26 April 2015
25 April 2015
Both labour and work in the vita activa – the former concerned directly with necessity and the satisfaction of immediate biological needs, the latter concerned with utility and the world of durable objects – are activities of means; they are not essentially ends in themselves. A person's life should not only consist of labour and work – the tragedy of modern democratic societies being that so many lives are indeed so limited. The realm of action is where individuals act in complete equality with others – freedom only being realizable in association with others. In general, the social has come to dominate what was once the dichotomy between the private realm of necessity and the public, political realm of politics. And the most influential thinkers such as Locke and Marx only confirm the importance of necessity. Marx's position is acutely paradoxical here. For while on the one hand he extols labour power (and not work) as the creator of all wealth and the "essence" of man, he also says that with the communist society and the "withering away of the state," no one will be forced to labour out of necessity, each having the freedom to be a hunter in the morning and a critic at night, without anyone being essentially a hunter or a critic. This conception of labour approaches what Arendt is alluding to with the realm of politics as pure creativity, the realm of the beautiful deed.
The human condition (which is never fixed) can have the realm of freedom restored to it, now, in the modern world, says Arendt, because developments in technology have rendered the "social question" (about needs and how to satisfy them) redundant.
John Lechte, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers (2008)
24 April 2015
I am surprised and often delighted to see that some animals behave like men; I cannot see how this could either justify or condemn human behavior. I fail to understand why we are asked “to recognize that man behaves very much like a group territorial species,” rather than the other way round—that certain animal species behave very much like men. (Following Adolf Portmann, these new insights into animal behavior do not close the gap between man and animal; they only demonstrate that “much more of what we know of ourselves than we thought also occurs in animals.”) Why should we, after having “eliminated” all anthropomorphisms from animal psychology (whether we actually succeeded is another matter), now try to discover “how ‘theriomorph’ man is”? Is it not obvious that anthropomorphism and theriomorphism in the behavioral sciences are but two sides of the same “error”? Moreover, if we define man as belonging to the animal kingdom, why should we ask him to take his standards of behavior from another animal species? The answer, I am afraid, is simple: It is easier to experiment with animals, and this not only for humanitarian reasons—that it is not nice to put us into cages; the trouble is men can cheat.
Second, the research results of both the social and the natural sciences tend to make violent behavior even more of a “natural” reaction than we would have been prepared to grant without them. Aggressiveness, defined as an instinctual drive, is said to play the same functional role in the household of nature as the nutritive and sexual instincts in the life process of the individual and the species. But unlike these instincts, which are activated by compelling bodily needs on one side, by outside stimulants on the other, aggressive instincts in the animal kingdom seem to be independent of such provocation; on the contrary, lack of provocation apparently leads to instinct frustration, to “repressed” aggressiveness, which according to psychologists causes a damming up of “energy” whose eventual explosion will be all the more dangerous. (It is as though the sensation of hunger in man would increase with the decrease of hungry people.) In this interpretation, violence without provocation is “natural”; if it has lost its rationale, basically its function in self-preservation, it becomes “irrational,” and this is allegedly the reason why men can be more “beastly” than other animals. (In the literature we are constantly reminded of the generous behavior of wolves, who do not kill the defeated enemy.)
Quite apart from the misleading transposition of physical terms such as “energy” and “force” to biological and zoological data, where they do not make sense because they cannot be measured, I fear there lurks behind these newest “discoveries” the oldest definition of the nature of man—the definition of man as the animal rationale, according to which we are distinct from other animal species in nothing but the additional attribute of reason. Modern science, starting uncritically from this old assumption, has gone far in “proving” that men share all other properties with some species of the animal kingdom—except that the additional gift of “reason” makes man a more dangerous beast. It is the use of reason that makes us dangerously “irrational,” because this reason is the property of an “aboriginally instinctual being.” The scientists know, of course, that it is man the toolmaker who has invented those long-range weapons that free him from the “natural” restraints we find in the animal kingdom, and that toolmaking is a highly complex mental activity. Hence science is called upon to cure us of the side effects of reason by manipulating and controlling our instincts, usually by finding harmless outlets for them after their “life-promoting function” has disappeared. The standard of behavior is again derived from other animal species, in which the function of the life instincts has not been destroyed through the intervention of human reason. And the specific distinction between man and beast is now, strictly speaking, no longer reason (the lumen naturale of the human animal) but science, the knowledge of these standards and the techniques applying them. According to this view, man acts irrationally and like a beast if he refuses to listen to the scientists or is ignorant of their latest findings. As against these theories and their implications, I argue that violence is neither beastly nor irrational—whether we understand these terms in the ordinary language of the humanists or in accordance with scientific theories.
09 January 2015
Thus the absolute reign of flexibility is established, with employees being hired on fixed-term contracts or on a temporary basis and repeated corporate restructurings and, within the firm itself, competition among autonomous divisions as well as among teams forced to perform multiple functions. Finally, this competition is extended to individuals themselves, through the individualisation of the wage relationship: establishment of individual performance objectives, individual performance evaluations, permanent evaluation, individual salary increases or granting of bonuses as a function of competence and of individual merit; individualised career paths; strategies of “delegating responsibility” tending to ensure the self-exploitation of staff who, simple wage labourers in relations of strong hierarchical dependence, are at the same time held responsible for their sales, their products, their branch, their store, etc. as though they were independent contractors. This pressure toward “self-control” extends workers’ “involvement” according to the techniques of “participative management” considerably beyond management level. All of these are techniques of rational domination that impose over-involvement in work (and not only among management) and work under emergency or high-stress conditions. And they converge to weaken or abolish collective standards or solidarities (3).
