Reply to Jason 2

Bust of Socrates. 2nd century Roman copy from a 4th century BCE Greek original. Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo, Italy

Bust of Socrates. 2nd century Roman copy from a 4th century BCE Greek original. Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo, Italy

Hi Jason,

You have set yourself a difficult and most important challenge.

I watched your video a few more times.

The daimonion tells Socrates that his role is to help others (those you place in Tartarus) understand that they are dead and that they are chained to the world through ignorance.

Socrates then asks how he can wake them up.

His daimonion replies that he cannot, they must wake themselves up on their own and Socrates can only help them in the right direction.

The daimonion, after being questioned by Socrates, then asks him if he is not tired yet of having others tell him what he is.

It seems to me that the daimonion is pointing out that Socrates too does not know who he is, yet his purpose is to help others understand themselves.

I think you have to be clear on your perception of who (your) Socrates is, because that will be essential to the structure and direction of your play.

Do you think Socrates was motivated by the wish to help others/to teach others/to question and to share his love for questioning (the examined life)/to seek the truth and to share his love for it (again, the examined life)?

You have a most excellent motive in this – that others need to philosophise about their lives and their place in the world.

I share that belief.

When I was at college I did a performance piece in which I handed out sheets of A4 paper with a question mark in the middle with arrows either side of it pointing left and right, then sat on a chair in front of the ‘audience,’ and said nothing.

People waited for me to do or say something, neither of which I did.

I simply looked back at them.

Total silence…

Your challenge is to make your point(s) as strongly as possible to your audience.

To begin by having your Socrates and his daimonion walk conversing from the back to the stage is one way.

To begin by having them walk from the stage into the audience and perhaps among them might be another.

To have actors or not even actors but, even better, willing audience members positioned throughout the audience and call out questions to Socrates and have him respond, perhaps spot-lighting the questioners as they speak might be another.

Then turn the spot off, leaving the audience ‘in the dark’ again.

After a few times, no-one knows whether the person next to them might be the next to speak up…

I think every means to indicate to your audience their centrality to your play and to involve them in it should be explored.

It’s an excellent challenge you have set yourself.

All the best,

Phil

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Models of heroism: the beachgoer and the Pioneer

Charles Meere, ‘Australian beach pattern’, oil on canvas, 1940, Art Gallery of NSW; ‘a tableau of beach goers whose athletic perfection takes on monumental, heroic proportions…the myth of the healthy young nation symbolised by the tanned, god-like bodies of the sunbathers.’

Charles Meere, ‘Australian beach pattern’, oil on canvas, 1940, Art Gallery of NSW; ‘a tableau of beach goers whose athletic perfection takes on monumental, heroic proportions…the myth of the healthy young nation symbolised by the tanned, god-like bodies of the sunbathers.’

Nikolai Yakovlevich Belyaev, ‘They are Happy’, oil on canvas, 1949. ‘A scene of joyous, patriotic children, the work is full of life and colour.’

Nikolai Yakovlevich Belyaev, ‘They are Happy’, oil on canvas, 1949. ‘A scene of joyous, patriotic children, the work is full of life and colour.’

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On reason 1

Jane Goodall with chimpanzee Jou Jou, Brazzaville Zoo, Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, 1990

Jane Goodall with chimpanzee Jou Jou, Brazzaville Zoo, Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, 1990

The very focus in Western culture not on a reason that is wholistic but on one that is only linguistic and conceptual, on ‘elegance’ and wit in language, the scholastic licking and sucking of every ‘ism’ (yet one more shade of philosophical idealism) or piece of jargon, a current which has sought to block out the spiritual, the emotional, the passionate, above all, the animal and material, has presented in its analysis only a twisted half of who we are.

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Tim Wise on “Nice”

An excellent article. And I am glad to have read it on the same day the Australian media is choked with hypocrisy and ‘niceness’ after the Lindt cafe hostage-taking in central Sydney.

‘Niceness’ and the narrowest understanding of ‘decency’ are basic ideological tools.

