Tag Archives: Philosophy

The Simple Things That Are Hard to Do

Traditional Marxists distinguished between Communism proper and Socialism as its first lower stage (where money and the state still exists and workers are paid wages, etc.). In the Soviet Union there was a debate in the 1960s about where they were in this regard, and the solution was that, although they were not yet in full Communism, they were also no longer in the lower stage (Socialism). So, they introduced a further distinction between lower and higher stage of Socialism… Is not something similar going on with the Covid pandemic? Until about a month ago, our media were full of warnings about the second, much stronger, wave in the Fall and Winter. With new spikes everywhere and numbers of infections growing again, the word is that this is not yet the second wave but just a strengthening of the first wave, which continues.

This classificatory confusion just confirms that the situation with Covid is getting serious, with cases exploding all around the world again. The time has come to take seriously simple truths like the one recently announced by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself. Rather, it’s the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national levels. We cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world. The Covid-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. The virus thrives on division, but is thwarted when we unite.” To take this truth seriously means that one should take into account not only international divisions but also class divisions within each country: “The coronavirus has merely lifted the lid off the pre-existing pandemic of poverty. Covid-19 arrived in a world where poverty, extreme inequality and disregard for human life are thriving, and in which legal and economic policies are designed to create and sustain wealth for the powerful, but not end poverty.” Conclusion: we cannot contain the viral pandemic without also attacking the pandemic of poverty.

How to do this is, in principle, easy: we have enough means to reorganize healthcare adequately and so forth. However, to quote the last line of Brecht’s “In Praise of Communism” from his play Mother: “Er ist das Einfache, das schwer zu machen ist. / It is the simple thing, that is so hard to do.” There are many obstacles that make it so hard to do and, above all, the global capitalist order. But I want to focus here on the ideological obstacle, ideological in the sense of half-conscious, even unconscious, stances, prejudices, and fantasies that regulate our lives also (and especially) in the times of crisis. In short, I suggest that what is needed is a psychoanalytic theory of ideology.

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Posted by on July 20, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Power, Appearance, and Obscenity: Five Reflections

ONE: The New Obscene Master

The obscene public space that is emerging today changes the way the opposition between appearance and rumor works. It is not that appearances no longer matter since obscenity reigns directly; it is, rather, that spreading obscene rumors or acting obscenely paradoxically sustain the appearance of power. Things are in a way similar to what happened in the last decades with the figure of detective in crime fiction: he or she can be crippled, half-crazy, or whatever, but his/her authority as the infallible detective remains untouched. In the same way, a political leader can act in undignified ways, make obscene gestures, etc., but all this, by contrast, strengthens his position of a master.

It is similar with Trump who surprises us again and again with how far he is ready to go with his vulgar obscenities. As a climax of Trump’s attacks on the ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, at a Minneapolis rally in October 2019, he performed a mock re-enactment of her texts with Mr Strzok, her ex-lover, as though the couple were in the middle of sexual act, imitating her orgasmic throes. Lisa Page understandably exploded with rage. But the same story seems to repeat itself: Trump survives yet again what his enemies consider the final straw, which will destroy him.

We are here at the opposite end of Stalinism where the figure of the Leader should be kept unblemished at any price. While the Stalinist leader fears that even a minor indecency or imperfection would destroy his position, our new leaders are ready to go pretty far in renouncing dignity. Their wager is that this renunciation will work somewhat like the short note on the back cover of a book by a famous contemporary writer, the note intended to demonstrate that the author is also an ordinary human being like us (“in X’s free time, X likes collecting butterflies”). Far from undermining the greatness of the author, such a note strengthens it by way of contrast (“you see, even such a great person has ridiculous hobbies…”). We are fascinated by such notes, precisely and only because he or she is a great author; if such a note was about an average ordinary person, we would be indifferent towards it (“who cares what a nobody like that is doing in free time”).

