14 June 2015


Hello All,

I have migrated Knights of Trepanning to TUMBLR:



26 April 2015

against the very nature of self-interest

Behavior and arguments in interest conflicts are not notorious for their “rationality.” Nothing, unfortunately, has so constantly been refuted by reality as the credo of “enlightened self-interest,” in its literal version as well as in its more sophisticated Marxian variant. Some experience plus a little reflection teach, on the contrary, that it goes against the very nature of self-interest to be enlightened. To take as an example from everyday life the current interest conflict between tenant and landlord: enlightened interest would focus on a building fit for human habitation, but this interest is quite different from, and in most cases opposed to, the landlord’s self-interest in high profit and the tenant’s in low rent. The common answer of an arbiter, supposedly the spokesman of “enlightenment,” namely, that in the long run the interest of the building is the true interest of both landlord and tenant, leaves out of account the time factor, which is of paramount importance for all concerned. Self-interest is interested in the self, and the self dies or moves out or sells the house; because of its changing condition, that is, ultimately because of the human condition of mortality, the self qua self cannot reckon in terms of long-range interest, i.e. the interest of a world that survives its inhabitants. Deterioration of the building is a matter of years; a rent increase or a temporarily lower profit rate are for today or for tomorrow. And something similar, mutatis mutandis, is of course true for labor-management conflicts and the like. Self-interest, when asked to yield to “true” interest—that is, the interest of the world as distinguished from that of the self—will always reply, Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin. That may not be particularly reasonable, but it is quite realistic; it is the not very noble but adequate response to the time discrepancy between men’s private lives and the altogether different life expectancy of the public world. To expect people, who have not the slightest notion of what the res publico, the public thing, is, to behave nonviolently and argue rationally in matters of interest is neither realistic nor reasonable.

Hannah Arendt, On Violence (III)

25 April 2015

the sphere of freedom among equals no longer exists in the modern world

Hannah Arendt's book The Human Condition seeks to develop a theory of politics very much alive in Classical Greece, but since lost in the modern age. The motivating factor for her inquiry is the perception that politics as the sphere of freedom – of action – among equals no longer exists in a general sense in the modern world, since the social sphere (or what is equivalent to the househould [oikia] in Classical Greece – the sphere of necessity, e.g. housekeeping) and the satisfaction of needs has all but completely dominated what is nevertheless still called political life. For Arendt, this is equivalent to the banalisation of politics (the evocation of totalitarianism [cf. Eichmann in Jerusalem] is no doubt not accidental), where utilitarianism reigns and action, having ceased to be creative and an end in itself, has become a mere means to action. Conformity and necessity have squeezed the political dimension out of human life, and an essential aspect of the human condition is thereby stunted: the aspect of creativity. Schematically, Arendt in fact makes a general distinction between the vita activa – which is comprised of labour, work and action – and the vita contempletiva, the realm of thought, or more precisely, the realm of the contemplation of the eternal. While the main focus of Arend'ts analysis here is on the vita activa, she argues that there is complete equality between the two realms.

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

two sides of the same error

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.

Hannah Arendt, On Violence (III)

09 January 2015

the structural violence of unemployment

The globalisation of financial markets, when joined with the progress of information technology, ensures an unprecedented mobility of capital. It gives investors concerned with the short-term profitability of their investments the possibility of permanently comparing the profitability of the largest corporations and, in consequence, penalising these firms’ relative setbacks. Subjected to this permanent threat, the corporations themselves have to adjust more and more rapidly to the exigencies of the markets, under penalty of “losing the market’s confidence”, as they say, as well as the support of their stockholders. The latter, anxious to obtain short-term profits, are more and more able to impose their will on managers, using financial directorates to establish the rules under which managers operate and to shape their policies regarding hiring, employment, and wages.

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

we cannot really know what the word “happiness” means

it is no doubt impossible to approach any human problem without partiality: even the way of asking the questions, of adopting perspectives, presupposes hierarchies of interests; all characteristics comprise values; every so-called objective description is set against an ethical background. Instead of trying to conceal those principles that are more or less explicitly implied, we would be better off stating them from the start; then it would not be necessary to specify on each page the meaning given to the words “superior,” “inferior,” “better,” “worse,” “progress,” “regression,” and so on. If we examine some of the books on women, we see that one of the most frequently held points of view is that of public good or general interest: in reality, this is taken to mean the interest of society as each one wishes to maintain or establish it. In our opinion, there is no public good other than one that assures the citizens’ private good; we judge institutions from the point of view of the concrete opportunities they give to individuals. But neither do we confuse the idea of private interest with happiness: that is another frequently encountered point of view; are women in a harem not happier than a woman voter? Is a housewife not happier than a woman worker? We cannot really know what the word “happiness” means, and still less what authentic values it covers; there is no way to measure the happiness of others, and it is always easy to call a situation that one would like to impose on others happy: in particular, we declare happy those condemned to stagnation, under the pretext that happiness is immobility. This is a notion, then, we will not refer to.

