In a recent review of Badiou's essays, Žižek's cover blurb was quoted: "one final "figure like Plato or Hegel [who] walks here among us!"" (It elicited a negative reaction from Brian Leiter.) Now cover blurbs are designed to sell books, of course, but Žižek's jokes are often serious play (cf. Plato, say, Laws, 803). It is worth reflecting briefly on the fact that Žižek is cutely echoing (or transforming) Exodus 29:45 or Leviticus 26:12. If we free-associate a bit then we can say that God is divided in three (Plato, Hegel, Badiou). So, Žižek is (like Nietzsche and a few others since) closing the metaphysical tradition, yet again. Žižek is also not-so-subtly dissing the rest of us; If Plato-Hegel-Badiou are Godlike, the rest of us are the Israelites (enuff said) with Žižek playing the scribe. As Jeff Bell reminded me, in the introduction to Being and Event, Badiou present himself as a part of (maybe even provoking) -- to quote Badiou -- a "new departure," or, in my terminology, philosophic prophecy. His book is, as Badiou tells us, "in conformity to the sacred mystery of the Trinity,...'three-in-one.'"
But as we learn from the start of the Timaeus, there is a missing fourth: Descartes, who had, in fact, better use for the Gods: "Dii male perdeant [sic]/Antiquos, mea qui praeripuere mihi." In Lachterman's translation: "Let the Gods cruelly destroy/the Ancients, who snatched my things/away from me beforehand." Leaving aside Descartes' expansive notion of property rights, Lachterman (The Ethics of Geometry, 128) notes that Descartes expresses the wish to embrace "radical novelty" (excplicitly accepting the violence that this presupposes). That is, Descartes wishes to be like Adam in Paradise. Lachterman, who is oddly unread, goes on to quote a poem by Constantijn Huygens in which God and Adam are dispensed, and the mathematician Descartes gives birth to himself from nature (129-130).
For many of us it often seems that the alternatives are a tradition of sacred mystery and (outsourced violent) autonomous-self-construction.
[Update: thanks to Michael Kremer, who caught some typos in the Latin quote from Descartes.--ES]
The event of Hurricane Sandy is multi-dimensional; its sociological dimension is that people on the ground are "their own first responders," in Russel Honoré's phrase. Honoré's experience leading the militarized rescue effort in New Orleans after Katrina matches what sociologists have long demonstrated (and what Rebecca Solnit narrates in A Paradise Built in Hell): what appears in disasters is prosocial behavior, not atomized predation.
Anxiety is classically distinguished from fear by its "free-floating" character; while fear has an object, anxiety is alertness without an object, a potentiality, a tendency toward fear.* Using a Simondonian image, anxiety is metastable and pre-individual, like a super-saturated liquid, needing only a slight disturbance to start its crystallization. We should note that Simondon's notion of individuation, imaged by crystallization, centers on the putting into connection of different orders of magnitude; I use the notion of "events as crystallizations" to investigate case studies in terms of political affect as connecting the social, somatic, and subjective scales.
Rich Benjamin's NYT piece on the Trayvon Martin case, "The Gated Community Mentality," puts some (small-scale "geo-political," if you will) orders of magnitude on the table, but suffers by not getting below the personal and subjective to the neural and affective. The term "mentality" in his title indicates that personal or psychological subjectivity is his lower bound.
"Authoritarianism is the ideal environment for the pairing of irony and paranoia...in the "Epistle to Augustus"...Ovid constructs himself and the Emperor as mirror-images of each other, a relationship in which irony and paranoia become ungovernable."--TLS, Dennis Feeney (September 16, 2011: p. 26). Our novelists prefer the seeming safety of irony. Arnon Grunberg admits as much: "I would argue that what Schliesser calls “self-marginalization” is nothing but realism. And I’m not sure if marginalization for a novelist is by definition a curse." [My comments had been a response to Grunberg's observations on the studied indifference to modern novels; his was, in turn, a response to my hint that art may be marginalizing itself by not giving Satan airtime.]
A sentence at the end of this article caught my eye, regarding that old philosophical warhorse, instrumental vs prudential reason:
The Associated Press quotes Swedish forensic psychiatrists Anders Forsman as saying, “It is difficult to see this as criminal insanity. He seems to have carried out the killings in a rational way. He is an efficient killing machine."
This blog post is a worthwhile reflection on American securitarianism w/r/t insanity, with an interesting reference to John Hinckley, Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin.
Breivik's lawyer's statement that his client took drugs to be "strong, efficient, and awake" is being widely reported. He's also reporting his impression that Breivik is “a very cold person,” adding that “I can’t describe him because he is not like anyone else.” We've already remarked on Breivik's misogyny; here is another way in which this case crystallizes many dimensions of our world; Eric is exploring the role of the media-military-industrial complex here, here, and here.
