Author Archives: notesfromdisgraceland

The Few Body Problem & the Metaphysics of Stupidity

13. III 2022

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (Max Planck)

A vibrating string represents the collective motion of a system of (practically) an infinite number of atoms. Its properties and behavior are very different from those of its constituents. When the collective sets in, the system loses knowledge of its building blocks and obeys an altogether different set of rules: A string made of nickel atoms behaves (acoustically) the same way as a plastic string composed of complicated organic molecules. In terms of complexity, the collective is a nonlinear function of the size. A one-body problem is easy to handle. A two-body is more complicated, but in most cases tractable. Three-body is very difficult, while the few-body problem is impossible. However, an infinite-body problem is easy. Loss of granularity washes away as the number of degrees of freedom increases. The wave equation describing a vibrating string is significantly simpler than the Schrödinger equation for a single atom; their discoveries are separated by two centuries.

Collective IQ < Average IQ

When it comes to intelligence, a similar pattern unfolds — size is its enemy. As the group grows, at some point, it inevitably begins to get stupider. It is not difficult to fool a single person. All you need is some persuasive skills and a little intelligence. Fooling two people can be complicated – they can compare their thoughts and come up with non-overlapping objections and increase resistance to persuasion by filtering out the nonsense more effectively. Fooling a few, say five, people is practically impossible, even if they are of average intelligence. They retain their individuality (and independent thinking) while their cooperation still remains strong. Manipulating large masses, however, can be very easy (as witnessed by numerous historical examples and confirmed by the experience of the last five years). Large groups would believe what even its stupidest members would reject on their own.

As the group grows beyond a certain size, the task of deceiving them becomes progressively easier. Individual wisdom and constructive cooperation changes and gives way to collective thinking where individuality is lost. In large groups, the collective IQ resides significantly below the average IQ – no matter how intelligent individuals are, their collective intelligence will be low. Although this inequality is an empirical observation, it is never violated in practice.

Size inspires special behavior: When a group become large, it has no resemblance to and no logic of individual behavior. Masses can always be manipulated with stories that would never work on individuals. It becomes increasingly more difficult to rebel against the consensus – the loss of individuality that results after such capitulation of the mind leads to loss of resistance to persuasion. You can disagree with collective stupidity, but your resistance is inconsequential.

Subjectlessness of humanity

Only individuals can be wise; institutions are well designed, at best. (Peter Sloterdijk)

Financial markets are often miscast as an example of an intelligent collective. Although they are treated as such, markets are not an entity in the true sense of that word, but a self-optimizing medium. All market participants have the same well-defined objectives, which streamline and unify their actions and push them to act in the same direction by doing everything possible in order to maximize profit. This leads to the propagation of ideas by the smartest players to everyone else and orients everyone towards the “smart consensus”, what is considered ex-ante as an optimal action.

Corporations are collectives. However, in their (misguided) attempts to emulate some of the market’s behavior, like meritocracy, transparency, and accountability, and transpose them to the context where they don’t belong, they create obstacles and impediments to their efficient functioning and permanent sources of corporate dysfunctionality. There is a long history of their continuous struggle against underlying the trappings which come with that predicament.

Casting businessmen (successful or unsuccessful) as political leaders is a bad idea, a very bad one, actually. Seeing society as a corporation and running it as such, cannot lead to good outcomes.

Humanity is even further removed from a market-like medium than corporations. It consists of people with heterogeneous (most often conflicting) objectives. Their goals cannot be quantified and are far from unifiable.  When applied to humanity, the classic model of learning from harm collapses before this fact. In the words of Peter Sloterdijk: Humanity is a priori learning impaired because it is not a subject. It has no self, no intellectual coherence, no reliable organ of wakefulness, no self-reflection capable of learning, no identity — building common memory. Humanity cannot be wiser than a single human being. It has no body of its own with which to learn the hard way – no hand to learn first-hand – but rather a foreign body, its place of residence, the earth, which does not become wise, but transforms into a desert[1].

Humanity is to humans what a vibrating string is to atoms — its intelligence is inferior to even the sub-average intelligence of all humans.

The intelligence problem and the power of 16-percenters

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that. (George Carlin)

Things don’t look encouraging when observed at higher resolution. This is a graph of the IQ distribution. The average IQ is around 100 with 68% of population residing inside the two standard deviations range, between 85 and 115, which means that about 16% are of deep sub-average intelligence. These numbers are fairly robust across different countries in the developed world.

This distribution becomes particularly alarming when applied to a large relatively non-oppressive country. In the context of modern liberal societies, the synergy of stupidity, size, and democracy reinforces the malignant potential of the stupidity of the collective.

Transcription of these numbers to America implies that about 53 million (16%) people (entire population of France) are of sub-average intelligence, out of which 7 million (entire Bulgaria) is seriously impaired. These people are empowered to express their opinion and impose their will in the ballot box.

By mobilizing the left side of the distribution behind a single political movement – a maneuver that represents a collectivization of mediocrity — makes them even stupider by lowering their collective IQ further, and persuading them to believe in pretty much anything. When their discontent is streamlined and wrapped into a single narrative, in an electoral democratic system, these 16-percenters can become a decisive factor[2]. Empowered by their malignant stupidity, such people are capable of committing the most extreme atrocities as they have been throughout human history.

Humanity cannot outgrow its own death drive

Intelligence is not a theoretical quantity, but represents a behavioral quality of creatures in an open environment. (Peter Sloterdijk)

Humans are generally intelligent, but this individual intelligence fails to get collectivized. This has only become worse with progress and the general trend of increasing acceleration and addiction to speed. The long term has become so long that it now exceeds our capacity for statistical prediction, but the short-term has accelerated so much that snap decisions are the only decisions ever made. The stakes have become higher – short-term survival is no longer guaranteed, which leads to a shift of focus.

In the face of the urgency of short-term survival, long-term foresight collapses. This defines the tradeoff — the lower the odds of survival, the weaker the desires and capacities for grasping the long-term. As the group size increases and individuality fades away, collectivization inevitably leads to abdication of responsibilities. This leads to collective myopia, which attracts its membership and supports the group’s desire to grow. As a consequence, we no longer engage in intergenerational projects — passing the baton to the next generation is the best we can do (as a collective).  

This removal of the long-term perspective, its subversion, leaves power dominated by short-term forces, which under the capricious conditions of the market forces requires adaptive, liquid or transient strategies as a basic skill set. At a systemic level, change is taking the form of positive feedback. In conditions of general info acceleration and hypercomplexity, as conscious and rational will become unable to adjust to the trends, the trends themselves become self-reinforcing (up to the point of collapse)[3].

For years now, the Right-wing populism of the capitalist West has been tapping into the left side of the IQ distribution. This has proven to be a very successful strategy for their project. Unsurprisingly, in the most spectacular staging of abdication of collective responsibility, thus cultivated populist movement became the epicenter of insane resistance to simple measures of containment of the COVID pandemic.

At the core of the incoherent response to the pandemic – the spectacular failure of adjusting to the most straightforward problem of self-defense of the collective body – resides collective abdication of responsibility. This was a simple test of common sense, accepting the most basic measures any single human would normally have no problems accepting, but which collectively encountered resistance on a large scale (bordering on hysterical) causing, at the end, massive casualties, financial and economic damages, and unnecessary complications and extension of the pandemic. The resistance to alignment with simple and logical adjustment to an existential threat is just another illustration of the erosion of basic survival instincts caused by decades of deliberate and programmatic anti-science project and glorification of mediocrity.

In the world of infinite acceleration, humanity is spontaneously converging towards a state of maximum cognitive incompetence, a collective Dunning-Kruger effect. According to the latest statistics, there are about 41 million Q-anon believers in the United States.

However, this does not mean that capitalist democracies carry exclusive blame for the degradation of intellect and the rising rate of malignant stupidity. Rather, it is a combination of human nature and the law of large numbers. As much as Soviet-style communism pretended to have sought to divert the inevitable self-destructiveness of capitalism, it merely reinvented different and more efficient ways of self-destruction. A similar story goes with fascism. Communism’s record of ecological misconduct, which has penetrated deep into the territory of criminal, is just one of many examples of its self-destructive overdrive. Its pretended ideological attempts to be something else from what it really was were just failed diversions that merely accelerated the inevitable.

Welcome to Asbest

Russia is the largest country in the world by size. Nazis dreamed of conquering it as the Lebensraum for the new super-race. They failed, but so did the Russians. Instead of converting their resource-rich land into a prosperous superpower, despite Russia’s considerable cultural heritage, they have been struggling for centuries and still resemble in many ways a third-world country with staggering levels of large-scale corruption, chronic scarcity, high levels of poverty, and rampant inequality. After the failure of the Soviet experiment, Russia became a different type of Lebensraum for malignant stupidity of griftopian turbocapitalism and a laboratory of myopic ecological experimentation.

On the east side of the Ural mountain range, about 1000 miles east of Moscow and 2000 miles north of Kabul, resides the town of Asbest, the three forming a nearly perfect rectangled triangle. Asbest (the Russian word for asbestos) is one of hundreds of mono towns of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union, established according to the tenets of planned economy. As its name suggests, Asbest is the center of asbestos mining, with the largest open pit asbestos mine in the world, 1000 ft deep and the size of half of Manhattan.