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

24 November 2014

Free-trader Vulgaris

The consumption of labour-power is completed, as in the case of every other commodity, outside the limits of the market or of the sphere of circulation. Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face “No admittance except on business.” Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.

This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the “common weal and in the interest of all.”

On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.

Karl Marx, Capital Vol.1 Ch.6

23 November 2014

nominalism is a doctrine that falls a bit short

Conceptualism has lost ground: biological and social sciences no longer believe there are immutably determined entities that define given characteristics like those of the woman, the Jew, or the black; science considers characteristics as secondary reactions to a situation. If there is no such thing today as femininity, it is because there never was. Does the word “woman,” then, have no content? It is what advocates of Enlightenment philosophy, rationalism, or nominalism vigorously assert: women are, among human beings, merely those who are arbitrarily designated by the word “woman”; American women in particular are inclined to think that woman as such no longer exists. If some backward individual still takes herself for a woman, her friends advise her to undergo psychoanalysis to get rid of this obsession. Referring to a book—a very irritating one at that—Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, Dorothy Parker wrote: “I cannot be fair about books that treat women as women. My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, whoever we are, should be considered as human beings.” But nominalism is a doctrine that falls a bit short; and it is easy for antifeminists to show that women are not men. Certainly woman like man is a human being; but such an assertion is abstract; the fact is that every concrete human being is always uniquely situated. To reject the notions of the eternal feminine, the black soul, or the Jewish character is not to deny that there are today Jews, blacks, or women: this denial is not a liberation for those concerned but an inauthentic flight. Clearly, no woman can claim without bad faith to be situated beyond her sex.

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

30 April 2014

a marvellous instrument for revealing talents

      [Despite the fact that strong demographic and economic growth rates improve social mobility, and therefore theoretically limit income inequality], one should be wary of the conventional wisdom that modern economic growth is a marvellous instrument for revealing individual talents and aptitudes. There is some truth in this view, but since the early nineteenth century it has all too often been used to justify inequalities of all sorts, no matter how great their magnitude and no matter what their real causes may be, while at the same time gracing the winners in the new industrial economy with every imaginable virtue. For instance, the liberal economist Charles Dunoyer, who served as a prefect under the July Monarchy, had this to say in his 1845 book De la liberté du travail (in which he of course expressed his opposition to any form of labor law or social legislation): “one consequence of the industrial regime is to destroy artificial inequalities, but this only highlights natural inequalities all the more clearly.” For Dunoyer, natural inequalities included differences in physical, intellectual, and moral capabilities, differences that were crucial to the new economy of growth and innovation that he saw wherever he looked. This was his reason for rejecting state intervention of any kind: “superior abilities . . . are the source of everything that is great and useful. . . . Reduce everything to equality and you will bring everything to a standstill.” One sometimes hears the same thought expressed today in the idea that the new information economy will allow the most talented individuals to increase their productivity many times over. The plain fact is that this argument is often used to justify extreme inequalities and to defend the privileges of the winners without much consideration for the losers, much less for the facts, and without any real effort to verify whether this very convenient principle can actually explain the changes we observe.  

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014: 84)

26 April 2014

a stabilization of inequality at an extremely high level

     The most striking fact of the day [in the nineteenth century] was the misery of the industrial proletariat. Despite the growth of the economy, or perhaps in part because of it, and because, as well, of the vast rural exodus owing to both population growth and increasing agricultural productivity, workers crowded into urban slums. The working day was long, and wages were very low. A new urban misery emerged, more visible, more shocking, and in some respects even more extreme than the rural misery of the Old Regime. Germinal, Oliver Twist, and Les Misérables did not spring from the imaginations of their authors, any more than did laws limiting child labor in factories to children older than eight (in France in 1841) or ten in the mines (in Britain in 1842). Dr. Villermé’s Tableau de l’état physique et moral des ouvriers employés dans les manufactures, published in France in 1840 (leading to the passage of a timid new child labor law in 1841), described the same sordid reality as The Condition of the Working Class in England, which Friedrich Engels published in 1845.
      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

