Saturday, April 20, 2019

Authoritarianism vs Liberalism

Under two posts in August 2017 I wrote about the growing space between the politically strident Left and Right formations which might be an opening for a new Centrism: Libertarianism as Centrist ideology I also discussed a certain principle of convergence between the Alt-Left and Alt-Right which I characterized as "maternal politics" where the state is to take care of the righteous and pure ones: Left and Right and their maternal politics

Maybe this indicates that the political categories of Left and Right are becoming obsolete, but more accurately it is the case that they both fit neatly under a new Authoritarian formation. I think our current political factions are: Authoritarian and Liberal.

  • Authoritarianism = leftists (intersectional victimology) + rightists(ethno-nationalist victimology)
  • Liberalism = libertarians + statist liberals(*) + conservatives

Yes - indeed it seems that the old label of "liberal" should fit very well now. No need to call us centrists. The current problem in USA and many other Western countries is that the Liberals are unwilling to exercise power and defer political struggle to the various noisy Authoritarians. The weakness of the Authoritarian power is that it is divided and fighting internally - as for example the Trumpist Republicans with Clintonian Democrats, or Bernie supporters fighting with the sex-genderist victimologists. The danger is that a reaction to Authoritarian infighting and excesses could be unifying and lead to actual Fascism.

Why is it that the Liberal formation has trouble asserting itself in the current political climate? One reason is that it is a composition of ideologies that had not functioned together for a long time or perhaps never. Libertarians trust in individual freedom and in the right of individuals to act to solve their own and the society's problems. The statist liberals believe that the government has a significant organizing role in the economic and social life of the nation and a special mission to protect the weakest. Conservatives think that individuals deserve freedom only when they conform to norms of conduct (often enacted as legal limits) that have been historically proven to be beneficial to society. Classical liberals? -- I think they distribute themselves among all those groups.

How do we unify the Liberals - and that, in my view, also includes the conservatives and libertarians.
Let us note that the seeming strength of the Authoritarians is based on emotional arguments, which promote and create fragmenting forces and opens them to rational criticism. On the other hand, the Liberals can begin with rational arguments based on factual observations and objective judgment of the situation.

The way to achieve the unification of the Liberals is to blacklist certain issues - although dear to the Authoritarians - and assert that they are not worth fighting for - with rational justification why it is so. So Liberals should reject issues on this list:
  • patriarchy  - because not only men wield power
  • racism - because it is vestigial
  • sexism/gender - women and men are equally free under the law
  • anti-immigrant xenophobia - because US is a country of immigrants who want to become Americans (also its opposite pro-immigrant xenophilia)
  • oppression of groups of specific identity - see under racism
  • oppression by capitalist system - it is a system of voluntary participation in the economy
What issues should be deemed important?
  • US federal debt
  • incarceration levels and other criminal justice issues
  • drug war and criminalization of non-violent conduct
  • US foreign policy - with many issues of US and world security
  • federal interference with States' rights
  • regulation of free speech and surveillance by corporations on behalf of law enforcement  (relates to criminalization of non-violent conduct)

Special consideration needs to be given to the issue of climate change - which is a pet issue on the Left - in the authoritarian camp and in the liberal one as well. It is a valid issue - and there are problems with how it is currently raised. Climate change issue is not listed above as important because it does not rise to the level of catastrophic threat. The issues of US foreign policy and the mountain of debt present a more urgent threat.

(*) the term "statist liberals" sounds a bit unsavory to me, but, well, maybe it has to

Sunday, February 03, 2019

In defense of sexual freedom

Motto: Sexual relation is non-existent.

We are creatures of language. Unlike anything else in nature we depend on language to exist as a species and to survive as an individual. Most interestingly, we also depend on language to procreate.

We exist and survive as a species because of language.

How have we become so dependent on language? And why? Why do we always look at ourselves as the only viewpoint into the nature and never outwardly toward the possible? There are only partial answers as to why and how.

We live in language, we emit and receive signifiers. We are surrounded by signifiers. We use signifiers to get what we want and the signifiers tell us what we want.