In this way, a Darwinian world emerges - it is the struggle of all against all at all levels of the hierarchy, which finds support through everyone clinging to their job and organisation under conditions of insecurity, suffering, and stress. Without a doubt, the practical establishment of this world of struggle would not succeed so completely without the complicity of all of the precarious arrangements that produce insecurity and of the existence of a reserve army of employees rendered docile by these social processes that make their situations precarious, as well as by the permanent threat of unemployment. This reserve army exists at all levels of the hierarchy, even at the higher levels, especially among managers. The ultimate foundation of this entire economic order placed under the sign of freedom is in effect the structural violence of unemployment, of the insecurity of job tenure and the menace of layoff that it implies. The condition of the “harmonious” functioning of the individualist micro-economic model is a mass phenomenon, the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed.
Pierre Bourdieu, The Essence of Neoliberalism
26 November 2014
24 November 2014
23 November 2014
30 April 2014
Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014: 84)
26 April 2014
In fact, all the historical data at our disposal today indicate that it was not until the second half—or even the final third—of the nineteenth century that a significant rise in the purchasing power of wages occurred. From the first to the sixth decade of the nineteenth century, workers’ wages stagnated at very low levels—close or even inferior to the levels of the eighteenth and previous centuries. This long phase of wage stagnation, which we observe in Britain as well as France, stands out all the more because economic growth was accelerating in this period. The capital share of national income—industrial profits, land rents, and building rents—insofar as can be estimated with the imperfect sources available today, increased considerably in both countries in the first half of the nineteenth century. It would decrease slightly in the final decades of the nineteenth century, as wages partly caught up with growth. The data we have assembled nevertheless reveal no structural decrease in inequality prior to World War I. What we see in the period 1870–1914 is at best a stabilization of inequality at an extremely high level, and in certain respects an endless inegalitarian spiral, marked in particular by increasing concentration of wealth. It is quite difficult to say where this trajectory would have led without the major economic and political shocks initiated by the war. With the aid of historical analysis and a little perspective, we can now see those shocks as the only forces since the Industrial Revolution powerful enough to reduce inequality.
Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014: 7-8)
04 April 2014
Now and again, as already said, we realize all this, and are amazed at all this vertiginous fear and haste and at the whole dreamlike condition in which we live, which seems to have a horror of awakening and dreams the more vividly and restlessly the closer it is to this awakening. But we feel at the same time that we are too weak to endure those moments of profoundest contemplation for very long and that we are not the mankind towards which all nature presses for its redemption: it is already much that we should raise our head above the water at all, even if only a little, and observe what stream it is in which we are so deeply immersed. And even this momentary emerging and awakening is not achieved through our own power, we have to be lifted up – and who are they who lift us?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer as Educator §5
08 February 2014
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn 219
04 February 2014
But the reduction of "that which is" to the order of things is not limited to slavery. Slavery is abolished, but we ourselves are aware of the aspects of social life in which man is relegated to the level of things, and we should know that this relegation did not await slavery. From the start, the introduction of labor into the world replaced intimacy, the depth of desire and its free out-breaks, with rational progression, where what matters is no longer the truth of the present moment, but, rather, the subsequent results of operations. The first labor established the world of things, to which the profane world of the Ancients generally corresponds. Once the world of things was posited, man himself became one of the things of this world, at least for the time in which he labored. It is this degradation that man has always tried to escape.
Religion is this long effort and this anguished quest: It is always a matter of detaching from the real order, from the poverty of things, and of restoring the divine order. The animal or plant that man uses (as if they only had value for him and none for themselves) is restored to the truth of the intimate world; he receives a sacred communication from it, which restores him in turn to interior freedom.
The meaning of this profound freedom is given in destruction, whose essence is to consume profitlessly whatever might remain in the progression of useful works. Sacrifice destroys that which it consecrates. It does not have to destroy as fire does; only the tie that connected the offering to the world of profitable activity is severed, but this separation has the sense of a definitive consumption; the consecrated offering cannot be restored to the real order. This principle opens the way to passionate release; it liberates violence while marking off the domain in which violence reigns absolutely.
Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share Vol. 1 (1988: 55-8)
03 February 2014
Incomprehension does not change the final outcome in the slightest. We can ignore or forget the fact that the ground we live on is little other than a field of multiple destructions. Our ignorance only has this incontestable effect: It causes us to undergo what we could bring about in our own way, if we understood. It deprives us of the choice of an exudation that might suit us. Above all, it consigns men and their works to catastrophic destructions. For if we do not have the force to destroy the surplus energy ourselves, it cannot be used, and, like an unbroken animal that cannot be trained, it is this energy that destroys us; it is we who pay the price of the inevitable explosion.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn 112
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn 106
20 January 2014
Rainer Maria Rilke, in On Love and Other Difficulties (1975: 41-3)
22 August 2013
Temporality, finitude—that is what it is all about. I can resign everything by my own strength and find peace and rest in the pain; I can put up with everything—even if that dreadful demon, more horrifying than the skeletal one who terrifies men, even if madness held its fool's costume before my eyes and I understood from its face that it was I who should put it on—I can still save my soul as long as my concern that my love of God conquer within me is greater than my concern that I achieve earthly happiness. In his very last moment, a person can still concentrate his whole soul in one single look to heaven, from whence come all good gifts, and this look will be understood by himself and by him whom it seeks to mean that he has been true to his love. Then he will calmly put on the costume. He whose soul lacks this romanticism has sold his soul, whether he gets a kingdom or a wretched piece of silver for it. By my own strength I cannot get the least little thing that belongs to finitude, for I continually use my strength in resigning everything. By my own strength I can give up the princess, and I will not sulk about it but find joy and peace and rest in my pain, but by my own strength I cannot get her back again, for I use all my strength in resigning. On the other hand, by faith, says that marvelous knight, by faith you will get her by virtue of the absurd.
Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Hong & Hong, 48-50)