philosophers, artists, saints

      More profoundly feeling people have at all times felt sympathy for the animals because they suffer from life and yet do not possess the power to turn the thorn of suffering against itself and to under­stand their existence metaphysically; one is, indeed, profoundly indignant at the sight of senseless suffering. That is why there has arisen in more than one part of the earth the supposition that the bodies of animals contain the guilt-laden souls of men, so that this suffering which at first sight arouses indignation on account of its senselessness acquires meaning and significance as punishment and atonement before the seat of eternal justice. And it is, truly, a harsh punishment thus to live as an animal, beset by hunger and desire yet incapable of any kind of reflection on the nature of this life; and no harder fate can be thought of than that of the beast of prey pursued through the wilderness by the most gnawing torment, rarely satisfied and even then in such a way that satisfaction is purchased only with the pain of lascerating combat with other animals or through inor­dinate greed and nauseating satiety. To hang on to life madly and blindly, with no higher aim than to hang on to it; not to know that or why one is being so heavily punished but, with the stupidity of a fear­ful desire, to thirst after precisely this punishment as though after happiness – that is what it means to be an animal; and if all nature presses towards man, it thereby intimates that man is necessary for the redemption of nature from the curse of the life of the animal, and that in him existence at last holds up before itself a mirror in which life appears no longer senseless but in its metaphysical significance. Yet let us reflect: where does the animal cease, where does man begin? – man, who is nature's sole concern! As long as anyone desires life as he desires happiness he has not yet raised his eyes above the horizon of the animal, for he only desires more con­sciously what the animal seeks through blind impulse. But that is what we all do for the greater part of our lives: usually we fail to emerge out of animality, we ourselves are the animals whose suffering seems to be senseless.
      But there are moments when we realize this : then the clouds are rent asunder, and we see that, in common with all nature, we are pressing towards man as towards something that stands high above us. In this sudden illumination we gaze around us and behind us with a shudder: we behold the more subtle beasts of prey and there we are in the midst of them. The tremendous coming and going of men on the great wilderness of the earth, their founding of cities and states, their wars, their restless assembling and scattering again, their confused mingling, mutual imitation, mutual outwitting and downtreading, their wailing in distress, their howls of joy in victory – all this is a con­tinuation of animality: as though man was to be deliberately retro­gressed and defrauded of his metaphysical disposition, indeed as though nature, after having desired and worked at man for so long, now drew back from him in fear and preferred to return to the unconsciousness of instinct. Nature needs knowledge and it is terrified of the knowledge it has need of; and so the flame flickers restlessly back and forth as though afraid of itself and seizes upon a thousand things before it seizes upon that on account of which nature needs knowledge at all. In individual moments we all know how the most elaborate arrangements of our life are made only so as to flee from the tasks we actually ought to be performing, how we would like to hide our head somewhere as though our hundred­ eyed conscience could not find us out there, how we hasten to give our heart to the state, to money-making, to sociability or science merely so as no longer to possess it ourselves, how we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sus­tain our life because to us it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself; universal too is the shy concealment of this haste because everyone wants to seem content and would like to deceive more sharp-eyed observers as to the wretchedness he feels; and also universal is the need for new tinkling word-bells to hang upon life and so bestow upon it an air of noisy festivity. Everyone is familiar with the strange condition in which unpleasant memories suddenly assert themselves and we then make great efforts, through vehement noise and gestures, to banish them from our minds: but the noise and gestures which are going on everywhere reveal that we are all in such a condition all the time, that we live in fear of memory and of turning inward. But what is it that assails us so frequently, what is the gnat that will not let us sleep? There are spirits all around us, every moment of our life wants to say something to us, but we refuse to listen to these spirit-voices. We are afraid that when we are alone and quiet something will be whispered into our ear, and so we hate quietness and deafen ourselves with sociability.
       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

Deception in humiliation

– Through your irrationality you have inflicted profound suffering on your neighbor and have destroyed an irretrievable happiness – and now you overcome your vanity sufficiently to go to him; you humble yourself ­before him, expose your irrationality to his contempt, and be­lieve that after this difficult, and for you extremely burden­some scene, everything has basically been put to rights – your voluntary loss of honor evens out the other's involuntary loss of happiness: in this feeling you walk away uplifted and re­stored to your virtue. But the other has his profound suffering just the same; for him there is nothing at all comforting in the fact that you are irrational and have admitted it; even the mor­tifying sight you presented to him as you expressed to his face your contempt for yourself he experiences as a fresh injury for which he has you to thank – but he does not contemplate re­venge nor does he grasp how anything between you and him could be evened out. Basically you performed that scene before, and for yourself: you had invited a witness to it, once again for your own sake and not for his – don't deceive yourself!