As creatures of language we forget the limits of life. Language is immortal but we are not. Language tells us about our limit and that is why we use language to approach the limit.

There are two clear expressions of the limit of life: death and sex.

Approaching the limit is the jouissance, a Lacanian psychoanalytic concept meaning pleasure beyond pleasure, - and it aims beyond life and its destruction. It aims at what we desire and would die for. We would die for sex - but strangely enough - sex is usually a healthily survived trauma. Sex is like death - except in case of death no life follows. Sex is the rehearsal of death.

Both are approached with appropriate language. Without language they don't really exist - even death does not exist if undocumented by language. The signifiers designate its location in the space of human activity but do not determine its content.

Lacan says that sexual relation is non-existent. This is his perhaps facetious way of presenting the idea that our ordinary world is populated by signifiers - while the field of sex does not contain any. The field of sex is void of signifiers. And same thing goes for the actual death.

The main attraction of sex (as well as of suicide) is that we are giving ourselves to something that exhausts the world of signifiers, that makes the production of signifiers stop, that places us in the void. Our roads, paved with signifiers, end there. We go through the forest to the edge of a placid lake where monsters lurk. This is how sex is an experience of the limit.

Because in the sexual act the signifiers expire, the field of sex is left without any intrinsic defenses in the world where political powers can rise up to restrict it or otherwise encroach on it. The defense of sexual freedom is a very important and indeed a very delicate matter in the political world. Sexuality, as it were, cannot speak for itself - but can only be spoken for by its neighbors, who amply practice techniques of its approach, such as: hedonists, polyamorists, sex workers, sadomasochists. As such characters are hardly respectable in the circles of power, the defense of sexual freedom is a difficult balancing act. And since sex cannot really speak for itself these neighbor allies all speak about it in quite different language.

Quite often a justification of sexuality is attempted through a recourse to love by asserting that sex is an expression of love which is a higher feeling. This argument was used to shore up support for gay marriage. Yet it is weak and unsupported by deeper insight into either love or sex it sounds outright false to me. In my opinion love is not so much a higher feeling, but a force to be reckoned with while sexuality a mysterious enclave of human life that we desperately need to protect from -- and paradoxically -- by the power of the signifier.

I am quite aware to be discussing the topic of sex and the defense of its freedom without referencing the concept of gender. The latter is a social construction, the brick road of signifiers subjectively seen as leading to the fulfillment of sexual aspirations. Similarly, the concept of biological sex and sexual dimorphism of humans is out of scope. Here I am talking about how and where and why the road of signifiers ends.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Grievance studies" hoax - a postmodern act of defiance

Many have presumably heard about the "grievance studies" hoax that came into public knowledge in the late 2018. A trio of intellectuals have submitted a number of research papers to peer-reviewed academic journals with philosophical bend. Often these journals are dedicated to studies of modern society viewed as a system of oppression aimed at minorities, racial and gender-nonconforming, women, outsiders such as immigrants, - and so on. Much of the materials in those journals sees knowledge, promulgated by science as well as by societal norms, as one of the mechanisms of maintaining power of the dominant social group. Typical contributors thrive in departments of gender and women's studies in major universities and their work is trying to reverse the dominant direction of knowledge in order to accrue power to the oppressed. Thus the term "grievance studies".

The grievance studies hoaxers actually pretended to conduct their research within the grievance/oppression studies parameters expected by their presumed peers and reviewers. Many of their papers were accepted for publication, published and actually praised as excellent contributions to knowledge. Subsequently, the fact that the academic journals could not distinguish between knowledge and garbage was exposed. It was the acceptance of bogus research that was needed to unmask academia as a terribly bad guardian of knowledge.

In the aftermath, one member of the trio -- a professor at Portland State University, Peter Boghossian, will apparently suffer professional consequences, now being called in for review of the professionalism and integrity of his research work. I sympathize with him very much - but also hope that he was prepared for this outcome. The research produced was generated in bad faith. He will be vilified by academia as an infiltrator but has performed a valuable service for us all. The other two co-conspirators, James Lindsey and Helen Pluckrose, are not academics (or no longer so) and thus are safe from the institutional opprobrium - further demonstrating that academia is no place for creation and critique of knowledge. I commend them all for their well-aimed work and courage.

