Saturday, 20 December 2014

All The World's A Film Set

I'm one of those people who wanders around with earphones in all the time. I'm also one of those people who thinks about what things 'mean', and this stupid, simple habit of mine is no exception. I've written before about the aesthetics of nature, and it occurred to me when I was writing the essay I culled that from back in the spring that it would be interesting to apply this to the urban landscape, which I shall do at a later date, as well as the natural (read 'natural' as exactly what you think I mean by 'natural'). This, in turn, lead me to dwell on the observation that when we're dealing with what we may call environmental-ambient aesthetics, the aesthetics of the locale, technology has allowed us to introduce the dimension of music to it in a way that was not previously possible.

In essence: we can literally add a soundtrack to our lives. 

Of course, the urban and rural landscapes have never been devoid of music. There has always been the solitary walker whistling, the Salvation Army band on their brass instruments in the town square, even the bird singing. However, these are obviously and distinctly public affairs. The band playing music, or the walker whistling, or the bird singing, invites the other to listen, either directly or indirectly- by which I mean, the whistling walker is most likely whistling for themselves, while the brass band are playing music for the public. Even if the headphoned walker sings along, listening to music like this is a distinctly private affair. It is something occurring for (and being controlled by) solely the subject. 

As such, the music chosen by the subject can potentially transform the simple act of strolling through town into a cinematic experience. It provides an element of distance and unreality that renders the lived experience an observed experience, in the same sense in that we observe the images on the cinema screen. Depending upon the choice of music deployed this sense of unreality can be exaggerated still further, in much the same sense the soundtrack of the movie sets the tone of the scene.  

Except the movie is our lives.

I remember a few years ago I was introduced to the music of Joy Division. I would have been about 18, and I got into the habit of walking around the nice, friendly suburb I live in at night, listening to Ian Curtis wailing. I find walking around at night a pretty evocative experience anyway, but having that music, so cold and wintry and raw with me, informing my feelings as it helped shape them, the experience transformed into something new and distinct. It wouldn't be accurate to say that this use of music turns our subjective experiences into artworks, but it certainly makes them into something like artworks.

Digital music technology undermines the notion that the artwork, in this case the piece of music, is defined by its separability from the rest of lived experience, that it is something that reveals itself only in particular ways and in particular places. It is certainly an uprooting of music, a displacement of it, even a democratisation of it. It is not dissimilar to how home media and the Internet have undermined the cinema. As is ever the case, the unholy pair of technological innovation and the capitalist profit motive have opened up new landscapes of experience for us. One wonders what new vistas are still yet to come...

I can't wait to go exploring.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Reports on the Reactosphere #5: Music To Neoreact To

The Holy Language of the Tropes has given us this wonderful expression (which describes at least some of the music I listen to regularly, for better or worse), and that got me thinking...

(Goes without saying I'm not suggesting that any of these musicians actually are Neoreactionaries, but I've never let something as inconvenient as the facts get in the way of a good time)

A while ago, someone (I think Hurlock but I'm far too decadent and indolent to leaf back through all of those Chaos Patches to find it) suggested this as an anthem for NRx. Admittedly, I can well imagine the huddled masses standing in devastated awe before their corporate overlords as Japanese danger-noise barks out of the loudspeakers ringing the Palace of Optimates, but what other fine pieces of music would be appropriately inspirational, or at least appropriately harrowing?

Here are my candidates:

Meltdown, the rather pleasing musical adaptation of Mr Land's essay of the same name, would be the most obvious choice if I were in charge, but it might be a little too long to play at the Olympics.

Respect the Hierarchy by Von Thronstahl would probably appeal to certain currents of NRx, but might be a little too Hyperborean for some.

Hate Us And See If We Mind by Rome (who are pretty obviously both on the Left and the finest neofolk musicians around today) would be appropriate for the title alone, but seeing as it's one of the central tracks on their beautiful new album about the collapse of white-minority rule in the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, (A Passage To Rhodesia, which you must all buy at once) it even carries a secessionist spirit.

Though, putting its obvious Leftism to one side, I think that this might be the most suitable, as long as you replace 'anarchy' with 'monarchy.'