As 59 countries have outlawed usage of asbestos and phased out any production due to its carcinogenic effects on humans, Asbest has become the world’s largest producer of the substance, which, by global ecological standards, is considered a criminal enterprise. About 70% of Asbest’s budget comes from the asbestos industry.

At the town’s entrance, drivers are greeted by what looks like a béton-brut installation in place of a welcoming billboard – a concrete structure, suggestive of a stylized arrow pointing downwards, with a coat of arms, representing asbestos fibers through a ring of fire at the top, and the text, below, broken in two lines: Asbest, my town and my fate! It is not clear if this was supposed to be ironic or not, but it certainly has an ominous vibe and strong overtones of dark humor. There are numerous motivational billboards in the town itself with text emphasizing the compulsory optimism of yesteryear, the most striking one stating: Asbestos is our future!

Asbest, my town and my fate

Breaking rocks and extracting the chrysotile from the mining pit is usually done with dynamite. This creates enormous clouds of asbestos dust, which covers everything in the town, from cars, rooftops, window, and parks, to fruits and vegetables people grow in their gardens.

Compared to the rest of the Sverdlovsk Oblast, Asbest has 30-40% higher incidence of cancer, a fact that remains carefully hidden from the public. Most of workers in asbestos processing plant have persistent coughs, a symptom of exposure to what they call the white needles, and strange skin ailments. Its population is slowly depleting with high mortality — the town has been losing about 1% of its population every year since the 1990s. And as if afraid to miss inserting yet another piece of irony here, local authorities have erected a monument to residents who have died (presumably from asbestos exposure) made of an asbestos block with the inscribed text: Live and Remember.

After the collapse of communism, without skipping a beat, the town of Asbest transitioned seamlessly from the clutches of ideological incompetence of the Soviet era to the unconditional greed of post-communist kleptocracy. Unlike other mono towns (where about 25 million people, 16% of the Russian population, still live), which became dying cities, Asbest did not die instantaneously. Rather, it repositioned for a slow death.

Instead of regulating human nature, capitalism as well as both communism and fascism only continue to reaffirm, time and again, what humans are truly capable of and enabled the full realization of that potential. And we haven’t seen the last of it, not yet. Free or oppressed, unable to avoid the degradation of collective intellect and preserve the wisdom of the few, humanity will always find ways to hurt itself.

Like post-communist Russia, Western democracy has been caught in a hypnotic ritualistic trance of the spectacle of its own cultural creation and self-consumption, the two fatal modes of modernity Jean Baudrillard identified as: Carnival & Cannibal. The self-imposed ignorance and collective myopia have reached the point where the West has elevated its own annihilation to a supreme aesthetic act. Against that backdrop Asbest is our future has acquired a universal metaphoric ring as a mantra of the directionless escape of mankind where the endgame appears unavoidable — a slow death in a hyperoptimized dystopian trap. This is the realization of Arthur Schnitzler’s vision of the human race as an illness of some higher organism, within which it has found a purpose and meaning, but which it also sought to destroy, in the same way virus strives to annihilate the ailing human organism and in that process destroys itself.


[1] Peter Sloterdijk, Infinite Mobilization, Polity (2020)

[2] These numbers, although larger or comparable to the USA, are less alarming when it comes to Russia, China or India. In the former two, high coercive powers of the state prevent large-scale stupidity to metastasize, while in India, where more than 50% of the country is under no one’s control, it is the fragmentation and absence of coherence along the lines of language, religion, culture, education, and social hierarchies, that prevent the collective to set in.

[3] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, Polity (2006)

The Year of the Abject: Making Sense of Nonsense

31. XII 2021

Within the boundaries of what one defines as subject (a part of oneself) and object (something that exists independently of oneself), there reside pieces that were once categorized as a part of oneself or one’s identity that have since been rejected – the abject. (Julia Kristeva)

Unless we are consciously drawn to it, we, for the most part, are not fully aware of our saliva. It is part of our body, an utterly neutral liquid, which we produce and swallow continuously as long as we are awake. However, this is true only as long as it remains in our bodies. Imagine periodically spiting into a glass and attempting to drink it once it fills up. The very thought of this causes utter disgust. As soon as our bodily fluids have become alienated from us, they become abject.

Abject represents the taboo element of the self; it rejects and disturbs social reason and the communal consensus that underpins social order. The Indian caste of eunuchs represent a castrated remainder of a fully functional biological body, cast out, distanced, but not completely. In modern capitalism, the excluded segment of the population — those who fell through the cracks and can no longer be reintegrated into normal functioning of society – is the neoliberal equivalent of Indian eunuchs. Their proximity reinforces an anxiety that their destiny could become everyone’s prospect; their presence is a reminder how narrow the gap is between a comfortable middle class life and precarity.

We have an ambivalent relationship with the abject — we are both drawn to and repelled by it. The ambivalence and inherent dialectics of the concept is encapsulated in the very word, which can function both as an adjective/noun as well as a verb.

The verb to abject comes from the Latin abicere, which means to throw away or to cast out. The action of abjection refers to an impulse or operation to reject that which disturbs or threatens the stability of the self and is inassimilable. As an adjective, abject has two meanings: 1) Extremely unpleasant and degrading (living in abject poverty), and 2) Completely without pride or dignity (an abject apology). [1]

The abject functions both as a repulsive and as an attractive fixed point of subjectivity. The concept is at the same time constructive (in the formation of identity and one’s relationship to the world) and destructive (in what it does to the subject): Abjection, the operation to abject, is fundamental to the maintenance of subjectivity and society, while the condition to be abject is subversive of both formations. The key to this duality is that the abject is not fully exogenous.

The body of the excluded

The volume of humans that are made redundant by the global triumph of capitalism has grown so much that it exceeds the managerial capacity of the planet. They cannot be re-assimilated into the “normal” life pattern and reprocessed back into the category of “useful” members of society. (Zygmunt Bauman)

By its very nature, capitalism generates abject social bodies as a part of an excess population. Unlike criminals, social outcasts, homeless, illegal immigrants or general categories of aliens, who are transported beyond the boundaries of the enclosure of prosperity, the redundant white underclass has escaped the transportation and remains on the inside where economic balance and social equilibrium are sought. However, the longer the redundant population stays inside and rubs shoulders with the useful rest, the less the lines separating normality and abnormality appear reassuringly unambiguous. Assignment to waste becomes everyone’s potential prospect[2].

The white underclass represents the abject social body which cannot be completely objectivized but whose presence threatens the existing symbolic order. They cannot be fully reassimilated into normal life patterns and reprocessed back into the category of useful members of society — they lack the skills required for reintegration — but they cannot be discarded either; they carry a sense of entitlement as a constitutive element of the cultural and historical heritage that defines today’s America.

The abject lean on subject’s stability — their presence threatens the implicit culturally established boundaries of what is considered normal, causing the subject to feel vulnerable because its boundaries are under threat. The white underclass cannot be ingested or incorporated into the system — they are like bodily fluids that have departed the (social) body — appalling, but, at the same time, a part of the (social) body-image that carries a prospect of everyone’s destiny. The very thought of their reintegration, has becomes revolting, while, at the same time, they cannot be fully objectivized either.

The abject gambit

The abject hovers at the boundary of what is assimilable, thinkable, but is itself unassimilable which means that we have to contemplate its otherness in its proximity to us but without it being able to be incorporated. It is the other that comes from within (so it is part of ourselves) that we have to reject and expel in order to protect our boundaries[3].

The abject is a great mobilizing mechanism. While the state of being abject is threatening to the self and others, the operation of abjecting involves rituals of purity that bring about social stability. Abjection seeks to stabilize, while the abject inherently disrupts[4].

When the mass of the excluded increases to a size impossible to ignore, they trigger rituals of abjection, which work themselves into identity politics.The repulsion and efforts to distance from the excludedthe abjection – which reinforces the self-awareness of the social standing of regular folks, are in conflict with the attraction by the powers the abject population enjoys and exudes. They are the power bottoms in this relationship as they define the location, robustness and porousness of the boundaries of the enclosure. Fascination with the abject’s power pulls the viewers in, while they remain at arm’s length because of the threats the abject exert.

This makes the excluded a tool that drives the wedge between different social groups and prepares the population for political usage of the abject as leverage.

Objectifying minorities has been institutionalized in America since its inception — from slavery and Jim Crow to ghetto and hyperghetto, prisons, wars, opioids, and other tools of soft and hard marginalization. However, with the rise of the white underclass in the second half of the 20th century, American ideology has become highly nuanced around the questions of exclusion.

To a large extent, the Right wing has stuck to its white supremacists roots of yesteryear (either in a closeted form or explicitly) while centrists, both Left and Right, have shown greater initiative in modernizing the process. However, when it came to exclusion of the white underclass, the problem proved to be more difficult. Complicated by globalization, technology, the decline of American manufacturing, weaning off conventional energy sources and the general decay of demand for labor, low-skill jobs have been disappearing irreversibly, and the ranks of white underclass grew unstoppably together with their discontent.

