for Anarcissie: Do you experience a “singular and unified Subject” which is ‘the I that looks through the eye?’

  • Yes, Cindy, $10.00 a month for Adobe Create PDF. But I believe you can do it for free with Microsoft Office (Word) with a PDF maker.

  • Anarcissie

    Roger — if my intellect humiliates anyone it is defective. Sometimes I do flash a little erudition in order to be snotty, but that certainly wasn’t my intention here. I think of myself as actually rather simple-minded, but far from simple-minded enough.

    Derrida seems like a joker to me, one who, like Coyote, teaches through tricks. I am not sure I have gotten the lesson, so I can’t say whether he has been presented, re-presented, or mis-re-presented.

    Cindy — I experience the ‘I who looks through the eye’ as unitary. There are other voices in my head, of course — they are part of the self — but they are outside the I.w.l.t.t.e. (in my experience).

    I have read accounts of people who seem to have experienced something different, for example Operators and Things, to me an important book even if fictive, out of print of course.

    On the other side, I have been interested in the concept of group mind. While I myself have never experienced it consciously, it could be that group minds exist and are self-conscious without we, the atoms thereof, being aware of it. One might see the glossosphere, the realm of language, as a kind of group mind, in the last few hundred years having made radical advances through such technologies as the printing press, telegraph, telephone, broadcast media, and of course the Internet. If so, I think ‘what is watches is not our wars.’ But I digress.

  • I get your contrast, between a theorized subject (as a variable/element in the context of social theory), or what you call an “objectified subject,” i.e, the Individual, versus, well – a biological entity/organism. So yes, the former is subject to deconstruction; as to the latter, we have different philosophical accounts as to what constitutes personal identity or lack(?) thereof (as per your first link dealing with DID).

    It’s an important distinction to keep in mind, and I believe Donna Haraway (see the link up the thread) may well be guilty of conflating the two senses, especially as regards the Cyborg Manifesto. But perhaps the correct way of reading her is as registering a protest against domination. There are indications that she moved away from her early, radicalized views.

    In any case, the following article, “Jean-Luc Nancy and the Plight of Politics,” stresses the importance of Foucault and Agamben relative to any viable social theory (and I quote):

    Foucault is the first theorist who abandons the traditional approach to the concept of power, which revolves around juridico-institutional models (based on questions such as, what is the essence of state? What legitimizes power?), turning instead to an analysis of the actual ways in which power invades subjects’ “bodies” and “forms of life”. At the end of the first volume of the History of Sexuality, Foucault maintains that, since the classical age the West has undergone a complex transformation of the mechanisms of power (136). Now power is used for the production and the organization of forces and not merely for subduing or destroying them. Killing for survival becomes a principle in the strategy of states, and the power to expose a whole population to death, Foucault stresses, becomes the underside of the power to guarantee another population’s continued existence. Wars are now waged in the name of general existence.

    At the end of the first volume of The History of Sexuality, Foucault recapitulates the modern processes through which life becomes politicized. “For millennia,” he writes, “man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics calls his existence as a living being into question.”(HS 119). Agamben, however, goes even further and draws attention to the question that Foucault does not ask: “where is the point of intersection between the juridico-institutional and the biopolitical models of power?” (HS 6). In other words, “where, in the body of power, is the sphere of indistinction, or the point of convergence between procedures of individualization and totalizing processes?” (6) The answer to this question is to be sought in Agamben’s theory, which shows that the production of a biopolitical body is the primary activity of sovereignty, turning the relation between bare life and law into the core of state politics.12 As a result, Agamben holds that the juridico-institutional and biopolitical analyses of power cannot be divorced (pp.4-5)

    And further down:

    … Any subjectless politics, whether it is called “literary communism” or “democracy to come,” is at heart a form of political regression. To this passion for killing off the subject, which totally conforms to the reality of the contemporary depoliticized, abstract, corporate society, Adorno opposes his project: “To use the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of the constitutive subjectivity” (Negative Dialectic xx).13 In the context of the French thought, while thinkers like Derrida were dismantling the subject, Michel Foucault was the only thinker who, quite independently from the deconstructionists, arrived at similar conclusions. Like Adorno’s, Foucault’s thought also requires a shift of emphasis from the constitutive subject to the subject who is constituted by language/power/knowledge.