Before the "grievance studies" hoax went public I had a brief exchange with James Lindsey on Twitter. I suggested that he should attempt to fight the ideas of intersectional feminism and postmodern nonsense, as he would call it, not from classical liberal positions but from the positions of the adversary - that are presumably rooted in 20th century postmodern thought. He replied somewhat mysteriously - "working on it", "wait and you'll see" - which I now understand as the hoax being in the works.

In December 2018 James Lindsey published a great essay in Areo magazine - Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice - elaborating on the condition of the US Social Justice movement as a result of "applied postmodernism", which he decries as a cynical application of postmodern nihilistic ideology. There is much to agree with in his insightful work comparing Social Justice to religion. Additionally, and more interestingly, he makes a great statement on postmodernism (in its pre-applied form):

"In postmodernism, philosophers including Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard looked upon the wreckage of the great wars of the twentieth century and the failures of our modernistic, positivistic technological progress to cure the ills of humanity and saw that the Deceiver of Man is Man."

This is accurate. However, I begin to disagree when he speaks, a few lines further down, about the "cynical" motivation of "applied" postmodernism as foundational to today's morass of identitarianism and intersectionality. I think the motivation is not cynical - it is wrong-headed because the "applied" course is trying to repair what has been found to be broken beyond repair. In effect it is a case of Man (or mostly woman) being the deceiver of Man (also practically woman in most individual cases). It is an act of fighting fictions with other fictions, often undertaken as acts of self-deception, fighting to which we have been condemned since the death of God has been announced. And since there is no "objective truth" - the mythical ground of Enlightenment epistemology - we are left with fictions.

Fictions is what the "grievance studies" hoaxers produced. The research studies submitted to the journals were fictional productions aimed to oppose power based on another set of fictions. This is very much in line with our postmodern condition, where we cannot gain a firm epistemological ground without relating it to the human project. (see Kołakowski's Presence of Myth - work also quoted in James Lindsey's essay)

So, the "grievance studies" hoaxers, by fighting fictions with other fictions, went to battle postmodernism on postmodernist terrain - just as I had hoped! I am really happy about that and congratulate them heartily. I would gladly welcome them into the non-cynical wing of postmodernism, but they are not ready. For now we let them return in their shiny armor to Fortress Enlightenment.

Monday, November 05, 2018

The norms of contact improvisation dance

Every social environment puts some limits on human conduct and expects consent to certain type of conduct. The limits can concern matters ranging from sexual conduct and bodily functions, which are so internalized that they get hardly ever spoken about, to expectations of being quiet as part of a concert audience. Expected (implied) consent may be to being in presence of people consuming alcohol or to hearing vulgar language in a bar. It might be said that in imposing the limits and implying consent a given social environment is coercive.

At any rate, a social environment defines a norm - a normal behavior and conduct. We know the standard concert hall ceremony when the orchestra comes in first, takes the seats, and then stands up when the conductor comes in while the audience claps until the conductor turns to the orchestra and raises the baton - then the audience falls silent and music can begin. This is normal conduct for a concert and the details are not important. People in their individual roles are to behave normally in order for the expected function of the gathering to be accomplished - in this example it is that of making music.

Physical contact is the norm in CI

I would submit that in contact improvisation (CI) we normalize physical contact. This is in contrast to most other social interactions where physical contact is very much avoided. Forms of dance other than CI allow physical contact but there it exists in service to some other goal: constructing the form of the dance or delivering an expressive experience. The examples of tango and butoh come to mind from my own experience. In CI physical contact is the main goal.

