Taxes, Death, and Lacan

I’m not often drawn to the Lacanian reading of things. There are a few reasons for this, none of which approach anything like a refutation of Lacan. I always feel that I’m not particularly interested at present, but that some day I will be. Anyway, for someone who does Lacan well, I’d refer you to Levi Bryant, who, in terms of raw IQ, is pretty much unrivaled in his field.

Still, I can’t help but think there’s something Lacanny about the current national debate around facts, which, after the Comet Ping Pong shooting and the CIA’s findings about Russian mischief, appears poised to upend the sustaining illusion of our nationhood. What follows is not a Lacanian reading, but Lacanny conjecture.

comet3-647x485

It begins, perhaps, with the argument over climate change. That was the first major clash between basic science and politics. Religion and science had of course clashed before that, and those clashes inevitably spilled over onto politics; but if there is religious opposition to the science of climate change, it is because the politics of climate change denial has spill out onto religion, not the other way around. In any case, climate change denial is not an article of faith for most sects.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Shut Eye vor My Big Fat Gypsy Mess

Te tu kamlan o film Thinner, apa, kam volis o programmo Shut Eye. Kako shon kam avel nevo programmo pe Hulu kaj bushol Shut Eye pa duzhmane Rromende kaj traijen sar i Mafia. Chaches, si o bersh 2017. Offensivno? Oh yeah. Numa nashti ma jertisarav le bilasho skrimos. Mustaj man te phenav: o skrimos si o chacho dosh.

hulu-shut-eye

Chaches, me dikhlem o Jeffery Donovan ando programmo Burn Notice taj me kamlem leste. O dondalo actor butivar ankerel versogodi mishto kering leski butchi, numa chi dashtisailo te azhutil kakalo khulalo programmo. Maj ekh data, o skrimos strashno lo. O Leslie Bohem (ironic nav) ramosardyas o Shut Eye, taj fal ma ke wov kerdjas lesko “research” katar e lila King of the Gypsies aj Hastened to the Grave finke sa Rromane swata te e Rroma den vorbi si “buzho,” “amraja,” “love,” aj “gazhe.” Chi ashunlem nikon kaj phenel kukole swata “buzho” vor “amraja.” Numa butivar dikhodol kukole swata ande kadale lila. Vi kanagodi won phenen “gazhe,” won phenen “gazhe” vash jekh mush taj vi but zhene. Sode pharo te pokinel ekh chacho Rrom kaj del duma Rromanes te sikjavel lenge? Naj Hulu dosta love?

I familia po programmo bushol o Marks. Maj ekh data, o Bohem ljas lesko “research” katar Hastened to the Grave. Obviously. Po jekh episode, i puridej (Isabella Rosellini) shindyas ekh “M” la fatsa ekh raklyatar. Kon kerel kodja? Nadiv ma ke i chachi familia Marks keren lawsuit protiv le Hulu. Si chachimos ke won dashtin te keren kodja finke naj Rroma zor taj naj Rroma glaso taj naj Rroma love. Marks, arakhes Marx.

So maj bilasho kodo: Nikon mashkar la media (Dikh) prindjarel ke kodo programmo akushine chache zhene. Sostar ashunas “Naj bisteran” kana si antisemitism, numa kana si antitziganism, won prosto bisteren? Numa sar shaj seres ekh zhene kaj bichacho?

English readers: Please email me at nroderic@lourdes.edu  if you’d like a translation of my review.

The Onion or NYT Op-ed?

Columbia professor who sabbaticaled in France for a year reports that Europeans take a much more nuanced approach to things.

Take a look.

I am well aware of the excesses of so-called identity liberalism; but out here in the provinces, it is not just a play thing of the bored, hyper-privileged kids who populate Professor Lilla’s classroom (who will be fine no matter what they look like, no matter who is president). Out here, being black and female and gay and poor and Muslim still burns white hot with political energy. Identity politics was not the undoing of the Clinton campaign, but perhaps the failure to address geographical identity was. Lilla is from Detroit. He should know better.

Žižeks will be Žižeks…

Well now you’ve gone and endorsed Trump. Forty whacks with a wet noodle, you lil’ rascal.