    He too tries to bridge the gap between philosophy and the human sciences, and criticizes metaphysics as a thinking based on empirical/transcendental polarity. So it must not come as a surprise that, as I have noted before, Foucault was the first thinker who started a new way of thinking about politics on the basis of the relationship between power and life (biopolitics). On the whole, it seems that ‘subject’ and ‘death’ remain the main protagonists, playing their repetitive and at times absurd roles on the stage of philosophy. In a sense, the development of philosophy from Heidegger to Nancy resembles a movement in which the subject of death is superseded with the death of subject. Hence, the ‘presence’ of subject in Nancy’s philosophy — its dissolution haunts his philosophy such that makes it ever-present—is, at least partly, due to a nostalgic attitude towards the theme of the death of subject.14 The importance of death for Nancy cannot be understood without an analysis of the concept of finitude. The whole constellation of his main ideas, such as “the singularity of being,” and “the unworkability of death” are based on a metaphysics of finitude. In a word, Nancy and Bataille attack the metaphysics of identity and subjectivity only to replace them with another kind of metaphysics, that is, the metaphysics of finitude. This romanticization of finitude and its propagation seem somewhat reactive, and could be interpreted as the philosophical representation of the contemporary political situations: the victory of neo-liberalism and global capitalism, the collapse of the U.S.S.R, and the so-called end of history.

    So perhaps thisarticle would serve as another starting point.

    Group mind/collective consciousness/public opinion – indeed an interesting cluster of related concepts; and yes, the realm of common/shared language, coupled with the phenomenon of instant, mass communications, is the first thing that comes to mind. I touched upon those themes, however indirectly, in an earlier series of articles, “The Hidden Dimension of American Politics” as well as in “Quantum of Solace: The Making of Modern Consciousness,” but that was before I got radicalized. I provided the links since we’re on the subject.

    As to the leitmotif, I’m far from being intimidated, Anarcissie, not to worry. I know my own strengths and at times, I’ve also been known to come across as cryptic impenetrable, especially in areas in which I excel. I was just paying homage to your erudition, breath of knowledge and uncanny understanding.

    Gosh, I wish Shenon was here to argue with. We’re too much in agreement most of the time.

  • Anarcissie

    We might ask, What is the political valence of the constructed subject — the ‘I’ or self that the communities we live in require or persuade us to construct or construct for us?

    I think this would vary from one type of community to another; in this case I’m thinking of modern liberalism-capitalism, now apparently in the waning days of consumer capitalism. Often this constructed subject is called ‘the individual’ and individualism, or concern for the construction of this type of subject, is a major feature of liberalism-capitalism.

    In an earlier stage of capitalism, which I might call industrial-subsistence capitalism, it would have been most convenient for the organization of labor and consumption to atomize the population into similar units; hence the breaking-apart of the feudal and familial ties so poetically described by Marx in the Communist Manifesto. At this point it would be unnecessary to construct important individuals except for the elites.

    As capitalism thereafter metamorphosed into what I call ‘consumer capitalism’, however, it would become important to emphasize ‘differences’ between the atoms so that these differences could become vectors of marketing, for example, ‘generation gap’, athletic teams, music genres. celebrities, plus the old standbys of race, ethnicity, and nationality.

    It might be that one effect of this further atomization would be the inability of the Left to organize itself effectively. No one would be willing to subordinate her or his subject to the cause — any cause. Since I have spoken of atoms, maybe I should extend the metaphor and call this state ‘ionization’.

  • I think we should distinguish between different motives behind this drive towards objectification of the self. Let’s call them (i) ideological, (ii) counter-ideological, and (iii) for lack of a better term, “theoretical.” Naturally, each results in a different mode of representation. As best as I can discern, your commentary addresses the first.