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn 219

04 February 2014

in a world where a man can be merely a thing

     Sacrifice restores to the sacred world that which servile use has degraded, rendered profane. Servile use has made a thing (an object) of that which, in a deep sense, is of the same nature as the subject, is in a relation of intimate participation with the subject. It is not necessary that the sacrifice actually destroy the animal or plant of which man had to make a thing for his use. They must at least be destroyed as things, that is, insofar as they have become things. Destruction is the best means of negating a utilitarian rela­tion between man and the animal or plant. But it rarely goes to the point of holocaust. It is enough that the consumption of the offerings, or the communion, has a meaning that is not reducible to the shared ingestion of food. The victim of the sacrifice can­ not be consumed in the same way as a motor uses fuel. What the ritual has the virtue of rediscovering is the intimate participation of the sacrificer and the victim, to which a servile use had put an end. The slave bound to labor and having become the property of another is a thing just as a work animal is a thing. The indi­vidual who employs the labor of his prisoner severs the tie that links him to his fellow man. He is not far from the moment when he will sell him. But the owner has not simply made a thing, a commodity, of this property. No one can make a thing of the sec­ond self that the slave is without at the same time estranging him­self from his own intimate being, without giving himself the limits of a thing.
     This should not be considered narrowly: There is no perfect operation, and neither the slave nor the master is entirely reduced to the order of things. The slave is a thing for the owner; he accepts this situation which he prefers to dying; he effectively loses part of his intimate value for himself, for it is not enough to be this or that: One also has to be for others. Similarly, for the slave the owner has ceased to be his fellow man; he is profoundly separated from him; even if his equals continue to see him as a man, even if he is still a man for others, he is now in a world where a man can be merely a thing. The same poverty then extends over human life as extends over the countryside if the weather is overcast. Over­cast weather, when the sun is filtered by the clouds and the play of light goes dim, appears to "reduce things to what they are." The error is obvious: What is before me is never anything less than the universe; the universe is not a thing and I am not at all mistaken when I see its brilliance in the sun. But if the sun is hidden I more clearly see the barn, the field, the hedgerow. I no longer see the splendor of the light that played over the barn; rather I see this barn or this hedgerow like a screen between the universe and me.
     In the same way, slavery brings into the world the absence of light that is the separate positing of each thing, reduced to the use that it has. Light, or brilliance, manifests the intimacy of life, that which life deeply is, which is perceived by the subject as being true to itself and as the transparency of the universe.
     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.
     In his strange myths, in his cruel rites, man is in search of a lost intimacy from the first.
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

a play of energy that no particular end limits

Minds accustomed to seeing the development of productive forces as the ideal end of activity refuse to recognize that energy, which constitutes wealth, must ultimately be spent lavishly (with­out return), and that a series of profitable operations has abso­lutely no other effect than the squandering of profits. To affirm that it is necessary to dissipate a substantial portion of energy produced, sending it up in smoke, is to go against judgments that form the basis of a rational economy. We know cases where wealth has had to be destroyed (coffee thrown into the sea), but these scandals cannot reasonably be offered as examples to follow. They are the acknowledgment of an impotence, and no one could find in them the image and essence of wealth. Indeed, involuntary destruction (such as the disposal of coffee overboard) has in every case the meaning of failure; it is experienced as a misfortune; in no way can it be presented as desirable. And yet it is the type of operation without which there is no solution. When one considers the totality of productive wealth on the sur­face of the globe, it is evident that the products of this wealth can be employed for productive ends only insofar as the living organism that is economic mankind can increase its equipment. This is not entirely - neither always nor indefinitely - possible. A surplus must be dissipated through deficit operations: The final dissipation cannot fail to carry out the movement that animates terrestrial energy. 
      … Economic activity, considered as a whole, is conceived in terms of particular operations with limited ends. The mind generalizes by composing the aggregate of these operations. Economic science merely generalizes the iso­lated situation; it restricts its object to operations carried out with a view to a limited end, that of economic man. It does not take into consideration a play of energy that no particular end limits: the play of living matter in general, involved in the movement of light of which it is the result. On the surface of the globe, for living matter in general, energy is always in excess; the question is always posed in terms of extravagance. The choice is limited to how the wealth is to be squandered. It is to the particular living being, or to limited populations of living beings, that the prob­lem of necessity presents itself. But man is not just the separate being that contends with the living world and with other men for his share of resources. The general movement of exudation (of waste) of living matter impels him, and he cannot stop it; moreover, being at the summit, his sovereignty in the living world iden­tifies him with this movement; it destines him, in a privileged way, to that glorious operation, to useless consumption. If he denies this, as he is constantly urged to do by the consciousness of a necessity, of an indigence inherent in separate beings (which are constantly short of resources, which are nothing but eternally needy individuals), his denial does not alter the global movement of energy in the least: the latter cannot accumulate limitlessly in the productive forces; eventually, like a river into the sea, it is bound to escape us and be lost to us. 
      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.
Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share Vol. 1 (1988: 22-3)

