Monday, 15 August 2011
just be nuts and lay (it) down
In the last twenty days, I have finished reading books and essays from Lenin, Gramsci, Walter Benjamin, Freud and Chuang Tzu. This is quite a heavy mix for the mind and as a result I will blurt out the little conclusions I can come to when thinking about our present times using as an inspiration what they have written a bit less than a hundred years ago ( except for Chuang Tzu).
To start with a joke, my conclusion with these authors is that I agree with Habermas when he states that the Enlightment was a halfway done job. (Drums) These authors did not help my sense of humor, I know. Anyway, I actually disagree with Habermas to some extent. I think the first point to make is that Enlightment had never started and could never end. It rather got expanded through the Korean invention of print (take that euro-centrics!) and its quasi-democratisation in Europe ( oooooh :'( ) I say quasi because depending of the countries, censure would heavily exist or be ineffective.
The development and circulation of literature and ideas brought the reverence of eternal arts to the home of everybody. Indeed, books, unlike conversations, can be read and re-read at leisure to find new ideas in new lectures or confirm old ideas. The mind has changed there onwards. Religious clerks, the little priests from the countryside, were not the sole people to hold the cultish ideal of the Word in their hands, but the whole village could have it. Everybody could read, or look at pictures and it did not have this special ideal of being the sole power of the church or the few chosen intellectuals to states possible answers to big questions. It was the not the business of the aristocracy anymore, but also of a rising bourgeoisie and at some point, even the proletariat were allowed the skills to read.
It was not enough to emancipate the world, but it was enough to destroy some institutions that relied upon the lack of capacity of the people to reach informations. Notably, the Catholic Church soldiers could not wander in their ways and sell VIP tickets to heaven anymore. Would Martin Luther not have told them, someone else surely would have come along and tell them something in those lines, as nowhere in the holy printed book does it say that VIP tickets could be sold by Peter's descendents. The print made the people who read realize how much of a scam the Catholic Church was and, though rituals are important in the sense that they commemorate knowledge that should not be forgotten acquired by humanity, liberated us from this institution.
Of course, people did not have much to read at the time. That was an important factor. The Bible was the super-ego of society, in the sense that it dictated the rules of society or unto which society ought to abide by. Violence was only the repress sense of guilt of the non-following of these rules. That is why Christian society was as violent as any other society, and probably more, as the rules set by Jesus can be hard to understand and follow. He did indeed set a more than conflicted super-ego, creating a society that did no know whether it should let its instinct go wild or its reason. Secular versus Eternal, Kings against Popes, represents the internal conflict of the mind on a societal scale.
And society became neurotic a little bit when came the Protestants. Why do I say such a thing? Well first of all, we can observe the internal tension and masochism of civil tensions and exterminations of unbalanced beings that cannot find an enemy outside, but rather punish themselves for not knowing who ought to be guilty. The massacre of the protestants, the catholics, the jews inside our own borders is again a societal psycho-pathology that can exist in an individual requiring rejection to feel that it has a judging father. An eternal god ready to set the rights and wrongs against our instinctive will, something that will be there before and after our mind, to be sure that we exist and we do not make everything up. We did not know what was right from wrong anymore and everything was up for discussion. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is a public debate, which it was, between the forces in power. The unconscious though was stable. The main population knew its place. It was a repressed part of society, the most important part repressed, and represented what should never be in power if we would have to be civilized, except if it could sublime itself.
Wait a second, it does not seem like society was neurotic, and it seems I am with such writing. Well, both can be true and false. I can represent the state of society as it is now as I am a mega-digester of artifacts, I do not hold one god, I do not have one father. And I know that values are laws and I do not know the laws.
So back to square one to make sense and make of this article a synopsis of my psycho-analysis, or rather the one of society. Print diluted at first the instinctive response to corrupt civilizing process on a large scale. Print made us realize that the Bible – the transformation of human nature into a sensible story- was not what our human nature transformed it into – the Catholic Church. So what happened is that we were both confronted with the realization that we had a human nature – every day's corruption of values- and we had a way out: the Bible. (I am talking only about Europe and an analysis of China could come later on, as for other civilizations, I do not hold enough knowledge – I could try Japan as it is an interesting counter-example of a strong unchanged super-ego).
The Bible did not seem to be enough. We did not like it and did not like the multiple interpretations and we were lost. We took it on ourself and so killed some of our neighbors. It was hard to be lost. And it was hard to be without a sense of what is right and what is wrong. So came the idea that we could write what is right and what is wrong and instead of following an oral tradition ( god bless the Hasidim) or a wise-men re-adapted word ( J.C. in da houze) we could make our own in a constantly evolving law. We mixed the idea of an eternal super-ego and a living-evolving ego.
It worked because people who got to make the laws were the people in power and they had a super-ego of their own in the fact that they possessed everything: eternal knowledge, philosophy and arts. By the way, whenever I use the word eternal, I use it only on a human phenomenological level, meaning that it means it will survive before and after my death. It makes me care for the world before and after me and I do not have to consider the idea that it exist only because I think it exists. Would I choose this later case; I could have gone on a Norwegian rampage with a Colt Peacemaker just for the cheer pleaser of looking like Clint.