When I say that CI normalizes physical contact it means that within CI we can answer the question what normal physical contact is. Thus:

  • contact anywhere the pressure of the body is felt - including weight due to gravity
  • contact is not insistent - it can be stopped or changed at any moment
  • contact is not inquisitive, not an examination aimed at knowledge of the other body as an object
  • contact is protective - of one's own body and of the body of the other

Many would agree that this is a very broad and liberal definition of normal conduct.

The question of consent.

The form of the group dance involves expression of wishes and limits (boundaries) about actions and situations that a participant can get into or not. These are best handled non-verbally. Wishes are less than demands whereas limits are more than dislikes. It is the responsibility of the individual participant to step out of activities they dont want to be in. It is an art of its own to express one's wish in a group in such a manner that it becomes fulfilled. The art develops with practice. Between the wish and limit there is a place of discomfort - while frustrating for the beginner, with experience it becomes an ideal place of departure into a new activity.

Departure from normal CI behavior

Participants who wish to conduct themselves outside of the normal physical contact - for example to perform acrobatics - should certainly negotiate their mutual consent. Their nonconforming conduct would ideally not disturb the normal conduct of others. Those who have not negotiated participation in nonconforming conduct should stay away. It is perhaps needless to say that if too many participants opt for nonconforming behavior then we will see a breakdown of the form.

Friday, October 05, 2018

L'affaire Kavanaugh and the Left

The fight for confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as Justice on the Supreme Court has aroused  passions which will stay with us and hurt us all for decades.

As he is a nominee of the Trumpist Right, with many perceived right-wing judicial propensities, it is natural that the Left would oppose this nomination. There would be others, myself included, who would oppose him on juridical grounds. Any such opposition, however, should be carried out in a civilized manner in a civilized nation and bring up matters mainly of jurisprudence and ultimately of politics. Politics will always enter the stage as it is the motivating force for the members of the examining body. Only in case of most egregious and unusual matters the personal life of the man should be under the microscope.

Yet the Left chose to bring up an uncorroborated charge of sexual assault supported by testimony of the accuser only. The accused man denies the charge vehemently.

It shows that the Left resorts to a smear campaign that destroys a man's reputation and career in order to achieve political goals. This is Stalinist, this is "by any means necessary,", this is disgusting. By the way, the Left is not just the Democratic party but a large part of society that cheers that effort. These people are the American authoritarian revolutionaries.

Of course, they claim the need for "resistance" to the Trumpist Right. I agree with the need - but by what means?!! There are people on anti-Trump Right who were discussing, and practically campaigning for, voting "blue" in the mid-term election so they prevail in Congress and curb the power of the clown president. I was thinking about voting for the Dems - but now I am too disgusted. Has the Left helped to bolster that initiative?

Quite the opposite. And the Left will also doom the feminist movement. The charge brought against Brett Kavanaugh shows that a woman's unsupported charge can bring down a man's life and career. This charge along with the effects of the #meToo and "believe women" movement shows that women have acquired power that they use to bypass due process and bring down individual men. This has happened already on the Left - a lot! Do the feminists understand what a horrific pit of misogyny is being dug?

There is a medieval quality in the Kavanaugh proceedings. A tenor of a trial by ordeal. On the emotional level, which reaches quite visceral depths, the accuser must strike the registers of truthfulness and the accused comply with the expected signs of innocence in order to be exonerated. Trial by ordeal happening in the chambers of US Senate. Many will not forget that it was at the behest of the Left and of feminism.

PS. ACLU is spending a lot of money on a campaign against the Kavanaugh nomination. Showing that it is just a leftist organization. After 13 years of support I am leaving ACLU as a member.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Words and Violence

A question asked on social media sought to find out what we think is really at stake in insisting on the proposition that words are not violence. The idea that words are possibly violent is typically quickly dismissed by insisting, after most English-language dictionaries, that violence involves physical force and words are not physical force. However, we need to acknowledge that there are expressions such as "violent argument" and there are harsh insults that lead to violent aggression. Therefore the idea of violence has wider range than its dictionary definition.

While I completely support freedom of speech, including offensive (and violent) speech, I want to call on the classical liberal, being one of them myself, to justify freedom of speech while acknowledging that words and violence are entangled together.

