viernes, 10 de julio de 2009

Wouldn’t Every Envelope be the Greatest Element of a given Subset?

I'm having some problems understanding Badiou's definition of the envelope, and of the operation of union. Any help with this will be appreciated.

In the course of developing the transcendental algebra (LW, Book II, Section 3, Subsection 6) Badiou stipulates that the envelope of any given subset of T (defined by a certain property P) must obey the following two properties:

- It is greater than or equal than all the elements q of T that have property P.
- It is lesser than or equal to every element t which, like itself, is greater than or equal to all the elements q with property P (least upper bound)

Immediately afterwards Badiou stipulates that given a two element set B (p, q) then an upper bound would be greater than p or q. Then he stipulates that the envelope of this set would be the smallest of all elements greater than or equal to both p and q. I’m confused about this; how is it possible for the envelope of any non-empty set not to be the greatest element of that set? We have the following:

(1) B = {q ε T / P(q)} (The definition of the subset of T defined by property P)
(2) µ = ∑{q ε T / P(q)} (Definition of the envelope)

The envelope µ must be defined by the following properties:

(3) µ ≥ {p / P(p)} .∩. µ ≤ [t / t = ≥{p / P(p)}] (the envelope of B is equal to the smallest upper bound for B)

We stipulate by hypothesis that B is not empty, i.e. at least one element belongs to it.

(4) (B ≠ Ø) ↔ (Eq) (q ε B) ∩ (Vp) (p ε B) ∩ ( p ≤ q) (B is non-empty and is the largest element of B)
(5) P(q) [By definition of B, (1)]

Then we stipulate by hypothesis that the envelope µ is greater than all q that belong to B.

(6) µ > {q ε B .↔. P(q)}

But since we know that at least one q belongs to B, which is the greatest element in B, while also is smaller than µ, then being equal to itself, q satisfies (3), i.e. it obeys the two conditions required for the envelope.

(3) ∩ (1) ∩ (6) --> (7) (q < µ) .∩. q ↔ [q ≥ {p / P(p)} .∩. ≤ [t / t = ≥ {p / P(p)}]]

So it appears that q is both an upper bound (since it is equal to all the elements of B, being the largest element of that set)and the minimum upper bound, since it is equal to the maximum member in B. But by the definition of the envelope as the minimum upper bound for B it appears as if

(3) ∩ (7) ∩ (6) --> (q = µ) ∩ (µ > q)

So we arrive, it would appear, to a formal contradiction.

How could the union of p and q be thus a third element, greater than both? Since in every non empty set, there will be an element which is the greatest, it would follow it would always be the envelope, it seems. I think what may be missing would be the additional restrictive clause whereby if a set has a maximal value, then the envelope will be that value. Put it obversely, if a set there is no maximal value, then the envelope of that set will the least upper bound (for Badiou the distinction between 'lesser' and 'minimum' does not seem to be important, since what we are measuring is always degrees of intensity of appearance). If so then maybe we could rewrite (6) as µ ≥ {q ε B .↔. P(q)} and all would be fine, since we would end up identifying µ with q.

viernes, 12 de junio de 2009

The Obscure Chant of Protest: Bagua and Democracy

The recent popular follow up to the massacre in the Peruvian Amazon in Bagua is exhibiting a startling parallel to the American resistance to the occupation of Iraq in its ideological contents. The following passage from Zizek’s “Resistance is Surrender” provides the key to the issue:

“The big demonstrations in London and Washington against the US attack on Iraq a few years ago offer an exemplary case of this strange symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. Their paradoxical outcome was that both sides were satisfied. The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimize it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’” (

What lessons if any can we draw from this strange complicity of resistance and submission to inform what is happening grosso modo as our resistance to the massacre in Bagua? The answer to this question can be suggested through another question: what if the exclusion from democratic liberties and the effective neglect of the political agency of the natives is but the obverse of their inscription as aborigine victims, the victims whose worldview must be safeguarded by the majority and whose liberties we must secure by our skepticism against the State's intervention? What if the form in which we protest the State in favor of the excluded rights of the victims in Bagua is effectively a stage, a fake protest, analogous to the populist trap which Zizek (2009) has recently imputed as the standard populist impase. Here we must look at the concrete contents of the popular reaction to Bagua, in which the general opinion contends the peaceful lives of the Aguarunean people peacefully protesting for a democratic solution was abruptly interrupted by the State's armed intervention which resulted in the explosion of violence and confirmed the State's negligent political agenda as having marginally left the Amazon out of the proper democratic dialog. It is in this general diagnosis that we can apply Zizek's formula for populism, in which the public uproar begins in conceiving the necessity for action as rooted in the disturbance of some preceding or projected balance:

"Populism is always sustained by some kind of frustrated despair, by a cry: 'I do not know what is going on, I just have enough of it, I cannot go on, it must stop', an impatient outburst, a refusal to patiently understand, the exasperation at the complexity, and the ensuing conviction that there must be someone responsible for all the mess, which is why an agent who is behind and explains it all is needed... Here what fetish gives body to is precisely my disavowal of knowledge, my refusal to fully assume what I know." ('Notes Towards a Definition of Communist Culture' Masterclass
Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, 18. June 2009;

And doesn't this formula describe precisely the discursive contours of the popular reaction in Bagua? The reactionary mass of appalled moralistic chants, from the congress to the streets, consisted in making the concrete legislation over the Amazonian territory and the rights of its people the simple failure of the State to achieve a proper democratic dialog, where even the Aguarunean blockage is reduced to having been the demonstration of their resentment to the lack of a proper democratic dialog for integrated policy. This way, the complexity of the Situation which links the difficult connection between the natives' right to entitlement to the land against the State prospect of industrialization becomes blurred into a simple excess of authoritarian violence: the killings in Bagua are nothing but the extension of the failed diplomacy of the State. At the core of the choice of protesting to the violation of democracy in favor of the natives’ urge for democratic dialog, protesters effectively choose in favor of ignorance by obscurely supplanting the ruse of authoritarian excess to our very impotence and unwillingness to think the exclusion of the natives as constitutive of the liberal market policy. So the first thing that surprised about Bagua is how in a first stage, when the State reported the murder of twenty policemen in the event of the riots, the masses were at large immobile, save for the obvious State homage to the heroic police for having put their lives at risk in the fulfillment of their duties. Only once the truth about an exceeding number of victims among the natives was reported did the masses congregate causing anarchic uproar.