Social outcasts and minorities are relatively easy to objectivize. Permanently excluded – criminals, drug addicts, homeless – they have already been cast out. The residual, white precariat, which has always been perceived as a building block of this country’s social fiber, remains still on the inside, but unable to get reintegrated within the context of modern developments.

In a white dominated/ruled society the marginalization of the excluded white subproletariat has been a political hard sell. They grew in size and have acquired a sense of entitlement minorities never could. Their sudden political awareness, no matter how fragile, has become an expression of pleasurable transgressive desires. As a new center of social subjectivity, theydraw their power from this position, which serves as an inspiration for their own identity politics.

The emergence of 21st century Right-wing populism represents the biggest innovation on that terrain. Right-wingers now recognize the abject as a source of political leverage and, instead of exclusion, their program revolves around subjectivizing them. Voluntarily casting oneself as abject — identification with the white subproletariat – has become a quest for authenticity, aimed at acquiring a stigma in order to become a credible voice of the marginalized. This is the core of the modern populist abject gambit.

Poetic catharsis: Politics in the kingdom of unreason

Poetic catharsis is an impure process that protects from the abject only by dint of being immersed in it. (Julia Kristeva)

In past autocratic systems, leaders had their own eccentricities and aberrations (e.g. Stalin’s paranoia, Kim Jong-Il’s sadistic personality disorder or vindictive narcissism of countless number of dictators and autocrats), but societies, collectively, didn’t suffer from them — there was a variety of afflictions that coexisted without any coordination with their leader –people were depressed, anxious, indifferent, etc. while their leaders remained an idiosyncratic singularity. In contrast, in contemporary populism the leader is styled as an embodiment of collective afflictions – he becomes a performance artist who functions as a concentrated version of collective social traumas, grievances, and anxieties. He appropriates the collective paranoia towards the deep state, the sovereign citizens fetish, the second amendment fixation, tax evasion obsession… Self-abjection of the Western political Right is pseudo-authenticity at all cost: Racism, misogyny, denialism, antivaxerism, conspiracy fantasies, and other flat-earth derivatives channel widespread collective anxieties through their leader.

Perceived as a medium of grievance and spokesmen for collective traumas, politicians of the populist Right have been absolved of any accountability. Their biggest strength and their superpower is the absolute absence of any shame and embarrassment, even when faced with undeniable proof of their incompetence, lies, criminality and lack of an ethical backbone, no matter how obvious and damaging their culpability might be. They have been set free to establish new benchmarks of shamelessness, a unique political skill that always keeps them one step ahead of their political opponents, which has opened an entirely new political terrain never accessible before.

The Populist politics now function as poetic catharsis: Through mimicry with their constituents political leaders no longer lead but surrender, resulting in a fragile and shifty consensus that is reinforced with their each action. Their activity consists of looking for themes that create resonance points capable of producing the loudest reverberations. Politics becomes hyper-optimized — there is not a single spec of life that is not used as leverage – but, in that process, it loses its robustness, becomes thinly spread and fractures under tinniest of shocks.

The emergence of the rapidly growing white underclass and its irreversible marginalization in the last decades is beginning to get recognized as the fatal flaw of the American experiment, an outcome that is in conflict with its founding axioms and an evolving national trauma threatening to void it. Things have gone terribly wrong in the last 50 years — the accidental wounding of the American white malehood by the inner workings of neoliberalism has been the unintended consequence of capitalist progress[5] with which the system has not been prepared to deal with in any form.

The Right wing populism of the last decade has become the last desperate attempt to save this failing experiment regardless of costs. Defeated in the ballot box, the battle to save wounded white malehood has assumed a less conventional form. In its desperation it has escalated to a suicide mission whose contours were unambiguously underlined in the first week of the past year.

As much as the political center may want to distance itself from the white underclass and its populist political representation, the significance of that moment forces them to pause and rethink one more time whether they are really prepared to win this battle and write the obituary for the American experiment.

CODA

If 2017 was the year when unreason was set free, then 2021 is the year of its proliferation – it is everywhere and nowhere. There are no more individual GOP members or voices anymore, only the opaque background of unreason against which they perform a choreographed dance of non-overlapping sequential appearances on the center stage of political spectacle hoping for a moment of public attention to make the absurd palatable and promote abnormal as the facts of life.

The Right-wing political kabuki functions like a medieval mechanism of an astronomical clock on a church of unreason. The puppet-apostles of that church have a fixed position on a slow rotating carousel, parading through the window of shared reality in a mechanized procession, always one at a time, like luggage pieces on the conveyer belt of baggage claim from a flight which arrived without passengers, occasionally voicing their presence through monologues of nonsense, hoping that someone would notice them.

The mechanism of the rotating Apostles inside the Prague Astronomical Clock of the Orloj church

[1] Rina Ayra, Abjection and Representation: An Exploration of Abjection in the Visual Arts, Film and Literature, Palgrave Macmillan; 2014th edition (2014)

[2] Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted LivesModernity and Its Outcasts, Polity (2003)

[3] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Columbia University Press; Reprint edition (1982).

[4] Rina Ayra ibid.

[5] Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, Columbia University Press (2019)

Disaster Calculus

21. XI 2021

It is only the occasional experience of the extreme that exposes the temperate human region where we can cultivate what we are competent to do. (Peter Sloterdijk)

There is a considerable body of dystopian art and literature that captures our imagination of counterfactual reality corresponding to the history of the world in which dark forces had triumphed in WWII. These visions are generally an extrapolated superposition of various gloomy patches of history adjusted for modern times.

However, the flip side of our imagination, one which deals with a fictional reality where WWII had been completely absent, or the devastation significantly smaller, is practically nonexistent. Nothing in human history could be used to convincingly (re)construct this alternative world. Even if we were to mobilize all our creative forces and transcend the baggage of history and prejudice, we would still inevitably encounter strange mental barriers, psychological resistance, and dead ends.

At the bottom of this defect of symmetry resides the legacy of our historical experience. Good deeds are unpredictable because they are not natural; they don’t arise spontaneously, people commit them impulsively. Evil, on the other hand, acts naturally – we never wonder about evil; we are only surprised if it is not realized. This belief forces us to incorporate appropriate expectations into our thinking process and, with time, these expectations become our second nature and we no longer reflect about them; they constitute the knowledge that doesn’t know itself.

Disaster didactics

In his book Infinite Mobilization Peter Sloterdijk argues that one of the most powerful and robust lessons of modernity is that people need catastrophe because they must be educated and can only be educated by the school of worst possible scenarios. Human functioning and survival are intricately linked to disaster-didactic calculations – only a visual instruction of the worst can usher in a turn for the better[1].

Sloterdijk uses the Three Mile Island nuclear accident as a template around which he develops his argument.

The Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history. The accident began about 4 a.m. on that day when the plant experienced a failure in the secondary, non-nuclear section of the plant. Either a mechanical or electrical failure prevented the main feedwater pumps from sending water to the steam generators that remove heat from the reactor core. This caused the plant’s turbine-generator and then the reactor itself to automatically shut down. Immediately, the pressure in the primary system began to increase. In order to control that pressure, the pilot-operated relief valve opened. The valve should have closed when the pressure fell to proper levels, but it became stuck open. Instruments in the control room, however, indicated to the plant staff that the valve was closed. As a result, the plant staff was unaware that cooling water in the form of steam was pouring out of the stuck-open valve. As alarms rang and warning lights flashed, the operators did not realize that the plant was experiencing a loss-of-coolant accident.[2]

There is one particular moment in the Three-Mile Island episode, which captures the essence of disaster didactics: As disaster was brewing, there was a palpable sense in the air of the public developing sly sympathy with the explosive substances in the defective reactor, as if those were not representing a physical quantity, but also contained a culturally critical message that deserved to be released[3]. The silent rooting for the explosion was nothing more than an educational hypothesis about the didactic and mind-changing energies that radiate from actually occurring disasters.

Because the big explosion failed to materialize, the Three Mile Island disaster could not reach the level where disaster didactics develops its grim calculation between misfortune and insight can be formed[4]. (That role was fulfilled by Chernobyl about a decade later.) For that reason, this remained only the warning disaster.

When seen from that angle, both 2008 GFC and 2016 US Presidential elections were also just warning disasters – the financial and political Three Mile Island accidents when another faulty “nuclear reactor” threatend, but eventually failed, to melt down. A Chernobyl-type event was averted in both cases, in 2008 by the comprehensive bailout program (augmented with unprecedented monetary policy stimulus) and in 2020 by the Republican debacle in (and out of) the ballot box. And judging by how things have been developing both in the post-2008 times as well as during the last year, we haven’t learned much, if anything at all – the message hasn’t sunk in. By interrupting the course of history and by averting the full-scale catastrophe, we remained deprived of valuable lessons. This hadn’t happened in the 1940s, WWII was “allowed” to develop into a full-blown catastrophe. However, had Adolf Hitler been killed, had the natural course of history been upset and halted in July 1944, we would have had yet another national socialism soon after that, or we’d at least have to defend ourselves from it. Hitler wouldn’t have been defeated; rather his certain victory would have been thwarted. By experiencing the full-scale impact of the war, humanity has learned a valuable lesson, but this knowledge is conflicted with the price tag that came with it and has become a dilemma that never ceases to trouble us.