I've long been interested in investigating how people manage the corporeal intensity of the act of killing. Both the drugs and the coldness are important factors, as we know from the US military (see here a review of Jonathan Moreno's Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense, which deals briefly in Chapter 6 with dexedrine and modafinil in the Air Force).
I'd be very grateful if people would email me or comment here if they see anything else of this sort in the Breivik case.
UPDATE, T 26 July, 11:37 am CDT: Please take the time to read this very important and very perceptive comment below.
Like the Giffords case, and other majorevents, the Norway massacre, targeting the next generation of Norway's Labour Party, is a dense crystallization of many threads in the world. Echoing Eric's link below exposing the dangers of many "terrorism experts," here is an important article tracing another thread relatively underplayed in mainstream commentary: Breivik's misogyny.
Conservatives worried about the Islamization of Europe often blame feminism for weakening Western societies and opening them up to a Muslim demographic invasion. Mark Steyn’s bestselling America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It predicted the demise of “European races too self-absorbed to breed,” leading to the transformation of Europe into Eurabia. “In their bizarre prioritization of ‘a woman’s right to choose,’” he argued, “feminists have helped ensure that European women will end their days in a culture that doesn’t accord women the right to choose anything.”
This neat rhetorical trick—an attack on feminism coupled with purported concern about Muslim fundamentalist misogyny—is repeated again and again in Islamophobic literature. Now it’s reached its apogee in mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” Rarely has the connection between sexual anxiety and right-wing nationalism been made quite so clear. Indeed, Breivik’s hatred of women rivals his hatred of Islam, and is intimately linked to it. Some reports have suggested that during his rampage on Utoya, he targeted the most beautiful girl first....
Though he describes his stepfather as somewhat conservative, he nevertheless complains of a “super-liberal, matriarchal upbringing,” which he says has “contributed to feminise me to a certain degree.”
A terror of feminization haunts his bizarre document. “The female manipulation of males has been institutionalised during the last decades and is a partial cause of the feminisation of men in Europe,” he writes. He blames empowered women for his own isolation, saying that he recoils from the “destructive and suicidal Sex and the City lifestyle (modern feminism, sexual revolution) …In that setting, men are not men anymore, but metro sexual and emotional beings that are there to serve the purpose as a never-criticising soul mate to the new age feminist woman goddess.”
Continuing to bang away at this critique of the binary between having to show a direct link between specific pieces of rhetoric and Loughner's act versus having to content ourselves with general correlations. I thought I could adapt Susan Bordo’s famous phrase, “psychopathology as crystallization of culture,” which she used to resist medicalization of anorexia. We would never be able to identify one image and the onset of anorexia in a particular anorectic, but I wouldn’t want to say there was no connection at all between cultural images of desirable thinness (plus those of thinness as sign of willpower, etc) and that particular anorectic.
So I think we shouldn’t say that short of finding a passage in Loughner’s journal where he says “I just saw this Palin (or Jesse Kelly or …) ad and I’m now convinced Giffords must be eliminated” that we can’t say anything about Loughner-in-Tucson and Giffords.
Note the "Loughner-in-Tucson" syntax. I think that's a key: it's the assemblage that counts, as I argue in the Columbine chapter in Political Affect. So the idea is that Loughner was not outside culture in being insane. On the contrary, he was too close to it; he had no filters, or not strong enough filters. Not only that, but Tucson provided him no buffers; it was all "guns are the solution to government" all the time. Having no filters in Ann Arbor Michigan might keep have kept him in a basement making YouTube videos, but having no filters in Tucson put him in that supermarket parking lot.
So to follow up on the Simondonian resonances of "crystallization": "psychopathology as the transduction of pathological culture"?
UPDATE Th 13 Jan 10:11 CST: My thoughts on Bordo were considerably sharpened by this Facebook comment by Hasana Sharp (reprinted with permission):
My worry about the Bordo-model is that it could imply that the problem with these social mirrors is that they aren't Cartesian enough -- that the solution is better filters, better abilities to affirm or deny the validity of our sensuous representations. It doesn't have to imply that: it could mean we need better buffers. His social constellation did not provide any alternatives and exacerbated these cultural tendencies, whereas we are inserted in other constellations that make tea party rhetoric sound either (a) like rhetoric/ posturing/ playing a game and/ or (b) insane. If the problem with crazy people is that we think words mean what they mean, then we also need to resist the Cartesian conclusion that we need individually cultivated critical faculties that are permanently set on skepticism, or else we are profoundly vulnerable to the deceptions of opinion and sensation (=culture). I don't think Bordo is wrong, only that there is still some Descartes lurking there, despite her magisterial critique of him as a pathological symptom.