230px-slavoj_zizek_in_liverpool_croppedSlavoj Žižek’s recent thoughts on the U.S. presidential race have made him some new friends at Breitbart, outraged others, and made the rest of us do the Lucille Bluth eye roll (see “Martha Stewart Needs to Get Somewhere…“). It has also revived the old discussion about the decline of the public intellectual.

Quartz‘s Olivia Goldhill has offered a particularly thoughtful piece on the subject, arguing that Žižek’s recent pronouncement is the latest sign that philosophy has become so decadent and insular that it has lost sight of its purpose entirely. As we re-adjudicate the matter of the public intellectual in contemporary culture, we are likely to, as Goldhill does, invoke past greats like Sartre, Camus, Arendt, and Foucault. And it’s true that when it comes to public intellectuals, they don’t make ’em like they used to.

But I would urge caution before laying the problem entirely at academic philosophy’s feet. To do so is to misunderstand the relationship between the philosopher and the public intellectual. When the likes of Arendt and Foucault were asked to talk in a public forum about social issues, they were not being asked to ‘do philosophy’ in a public forum. Rather, they were asked to give their opinions on social issues because they had done important philosophical work elsewhere. Their importance as philosophers translated into credibility as public thinkers. This is not the same thing as doing philosophy in public. You can see this division most clearly in the work of Noam Chomsky, who is the last living public intellectual of that previous era (although I think Chomsky has always adhered to the division too strictly).

Part of Žižek’s problem is that he has built his brand on philosophical readings of pop culture so that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether he is philosophizing, publicly opining, or just performing.  Actually, I don’t think that’s a problem in and of itself because he has made some really significant philosophical contributions that way. The point is that Žižek is a difficult figure not because of the philosophy he actually does in the public but because he does philosophy in the public at all. That’s the part that doesn’t fit the mold of the public intellectual.

As for his stupidity and naive nihilism regarding a President Trump, I chalk that up to the perils of academic superstardom. He’s been surrounded by sycophants for so long (and academics can be champion sycophants) telling him that everything he says is brilliant and revolutionary that he sometimes believes it himself. It’s precisely why Jerry Seinfeld is no longer funny.

So yes, philosophy has become decadent and insular. There are some really good philosophers out there working on that problem as we speak. But the decline of the public intellectual also has to be an indictment of the public itself. At best, people with advanced degrees in Philosophy (or any of the Humanities for that matter) are considered vestigial organs, and and worst, they are the First Estate circa 1789…or perhaps the last druids hold up on Anglesey.

We seem much more content listening to the public opinions of people who only make opinions for a living. That’s the real death of the public intellectual.

 

 

Programmed to Self-Obstruct

ryanmcconnell

I’m writing this about an hour before the third and final debate of this sordid presidential campaign, and it is resoundingly clear that no matter how well Trump does to clear the decumbent bar the country has set for him, the republicans are thinking past him.  The watch-phrase of this final month is “checks and balances,” as in checking what might be a sizable mandate for Hilary Clinton.  Translation: Ramp up the obstruction.

Democrats, on the other hand, are allowing themselves to hope for the first time in a while.  There were at first whispers of a Senate win, and now they’re speaking quite loudly about taking the House. But I wonder how much it will matter even if they do get what they want. This is not me furthering that obnoxious American habit of equivocating everything in politics, dismissing both parties as corrupt and useless (I always suspect those people just end up voting republican in secret). Democrats are disappointing, but republicans are worse. What I worry about is the possibility that the institution of congress has grown so moribund that no change in leadership will be able save it.

When I hear the recent talk of “checks and balances,” I get taken back to October 2010, when republicans were poised for a massive win in the House. Conservatives at that time talked about checks and balances against Obama, but even centerists and liberals were capable of seeing a silver lining. The prevailing argument in those camps was that if the republicans did take the House, then they could no longer continue to act as petulant children. They would have to take some responsibility for governing the nation. But we know what happened. The dysfunction didn’t just get worse; it got fully institutionalized.

