“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, September 24, 2006

"It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious." – Washington Post

To understand why an unnamed source would say, of an intelligence report, that it was “a very candid assessment” – as if it were an act of super-human courage for intelligence agencies, which are paid the big bucks, to 'state the obvious' – one has to understand the system in which the obvious is not stated. In that system, as LI has been cawing about, flattery holds a special place.

Yesterday I threatened to quote some Hegel. Hegel very cleverly puts a certain kind of speech – Schmeichelei, flattery - at the center of the logical culmination of absolute monarchy. Hegel’s references are to the Court of Louis XIV, or so say his commentators. But LI is thinking of the court of King James, which had the distinction of witnessing the abasement of its most able minister, Francis Bacon, and the trial and execution of the last of the Elizabethans, Walter Raleigh. And fortunately, we even have the letters to King James from those two, as the axe loomed. For which, I will reserve some future post.

But for now, Hegel. Hegel sets up the problem of the self-alienated spirit in terms of a conflict between the extreme of State power and the noble spirit. As always in Hegel, there is a Finnegan’s Wake problem – the historic narrative is narrated as though it were happening in some gigantic consciousness in which everything is doubled by its logical description in the dialectic. In Finnegan’s Wake, H.C. Earwicker, the ostensible protagonist and hero, becomes Here Comes Everybody, the protagonist as variable. It is best to think of the Phenomenology of Spirit as being the pre-quel to Finnegan’s Wake, with Here Comes Everybody being a sort of infinitely divisible Schmoo.

Hmm. Well, this is the way one gets lost in a post. LI will leave aside the temptation to discourse about giant stories (Pantagruel and Gargantua, Leviathan) and get down to the conflict inherent to the state:

“The spirit holds this reality, because the extremes of which it is the unity are still immediately determined by having their own reality for themselves.”

The extremes here are state power, embodied in the monarch, and the noble spirit, embodied in the nobility. The monarch’s function is to enforce obedience, and the nobility functions to obey – but obedience, for the nobility, has to be consonant with honor. Flattery depends on there being some code of honor – for to flatter is to take a distinct existential stance towards the thing flattered. What mediates the conflict between obedience and honor is speech. However, speech is a tricky thing for both the noble spirit and state power. Once state power makes up the rules, obeying the rules is primarily a dumb thing – cops don’t generally stop you to congratulate you about stopping for a red light, very few stores have “thank you for not shoplifting” signs, etc. Similarly, your average householder doesn’t signal a cop to ask for praise for having stopped at a red light, and LI doesn’t ask the liquor store clerk for praise for not having succumbed to the temptation to put that bottle of single malt under his shirt and walked out of the place.

All of which gets us to this passage from Hegel. Here’s the Baillie translation, with a few adjustments by LI

The noble consciousness, being the extreme which is the self, [appears as that from which language is produced] by which the separate factors related are formed into active spiritual wholes [beseelten Ganzen – more like living, or animated wholes] . The heroism of dumb service passes into the heroism of flattery. This reflexion of service in express language constitutes the spiritual self-disintegrating mediating term, and reflects back into itself not only its own special extreme, but reflects the extreme of universal power back into this self too, and makes that power, which is at first implicit, into an independent self-existence, and gives it the individualistic form of self-consciousness. [or “makes the in-itself into a for-itself”] Through this process the indwelling spirit of this state-power comes into existence--that of an unlimited monarch. It is unlimited; the language of flattery raises this power into its transparent, purified universality; this moment being the product of language, of purified spiritualized existence, is a purified form of self-identity. It is a monarch; for flattering language likewise puts individualistic self-consciousness on its pinnacle; what the noble consciousness abandons as regards this aspect of pure spiritual unity is the pure essential nature of its thought, its ego itself.”
It would be foolish to think that American Court society corresponds exactly to the model Hegel has in mind, here. The American honor culture, for instance, is a bit different. But the giving up of thought, of the ego itself – that is exactly what has happened over the past five years in area after area – the war; the insane tax cuts and fiscal policy; Katerina; the right to torture prisoners; the war against terrorism – all are enacted and defended in terms that separate themselves from thought, and appeal to faith in the monarch. The American rightwing has become a purveyor not so much of stupidity, but of flattery as the only language in which one can speak of policy. It is stupidity only if one steps out of the circle of state power. The system is set up so that to think is to betray, and to obey is to flatter.

Well, I’m not sure I want to do another post on this at the moment – I’ve hammered this to death, I think we can all agree.


it said...

Finnegan's Wake?

Finnegans Wake!

And I'm still sorry about the bad Hegel chapter...

Brian Miller said...

They had on the radio at lunch a snippet from a general explaining that the military DID have very detailed plans for a postwar occupation of Iraq, developed over 12 years, but that Rumsfeld deliberately and repeatedly refused to listen. He apparantly threatened to fire anyone who brought up the topic again. Court society indeed. Who cares about "success" when what is really important is profits for aristocractic friends of the monarch?

Not that I really believe said military "plans" would have "worked" in any real sense. Still...the deliberate and explicity stupidity and corruption is amazing to behold.

roger said...

Brian, I was going to - but failed to -- write a post about a paper by Jack Katz, a sociologist of crime. The paper, "Concerted Ignorance", is a study of cover ups.

This is an interesting passage:

One of the defenses against covering up Katz mentions is the excuse of cynicism:

“Cynicism about public relations is in fact so institutionalized that it itself provides a third layor of insulation. Even if one admits having known that the charges made by outsiders were true, and that corporate denials were false, the claim that leaders routinely deceive outsiders may be exculpating.” Katz quotes a directive issued by General Electric that spelled out the companies policy against price fixing. Later, the company’s officials were caught price fixing. “ ‘A considerable number of the executives believed, in the words of one, that the directive was only for “public consumption” and not to be taken seriously.’ The executives begged lenience on a claim that they wre only following orders by not following orders. This plea is that everyone knows that the picture of strategic morality presented to outsiders is a strategic myth.”

This is the way the Bush people all operate.

Brian Miller said...

What's frightening, though, is the level of willing-even willfull-ignorance among the Bush Base. They outright REFUSE to admit that the crimes are occurring. Even at this stage. Even with this degree of discussion. I know that people are busy with their lives and have little real itnerest in politics or the world outside their daily sphere of interest, so it is unfair to blame The Base too much. Which makes me question the very idea of the unified, over concentrated American megastate. Were the original defenders of the flwed Articles of Confederation right? Maybe the unified state of the Constitution and the post-Civil War era was when the mistakes were first made? Because we have an empire now, and it is doing more harm than good. I'm a small is beautiful guy, myself. And, the big state promoted by today's republicans and Democrats alike is pretty darn scary.

Are we guilty of the proverbial "Boy calling wolf" scenario? Or, and this is my preferred interpretation, the wolf has always been at the door, but the Bush Base has never been forced to feel its breath down their necks? It makes me scream in frustration!!!!