A Beautiful Nightmare

One day, they carried him across the sea

So that my grief would last an age.

My tears, day and night, I knew he heard

For two spirits were never so twinned as we

But no reply did come across the waves

Nor sigh nor sign to ease my fevered thoughts

For I near died upon that pale beach

To think that all was lost to me.

 

A glimpse, a shade, in the glimmering dark

In the brief chill of a passing vision

I saw your face through the mists anon

The ocean depths which filled your eyes

That spoke of pain and separation

Those white and parted lips that plead

With whispers, calling for their mate

Oh how my spirit leapt in horror!

 

For no sooner did that vision show

Then did the darkness close around it

Swallowed up in haze to leave me pining

For some spark to kindle in an empty soul

To think that they were not so cruel to take you

From that redemption known alone to us

Found in that sweet sanctuary called the heart

That you had rendered homage to…

-Excerpt of Verses VII, XII, XIII, Written by N.G.

“Political” Science

Perhaps it is the romanticist in me, but I have always been critical of the natural sciences. As Michel Foucault states, all knowledge is politicized and serves a certainty hierarchy of dominance. In the natural sciences, perhaps the discipline can keep its pure knowledge more so than others, but there are those who make a cult of it. For example, any critique of the theory of evolution appears to evoke much disgust and condescendence . While evolution is certainly the theory that best explains the evolution of humans, there are still aporias in the theory that still need to be explained but have been overlooked by many scientists. The natural sciences can become a religion in the sense that it claims absolute truth and contains its own apologetics. As I have said before, science is a truth among many different ones. It does not make its body of knowledge any less true, but the emphasis placed on the science and technology sector has detracted from the importance of other less material truths that are equally essential to the human development.

The most fascinating and devastating aspect of the social sciences has been to discover to that it cannot make such fact-value distinctions as the natural sciences. Tangled up in the organization of human communities, politics is both a philosophy and science of the social. To limit oneself to either the empirical, rational, historical, cultural, or metaphysical methods of examining the interactions of power structures in governments, economies, or peoples provides only an incomplete picture. Politics contains its own cults similar to the natural sciences and the deconstruction of such power structures of methodology in the discipline are useful to making any progress in replacing one paradigm with another, in the words of Kuhn.

A more striking observation is that political knowledge is the sovereign that permits all the other types of knowledge to exist, develop, and compete. By asserting primacy, it dictates which truths are included or excluded in its scope. All other disciplines tend to mirror this sovereign structure to assert themselves as individuals assert themselves under a democratic regime. Does political knowledge then limit the extent of our epistemology? Notice how scientific studies only re-emerged after the Dark Ages in Renaissance Europe at the same time that the European state system was under construction. Likewise in China, at the time that they developed the first compass, gunpowder, paper and printing around 300 AD, the Tang Dynasty represented the peak of the Chinese imperial rule which had unified rival regimes and created peace and stability for cultures to flourish. The most interesting point is that government officials were not chosen from the nobility, but based on merit and education, which was discontinued in subsequent dynasties. Therefore, the scope of all our knowledge can only be directed insofar as the power structures in place do not put limits on what we can know. The most amusing aspect is when a government tries to keep knowledge from its people that has already been widely disseminated elsewhere or dictates truths contrary to common sense and reason.

A Critique of Cyberanarchy

Small Change: Twitter, Facebook, and Social Activism

This article does present several valid points on the preference of real vs. virtual social activism. I do not deny that the majority of people in developing countries may not have access to English-based sites like Twitter or even to a computer in the first place. Facebook and Twitter are certainly banned by governments like China and Pakistan.  In such cases, material (or offline) resistance through word-of-mouth and the tedious task of communal organization appears to be the only options available to such people and it would be foolish to think that without access to social networking sites, revolution and opposition would fall to the wayside. Certainly, the majority of Facebook usage occurs in close to two thirds of stable democracies.

However, most of the attacks on the effectiveness of social activism organized via social networking appear to be directed towards Twitter for the most part to strengthen its criticism. Is this to say that Facebook is a useless political tool? Social networking has certainly facilitated the ease and speed of organizing mass protests as well as providing valid outlets for opposition and criticism of governments, which is an impressive record for grassroots organization thus far. The drawback is all the quantitative material out there that users have to sift through before finding authentic events and profiles. However, any blog, any forum post, and even any status update on a social networking site is a expression of individual opinion and can be politically useful in gauging the body politique as Rousseau mentions. The viral popularity of such sites can inspire alternative and similar tools in countries where the Western facade of such sites may not be as appealing as something more homegrown. Ultimately, social networking is one of the many ways on the internet of organizing resistance to oppressive power structures in even the most liberal of democracies.

h organizedttp://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=1http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=1

The Iceberg

Having read Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, I am interested, if not amused by his assertions concerning the self’s ability to know itself. That is, he divides the perceptions in terms of the ego (our conscious self), the superego (our aspiring self), and the id (our subconscious and lizard brain self). He reduces man’s innate self to one motivated by aggression and desire (eros). Man is an iceberg, who knows only what he sees above the surface of his self and the rest remains a mystery to him. It is perhaps why humans are so afraid of uncertainty because there is a lack of certainty inherent in themselves, that there is a subconscious part that they will never fully know or come to terms with.It is civilizational society that conditions us to act a certain way in which we internalize its value as part of ourselves. Therefore, we can never separate the “bare” self from the self that is constructed by external processes and norms.