Everyone found the route towards indignation once it had been known that State policemen opened fire against the natives; it didn't matter that the succesion of the events which initiated the shootings was unclear in every way possible. First, the obvious direct involvement of the Nationalists (rendered factually in their complicity with foreign powers in effecting insurgence at the preceding congress) did nothing but feed the antagonistic masses up to their ridiculous communal boycott at congress, singing conjointly the national anthem to be finally suspended from parliamentary action. This of course was immediately disgusting as a gesture, since those who were also the intellectual authors of producing the insurgence which resulted in the murders were not only assigned no responsibility for their deliberate political manipulation, but they hypocritically joined the band of humanitarian protestants against the vices of authoritarian violence perpetrated by the State.

Needless to say, the band of political opposing forces did nothing but squeeze this event to their fullest capacity to gain popular support at cost of denouncing the State.Now a second series of protests and insurgences are set to begin in the south (Cusco and Puno), after the government's approval rates sunk dramatically after the sequence in Bagua, seeking to weaken the State even further. No great positive project nor intellectual riot was needed: one merely enjoyed repeating incessantly how democracy was violated by an abuse of power, how the State showed its incompetence and violent ways, and how we must protect the democratic rights of those who live by ancestral heritage of the Amazonian land, letting their voice be heard. Bagua perhaps offers us the clearest index of how the dialectic of democratic freedom in communitarian protesting ultimately enacts a perverted simulacrum, an obscure institution of an avowal for freedom against the profound political difficulty dividing those marginally excluded from enjoying democratic freedom and the dark empire of the law.

The utter hypocrisy shared by the civilian protesters and the Nationalists is evident, they simultaneously enact the conditions for the natives' exclusion while exculpating themselves from responsibility, which is left to the horrific deeds of the State. The preceding facts were on the meantime discarded; the Nationalists and international influence with Pizango and the natives’ manipulation, the planning of the insurgence at the Andean congress, and the persisting road blockage which mobilized over 3,000 people under the belief that their land was about to be taken from them or that the State shouldn't in principle intervene in their land without marking their interests. The deaths of the policemen in the first stage of the conflict, presumably caused by the natives (it is not important to us whether this is false or true) could not stir the mass reaction, nor the political opposition. Of course, since facing the prospect of a hypothetical killing at the hands of the natives one couldn't exactly gripe against the violation of human rights against the policemen or the violent ways of the Baguan people. Only once the basic formula of State abuse became potentially applied to the case, the slothful humanitarian ruse began to echo in the cities and provinces.

So how does the language of protest operate in this dark complicity announced by Zizek at the beginning, and shared by the political opportunists? What strikes in the protesters' discourse is a direct generalization of the dialectics of responsibility, from the particular events of the massacre, to the hermeneutically legitimized origin of deficient dialog between the State and the people. The general reaction by the public thus emphasized how the tragedy of both policemen and natives was finally the responsibility of the State, and not shared or of different agent. So the political manipulation of the Aguarunan people by other political forces into misunderstanding decree 1090 / 1064 and rendering a road blockage was entirely passed over, as was the direct question about the origin of the shootings and the agents involved. It was also painfully clear that the Aguarunan people were not so much opposing decree 1090 as they were persuaded in that the State had no right to impose its will on their land. The obvious pathetic aftermath where the central government insisted on that this was a misunderstanding of the decree, only played in favor of those accusing them of incompetence. But of course, as the majority of protesters, the natives were at large not protesting any particular aspect of decree 1090; the former reacted against the State intrusion, the latter against the State apathy.

In the end whether the natives and political opposition had any responsibility in the course of the massacre was sadly obscured by the protester’s complicity in the escapist chant of 'freedom for the natives!' and for democracy. One shouldn't flinch in asserting that this patronizing gesture precisely coincides in the conception of the natives as poor victims integrated in a natural cosmovision, ruined by the corrupt government. But this general level of dialectical stupidity was easily answered to by the more agile governmental voices. They simply indicated how supporting the suspension of 1090/64, in 'respect' for the natives' reactionary fear against the privatization of the Amazonian land coupled with their insistence in preserving traditional land right as part of the native's cultural customs was reactionary to the natives' own benefit, and wide scale national interest. To the prospect of giving the natives the possibility to voice their own inadequacies against the State, being in a modernized socio-economical situation to incorporate themselves to the political process in which they don't depend on the cities for the mobilization of their political existence, the natives' call was in fact different from the protesters in the latter's insistence that there should be democratic dialog for the benefit of the excluded.