Congress has always been a favorite punching bag for Americans. It’s the branch of the federal government which comes closest to direct democracy, and it’s inherently messy. But it’s never been this close to not functioning at all. We know the reasons why: the persistent, racist denial of Obama’s legitimacy; intensive post-2010 gerrymandering; turning voter suppression into a science; the emergence of the automatic filibuster. In fact, I think the first sign of total collapse will be when a piece of legislation hits the Senate floor without being filibustered–the filibuster being so automatic that everyone forgets to actually invoke it. These measures were introduced as a virus, meant to crash the Obama program. But it is looking like this bug has now become the distinguishing feature of whole operating system.

My concern is that a shift in party control, even if accompanied by wave of good natured bipartisanship sweeping across the aisles, may not matter much. Even if the democrats take control of congress, the right may still be the most active force in government. This is because the post-Obama right wing agenda is nihilism, and the method is entropy. If your goal is the annihilation of public institutions, then all you have to do to win is let them disintegrate. To do this, you needn’t negotiate and persuade; just obstruct. And if the operating system is already programmed to self-obstruct, you need only sit back and watch it happen.

The consequences of this virus in the operating system are already visible. The burden of legislation is falling on the executive and judicial branches. But the virus is now crashing the judicial OS, meaning that power is becoming ever more concentrated in the executive branch. We already have an oligarchy, but we are slouching towards autocracy. Checks and balances indeed.

What to do about this? I’m not sure. Move to a parliamentary system? Learn to stop worrying and love the virus?

 

 

 

Mylan and Dr. Malcolm

8322ae15a720c0c5007aff080fb87eb2

Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park), one of the great characters in pop-fiction/film, couldn’t have said it better:

If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now your selling it.  You wanna sell it…

Malcolm was talking about making dinosaurs, but it could just as easily be said about Mylan’s jacking up the price on Epipen when it found out a generic was going to be allowed. This action is going to cause a lot of immediate pain. The callousness of companies like Mylan is morally reprehensible. But this particular company’s profiteering is just part of the rot. The underlying rot is the capitalization of intellectual property, the buying and selling of patents on the open market.

Why should we expect Mylan or Turing or anybody else in big pharma to have any moral investment in the drugs they sell? They didn’t, as Malcolm said, earn the knowledge for themselves, so of course they take no responsibility for it.

Suggested reading: Philip Mirowski’s Science-Mart.

   

Zizek on Populism

I recently came across Zizek’s (with apologies for the inappropriate orthography) post on The Philosophical Salon, in which he defends himself from tweeters and comment sectioners. I’m not terribly interested in the specifics of his rebuttal, except to say that it’s a fascinating state of affairs when the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift seem far better equipped to defend themselves than Slavoj Zizek. “The medium is the massage” and all that.

As always, though, Zizek has a way of turning the perfectly intuitive into something worth arguing.  I’m referring to the following passage from Part Two of his defense:

The stance that sustains these tweet rejoinders is a mixture of self-righteous Political Correctness and brutal sarcasm: the moment anything that sounds problematic is perceived, a reply is automatically triggered—usually a PC commonplace. Although critics like to emphasize how they reject normativity (“the imposed heterosexual norm,” etc.), their stance itself is one of ruthless normativity, denouncing every minimal deviation from the PC dogma as “transphobia,” or “Fascism,” or whatever. Such a tweet culture, combining official tolerance and openness with extreme intolerance towards actually different views, simply renders critical thinking impossible.

Again, I have nothing to say about the specifics of this, as I have neither the expertise nor the ethos. But in general terms, he points to something I’ve been struggling with for a while: How does one separate an authentic political movement from just another iteration of populism? Although populism goes hand-in-hand with reactionary thinking and so mostly afflicts those who identify with the Right, that’s not always the case. Badiou has devoted much of his career to figuring how to draw the distinction between a properly transformative Event and a reactionary episode. However, Zizek points to something much simpler. Perhaps populism is just a multitude with an orthodoxy (which of course is a contradiction).

Or maybe I’m just looking to preserve my own ego, for instance, for having been a wheaty Bernie Sanders supporter without being a chaffy BernieBro.

