Sunday, November 28, 2010

The New you - the 'Death of Man' revisited

So okay Foucault was a little previous when he announced the death of man, but only by forty years or so. He also made his famous pronouncement knowing two things. firstly that humanity the world would be defended as a category by those who are actually undermining it silently - but also that the change here is deeply historical and complex- a history he new so well.
the old category of man- man the heroic traders and chooser, man the doyen of the free market and the fee society, man the free - the end of his history - as a strange creature forged within the fires of the struggles in Europe and its New word from say the fifteenth century to the nineteenth.
it was not a self evident affair- but rather one that gathered its paradigm, is container for what humanity was in the margins - a margin that then exploded in a sequence of voilient revolution about the nature of consciousness, conscience knwoeldge and freedom; a struggle with is heros (Cromwell, Locke, Hue, Kant, Rousseau, St just Napoleon etc) and its villain (sundery kings). A conflict that then had two rather different ends. the model for wht himanity was was worked out pretty much in full by the end start of the nineteenth century, and in Hegel's remark that this was the end of history itself- this version of Man the free.
The second part of the history here was far more complicated it has taken far longer for the version of humanity espoused in this freeedom to bleed across the world. it took ling enough in Britian ( a century before the poor and women were trusted with the vote), and simply has not happened elsewhere. nor is it that simple in the West - where we long ago realized democracy is not necessarily a great for government, so much as it is a humane way to ritually slaughter a monarch who feels no longer lucky. Election by definition are meant to usher in the new - and do so regardless of actual possibility.
and yet - and foucault of course new this very well -there was always other threads ripping across this freedom. Individuals were being coerced into being free- that is they were regulated an monitored to ensure they fitted the paradigm for freedom - freedom had its cost. a cost that grew and developed over the years - in the rulebook and the instituition. Moreover this A secondary take on humanity that Foucault knew was likely to gain in power in the passing of the years. And indeed it of course has. Economics, selling goods,politics even has ceased to be about anything free - and politics of rationa lchoice. it has rather become all about nudging- using subtle cues to communicate to individuals or bits of individuals, to show that you are on their side, or point their mind in this or that direction. Power is slipping away then from the abstract domain of man the chooser, and into the shadow world or brainwave, and eye candy. we are coming then a problem for mentalists and psychologists to solve. Policies then slip way from actual policy,and become rather catch all phrase big-societies or the squeezed middle which we are all asked to project our meaning onto. Likewise i the world of half-dreaming it becomes difficult to mange ones desires or tell then apart from the world;we are connived with after all to believe our greeds are worthwhile and worth serving - and that we have in some sense a right to shiny thing. we become then implausibly wealthy, and yet that wealth is based on smoke and mirriors and nothing much more than desire and manipulation....
so much foucault knew: he knew that once the rules of psychology and microeconomics spread out of large institution and across society,sot that manipulation of individuals understood and Hunan the eye-catcher not Man the chooser - then the entire political edifice on which abstract-humanity-as-the-end-of-history was formed stars to look shaky and suspect. What price a democracy after all or a consumerism where these means you cannot make rational choices?
the problem is actually not why Man is dead so much as why we have not hard it yet - why Foucault is treated as the mad man in the market a still - by we who have killed humanity and yet worship his ghost.
Four types of reason come to mind. Firstly the prime murders of the human, the manipulater of minds rather need us to believe in humanity as a category- it makes their job easier if it is hidden.
Secondly humanity is of course flattered by supposing themselves to be rational humans. the Abstract category is then appealing as it allows us to claim we are kings of our own minds at least. We get then to be boss in theory....
Thirdly due to lack of alternatives. for those who reject oppression and rule by blood, humanity is the only apparent alternative hypothesis. It sticks because no one has an alternative view point - that is when all is said and done we would rather invent a human and then undermine that thought (which was abstract) and submit it to an whole range of different micro tortures (pulling this nature hither and thither) than actually pull individuals apart. a sentiment that is absolutely sound
Finally it is a mistake to understand the life and death of humanity as things apart. The system that is robust is the hypocracy itself- which undermines and propagates humanity. A system of shiny beads, abstract liberality and material prosperity and occasional choice: a fun in the hypocracy of pretending one has power while one has actually surrended it, while one feels smug in relation to the rest who do not have this thing, this freedom you have. an entire package of delightful delusion and cod morality that is very durable.
The realization of the death of man becomes then a political rally cry- a demand that we jolt out of the abstract and tittilating politics of today, a politics that has ushered greater poverty and great wealth, more slaves and yet less slavery - great plagues and yet also cures to plague, and endless little hypocracy and lip service to a justice actually no one believe in (if believe is to be defined by action at last). We must then allow abstract humanity to die - murder him - morn and move one, so free ourselves from the meaningless trap of cod humanity we caught in. that is Foucalt real gambit here. an idea that has not dated or lost its power. we need to kill 'MAN' we need to find other song to sing - and yet the problem still lies where to find them ( A problem Foucault was worming one when he died thirty years ago or so)? The Death of man is coming- but can we make it matter, make it significant or will be like the deaths of god protracted and eternal- and catch all in its endless restaged and pointless little drama?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The triumph of the Medieval