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Posted by on June 23, 2020 in Uncategorized


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The Conscience of a Human Being

Sometimes, I wonder whether average human beings possess a conscience—an ability to independently judge and be motivated by moral truths—or if they instead possess only the instinctive disposition to conform to social conventions and the demands of the powerful. Most seemingly ethical behavior could be explained by such conformity—for instance, it could be that the reason why most refrain from robbing, raping, and killing other people is that those behaviors are contrary to the conventions of our society and the commands of our government. This would not require most human beings to possess a genuine conscience. The test of whether one has a conscience would have to be about whether one recognizes and is moved by moral considerations when those considerations fail to align with the social conventions, the law, or the commands of the powerful. The majority of human beings, by my read, fail that test about as badly as one could fail it.

For example, we know from the famous obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram that close to two thirds of people can be persuaded to electrocute an innocent person if ordered to do so by a man in a white coat.[1] We know from history that large numbers of people can be induced to participate in a genocide when so commanded by their government. In our own society today, most citizens are untroubled by behavior on the part of the powerful that would outrage us if performed by those without political power: If an ordinary person forcibly extracts money from his neighbors to fund his own charity organization, that person is a thief and an extortionist; if the government does the same, it is merely pursuing normal tax policy. If an ordinary person kills large numbers of people in order to bring about some political change, that person is a vicious terrorist; if our society’s dominant group does the same, this is a standard military operation.[2]

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Posted by on May 18, 2020 in Reportages


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Why Are We Tired All the Time?

The coronavirus epidemic confronts us with two opposed figures that prevail in our daily lives: those who are overworked to exhaustion (medical stuff, caretakers…) and those who have nothing to do since they are forcibly or voluntarily confined to their homes. Belonging to the second category, I feel obliged to use this predicament to propose a short reflection on different ways in which we can be tired. I will ignore here the obvious paradox of the enforced inactivity itself making us tired, so let me begin with Byung-Chul Han who provided a systematic account of how and why we live in a “burnout society.”[i] Here is a short resume of Byung-Chul Han’s masterpiece shamelessly taken from Wikipedia:

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Posted by on April 2, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Monitor and Punish? Yes, Please!

Many liberal and Leftist commentators have noted how the coronavirus epidemic serves to justify and legitimize measures of control and regulation of the people that had been till now unthinkable in a Western democratic society. Is the total lockdown of Italy not a totalitarian’s wet dream come true? No wonder that (at least the way it looks now) China, which had already widely practiced modes of digitalized social control, proved to be best equipped for coping with catastrophic epidemics. Does this mean that, at least in some aspects, China is our future? Are we approaching a global state of exception? Have Giorgio Agamben’s analyses gained new actuality?

It is not surprising that Agamben himself drew this conclusion: he reacted to the coronavirus epidemic in a radically different way from the majority of commentators. He deplored the “frantic, irrational, and absolutely unwarranted emergency measures adopted for a supposed epidemic of coronavirus” which is just another version of flu, and asked: “Why do the media and the authorities do their utmost to create a climate of panic, thus provoking a true state of exception, with severe limitations on movement and the suspension of daily life and work activities for entire regions?”

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Posted by on March 18, 2020 in Reportages


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Tainted by association

When I first heard the allegations of serial sexual misconduct against the American folk-rock singer Ryan Adams earlier this year – that he had emotionally and psychologically abused several women and underage girls, using his status in the music industry as leverage – I didn’t want to believe it. Yet this desire to not-believe strongly preceded any acquaintance I had with the actual facts. Indeed – and as I am now ashamed to admit – I initially read the facts with great skepticism, hoping that they were wrong. Only with effort have I forced myself to put aside my initial disbelief, and consider things impartially, making a more balanced assessment. Why?

One answer comes from feminist theory. As a man who has been raised in a male-dominated society, one that tends to privilege the status and testimony of men, and to cast aspersions on those of women – most especially when it comes to issues of sex – I am ideologically conditioned to react this way. Sadly, I suspect there is much truth in this. But it is not the only explanation in play. Another consideration is that I didn’t want Adams to be guilty because I like his music. And the worry that I had – initially, without even realising it – was that, if Adams is indeed guilty, then I won’t be able to enjoy his music any more. And I don’t want that to be the case. Hence, I initially read the accusations against Adams with skepticism, precisely because I (subconsciously) wanted to protect my future enjoyment of his records.