On the natural history of duty and right

Our duties – these are the rights others have over us. How did they acquire them? In that they assumed us capable of contract and requital, in that they took us to be similar and equal to themselves and, as a result, entrusted us with something, educated, reproved, and supported us. We fulfill our duty – that is to say: we vindicate that conception of our power according to which everything was bestowed upon us, we give back in the same measure as was given to us. It is thus our pride that bids us do our duty –whenever we counter something others did for us with something we do for them, we are seeking to reestablish our own majesty of self – for with their deeds those others have intervened in our sphere of power and would continually have their hand in it if we did not practice, in the form of "duty," a counter-requital, in other words, an invasion into their power. The rights of others can refer only to what lies within our power; it would be irrational if they wanted something from us that did not belong to us proper. More precisely, one must say: only to what they believe lies within our power, assuming it is something we believe also lies within our power. The same error could easily exist on both sides: the feeling of duty re­sults from our having the same belief as everyone else regard­ing the extent of our power: namely, that we are capable of promising certain things and of obligating ourselves to them ("free will"). – My rights: these are that part of my power that others not only have conceded to me but also wish me to maintain. How do these others come to such a point? First: through their prudence and fear and circumspection: maybe they expect something similar from us in return (protection of their rights), maybe they consider a battle with us to be dan­gerous or inexpedient, maybe they view every diminution of our strength as a disadvantage because we then become un­suitable as an alliance with them against a hostile third power. Then: through donation and cession. In this case the others have enough, and more than enough, power to be able to sur­render some of it and to vouchsafe him to whom they donated the surrendered portion: one presumes thereby an inferior feel­ing of power on the part of the person who permits himself to receive the donation. Thus do rights arise: as recognized and guaranteed degrees of power. The moment power relation­ships shift significantly, rights disappear and new ones are established – as is evidenced in the perpetual disintegration and re-formation of rights among nations. The moment our power decreases significantly there occurs an alteration in the sentiment of those who have heretofore guaranteed our power: they calculate whether they can restore us to our former plenitude – if they don't feel in a position to do so, then from that point on they disavow our "rights." Likewise, if our power increases considerably, there occurs an alteration in the senti­ment of those who heretofore acknowledged it and whose ac­knowledgment we no longer need: no doubt they attempt to suppress our power to its former dimension; they will want to intervene and in the process they appeal to their "duty," – but that is merely useless verbiage. Wherever a right prevails, a con­dition and degree of power are being maintained, a decrease and increase being averted. The rights of others constitute a concession by our feeling of power to the feeling of power of these others. If our power appears to be profoundly shaken and broken, then our rights cease to exist: on the other hand, if we have become much more powerful, the rights of others such as we have conceded them heretofore cease to exist for us. The "fair-minded" person constantly requires the subtle tact of a balance: in order to weigh the degrees of power and right, which, given the transitory nature of human affairs, will in­ variably remain suspended in equilibrium only for a short time, but for the most part will sink or rise: consequently, to be fair­ minded is difficult and demands a lot of practice, [a lot of] good will, and a whole lot of very fine spirit.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn 112

Against definitions of moral goals

Everywhere these days one hears the goal of morality defined more or less as follows: it is the preserving and advancing of humanity; but this amounts to a desire for a formula and nothing more. Preserv­ing what?, one must immediately counter, advancing where? Hasn't precisely the essential thing, the answer to this "What?" and "Where?" been left out of the formula? So what, then, can it contribute to the instruction of what our duty is other than what currently passes, tacitly and thoughtlessly, as already established? Can one discern sufficiently from the formula whether we ought to aim for the longest possible existence for humanity? Or the greatest possible de-animalization of humanity? How different in each case the means, in other words, practical morality, would have to be! Suppose one wanted to supply humanity with the highest possible degree of rational­ity: this would certainly not mean vouchsafing it its greatest possible longevity! Or suppose one thought of its "highest happiness" as the "What" and "Where": does that mean the greatest degree individual persons could gradually attain? Or a, by the way, utterly incalculable, yet ultimately attained average­ bliss for everyone? And why is precisely morality supposed to be the way to get there? Hasn't morality, on the whole, opened up such abundant sources of displeasure that one could sooner judge that, heretofore, with every refinement in morality, hu­man beings have grown more and more dissatisfied with themselves, their neighbor, and their lot? Hasn't the most moral person up to now been of the belief that, in the face of moral­ity, the only legitimate human condition is one of profoundest misery?

