The Shock Doctrine

30 11 2010

AG and I saw a longer version of this film on T.V. recently. I recommend it.

The price of cultural nostalgia

29 11 2010

A friend of mine recently encouraged me to read the novel Tinker’s Leave by Maurice Baring. My own thoughts to him about this novel and convert English Catholicism of the early 20th century in general go something along these lines:

I finally read that Tinker’s Leave novel you wanted me to read, and I am still a bit perplexed as to why you were so adamant to have me read it. I don’t think my life resembles that of the main character at all, as I am neither a well-to-do Englishman nor have I ever had the means to go off on some great adventure to learn from another culture. I think my biographical wayfaring was of another kind…

One common thread that I find in these English Catholic converts such as Baring, Chesterton, and to a much lesser extent, Waugh, is that they have some sort of nostalgia for something that they know nothing about. Or they are at the very least nostalgic for something that they feel is missing in their post-Victorian, rationalistic, dry lives. Newman probably is the one who started that mess, with his desire to find the pristine Apostolic church, only to suffer from afar the cronyism and realpolitik of the court of Pio Nono. The protagonist in the Barring novel “finds his humanity” in the tumultuous melting pot of 19th century Russia, with all of its politicial and cultural anachronisms slamming full speed into the modern age. Chesterton’s schtick always seems to boil down to pointing out how “medieval superstition” is so much more rational than skeptical modernity. In other words, their message always seems to be a variation of: “Want to be a better modern? Try Catholicism.”
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Plus ça change plus c’est la même chose

27 11 2010

I found this via the Commonweal site:

Religion, he says, had become more purely moralistic than it had been in the Reformation era, and otherwise was primarily devoted to meeting the needs of the self. Deism was becoming more commonplace. Belief in the essential goodness of humanity became more and more prevalent. English men and women of the time were sure they had a stronger social conscience than their ancestors — more care for children and for the poor — and felt that progress was certain. Of course, the age’s confidence in its own virtue may not have been fully warranted: “Tears for the exploited, the unfortunate and the afflicted flowed freely, but sympathy cost little, and was only occasionally translated into action.”

Certainly there were major changes in child-rearing from the practices of previous ages: “Many ladies abandoned the wet nurse and experimented with breast-feeding; swaddling disappeared, partly in response to mothers’ new-found desire to fondle, dandle and dress their infants. … Though groups such as the Wesleyans kept faith with flogging, enlightened parents laid off the rod, trying reason, coaxing and kindness instead. Infants were hugged and petted more.” The spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child model of parental discipline was increasingly seen as benighted and cruel. But, Porter comments, “In polite society, greater attention towards the young perhaps led to over-protective parental anxiety” — the 18th-century version of “helicopter parents”.

There were few atheists, but also not so many orthodox Christians. “Many Georgians rarely went through a church porch between their christening and burial. Yet practically everyone, in his own fashion, had faith. Much of it was a fig leaf of Christianity covering a body of inherited magic and superstition, little more than Nature worship (the polite, doctrinally correct form of this was known as ‘natural religion’). But everyone had his own vision of a Creator, of a ‘place’ in Heaven, and convictions of Good and Evil, reward and punishment.” One might say that the typical 18th-century Englishman was “spiritual but not religious”.

Sh*# my Pope says

23 11 2010

Or: Our anti-ultramontanist rant of the week

If I were to crystallize my view of church authority in general, it would go something like:

Ex opere operato works only for the sacraments. Every other work of God in creation is mediated, and in some sense up for grabs.