This hostage-taking has lifted the lid on an immensely powerful lie of the dominant class in Australia – that ‘we’ in Australia are one nice, decent, happy, inclusive community (the Melbourne Cup, ‘the race that stops a nationTM’, proves this!) with the great good fortune of being distinct, because of Australia’s geography, and, dare I say it – affluence for the great majority, from a deeply troubled world.

The ideologues of capital have gone into overdrive with voices at times soothing, at others emotional or resonant and knowing, to silence comments such as I heard on the radio this morning from a ‘decent’ Aussie gentleman – ‘I thought Australia was far away from all this. It’s a wake-up call.’

No, No, No – back to sleep all you nice and decent people. Who could forget The Chaser skit (which they repeated) in which nice and decent Australians descend on an escalator and are directed by a person in the modicum of a uniform at the bottom to go back on the ‘up’ escalator. Each time I saw that skit the people all behaved the same, nicely and decently, without question, doing as they were told.

The ideologues of capital are using the hostage-taking, initiated by one who was ‘mad’ and ‘bad’ (so often the ‘analysis’), from a nation and region exploited, brutalised, betrayed and ripped apart, particularly over the last century, by activity engaged in, supported and condoned by Australia, to reinforce the self-centredness of ‘niceness’ (the capitalist ideology of ‘nice’ consumerism) and the most myopic, nationalist ‘decency’.

Dorothy, over the rainbow, would be pleased with the purity and simplicity of the message.

Not only the complicit and servile Australian media, but the world’s media will be all over this. I look forward to what will inevitably come out.

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From the Twittersphere

Murderous, uncivilised Islamic State terrorist:

* ‘The world must stand for the news of 13 Australian hostages but it would sleep for the news of over 130000 Muslims killed in Syria’

* ‘Gaza is under siege, Homs and Damascus are under siege the café in Sydney is Not.’

Tender-hearted, civilised Rupert Murdoch:

* ‘AUST gets wake-call with Sydney terror. Only Daily Telegraph caught the bloody outcome at 2.00 am. Congrats’

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Voices from Russia

01 Hypocrisy Meter

_____________________________

Nice people change nothing. They never have and they never will. Those who are nice are so invested in their niceness, in their sense of propriety and civility, that they rarely raise their voices above a whisper, even in the face of sweltering oppression. Nice white people were the ones who didn’t own black folks during the period of enslavement, but also didn’t raise their voices against the ones who did. Nice white people are the ones who didn’t spit on sit-in demonstrators, but also had no problem spending money with businesses that had remained segregated all those years.

To be nice is to have an emotional stake in the prevention of one’s own pain. Nice people don’t like to look at the ugly. It’s upsetting, most of all because it puts us on the hook and calls forth our humanity to actually put an end to that pain…

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Hegel, mystic, and the ‘Reason’ of the ‘master’ race

‘the Old World exhibits the perfect diremption into three parts, one of which, Africa, the compact metal, the lunar principle, is rigid through heat, a land where man’s inner life is dull and torpid – the inarticulate spirit which has not awakened into consciousness; the second part is Asia, characterised by Bacchanalian extravagance and cometary eccentricity, the centre of unrestrained spontaneous production, formlessly generative and unable to become master of its centre. But the third part, Europe, forms the consciousness, the rational part, of the earth, the balance of rivers and valleys and mountains – whose centre is Germany. The division of the world into continents is therefore not contingent, not a convenience; on the contrary, the differences are essential.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 285

‘The principle of the European mind is, therefore, self-conscious Reason which is confident that for it there can be no insuperable barrier and which therefore takes an interest in everything in order to become present to itself therein. …In Europe, therefore, there prevails this infinite thirst for knowledge which is alien to other races. …the European mind…subdues the outer world to its ends with an energy which has ensured for it the mastery of the world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., William Wallace, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971, 45

*

What comprises the reason that this European master of ‘Reason’ and ‘the rational’ asserts? He rightly looks past the propositional but adheres to the linguistic and conceptual. Is it not philosophic to question beyond these as well? Does not his own life and work provide ample justification?