    Apropos of the constructed self corresponding to what you call the “liberalism-capitalism” phase, one could think of the individual as citizen posited as an ideal, in the interest of promoting the concept of liberty and political self-determination to be exercised at the ballot box. In the “consumer-capitalism” phase, the basis of differentiation shifts from the political to the economic. Now it’s our choices as consumers that becomes all-important and carves out the prime area for exercise of our economic freedoms, to reflect the shift of the ethos. A contributing factor may well be a general loss of faith in the democratic process: since the (political)ideals of liberal democracies are more and more seen as a myth, economic/consumer freedom is all that remains. One only wonders how long this myth will last given the conditions of chronic and systemic unemployment in the post-industrial West.

    BTW, when you speak of “organization of labor” in the subsistence stage, you must mean from the point of view and for the purposes of the capitalist, not from the standpoint of the labor unions which, in this context, counter the dominant ideology with counter-ideology. So yes, whereas the ideology of the capitalist-liberal/democratic system has always been to perpetuate the state of what you call “[permanent]ionization,” with stresses on this particular aspect of “individualism” or that, depending on the ethos of the times, the main thrust of counter-ideology has always been to combat “individualism” so as to facilitate combinations. Do I get that right?

    Two minor points. One, the construction of “important individuals” among the elites serves the purpose of propagating the myth of the American Dream. And second, “counter-ideology,” as I have defined, at the hands of such entities as the states themselves can be equally deadly, as exemplified by the rise of fascistic/totalitarian states (Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Russia).

    In reference to “counter-ideology,” Donna Haraway’s book is an interesting case in point. The author is skeptical concerning the very feasibility of identity politics when expressed under a single umbrella of a unitary idea such as struggle against all forms of domination. So in effect, we’re not talking here even of combining Marxism and feminism and all kinds of -isms so as to form a united front against all forms of oppression. For Haraway, even feminism is too disparate to present a united front around such singular idea as the oppression of women by men. Instead, Ms Haraway resorts to such notions as “[woman’s] experience” and the commonality of the experience,” and that of building affinities around those commonalities as the only way to go. Well, I suggest that Ms Haraway is unduly influenced here by the academic/theoretical work concerning the deconstruction of the Subject, and perhaps Derrida’s notion that “difference, or différance, comes [ontologically?] before the Subject” (see #159), to be very helpful.

    As regards of what I called the “theoretical” motive for deconstruction, what I have in mind here is the kind of work Foucault was doing when working on the concept of biopolitics. One might argue that his work could be termed as “analytical” or descriptive (of the social systems), rather than purely “counter-ideological”). I’m not certain, however, about the extent to which one can press this distinction.

    Anarcissie, your comments force me to respond by writing mini-essays. You’re surely making me work hard for my money.

  • 164 –


    I also ‘experience’ myself as unitary. But am I unitary? Am I even certain what I am? While I see my ‘self’ as unitary, I also get this sense that I creating myself and recreating myself moment by moment (using much of what I created a moment ago, but far less of what I created a year ago). I invent the narrative for much of what I believe on the spot and then I incorporate that or parts of that invention into what I call my ‘self’.

    Do you, if you watch yourself closely, notice your ‘self’ doing this inventing, assembling, evaluating, and organizing, instant by instant?

    Some of what my ‘self’ thinks is uniformly me, is contingent upon my interpretation of the current context. Some of what is my ‘self’s’ beliefs are forgotten or left out in a particular instance, due to the vagaries of memory and what we are able to attend to.

    Yet, there is something that is a sameness as the last me that I ‘created’ (that coalesced?). I just feel like this is actually what is happening: I am continually creating my ‘self’ via a spoken narrative in my head and ‘I’ experience this ‘self’ as unified, yet it changes all the time and is really mostly like a large glob of ‘similarness’ (to my last ‘self’ a moment ago) with fuzzy edges that continually change.

    We don’t ‘see’ this changing the same way we don’t ‘see’ ourselves aging moment by moment. But my ‘self’ is changing and being invented/modified (parts of it are) all the time. I am never wholly what I was yesterday. I think if I notice it, I am always a little different–parts are left out or changed or more has been added.