The addiction to the unbearable

According to Sloterdijk,the key question of disaster-didactics is: How big would a catastrophe need to get before it radiates the universal flash of insight that we are waiting for?[5] This disastercalculus resides at the core of our stifled imagination. The difference between our reality and that without WWII extends beyond better or worse — the entire configuration of the world without WWII would have been unrecognizable by today’s man, as if we would have missed the most important lesson in our education.

Unraveling the causality chain that defines what we call our cultural and historical heritage today could take place along multiple alternative paths. Here is a short menu of things, one of its many possible accounts, of what we would be missing in this counterfactual reality.

Certain concepts like cold war, arms race or nuclear deterrent, simply wouldn’t exist. No Hiroshima, no Yalta and no political East and West. Geopolitical maps would look different. There would be no United Nations, no NATO and no European Union either.

Without another war, the nazification of Germany (which was really a consequence of WWI) and its infantile aggression would turn inwards onto their own people. High inflation and chronic indebtedness would have led to Germany’s imminent financial default and would handicap their economy in the long run. They would be the subject to multidimensional economic and cultural blockades, which, together with desires for excessive military spending, would exhaust their economic potential. Fueled by politically catalyzed incompetence and growing paranoia, Germany would spiral into something akin to the third world country and would be forced to close their borders finding themselves, with time, straddled somewhere between what East Germany was in the 1970s and contemporary North Korea. Adolf Hitler would have probably died of an aneurism at an old age remaining a marginal historical figure of local significance.

It is not unlikely that the Soviets – now a lot more numerous without WWII – would go on minding their own business, but still burdened by Stalin’s shenanigans, remain on a slower, but inevitable, path of self-destruction and eventual dissolution.

In contrast, the rest of the developed European countries which would never have to be liberated by the Soviets would remain on the course of prosperity; they would have an uninterrupted period of growth and resembling, probably, today’s Luxembourg or Switzerland.

Distribution of power would differ significantly. America would have nothing resembling its global presence and influence it has today. Its military budget would be considerably lower. There would be no Berlin Wall, no Bay of Pigs and no Castro; no Korean or Vietnam War either, no arms race, no Manhattan project, and no Sputnik moment. Landing on the Moon would have been dismissed as a frivolous and expensive idea and never attempted.

Kennedy would serve two presidential terms and his family would produce the longest reigning American dynasty, probably occupying top offices to this day. Onasis would remain anonymous outside of Greece. Nixon would have never been a President. There would be no Watergate and the Republican Party would not have to reinvent itself; they would remain a party of the elites and not a populist conglomerate. The right to life would never resurface as a polarizing issue. FOX would be an entertainment network without a political agenda. Twin Towers would still be the most prominent landmarks of the New York City’s skyline. The Civil rights movement would look very different. There would be no 60s as we know them, no hippies and no Charles Manson; 1968 would not happen. There would be no Summer of Love, no Woodstock, and lots of rock anthems from that period would never be written. The world would never see Casablanca, The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, Downfall or The Tin Drum.

Without WWII, philosophy, history, social and political sciences, physics and engineering, and our entire culture would have been hopelessly incomplete; they would be like physics without differential calculus, music without Mozart or literature without Dostoyevsky. We don’t even know how to begin to think about that reality. It would be an utterly different cognitive configuration, an anotherhood that eclipses our capacity for imagination – no extrapolation of our previous experiences would be capable of approximating it.

However, as much as we think we would be ready to transcend these obstacles, we remain nevertheless protective of the knowledge instilled by the catastrophe of WWII, unprepared and unwilling to give it up.

Adding disaster to the curriculum of humanity as the last pedagogical tool is a testimony to the fact that the only way that something can be learned is through catastrophe and the force of event. This is a de facto capitulation of Modernity’s method of unforced guidance and listening in favor of learning the hard way[6]. In the pedagogization of disaster – the interplay between misfortune and insight – there is always the lingering question about what didactically sufficient size of the disaster is: How bad the catastrophe has to be for the lesson to have long-lasting value? Well, WWII delivered in that respect.

The aesthetics of disappearance

When it comes to imagining the world without WWII – one that, at a minimum, shouldn’t be nominally worse than the existing one — the dead end of our imagination emerges as a consequence of the centuries old cultural baggage. Our world system and its history have developed mechanisms that inhibit modes of imagination which exclude catastrophes. This is a result of cultural struggles, which spontaneously create conditions that foster this asymmetry and resistance to alternatives as a cognitively more stable configuration. It stands as a reminder that disaster is essential for our existence, that bearable is an island in the ocean of unbearable and the island residents exist at discretion of the ocean[7]. Humanity’s addiction to disaster is a verdict on the failure of the struggle to extend the boundaries of that island of bearable.

This leads naturally to extrapolation of Walter Benjamin’s reflections on humanity. As a result of the blend of historical addiction to catastrophe and its growing self-alienation Western civilization may have reached a point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure and, at the same time, internalize it through an ultimate didactic high as the most valuable lesson to be learned.


[1] Another outstanding book by Peter Sloterdijk that had been written way before its time. First released in Germany in 1989 as Eurotaoismus; Zur Kritik der politische Kinetik and in English translation as Infinite Mobilization in 2020 by Polity Press, the book has a keen contemporary relevance with unparalleled freshness of perspective and depth of insight.

[2] United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Report: https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/3mile-isle.html

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ibid.

The Economics of Repulsion

7. XI 2021

In traditional capitalism, the supply of commodities is finite and their exploitation leads to depletion of the supply. By mining coal, diamonds or drilling oil, access to these commodities becomes increasingly more difficult, which requires deeper mines, oil drills, and more sophisticated technology, all of which increases production costs. For a fixed demand, this reduction in supply results in a rise of perceived value and higher price.

In cognitive capitalism, where information is the main commodity, the imbalance resides on the opposite side. Its economics is governed by diminishing demand. Human attention is biologically limited – there is a finite amount of information our brains can absorb and store at any given time. Supply of information, on the other hand, is unlimited and comes practically at no cost – ideas can come out of nowhere (or as a result of the general intellect) and, in principle, cannot be exhausted.

Since everyone is competing for the same fraction of our (limited) attention, sooner or later cognitive capitalism becomes a zero-sum game. For a brain already overloaded with information to pay attention to something new, it has to neglect something else. Every spec of information, every new idea, therefore, has an inherent ephemeral quality and carries a potential of becoming worthless.

In order to insert itself into the tight space of the already saturated attention space, new information has to be able to shock. It does not necessarily have to be relevant or carry semiotic value; it only needs to be sufficiently loud to overpower other voices. And, in competitive markets, such loud information wins and gradually dominates. Cognitive capitalism, thus, inevitably leads to semiotic inflation — more information buys less meaning – and ultimately to hyperinflation when information carries no meaning whatsoever.

Metabolic disorder and addiction to shocks

As an ideology that disseminates market values to every segment of life, neoliberalism has naturally aligned with the new logic of social media and the diminishing demand of the attention economy. Once one allows the market to impose its values and criteria, society becomes subordinated to it and has to be managed as its auxiliary. As an adaptive system, neoliberalism has adjusted to the new chapter of cognitive capitalism by transforming society and conditioning political subjects to its new laws.

Neoliberalism makes citizens into consumers. As consumers, today’s voters have no real interest in politics or in actively shaping the community; they react only passively to it. Politicians and parties follow this logic of consumption too. They have to deliver. In that process, they become nothing more than suppliers; their task is to satisfy voters who are their customers.

Society of the spectacle and the attention economy, when put together, result in new politics defined by the explosion of affects, revenge, and peddling in highly improbable. Through interaction between technology and politics, society gradually becomes addicted to shocks — they need to be administered continuously and without interruption.

Immunoreaction and informational fatigue syndrome

Shock is a kind of immunoreaction. A strong immune system stifles communication – it impairs its fluidity – the lower the level of immunity, the faster information circulates. A high level of immunity slows down the information flow. Immune-suppression, on the other hand, allows massive quantities of information to penetrate our souls without immune defense.[1]

Political foreplay, in the initial stage, consists of preparing its constituents for the new landscape by weakening their cognitive immune system. Once political subjects are properly conditioned, politics is administered through barraging them with a constant flow of nonsense in order to wear down their immune system and create a metabolic disorder[2] (akin to an eating disorder). Their minds are constantly stimulated – the underlying information becomes a semiotic equivalent of junk food — the less meaningful the information and the more toxic and addictive its effects are, the more marketable it is.

According to Walter Benjamin, the primary mode of a spectator’s response to cinema was one of a shock: Shock replaced contemplation that came as cinema replaced painting. However, we are no longer shocked by images. Even the most disturbing images have been made consumable[3].