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A Materialist Critique of Skepticism: Part Two

Philosophical skepticism is impacted by truth that is both absolute9 and yet, to the skeptic, impossible to accept.10 That it cannot be found justifies them in their epochē. At the beginning of Outlines of Skepticism Empiricus wrote of his opponents ‘Those who are called Dogmatists in the proper sense of the word think that they have discovered the truth – for example, the schools of Aristotle and Epicurus and the Stoics, and some others.’11

Cicero wrote ‘I am burning with the desire to discover the truth.’12 He believed that ‘The determination of truth and falsity and what is known and unknown is, after all, the governing rule of any philosophy.’13 Montaigne, with a Christian flavouring, thought the same: ‘holy Truth herself, Truth must present the same face everywhere.’14

Maclean wrote that Montaigne believed that the aim of philosophy is ‘to seek truth, knowledge, and certainty.’15 Descartes, who believed his cogito had defeated skepticism sought ‘true,’ ‘certain,’ and ‘perfect’ knowledge.16 With modernity, the absolute truth that overshadowed the ancient skeptics’ philosophising had become openly sought, with God as the guarantor.17

Further, the absolute truth against which skeptical argumentation functions is fundamental to that argumentation in the form of syllogistic validity. Empiricus’s extensive discussion of proof in Book II of his Outlines is based on syllogisms.

In On Academic Scepticism both Lucullus and Cicero built their arguments on syllogistic reasoning. Cicero wrote ‘There are four premises to the conclusion that nothing can be known or apprehended, which is the only subject at question here.’18

Such a formal approach to truth is continued by those who wrote on them. Frede wrote ‘Arcesilaus and his followers…not only did not want to be committed themselves to the truth of the premises and the conclusion of their arguments, they also did not want to be committed to the validity of their arguments.’19

Stroud writes in the same vein with regard to Descartes ‘So both steps of Descartes’s reasoning would be valid and his conclusion would be true.’20 Annas and Barnes applied the same formal and symbolic analysis throughout The Modes of Scepticism.21

The truth of the world and life is not that of formal, syllogistic validity and symbolic analysis. As the reflection of life and the world in our thought (matter reflecting on matter), this truth is inseparable from uncertainty, contradiction and change.

Metaphorically, it is a ‘living’ concept with ever-deepening content – it was once true that the earth is flat. All truth is relative to a theoretical absolute because change is unceasing. Darwin’s theory of evolution is not an absolute truth, but it is a truth which is repeatedly reinforced. Truth is established, tested, confirmed and developed upon through practice.22

Part two/to be continued…

Notes

9. ‘it is no miracle if we are told that we may acknowledge that snow seems white to us but cannot guarantee to establish that it is truly so in essence. And once you shake that first principle, all the knowledge in the world is inevitably swept away.’ Montaigne, ‘An Apology for Raymond Sebond‘ op. cit., 676.

10. ‘Sextus himself, being already a sceptic, does not and cannot believe in the truth of the propositions he advances.’ Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism: Ancient Texts and Modern Interpretations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, 45. ‘“The sceptic”, Sextus says at the end of the Outlines, “being a philanthropic sort, wants to cure by argument, to the best of his ability, the conceit and rashness of the dogmatists” (PH III 280). He presents himself as a doctor (or better, as a psychiatrist) whose task it is to cure the intellectual diseases – the rash beliefs and the conceited opinions – of his fellows. Just as a doctor need not take his own drugs, so a sceptic need not believe his own premisses.’ Ibid., 45. In response to criticism of his Meditations ‘Descartes protested that his sceptical phase was only feigned, that he never had the doubts of the First Meditation, and that no serious, attentive, unprejudiced person could have them, as long as he was aware of some clear and distinct ideas. The doubts, he said, were put forth for therapeutic and dramatic effect’ Richard H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, 170.

11. Sextus Empiricus Outlines of Scepticism, op. cit., 3

12. On Academic Scepticism, op. cit., 38

13. Ibid., 19

14. ‘An Apology for Raymond Sebond’, op. cit., 640

15. Ian Maclean, ‘Montaigne and the Truth of the Schools,’ The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne, Ed., Ullrich Langer, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 142-162, online, 142

16. Peter Harrison, ‘Original Sin and the Problem of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 63, No. 2, April 2002, pp. 239-259, 248.