It is one of the odd features of modernity- we appear to find ti very hard to out think fundamentally medieval power structures (this was originally Marx's idea).
At the core of government, but also any oraganization lies the court - and its attendant laws of petioners. That is there is a small inner circle, distinct in all likehood from either any pretense of meritocracy, or from the official poistion. This magic circle controls the access to the monarch - and controls it is both direction. And this access matters as the monarch is the personhead where rules change. to now and to influence the monarch is then power. Away from this charmed person there lies the humdrum of rules imposed so as not to incur either blame or extra work, by endless officials (who as they are a part of its charmed circle have no real interest in their jobs). Officials then enact what they think is royal policy, while the king alone is free to break and rewrite that policy.
The sate becomes about who one knows. The state becomes about the difference between what the centre is doing and what is actually happening on the ground where the rules are actually applied, sometimes in impossible situations). The world of the court and the world of it officials are then distinct -are kept so, for the rulers semi-dive aspect is linked in to their separation from reality.
the age of democracy never then lost this model, it merely exploded it across the state - so that schools, hospitals, dental practices whatever became versions of the court. The Court everywhere promotion is looped into favour, and power and personalities then merge.

The second medieval organ that is everywhere- is of course the free market. That is, the very feudal idea that there existed beyond the normal rules of the king a zone, a square where mammon was king. that is where one could trade and define prices as one saw fit, without hinderance from other powers. Markets were then bound by restriction, and pitched into towns as one of their hubs. A model we have taken of course and transfigured across the globe. we indulge in endless transactonins in the name of this little piece of medieval thought. We still then think of that little market square with ti simple rules and transparent prices. a little piece of cod imagination that of course that blinds us to the illegallities and idioces of the system. Markets are like that we cite as holy law- and always have been since medieval times...
A fact that conviently ignores the fact that we like our ancestors need to impose the market. they built squares, we legal regulation without which no market could or would exist. Markets are then not natural (even when they are historical): they are man made artifices like many others. we have then the power to change them and always to regulate them differently. the fact then they are corrupt is not merely a force f nature a necessary evil of the market place- or it is is then it is an evil which we have created for itself in the oddity of our regulation of those markets, and our imposition of them upon the world.
linked then to the market are its two medieval corolllaries . Firstly market is of course festival - a festival that creates an excess and the gambling that expresses it. Around any market there exists then a welter of gambling joints and casinos - all then the futures market or hedge funds or whatever. more than that we have in recent times bought even these gambling strategies write into everyones home. buy gas has become also a game of pokers, both from the big energy prices (who speculate of the price) and for ourselves (who gamble on the companies, and what our fellow citizens do). gaming then and the free market run together, and confuse each other - on the best traditions of our forefathers.
The second aspect of the market that developed was of course the guilds. Given the court does not control the market- league of traders could or could influence it or perhaps just gain power in supplying it. Merchantisms is then tied to the very independence of the market from the monarchy- an independence that created and creates new possibilities for power.

