Saturday, February 05, 2005

Juliette, the debauched sister of Justine, is traveling in Italy with Clairwil, her monstrous male counterpart. It is the usual Sadean tour, orgies in churches and castles, delicious tortures on technologically superior racks, etc., etc. Coming into Naples, Juliette falls in with the court of the Bourbon king there, Ferdinand. Of course, the hot chocolate and the fucking flows easily. But, this being Sade, the crowded intervals of passing bodily fluids back and forth are interspersed with philosophic dialogues. At a country retreat, the King, Juliette, and the Prince Francaville are stirred by a question not posed in Plato’s Symposium: “In a word,” Juliette asks her companions, has the Supreme Being put you on earth to be fucked?”

The response to this question from Prince Francaville is quoted by A. and H. in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, as well it should be. We’ve already seen Francaville, in his temple to Priapus, abundantly sodomized with that strange ritual choreography that Adorno was right to compare to organized sports: there was the usual cohort of victims to participate in what ends up being, after all, nothing more than a minor orgasm, in the same way that, for all the strenuous efforts of the athletes on the football team, for all the money spent on the stadium, for all the emotion generated by the game, the goal is the strangely abject one of putting a ball over one particular chalky line. The mechanics dwarf the goal. Festivities like this have backgrounded Juliette’s question. Francaville begins by explaining that he is “at such a point of impiety and the abandonment of all religious sentiments” that he can’t hear, coldly, the invocation of that “deific phantom.” His Voltarian tirade against God draws the measured rebuke of Ferdinand, who reminds him that monarchs defend deities. Which draws this further outburst of impiety from Juliette:

“If you wish to judge these matters as a philosopher and not a despot, you will agree that the universe would only be happier if there were neither tyrants nor priests.”

As so often in De Sade’s dialogues, the positions taken by the speakers can suffer sudden and improbable shifts that reflect not so much the logic of an argument but induction from an existential position. Juliette’s former invocation of God becomes, now, an invocation of happiness. From Christianity, or at least deism, to liberalism – our Juliette is a regular Hegelian figure.

Prince Francaville, however, has his doubts: “… I adopt part of your reasoning, Juliette – no God – assuredly she is right; but this brake destroyed, we must find another for the people: the philosopher has no need of one, I know, but the mob definitely does. It is on the mob alone that I would wish to have royal power keenly felt.”

In De Sade, it is always a question of exploring the gap between pleasure and happiness. This is the curdled remnant of that stoicism that formed the everyday piety of the humanists and the philosophes in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

Francaville follows this salutary warning about extending the enlightenment project among the vulgar with the utopian speech Adorno and Horkheimer noticed:

- Thus, said Francaville, taking up the thread, we must replace religious illusions by the most extreme terror; if you deliver the people from the fear of a hell in the next life, they will yield themselves to everything; but replace this fear with penal laws of a prodigious severity, which, moreover, strike at nobody except them – for they alone trouble the State: all the discontents are nourished in this single class. What does the idea of a brake matter to the rich, for whom it is never a weight when he buys his vain status by the right to vigorously vex in his turn all those who live under his yoke?You will never discover a single one of those who will not permit the thickest shadow of tyranny when he has his own right to exercise it over others. These bases established, it is thus necessary that a king rule with the most extreme severity, and that in order that the people understand that he has the right to do anything he wishs to them, he permits those who sustain him with their daggers to do all that it pleases them to undertake. He should actually wrap about them his credit, his power, his consideration. He should tell them:… in order that my blows be solid and my throne unshakeable, support my power with that portion of power I’ve permitted you, and enjoy it in peace.”