Shocks now have to contain another quality that relies on different kind of imagery and the target audience needs to be conditioned to receive them.Media outlets are increasingly playing on repulsion rather than on seduction — response to pleasure is too diverse while response to repulsion is the same. Anxiety gradually replaces excitement while persistent exposure to the semiotic excess of informational barrage leads to what B.C. Han calls informational fatigue syndrome (IFS), which progressively weakens our analytic capacities and monopolizes our attention. 

In our reaction to ambiguously disturbing images emerges a new category representing the repulsion we cannot resist.

Repulsion as political leverage and emergence of the emotionalized electorate

In its essence, Right-wing populist politics in Europe is not dissimilar to its American counterpart – it revolves around conservative budget spending, pseudo-Christian values, certain types of cultural iconography, and self-centered xenophobia. However, their mode of articulation cannot be more different. European right-wingers and their politics, as much as one finds them disagreeable, their delivery is coherent – they speak in meaningful sentences, their thoughts have a logically consistent flow, and address the problems of shared reality, which one might agree with or contest and argue on rational premises.

In the USA, however, shared reality no longer supports the tenets of whatever the conservatism has become, which stand in trivial conflict with facts and is rendered demonstrably false and indefensible, invalidated by the long history of failure and bankruptcy. Defense of the right-wing narratives in the USA requires the creation of an alternative universe where not only are the shared reality and observable facts ignored, but the underlying laws of economics, sociology, biology, physics, the probability, and even mathematics have to be suspended. The end effect of this environment is removal of all systems of reference where the mental instability of a single person in power easily mutates into a large-scale collective affliction with defenders and advocates of that politics turning into performance artists in a state of simulated self-induced mental illness.

In cognitive markets, where shocks amplify informational impact, the more repulsive the messengers, the easier their message penetrates the barriers erected by the compromised public immune system. Self-debasement becomes the statement of authenticity and repulsion a desirable quality.

Two examples of this mechanism at work:

Right-wing broadcasters and political consultants, which have elevated their appearances to the level of performance art, tend to wear their shirts one size smaller and buttoned up all the way to the top, so that it causes an authentic discomfort and irritation giving them a slightly deranged and agitated look, an emotion which gets transmitted to their emotionalized audience.

And speaking of undersized garments, the infamous sighting of Christy’s camel toe represents a singular example. Once seen, never forgotten, this historic picture — a visual equivalent of eating durian — cannot be accidental, despite its spontaneous appearance. Such extreme deficit of self-awareness simply does not exist (not to mention the discomfort wearing of these pants must have caused). It is not a fortuitously captured moment of leisure of the former New Jersey Governor, but a product of meticulous calculation of the teams of specialized PR consultants.

These, and other similar, images are carefully crafted so that they continue to shock, irritate, and disgust because these are addictive emotions; they provide a lifeline to the outrage conglomerate. In this way, any possible resistance of the opposition is automatically thwarted and their collaboration ensured from the outset. They have been taken hostage by this vortex of addictive repulsion. Opposition media outlets are placed in a conflicting position where their bottom-line disincentivizes resistance. As much as they would like to oppose the new ideology of repulsion, they cannot afford to wound, let alone deal a defeating blow to it – nobody would pay attention to them anymore, which would ultimately wipe out their revenues and put them out of business. This mechanism sustains otherwise lifeless and non-sustainable narratives.

The objective of politics is to never break the chain of emotions set in motion by a shock. Their synchronization has become the new way of governing and the community of emotions replaces the community of interests resulting in communism of affects[4].


[1] B. C. Han, In the Swarm: Digital Prospects, The MIT Press (2017)

[2] B. C. Han, ibid.

[3] B. C. Han, ibid.

[4] Paul Virilio, The Administration of Fear, Semiotext(e) intervention series (2012)

Goebbels in America: The Microsolidarity of Identitarian Autohypnosis

19. IX 2021

Three quarters of a century after his death, Goebbels is back in vogue. After the 2020 shipwreck, Republicans are fighting for their lives. Desperate and pissed off, they are coming out as a full-blown Nazi party, taking Goebbels’ playbook as a gospel, pure and undiluted, as if no other books have ever been written. There are no more pretenses — anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny are alive and well in America today with open support for white supremacy in all its modes and hasty legislation of outdated segregationist policies. MAGA-pride events, the culturally adjusted burlesque versions of Nazi conventions, have replaced country fairs and have become magnets for angry, aggressive, and comically stupid folks. New blood is being mobilized to carry out Brown-shirt activities and half-assed attempts to model their own martyrs (Ashli Babbitt as a modern day Horst Wessel) after Nazi folk heroes.

Without a program or agenda, and armed with strategy of fully randomized focus targeting, everything is in the mix (hoping that something will stick): The Constitution, first (and second) amendment, race (critical and uncritical), education, prayer in schools, American history (and anti-history), slavery, 1619, white replacement, immigration, misogyny, abortion, climate change, wealth distribution, student loans, taxes, recounts, voter suppression, insurrection, swastikas, sedition, civil war, Republican math, Florida man, flat earth, space travel, Taliban, Hunter Biden, media, influencers, Moonies, masks, vaccines, Fauci, Ivermectin, Jews with (and without) lasers, cousins in Trinidad, and, of course, Jesus.

By its design, the new, 21st century gumbo of neo-Nazi propaganda has become the key identifier of growing masses of excluded, grotesquely ignorant folks whose anger and self-pity, caused by their precarity, trumps rationality, logic, science, and their own economic interests, safety and well-being. The high marketability of the Nazi-style response to populist rage is the new frontier for the transparently dishonest media outlets who, in search of attention, publicity, and ratings are willing to cross the boundaries of century-old social and political taboos and get on the other side in order to get ahead of the competition or just stay in the game.

A logical question emerges at this point: Why do we have to go back to these issues again? After all, these are outdated ideologies with a well-documented chronology of their inadequacy and chronic failure (social, economic, political, moral). Is fascism turning out to be the strange attractor of modernity and is its periodic recurrence unavoidable?

Despite its extreme nature and excesses, what happened in Germany in the 1930s was a logical inevitability of the Western civilization and its intellectual tradition. Evil is an intellectual need of the mind, which meditates about good. Intellectuals made evil logically necessary upon funding the idea about a better world. It is, therefore, no wonder that the origins of WWII reside in one of the most developed countries with the strongest cultural tradition in the Western world of that time.

After WWII was over, while the victors indulged in the narcissistic righteousness of its aftermath, Germany emerged richer with insights, which had remained unregistered by the allies. Through an unprecedented defeat, they [Germans] have been brought to the unwanted but valid insight that national identities and ethnic missions are in principle nothing more than violent and violence-producing collective autohypnosis. Consequently, they have developed a relationship to the missions of history that resembles that of a sober alcoholic to their former drug[1].

And while modern Germany has retreated from the manic historicity and forever abandoned the idea of being a chosen nation, the victors saw, and continue to see, WWII as just another round in a tournament for international supremacy in which one competitor (Germany) had been eliminated. They (the victors) never abandoned the dreams of their own supremacy — their individual or collective visions of the future have been nothing but projections and fantasies of their domination extending to their logical extremes[2].

America seems to have gone the furthest in that direction. Economically prosperous, but, at the same time, neck-deep in excrement, largely due to its own self-neglect and gross mismanagement of its fortunes, it remains narcissistically in love with itself (for all the wrong reasons). Paradoxically, this is especially true for those segments of the American population that have been the victims of said neglect. In the last years these folks have been in a state of a post-coital narcissistic orgy and have become a petri dish for the same collective auto-hypnotic identity politics and self-discovery that Germany went through a century ago.

By the end of the first decade of the new century, the gap that separates every disgruntled member of the excluded white sub-proletariat in America from the clutches of white supremacist rage has shrunk so much that it takes only a moment of inattention for any member of that community to falsely interpret their personal misery, deserved defeat, and bitterness as the sad faith of America, which, if we are to be honest, with such whining, pitiful and comically ignorant constituents, never really deserved anything better.

They failed in the game, which they invented, maintained, and defended at all cost, and now, they want another shot at it, but with altered rules, ones that would guarantee their advantage. This is the core of the microsolidarity and fractal belonging of the current identity politics. It is also fascism at its purest.

And as the saying goes: All comedies of history happen twice; the first time they are bloody, and the second time ridiculous. When the final receipts were written, the 1900s turned out to be a bad century for Germany. It was also a turning point for America as the leading cultural and economic global force. Now that baton has been passed, it is America’s turn. So, here we are.


[1] Peter Sloterdijk, Infinite Mobilization, Polity Press (2020)

[2] ibid.

Texas

5. IX 2021

Identity code has a generally excluding effect capable of mobilizing negative energies and social forces towards those who do not share the same origin, territory or culture. Fascism is the fundamental obsession with identity, origin and belonging. It is a knee-jerk reaction to physical and social displacement. Fascism is generally absorbent, which reflects a fear of small numbers — it likes size because identity robustness had been eroded by the defection and depletion of ranks. It absorbs everyone willing to join in and expresses hostility to outsiders.