17. Popkin wrote: ‘as Pascal avowed, as long as there are dogmatists, the sceptics are right. But if one eliminates the dogmatic standards for genuine knowledge, then the Pyrrhonian attack becomes ridiculous, since it is developed in terms of these strong demands or conditions laid down by the dogmatic philosophers.’, The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle, op. cit., 120. The usually implicit demand for a truth which is absolute underlies all stripes of skepticism – it can be seen in the difference between a skeptic and a relativist who does not suspend judgement but holds that something is a particular case in relation to something else. As Annas and Barnes wrote ‘mud is pleasant for pigs, unpleasant for humans – and that is all there is to it. The relativist is surely right: scepticism about ‘real’ pleasantness in this case is silly. …the relativist is the sceptic’s enemy, not his ally, and…victory for relativism is defeat for scepticism.’ The Modes of Scepticism: Ancient Texts and Modern Interpretations, op. cit., 98.

18. On Academic Scepticism, op. cit., 48

19. Michael Frede, ‘The sceptic’s two kinds of assent and the question of the possibility of knowledge’ in Philosophy in History: Essays on the historiography of philosophy, Eds., Richard Rorty, J.B.Schneewind, Quentin Skinner, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984, 257

20. Barry Stroud, ‘The Problem of the External World’ in Ernest Sosa and Jaegwon Kim, Eds., Epistemology An Anthology, Blackwell, Malden, Massachusetts, 2000, 19

21. Moore used premises to prove there is an external world. Ibid., G.E. Moore, ‘Proof of an External World’, ibid., 24. Montaigne regarded the syllogism as evidence of our inability to reason: ‘In (Montaigne’s) attack (on reason) pride of place is given to the syllogism, of which he gives the standard parodic example: “ham makes us drink, drinking quenches our thirst, therefore ham quenches thirst.” He also undermines the truth-claim of the syllogism in the example of the liar paradox (“if you say ‘I lie’ and if you are speaking the truth, then you lie”) ‘Montaigne and the Truth of the Schools,’ op. cit., 147.

22. Practical activity is the basis of cognition and the criterion of truth. Annas and Barnes wrote ‘Thus science resolves the sceptical doubt. …We know of no specific sceptical reply to any specific scientific resolution of this type.’ They rightly add ‘it is, at the very least, not evident that the ancient scientists and their optical theories had the capacity to resolve the Pyrrhonists’ doubts, or to repel the sceptical conclusions which they drew from these examples.’ The Modes of Scepticism, op. cit., 108-09.

A Materialist Critique of Skepticism

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‘…all the early philosophers (said) that nothing could be cognised, apprehended, or known, because the senses were limited, our minds weak, and the course of our lives brief, while the truth had been submerged in an abyss’1

Philosophical skepticism, though derived from skepsis – ‘enquiry’, is a doubting – not of the world, that it exists, but of us – of the faculties that bind us to the world, of our abilities to sense and reason with regard to it. Skeptical self-doubting ranges from a perceived unreliability of sensation and reason to whether one can know anything about the world on the basis of them.

Rather than focusing on one period or philosopher, I will critique elements of skepticism which function throughout its history – elements often shared by both its proponents and those who believed they had a counter to it, in their arguing against it. My critique will be dialectical materialist, holding that ‘matter’ or objective reality is prior to its product consciousness and that objective reality functions according to laws of motion and change cognised scientifically.

The core of my argument will be that philosophical skepticism is a failure to understand our relationship with the world, which was summarised by Lenin: ‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality.’2 I aim to bring out the meaning of this sentence through my critique of skepticism.