From one angle, this is exactly what the capitalist system is all about, of course. Thus, the freedom from the state claimed by the libertarian is sacrificed by the masses in ‘contracting’ with other organs of governance – the corporation, in which all positive freedoms (of speech, of assembly, etc.) are distributed solely on the basis of economic position – the regression to a caste system of money becoming the great fact of daily life for most people in most liberal bourgeois countries. Meanwhile, to get back to Sade’s historical place, the catastrophe that had befallen the Indians of the New World in the name of the Christian God was being prepared for the rest of the globe in the name of 'free enterprise." In India (the Utilitarians), in China (the great white whale of 19th century capitalism, with its vast potential market in opium), in the liberalism of Latin American and Central American regimes (the rounding up of Indian land for coffee plantations and the enrollment of the remant masses in wage slavery), and. finally, in the technology of war – to the art of which liberal democracies have devoted their best libidinous energies. The welfare state, after all, was legitimized only by pledging itself unconditionally to the unlimited production of weaponry of every kind – congratulating itself, along the way, that it never released the missiles, while of course profiting enormously from the small arms, heatseaking missiles, aircraft and other forms of burning the skin off the human body or poking holes in it that have flooded the globe and produced their thousands of little Hiroshimas. Meanwhile, the system of excuses reaches its exhaustion point in Bush’s clichés, who rules the country much like Jim Thompson’s cliché wielding sheriff in The Killer Inside Me.

To end on A and H:

The totalitarian state manipulates the nations. “That’s it!’ replied the Prince,” Sade writes, governments must even regulate the populations, they must have in their hands all the means to cull them when it is time to inculcate fear and to increase them when the State deems it necessary, and their must never be another counter-weight to their justice than interest or passion, bound up, individually, with the passions and interests of those who, as we’ve said, have, from the rulers, so much as they find necessary in order to increase their own property. [un die eigene zu vervielfachen.]” The Prince shows the way to imperialism as the most fearful shape of ratio that has ever been taken. “… take their gods from the people that you wish to put under the yoke and demoralize them; as long as they pray to no other god than you, have no other morals than yours, you will always remain their master… and then leave them the most extensive faculties for crime; never punish them unless they direct the needle at you.”

A rule faithfully followed by neo-liberal regime after regime, as any survey of the bidonvilles of Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Nairobi, or Bombay can affirm.

Friday, February 04, 2005

LI has fallen into the habit of quoting ourselves. Such are the ignoble patterns that mark the shut in and the braggart. We are going to do it again As the NYT’s John Burns writes:

“A second round of preliminary election returns released today by Iraqi authorities showed that 67 percent of the 3.3 million votes counted so far from Sunday's election went to an alliance of Shiite parties dominated by religious groups with strong links to Iran. Only 18 percent went to a group led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who favors strong ties to the United States. Few votes went to Sunni candidates.

Although the early votes were drawn primarily from Baghdad and from southern provinces where the Shiite parties were expected to score strongly, and from only 35 percent of the 5,216 polling stations, the scale of the vote for both religious and secular Shiites underscored the probability of a crushing triumph and a historic shift from decades of Sunni minority rule in Iraq.”

The Financial Times reports this:

According to the Financial Times, the United Iraqi Alliance is starting to feel a lot more confident:

“Mr Hakim, [Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the UIA] apparently confident of a sweep, announced on Wednesday that the Alliance could put forward a "group of suitable candidates" for prime minister, ruling out previous speculation that Mr Allawi might be chosen as a widely acceptable compromise leader.

If the Alliance, through its own seats as well as alliances with smaller parties, can put together a two-thirds majority in the national assembly, it should be able to dictate the choice of prime minister through horse-trading for the posts on the presidential council. “

The election result is going to travel down the cobra-like gorge of the American media like an port-a-let. No, it won't be a pleasant sight. The narrative was all set up: another statue crashing moment, another tearful hug from our good Iraqi friends, secret Christians all. But now it looks like they are hard hearts after all. Is this gratitude? Allawi looked so nice, mouthing neo-con platitudes, before Congress last year -- a real freedom lovin Iraqi. You could look into his eyes and see into his heart (an outstanding remodeling job had transformed that vault, in which various anti-Ba'ath activists had been tortured over the years, into a beautiful self-service gas station to fill all your SUV needs).

Our original analysis of Allawi and the American terror and awe strategy was on November 25th. Golem like, we are going to gloat in our prescience. Although Cassandra like, our curses and prognostications vanish, unheard, in the cruel air. Such is fate:

“LI has been pondering the strategy in Iraq the last couple of days. Blowing up Fallujah, breaking into Baghdad’s most famous mosque and shooting randomly, clamping down in Mosul – what this amounts to, we think, is the American response to the dilemma it faces in the elections.