Monday, 8 December 2014

Updates and Expectations

I started a new job last week (my first since graduation!), and as such I'm really not sure how regularly I'll be updating this for at least the next month. Considering how irregular my postings on here are anyway, that could easily mean there'll be no new content until the beginning of next year. I'm hoping that after a week or so of work I'll enter into a kind of equilibrium and be able to summon up the time and energy to write on at least a monthly basis.

Whether not that will happen, I don't know.

Hopefully, there'll be at least one more post this month, which will just be a look back on the last year, and maybe a 'listicle' where I go through my favourite reads of 2014.

I've been toying with a few ideas for my next 'proper' post on here too: Neoreaction as politicised Nietzscheanism; a self-rebuttal to my previous post on equality; a vague attempt at a phenomenlogy of moral experience; something about idolatry and the philosophical concern with the detrimental effects of art. There'll also be more Reports on the Reactosphere, starting with NRx's take on Islam.

I'm also hoping for a general increase in the quality of what I write here.

Oh, also, I got featured on the latest Chaos Patch on Nick Land's blog, which I was pretty pleased with.

Anyway, watch this space.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Equality and Morality

Egalitarianism is one of the most common ideas that one comes across. As such, it is very, very good to be suspicious of it (even if it turns out to be true). Despite the catastrophic failure of the project of communism, egalitarianism is still a principle you have to go to some odd corners of the Internet to find serious speculation against. Let's unpack the idea of equality a little, and see where it takes us...

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There is an obvious sense in which human beings are clearly not equal, and that is in terms of ability. It is a very clear empirical fact that some people are just better at getting things done than other people are. That is: person x is more useful than person y, the implication here being that there is an inequality between them. However, you would be right to observe that this may only true for a specific task that x and y are engaged in (let's call it z). For the purpose of completing z, x is more useful, superior even, than y: that doesn't mean that x is just better than y on some kind of abstract level, and it certainly doesn't mean that I should be required to back out of the room that x is sitting in without turning my back on her...

This being said, is it not true that some people are just generally more useful than other people?

Let's use the example of IQ here. I asked a friend with a real, bona fide psychology degree about this bit, so if I make any glaring mistakes, blame him. Contact details will be provided to any angry mobs who demand them. Anyway: IQ doesn't produce an objective measure for intelligence per se; there are far too many different forms of intelligence (which is a pretty vague concept anyway) for such a thing to be practically achievable: emotional, artistic, mathematical and so on. What it does do, however, is give us a useful ad hoc measure for certain abilities in certain circumstances, from which, if we take into account potential confounding factors, and combine it with other measures and observations, we can end up with a pretty reasonable general estimation of a person's intelligence.

We could, perhaps, arrive at a general measure of usefulness if we went in a similar direction. Let's call it Utility Quotient (UQ). I'm wary of getting too bogged down in an example that is only meant to illustrate a few thoughts, so I'm just going to assert that this hypothetical measure gives a reasonably accurate measure of a person's general value to society. UQ might be determined by combining several different measures together to arrive at a useful result. For example, a person might have consistently low scores for social aptitude and common sense, but they also happen to be a genius micro-biologist who leads their particular field, whose work has many and various practical implications, and as such scores a higher overall UQ than a person with common sense oozing out their ears. Perhaps UQ is designed in such a way that it can take into account people with exceptional, albeit selective, skills like this. Hell, it's my thought-experiment: UQ can take this into account.

Even without a measure like this, we would still most likely agree with the initial point: some people are just generally more useful than others, or have specific skills that make up for a lack of broader skills. The point I'm driving at is: even if we agree that, yes, everyone has different talents and skills, it does still make sense to say that some people are just generally superior than others in terms of ability and contribution to humanity. This is surely an empirical fact.

(By 'generally superior,' I mean in terms of the contribution they make to the general well being of humanity, whether or not this is limited to their particular community or is more global may be reflected in the UQ scoring too. Again, this is all purely hypothetical).

Why, then, are we so concerned with insisting that human beings are equal?