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn 106

20 January 2014

in the depths all becomes law

Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments. Men have made even eating into something else: want on the one hand, superfluity upon the other, have dimmed the distinctness of this need, and all the deep, simple necessities in which life renews itself have become similarly dulled. But the individual can clarify them for himself and live them clearly (and if not the individual, who is too dependent, then at least the solitary man). He can remember that all beauty in animals and plants is a quiet enduring form of love and longing, and he can see animals, as he sees plants, patiently and willingly uniting and increasing and growing, not out of physical delight, not out of physical suffering, but bowing to necessities that are greater than pleasure and pain and more powerful than will and withstanding. O that man might take this secret, of which the world is full even to its littlest things, more humbly to himself and bear it, endure it, more seriously and feel how terribly difficult it is, instead of taking it lightly. That he might be more reverent toward his fruitfulness, which is but one, whether it seems mental or physical; for intellectual creation too springs from the physical, is of one nature with it and only like a gentler, more ecstatic and more everlasting repetition of physical delight. "The thought of being creator, of procreating, of making" is nothing without its continuous great confirmation and realization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold concordance from things and animals - and enjoyment of it is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is full of inherited memories of the begetting and the bearing of millions. In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love revive, filling it with sublimity and exaltation. And those who come together in the night and are entwined in rocking delight do an earnest work and gather sweetnesses, gather depth and strength for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to speak of ecstasies beyond telling. And they call up the future; and though they err and embrace blindly, the future comes all the same, a new human being rises up, and on the ground of that chance which here seems consummated, awakes the law by which a resistant vigorous seed forces its way through to the egg-cell that moves open toward it. Do not be bewildered by the surfaces; in the depths all becomes law. And those who live the secret wrong and badly (and they are very many), lose it only for themselves and still hand it on, like a sealed letter, without knowing it. And do not be confused by the multiplicity of names and the complexity of cases. Perhaps over all there is a great motherhood, as common longing. The beauty of the virgin, a being that "has not yet achieved anything," is motherhood that begins to sense Itself and to prepare, anxious and yearning. And the mother's beauty is ministering motherhood, and in the old woman there is a great remembering. And even in the man there is motherhood, it seems to me, physical and spiritual; his procreating is also a kind of giving birth, and giving birth it is when he creates out of inmost fullness. And perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings, in order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that has been laid upon them.

Rainer Maria Rilke, in On Love and Other Difficulties (1975: 41-3)

22 August 2013

by virtue of the absurd

     It is said that faith is needed in order to renounce everything. Indeed, one hears what is even more curious: a person laments that he has lost his faith, and when a check is made to see where he is on the scale, curiously enough, he has only reached the point where he is to make the infinite movement of resignation. Through resignation I renounce everything. I make this movement all by myself, and if I do not make it, it is because I am too cowardly and soft and devoid of enthusiasm and do not feel the significance of the high dignity assigned to every human being, to be his own censor, which is far more exalted than to be the censor general of the whole Roman republic. This movement I make all by myself, and what I gain thereby is my eternal consciousness in blessed harmony with my love for the eternal being. By faith I do not renounce anything; on the contrary, by faith I receive everything exactly in the sense in which it is said that one who has faith like a mustard seed can move mountains. It takes a purely human courage to renounce the whole temporal realm in order to gain eternity, but this I do gain and in all eternity can never renounce—it is a self-contradiction. But it takes a paradoxical and humble courage to grasp the whole temporal realm now by virtue of the absurd, and this is the courage of faith. By faith Abraham did not renounce Isaac, but by faith Abraham received Isaac. By virtue of resignation, that rich young man should have given away everything, but if he had done so, then the knight of faith would have said to him: By virtue of the absurd, you will get every penny back again—believe it! And the formerly rich young man should by no means treat these words lightly, for if he were to give away his possessions because he is bored with them, then his resignation would not amount to much.
     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)