If anything, Garcia and the APRA was justified in pointing out this was first and foremost a resistance against the State, and not a particular discrepancy about how 1090 was fair, non practical or harmful. That the interests geared there were obviously not aimed towards helping the natives themselves can be said about the entire legal agenda of parliamentary politics, so the opposition was smart to concentrate on the banalities. The government finally signaled that opposition to 1090 blindly was reactionary and against the prospect of emancipation. ( This was in fact Garcia's posture: his recent declarations signal how the opposition to the legislation which opens the Amazonian territory to the liberal market prospect of industrialization and foreign investment in favor of the protection of the interest of the locals is reactionary and regressive with respect to the national interest to promote economic development. The same principle applies to those which react against these policies in protesting the violation of the native's legitimate rights to the Amazonian land. In the end, the governmental reaction can be to simply lay claims to being misunderstood, since the decree 1090 (as Minister Cabanillas, and the entire APRA parliamentary representation claims) is in the interest of the natives themselves, so that the land becomes productively used in the competitive scheme of national economy. Since modernization will allow the natives to gain unforeseen opportunities, against the reactionary fear of change in favor of preserving their exclusion, the opposition's demands can be said to coincide with the call for the integration of the communities and preoccupation about their socio political exclusion. This insistence by the president has been missed in its scope, as it was underlined for example in this much discussed piece by Bartolome Clavero's anti-governmental rant "Who Committed Genocide in Peru?" (

The governmental agenda to mobilize the Amazonian land for industrial purposes in potential intrusion to the rights of ownership of the natives has been made well explicit by reference to a concrete clause in decree 1090 ambiguously legitimizing the excepting of normal rights of propriety by recourse to the concept of ‘national interest’ (Rosa Maria Palacios was agile enough to point this out at the Start of her interview with minister Cabanillas). Of course, the ultimate paradox of this imbroglio is that the State is able to conflate the opposition's rejection of the unwillingness to grant democratic rights to those excluded with the rejection of the laws which would guarantee this emancipation. This has been the ground of the posterior attempt to save political face by the entire central government (from the ministry of interior, to Del Castillo, to Garcia himself…) by claiming this exception did not apply to the territory owned by the natives. That effectively this ‘national interest’ is nothing but the expectation of exploiting Amazonian resources (oil, agricultural produce…) for exports and edge in the competitive liberal market and not for the natives gets entirely passed over, and is of course, not the proper subject of ‘the debate’ (as reports show, three quarters of the Amazonian territory would be confined for the extraction of oil

On the other hand, the protesters at large feel morally exorcised after the placebo of the public vociferation of insubstantial chants, since doing so they were included within the ranks of moralist declaration of horror against those in power. In the end, nothing substantial changes, and we still indulge on our merely virtual indignation. In other words, the seduction of the protesters can in fact be indexed in complicity with the State’s false emancipatory economical measures as the obverse side of a profoundly reactionary vision. The mass media reporting on the ‘poor communities’ and the bulk of their opposition allows this by positioning the natives under the patronizing gesture of avowing those integrated in the natural worldview, not yet contaminated by the hubris of the cities and the industrial-centered politics of the government. What this scope misses is how the very form of this discourse affirms the maintenance of the victims to the economical conditions which lead to their political inexistence; the skeptical resistance to the overturn of communal customs in favor of integrated policy submits the natives to permanently being the object for the pity of those who from the highly modernized cities have the means to protest in favor of democracy and against the violation of the cultural pristine life of the natives.

The catch is of course that the protesters achieve their mass support through technological means (internet chains, forums, media...) while at the same time resisting or not proposing any positive program for the natives to achieve the emancipation which would allow them to participate of this process, which invariably requires the intervention of the State into the life and land of the Amazonian territory. Thus the rejection of the decree 1090 is not supplemented by the protesters with any sort of project or proposal, nor even a hint of what a possible reformulation or different decree could look like; it remains confined to the negative rejection of the State activity, the violation of the natives' rights, and the triumphant affirmation of 'democracy' in the form of protesting. The decree which presumably would achieve this marvelous synchrony between the State and the preservation of the natives is but the ruse of those who, in hypocritical slothfulness, avow the suspension of the decree 1090 not having read it, or not even being in a position to begin proposing a possible solution. In fact, isn't it unsettling how these protests have finally more to do with those protesting than the actual victims of the conflict, or how the latter are used for moral exorcism or political opportunism? As far as proposals, guidelines, substantial opposition and the like goes, the protests remain sterile, with no positive discourse except the all too obvious call for integration, dialog and respect for freedom and life. On the other hand, the affirmation of the act of pacific protest as a democratic one is repeated endlessly, as are the slogans of democracy and freedom, in a vicious cycle of destructive opposition to the State. A great example of this perverse logic was exhibited by the general popular uproar to Bedoya Ugarteche's racist slants against the Aguarunan people in the press, which culminated in an ironic call for President Garcia to ready the napalm to bomb these violent natives.

The point is not to repeat the all too obvious moralist indignation against racism, but to realize how protesters act in complicity to it: the protesters' humanitarian ruse is effectively nothing but the vociferation of the general democratic slogans against the article, obscuring the situation (it's not about the 'law' but really about the cosmovision of the natives being endangered as a sign of totalitarian violence, of which the racism if a prime example, etc). One has to be suspicious at Ugarteche's article, if anything, because it seems too easy a target; it appears designed as an opportunistic attempt to gather clichéd polemics in the very heart of the situation, thereby extracting popular interest from the matter itself. Non surprisingly, a dozen replies to his article appeared immediately, insisting on the horrific display of racism in Ugarteche's writing and linking this ignorance to the State indifference to the situation of the Amazon. This 'hermeneutic temptation' is thereby easily reproduced to leave matters in the very comfortable surface of apparent disagreement. We should therefore insist in that this apparent emancipatory gesture of laying claim to the general platitudes of democracy and tolerance is in fact the tacit enacting of its very opposite; it is the smoke screen required for the slothful not to deal with the minute rigor required for internal politics, extracting it to a general example of mindless blather and obscuring the subjective agents, and exculpating them from the objective violence of their own complicity in this reactionary discourse. (