    This, fwiw, is why I relate to the idea that ‘the Subject is unreliable’.

  • What’s the point (payoff) of arriving at that conclusion?

  • Anarcissie

    Cindy — I privilege the direct, ongoing experience of consciousness over all other forms of knowledge; to me, it is primordial, and all other forms of knowledge are derived. As I do not experience consciousness as either grouped or divided I say it is unitary. (In dreams I can recall seeming to be more than one person at one time, but the recollection is not very clear.)

    However, the self is experienced at more than one remove; first, as infants, we learn to objectify things in our environment, then we differentiate persons as a special kind of object, and then finally objectify ourselves as we think others might or ought to see us. (I am told there is special physical circuitry in the brain for doing this, the ‘mirror neurons’.) That self is quite complex and definitely constructed: my foot, my feelings, my ideas, my relatives, my job, my village, my country and so on. Indeed, that changes constantly, although in most people’s experience rather slowly. One might say we create a vessel to give the formless, dimensionless experiencing mind some kind of shape so we can handle it along with the other objects we want to handle. It is a very special kind of object, but it’s still an object, the product of objectification and construction. People often seem to confuse the two, the container and the thing contained. In fact, that seems to be how we experience the situation most of the time.

    So is this constructed self-object the Subject? I guess it depends on who’s doing the writing. I find the French a bit glib on this point. It might be worthwhile to examine people living in different cultures to see how they thought about it. I have not had much opportunity to do this.

    Clearly, though, in the modern world among at least the better-off, the subject has generally become large, heavy, decorated, imposing, inviolable and rather separate from other such subjects, something one invests in, whereas in some tribal culture, maybe, the subject might be constructed more out of social relations such as kinship, marriage, class, caste, role, etc., and have less to do with personal attributes.

  • Cindy, I thinks the following (also?) explains some of your reservations about the reliability of the subject: “Fueling the Bonfire”.

    Do you agree?

  • I seem to be missing the necessary contrast here. In some some sense, I do understand what I mean by saying we construct social or any kind of reality, and I agree. So by the same token, I understand what I mean by saying we construct the self. And yet …

    What are we denying, what other kind of view, when we subscribe to the constructionist position? Naive realism?

    Fair enough! But in order for this kind of discourse about “constructed selves,” etcetera, to make sense, have a role, play a part, we need a proper context. Making an argument against naive realism provides one such (legitimate) context. But we’re not doing any of that when we speak of “constructed selves” on this here thread, are we now? Nor are we trying to convince ourselves that the “constructivism” is more correct than not, because we already believe it.

    I suspect what we’re doing is trying to assess the implications which follow from the “unreliable” (since it’s constructed) self) insofar as social theory is concerned and, more practically, from the vantage point of the directions and strategies which ought to inform our revolutionary struggle. That was the point behind my #169.

  • Anarcissie

    Roger — I found the scribd version of Haraway’s book pretty illegible — my eyes aren’t what they used to be. A search turned up an ebook, but the distributor wanted $4.95 for it. I wouldn’t mind giving the author $4.95, but not the distributor. Then I found a torrent, which may work; we’ll see. I found an excerpt of 40 or 50 pages which was pretty interesting.

    Ah, the torrent seems to be working. So we’ll see.

  • #170:

    One might say we create a vessel to give the formless, dimensionless experiencing mind some kind of shape so we can handle it along with the other objects we want to handle.

    That vessel is what’s otherwise known as “personal identity, and personal identity is definitely a construct. And insofar as the notion/concept of “the self” is builds upon/can’t exist without/is nearly synonymous with that of “personal identity,” then the self is also a construct. (The self is to be distinguished, however, from the biological entity/organism/specimen).

    It’s arguable, further, that personal identity is not just a luxury, so as to enable us to do what we want to do, but a necessity, a mechanism necessary for survival. At the very least, a diminished sense of personal identity pkaces the individual specimen, whether human or animal, at risk.

  • Try the link in #140, a PDF from Scribd, and zoom it up when need be.