So the bourgeoisies held in their hands education (the capacity to read books) and arts ( the ideology of the eternal), and they could make societies super-ego as their was no sense of right and wrong dictated by one single book anymore ( there was never actually a sense of right and wrong in the Bible, but god forbids we would read the book and get free as J.C. would have wanted us to be! - fuck John and his apocalypse). So they made up, to replace the idea of God on Earth (the Catholic Church), the Nation-State, which held a cult art, a cult history, a super-ego.
And it was good. Until the ego felt the need to kill that super-ego because it knew that the father was corrupted ( down with Chronos !) or it received a slap from the super-ego because the ego grew too fast. The slap was fascism and the war. It has to be said that the simple super-ego of most of the western world was really good between 1900 until the end of the 1930's. It was bound to go wrong as there was never as much international economic exchanges and such a spread of education. The masses indeed got to know what was unfair in the word through books and newspapers. They asked for system that had more justice for everybody. The practice of the law did not make the justice (go Kafka).
I realized that when I've learned this week that the most successful in term of votes American elections was the re-election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. in 1936 after he made this speech:
“...For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
Fear gets our instinct out if we do not have strong eternal injunctions. We forget yesterday's acquired knowledge and what we made of it. More than that, if democracy is the eternal psycho-analysis of our need to have a sense of guilt and shame for our dos and donts, we need to discuss constantly the foundation of our system of justice, of its origins or accept one once and for all and let the rest of our instinct go wild, but we cannot be in a in-between state.
Of course, the World War 2 was only a small catharsis and it was not over for our history. First of all, it has to be remembered that though some communist regimes were repressive, there economic system did work until the 70s. The 1970’s were the strange period of the world. It was the period where countries and civilizations were close to a break down. The USA got unto imperialism though discreet through shock therapy, Europe got to deal with itself and the different dictatorial system it still had, Russia lost their hope when they learned they could not get on the moon (it is still hard to believe we got there). I do not know why the Chinese accepted Deng Xiaoping reforms, except that they did not accept the repression of their human nature.
The idea is that art as it is, is the reproduction of our internal tensions. It works for an individual, but for society, art gets a position a priori and dictates whether the tensions have been accepted or not, they dictates or shows the commands we have chosen for ourselves, they represent the super-ego or its lack. Cinema and television represents a form of atheist polytheism where values are saturated, just like law can be, and our values are mixed up to make us a neurotic civilization.
We are back to square one and we can either accept that the super-ego and where it comes from is wrong, but we need then to know what it is and where it is from. Or we need to accept its slap, in the way the German and the Italians did, but understand that it won't last. We can observe that in both the sadomasochism is emerging as the Germans are the first one to hate them in the name of the ecosystem and the Italians are so as well in the sense that they constantly elect the mafia they used to abhor. As for the American, they have either too much super-ego, in the number of laws that cannot be accounted for or the lack of super-ego in their culture industry.
Freud said it so himself, it is not only the case to get rid of the super-ego that has been created in our civilization by the holders of the means of productions, and we have to build up our own super-ego and the constantly changing nature of the ego.
I will state I think what should be the lines unto which a civilization might want to adhere, without making a fuss of making it a cult, as cult have come to be as well the object of discussion and rebellions as every civilization feels sometimes like too much of oppressed teenagers. I will just outline what I want my super-ego to make me feel guilty about and internalize it without having to discuss it too much afterwards:
'And moreover men are liable to eight defects, and (the conduct of) affairs to four evils; of which we must by all means take account.
' 1 To take the management of affairs which do not concern him is called monopolising.
2 To bring forward a subject which no one regards is called loquacity.
3 To lead men on by speeches made to please them is called sycophancy.
4 To praise men without regard to right or wrong is called flattery.
5 To be fond of speaking of men's wickedness is called calumny.
6 To part friends and separate relatives is called mischievousness.
7 To praise a man deceitfully, or in the same way fix on him the character of being bad, is called depravity.
8 Without reference to their being good or bad, to agree with men with double face, in order to steal a knowledge of what they wish, is called being dangerous.
Those eight defects produce disorder among other men and injury to one's self. A superior man will not make a friend of one who has them, nor will an intelligent ruler make him his minister.
'To speak of what I called the four evils:
1 To be fond of conducting great affairs, changing and altering what is of long-standing, to obtain for one's self the reputation of meritorious service, is called ambition;
2 to claim all wisdom and intrude into affairs, encroaching on the work of others, and representing it as one's own, is called greediness;
3 to see his errors without changing them, and to go on more resolutely in his own way when remonstrated with, is called obstinacy;
4 when another agrees with himself, to approve of him, and, however good he may be, when he disagrees, to disapprove of him, is called boastful conceit.
These are the four evils. When one can put away the eight defects, and allow no course to the four evils, he begins to be capable of being taught.'
I chose those because I was confronted with them recently, they are not only stubborn to an ethic of moderation and they can be rules of national and international politics as much as rules for individuals. I have written for way too long now, and I need to print these rules for my desk. I did not want to take on any Christian interpretation because J.C. had too much faith in humanity to think that we can handle ourselves without fathers. We will have to come to term though with our conflicting nature ( Eros and Ananke; Instinct and civilization) as we will be the parents ourselves, soon enough, of artificial intelligence, and it would be sad to be horrible parents. I will leave you on a poem I came to love and love to hate:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
( Philip Larkin ; This be the verse)