While there are many varieties of fascism, they all have one thing in common: Misogyny resides at the origin of each and every one of them – there hasn’t been a fascist movement without it. It’s never been too difficult to mobilize enough male solidarity when it comes to organized misogyny. By questioning the external norms that relate to the position of men and women in society, man has and had nothing to gain and everything to lose: he would lose not only social and economic advantages, but something far more precious, a sense of his own superiority which bolsters his ego both in his public and private life[1].

The fundamental cohesive force of fascism always begins with a male bonding ritual of masculinization of cultural self-perception. In Italy, for example, early 20th century fascism represented the turning point from feminine self-perception to masculine assertiveness: Erasing feminine quality of its Mediterranean sensitivity – everything that makes life there pleasant and seductive — and affirming a different self-image based on acceleration and male potency (national pride, military aggressivity, industrial growth, etc). German fascism, on the other hand, was not a programmatic cultural defeminization, but rather an establishment of systematic downgrade of femininity to reproductive function as a part of the new nation-serving hierarchization. Its essence was a utilitarian placement of women as birth factories, their subordination to the interests of the National Socialist political agenda (run by men), to serve the numbers.

When seen in the context of the most recent developments, the new intensity of the American misogyny appears less of an anachronistic anomaly and more as a logical consequence of the current political struggles. The debates (and the present escalation) of the Abortion law – the topic that had been put to rest in the remainder of the world a long time ago – is resurfacing now, at this particular moment, not in the light of its renewed relevance or urgency, but as an opening act for the new chapter of fascism. It is showing here in a more convoluted way than it had 100 years ago because the social and cultural displacement of the 21st century Western man has triggered new modes of identity politics.

Modern day misogyny is the ultimate male fantasy of the Western conservatives structured around a nostalgia for the times of lower entropy, a return to the past as a site of coherence, and a relapse to the patriarchal setting when man held their “naturally deserved” upper hand and (a male) God ruled the world. Through misogyny this man articulates the desire to reclaim what he considers his “natural right” to control women and, in that way, take control of his own destiny.

Conservative man’s vision of woman is not objective, but an uneasy combination of what he wishes her to be and what he fears her to be[2]. The masculinization program and return to patriarchal values (the most coveted axiom of any right-wing politics) and assault on women’s rights and their position in society, if they are to be successful, would have to be deeper, gradual, and systematic. This means undoing the women’s emancipation. The tactical approach of conservative politics is that the masculinization program requires a proper framing and subtle maneuvering — women must not be antagonized; they are many and they vote. In their view, the most effective approach is to strike at the root of a woman’s influence.

No one has more influence on a person during their formative age than their mother. As such, she is a constant threat to both the state and to men in general. The decision of life and death has to be taken away from women. Their influence and importance in the life of their children have to be diminished, if not de facto, then, at least, symbolically. Right to life! This is ultimately the question about who has jurisdiction over the life of an individual, their mother/family or the state (ruled by men, of course). With the help of proper framing, this becomes the theme that defines the core of conservative identity politics, an issue slowly hijacked by (predominantly white) men who feel righteous and entitled, and present themselves as defenders of human life while women take a back seat.


[1] Eva Figes, Patriarchal Attitudes, Persea Books (1986)

[2] ibid.

What More Needs to Happen before Something Happens?

22. VIII 2021

Our everyday life is peppered with illegal activities – its normal functioning would be practically impossible without discretionary transgressions of the law. We jaywalk every day, regularly drive above the speed limit, and use cellphones while driving. And who hasn’t littered at some point in their life? For a long time, smoking marijuana or taking drugs have been considered rights of passage for many, while sharing you password or downloading music, movies or books is done continuously without even an afterthought. In certain states in America, non-procreative sex is still illegal and in some countries like Iran it carries a death sentence. Nevertheless, people systematically, and sometimes exclusively, engage in those practices as a matter of sexual preferences or lifestyle choices.

This aspect of casual transgression is well understood by both the citizens and the authorities. However, actions of authorities are almost never aimed at their systematic suppression. Police functioning is most effective when everyone is breaking the law. The purpose of the law and law enforcement is to make you a potential criminal and for the police to have an option to declare you an actual criminal at any given time[1].

Once this is done, once you have been declared a criminal, the court does not initiate a trial and possible sentencing, but instead pressures you to plead guilty and accept your criminality. This is more effective in the long run – once you have confessed to your criminality (in order to serve a lesser sentence or go free with a slap on the wrist), there would be no way of complaining or objecting to the consequences. In this way, you move closer to an easily governable docile subject. This is governmentality at its purest.

However, the situation is markedly different when non-individual entities are concerned. When an entire congregation or political party breaks the law systematically, this becomes a sign of possible civil disobedience and unrest, which requires urgency of intervention, especially if their followings are of negligible size. In that case, any attempt to prosecute those people can be diverted into a political struggle and, as such, become a defense against abuses of power.

Genealogy of a Political Hysteria

The seeds of the Jan-6 clown coup, and with it, the radical reshaping of the Republican party, most likely started as a consequence of the previous Oval Office occupant’s failed attempts to extort some kind of blanket immunity from prosecution by his successor. The repeated failure to successfully ensure such a package led to escalation in the negotiations and threats, most likely never intended to be realized, but, as the new President elect called his predecessor’s bluff, things went beyond the point of no return. As matter got out of hand in this game of miscalculated leverage, and assumed an unintended dimension with grave legal implications, some key figures of the previous administration became implicated and compromised.

Clearly, the whole Jan-6 thing wasn’t conceived to be anything but a threat. No one in his right mind would think that a few hundred people breaking into the Capitol would amount to keeping the losing candidate in office. Keeping the Congressmen as hostages and asking that the Election results be reversed? Or what? The mob executes them? The noose? Only a total moron (and there were plenty of them in DC on that day) could believe that this could amount to anything. All of that was intended to be nothing more than a threat to push the Republicans in Congress to vote against certification in order to drag things further so that the new administration, in order to keep things under control and finish the whole charade, finally settles for a sweeping pardon. Nothing else.

Well, that didn’t work as planned, so here we are. For those involved, the consequences have become non-trivial. The latest transformation of the Republican Party into a pseudo-criminal collective is a result of dealing with those consequences.

Since almost every Republican still sees the support of Trump’s base as a must-have on their political path, the implicated leaders have compelled others, either by dirt or by promises of endorsement, to join in and create a shift from individual to collective criminality. With that maneuver, the underlying allegations of the Republican top would be converted into a collective liability of the entire party, which would transform the defense of the idiot-coup into a political struggle.

Clearly, this cannot be, in any possible context, a sustainable platform of a political organization. It is a losing proposition in an environment where political victory is won within 1% majority. It is really a desperate attempt to diffuse the culpability of their leadership and prevent consequences to take place.

The cold civil war

The democratic process was originally conceived as a way to peacefully resolve economic disputes between people who share common values, either cultural, religious, or in terms of lifestyles or visions of the future. As such, democracy requires commonality; inequality undermines it. When, however, inequality reaches the critical point, when interests diverge so much that consensus is no longer attainable, the bonding tissue that keeps society together begins to tear and democracy becomes compromised. In the absence of commonality, disputes can no longer have peaceful resolve. Instead, the resolution occurs through negotiation or war[2].

Despite being abundantly and unambiguously clear what happened on and after Jan-6, the response has been annoyingly gradual. The effect of subsequent diversion of blame from individual to collective was to increase the already existing division and elevate the tensions, which have been accumulating over the past years. The escalation caused by the Republicans’ coming out as the white supremacist party has transformed those tensions into a cold civil war.

The legal and political disputes related to the Jan-6 events are now happening against a highly combustive social background where the underlying social tensions have already crossed the point of no return. The most acute problem, therefore, is how to avoid the cold civil war from heating up.

The current situation has become explosive — it is configured like a booby trap. And, when facing the problem of its deactivation, one does not just come in and cut the wires — one wrong move and the device will explode. Deactivation must proceed slowly and sequentially, first by figuring out who is connected with whom and only then can the cutting really begin.


[1] This argument, I believe, is due to Slavoj Zizek.

[2] Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy, Cambridge University Press (2011)

Death & Life in Utopia for the Stupid (a flashback)

19. VII 2021

The rational is always the rationality of an irrational (Fèlix Guattari)

If utopia represents the impossible [imaginary places where social relations are represented, contested, and inverted], and developed society has reached the point where (almost) everything is possible, then the problem of finding our way is no longer the problem of disappearing utopia, but the problem of vision and politics[1]. So, what is the neoliberal utopia really like? What is a logical extrapolation of the neoliberal experience and what could be the next frontier for its all-around permissiveness?

Of all the issues that have emerged in the last years, murder has been the most divisive. From police brutality, to vigilante killings, mass murders, shooting of cops or innocent bystanders and terror attacks. All these cases were really about who has the right to kill whom, and at what price. Black lives matter, terrorism, the OJ Simpson trial, the idiot coup … they have all been about the same theme: Is it ok for whites to kill blacks, for Muslims to kill Christians, for rich to kill poor, or even for the rich blacks to kill not-so-rich whites, etc.? There has always been some implicit hierarchy of rules in that space.