I think it is more of a reaction to the fear that by considering human beings to be unequal in ability we have to conclude, therefore, that they are not of equal moral worth. The attitude that some human beings are simply expendable (or do not count as human beings at all) was one of the most obvious driving forces, or justifications at least, of many of the great horrors unleashed during the 20th Century. However, does the recognition that human beings are not of equal utility really mean that they are not of equal moral worth? Or, does the act of accepting inequality of utility necessarily lead down the road of concluding that they are, therefore, not of equal moral worth?

That depends on how one defines moral worth. So...what do we mean by moral worth? Or, more accurately, what do I mean by moral worth?

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Before we can ask how we determine moral worth, we need to actually define what is meant by the expression 'moral worth.' The definition I am going to assert for the purpose of discussion here is- the obligations that one has to another. Or, rather, that the other has a moral worth which means I have obligations towards them. From whence comes this obligation? For Kant, it is a part of our nature as rational agents that we have duties towards other rational agents; the Utilitarians consider us to have obligations towards other beings which are capable of pleasure and pain, or holding preferences in some versions; virtue ethicists would be more likely to suggest that it is a virtue to be compassionate, and that compassion involves acting in such a way that benefits others, for that is what it is to live a good life (I am simplifying all of these, of course).

It is easy to view these different theories as being cards in a game of Top Trumps, suggesting that we can find the 'best' system by comparing their various attributes. I find this a little ludicrous; it is far more helpful to see the different moral theories as building upon one another, informing the difficulties and strengths of one another, rather than as a number of competing systems. This is not to say that we cannot have preferences, or consider one theory to be better than others, but moral philosophy needs to be taken as a whole (in my humble opinion, at least). Speaking purely for myself, I consider myself to be principally a virtue ethicist with Utilitarian sensibilities, or possibly a Utilitarian with the sensibilities of a virtue ethicist.

As such, my view on the notion of moral worth is that: a virtuous person who pursues a good life is compassionate, that is, is open to the needs and suffering of others and acts in response to this. This is all very well, but what about occasions when one needs to prioritise one person's needs over another? And I don't just mean in the occasional trolley disaster. This is surely one of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest challenge, that any and every scarcity society must face: who gets what? And who decides this?

This isn't necessarily helpful. We were discussing whether or not recognising that people are unequal in ability was equivalent to suggesting that we do not have equal moral obligations to them. I think that the answer to this might be something along lines of the following: we have equally important moral obligations towards one another, but the nature or internal dimensions of these obligation, does not mean that we act uniformly to one another. If you'll forgive the clichéd example: suppose that one had to choose between the lives of a tramp and a scientist on the brink of curing cancer, and one chooses the scientist: does this mean that we have no moral obligation to the tramp? Although, in practice, it may appear not, perhaps this is not so. One movement we could make would be to state that, although our moral obligations require us to sacrifice one life for another, it is still a sacrifice. It is still, or at least should be, a recognition that the person who we must allow to die still has a moral worth, but that this moral worth occurs in a greater context of moral obligations, obligations that network around and through one another.

However, isn't there something perverse about this? What?

It feels more appropriate, almost, to suggest that when we let the tramp die we have failed him. By discussing his death as a sacrifice, it seems as if all we're doing is attempting to abrogate our sense of guilt by suggesting that we have not let him down. This is because, I feel, we cannot shake the idea that somehow, even though the scientist had the higher UQ, the tramp mattered just as much as he did. This does not necessarily suggest that there is any truth to the idea that this is the case, but the fact that we feel that way is morally significant, and should be addressed (though not here: I think a discussion of moral phenomenology deserves its own post). 

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Are we closer to an answer to our question? Does recognising practical inequality lead to us loosing the notion of equal moral worth?

What this question shows is the way that moral theories can break down when they encounter the world. We can talk all we want that everyone matters, that everyone is special, but if we translate that into action we end up with a situation where we cannot treat people with preferences. No one can matter more to us than anyone else, not even ourselves. Arguably, this is the direction that Simone Weil tries to go in.