The term "words" is used here as roughly covering the meaning of the Logos which includes: reason, logic, ideas, norms, rules and laws. It is the standard operating area of rational human beings.

The separation between words and violence, speech and act, is a legal construction supported through the history of human thought in order to carve out domains of free activity from controlling tyrants. To question that legal fiction, even in the name of truth, dangerously weakens this long standing effort. Unfortunately, protecting it prevents us from truly considering our relationship to violence.

The proposition about the separation of words and violence is a sort of wishful thinking that ignores the depths of our mental life, which is filled with symbolic and imaginary, yet logically incoherent, structures. They constitute our unconscious, which, according to Lacan, is structured like a language.
Before we are thinking beings we are speaking beings. And we often speak out of the unconscious, incoherent and illogical knowledge. Speech, conscious and not, arises because we are evicted from the immediacy of real life and condemned to inhabit civilization. Therefore, speech, with its symbols and norms, strives more for power than for truth, more for civilization than for satisfaction of instincts. Civilization shapes forces into powers, forces of nature that have no semantics, but our words and language are all about semantics. Words forge forces into powers. Yet since words are frequently not an expression of rationality, powers become irrational.

What is the place of immediacy of life, our seemingly lost home? Lacan would call the lost place the Real. It manifests itself to our inner life as Desire. For Freud it was the object once lost and to be found again - the place of "id", the origin repressed and deformed into the "ego" by civilized life. Rilke speaks about it in his Eighth Duino Elegy (translation my own):

With its whole eyes looks the creation
Into the open. But we have our eyes
Turned around to bar, like set traps,
Its escape and free exit.
What is out there we know only
From the animal's eyes
This is our fate: to be in relation to It,
Never It, but always in relation. 
We are spectators, always, everywhere,
Looking at but never outward...
It overwhelms. And we organize. It breaks down.
We fix again. And then decline and die.

Instead of the immediacy of being we are in relation to being and owing to this insufficiency we seek power. We seek power as a technology to master physical forces and as societal norms to master the physical, visceral reality of our bodies. These norms tell us, sometimes whispering imperceptibly, under what conditions we can sit on the floor or take off our shirt or pants. When these norms, and they are basically words that have ascended to the status of power, are transgressed, offense results. Words regulate our bodies.

What is really at stake in saying the words "fuck you" or, for that matter, what is at stake in saying "love you"?(*) Why is it impolite to speak to a newlywed bride words of one's sexual passion and love in front of her new husband and wedding guests? Impolite because it points to a violent content of a certain layer of life that we access only through the proper form. For all the honey flowing from the lips of lovers and potential lovers they are road posts of desire pointing toward the violent content of our life. The melodrama genre is full of that sort of thing and it is brutal.

The melodrama of "fuck you/love you" shows how our words, speech as well as legal and societal norms, are logical and address other words - but some of them are turned toward that from which we have been evicted, from what we have lost and seemingly have to do without. Some of them are aimed directly at the intimacies which we would rather keep as secrets secured by rationalized formalities. They aim at violence.

Look at the boisterous business and sports banter! Team sports, such as American football, are tremendously aggressive and involve actual violence. It is common and accepted to use expressions that refer to aggression on the body - such as "kick ass" - as well as describing the opposing team or competition as "pussies" which invokes both bodily weakness and sexual acts. Words may not be violence but they speak of it and long for it.

What about the interest of the public in violent fantasy - as is amply demonstrated by the action-adventure genre as well as the mystery murder and crime drama? It is not only popular culture films, but critically-acclaimed literature such as JRR Tolkien's epics such as "The Lord of the Rings", that produce words and images conjuring up versions of reality supporting levels and modes of violence that seem hardly possible to enact - yet they captivate the imagination of masses of people.