The dilemma is this: given the state of opinion imperfectly revealed by even those polls conducted by biased American agencies, Allawi is not the most popular Iraqi politician. In fact, Sadr could easily give him a run for his money. Other Iraqi figures who have no fame in the U.S., but who register positively with the Iraqi public, are more popular than Allawi. Having failed to create a united confederacy of parties to present to the voters at election time (peculiarly, the U.S., in its role as occupier-democratizer, wanted to make sure that the elections were pre-rigged, and offered no choice whatsoever to the voter), the U.S. does face the slight problem that an unacceptable choice might actually take the prize in the election. That is, some party or personage representing a slightly anti-occupation bent might displace Allawi. Although it is unclear whether that is possible – this is an election for a transitional congress, not for the executive branch of the government. Still, that is the kind of embarrassment that the Americans would prefer to avoid.

So the task is: make Allawi popular in the next two months. How to do this? Taking a page from Milosevic’s book, the U.S. has evidently decided to take a wager on stirring up such ethnic/religious hatred as would inflate Allawi’s support. In the early stages of the occupation, there was a struggle in the Bush administration between those, mainly at the State department, who distrusted the Shi’ites, fearing Iraq’s becoming an Iran style theocracy, and those, mainly among the Pentagon Pump House gang, who urged the desuetude of this fear. The reality of the war against the occupiers has shifted the terms of the struggle, adjusting U.S. strategy not only to a pro-Shi’ite stance, but one that uses the revanchist tendency among the Shi’a, who have vivid memories of past oppression, to invigorate the flagging popularity of the American puppet government. They are doing this by associating Allawi with gross and powerful violence against the Sunnis. It was notable that Sadr himself did not protest, with his usual spirit, the razing of Fallujah. The Americans are favored here by the jihadist element in the war, with its face of comic book evil, Zarqawi. Zarqawi, from all that one gathers about him, is a trailer trash version of Osama bin. Al Qaeda has operated in Pakistan as, among other things, an on call death squad to effect anti-Shi’ite pograms. Zarqawi’s associates have the same program. Thus, there is a perfect demonic synergy between the horrors dreamt of by Zarqawi’s people and the horrors perpetrated by the Americans.

Still, it is not even the silence that greeted the displacement of 200,000 Iraqis by the Americans that is the strangest part of the recent episodes in the war. That honor goes to the raid on the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad. While the Mosque had been raided before, to raid it while Fallujah was being destroyed and to raid it in the manner reported could only amount to a provocation intended to send people out into the street. The better to shoot them down, my dear. These tactics have been so refined during the twentieth century among innumerable petty authoritarian states unti they have a dreary predictability. Resistance is many things -- a romance, a neurosis, a political program, a desperation -- but it is, under certain specific circumstances, a real opportunity for an uncertain governing power. The sudden crackdown on Sunni imams for committing “treason” by urging resistance to the Allawi government that is the real sign of the times in Iraq.

Allawi, with American assistance, is creating the usual authoritarian matrix: singling out some minority enemy, using that enemy to enforce censorship, using the recess from scrutiny produced by that censorship to imprison, torture and kill, and, finally, using the fear that emanates from that to reinforce his image as an impenetrable force. Also sprach Saddam, of whom Allawi is a dutiful pupil. As the election approaches, the conditions in which a free election has meaning are nullified one by one, ultimately to the gain of the current leadership. This, we think, is the ultimate meaning of the sudden American appetite for largescale violence in Iraq. It is a strategy that has worked in the past. We will see if it erodes the support of anti-occupation forces in Iraq in the next two months. We think Sadr, for one, definitely miscalculated by maintaining an unwonted silence in the midst of the latest round of violence. He, of all political figures, has the most to lose if Allawi identifies himself with a revanchist Shi’ite politics.”
There are good things and bad things about the defeat of Allawi. The great good thing is that this is a victory for a time table out of Iraq. We would be surprised if Sistani’s coalition insists on this first thing, but we expect that the population has spoken loud enough that the government will lose all credibility if it continues to comply with American pressure in this regard. In order to forestall this, the Americans will doubtless be looking to stir up military action – perhaps flattening half of Mosul and kicking out another 200,000 inhabitants will do the trick, or maybe another run at Samarra.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

“The emperor was devoted to the worship of the gods, to the study of magic, and to the belief of oracles. The prophets or philosophers, whom he revered as the favorites of Heaven, were frequently raised to the government of provinces, and admitted into his most secret councils.”