Two concepts which profoundly orient and limit skeptical debate, as with philosophy generally, are ‘mind’ and ‘truth.’ In Annas and Barnes’s translation of Empiricus’s Outlines of Skepticism, for ‘mind’ they use the word ‘intellect.’3 For Cicero the ‘mind’ is the source of and identical to the senses.4 Montaigne wrote of ‘our minds.’5 Descartes wrote of his.6

Not only are there no ‘minds,’ only brains in bodies, the concept ‘mind’ is burdened with a history of separation and patriarchy with its associated dualisms7 and its use prevents philosophical discussion from fully engaging with and absorbing scientific developments. ‘Mind’ directs away from the world. Of our brains, of what we do not know or understand, it is appropriate to say that we do not know or understand now, thereby leaving future research open.8

Part one/to be continued…

Notes

1. Cicero, On Academic Scepticism, Trans., Charles Brittain, Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, 2006, 106

2. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol., 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 171

3. For example ‘Suspension of judgement is a standstill of the intellect…’ Sextus Empiricus, Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Scepticism, Trans., Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994, 5.

4. ‘For the mind, which is the source of the senses and is even itself identical to the senses, has a natural power it directs at the things by which it is moved.’ On Academic Scepticism, op. cit., 19-20.

5. Michel de Montaigne, ‘An Apology for Raymond Sebond’ The Complete Essays, Trans., M.A. Screech, Penguin, London, 2003, 667

6. ‘it is certain that I, that is to say my mind, by which I am what I am, is entirely and truly distinct from my body, and may exist without it.’ ‘For it is, it seems to me, the function of the mind alone, and not of the composition of mind and body, to know the truth of these things.’ René Descartes, Discourse on Method and The Meditations, Trans., F.E. Sutcliffe, Penguin, London, 1968, pp. 156, 161. Also ‘I never asked “Am I a mind?” I begin with the discovery of myself as a thinking thing, which then provides a content for the concept of ‘mind’. …Nor have I assumed that mind is incorporeal. I demonstrate that it is, in the Sixth Meditation.’ Réne Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, Trans., Michael Moriarty, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008, 222.

7. Anaxagoras believed that nous put motion into the world but remained apart; there is the obvious Christian history of the ‘Mind’ of ‘our Father’ God; the dualisms, including reason/emotion, nature/nurture are all a denigration of the female.

8. That Helios drove the chariot of the sun was at least poetic.

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Will Capitalist Nations go to War with China?

SHANE MCLEOD: China’s role in Australia’s economy continues to grow – it’s now our biggest trading partner and vies with Japan as our biggest export destination.

But there are some who believe that China’s growing economic power will bring with it rising military power and conflict with the West.

That’s the theory of Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago.



He says China will want to become the region’s dominant power and it won’t want to have the United States continuing to play a role in military defence in the region in countries like Japan and South Korea.

Professor Mearsheimer is in Australia this week as a guest of the University of Sydney, and in coming days he’ll be giving a lecture about China’s rise.

I caught up with him earlier today and asked him why he thinks that rise won’t be peaceful.



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think that as China gets economically more powerful than it is today, it will translate that economic might into military might and it will try to dominate the Asia Pacific region just the way the United States dominates the western hemisphere.



Great powers like to be all powerful in their own neighbourhood. They don’t like neighbours that can threaten them and they don’t like distant great powers coming into their backyard just the way the United States has this Monroe-doctrine which effectively tells the European and Asian great powers to stay out of the western hemisphere.



I believe that as China gets more powerful it will do everything it can to push the United States away from its borders and ultimately out of the Asia Pacific region.

SHANE MCLEOD: Is there not a benefit for China though in the status quo as it currently stands? That the US is a major balancing power, it is a defence ally of countries like Japan, South Korea that could be potential threats to Chinese power in the region. Isn’t there a benefit for China in keeping the US involved?



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I don’t think that the Chinese is to get more powerful and even now view the United States as quite the benevolent force that you describe them to be. (sic) We have just had a controversy where the United States and the South Koreans decided that they were going to run naval exercises in the Yellow Sea to protest North Korean sinking of a South Korean ship.



This made the Chinese very upset because they view the American navy as threatening just as the United States would view a Chinese navy or a German navy or a Soviet navy on its doorstep as threatening.