The other catch is of course that the sought synchrony between the natives in their worldview and the State integration is in fact formulated as an impossible demand. Since the natives do not oppose 1090 as much as fear State intervention into their land as a result of political manipulation (the Nationalists insisting on how the State seeks to exploit their land and property for the industrial prospect of the TLC with the United States…), so the rejection to the law is in fact generally political and not based on legal disagreement. Of course the turn of the screw provided by the protesters waters down this dark complicity in affirming that the natives are ultimately enraged at the lack of willingness of the State to discuss matters democratically, hypocritically allying to this outrage while they never appeared in the conflict before the conflict. This succeeded in shifting the axis of public attention to make the natives not so much concerned with the actual effects of State intervention and their obvious fear at the explotation of their land, as much as with following the correct democratic procedures. So in the end the pathetic condition of the people which are in no position to enter into the democratic dialog are reduced to allies of the democratic tenet of democratic equality. Sympathetically, the preservation of the Amazonian culture heritage was publicized as the chant of those excluded. But this of course obscured the deadlock of the natives’ insurgence itself in its contents. If the fear was directed against State intervention then, one must ask, how can we begin to think of a diplomatic procedure which could accomplish the sought for integration of natives and the Amazonian territory into the economic process of our liberal market economy? How can the multitude of tribes and people in the Amazon be incorporated into the formal demands of a paralyzing legal project, with infinite bureaucratic difficulties. The point is of course not that we should give up on including the Baguan people, but that by thinking of their indignation as being based on the claim for democracy we pass over the more fundamental tragic impotence in the Amazonian people to even address the law in its contents. It is thus remarkable how the opposition to decree 1090 at large has nothing concrete to say about the contents of the decree itself and how not single proposal has been made as to how to think this delimitation: the opposition, from the Nationalists to so called liberal protesters on the streets, rely on the ambiguous rejection of privatization and the call for dialog with no further specification of which politico-economical measures to take.

The retarded charges of 'genocide' and the New-Age avowal of nature and culture do nothing to penetrate the real separating people and politics. In the end, the protesters remain within the neo-hippie ethereal confines of platitudes which, like liberty and democracy, culture and nature, merely leave people where they are. The support for the rejection of the privatization of the land for the interests of national liberal market economy in favor of the non-privatization of these areas and the protection of the native rights ironically misses how the natives’ position also relies on the avowal of the privatization of this immense territory to their whims, or that of their own communities (if in fact the 12,000 hectares designated in decree 1090 for the 316,000 Amazonian people are not sufficient, but that the Amazonian territory in principle should not be subjected to this process of privatization). What are we to make of this all too obvious provincialist resistance? The ‘infuriated’ protesters can lay their support on the natives’ position even if this compromises at large the modernization and economic expansion of the country since, of course, their own vociferation lacks any substantial content to propose a different rule. It is difficult to find what these protesters effectively think should happen, probably because they just do not think a whole lot. A good example of this patronizing pity against the natives is perfectly rendered in this short article by Bartolome Clavero:

“The governmental declarations are situated in this line. While blood was being spilt, the President of the Republic, Alan Garcia, made some heated declarations in which, among other hurtful occurrences, he contraposed the selfish interests of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people against that of millions of Peruvians, as if the former where indigenous to their own land, as if the Peruvian State did not have the international responsibility of defending their human rights, those of its people, communities and indigenous communities. It is effectively interests against rights. Interests against people are those of the concessionary franchises encouraged and safeguarded by the government. Right facing private interests are recognized by indigenous peoples by International Human Rights linking of course Peru.” (

Coupled with the hypocritical avowal of the manipulated anxiety of the locals against decree 1090 and the conservative resistance to modernization is of course the humanitarian supplement of the protesters in their denouncement of the acts of violence occurred in the armed confrontation leading to the massacre, This pathetic ‘rejection of violence’ can be a clear example of how democratic liberal discourse’s explicit rejection of subjective violence (which leads to a clear agent, from individual to State) camouflages the objective violence which results from the normal functioning of the economy and its political discourse, State members and protesters alike. Here we have a prime example of this insipid disguise from this past 7th of June emitted by the General National Coordinator of Human Rights:

“We express our profound indignation against the use of violence, no matter where it comes from. We repudiate the excessive use of force from the police against the civil manifestation and the civil population, and with the same rigor we condemn the aggression and kidnapping of policemen from those who protest…” (,

The massive opposition in this reactionary motif can thus feel exculpated from the moral complicity with the true difficulty of clarifying the situation; the actual succession of events in Bagua of course remains obscure, as is the direct part of the State: we do not know if the police or natives attacked first, or if the police forces acted under direct orders (whose orders?), we ignore whether the insurgence began in fact from a deliberate misunderstanding of the proposed decree by the manipulation of the local leaders (Pizango being exiled in the Nicaraguan embassy), or the source for the native’s indignation (leading to a prior congress of the communities presumably in the presence of foreign powers).... One must notice this not so innocent shift from apparent democracy to a concrete partial index: for example in Clavero’s apparent democratic plea to not distinguish the deaths of policemen and natives, indexing the responsibility directly to the ‘government’ assigns responsibility to an ambiguous ‘general’ agent (who in the government is directly responsible?) obscuring the specificity of those responsible:

“Let us not confront figures of victims between natives and policemen. Let us not make the distinction… there are more and all victims of genocidal government” (”

Of course what is missing in this sea of generality is the action of concrete agents: the manipulation of the natives leading to their misinformed rejection, the international call for insurgence in complicity with Pizango and the inefficiency of the State to avoid its influence, ignorance about the explosion of the massacre and the origin of orders if existent. The ascription of ‘government’ as the tyrannical purveyor of genocide is but a more sophisticated extension of the obscure appeals to freedom and other general platitudes rather than tackling the real issue, in an ego-trip to present one’s position as in conformity with the benevolent ranks of democratic liberal ideology. None of the pending issues about Bagua are yet clear; the political responsibility of this massacre, and the enormous difficulty which presents the construction of a new path towards the integration of the native communities to our socio-political world, or the vision of a different world altogether, remains untouched in this pathetic sequence. This ridiculity was only reproduced by the idiotic carnival at congress in charge of the Nationalist parliamentarians this past June 11th, which resulted in their (justified) suspension, only serving to petrify the very much needed parliamentary action, in favor of political exhibitionism to create uproar and stir mindless followers (nothing was more emblematically stupid than their communal singing of the national anthem while the country demands an answer to these tragedies)