Bush’s Social Security plan, the NYT intones with all the solemnity of a eunuch’s mass, will establish his place in history. This is rich – the issue isn’t, as you might have thought, the wholesale robbery of your social security, already borrowed against to provide tax breaks for the investor class, but whether, in the future, some school textbook will mention Bush II. The paragraph devoted to him composes itself, no? “Lucky pinhead, elevated by corrupt court, takes vacation and allows U.S. buildings to be blown up, blows up wrong Middle Eastern country in retaliation, blows up national pensions, blows up U.S. economy at large, ascends to heaven from banks of Potomac in the midst of angelic choirs, de-Christianizing disgusted country, Beginning of great U.S. conversion to Islam.” Or something like that.

More interesting than the predator’s ball is this report from a blog we were not aware of, run by Tim Horrocks. In a conference at the Washington University Law School, there was give and take between the head of the odious private military company, Blackwater, and a National Defense University professor:

"They made enemies everywhere," Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, an expert on guerrilla warfare and a senior fellow at the National Defense University told a conference on military contracting last week. He was referring to the tactics used by Blackwater USA, the North Carolina company that was hired by the Coalition Provisional Authority to provide security for L. Paul Bremer, the US administrator who was dispatched by the Bush administration to run Iraq in 2003.

A few minutes earlier, Chris Taylor, Blackwater's vice president for strategic initiatives, had boasted about the protective cordon his company provided to Bremer. Under a "turnkey security package" with the CPA, Bremer was accompanied by 36 "personnel protection specialists," two K-9 dog teams and three MD-530 helicopters built by Boeing Corporation.”

Bremer’s court reminds us irresistibly of Gibbon’s description of the Eastern Court as Julian found it:

“He questioned the man concerning the profits of his employment and was informed, that besides a large salary, and some valuable perquisites, he enjoyed a daily allowance for twenty servants, and as many horses. A thousand barbers, a thousand cup-bearers, a thousand cooks, were distributed in the several offices of luxury; and the number of eunuchs could be compared only with the insects of a summer's day. The monarch who resigned to his subjects the superiority of merit and virtue, was distinguished by the oppressive magnificence of his dress, his table, his buildings, and his train.”

This is a post of random thoughts today. Let's end it with a little idea about pensions. We've debated these things with the excellent, libertarian inclined Paul Craddick on his weblog. Paul claims that left bloggers are sticking their heads in the ground and acting like ostriches if they don't see the crisis looming in Social Security. An aging population, a benefits package that has to be supported with funding that gradually runs short. Sounds, actually, just like GM's pension problems. The real key to the 'social security crisis' is that it is the sum of the crisis in American pay, starting about 1980. As the country's economic policies tilted towards banana republic rewards for the rich, those same policies pegged wages at a level that has risen remarkably little, given inflation, over the past twenty five years. The solution Middle Class America found was sending both parents into the market place, and taking advantage of the end of the Usury laws. But, of course, if your economy is going to massively chisel the producers of wealth and reward the parasitic upper management class, and if you are going to base your social security on the wages of the producers, you do get a variety of crises. Solution: redress the balance. Distribute money back to the producers. Double the minimum wage, encourage unions, tax the wealthy at a pre-Reagan rate, and keep the Polizei (on all levels) from interfering with the massive strikes necessary to redo our business organizations. Pretty simple. Capitalism isn't going to be, and we'd say shouldn't be, overthrown by these simple measures -- it will simply work more efficiently on the distribution end than on the production end for a while. If wages stagnate, we get funding shortfalls for everything. There is, indeed, something bold and brassy about a President who has presided over the various audacious raids on the American economy to reward the wealthiest, while watching unemployment reach irrational levels and wages, in real terms, diminish, then throw up his hands in horror at a pension crisis. This is high comedy, fit for an administration that has the intellectual punch of a cancelled sit com.

Well, we bet the call for diminishing inequality of wealth to solve the so called Social Security crisis isn't going to get a hearing anytime soon, but someday, yes, the NYT will be wondering if this was LI's ploy to go down in the history books.
Computer melt downs, sex manuals

My computer did the old Microsoft Dive last night, so I was up to four putting it back together again. Thus, the excruciating thought of gluing together my “thoughts” on any topic has the allure, for me, that getting engaged had for Bertie Wooster.