  • Anarcissie

    The torrent produced a legible version. I’m reading it now.

    I don’t know if my cats have a sense of personal identity. That is, I doubt whether they objectify themselves much. It is said that cats and dogs will sometimes exhibit a kind of embarrassment after committing some gaffe, which would require them to have constructed both a real and an ideal image of themselves, but they may be picking up clues of anger or derision from the observing humans.

    I think political and social consequences flow from the fact that we construct selves for ourselves and for others, and from the ways in which we construct them. For example, individualism seems to be associated with liberalism-capitalism. By which I mean the atomistic aspects of the self are privileged over the collective, relational aspects. The overtly collective, relational aspects; the market is also a collectivity, of course.

    One payoff for me would be to figure out why radicals and activists are so divided against one another.

  • According to Daniel Dennett, reflexive use of language is what distingushes us from other primates. So according to this rather strict criterion as to what constitutes a sense of personal identity, you’re right. Animals picking up clues from the observing humans? Interesting. On the flip side, we certainly inscribe our behavior, along with the attendant meanings, onto them. But think of a wolf in a pack, or outside of it? Their sense of “self” is certainly higher than that of an ant or a bee. The latter are much more integrated into their society.

    Your last two paragraphs are on the money. Question, to what extent this privileging of individualism is only a product of liberalism-capitalism and not just “the Western thing.” But then again, I may be too much a product of my own culture/environment to generalize so and read the West with modern eyes. (BTW, my question of payoff was addressed to Cindy’s notion of the general unreliability of subjects. I have an inkling she packed more into the notion than you do.)

    When you’re done, let me know which parts of Haraway’s book you find problematic. I think that would be worth discussing.

  • Anarcissie

    Reading Haraway’s book backwards, I came across a consideration of the immune system, which certainly has a lot to say about what the ‘self’ is — some of it rather ambiguous.

  • Let me re-read that section before I comment on this aspect.

  • Anarcissie

    Well, apparently selfless organism(s) didn’t make it out of the primordial soup. Or did they?

  • Well, Anarcissie, I re-read the last chapter and I’m afraid I have to do it again. First, however, I’d like to understand her project.

    She is a scientist and doesn’t take science lightly. I think her main concern is with the power discourses which emerge from recent re-conceptualizations in biology, by such as Richard Dawkins in particular, and which tend to dominate and pervade all other discourses (affecting “humanism,” our understanding of “the self,” etcetera), whether through imagery or, metaphor, whether overtly or tacitly, whether these discourses are conducted within the confines of the scientific community or whether they merely trickle down in drips and drabs to pop culture. And the main question for Ms Haraway seems to be: Are these power discourses to remain uncontested, in terms of the ethos of colonization or domination, or, as Ms Haraway would have it, can they be more amenable and expressive of the ethos of liberation? Indeed, even the very question as to what constitutes “liberation” becomes a major problematic in light of her shifting notion as to what constitutes identity. (It’s no longer a return to “sameness” by tracing the steps back to one’s genesis but must involve a forging of one’e identity and one’s future anew from the circumstances of the present, just as the slaves had to do in the course and in the aftermath of the mid-voyage).

    Do you agree thus far?

  • Before I continue, let me pose an innocent if not stupid question.

    Granted the power of the narrative, of the metaphor and the imagery, to guide and influence our thinking, what’s one to make of Wittgenstein’s reminder that most of our puzzles are by and large a by-product of mixing the language games. In what sense if any, one may reasonably inquire, is post-modernism, the ethos of our times, susceptible to this kind of mistake?

    One could start with a simple example. To what extent, one might ask, does the construct of an electron and other elementary particles contribute to our understanding of a table, let’s say, or any other material object? In the same vein, one might also ask: how is Richard Dawkins construct of replicator helpful in our understanding of what the self means?

    I’m tempted to say that we’re dealing here with different-level descriptions, one corresponding to the elementary, particle level, the other to the holistic level. So perhaps the mixing of language games is not what’s at fault here: reductionsim is. The same or similar kind of reductionism that explains away mental events in terms of neural events, etcetera, physicalism for short.