Without answers to these questions, we have no means to assign responsibilities and fight towards a new constructive path. The dead disappear at the margins of a constellation in which the self-indulgent belying of the State in the light of democratic liberty camouflages the responsibility of concrete agents, and the necessity for concrete measures. What we must understand is that this apparent resistance obscures the relation between State and civilians, between the law and its excluded, the State in general and its particular agents (who gave the orders?), between the international powers and the regional governments, etc. The protesters finally can project the form of indignation to protect their own privileged position from the distance, and avow the democratic power in a frivolous march. That this does not mean anything but that a period of false failed diplomacy will follow, and nothing will change, is only too obvious. For it wasn't about 1090 from the start. After congress announced the dissolution of 1090 and 1064, the natives still remain blocking the road. And congress will still interpolate Minister Simon and Cabanillas. In fact, the APRA had no choice but to support the derogation at Parliament, as Mauricio Mulder claimed ‘for State reasons’ (political pressure). It wasn't about the rights of the dead or those of the living either. It was about how the lack of rights for the dead could serve as a platform for political propaganda, for reactionary obscurantism, and an excuse for democratic celebration. Our reality is to sacrifice the dead to the mindless chant of moralists and humanitarians. These are the voices which gather in parties to discuss their progress in college while they merrily march with lit candles in 'homage to the dead', the minimal gesture given when they can no longer simply look back in apathic slothfulness. Empty words and fading candles. Is that what our democracy is made of?

jueves, 16 de abril de 2009

The Question Concerning 'The Question Concerning Technology"

Heidegger’s critique of modern technology arises from the perspective of thinking the loss of a pre-modern ‘wisdom’ in which technological life (techné) was not yet conceived from the purview of instrumentality; it is only through the modern interpretation of technology as a mere means to an end that the bringing-forth (Hervorbringen) proper of technical life is put to the service of exploiting nature (physis) as standing-reserve [Bestand]. In this process, Heidegger tells us, nature is no longer conceived as something to be taken care of in order to benefit from it, like the farmer who works the land for the crop he uses; nature is deliberately challenged (Herausfordern) and set (Stellen) to obtain and amass energy from it; the gift of being in unconcealment (Unverborgenheit) is reduced by modern science to make the whole of nature subservient the whims of industry in production, to accumulation and consumption.

And yet the revealing that holds sway throughout modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis. The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging [Herausfordern], which puts nature to the unreasonable demand that it supply energy that can be extracted and stored as such. But does this not hold true for the old windmill as well? No. Its sails do indeed turn in the wind; they are left empty entirely to the wind’s blowing. But the windmill does no unlock energy from the air currents in order to store it.”

It is thus easy to see why for Heidegger the whole theme of Ereignis circles around the possibility of appropriating the proper metaphysical origins of the first beginning of thought and that this appropriation also requires a regression to a time before the advent of metaphysics in search for the old, lost wisdom. The properly Greek beginning signals this origin, where resonates the word of the poet for whom the world is not yet a stock in reserve. Through this appropriation of the past, Dasein becomes attuned as the caretaker of being and recognizes himself in bearing the gift of its truth (aletheia). That modern technology is quintessentially different for Heidegger than in pre-modern thought should not make us forget that this tragic outcome is also the ultimate consequence of the inaugural epoch of Western (Greek) metaphysics. Even if the transformation of nature into standing-reserve occurs only when Greek concepts are watered down by Rome’s misinterpretation and the subsequent assignment of technology to modern physics, this is well beside the point. The key resides in that even in the Greek beginning the essential forgetfulness took place, which of course for Heidegger is ultimately why a second beginning is necessary, and not just properly a return. The regression is thus meant to recover the wisdom that will allow us to move beyond the first beginning in the leap into being-historical thinking.

Against Heidegger's hermeneutic effort we should emphasize how what he perceives as the tragic outcome of modernity, triggered by the forgetfulness of being, already latently suggests there is pathetically nothing to remember. For isn’t it relatively easy to show, contra Heidegger, that in fact the fisherman who uses salt to preserve foods also deals with nature in order to be capable of stockpiling goods/energy? And isn’t it that the proverbial well from which the man from the mountains draws buckets of water serves effectively as a standing storage to be exploited and used? The thesis that suggests itself (developed among others by Bernard Stiegler in his extensive La technique et le temps) is that the attitude of Enframing (Ge-stell) and treating nature as standing-reserve is not just proper to modern thinking, but to all technical life as such, and that this attitude, far from being the mere result of forgetting the past, is actually the necessary form in which human existence (Dasein) develops. In this way, the transformation of nature into a reservoir of resources appears as the exemplary gesture of Dasein metaphysical existence.