Luckily, I’ve had some letters about my Adorno and Horkheimer posts. My friend H. wrote me to say that he liked the posts; however, he did ask why, in that the link I gave to the post on, my comments on said post were so ‘mean to that old fellow you linked to.’ Mean? The cause is in that graphomania, that intoxication with words, that has carried me to many a nadir. What can I say? Some are alcoholics out of a bottle, and some get drunk on their own verbosity. I try to combine the two vices. Mr. H. also wrote: “you can't close these set of posts without also treating us to K.Korsh's critique of the Frankfurt school. Especially since yours truly has been dreaming of reading it one more time.” We’ve found a surprising amount of Korsch on the web, especially in French, and we will someday please all you Marxists and ex-Marxists – actually, hasn’t Marxism merged with ex-Marxism? – by linking and commenting. There is one scoriating essay by Korsch about the Lenin’s rather miserable attempt, in his criticism of Mach, to create a philosophy of dialectical materialism. Lenin was many things, in Korsch’s opinion, but not a philosopher – that’s when the Russian hayseed came out in him, the eager beaver student.

Then my friend, T., well known to this site as our foreign correspondant (he lives in NYC) came back at me with a few lapsed lascivious thoughts re Zizek’s essay on Lacan’s Kant avec Sade. I believe his first quote is from the Lacan essay.

‘For LI readers (if there are any left in the room) this might be interesting:

"Today, when Kant's antinomies of pure reason enjoy the status of a philosophical commonplace which long ago ceased to be perceived as a threat to the entire philosophical edifice, it requires a considerable effort to imagine them 'in their becoming,' as Kierkegaard would put it, and to resuscitate their original scandalous impact. One way to achieve this goal is to concentrate on how the antinomies differ from the logic of big cosmic oppositions: yin/yang, masculine/feminine, light/darkness, repulsion/attraction, etc. There is nothing subversive about such a notion of the universe as an organism whose life force hinges on the tension of two polar principles; what Kant had in mind, however, was something quite different and incomparably more unsettling: there is no way for us to imagine in a consistent way the universe as a Whole; that is, as soon as we do it, we obtain tow antinimocal, mutually exclusive versions of the universe as a Whole. is here, in this antinomy, that sexual difference is at work: the antagonistic tension which defines sexuality is not the polar opposition of two cosmic forces (yin/yang, etc.), but a certain crack which prevents us from even consistently imagining the universe as a Whole. Sexuality points towards the supreme ontological scandal of teh nonexistence of the universe."

An amazing footnote to a statement on Radical Evil as an ethical attitude: "This notion of the Sublime provides a new approach to Lacan's 'Kant avec Sade,' i.e., his thesis on Sade as the truth in Kant. Let us begin with an everyday question: what accounts for the (alleged) charm of sexual manuals? That is to say, it is clear that we don not really browse them to learn things; what attracts us is that the activity which epitomizes the transgression of every rule (when we are engaged in 'it,' we are not supposed to think, but just to yield to passions...) assumes the form of its opposite and becomes an object of school-like drill. (A common piece of advice actually concerns acheiving sexual excitement by imitating - during the foreplay, at least - the procedure of cold, asexual instrumental activity: I discuss with my partner in detail the steps of what we will do, we ponder the pros and cons of different possibilities - shall we begin with cunnilingus or not? - assessing every point as if we are dealing with an elaborate technical operation. Sometimes, this 'turns us on.') What we encounter here is a kind of paradoxically inverted sublime: in the Kantanian Sublime, the boundless chaos of sensible experience (raging storm, breathtaking abysses) renders forth the presentiment of the pure Idea of Reason whose Measure is so large that no object of experience, not even nature in the wildest and mightiest display of its forces, can come close to it (i.e., here, the Measure, the ideal Order, is on the side of the side of the unattainable Idea, and the formless chaos on the side of sensible experience); whereas in the case of 'bureaucratized sexuality,' the relationship is reversed: sexual arousal, as the exemplary case of the state which eludes instrumental regimentation, is evoked by way of its opposite, by way of being treated as bureaucratic duty. Perhaps, it is (also) in this sense that Sade is the truth of Kant: the sadist who enjoys performing sex as an instrumentalized bureaucratic duty reverses and therby brings its truth to the Kantian Sublime in which we become aware of the suprasensible Measure through the chaotic, boundless character of our experience."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Mais depuis qu’on entrevoit la nature, que les anciens ne voyaient point du tout; depuis qu’on s’est aperçu que tout est organisé, que tout a son germe; depuis qu’on a bien su qu’un champignon est l’ouvrage d’une sagesse infinie aussi bien que tous les mondes; alors ceux qui pensent ont adoré, là où leurs devanciers avaient blasphémé. Les physiciens sont devenus les hérauts de la Providence: un catéchiste annonce Dieu à des enfants, et un Newton le démontre aux sages. – Voltaire