  • Anarcissie

    Well, errors can be very productive. But anyway: one can go off into a trip about how the self is empty, or the self is a social construction, and so on, but the immune system reminded me that the cells that make up my body and support my consciousness have a very distinct idea of the self which they patiently pursue, following a tradition of at least several hundred million years. Which, if they did not pursue, I would die (cease to exist as a coherent ‘self’ which can discuss the items we’re discussing). This idea of the self does not require genetic uniformity — I have read that there are more non-human cells, microorganisms, in and on a human body than there are genetically human cells; we are cities swarming with fantastically variegated populations. I have nowhere to go with that consideration at the moment, other than to note that we are not the only beings to have ‘ideas’ of the self — some large molecules do as well.

    Most recently I was reading a part of Haraway’s book where she writes about the transition from the old anthro to the new, the old being about individuals and communities, the new about systems and flows of energy. The new seems more selfless. She asks how feminists are going to get in on the new, since entering the discussion seems to require a doubtful abandonment of the central ideas of feminism (or any other political stance). But I was thinking: it may be that the ruling class prefers to rule through systems analysis to ruling through sociology, but where there is domination there must be a dominator and a dominee. The dominators, in order to enjoy domination, must at least construct their dominating selves. That requirement, it seems to me, would take them back out of systems theory and flows of energy to persons and communities.

    Maybe that’s an example of mixing language games.

    The connection between electrons and, say, tables in an antiques show, has been explored in Chaos Theory. There are routes through which even quantum fluctuations can become macroscopic, indeed, the computers we are writing on exploit such a route. The article in Wikipedia is entertaining, but I can’t speak for its correctness or completeness since I don’t know the math.

  • I don’t know, Anarcissie. Do you derive great deal of solace from knowing about the immune system? Wait, that’s a bad example because knowledge is power (and let’s not forget the power of visualisation). But what about the “replicators”? Now, how do you suppose your sense of personal identity hinges on them?

    Granted, the replicators may be the force guaranteeing organic(?) wholeness, but is that a sufficient condition? Or say you develop DID. Again, no question there’s an organic/chemical basis behind the disorder (as well as forms of chemical treatment/therapy), but is it a failure of the replicators? How can you be certain?

    Less drastic cases are more helpful. People have varying degrees of the sense of self. One reason for arguing has to do with the fact that just like “integrity” — ordinary English usage — sense of self is a trait we acquire/develop in the course of a life. You can’t be suggesting now that our replicators are what’s mostly responsible for the variance, rather than conditions such as upbringing, education, the immediate cultural or social environment.

    It’s this alleged correspondence between neural and “mental” events and the things we do — the hallmark of cognitive sciences and neurophilosophy — and what we make of that correspondence, which I find misguided. It’s mind-brain identity thesis all over again, masquerading as science.

  • Anarcissie

    ‘The wise man looks into space, and sees that the great is not great, and the small is not small.’ So I am willing take instruction from molecules.

    I am not sure what is meant by ‘replicator’. The notion of a gene is somewhat soft; it is represented physically by a section of a DNA or RNA molecule, but some such sections overlap, and one gene may produce several different products. Also, of course, the genes interact. Hence the function of a gene may shift surprisingly (to us) as the genome to which it belongs evolves. Or the gene may mutate in which case we have to ask whether it is the same gene or a different gene.

    Actually, the gene is a way we construe some of the functions of certain passages in certain molecules. We are at least partially responsible for it.

    I find the fact that these molecules ‘have an idea of the self’ as interesting, perhaps fizzing with some kind of mystical aura. But what is clear in any case is that this sort of self does not arise as a result of social relations, thinking, or language, unless we say that the genetic mechanism is or has language. This self is also conscious of itself as a self, a separate being distinct from other beings, in at least humans and probably other animals whose nervous complexity is sufficient to sustain such ideas.

    Of course this is somewhat different from the self constructed by social procedures, although they are usually related.

  • Will respond soon. Meanwhile, you might want to look at this link.