The whole theme of a Greek re-appropriation can then appear but hopelessly short-sighted- the manipulation of nature and its instrumentalization (rendered in the very passage from Zuhandenheit to Vorhandenheit) obtains precisely from the forgetting of the gesture of the gift; of objectivizing and tearing apart nature from its organic totality in order to objectivize it; to dissect and preserve it as the means for some concrete human endeavour. The prospect of a leap into a second-beginning for the West, beyond the first metaphysical beginning, is thus rendered a provincialist/mystical illusion; man cannot escape his metaphysical dimension insofar as it challenges the world and nature to the concept- what Hegel called the ‘night of the World’). And doesn't the Beitrage’s call for a thinking which favors silence already tacitly suggest that the only way to sneak out of metaphysics is properly by an attitude of Gelsassenheit, apolitical apathy, inertia, or a simulation of the Eastern Buddhist theme of silencing and self-annihilation? Here we should recall Zizek’s reminder about the Hegelian movement of sublation, developed apropos of the recurring New-Age theme of recovering the wisdom of the ancient world:

“Here we have the properly Hegelian matrix of development: the Fall is already in itself its own self-sublation; the would is already in itself its own healing so that the perception that we are dealing with the Fall is ultimately a misperception, an effect of our skewed perspective… The problem with the ‘Western mechanistic attitude’ is not that it forgot-repressed the ancient holistic Wisdom, but that it did not break with it thoroughly enough: it continued to perceive the new universe (of discursive stance) from the perspective of the old one, of the ‘ancient wisdom’; and of course, from this perspective the new universe cannot but appear as the catastrophic world which comes about ‘after the Fall’. We rise again from the ‘Fall not by undoing its effects but in recognizing in the Fall itself the longed-for liberation.” [Ticklish Subject, Pg. 70-71]

And isn’t the structure of this self-sublating logic perfectly applicable to Heidegger’s position? On a first moment, the ultimate outcome of the Western instrumental attitude in modern technology is rooted in a forgetfulness being, starting in Greece; what we must do is recover this wisdom and leap outside of our derailed epoch and its sombre outcome. The additional turn of the screw happens then when we acknowledge that the tragic outcome is not only guaranteed by the forgetfulness of the beginning, but only perceived as tragic as long as we don’t realize that the sought for appropriation of the origin coincides with its tragic result. What Heidegger thus fails to realize is that the mechanistic attitude of man is only perceived as a deterioration from the forgetting of being if we ourselves forget that already Greek thought (doubtless since the very origin of man) was made possible on the basis on such a forgetting; the moment we realize Enframing does not result from the loss of a past we can safely overcome, but that it is inscribed in the very form of the past itself, we realize the tragedy of modern technology coincides with the appropriation of its origin. Put bluntly: no deterioration ever happened since nothing was ever genuinely lost that could signal the possibility of leaping into a ‘second beginning’, modern technology, far from being a contingent outcome triggered by the loss of ancient wisdom, is actually its truth actualized.

We can also see this nostalgic venture as the repetition of the fundamental ideological gesture of 'claiming distance to the text', which Zizek reproaches to Heidegger apropos his Nazi engagement, since the latter was triggered by the metaphysical expectation that a political program could simultaneously be self-aware of its historico-ontological conditions. The usual Heideggerean retort that the conferal of dignity to National Socialism was a mistake grounded in not freeing itself from the transcendental approach radically enough; the properly Heideggerean lesson is on the contrary to assert the insurmountable gap between the ontological and the ontic, never reducing the former to a particular form of the latter. So ultimately when Zizek accuses Heidegger for assuming that a political programme could at the same time be self aware of its historico-ontological conditions he in fact denies that simply by missing to acknowledge this gap we arrive at National Socialism (or any political programme without 'inner greatness', like communism or liberal democracy); the gap is constitutive for any political programme as such. So, finally, Heidegger's ideological gesture of claiming Nazism had an 'inner greatness' excluded from the specific ontic configuration of racial biology, remains particular in that it still assigns authentic ontological dignity to an specific political vision, and not just by assuming this dignity is possible rather than making this gap constitutive.

In the same way, this gesture is repeated in Heidegger's critique of modern technology by appeal to the pre-modern non instrumental attitude towards Nature. The usual story goes that after the Kehre Heidegger had shifted the axis of his approach from the (still transcendental) project of a fundamental ontology to being-historical thinking, where the full consequences of the break with transcendental philosophy is finally achieved. But isn''t the leap into beyn-historical thinking, or a post-instrumental conception of technology precisely that which serves as the historical variant of approaching transcendental 'inner greatness', whose mystery is locked in the pre-modern past, in the long-forgotten Greek origins? So when Heidegger thinks that it is possible to overcome tmodern echnology's perverse instrumentalization of Nature by recourse to the hermeneutic leap outside metaphysics, does he not thereby remain locked in the aspiration of such a homology between the indeterminate ontological truth which forever separates being from beings (metaphysics) and a positive relation to Nature? It should come as no surprise, then, that this envisioned second beginning results in a strange quasi-Eastern apolitical stance of Gelassenheit, a listening attitude to being's call in the open. Against this view, we must resist the apolitical temptation and claim that this envisioned symmetry is itself already marred by the transcendental approach Heidegger seeks to overcome (this point was rendered similarly in Derrida's explosive indexing of Spirit as the un-deconstructed underlying concept lurking in Heidegger's thought). We should insist that on the other hand this gap between the ontological foundations and the dissection of Nature is precisely constitutive for our relationship to Nature as such; there is no possible homology between being and Nature since it is only in the subject's constitutive negation of Nature as an organic whole and its dissection that it appears as such.

It is for this reason that Alain Badiou demarcated Heidegger’s endeavour to submit technology at the centre of the philosophical problem as ultimately part of the same pomposity that New-Age mystics infused with provincialist nostalgia share. If man is irrevocably a technological being in that it always seeks to tear nature apart from its organic totality, if the subject is indeed nothing but the radical negativity of what Hegel called 'The Night of the World', then rather than to attempt an escape from metaphysics, we must fully assume our metaphysical dimension and run with it. So Badiou is able to conclude, mockingly, that if there are any regrets with respect to technology it is only that it is “still so rudimentary”.

martes, 31 de marzo de 2009

Badiou's Naturalization of Communism as a Political Generic Procedure

Some interesting moments happen towards the end of this short conversation when Badiou was accused of resting on mere 'faith' to legitimize communism as the correct idea for communitarian emancipation. Badiou appeals to the proper vision of a society 'without classes' as the general content of the communist idea, but struggles to make it more substantial than the proverbial ideological cliché of democracy which advocates a society 'without racial/sexist/ethnic discrimination' for everybody. Through communism we know oppression can be thought of in terms of class struggle; just as we know the importance of opposing racism, sexism and ethnocentrism from the agenda of liberal democracy. The critique Badiou brings forth against the democratic tenets of freedom of culture, individual expression and human rights does not, by itself, tell us how to move beyond communism qua the expression of a class into a general platitude for social justice any more than the democratic liberal discourse.

