The Four Right Strivings for Today’s World

We need to develop a samyak-pradhāna (Four Right Strivings) for today’s world:

Right Antagonism
Right Negativity,
Right Resentment,
Right Closedmindedness.

Liberals have been educating their children to be nice and it just doesn’t work. I see them out there like soft-shelled crabs just waiting to be hurt, naked in the lion’s den, helpless in the shark pool. Usually they survive by withdrawing into safe places while the world goes on without them, dominated by sociopaths.

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 8:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Michel Foucault: “Society must be defended” (Picador, 1997)

I used to be a Foucault believer, but I had gone on to other things by the time this book came out. I still think there’s a lot to learn  from his earlier books but I find this one annoying.

I liked his early thing about “specific intellectuals” (with a subject matter), as opposed to “general intellectuals” who pontificate on everything (he meant Sartre. But apparently his Collège de France job description required him to pontificate.  Europe’s humanist intellectual tradition has had its Pope since Voltaire, and the Collège wanted the position to stay in French hands. (The lineage: Voltaire/ Goethe / Victor Hugo* / Tolstoy /1914-1945 interregnum / Sartre. (George Bernard Shaw didn’t quite cut it when Tolstoy died. After WWII Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Sartre’s cousin Albert Schweitzer, and Sartre fought it out, with Sartre the consensus winner except among analytic philosophers).

By the time of these lectures Foucault had made Power into an ontological substance, like Matter or Being or Man (and in fact, replacing Man). This might have been OK I suppose, but he still felt the anarchist-liberationist resentment of power, the state, and the Sovereignty, so his ontology was Manichaean .  We are all particles of light trapped in a world of sludgy darkness ruled by the evil demigod, Power. As if we ourselves aren’t Power too, and as if each of us is not, to others, the hated and repressive “Society”.  (When Foucault went to the bank I’m sure that he expected them to cash his checks and give him his money. Etc.)

Anyway, the whole biopower thing pisses me off. After all, biopower did get rid of cholera and plague and typhoid and typhus and smallpox and pellagra and rickets. Why minimize it with vaguely paranoid descriptions? Is medicine best described as a “political intervention technique with power effects”? Was increasing life expectancy really a Statist power grab? Is Social Security primarily a “subtle mechanism more economically rational than indiscriminate charity”? Should we regret that the Fascists drained the malaria swamps that killed poor Daisy Miller? Did it have to end up with Hitler? (Had Foucault even heard of Godwin?)

There are things to salvage here, when he talks about natalist policy, city planning, the medicalization of the population, and normalization. But I find the tone horribly annoying.

* Victor Hugo was huge in his time. In French Indochina (Vietnam) the modernizing Cao Dai sect put him into their pantheon as a God, and in Iowa my grandfather named his stud bull after Victor Hugo, who was famous for such capacities.

Published in: on May 28, 2017 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nietzsche the pious

Gott ist ein Gedanke der macht alles Gerade krumm: “God is a thought that makes every straight thing crooked.” Nietzsche was a prissy Boy Scout whose transvaluations were only partial. Crookedness was transvalued by Laozi (who, however, was not a theist): 大直若屈 “The straightest thing seems bent”.

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nietzsche and Kahlil Gibran

Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man,
But a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening.
And of the man in you would I now speak.
For it is he and not your god-self nor the pigmy in the mist, that knows crime and the punishment of crime.
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.

Nietzsche’s disciple Kahlil Gibran makes Zarathustra seem kitschy and hokey to me, a precursor of the fin-de-siècle decadence and orientalism. I’m not sure that this will ever entirely change. I find the book more readable in my (weak) German than it had been in English, and by now I’ve found some good parts, but (except for Mr. Natural) I find cave-dwelling prophets hard to take.

Published in: on May 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Civilization as we would like to have known in ended in 1914, or maybe 1871



The State of Exception
Giorgio Agamben

Pursuant to my policy of making sure that I don’t have any friends at all, here’s my review of Agamben:

Benjamin and Schmitt’s debate about violence reminded me of the debates of gestures and grimaces described by Rabelais and by Gombrowicz. I could understand scarcely a word. It was like listening to a debate among cannibals about the fine points of cannibal ethics.  But then again, I’m a naive American liberal radical anarchist nihilist populist.

I’ve always been dubious about the enlistment of the intelligentsia of the European high bourgeoisie into the revolutionary proletariat, when they put their Byzantine abstrusities at the service of the masses, starting with Marxo-Freudianism and then it getting worse from there. What could the proletariat possibly have been to Walter Benjamin? (Though if you like that kind of craziness, I recommend Edward Conze, the Bolshevik Hamburg streetfighter and Buddhologist).

Perhaps we should be orientalizing 19th century Europeans instead of Asians and savages. Economically and intellectually, 19th century Europe (centered in Germany and France) was the high point of human history up until that time, but those two nations could think of no better purpose than to go to war against one another. Even during times of peace their entire societies were mobilized for that,  and it wasn’t just the Germans. The French entered the Franco-Prussian War enthusiastically and expected to win. The Goncourt diaries for that period are depressing. The literary sophisticates of France – realists, Parnassians, and decadents, with the sole exception of the Enlightenment holdover Renan – showed themselves to be nationalists of the stupidest sort. When the Communards are massacred, they felt a sombre sort of satisfaction  – except for the rentier Flaubert, who felt that too few had been killed. (The literati who supported the Commune: Gustave Courbet, Jules Vallès, the teenaged Arthur Rimbaud,  and of all people, Paul Verlaine). After the Franco-Prussian War, and after WWI, neither side came to any other conclusion other than that they should do things better next time (though I have read that one of the French war planners, after viewing the carnage left by the Battle of the Marne – battle of the mud – did say, “That isn’t really what I had in mind”).

The ex-quasi-radical Edmund Wilson’s little piece on the politics of Flaubert should be read in this context. He argued that Flaubert was truly radical in his writing, even though he was entirely reactionary in his politics, and with this Wilson paved the way for the transformation of a generation of literary radicals en masse into Cold Warriors, neocons, and neoliberals.

My European readers may be offended at my American or Anglo-Saxon provincialism. But yes, the US also has blood on its hands, and the British too of course, and the moving finger of history has now selected us to be the bad guys of today. Don’t I know it! But then – we imported Leo Strauss and Friedrich Hayek to teach us the sophisticated European ways….

No, nothing I write is judicious and fair. Nothing.

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 5:28 pm  Comments (3)