Issues that have played a similar divisive role in the past have been alcohol prohibition, teenage drinking, abortion (right to life), legality of drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, speed limits, etc. In many countries where these issues have been put to rest, tensions and problems associated with the issue have disappeared.

It is common sense to assume that removing an aura of taboo reduces the appeal of the vice. By legalizing something, one eliminates the challenge and reduces the abuse. For example, incidence of teenage drinking, drunken driving etc. are much lower in countries which have no minimum drinking age, and similarly in the case of car accidents vs. speed limit. In the same manner, one can argue, that the legalization of drugs could lead to lower incidence of drug abuse and a reduction in crimes associated with illegal drug trafficking. Same holds for prostitution. The upside of legalizing these activities is that society becomes less polarized – people get along better with each other – and, once divisive aspects are removed, politics becomes more constructive.

Utopia for the stupid

Stupidity does not understand context. It assumes knowledge and extrapolations of experiences to contexts where those do not belong and often cannot hold. This is the summary of neoliberalism’s essence and its destiny as an ideology premised on applying the laws of the markets to life as a whole. In the final days of the unraveling of the neoliberal reign, this has become the era of stupidity. Therefore, entertaining the counterfactual reality that reflects the future as a neoliberal utopia of permissiveness, by allowing for its virtual triumph and applying its patterns and rules to situations where they do not belong, should be done based on the same foundations of confused contexts and argued with the same logic as the ideology itself.

By analogy with the well-know cases of causal connection between bad habits and their status of social taboo, it is fair to ask the same question regarding murder. Following the logic of neoliberal reasoning, one can argue along the following lines:

First, in America, there is an insane number of murders every year. By now, we probably have more than one mass murder for each day in the year. Obviously, the fact that murder is a capital offense is no detractor for killers; the rate of killing (individual/random/mass) keeps increasing. The legitimate question to ask then is: Would the number of murders decrease if they were to become legal? Following the same line of reasoning as with drinking or drug abuse, one could argue that most likely, there would be an initial surge, but then the trend would gradually subside and a new lower equilibrium murder rate reached.

Death by shooting would gradually be accepted as a consequence of our freedoms, in the same way as death caused by traffic accidents, plane crashes, fire, or natural disasters have.

The benefits would be immediately visible. First, guns would get the status of a regular appliance, like car or TV — everyone would own (at least) one. This would be plain common sense. All debates about the second amendment would become obsolete and with them the polarizing effects would go away. There would be no justification for the existence of the gun lobby. The NRA would be rendered politically irrelevant and politics, free of its influences, would be able to focus on issues that matter. Without polarization around the second amendment, republicans and democrats could even merge into a single party.

Smart guns would become the new technological frontier. Apple would produce first iGun, synchronizable with iPhone and iWatch, and Teslas would come with special road rage software and appropriate smart guns usable in such situations.

Compulsive killing would be frowned upon. It would be deemed uncool, along the lines people treat compulsive eating and obesity. There would be awareness groups that provide counseling and talk shows where compulsive killers would be subjected to public shaming.

The US would enter its post-political phase. There would be less need for police; private protection would be the new area of economic expansion. There would be far fewer people in prisons, both private and state-run. No debates about the death penalty or life sentences? All these would free the federal budget for more constructive projects. People would be much more considerate and respectful of each other’s feelings. Conflicts would tend to be avoided. Everyone would be nice to each other (assholes would have a very low chance of survival). Generally, people would get along much better. Right?

At the end, it would be every man for himself, just as Margaret Thatcher said: There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. These thoughts represent the basic axiom of neoliberalism and its sociopathic core. It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that, when stripped of the constraints of moral judgment, the utilitarian logic of neoliberalism, if applied consistently and carried to its final consequences, inevitable leads to over-optimized dystopian world of sociopathy. A sociopath truly practices the notion of morality developed by utilitarianism. He need not necessarily lack intelligence, but on a landscape of normal human interaction, he is lost – that is what defines his affliction. For him, morality designates a behavior one adopts by way of intelligently calculating one’s interests (in the long–run, it profits us all if we try to contribute to the pleasure of the greatest number of people). A sociopath sees morality as a theory one learns and follows and not something one identifies with: [in his universe] doing evil is a mistake in calculation, not a guilty act[2].


[1] Fredric Jameson, An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army, Verso (2016)

[2] Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan, W. W. Norton & Company (2007)

Fatal Strategies and the Value of Human Life

20. VI 2021

Civilization’s potential for barbarism is growing; the everyday bestialization of man is on the increase. (Peter Sloterdijk)

In the autumn of 1914, a human life was infinitely more worthless than in the autumn of 1913. WWI was an abyss, a near-unfathomable crisis of civilization, and one of the most important issues that needed to be addressed in its wake was precisely the worth of the human being[1].

This question would set the tone and meter of the political discourse to come, its echo extending beyond the remainder of the 20th century, without ever losing its relevance. It would only assume different forms and granularity as its context changed, its mutation continuously adapting to different modes of fascism and identity politics, which defined the metrics for the relative valuation of human life.

Before and during WWII, it was the value of Arian vs. non-Arian lives (fascism). In occupied territories in WWII, Germany had a simple algorithm, precise and unambiguous, displayed in public for everyone to know: For each German killed, they would execute 100 randomly picked locals. In the second part of the 20th century, which Immanuel Wallerstein had coined as the realization of democratic fascism[2] whereby 20% of the global population exploits the remaining 80%, the debate shifted to the relative worth of American vs. non-American lives. In backlash to western hegemony, the Islamic dilemma was articulated through Islamo-fascism and terrorism with the discourse defined by a different valuation of Muslim and infidel lives. With the gradual normalization of neo-fascism and white supremacy in the new century, the debate shifted (back) to white vs. non-white and natives vs. migrants.

In today’s America, this problem is currently struck around quantifying the value of Black lives. It is not an entirely new debate, but the socio-political backdrop is. The narrative behind the current ritual of white supremacist coming out and their clownish uprising rests on the belief that, contrary to the overwhelming evidence, Black lives are valued fairly, if not even overvalued. Persistent and deliberate police brutality against Black people is but a particular way of transmitting this message, and so is the normalization of white supremacy with white replacement paranoia, the glorification of slavery, voter suppression, the exorcism of critical race theory from the school curriculum, and general revisionism.

Delirium

The embrace of a regressive revival of racial tensions defines the delirium of the current socio-political counterpoint. It is a moment that desperately demands collective introspection. Here, we have to be careful to avoid the trappings of conventional (Freudian) psychoanalysis defined relative to an Oedipal axis (which locates the roots of our problems in sex and family). What is currently at play requires a different perspective, defined by Deluze and Guatarri as anti-Oedipal:

The real problem of delirium lies in the extraordinary transition from the pole of reactionary or fascist to a revolutionary pole. Statements like ‘I belong to a superior race’ appear in all paranoid deliriums. Similarly, ‘I belong to an utterly inferior race’ is a revolutionary pole of madness[3].

The excluded white precariat is torn between these two poles, unable to decide where they stand or belong, and where they want to be. They have managed to lose their way in the interstices of the anti-Oedipal perspective. The decades of erosive acrobatics of ideological maneuvering have made this point especially ambiguous in a way that, although neither one is correct, both appear equally plausible and seductive.

Trapped in what Wendy Brown considers the neoliberal trauma inflicted by neoliberalism’s accidental wounding of the white male supremacy[4], the white underclass remains transfixed between a self-pity of collective victimology and an unwavering sense of superiority and entitlement, all these emotions grossly misinterpreted, misdirected and manipulated, standing as a testament to their anachronism.

This ideological terrain had been already claimed and appropriated by the conservative Right, resurrected as the Right Wing populism, which has latched onto the underlying white discontent as their lifeline and the last point of rescue from their own obsolescence. In a bizarre symbiosis between the super-privileged and the super-marginalized segments of the white American population, conservative leaders have taken upon themselves the role of speaking on behalf of the poor so that the poor wouldn’t speak for themselves: We want to include you in the decision without letting you influence it. Through carefully structured narratives and divisive memes, their rhetorics are framed as a culture war, which insures that the underlying rage capital of the white precariat remains properly invested and its supply never stops growing.

Entropy

The current crisis of politics is unlike anything seen before. It hasn’t been brought about by chronic scarcity, economic devastation or depression. It has been driven by an undeniable realization that exploding wealth and prosperity has repeatedly failed to underwrite a decent, or even acceptable, life for a growing majority of people amidst the unrestrained accumulation of wealth of a shrinking minority.

Entropy cannot decline, it must rise – systems always evolve towards less orderly state. This means that order always comes at a price: Local order can happen so long as it ejects enough disorder to its surroundings that the total disorder raises. Peaceful social life means that one party, the ruling one, has already won. Interfering with that – taking over by another political faction – creates an upheaval and disruption of peace.

