Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

The Internet Is Not a Solution!

May 14, 2009

My previous post resulted in an ongoing conversation with Luna.  Rather than getting “worked up” over political problems such as countless numbers of dead civilians in Afghanistan, he suggests the solution is simply to opt out of the realm of politics. His alternative? An internet community of truth-seekers:

I’m putting together a group of people through the internet– people who are to some degree awakened, and who are willing to engage each other on the battleground of truth without resentment and, most importantly, with an open mind.

The thing is– it is very possible to, in some sense, ‘opt-out’ of our social contract. I stopped getting too worked up about American politics some time ago. The future isn’t Nations and States, and it’s okay just to let the clock wind down on its own rather than expending a lot of energy trying to hit it with a hammer.

As to these [post-national, trans-national] communities, I believe that they are nascent. There are strange and wonderful movements, the first gropings in the dark, the birth pangs of something powerful. When the printing press came about, the Kingdom fell. Now, we have the internet, and Linux is making user-friendly robust products that can compete with all but the highest-end products on the market; Wikipedia has ridiculous power as a collaborative project that has very little to do with the concept of nationality; and the creative commons movement in inspiring.

This answer, while eloquent, I think is ultimately bourgeois. Practically speaking I see little difference between it and diving into any of the other pre-packaged “lifestyles” or “niche markets”. Maybe, as a lifestyle, it’s more creative than a pre-made consumerist identity. But it’s still asking me to live inside an abstraction. In the end an abstraction is an abstraction, whether it’s mass produced by a corporation or hand-crafted by a Dionysion poet. Creating virtual worlds is not a solution to the “real world of horrible jobs”, as Dolores LaPicho puts it. And while the comfortably upper-middle class have the luxary of insulating themselves from reality, for the rest of us proles, the reality of horrible jobs, lack of healthcare, and war constantly and inevitably obtrudes on any “virtual community” we might try to construct. Even in the atomized social world of the 21st century, private life and public life are mutually entailing. Satisfaction of my private desires (even the desire for truth) does not occur in a vacuum, it occurs in the context of a socio-political arrangement.  “Opting out” is not an option.

Conceptually speaking, I agree with Luna that the nation-state is obsolete. But actually speaking, I still have to live with the reality of the nation-state and with a world dominated by the Spectacle of global capital. Even if I define myself as a Psychic Nomad, a Citizen of the World who does not identify with his nation, I still have to live with it. It’s not going away in my lifetime. And any truth that doesn’t address the real world of horrible jobs, is impotent, and not worthy of the name “truth”. Knowledge of truth can’t be divorced from action in the real world. As Wang Yangming put it, “To know, and not to do, is not to know.”

This goes back to why the political opposition is dead in the US. Earlier I bemoaned how the street protest has become little more than ritual symbolic action. It’s the same thing with the Internet. In the early days of the ‘net, there was a lot of optimistic talk about how it would become a tool for organizing and raising consciousness. Instead, it has become another diversion. It’s as bad as TV. Instead of taking action, we sit online and blog or sign internet petitions or send emails to Congress. Nothing is accomplished in real terms. Hypereality is Imperialism’s best friend, since it lets people have the illusion of change and dissent without actually accomplishing anything in reality. If anything, it provides a safe outlet: let people vent their anger and frustration virtually, and they will not attempt to do anything in reality. This is why I don’t buy the argument that we will be “saved” by digital communications technology: it’s already been subsumed by Empire. And this is why the Internet is not a solution.

Old school Marxists would rail against the religious establishment as promoting “pie in the sky, by and by“; thus indefinitely prolonging the Revolution by relegating it to an afterlife. For the same reason, I rail against the internet and its simulated stimuli. The only difference between religious opiates and digital opiates is that the former operates vertically (transcendentally) while the latter operates horizontally (immanently). But both seek to substitute an abstraction for an actuality.

In the end I suppose I’m playing Marx to Luna’s Nietzsche. This is also, I suspect, why he is going on to pursue Philosophy as a profession and I have chosen otherwise.


Newspeak and the War on Terror

May 4, 2009

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

– Confucius on the “Rectification of Names” (正名)

This is (somewhat) old news, but I don’t think this was given the amount of coverage it deserves:

The Obama administration appears to be backing away from the phrase “global war on terror,” a signature rhetorical legacy of its predecessor.

In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted thatthis administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please useOverseas Contingency Operation.’ ”

‘Global War on Terror’ Is Given New Name

The Orwellian distortion of language continues. It constantly amazes me how government officials, journalists, etc. are simply incapable of calling a spade a spade. Nobody ever talks about “wanton killing of civilians“. Instead, we talk about the “global war on terror” “overseas contingency operations”.

It must be understood that everybody running for public office in this country is a pathological liar, irregardless of their party affiliation.

Irregardless of the politically correct Newspeak, the war continues under Obama. It is absolutely vital that we do not confuse a change in terminology or even a change in leadership, for actual change in reality. George Orwell understood this very well when he wrote:

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Politics and the English Language

Confucius also understood this, even though he lived thousands of years ago:

Tsze-lu asked,
“If the Duke of Wei made you an advisor,
what would you address as the very first priority?”

Confucius replied,
“The most important thing
is to use the correct words.”
“What?” Tsze-lu replied.
“That’s your first priority? The right words?”

Confucius said,
“You really are simple, Yu.
The Sage keeps his mouth shut
when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!

“If we don’t use the correct words,
we live public lies.
If we live public lies,
the political system is a sham.

“When the political system is a sham,
civil order and refinement deteriorate.
When civil order and refinement deteriorate,
injustice multiplies.
As injustice multiplies,
eventually the electorate is paralyzed
by public lawlessness.

“So the Sage takes for granted that he use the appropriate words,
and follow through on his promises with the appropriate deeds.

“The Sage must simply never speak lies.”

The Analects, Book 13 Verse 3

Language is power. If we do not understand this, than that power can (and will) be used to bind us and blind us.

The Psychic Nomad Manifesto

April 22, 2009

What is a psychic nomad?

Very simply, the psychic nomad has no fixed frame of reference, no stable identity, no permanent home. Psychic nomadism is drifting across different mental and cultural “landscapes”. Physical nomadism can bring about psychic nomadism and vice versa; they are mutually reinforcing. People who travel extensively tend to become psychic nomads and psychic nomads, in turn, tend to travel extensively.

Psychic nomadism is subversive. From a Romantic perspective, the psychic nomad is a “citizen of the world”; from a Totalitarian perspective, the psychic nomad is a “rootless cosmopolitan” whose loyalty is always suspect.

Some people choose psychic nomadism, others have it thrust upon them by circumstances. Political refugees, who are unable to return to their homes, may find themselves forced into the role of psychic nomad. The state of exile itself becomes a home.

To some extent, all of us are psychic nomads. Psychic nomadism results from the experience of “everything solid melting into thin air.” The postmodern world makes Ulysses of us all, while denying the possibility of an Ithaca.

From one perspective, we might say that home is nowhere; from another, home is everywhere.

Psychic nomadism is ambiguous. It might refer to the mind’s tortured, aimless drift from object to object, commodity to commodity, without ever finding lasting satisfaction; or it might refer to the freedom from all fixed references, static illusions and rigid dogmas. Psychic nomadism can be a compulsive neurosis or a graceful dance. It can be samsara, but it can also be the “free and easy wandering” of Zhuangzi.

Our ancestors were nomads long before we invented agriculture and became sedentary. In some corners of the world, this way of life is still actively preserved, while in others one still finds echoes of a more nomadic time. In a strange way, the postmodern psychic nomad mimics the premodern hunter-gatherer.