So from a Chinese point of view, the best of all possible worlds would to have the Americans far away and for China, not the United States to provide the stabilising factor in the region.

SHANE MCLEOD: But if you take say the United States out of Japan then you have a country that has a constitution imposed by the US after World War II limiting its defence build up, its defence capability. Wouldn’t a country like Japan for example, in a region without the United States there ramp up its own capabilities?

It wouldn’t take much for Japan to become a nuclear power for example.

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I think that is true but if you look at the balance of power over time between China and Japan, the gap which is now quite large is going to increase significantly, in large part for demographic reasons.



Japan has the most rapidly aging population in the world. It is going to get smaller and weaker over time.



China is going to get more powerful over time. In an ideal situation from China’s point of view is one where the power gap between it and Japan is large and China has the ability to dominate Japan because that is the best way to ensure your security in a dangerous world.

SHANE MCLEOD: Does this happen by force or could China become the regional power through soft power, through coercion by showing itself to be the leader in the region? Would it be such a problem for countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, to look to China as the natural power in the region?



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I think one can make an argument that China, if it continues to grow at the spectacular pace that it has been growing at over the past 30 years for the next 30 years then it will become so big and so powerful that it won’t have to even countenance using force to dominate the region.

It will just be so powerful that countries like South Korea and Japan will have no choice but to in effect dance to China’s tune. But there is a serious possibility along the way of conflict.



If you read the Australian White Paper from last year, it is quite clear from that White Paper that the Australian Government is nervous about the possibility and I want to underline the word possibility of conflict between China and other powers in the region as China continues to rise.

SHANE MCLEOD: How do you see Australia’s role evolving in the region alongside a powerful China and what about the relationship with Australia’s traditional allies, the United States?

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think that as China continues to rise that a balancing coalition will form in this region. It will be aimed at containing China much the way we had balancing coalitions in Europe and Asia during the Cold War.

SHANE MCLEOD: They could never say that though could they?

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: No, no it is very hard to say that but I think behind closed doors that is how people are talking and I think that you see all sorts of evidence that the balancing coalition is beginning to form.



If you look at the close relations that now exist between India and the United States, if you look at relations between Vietnam and the United States, Singapore’s approach to dealing with the United States these days.



It is just all sorts of evidence that countries in the region are worried about China as is the United States and this will cause them to eventually come together and form a balancing coalition and I would be shocked if Australia is not part of that balancing coalition as it was part of the balancing coalition against Japan in the 1940s.

SHANE MCLEOD: You made reference to it but the economic ties, will they have a calming effect do you think? If countries in this region like Australia are so strongly tied to China economically, will that offset the potential tensions in the strategic relationship?



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, first of all it is possible that those economic ties could cause trouble. If you had a serious recession or a depression, it could be the case that those ties didn’t work to cause peace – they in fact work to cause conflict between the relevant powers. So economic ties don’t always produce peaceful outcomes.

But let’s assume that they do. The historical record shows very clearly that before World War I, you had economic ties in Europe that should have produced peace yet you had World War I so I don’t think it is impossible that in a world where you have a great deal of economic interdependence and where all the players are doing quite well economically, to still have a conflict between the opposing powers and that is a large part because when push comes to shove, politics dominates economics.



SHANE MCLEOD: That is Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago and there will be a longer version of that interview available on our website later today.

ABC Radio National/The World Today/02.08.10

http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2010/s2970768.htm

À la recherche du temps perdu

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,

‘To talk of many things:

Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —

Of cabbages — and kings —

And why the sea is boiling hot —

And whether pigs have wings.’

From Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1871

Marx, Foucault and Panopticism

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As Marx began his analysis of capitalism with that of what lay at its heart, of what suffuses it – the commodity, Foucault began his analysis of western society by describing that society in panoptic extremis – during a plague: ‘It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space. Each individual is fixed in his place…Inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere’.1 As the leper was cast out from society into a leprous community, nineteenth century society with its asylums, penitentiaries, schools and hospitals was a composite of outcasts – one built on binary divisions (mad/sane, dangerous/harmless, normal/abnormal) – and against these separated outcasts are ranged the mechanisms of power.