“Since we have examined nature, which the ancients didn’t see at all; since we have perceived that everything is organized, that everything has its seed; since we have discovered that the mushroom is as much the work of an infinite intelligence as worlds are; since then those who think have adored, there where their predecessors blasphemed. The physicians have become the messengers of providence; while it is the catechist who tells children about God, it is a Newton who demonstrates him to the wise.”

Two stories in the NYT today demonstrate both the civilized delights of the wise who, as Voltaire says, see that Nature to which the ancients were blind, and the return to barbarism so characteristic of Bush America.

The delightful story is about birds. As a part time birder, I’ve always found the very fact that there are these creatures flying around, uttering their incomprehensible notes on parking lot mornings while humans flow unheeding around them, to be fascinating. I have a friend who finds birds frankly sinister, and can’t understand the fascinations of bird watching. There are birds that I intensely dislike – in particular, I have a small horror of the boat-tail grackle (Cassidix mexicanus) which fills the trees on the U.T. campus and leaves a lovely swampy smell around those areas where they are encamped, the rich miasma arising from their copious collective excreta. It is a pushy bird, and its harsh call does emphatically not recall the notes of the skylark:

“That from heaven or near it/
Pourest thy full heart/
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”

Researchers are putting in question just the assumption that that art is unpremeditated.

“The clash of simple brain and complex behavior has led some neuroscientists to create a new map of the avian brain.

Today, in the journal Nature Neuroscience Reviews, an international group of avian experts is issuing what amounts to a manifesto. Nearly everything written in anatomy textbooks about the brains of birds is wrong, they say. The avian brain is as complex, flexible and inventive as any mammalian brain, they argue, and it is time to adopt a more accurate nomenclature that reflects a new understanding of the anatomies of bird and mammal brains.

"Names have a powerful influence on the experiments we do and the way we think," said Dr. Erich D. Jarvis, a neuroscientist at Duke University and a leader of the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium. "Old terminology has hindered scientific progress."

The consortium of 29 scientists from six countries met for seven years to develop new, more accurate names for structures in both avian and mammalian brains. For example, the bird's seat of intelligence or its higher brain is now termed the pallium.”

LI, taking a break from Adorno, Iraq, Iran and politics, urges our readers to check out the article.

And then read the article about the leaving all children behind act – not enacted by Congress, but encouraged by the party of bigotry (in the Voltarian sense – the willful adherence to ignorance) and tenderly nursed by the equally ignorant symbol mongers in the press and the think tanks. I’m talking about the lack of education in science – and, specifically, the lack of education about evolution.

“In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.

"The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.

Dr. Frandsen, former chairman of the committee on science and public policy of the Alabama Academy of Science, said in an interview that this fear made it impossible to say precisely how many teachers avoid the topic.”

Of course, Alabama has always been a pit of ignorance. Scientists may have found the seat of intelligence in birds, but they are still looking for it in the average Alabaman. However, there is no reason that the curse of the parents should be borne by the child. I wonder if those studies that Bush touted in his press conference a week ago that showed how important it is for children to be raised by “normal” couples – not those nasty ‘same sex’ types – I wonder if they questioned the kids on what they learn in school? And whether they are spoon fed superstitious nonsense by their lovin’ parents? In Alabama, at least, there is prima facie evidence that heterosexual parents are actively cretinizing their offspring. Where’s the outrage? Where are the courts? Surely we need to get these poor kids into good homes, same sex homes, where they can be encouraged to read a little Darwin every once in a while?