The necessary corollary to this is that we must give due deference to the directives of our pastors, there are some cases where a statement does not have to be infallible in order to be definitive, blah, blah, blah. But even in spite of all of these qualifying statements, the idea is still that none of this is written in the heavens or is particularly comprehensive. Just because something has been defined does not mean that we somehow understand everything involved in the issue, or that it won’t mean something radically different three centuries from now, etc. Often, even such definitive or authoritative statements mean that open discussion can no longer be had about such and such a topic. It does not necessarily mean that the infinite weight of the truth has been revealed in it, or that the position is now an attribute of God, and so forth.
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On not going back again

22 11 2010

The ultimate anti-Hegelian argument is the very fact of the post-Hegelian break: what even the most fanatical partisan of Hegel cannot deny is that something changed after Hegel, that a new era of thought began which can no longer be accounted for in Hegelian terms of absolute conceptual mediation; this rupture occurs in different guises, from Schelling’s assertion of the abyss of pre-logical Will (vulgarized later by Schopenhauer) and Kierkegaard’s insistence on the uniqueness of faith and subjectivity, through Marx’s assertion of actual socio-economic life-process, and the full autonomization of mathematicized natural sciences, up to Freud’s motif of “death-drive” as a repetition that insists beyond all dialectical mediation. Something happened here, there is a clear break between before and after, and while one can argue that Hegel already announces this break, that he is the last of idealist metaphysicians and the first of post-metaphysical historicists, one cannot really be a Hegelian after this break, Hegelianism has lost its innocence forever. To act like a full Hegelian today is the same as to write tonal music after the Schoenberg revolution.

-Slavoj Zizek, from this site

This is supposedly the opening to the preface of Zizek’s new book on Hegel, set to come out next year. I think one could apply such principles to Catholicism, but in this case, I think the formative event for the Church was the enthronement of the goddess of Reason at Notre Dame Cathedral during the French Revolution. After that, in many places, the Other entered into the consciousness of Catholicism. Catholicism began to be defined by the Other, by what it opposed and what it sought to defend. (One can say that this happened with Protestantism, though in most places, the fact that cuius regio eius religio was the rule of thumb probably meant that average Catholics knew little of the “Other” in most places.) Anyone who has had to suffer through reading a 19th century Papal encyclical would see this quite easily. Vatican II was in a sense a moment of clarity; the idea that there could be no going back to the pre-revolutionary world. If anything, the much touted “restoration” of Benedict XVI is a bit farcical. Revolution is the name of the game no matter how conservative one pretends to be.
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Some classical Indian dance

19 11 2010

Posted before a few years ago.

On bureaucracy

18 11 2010

The trap to be avoided here is the opposition of the “external” social law (legal regulations, “mere legality”) and the higher “internal” moral law, where the external social law may strike us as contingent and irrational, while the internal law is fully assumed as “our own”: we should radically abandon the notion that external social institutions betray the authentic inner experience of the true Transcendence of Otherness (in the guise, for example, of the opposition between the authentic “inner” experience of the divine and its “external” reification into a religious institution in which the religious experience proper degenerates into an ideology legitimizing power relations). If there is a lesson to be learned from Kafka, it is that, in the opposition between internal and external, the divine dimension is on the side of the external. What can be more “divine” than the traumatic encounter with the bureaucracy at its craziest – when, say, a bureaucrat tells us that, legally, we don’t exist? It is in such encounters that we catch a glimpse of another order beyond mere earthy everyday reality. There is no experience of the divine without such a suspension of the Ethical. And far from being simply external, this very externality (to sense, to symbolic integration) holds us from within. Kafka’s topic is precisely the obscene jouissance through which bureaucracy addresses the subject on the level of the disavowed innermost (“ex-timate,” as Lacan would have put it) real kernel of his being.

-Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity

Perhaps this is tied into the idea that perhaps we are not as alienated from the divine as we think. We are far more credulous when it comes to our own institutions, far more given to give them the benefit of the doubt than other societies.

I think even the most fervent person believes more in bureacracy than his own particular creed. At least that is his real modus operandi as he goes through life.

All the earth is a grave

17 11 2010

All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it, nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb. Rivers, rivulets, fountains and waters flow, but never return to their joyful beginnings; anxiously they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god. As they widen their banks, they also fashion the sad urn of their burial.

Filled are the bowels of the earth with pestilential dust once flesh and bone, once animate bodies of man who sat upon thrones, decided cases, presided in council, commanded armies, conquered provinces, possessed treasure, destroyed temples, exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power. Vanished are these glories, just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from the infernal fires of Popocatepetl. Nothing recalls them but the written page.

-Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco, found on this site

Trotskyism by other means

16 11 2010

via the Conservative Blog for Peace

This is in evidence by the most frequent complaint heard at Tea Party rallies, about the war against “American exceptionalism” – how this rather obscure Marxist concept became the religion of the American right is a topic for another day and perhaps another author. My long-time readers may recall my invoking this article, the last ever published by Irving Kristol, which I consider a smoking gun in understanding neoconservatism. He laid out frankly his arriving at the conclusion in the 1950s that European welfare states were unfit to destroy communism and extend the global democratic revolution, and therefore it must be done by some sort of military-industrial complex heavy “democratic capitalism”.


My own worst nightmare for myself is becoming some sort of political neocon. In fact, it may be the real reason why I find myself so a-political in places. (Though I think that I have the sensibility of a European social democrat, if a very particularly left-wing one). The fallen Trotskyist-turned-capitalist-militarist became so disgusted with Stalinism that he wanted it defeated by any means necessary. Max Shachtman, a once collaborator with Trotsky, even backed the U.S. military effort in Vietnam. And it goes without saying that Irving Kristol was once a young Trotskyist himself.

Trotskyism is a theory of extremes, and Trotskyists are often accused of being agent provocateurs, and no better than bratty anarchists in demonstrations. Neoconservatism is in part an intellectual result of such strange ideological fickleness; when rhetoric itself drives theory, and not the other way around. In this case, it proved useful to the ruling class. There is a sort of delicious irony involved in some intellectually sloppy Catholics trying to baptize American exceptionalism in the name of inculturation. Indeed, most spend their time trying to graft an icon of Mammon onto one of God in a rather grotesque portrait.

On swearing

16 11 2010

Put this in the “bet you didn’t know” file: Trotsky was opposed to swearing

Abusive language and swearing are a legacy of slavery, humiliation, and disrespect for human dignity—one’s own and that of other people. This is particularly the case with swearing in Russia. I should like to hear from our philologists, our linguists and experts in folklore, whether they know of such loose, sticky, and low terms of abuse in any other language than Russian. As far as I know, there is nothing, or nearly nothing, of the kind outside Russia. Russian swearing in “the lower depths” was the result of despair, embitterment and, above all, slavery without hope, without escape. The swearing of the upper classes, on the other hand, the swearing that came out of the throats of the gentry, the authorities, was the outcome of class rule, slaveowner’s pride, unshakable power. Proverbs are supposed to contain the wisdom of the masses—Russian proverbs show besides the ignorant and the superstitious mind of the masses and their slavishness. “Abuse does not stick to the collar,” says an old Russian proverb, not only accepting slavery as a fact, but submitting to the humiliation of it. Two streams of Russian abuse—that of the masters, the officials, the police, replete and fatty, and the other, the hungry, desperate, tormented swearing of the masses—have colored the whole of Russian life with despicable patterns of abusive terms. Such was the legacy the revolution received among others from the past.

He also speaks against imprecision in language:

Language is the instrument of thought. Precision and correctness of speech are indispensable conditions of correct and precise thinking. In our country, the working class has come to power for the first time in history. The working class possesses a rich store of work and life experience and a language based on that experience. But our proletariat has not had sufficient schooling in elementary reading and writing, not to speak of literary education. And this is the reason that the now governing working class, which is in itself and by its social nature a powerful safeguard of the integrity and greatness of the Russian language in the future, does not, nevertheless, stand up now with the necessary energy against the intrusion of needless, corrupt, and sometimes hideous new words and expressions. When people say, “a pair of weeks,” “a pair of months” (instead of several weeks, several months), this is stupid and ugly. Instead of enriching the language it impoverishes it: the word “pair” loses in the process its real meaning (in the sense of “a pair of shoes”). Faulty words and expressions have come into use because of the intrusion of mispronounced foreign words. Proletarian speakers, even those who should know better, say, for instance, “incindent” instead of “incident” or they say “instice instead of “instinct” or “legularly” instead of “regularly. Such misspellings were not infrequent also in the past, before the revolution. But now they seem to acquire a sort of right of citizenship.

If anything, this for me is an indictment of the cultural progressivism of the New Left.