When we make a moral judgement, we are making a choice, and choice implies preference (bloody hell, am I praxing here?). When we choose one life and not the other, although we do not necessarily state that the life unsaved had no worth, we are implying that the life saved mattered more. We can still hold that we have duties to everyone, but we must be more honest with ourselves: some duties come before others.

I find this conclusion slightly uncomfortable. I fear I can glimpse Gnon on the horizon. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Limits of Tolerance

I've been wanting to write something about tolerance for a while now, but I haven't been able to find the right impetus to make this happen. Eventually, fate came to the rescue in this form. You'll notice that this was posted back in July, but I somehow managed to avoid hearing about until last week. Oddly, my initial reaction on hearing about this was to provisionally side with the bakery.

Now hear me out.

That doesn't mean that I supported their decision, and certainly doesn't mean that I support their beliefs on the matter. But, I did say to myself: 'Well, they have just as much a right to autonomy, to live by their beliefs, as anyone else does. They didn't want to produce a cake that supported a cause they disagreed with, they offered the customer a full refund. They didn't go out and hurt the guy, they just said "Thanks, but no thanks".' It is suggested by Gavin Boyd of the Rainbow Project that this was really about the denial of goods and services, saying that, legally, a business cannot refuse to serve a customer on grounds of their sexuality (or ethnicity, gender and so on). This is, of course, entirely true: but that isn't what happened here (that I can tell); they didn't refuse service to someone because they were not heterosexual, but because the cake was endorsing something they disagreed with.

Councillor Andrew Muir suggests that simply by producing the cake they wouldn't actually have been endorsing the campaign- not explicitly, maybe, but certainly implicitly. Suppose (I just know I'm going to regret this) a bakery produced a cake for a meeting of the National Front, or Britain First; I suspect we'd say here that they should have rejected the order, refused to have done business with them, because doing so is a tacit endorsement. Let's go further with this: what if the cake was to have an anti-Muslim slogan on it? Or a far-right emblem? (Or, to be fair, an far-left symbol?) Would we still insist that the bakery hadn't really been endorsing the campaign by producing the cake? I'm just speculating here, but I certainly suspect that in a case like this we'd say 'No, producing the cake was an endorsement.'

The reason I mention this is because this is where ideology, free speech and tolerance begin to come into contact with one another.

Before we go further, we should take just a moment to consider what is actually meant by the word 'tolerance'.

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As ever, Scott Alexander put it better than I could here:

'The Emperor summons before him Bodhidharma and asks: “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Tolerance Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”
Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”. 
The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why not. 
Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?” 
The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!” 
And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”'

I like this a lot, because it very succinctly demonstrates what tolerance is not: tolerating someone is not the same thing as esteeming someone. To make another example: I tolerate fundamentalist Christianity, but I esteem transgender people. That is, the former I disapprove of, but I think they should be allowed to practice their beliefs (NB: for as much as they're not injuring anyone else), while I have no qualms at all with gender-transition and thus I esteem it (with the same caveat above). Although I might desire that fundamentalist Christians stop being fundamentalist Christians, and might even go as far as to encourage them to do so by word and example, I would never force them to give up their deeply held beliefs. You'll probably recognise this as J.S. Mill's 'harm principle.'

To quote the man himself: 'No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions. On the contrary, even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard. Acts of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind.'

I think that we're probably happy carrying on with this definition in our hands: 'Say what you will, provided it isn't direct incitement to harm!' We would, I imagine, agree that the people who run this bakery should be allowed to distribute pamphlets and so on that state their religious opposition to homosexuality, as those who disagree with them are free to challenge them. But then the question of denial of service comes in. Is this an expression of free speech? I've already stated that, as far as I can see, this is not a matter of them refusing to serve a customer because of his sexual orientation, but refusing the order because the cake was intended to support a cause that they stood against. There are many occasions where we would almost certainly agree that a company was right to not provide service to an organisation because they disagreed with its principles, but because this is a principle that a lot of people, myself included, agree with, that there isn't anything wrong with being part of the fabulous QUILTBAG (which is so much nicer to see, hear and say than 'LGBT' in my humble opinion), we're perhaps more likely to take issue with its expression. To state the obvious, sometimes it is really, really hard to be tolerant.