Monday, January 31, 2005

The U.S. has so successfully projected an image of its power that even its critics, even its enemies, unconsciously accept it. In Robin Wright’s book, the Last Great Revolution, about post Khomenei Iran, she reports that certain Iranians assured her that Khomenei was set up by the U.S. That he was a CIA asset.

This kind of thinking has leaked into the anti-war perspective. When the U.S. first occupied Iraq, LI issued vitriolic post after vitriolic post mocking the very premise that a bunch of outside know nothings could take over Iraq and transform it to their liking. We were especially amused by the idea that Field Commander Bremer would huff and puff and infuse an everlasting, privatized ally of the U.S. into Mesopotamia. In the event, Bremer couldn’t even keep his accounts straight, much less create neo-con heaven on earth.

As we put it on April 3, 2004:

“From the beginning, we have maintained that the top down implementation of civil change, such as was envisioned by all the Defense Department planners, goes against everything we know about the failures of central planning. That is hard earned knowledge for the left. Lately, we’ve been wondering what it means to combine the benefit of a welfare state with bottom up self organization – the kind of foreign policy that the left should be vigorously exploring.”

However, just as the right had a screwy image of unlimited American power to do good, so, too, some parts of the left have a screwy image of unlimited American power to do evil. This comes out most strongly in the metaphor of the “puppet.”

A puppet has no more life than is put into it by a hand. Take the hand away, and Punch no longer has the vigor to pummel Judy. Punch and Judy lie down together in the peace of all inorganic things.

When one talks about American puppets, one means that the power – the hand – is the American hand. But the limits to the metaphor are also the limits to American power. The hand, taken away, doesn’t restore an inorganic peace to the thing, who eats, desires and schemes for his own advancement. And so the off-hours can be productive of nasty surprises for the puppet’s case officers.

The American puppets in Iraq – the crew of exiles, from Allawi to Chalabi, that have become the provisional governing faction in Iraq – shouldn’t be thought of simply in terms of the American hand. Small deviations from that hand’s desire can create large perturbations down the line – especially in a “turbulent” moment like the present. Everything that one expected about this election – from the sixty percent turnout to the Sunni boycott – happened. But the expected event, when it happens, carries a charge that doesn’t come from the past. This is the great left heresy,and count LI amamong the black mass of believers: a moment arrives, and it is the moment of logos, of the gnostical infusion of novelty into the expected, of revolution in the everyday life. The combinations and probabilities tell us that the government of Iraq, so severely limited that it can’t even control its finances, will fall apart in squabbles and robberies, and allow the American overseers to continue their Behemoth work. On the other hand, the Shiite majority, which is mostly working class, has achieved stage one: in defiance of every power, American and Insurgent, they have created a nationwide fact. The American press will read this fact only in terms of their infantile obsession with the minor screwup who happens to be president in D.C. at the moment. We think that is precisely the wrong reading.

PS -- the orthodox message in the American press is well summed up in this pre-rotten bit of conventional wisdom by Slate's Fred Kaplan. Expect to see variations on this repeated ad nauseum in the coming week:

"A sure consequence of the election's success will be the derailing of any movement in the U.S. Congress to push for a swift troop withdrawal. In his State of the Union Address this week, President Bush will probably say that we cannot desert the Iraqis after their brave display of commitment to freedom. And he will be right. If the new Iraqi government wants the U.S. troops to leave, then they will. But in the past couple of weeks, all the major Iraqi political parties removed from their platforms any endorsement of a withdrawal. They realize that they still need foreign troops both for internal security and for the defense of their borders."

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sixty percent of the eligible electorate in Iraq voted, according to the report in Liberation. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Washington Post, the administration is signaling: no timetable, no withdrawal.

“The Bush administration has for now ruled out creating a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq after today's elections, but military commanders have charted a plan to have Iraqi security forces begin taking the lead in combat operations in certain parts of the country as early as spring.”

Such blind and expected venting of Bush imperialism goes well with the Bush version of democracy, on display in this article about the way the Bush people are pressuring Qatar to cripple Al Jazeera. And it should lead us directly to Fiske’s pessimistic take on the whole thing, as a vast farce:

“The media boys and girls will be expected to play along with this. "Transition of power", says the hourly logo on CNN's live coverage of the election, though the poll is for a parliament to write a constitution, and the men who will form a majority within it will have no power.