The power of words, the law that they constantly proclaim, shapes our access to reality. We will only get so much of it as the words permit us to have. The force of reality is channeled by the semantics of the language. Freud calls these channels - drives. Such regulation of access to our violent reality conceals the fact that we actually desire it. Men and women desire sex, and women additionally desire motherhood and violent childbirth. Men dream of violent struggle and dangerous exploits. As thinking and speaking beings we empower and normalize our path toward reality, toward desire that can consume our life and bring death. By doing that we become desiring beings. Our speech addressing the desire is where words engage with violence.

Words are both means of our eviction from the violent reality of life as well as means of our return to it. The free speech defenders have to be prepared to fight on much more squishy and unstable ground, prowled by the monsters of the unconscious assaulting the pure ghosts of logic.

(*) note how much people avoid investing the grammatical "I" in the expression "fuck you" or "love you" - because the "I" would make it a more breath-taking leap into the violent reality.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Gender difference - a social construct?

The question is often asked if gender is a 100% social construct.

My answer is yes. Gender is a social construction created, however, in response to our biology of sexual reproduction. The function of gender is to prescribe the social conduct required for sexual interactions. While biology determines the sexual apparatus of the body and embeds in us procreative instincts, gender is a set of forms and behaviors that we adopt being strongly induced to, inducted into indeed, by our early environment and mostly by parents who more or less apply the norms prescribed by society for a biological boy or girl.

Gender becomes strongly embedded in the body as it relates to the sexual aspirations and wishes. That means gender is about how we will realize our sexuality, about how we will couple, not just relate, with others. Just because it is a social construct does not mean that it is easy or painless to change it or go against it. Therefore it is not purely performative as a social role.

Gender is the way we present our sexual aspirations to ourselves. Such presentation in principle should admit a huge variability. This option is eagerly embraced by the proponents of a "gender spectrum" or continuity denying the validity of masculine and feminine gender expressions. For them the cultural standard should be really a choice of the proper ratio of the masculine and feminine.

So why would we have two genders? Just because there are two biological sexes?

Partly yes, but since we are speaking beings that interpret everything and try to apply and extract meaning to and from each and every fact and act of our lives, the gender expression is due to the semantics of sex rather than to its reality. In other words, because we speak we express sex through gender - that is, we make it complicated. Alenka Zupančič takes it further: because we have sex, she says, we need to develop language to handle it.

In the 1990s, Joan Copjec, a feminist, wrote an article deriving gender difference from the antinomies of Kant. According to her paper, man is the dynamic failure, meaning that he does not rise to the occasion, while woman is an existential (or mathematical) failure, meaning that she does not exist. The latter statement is, of course, scandalous, and of Lacanian provenience.

Let me recount Copjec's argument in the form of anecdote.
There we have It - the elusive and obscure signifier of desire. Hidden in the unconscious and totally inaccessible. Lacan calls it the Phallus.
The man has It yet knows he is not It but because he has It he is sure he will become It.
The woman is sure she is It yet she does not have It but is sure that somehow she will obtain It.

This is really a Lacanian version of Freudian "penis envy" - now distributed between the genders, albeit asymmetrically, owing to the split between the modalities of having and being.

In explicit and yet very elucidating sexual terms we can say this:
The man has it (the penis) but does not have the erection. So he is not It.
The woman is It (she is the erection) - but she does not have it.

Now the failure, the lack, is distributed - not equally but so that each gender can complete the other. Just like it was explained by Aristophanes in old Plato's account.

Speaking more closely to Copjec's terminology, man's dynamic failure is the failure to master the delivery of power - as he presumes to have what it takes but is challenged to make it work, cannot make it It. Woman is It but does not believe it - she has to have somebody prove it to her. Man can do it as he directs the power he creates toward her. The proof is seen as love. Love proves that she is It.

Casting this discussion in terms of power - and I consider power a transmission of energy or force in a semantically organized manner - seems to me a more socially acceptable simplification. That is why I sometimes say that gender difference is founded on the relationship to power. Man is the creator and generator of power while the woman is its recipient and beneficiary - and thus its judge.

Copjec:  "Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason" - in "Supposing the Subject" - Verso 1994
Zupančič: "What is sex?" - MIT 2017. page 43