An important point that needs to be made is whether or not this is a legitimate expression of free speech, or if this crosses the line into 'harm' territory. In other words: does denial of service constitute harm? Now, in some cases, yes, obviously. Refusing to serve a customer because they belong to a group you disapprove of is a harmful act, to them as people and to the cohesion of society as a whole. Did this happen here? Should they be taken to court over it? I don't know.

What is interesting in cases like this, is that we find ourselves pushing against the limits of tolerance, where we stop talking so much about the right to free expression than we talk about the values behind what is being expressed. The point I am trying to make, in a very roundabout way, is that freedom of expression is not an ideologically empty thing that we can just have, devoid of any value judgements. If we want to condemn the bakery over this, we have to make an ideological move. We have stated that our ideological beliefs, about the goodness of queer rights activism supersedes an expression of conviction that stands against it. Maybe we're right to. This can only be justified, according to the harm principle, if we can show that this is a damaging act. What would the damage be in this case? If there is any, it was damage done to the harmony and cohesion of society.

This, then, opens another can of worms: if we recognise this as harmful because it damages social cohesion, what else does? How are we to respond to it? Is 'damage to social cohesion' unhelpfully (interesting, typed 'unhealthily' there...) vague, and even dangerous?

Ultimately, most importantly for a liberal democracy like ours: 'Is the harm principle itself up to the task?'

Perhaps, we'd be better leave it there for now. We have cleared the grounds, I think, for future discussion.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Why I Hate Small Talk

The 'branks', a traditional punishment for gossiping 

There are few things in my life I detest more than small talk. It's very peculiar, the intensity of my reaction to it. I can feel an enormous urge to SCREAM when I realise that I'm in the presence of one of those conversations. Largely, I manage to avoid active participation, but that makes it worse, for when I'm engaged in talking small, I am at least a little distracted by the act. But, hearing it, being in the company of it, having to listen to people talking about nothing at all, oh, that I despise...

The other day, I decided to pick up my long-neglected copy of Being and Time, and remembering that dear old Heidegger had some things to say on the subject, I decided to have a look at Part 1, Division 1, Section V, Sub-Section 35:  'idle talk' (It's good to see that the Teutonic mentality didn't die with Kant...). Reading through this short and, by Heidegger's standards, pithy section of text, a thought occurred to me: it would be interesting to try and apply Heidegger's ideas about idle talk to social media...

Even better, I could probably spin a blog post out of it!

It is not necessary to summarise the entire passage, or all of Heidegger's theory of language (thank God), but the points I want to draw your attention to are the following: talk, as it is spread from speaker to speaker, looses its ground and develops a kind of momentum all of its own. 'What is spoken about as such spreads in wider circles and takes on a authoritative [sic] character. Things are so because one says so. Idle talk is constituted in this gossiping and passing the word along, a process by which its initial lack of grounds to stand on increases to a complete groundlessness, And this is not limited to vocal gossip, but spreads to what is written as "scribbling".' (1.1.V.35.169, Sein und Zeit) That is, the more the word gets around, the less and less involved it is with the original subject of discourse. Idle talk, then, may perhaps be described as a process of greater and greater abstraction, by which all 'real' content in communication becomes lost.

It gets worse: 'The groundlessness of idle talk is no obstacle to its being public, but encourages it. Idle talk is the possibility of understanding everything without any previous appropriation of the matter.' (Own italics, ibid.) Finally: '...[B]y its very nature, idle talk is a closing off since it omits going back to the foundation of what is being talked about. This closing off is aggravated anew by the fact that idle talk, in which an understanding of what is being talked about is supposedly reached, holds any new questioning and discussion at a distance because it presumes it has understood and in a peculiar way it suppresses them and holds them back.' (Ibid.) (An interesting topic all of its own is one Heidegger's assumption that to understanding is, ultimately, a return to an originary point...)

Doesn't that some up social media ever so nicely?