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Posted by on October 31, 2019 in Uncategorized


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Margaret Atwood’s work illustrates our need to enjoy other people’s pain

A well-crafted worldwide publicity campaign is raising expectations for The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her Handmaid’s Tale. This, perhaps, is the right moment to take a deeper look into the reasons of our fascination with the dark world of the Republic of Gilead.

Since Gilead is run by Christian fundamentalists, the best way to begin is with theology.

In his Summa Theologica, philosopher Thomas Aquinas concludes that the blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned in order that their bliss be more delightful for them. Aquinas, of course, takes care to avoid the obscene implication that good souls in heaven can find pleasure in observing the terrible suffering of other souls, because good Christians should feel pity when they see suffering. So, will the blessed in heaven also feel pity for the torments of the damned? Aquinas’s answer is no: not because they directly enjoy seeing suffering, but because they enjoy the exercise of divine justice.

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Posted by on September 16, 2019 in Uncategorized


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The Libidinal Economy of Singularity

Our media are more and more fascinated by the prospect of “post-humanity” opened up by a direct link between our brain and a digital machine. To remind readers, this is what is popularly called “Neuralink” and what New Age obscurantists term Singularity, the divine-like global space of shared awareness. But there is an aspect of Singularity that is largely neglected in pop-scientific considerations: the eventual rise of Singularity will also be a case of what we cannot but call post-human capitalism.

One usually assumes that capitalism is (more) historical and our humanity, inclusive of sexual difference, more basic, even ahistorical. However, what we are witnessing today is nothing less than an attempt to integrate the passage to post-humanity into capitalism. And this is, in fact, what the efforts of new billionaire gurus like Elon Musk are about. Their prediction that capitalism “as we know it” is coming to an end refers to “human” capitalism, and the passage they talk about is the passage from “human” to post-human capitalism.

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Posted by on August 12, 2019 in Uncategorized



A Literary Fantasy: The Unnameable Subject of Singularity

What kind of apocalypse announces itself in the prospect of the so-called “post-humanity” opened up by a direct link between our brain and a digital machine, popularly called “neuralink” and in the New Age obscurantist-speak —Singularity, the god-like global space of shared awareness? One should resist the temptation to proclaim the prospect of a wired brain an illusion, something that we are still far from and that cannot really be actualized. Such a view is itself an escape from the threat, from the fact that something New and unheard-of is effectively emerging. So, our question should be: what will our entry into Singularity be? The beginning of a new and higher (post-human) realm, or just the disappearance of humanity the way we know it? Or, in some sense (but in what sense?) both at the same time?

I will propose a risky hypothesis here: what if Singularity is not (or, rather, will not be) immersion into collective space but an extremely solipsistic state where each Self (reduced to its selflessness, no longer a self as opposed to others in an intersubjective space) will function in a way similar to what Beckett renders in The Unnameable? To do so, I read Beckett with Jacques-Alain Miller who, in his seminar of 2006-2007, describes the effort of Lacan’s last years at delineating the contours of One alone before the Other, of a hallucination before symbolic reality, of meaningless lapses prior to any signifying articulation.[i]

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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in Uncategorized



Nomadic // Proletarians

In some Leftist circles, the exploding growth of homeless refugees gave rise to the notion of “nomadic proletariat.” The basic idea is that, in today’s global world, the main antagonism (the “primary contradiction”) is no longer between the capitalist ruling class and the proletariat but between those who are safe beneath the cupola of the “civilized” world (with public order, basic rights, etc.) and those excluded, reduced to bare life. “Nomadic proletarians” are not simply outside the cupola but somewhere in-between: their premodern substantial life-form is already in ruins, devastated by the impact of global capitalism, but they are not integrated into the global order, so that they roam in an in-between netherworld. They are not proletarians in the strict Marxian sense: paradoxically, when they enter developed countries, the ideal of most of them is precisely to become “normal” exploited proletarians. Recently, a refugee from Salvador who tried to enter the US on the Mexico-US border said to the TV cameras: “Please, Mr Trump, let us in, we just want to be good hard workers in your country.”

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Posted by on March 1, 2019 in Uncategorized