Saturday August 8, 2020

Pantheism is a condition of democracy, is it not? Athens is a many-voiced cosmos. I imagine it would be a condition of any polis built atop slavery and conquest, no matter the imperial ambitions of passing and changing monotheocratic regimes throughout history. Even “secular” states, monotheocratic in their own right, possess those who believe in angels, demons, spirits, ghosts, ancestors. Western rationalism demands adherence to a realism that denies these realities. The West imagines itself to be superior — more “Enlightened.” It brandishes its weapons and says “Might Makes Right.” Police keep a bloody peace, the latter maintained through ritualistic violence. The poet Allen Ginsberg recognized this; America worships a bloodthirsty god — a god like Moloch, the deity denounced in the second section of Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Yet rebellion persists; people rise up, riot, live communally, wage culture war, reclaim land. To win, we must ease the Other’s fears so as to prevent further violence.

10 thoughts on “Saturday August 8, 2020”

  1. I know you don’t really do dialogue, Trancey, but surely rationality (atheism by any other name would smell as sweet) is the answer? Until we’ve evolved beyond superstition, aren’t we imobilised?

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    1. Whose rationality? Who draws the boundary between reason and superstition — and how do you separate that boundary from the ones used to construct nation-states and distinguish citizens from non-citizens? Reason and rationality are violent both in origin and in function, used by ancients and moderns alike to justify imperial domination of people and nature. I guess I just don’t see how that concept survives the process of decolonization.

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      1. It never occurred to me that there is a boundary between reason and superstition. Surely the rubbery concept of progress relies on the former replacing the latter over time?

        Do you think there is a possible future without nation-states? And doesn’t that rely on humanity trumping nationalism?

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      2. Reason and superstition compose a “binary opposition.” Those persons, beliefs, and actions that we call “rational” are labeled as such to distinguish them — to bound them apart from — some opposing “irrational” or “superstitious” Other. Hence my reference to “boundaries.” The boundary is the definitional line that must be drawn to maintain the categorical distinction. And this boundary is always also a boundary between people: those who call themselves rational, and those others they regard as beneath them or below them, lagging behind in some primitive, superstitious malaise. I’m suggesting that once we accept this binary, we accept a supremacist ideology: a belief that some peoples and some cultures are superior to others. “Progress” is then the name rationalists apply to their zealous evangelism on behalf of Reason: their effort, in other words, to conquer, eradicate, or convert superstitious others.

        The modern nation-state is an element of this project; it’s one of the tools rationalists used to demarcate themselves from those they wished to conquer. I view today’s converging economic, political, and ecological crises — including the waning sovereignty of nation-states — as evidence of the failure of the Western rationalist project. As rationalism encounters its internal contradictions, new and old extra-national arrangements arise and come to the fore: federations, corporations, empires, tribes, identity groups, etc. Given my decentralist leanings, some of these arrangements are more attractive to me than others. But all signal the possibility of futures where nation-states of the kind that have dominated the planet over the last few centuries are a thing of the past.

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      3. It rather seems that your argument equates rationalism with capitalism. Not sure how that happens. Also, I see no reason to accept the confident yet unsupported initial assertion that reason and superstition are a binary oppositional system. Sounds very convenient but unsupportable. Yet again, the assumption (accusation?) that rationality is a personal attribute seems very strange to me, while the attribution of superiority is, frankly pretty outlandish! Cannot an individual be one who aspires to rationality/science as the most reliable cognitive tool we have while also allowing moments–or even a majority!–of emotion (irrationality)?

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      4. The rationalism/capitalism equation is one that happens historically. The European philosophical Enlightenment occurs in conjunction with the rise of capitalism, and many Enlightenment philosophers endorsed and profited from capitalist and colonialist expansion. Even those rationalist inheritors of Enlightenment thought who critique capitalism nevertheless accept the idea that capitalism is a rationalizing system. In The Communist Manifesto, for instance, Marx writes that capitalism has “drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”

        As for the reason/superstition binary, weren’t you the one who suggested at the start of the thread that rationality is what allows us to evolve beyond superstition?

        As for rationality being presented as an attribute of persons and a sign of superiority, this happens all the time. It’s a consistent element in racist and colonialist discourses of previous centuries, and it remains a common practice in public debate.

        If rationality is the quality you wish to champion and aspire to, while also holding space for emotion under the label of “irrationality,” then by all means, good luck. But given the concept’s origins, and the uses to which it’s been put, I’m afraid I can’t join you beneath that banner.

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      5. I don’t think I have been very clear, nor do I think we are using ‘rational’ in the same way. Am I correct in assuming you are using the word in a historical/economic context? If so, I have insufficient background to either agree or disagree. I think what I struggle with in a sentence like this, “As for rationality being presented as an attribute of persons and a sign of superiority, this happens all the time” is that I was using the term to imply a process of logic, analysis and reasoning… and that is all. Is the “superiority” you mention that of Nietzsche? That’s not a banner I’d choose to rally under either. Yet the capacity to analyse argument or even question opinion seems to be something lacking in contemporary America (for approximately half the population). Is the belief that Trump is some kind of saviour superstition?

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      6. It could be that we’re not using ‘rational’ in the same way — but I, too, associate it with logic, analysis, calculation, and reasoning. I don’t think the capacity for these things is lacking in the contemporary US, nor do I think that this capacity was ever lacking among other groups in history. (The “superiority” argument is based on claiming that others lack this capacity. Thus, in prior centuries, men claimed that women lacked it, white Europeans claimed that people of color lacked it, etc.) I think Trump’s supporters are vile fascists, and I vigorously denounce the police-backed “insurrection” that they staged in DC the other day. I don’t think the most effective way to fight them, however, is to assume that we’re “rational” and they’re “irrational,” our thinking is “scientific” and theirs is “faith-based,” we question our opinions while they hold theirs unthinkingly, etc. I hear it that line of argument the same assumption of superiority that I discussed above. Trumpers may be “superstitious” for believing their con-artist president is a savior — but anti-Trumpers have superstitions of their own. Among the latter I would include belief in the saving power of science and reason. The knowledges derived from Western science are forms of power, and that power is always power over human and nonhuman others. Whenever that power is exercised (as it is under capitalism), it breeds resentment and the desire for counter-power. Fascism arises historically amid those conditions. Current struggles in the US and elsewhere are expressions of that.

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      7. I’m always fascinated by language, and particularly yours! The choice of the work ‘saving’–as in “the saving power of science and reason”–is intriguing. Saving lives? Yep, that’s what science does. Pretty hard to argue with that if someone you love is seriously ill. Saving is also the domain of religion, a dichotomy (sci-relig) that is clearly of great interest to us both.

        Can there be any social order without power? Can, indeed, there be any human interaction that does not incorporate imbalance?

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      8. With one hand science saves, while with the other it destroys worlds. By ignoring the destruction, or by trusting that the saving outweighs it, science’s faithful put forth a theodicy every bit as religious as the religions you decry. Yours is the god of Trinity and napalm and animal extinction—the god of the trash vortex.

        As Deleuze and Guattari noted in their Anti-Oedipus, “It is not the slumber of reason that engenders monsters, but vigilant and insomniac rationality.”

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