This is why I am tempted to suggest that popular emancipation remains too banal a concept, too general an aim, to warrant the maintenance of the name 'communism' as the horizon for political activity; and certainly insufficient to justify the necessity of going back to a primitive Idea of communism (such as Marxist theory). The desire to keep this name in circulation as the only possible route towards political change seems to me to require the leftist nostalgia Badiou must inevitably sink into given his intimate political/theoretical activity, his involvement through the events of May 68, and the political allegiances of his mentors. For if the idea of class struggle is no longer proper only to communism (as it has in fact been virtually appropriated into all Western political discourses) and this idea is no longer sufficient (as Badiou says, the sequence of traditional revolutionary politics as expressing the social contradictions of class struggle is finished) then what remains to communism seems the ether of equality and justice. This can hardly guide us in the arduous task of preparing a new framework for today’s sociopolitical organization, away from the limitations of liberal democracy and today's capitalism.

On the other hand, I find myself close to Badiou in that the crisis serves as a reminder that the political remains a task for thought. Something new has to be built; a new logical framework which can singularly help us go beyond the classical revolutionary politics which were experimented during the 20th Century. But this new logic and new world can also be something new, something for which there is yet no name, not even communism, a beginning of a beginning. Making the name of communism tantamount to social justice (perhaps best captured by Sartre’s claim that whoever is not a communist is a dog) is something like the inscription of an eternal name, a historically indisplaceable truth event, a normativized/naturalized political generic procedure. Put bluntly: it would positivize communism as the only path towards political novelty. The impasse is rather not knowing what this 'new framework' will look like and its incalculable distance- to be incapable of determined now, within the situation, which struggles will be included or belong across its process, and through which names this will happen. Without this, we cannot know what can supplant the contemporary situation in its ongoing course.

To summarize, we can agree with Badiou in that the future of politics remains a task for thought, but we should be cautious about remaining within the scope of communism simply because it seems rather trivial to appeal to popular emancipation as being proper to it. Revolutionary politics certainly entails distance from the State, and the construction of a new truth (a new generic procedure). Even if we must presuppose communitarian emancipation, the point is that without anything else it is quite impossible to distinguish that tenet as being proper to communism; it can also be said to be the idea behind human rights' generalized freedom from oppression or tyranny (communism does for class what liberalism does for race, sex and ethnicity). We still need a firmer ground to lay the bricks.

domingo, 1 de marzo de 2009

Monotheistic Violence or Zizek's Religious Temptation

Zizek's invitation to use 9/11 as an opportunity to 'think' takes shape in this still very much relevant exposition made in Jerusalem, from 2003. I would like to nonetheless interject the interpretative process Zizek begins at a particularly symptomatic point in his discussion of fundamentalism. In relation to how fundamentalist ideology relates to the concept of religious belief, Zizek proposes to distinguish between examples of genuine monotheism and false monotheism, by indexing the violent expressions of (some) fundamentalist activities to the latter. In sum, the self-proclaimed monotheistic activity which so-called fundamentalists exhibit when acting violently against others consists in the tacit acceptance of the other Gods as false Gods; their explicit recognition renders them existent within the activity of suppressing or attacking those who speak in their name. The true monotheist simply renders the expression of false Gods as an expression of ignorance; the other remains visible as a brother of the community, assailed by the failure to recognize the true God due to some pathological behavior.

My rejection of Zizek's exposition resides precisely on this point. I think that we must reject the thesis that violent monotheism is false monotheism; and propose that its violence is inherent to monotheism in its inner dynamics. To understand this, we must oppose to Zizek's notion of authentic, peaceful monotheism, that all monotheistic activity enacts the discrimination of other religions by way of reduction of the other's substantive views to a condemnable feature intrinsic to the monotheistic legitimate discourse: for example in Christianity we often hear about how the 'Devil' is responsible or represented in the acts of terrorism. Analogously, in its effective attack against other worldviews, Christian ideology reduces the other's expressions from within its discourse and not by having to recognize the other as such. It would be pointless to say that the tacit polytheism of Christian condemnation is accounted for in the form of the Devil, for the same point applies to direct reference to discourse: in the proclamation of false Gods one sins by using the lord's name in vain; in bearing contradicting information to The Word a subject is targeted as a false witness of religious illumination.

Likewise behavior which contradicts the principles of Christian dogma can be effectively assigned as expressions of Sin, and not properly the substantive views of an Other. This way violence against terrorists can be justified by reducing their proclamations of divine duty as the pathological disturbance of the genuine subjects of Christian grace (this way the fundamentalist is seen as a sinner, a person led astray, punishable for his acts for violating the divine Law). What presents itself as the proclamation of the true God is reduced by the monothesit to being an expression of mere corruption and failure, of deviation from the path of Truth rather than the expression of an alternate divine Will or communal worldview. In this example, the recognition of the Other's deities comes not by way of accepting them as subsistent deities- but in assigning them to pathological expressions of a feature in the subject's monotheistic framework: even though the terrorists proclaim their activity in the name of 'Ala' the Christian ideology can render the terrorists' explicit proclamation as a contingent expression from the dynamics of the Christian dogma.