Foucault’s analysis moves from an abstract ideal of power – the Panopticon (designed by Bentham – proponent of the greatest happiness and felicific calculus and author of ‘If pains must come, let them extend to few’) – to its development in panoptic capitalist society. Foucault concludes ‘Is it surprising that the cellular prison…should have become the modern instrument of penalty?’2

Where Bentham’s Panopticon is comprised of a ring of seen packaged around a hub of seeing, Foucault’s panoptic society is a study in the most subtle and unrelenting pain of observation and containment, of a society in which the few masters who view are unknown, diffused amongst their subjects, and whose subjects themselves are their own impossibility of release.

The Panopticon as society is a naturalist – observing, assessing and classifying. It is a laboratory for punishment and experimentation. It supervises – its mechanisms, its personnel, its director. It functions – optimising efficiency, at the basis of society, developing the productive forces. It is institutionally enclosing while societally enforcing – from exceptional discipline to a discipline without bars, locks or chains. The permanently seen, like the chained elephant, are their own benign subjugators. We, as individuals, have become the panoptic machine state – Leviathan gazing down.

Discipline – ‘a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets…a technology’3 – developed in knowledge and power, has grown from quarantined and institutional to distributed and panoptic. Disciplines are now co-extensive with the state. They maximise their intensity and profitability at the lowest possible cost. They increase docility and utility. They are the ever-so-discrete techniques of capitalism.

Foucault’s entire argument is abstract and nebulous. In his discussion of panoptic capitalism he referred to class domination and the bourgeoisie once each and not once to the working class. Surplus value becomes ‘surplus power.’4 He wrote that the panopticon ‘represented the abstract formula of a very real technology, that of individuals,’5 of ‘anonymous instruments of power.’6 Observation itself is democratised – anyone can exercise the power of the gaze – ‘The seeing machine…has become a transparent building in which the exercise of power may be supervised by society as a whole.’7 – it is a point that he repeats throughout the chapter. By so doing, he obscured, in effect denied class relations. ‘Disciplines’ and ‘power’ are intentional, not those who employ them, the agents of the dominant class. Foucault wrote ‘It (discipline) must also master all the forces that are formed from the very constitution of an organised multiplicity; it must neutralise the effects of counter-power…which form a resistance to the power that wishes to dominate it.‘8

Compare this with The Communist Manifesto in which the argument is materially anchored in production and the struggle of classes. Where Marx and Engels wrote of what the bourgeoisie do, Foucault wrote of what ‘discipline’ and ‘power’ do. Where the argument of Marx and Engels exposes materially, that of Foucault is autonomous, ominous and miasmic.

Foucault did not understand how nature works, that consciousness as manifest in ‘power’ and ‘discipline’ et cetera does not fundamentally determine the movement of matter, it is a manifestation of it. His account in this chapter is nihilistic – there is no hope, no redeeming truth or principle, no way forward. Foucault did not understand the nature of ‘panopticism’ in relation to capitalism. He argued the rise of panopticism is parallel to the rise of capitalism – that just as the economic take-off of the West began with the accumulation of capital, ‘the methods for administering the accumulation of men made possible a take-off in relation to power from traditional violent forms to subtle subjection.9

He added that these two processes cannot be separated, that the ‘problem’ of the accumulation of men required ‘the growth of an apparatus of production capable of both sustaining them and using them…the techniques that made the cumulative multiplicity of men useful accelerated the accumulation of capital.’10 Even here, where Foucault is at his most confusedly concrete, he thought that ‘each makes the other possible and necessary’11 rather than it being a single process whereby, on the basis of the objective development and refinement of the means of production there was a concomitant development and refinement in the processes of human relations, consciousness and domination.

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Notes

1. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans., Alan Sheridan, Vintage, New York, 1995, 195

2. Ibid., 227-8

3. Ibid., 215

4. Ibid., 223

5. Ibid., 225

6. Ibid., 220

7. Ibid., 207

8. Ibid., 219

9. Ibid., 221

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

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