They have no control over their own oil, no authority over the streets of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, no workable army or loyal police force. Their only power is that of the American military and its 150 000 soldiers whom we could all see on the main intersections of Baghdad yesterday.”

Fiske is right about the military, but wrong, we think, not to see the vote in any but an instrumental light. Ourselves, we see the vote much more as an expression of popular power – like the retaking of Najaf by the train of people that marched in Sistani’s wake. As an election, this was a terribly flawed one, of course: the CPA rule that made it a one time, nation wide venture, were peculiarly ill suited to the nature of Iraq – no surprise there, since the CPA’s ideas in toto were more suited to Mississippi than Mesopotamia. And to hold an election which will elect people with the shocking lack of power Fiske enumerates does lend the business the air of a Potemkin village. Plus, of course, the lack of information, due mostly to U.S. generated censorship -- Allawi's arrests of newsmen and his closing down of Al Jazeera's operation in Iraq follows the expected tyrannical pattern that the U.S. likes to inculcate in its factotums.

But political pundits have a tendency to take the mechanical output of politics – who is in and who is out – as the whole of politics. It isn’t. Politics is also a cultural performance, an allegory of multiple desires. As a cultural act, the voting, and even the boycott of the voting, shows that the Iraqis can take their lives into their own hands. It shows the majority will stand up to armed threat. And it shows that the minority, the Sunnis, are well aware of the crimes that are being committed against them by the sinister Americans. So the question is:

Is this a situation in which 150,000 American troops, then, are needed? And if so, what are they needed to do?

Well, obviously, the need to keep them there is generated solely in D.C. imperialist megalomania and the interests of those Iraqi politicos with homes in London or the U.S. If the vote generates that realization among the Iraqi population, here’s one possibility: the amplification of Iraqi sensitivity, so that every American outrage will be resented even more, as an imposition upon a proven sovereign body. A tacit timetable of withdrawal, ticking in the nervous systems of Iraqis, will start regardless of the fantasists in D.C.

This is our hope. However, we should hedge this with another scenario. In this one, the amplified sensitivity will become a form of Shi’ite triumphalism, thus making the Sunni/Shi’ite cleavage even more lethal. The Americans will continue being used as an instrument, on the part of some Shi’a faction, of ethnic cleansing, and will take the opportunity to exact their conditions, particularly as the Saudis have finally realized two things in the last year: you have more money come in from forty dollars per barrel than you do from twenty, and the Bush people don’t care if the dollar plummets to 50 cents to the Euro. This makes Iraq much more valuable territory. It will be interesting to see whether Chavez, who is trying to create an international bloc of state run oil organizations, will start pinging on the American radar screen, given these circs.

Post two

This post follows up on yesterday’s.

There is another fold in A and H’s interpretation of Kant. As we’ve been emphasizing, the system of the Enlightenment sacrifices what we want to be true to what is true. The oddity of this transaction is that the truth of psychology, with its dense casuistry of material motives, leaves little place for the unmotivated desire for truth. How, THEN, does the discovery of the truth account for itself within the Kantian system?

Interestingly enough, there is a space in the Kantian system for this apparent contradiction. It is a moment of abasement and glory, a moment of reflection on wanting what we don’t want. This crops up in a sort of Kantian baroque – self annihilating phrases, like purposive non-puposiveness [in the Critique of Judgment]. In the Critique of Practical Reason, this is sussed out by elevating one feeling, and one only, to a primary moral status: humility.

But Kant’s interpretation of the background sacrifice that makes the organization of science, and thus Enlightenment, possible, even if it rises to the surface in humiliation or the notion of the sublime, is never explicitly laid out in sacrificial terms. Sade, on the other hand, magnifies the sacrifice, until the enormous details are burned into his pornographic universe. This will form the substance of our last post about the Dialectic of the Enlightenment. Although we don’t promise not to continue writing about this subject from other angles: in particular, the difference between the Enlightenment as Kant saw it and the Enlightenment as Smith and Hume saw it. Hey, and we have comparisons between Hayek and A & H... Life is long, writing is short.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...