Stewart displays the same exclusive binary to which I object below in this nonetheless heartfelt piece: either we can show a straight line causality or we can't make any sense out of a "complex ecosystem." So it's either a coherent ideological act (message – belief – action) or it's "senseless," it's "lunacy." But there are other forms of causation than straight line efficient causality, for example, the sort of environmental pressure causing increased phenotypic variance that Schmalhausen's Law describes. I hope we can say something analogous about the relation between the Giffords shooting and the extreme political rhetoric and images of Tucson Arizona without it being mere correlational "hand-waving." And actually I think Stewart's "toxic environment" trope is a good place to start.
John Sides at the Monkey Cage weighs in with some social science on the relationship between militant metaphors in political speech and individuals’ willingness to engage in actual political violence against government officials. The findings he cites: an experimental study has shown there seems to be no effect on the overall population of exposure to “fighting words” in political ads, but there isan effect on people with aggressive tendencies. Moreover:
This conditional relationship — between seeing violent ads and a predisposition to aggression — appears stronger among those under the age of 40 (vs. those older), men (vs. women), and Democrats (vs. Republicans).
To prove that vitriol causes any particular act of violence, we cannot speak about “atmosphere.” We need to be able to demonstrate that vitriolic messages were actually heard and believed by the perpetrators of violence. That is a far harder thing to do. But absent such evidence, we are merely waving our hands at causation and preferring instead to treat the mere existence of vitriol and the mere existence of violence as implying some relationship between the two.
So that’s it, a binary between “hand waving” and billiard ball causality? Somebody’s got a terribly impoverished view of “causality” here. I’d say it was an example of “physics envy” but contemporary physicists aren’t that crude.
Let me give an analogy to a well-known biological principle, Schmalhausen’s Law, to show that we can make sense of the interchange of environment and population w/o meeting an impossible billiard ball causality standard. Schmalhausen showed that in species-typical environments, developmental robustness hides a lot of genetic variation. In other words, in normal environments you can get roughly the same results in a population with genetic variance. But put that population under environmental stress and the previously hidden genetic variation shows up in a greater range of phenotypes. This is not “hand-waving” but neither does it adhere to an impossible physics-envy billiard ball causality standard.
The analogy here of course, is that today’s political rhetoric environment is so extreme that we can plausibly suppose that it will expose the psychological variation in the population that would otherwise remain unexpressed.
That is not hand-waving, and it shouldn’t be dismissed because it doesn’t match some ridiculous standard of a direct cause-and-effect of one statement to one act.
UPDATE, M 10 Jan, 17:04 CST: Thinking about the exchange with Scalinger in comments below, it came to me that this billiar-ball-causality view has a lot in common with the isolated libertarian subject. Libertarians, I think, have to deny corporate advertising effects on the formation of choices, since that’s their bedrock, the individual and a consistent preference set. So they will deny any cultural influences and the porous subject that goes along with that. So there’s the isolated hard-shell individual (the billiard ball), and the only thing that will influence it, short of literally banging into it with a real billiard ball, is direct gun-to-the-head government coercion. Hence their refrain in pushing the “taxation is theft” line: "men with guns will come to your house and make you pay taxes!" This impoverished view of causality seems to be what’s behind many demands for “proof” in the Giffords case.
UPDATE, W 12 Jan, 19:47 CST: This exchange with Scalinger on Facebook helped me formulate my ideas:
Scalinger: It's an interesting and (when you get down to cases) a sometimes difficult question what one should ask for in the way of evidence to exhibit a "quasi-causal” relation (sometimes referred to by the unhelpful word “influence’) between an agent’s acts (or intentions as inferred from acts) and their cultural environment. If Locke sometimes sounds Cartesian, we don’t need to find in Descartes the precise propositions in Locke we regard as Cartesian; we give Locke credit for being able to work out consequences, draw parallels, introduce new instances, and do all the other things we ourselves normally do while reading texts (‘influence’ is not a helpful word just because it turns an active into a passive process). Nevertheless *something*, some text or intermediary, must link Locke to Cartesian philosophers; otherwise we have a mere parallel, a convergence, a common source.
Protevi: Yes, I completely agree as to necessity of a link, but not as to the level on which the link was made. The link seems to be immersion in the anti-government (and violence as solution to government problem) milieu of Tucson. But I think it's a mistake to look for ideological motivation, as in a match between message intake and output, i.e., looking for a repeated key phrase or even key idea, as would be evidence for influence in the history of philosophy example. But Loughner didn't have a coherent ideology. Nonetheless, he, like many others in the last two year, chose a Democratic politician targeted by right wing rhetoric, and intensely so targeted by Giffords's opponent in the last election.
So I think we have to look not to a smoking gun ideological match but to the way the target provided a promise to at least make a mark, to show he was serious, etc. Any big target would do (why not Gov. Jan Brewer?) but this one had more energy attached to her. So the ideology doesn't belong to Loughner, but he picked up on the energy that a particular ideology aimed at Giffords.
Summary: it's not the ideology that counted to Loughner, but the social energy that became attached to Giffords. And that energy was not generalized "anti-government" sentiment, but specifically targeted by those who do have an ideology.