The third deeply medieval practice of modernity is the romance will still link to soldiers and what they do The process then of killing (for whatever reason) is romanticised,for they are killing , and dying in our names. they must then be our knights in armor, and we there damsels. We must then do our part are they bleed. well maybe (although i can do without the B-movie gloss.. Certainly death on any side in war is always a tragedy. the problem is though that our romance of knights and being the good guys do not at any point avoid this tragedy. on the contrary we modern crusaders go off and look for it- as indeed the knight of the round table had to do. War and knights then go together as does excess militiry spending and modernity.

finally we are clearly in the process in Britain at least of renovating tyrant great medieval institution the church. or in its modern form the Charity- a charity that has its own structure (and court), independent of the state,with it own specialisms and responsibilities. More than that it own very strong ethics, which sweeps up its workers, ensuring they work for less that the market rate, and is then expects to resonate within its would be client. The churc or the charity is never then merely a neutral organization, but rather has its own ethical politics, a politics that of course cuts both ways. i might help and harry the power or the ill in equal measure, but it surely will also look upwards to to the state and critiques actions. The experiment then of expanding charity, and hoping that it can take the place of the state will change the game of state aid. Getting it will certianly be harder, and possibily linked to shame and living of the parish (good old Parish Beagles). - but at the same time, these parishes are unlikely to remain very silent. /they will of the contrary have an ethic and opinion of their own, that will critique the government as well as the power. And the only way the government can limit that critique is to expand and change t meet it. That is to take on the ethics of the charity -which lead us to many places, only so desirable, while others really do start to feel like Oliver Twist (where the problems of this system are mercilessly exposed).

Medieval thought never dies, it merely became transfigured - so that its transubstantiation shines through so much we are and do - let us hoe it is up to the complexity of our times for we sure as hell do not have any other models...... sorry to fail you Marx

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Jordan and the Styx

If time flows, if only in our popular understanding of it - then we are all caught, apparently in rivers, taking us...
Rivers that are mythological - and figurative.
rivers that clearly come in two forms.

First there are rivers such as the Jordan - or Rubicon - rivers that form a boundary one has striven towards, rivers that when one crosses everything is meant to change.
Such rivers essentially mark the end of a quest - where everything all of life in some form or other was resolved into a single (if sometimes complex task). the Charasmatic forces of the wor(l)d cry -just do this and it will all be OK - just get here, or just think that. and the world will be a better place: Reach this gaol we cry and everything really ought to change its form and nature.
The river marks then the boundary- the moment one grows up or enters the community of ones equal - for which as often as not read, the moment that one stops being of interest to everyone else-one becomes merely a member of the club, and not somehow special or to be supported. It is the moment then one is simply dropped by the world - or becomes like everyone else.
We in the west ram democracy as the pancea, the on size is all solution down the throats of other nations. democratize and you will be like us, we cry - for it is reason and the end of history. a ludicrous vainglorious viewpoint we strut at each other.
the result of course being that counties with widely different traditions, histories local customs, takes on authority are knocked into the simple single nation-sate as democracy take of reality. Countries then that have no reason beyond colonial accident to exist, are then treated in the same way as countries with thousands of years of history- all are meant to conform and democratize.
And when things go wrong - as external Gods have a habit of doing hen the chosen folk dissapprove, we blame them; we do not then blame ourselves or the idiocy or arrogance of what we are trying to do - we blame them - with our one size fits all principle. We make then our aid depend of moves our way - so that charity becomes merely another pulling the journey.
A journey with what goal? Once the democracy appears to exist, we do not really care (we do not allow ourselves the position to care). the system can be then hopelessly corrupt, or the province of big oligarchies (which is the case with us anyway near enough) - or whatever.
More than that by democracy we mean of course that we have the right, or our countries do to pry open other sates, to force them to behave, and to ell their resources,or regulate their currency as we want. by democracy we meant then the sate is opened to our particualiar incarnation of tenchology-capitalism-oligarchy arrangement. we want then to give them milk and homey, but only on own own terms....
Democracy marks then the watershed- democratize we scream at other areas of the world, so that we may then 'share' with you what we have. a sharing which always risks us simply going into the open society and rodgering them good and proper. a process which our worthy talk of democracy, and the quest for freedom effectively ignores.
We send others on a quest to find the(our) selves, and then reward them with possession.
The jordan - the promised land - creates then a quest for a single goal- that is always rather different once one has crossed it,and never as simple as one would like. it creates then a single history and a thread to create a new(ish) type of colanalism within.