YES YOU WILL

103810408-ap_395507481801-530x298

Republicans spent the first few nights of their convention warming the cockles of their Republican hearts: Obama wants to take away your guns and give them to ‘illegal aliens’ so they can shoot your children. Obama is trying to atone for America’s greatness by giving Iran nuclear weapons so they can destroy Israel. Hillary personally issued a ‘stand down’ order at Benghazi because she wanted to respect the cultural sensitivities of the terrorists.

I’m of course making stuff up.  But so were they.

Still, none of what was said in those first nights was new. And it’s not as if that stuff was only introduced with the Trump campaign.  Republican leaders have been dealing that ideological cocaine for decades. The only difference now is how many of them are actually high on their own supply. The really new and surprising stuff came on the last night of the convention. Before the man himself got up on stage to bring us all back to a comfortable level of fear and acrimony, the night’s speeches read like a progressive’s wish list: paid maternity leave, equal pay for women, holding corporations accountable for bad behavior. The list goes on.

People have been decrying the fascistic tendencies of the Trump campaign since its golden escalator rollout a year ago. But I’m not sure it truly hit me until I heard last night’s progressive themes. It’s quite possible that those speeches were just a cynical play for the Bernie Sanders vote. On the other hand, it might be that the Trump crowd actually wants those things. And, strangely enough, that thought scares me even more. It scares me because those are all things that are nearly impossible to get outside the workings of a civil society…or, variously, a big government. Sure you could expand the police state to root out undocumented workers and other undesirables, but you need regulations and bureaucracy to ensure something like paid family leave–you know, like the kind they have in that post-apocalyptic hellscape, Sweden.

But these people have lost all faith in the ability of civil society to make life better for them. It is not just that civil society is corrupt and ineffective at the moment; civil society is, for them, inherently rotten and weak. I’m happy to discuss radical alternatives like Autonomist Marxism, but I get the feeling the Trump crowd is not at present considering those alternatives. The only other alternative within the limits of their imagination is to get the things they want through the will of an individual.

In other words, we might have finally come to our Hobbes vs. Rousseau moment, and it goes way beyond the ballots people punch in this November’s election. It’s about a decision on our national ethos: YES WE CAN vs. YES YOU WILL. I know what I heard last night.

 

Seras le Elie Wiesel, sar wov serdas

 

Si kanagodi bilasho te del vorbis chorres pe mulende, mai kana o mulo sas ekh Nobel laureate, kaske vorbe, mai but ke fersave, delas la lumjake maturo ke mai baro beng ande manushikane historia.  Numa vi sa peske zor i sa peske lashimos, sas maturo biperfekto.  O Wiesel delas leske zurale literakani i rhetorikani butchi, kusa lesko zuralo ethos, nai feri kaste e lumja chi bisterel le Porrajmos, numa kaste e lumja serel le Porrajmos vi purposa.  Chi zhanav kai kerelas le phraso “Never Again,” numa trobul te thol ekh faca angla peste, kam avel faca le Wiesel.  Ke le Wieselske, “Never Again,” mothol nai palo karingodi–ande Bosnia, ande Rwanda, vor ando Darfur.  Deke, si sostar Wieseleske legacia le Rromensa del mange but pushimata tai but problema.

Continue reading

Remembering Elie Wiesel Remembering

 

 

It’s never good form to speak ill of the dead, especially when the dead is a Nobel laureate whose words, more than anyone else’s, gave the generations a witness to the worst evil in human history.  But for all of its power and all the immeasurable good it has done through the years, Wiesel’s witness was an imperfect one.  Wiesel dedicated his incomparable literary and rhetorical skills, along with his undeniable ethos, not just to making sure the world never forgot the Holocaust for its own horrors, but also to guaranteeing that the world would remember those horrors with purpose.  It’s not exactly clear who coined the phrase “Never Again,” but if you had to put a face to the phrase, that face would most likely be Wiesel’s.  For Wiesel, “Never Again” meant never again anywhere, whether it be Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur.  And that’s why Wiesel’s legacy with regards to the Roma is so confounding, if not troubling.

Continue reading