Exploding inequality, which comes about when extreme prosperity is financed by extreme exclusion, eventually tips the scale and leads to a buildup of latent systematic violence that does not know, and is incapable of acknowledging the existence of, any bounds. At some point, this latent violence begins to permeate every aspect of social and political life and along the way creates the state of the general exclusion principle: [Y]ou cannot calculate both the current [social] position of an individual and his or her velocity of exclusion, [e.g.] advancement of women and their virtual downgrading[5]. It is impossible to distinguish causes and effects or to isolate subject from object (are Republicans hostages of their base or is the base their victims). One can grasp either the appearance or the meaning, but not both at the same time (we cannot tell whether GOP politicians only act as morons or they are actual morons). Ultimately, we can no longer calculate the price of a human life and its statistical value at the same time[6].

Nihilism of value and the fight for human soul

How did we get here? What is the big loss and trauma humanity had experienced that has led to this nihilism of value, which the neoliberal mutation of capitalism only made intolerable?

In the past, the human being was not doomed to be merely what he is. God and Satan wrestled over him. In the past, we were important enough to have a battle fought over our soul. Today, our salvation is our own affair. Our lives are no longer marked by original sin but by the risk of failing to fulfill our ultimate potential. So we accumulate plans, ideas and programs; we constantly pass the buck and seek to outdo each other in a universal effort to perform[7].

By attempting to achieve local order in our lives we eject disorder elsewhere. And as everyone does the same thing, this creates entropy, which continues to grow unstoppably and, as much as we try to avoid it, entropy begins to seep into all pores of everyone’s life. But whom do we turn to when we fail (and an increasing fraction of American population is failing), or whom do we blame for our failure?

In the absence of transcendent powers watching over us, and in the perpetual effort to validate our existence, we are forced to become ‘fatal’ to ourselves[8]. We romanticize the past and revive its ghosts in order to create a context for the struggle about jurisdiction over the ancestral terrain, its location and boundaries, and the right to map the current reality onto it. This is the only way of bringing back the lost meaning of human life. We need to own the future in order to conquer the past, because this is the terrain on which the battle for our souls will be fought again.

In what becomes a parody of fate, a leader figure will emerge who will fill that empty place and fight for the excluded and forgotten. And when they find each other, the excluded and forgotten followers will ignore every and all of his shortcomings — no matter how flawed he might be, they will support him unconditionally. He might be the worst human being there is, but they don’t require goodness or humanity from him because he fights for their soul. Nothing else will matter anymore.


[1] Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book 6, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2019)

[2] Immanuel Wallerstein, World Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Duke University Press (2004)

[3] Felix Guattari, Chaosophy, Semiotext(e), New edition (2008)

[4] Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, Columbia University Press (2019)

[5] Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, Verso; Reprint edition (2012)

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

Bare life

29. V 2021

In Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, the party who emerges as master does not fear death. The desire for freedom, recognition, and sovereignty raises the master above concern for bare life. It is fear of dying that induces the future slave to subordinate himself to the Other. Preferring servitude to the threat of death, the slave clings to bare life. (B. C. Han)

What on the surface appears as a consolidation in the ranks of the post-Q-anon Republican Party, from Hawley’s clenched fist and Lyin’ Ted’s escapades, the psychotic trailer-park vitriol of Boebert and Taylor-Greene to the full immersion of Stefanik, the disoriented and stunningly myopic maneuver devoid of any logic and common sense, is not an ideological realignment, but the fight for bare life – a desperate attempt to secure a financial bloodline necessary for their short-term survival.

When seen in a broader context, the collective pledge of unconditional servitude to the rejected and discarded former leader represents the liminal stage in the forced transformation of the American conservatism, which has been following a well-defined and rigid pattern of ritual in its quest for structure, long lost after decades of its own cannibalization. This transformation process has reached the point where its inner contradictions have become so abundant that the party representing conservative ideology can no longer exist as a part of the democratic process.

For the Republican Party, this is the unconditional moment – a situation that requires the creation of a new set of values and standards, a new picture of the world and one’s sense of self in it. They are confronted with the restrictions and pathological narrowness of their existence, a condition that demands the Party to abandon the security of its limitedness, and enter a new realm of self-awareness. For them, there is no turning back; the whole system of values must change.

Republicans’ desperate gasp for air is an attempt to answer the existential question forced upon their party: How to respond to a confrontation with the reality of failure — an absolute failure, which one cannot fail to recognize? Answering this question requires entering terra incognita where they come to terms with their underlying incapacities, a transformation process that demands separation from the existing structure.

The power of ritual

Ritual is a social act of subjective transformation, which allows the transformed subject to see the context with different eyes and from a new perspective afforded by the experience of ritual. It usually takes place at an inflection point where the status quo approaches a dead end and functions as a mechanism that converts the obligatory into the desirable.

The essence of ritual is a play between structure and anti-structure. Irrespective of the context, it is always staged in three acts. The first act consists of separation – this is when the subject is taken out of their context. The second step is the transitional or liminal stage. During this phase, the work of the ritual takes place: The order of things is (temporarily) suspended — participants are in a structureless zone ready to accept new rules. In the final, integration, phase the subject is re-contextualized[1].

An example of this formal structure, with all three stages is the ritual of the American college experience. After a sheltered (and structured) childhood, where access and exposure to major sources of risk, like excessive time mismanagement, night clubs, drinking, drugs, etc. is restricted either legally or through parental supervision, college kids ceremonially leave their parents’ homes and move into student dorms (separation), the new communal centers where they cohabitate with their peers. Unsupervised and armed with newly acquired fake IDs, they step into the Devil’s playground (anti-structure) with access to alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and a host of new experiences, becoming exposed to the risks and temptations of the adult world. No longer kids and not yet adults, betwixt and between, they enter the liminal stage, in which all rules of either life seem to be suspended. In most cases, the American college experience has a progressive (centrifugal) liminal period, which emerges as a source of potential alternative structures waiting to be embraced after which a successful integration into adult life can take place.

In the last 4 years, conservative politics has entered the liminal stage, its existence marked by the play between structure and anti-structure. Nothing is ordinary — everything is tremendous. Semiotic excess — lies, nonsense, conspiracy theories, and propaganda — has had the main purpose of perpetuating the ritual, sustaining liminality, and suspending the rules. Palpable falsehoods became new articles of faith, new social identity drew the boundary between us and them and became the main theme of political discourse. Acceptance includes tests of authenticity, which require participants to go through initiation rites in which they burn bridges by committing deep out-of-the-money unethical acts and physical or intellectual atrocities (sometimes all three). This is an ongoing ritual within a ritual consisting of competitive symbolic self-immolation in the arena of public spectacle, which irreversibly closes the doors for their return to pre-liminal life.

If 2016 was a moment of separation, and subsequent years were liminal, in the current context of political ritual, post-liminal right wing integration is evolving towards the Weberian everydayinization of the out-of-ordinary situations.

The road to re-contextualization

For all the good that it has created, money, in its omnipresence as the ultimate metric of value, has had a deleterious effect on society, culture and politics.

Democracies today are captured and dominated by big interest groups and their money. They still formally function as democracies — we are free to speak and free to struggle — but elections are competitive and their outcomes are not known in advance; they remain constrained by the boundaries set by financial interests of the wealthiest segments of the society. This has become more pronounced as the costs of running (for political office) are getting more and more expensive, further reinforcing the power of big money. It is practically impossible for a candidate to emerge without money – he/she must either be independently wealthy or have the people with money who back them. At the end, politics has become a game of seduction where everyone is funded by someone and they have to conform with the wishes and views of their potential and actual donors. 

Money has flattened everything – it has made every drama, every villain, and every existential or ethical dilemma linear and one-dimensional. Behind every act of evil, there is always a financial position. A madman who is plotting to nuke a large American metropolis in a doomsday suspense drama is no longer a deranged psychopath, driven by madness of revenge against humanity or dreams of establishing ex-nihilo a new world order, but a rational investor who has a short position in commodities, which would be driven in the money by the underlying catastrophe of his design.

The GOP’s current political ritual of collective lobotomy is not the result of a regressive uprising of autocratic mad villains, but a consequence of the flattening of politics by money. Their apparent suicidal tactics are in reality just posturing meant to serve as a surrogate for commitment. The ritualized loyalty oath to their rejected and defenestrated ex-leader is nothing else but a money-raising scheme. It is a plea of an increasingly marginalized ideology, deemed futureless, running out of the willing oligarchic support, transitioning from an actual political party to a suicide pact which embraces the TV-evangelist business model centered on monetizing on peoples’ misery and stripping the gullible bottom of disenfranchised rubes of their last penny.

This is the current American conservative utopia and the path to their re-contextualization. Republicans are fighting for their bare life. Beyond concerns for their short-term survival, their only vision of the future is a society as an atonal pseudo-totalitarian operetta without a key or meter, the kingdom of arbitrariness where words have no fixed meaning and actions no consequences, a fool’s paradise in which Ivy-league cohabitates happily with trailer-trash and everyone is allowed to dwell in his/her own stupidity.


[1] This breakdown of the structure and the concept of liminality were first introduced by Arnold von Gennep in 1909, Rites of Passage, University of Chicago Press (1961)