Humans are not naturally aggressive. Assuming that they were, the whole of society would not have escaped the state of nature because no one would be rational enough to engage in cooperative alliances of security to ensure survival (also presupposing that security is the reason why humans join together). Also reducing basic human nature to a sex drive and an aggression drive does not complete the fuller picture. Here we may cite natural law or Noam Chomsky or even Plato to see that humans also have a modular capacity (morals, virtue, etc.) and a rational capacity, as well as a creative drive. Human beings are complex creatures in the sense that they should not be reducible to behavioural observations  and the gap between our species and the apes is a considerable distance to stretch to justify the dominance of animal tendencies in humans.

The ability to philosophize or reflect on the fact that we are shaped by social processes itself encourage self-awareness. It allows us to bring into question which norms are questionable and which need to be reformed/conformed to bare human identity. Postmodern critique has allowed us to discover more about ourselves, like a stepping stone from the Enlightenment. Self-awareness is a process as much as all the other social constructs we may find in religion, politics, and to a lesser degree in science.  Man is an iceberg only insofar as he does not actively engage in self-awareness and  deconstructing the external parts of his identity.

Resurrexit sicut dixit

Walter Benjamin’s Theses on History

Again, procrastination is on my side. Why is everything that the German Jewish philosophers wrote during the 1900s pure genius in terms of intellectual stimulation and mental ecstasy?

In any case, the two most poignant ideas presented in this theses (though the whole is worth reading) are the messianic notion of resurrection presented midway through part II and the analogy of the Angel of History presented on page four. The latter is self-explanatory, though extremely thought-provoking, but my reflections turn on the former elaboration.

It is interesting to note how humans always have a sense of living in the past in terms of harking back to a “golden age” and saying things were better back then. Thematic in most literature, good examples of this mindset are represented in notions of conservatism, restoration, nostalgia, resurrection. That what is dead in terms of former glory, bravery, nobility, truth, honour, virtue even mortality itself lives on, but only as a shadow of itself that continues to haunt our memories. From Charlemagne restoring the Holy Roman Empire to Martin Luther restoring Christian simplicity to Hitler restoring a notion of German superiority to Bush restoring a notion of liberty. These are all man-made resurrections of the “past” insofar as they seek to reinstate an illusory notion of historical values as somehow purer and nobler than the banalities of the present.

So are ideals always the impressions, the traces of bygone splendour? Here, we must be careful in distinguishing the ideal that is timeless (that is, either fundamentally grounded in the “human” or universal in the sense of being outside the constraints of time and space) and one that is grounded in historic materialism as hailed by Benjamin. Often timeless ideals are connected symbolically to a person who fulfills such ideals in such a way as deserves emulation, usually based upon Aristotelian virtues (and not virtu, in the Machiavellian sense). In the cases of historical materialism, it is often bloody revolutions, power-hungry conquerors, and incensed violence justified loosely by an ideal (which we may now term ideology) which often go awry and disturb moral progress.

The real war that Benjamin fails to grasp is that between the Platonic ideal and the politicized ideology. In this sense, we must be careful what we resurrect.

The Philosophy of Individualism

It’s Your Life, Do What You Want

The most dangerous philosophy and advice to give to a young person. The malleable identity of a young person is constantly in a state of flux and evolution, extremely sensitive to outside influences.  The majority of them have no life experience or considerable education to critically think about what such a statement means, only that it details possibilities without necessary reflection on the consequences. As young people, we do have the energy and time to be “men of action” yet we lack the necessary judgment to see the full scope and significance of our actions in not only shaping ourselves, but impacting others to the same degree. Even in adults, the modular capacities (morality, reason) are often compromised, so how are young people even remotely equipped to deal with such a wide definition of freedom to shape themselves?  This statement can only mean Nietzschean despair in the shaping of one’s identity.

In the context of the awesome John Stuart Mill, the genius Immanuel Kant, and the less formidable John Locke, “do what you want” is a dangerous maxim. Locke and Mill both agree that people are free insofar as their liberties are negatively defined: that is, your rights end where mine begin. It’s the idea of Kant’s categorical imperative: if we allowed everyone to “do what they want”, would we be appreciative of that? A feminist critique of liberalism shoots down this notion of individualism, that we are “gods” to ourselves, as a fundamentally masculine idea of amoral power and dominance. It rejects reflective notions of responsibility, the ethics of care, even basic Rousseauian pity! It is our relationships with others that should define our identities and who we choose to surround ourselves with in our youth is telling of the influences that will shape us for the rest of our lives, in terms of self- and other-regarding mechanisms and the ability to contemplate the significance of (teleological, moral, political) agency.

The point is: You are a human being and with that observation comes the realization that you share this humanity; so that your life is not your own, your freedom can only be defined insofar as others have it, and your actions can only attain meaning in the context of (their impact on) human relationships.

 

The “to-come” not only points to the promise but suggests that democracy will never exist, in the sense of a present existence: not because it will  be deferred but because it will always remain aporetic in its structure (force without force, incalculable singularity and calculable equality, commensurability and incommensurability, heteronomy and autonomy, indivisible sovereignty and divisible or shared sovereignty, an empty name, a despairing messianicity or a messianicity in despair, and so on).

Rogues, Jacques Derrida

We can only know freedom by virtue of constraint. There is no such thing as unlimited freedom. Such a notion can only be barbarity and meaninglessness. – N.G.

Can we ever be too free? What happens when we become free? What do you do with your freedom? Sometimes it is so vastly open that it becomes daunting. We had forged our identities before as oppressed, as unfree, as subjugated. Now we are self-annihilating, self-aware, self-creative. Oh what a terrible and exciting thought it is to be free!