The styx by contrast is a river, which seals of a kingdom, making it different and singular. The kingdom of the dead - a closed land form which their is no returning once one is there - in which all is caught.
What else is modern politics
One gets elected and it feels like a great right of passage- a moment that everything can change should change- one crosses the styx, which is a mightier river than the Jordan. and then what happens?
One is sealed within the limited kingdom of the dead- and can only do 'dead' things. That is everything en does is judged by the rules and logic of the system, the land in which one now is.
One started a missionary from the land of sense and yet to yield power in a world of checks and balances one becomes a politician, and only able to do political things (and nothing more).
Alternatively in the name of freedom and limiting the power of government, one performs a massive power grab and destroys local democracy.
one always does what one doe not want- a s the dead make one own ideas live in them differntly from how one oneself might wish. Ones power- what one does the ceases to be anything one controls- in the dead's games of chinese whispers - in their muttering in the dark. To have crosses the styx, is to have one policies enacted by ghouls, who are dead to ones own idea, and yet apparently free to use the ideas and spout the language one uses, in their own way.
More than that what will be eventually judged by posterity by the Gods or Minos or whoever, not by ones own dreams but rather through the effect of these ghouls and zombies- it is their action that leads to ones judgement, and not ones hopes and dream. One becomes then the king of the dead for a while - and ones one life after death is defines in and through that kingship and never by the quality of ones own soul (however strongly one wants that to be the case). To be a good leader is then to be able to ride the twisted muttering of the dead - to apparent easy success. It ceases in any sense o be anything personal and useful.
it ceases then to be anything a living monarch can own or request.
ons real power then is lost with life, on the other side of the styx.

Two rivers of time the sweep us all along- and up up in tense we have no control over - and powers we do not want or need...

Monday, November 8, 2010


It is one of the hidden assumptions under traditional capitalism - you possess a thing, then in a rough and ready way, you own it too.
One paid for it, and then that was done - one had it.
And everything was meant to conform. there products that no one can possess like experience - one still could own a package (and so gain rights to possess a memory.
The loop was not absolute: There is a layer of capitalism (shares) and society (nations) where one was expected to own what one did not possess. This relationship was ok and funded myriad things) The trouble was the other way around. possessing what one did not own - was a form of borrowing or stealing, or family right or perhaps social control - and almost always an issue
But starting with the tape- and even more with the computer- it is clear that this simple this second relationship has clearly become a power in the land- a power that can reckon its might against conventional capitalism
We expect to poses thing we do we do not own - and have done since the tape player. and yet modern technology makes this relationship so much complex. Firstly we can very share the possession; indeed the logic of not own is that all must share...Secondly it is no longer clear at which point rights of ownership actually manifest themselves. that is at which point some one can wrap up an image and use it to sell products. Nor are the rules of what is owned and whatnot at all stable. one the contrary, we programes, new application are endlessly being unwound to create different forms of ownership and possession.
New internet companies googles or facebooki or Amazon etc) exist not only in flogging product but more in defing new ways to possess things, differnt ways they might be and new possibilities of somewhere in the system a role for a traditional money making) form of owning. Even if this last point is merely the fact hat peoples are seeking to possess product - they do not own, and therefore are open to be advertised at...
Each company then as its own economy of owning and possession want it owns, what others do or no one does, and what it allows one to possess. regulation becomes problematic, and simplification impossible - for there is always a new product, defining new relationship up and coming.
a challenge is then put down to all traditional companies and states. Most heavily it falls on those companies be they mail order concerns or whatever that have been traditionally rather like what the internet provides. They will have to adapt to the new shifting world of possessing but not owning, or be moribund. But the burden is always clearly being felt deeply by the state, which feels it ought to somehow contain in some form of ownership (and so responsibilty) the myriad possession of the internet opens up. It wants then to build ownership into the system- to make some one own something somewhere and at some point.
But also it is clear that the sate is suffering from its own crisis of confidence about both what it ought to own, and what merely possess (it does not need to own the infrastructure; and whether it really needs to possess things at all - maybe owning them, and so defining broad policy, not individual local regulation and goal, is the thing....
Ownership and possession has ceased to be simple or predictable- and is rather now clearly emergent. New rules are constantly created, new patterns, what by the time we get used and start to think in term of the old system once again warp and change their natures. The old rules and the capitalism that went with it, is coming in certain places inoperable. The game will then be whether this cancer spread across the entire system, or whether it is kept in the one place. If the former happens the entire edifice of capitalism wobbles on its foundation. Infinite blood and money is likwly to be shed to keep prevent the spread occurring.
What fun- one might say darkly.