Because of this I see the entire separation between tolerant 'authentic' monotheism and its violent excess as repeating the fundamental ideological gesture of claiming distance from the text. Perhaps we should supplement Zizek's thesis that being oblivious to this distance is a precondition of political activity, and extend it to religious activity as well. By claiming the excess of violence in (pseudo) monotheistic religion is proper only to its tacit polytheistic underside masks the inherent violence of any true monotheism, which consists in closing the separation between its singular discourse and the other's expression, where the latter is reduced to the former. Concretely to follow with our example, the violence advanced by Christian monotheism does not proceed from accepting the other Gods as merely 'false'; but on reducing them to being a pathological expression of some failure to abide to the norm of the monotheistic discourse (the terrorist’s proclamation of the sacred duty of the 'sons of Ala' is but the delusional influence of the corruption of the community of Christian values in sin, it's the devil's work, failure to recognize the true grace of the Lord in the community of Christian brotherhood, etc).

Monotheism bears this necessary violence intrinsically to its very discourse; it already prescribes the legitimate suppression of acts which do not comply to the normal integration to the religious community. Zizek's fault repeats the precise ideological gesture marked by monotheism- he dismisses examples of violence in self-proclaimed monotheisms as pathological examples of a quieter, apprehensive 'true' monotheism. The attack on the concept of fundamentalism must thus avoid this reference to true monotheism as a potential aspiration (unsurprisingly, Zizek himself finds in so-called true monotheists like the Amish a generally agreeable archetype which he jokingly suggests should increase in numbers).

miércoles, 7 de enero de 2009

Alain Badiou - What is Freedom?

In this post I offer a short and simplified elucidation of what Badiou opposes against the notion of freedom in 'expressive dialectics'. Against the relativization of truth, subjectivity and freedom to the sphere of individuals and cultures, bodies and languages, Badiou relates freedom to his doctrine of the event. An event for Badiou is an occurance which exceeds and resists its appropriation by the state in the situation where it happens, and which thereby opens the possibility for a new process of truth. A subject is the one who maintains fidelity to the event of truth, and which carries forth its consequences in a series of enquiries. The subject is thus always local; there are some subjects at some moments in the process of the unfolding of a truth. It is essentially distinguished from the traditional subject qua individual, or substance. For Badiou a subject is always creative in the sense that it opens new possibilities, and gradually works to develop them creating new situations.

Truth procedures are of four kinds (as a matter of historical fact, not in principle): scientific, political, artistic and amorous. An event is the emergence of a new scientific theory, a sequence of revolutionary politics, a new artistic school or a new love. Analogously, a subject would be the radical decision to remain faithful to the consequences opened by the event: Newton, Schoenenberg, Lenin, and Proust all become subjects insofar as they produce a new situation by remaining faithful to an event which disrupts the normality of the state, and begin a process which ultimately creates a new situation. That being said, we can offer the following clarificatory remarks to Badiou's exposition on the freedom of the subject, and its distinction from expressive dialectics:

1) Freedom cannot be expression in the sense of a harmony between the individual and the state of the situation: this means that freedom does not emergesin the possibility of merely reconlicing the desire of the self with the demands of state, or in the expressivity of the first within the possibilities offered by the latter. It is not a dialog between the body which makes up an individual and the social sphere to which he belongs. Rather, freedom emerges in carrying out the consequences of an event that, as a process, produces a new situation. This procedure is the action of a millitant subject of truth; the subject does not express itself, but essentially exists as a moment in the creation of a new subject (of science, politics, art or love). The subject of truth is exactly that: the local moment committed to chance in an specific enquiry, within the generic procedure which constitutes the unfolding of a truth inside the situation.

2) Freedom is not the expression of the individual self; it is always a choice against ourselves: Since we are imbedded into a situation which is regulated by the state, the expression of the individual will inside a culture is the direct expression of its prescriptions and what is admitted as knowledge inside of it- it is not an act of freedom, since by expressing itself it is already constituted by what the state determines. The imperative of enjoyment, of self creation, the roles and classes which an individual can adopt as expressive gestures of his freedom are already incorporated by the state. The gesture of expression and of recognition remains thus within that which is identifiable by the state .The subject of truth is on the other hand a fragment in an specific moment of fidelity within a truth procedure, which is fundamentally outside the objectivity of the situation where it happens. We can say, to use another of Badious's terms, that a truth is subtracted from the objectivity of situation. It is not a mere negation of the state, it is essentially a new framework for the organization of the multplicities which conform the situation.

Given that we are never simply spontaneously free in expression, and since we are subjected to the injuctions of the State (properly the unconscious of ideology) freedom cannot be the expression of a body or culture (say, of class struggle, or the working class, of the party, of african americans, homosexuals, and so on). Those names are already a part of the situation and not, as in traditional revolutionary politics, something which emerges as the possibility of expressing that which was until then impossible. Classes are, in the battlefield of contemporaneity, already part of the democratic state, and not the potency for freedom.
3) Summary and Overview: The expressive attempt to seek a harmony between social expression and individual desire is tantamount to a continuation of the normality of the state, and not of freedom. As we said, freedom is a production in that in does not coincide with the possible of the state, and so it is not achieved by seeking a harmony with it. It is not merely the subjective pronounciation in the social field, but the creation of something which opens a new field for expression, a new possibility previously impossible or unthought.

To summarize: freedom is in the side of the subject, of truth, of the event, of struggle and novelty.

Non-freedom is in the side of the individual, of knowledge, and of the state, of submission to the norm, whether explicit or implicit, and fundamentally included (represented) in the situation.

4) Finally, this is why we can say that both:

a) 'There are only individuals and cultures...': inside any particular situation what appears are bodies and cultures, individuals and the states which regulate them.

b) '...but there are universal truths': a truth bores a hole in established knowledge; something happens which is not under the regulation of the state, a subject emerges in fidelity to an event and its consequences, which are not relative to any given bodies or languages in the situation, even if the situation is strictly only composed of them. It is an 'inventile exception' to the state of the situation, and so outside the sphere of knowledge.