    You can download Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea in its entirety.

  • And here’s a write up.

  • Don’t give up, Irene. A piece is coming shortly about DemoRATS and bloody liberals, and I’m certain you’ll enjoy it.

    The old glory, yours truly, that is, is only in hibernation, as a show of support to our Mark Eden (aka “troll”), one of the brightest lights this site has ever known; but it will never fade away.

  • troll


    how about a piece on the jawdroppingly absurd(icist) construction that politics if deeply felt is not art — ‘he who controls the language…’ and all that

    I do need to apologize to you for my part in focusing the indignant wrath – not to mention therapeutic recommendations – of the liberales on you — I hadn’t realized that the hostility was so blinding

    see ya in the funnies

  • I needed a strategic withdrawal in any case. Being around those people for too long affects your brain cells. After a while, one can’t even think straight.

  • #188 You rang, Roger? But you guaranteed (in a chance meeting on a BC comments thread a few weeks before OMAMAOT was published) that I’d enjoy THIS article, too, and behold! it gives me nothing but a slightly dishonorable mention, and no mention of Ron Paul WHATSOEVER!

    Not that I’d entertained any SERIOUS hopes that I’d find endorsement of my ideas in your article. 🙂

    I am still as hopelessly devoted to Christ as I was when you first met me on these pages, Roger. Nevertheless, as your erstwhile friend AK has pointed out (to the people who hadn’t already noticed it themselves) I occasionally lose my patience and my temper, too, and thus my effectiveness, when I’m talking to people who don’t share my sense of outrage about…things they formerly had a sense of outrage about, back in the days when their man was still campaigning.

    If you can re-light that fire, and achieve something more than having people walk away pissed off, more power to ya!

  • troll

    …personally I enjoy your affect(iveness) more than your effectiveness Ms Athena

  • I don’t know whether I can do that. Someone once said that all intelligent thinking has got to be moral thinking, or something to that effect. Well, we can “learn” morality, I suppose, but can love be learned or commanded? Seems to me a person has got to make a decision here.

  • I’m working on both of them, troll (hard to tell one from t’other, though, doncha know…in affect as WELL as in effect) Thanks. 🙂

    Everybody’s got their work cut out for them, Roger, that’s for sure. OK, til whenever guys and gals.

  • troll

    …you know Rog your position isn’t that hopeless — unless you have reconsidered the proposition you share a positive (if not positivist) faith in progress with the bc liberals that you could build from

  • troll

    [that parenthetical was poorly put…should read ‘(albeit not positivist)’]

  • I’m glad Irene intervened. Because of your comments, I’m going to lessen the sting.

  • That was a heck of a comment, Cindy — #308. Spells out Mark’s #195 on this thread (see above), doesn’t it?

    For a sec, I though Jet had written it and I almost didn’t believe my eyes.

  • Hello, Roger, old bean! I daresay, this economy is a pip. It’s tough love all around, I’ve had to give up that fellow (what’s his name) who polishes the weekend ride. And I’ve had to reduce the staff at the summer cottage down to a dozen.

  • Got me thinking for a sec, Sir Max. Clever!

    Do you agree with the content as per first link? Tongue in cheek, no? Some truth to it?

  • Anarcissie

    Are y’all done with Haraway and the Self? These are Interesting Times, but I have little interest in Mr. O.

  • So do I, but I’m crafting a satire about modern-day liberals. I plan to return to some of Haraway’s themes. Hope Cindy will give it a read (she’s a real feminist), and troll too.

  • I will have a look.

  • looks really worthwhile…

  • I know you’ll enjoy it immensely. It’s my first exposure to modern feminist writing and I’m very impressed. Still, found the text very disturbing at spots. We should have an extended discussion on some points.

  • Anarcissie,

    A link to recent piece (part 1). Some interesting ideas appear to emerge, in particular the lack of representation of “the invisibles” within the present political system and what can be done about it. Check it out, please, and comment on that thread.

    For continuity’s sake, I’ll re-post an expanded version of this comment on the thread in question. Should be #82 or so.