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The Internet presents us with a constant stream of facts and images, divorced from the world they occurred in, and packaged up in such a way to stimulate short-term engagement and interest. Consider the plethora of 'listicles' floating around today, offering us an easily digestible and not-too-demanding selection of topics for us to mull over for a few minutes, pass on, share, reblog, and sooner or later forget. It is little wonder that this constant bombardment of information would lead to a shortening of attention spans and disdain for involvement (TL;DR) that requires any particular effort on the part of the user. 

There has always been gossip, there have always been games of Chinese whispers via which information is exchanged and warped and abstracted and ultimately rendered so unattached to its original ground that it bares little, if any, resemblance to its point of origin. The information age, however, has allowed for this to take place which such speed, and with such a global scope, that we ought to be shocked by it, though are perhaps more deadened to it than anything else. Take Cracked's long running series on 'B.S. News Stories That Went Viral.' The link is to the most recent one I can find, but Cracked has been doing these for years now. 

We humans have always put a lot of stock in gossip and rumour, for the pleasure of speculation if nothing else, but consider how the Internet allows such things to have a whole new layer of credence applied to them simply because: they appear in writing, they appear on websites that look professional, they even have pictures. Consider the bizarre spectacle that was Kony 2012 (remember that?), how instantly everyone, your humble blogger included, was swept up by what was, ultimately, nothing more than an unusually well-prepared PR video. By keeping a vague eye on Twitter, on one's Facebook newsfeed, and perhaps a few blogs, one develops the fantasy of having one's finger on the pulse of the world. As if all you need to know about Ferguson, Rotherham and ISIS can be contained within 140 characters. '[Idle talk] feeds on sporadic superficial reading: The average understanding of the reader will never be able to decide how much has been drawn from primordial sources with struggle, and how much is just gossip.' (Ibid.)

The anonymity of discussions that take place entirely online have creates a peculiar, universal pseudo-authority. The result of this is that, although real 'grounded' discourse is still more-or-less impossible, the matter never becomes 'closed', but continues almost constantly, in that every opinion on every matter can be aired with equal, apparent legitimacy. A constant stream of groundless chatter ensues, a thousand empty words competing without ever approaching the topic in truth. Admittedly, this democratic aspect allows us to mobilise and challenge the occasional outright falsehood we come across, but it will always be drowned out by yet more noise. Indeed, considering the vast majority of all communication over cyberspace is essentially written, the old philosopher's fears about the devilish nature of writing renews itself and finds new targets.

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Like I said, this isn't really new as such. Kierkegaard had a great deal of contempt for the press of his own day, but the ubiquitousness and sophistication of online idle talk is remarkable. As ever, the new toy that we have here, the Internet, is neither good, bad, nor neutral, but something in between. It cannot be accurately described as having no intrinsic evaluative content to it because of the obvious power that it has, power that can be (forgive me for sounding trite) wielded for good or evil. And, simply observing that we've always engaged in idle talk like this is not enough to dismiss it from moral discussion. Prohibitions of gossiping are found in the Abrahamic religions, interestingly, and it is significant that such idle talk is often accompanied by a sense of guilt. We know that there is something lacking when we only, say, use Wikipedia as a reference. Though, to do just that and quote from the article on 'listicle': 'It has also been suggested that the word evokes "popsicle", emphasising the fun but "not too nutritious" nature of the listicle.'

Finally, I am aware of the obvious irony of moaning about online chatter while contributing to it (as if quoting a bit of Heidegger proves any real authority on my part, as if I don't engage in idle talk)- but, it's my blog, and I'll moan if I want to. 


Monday, 20 October 2014

Reports on the Reactosphere #4: Neoreaction and White Nationalism

I stole the idea for this Report from here

Today, I want to talk about what, exactly, is NRx's 'deal' with race. In particular, with its relationship with the European New Right and White Nationalism. This is probably going to end up going over territory I've passed over before, but seeing that race is probably the biggest issue that most of us will have with Neoreaction, it deserves special attention.

NRx, it has been often observed, is principally tripartite in its structure, it's major currents being Ethno-Nationalist, Techno-Commercialist and Theonomist (religious-traditionalist). Coupled with this is the 'biorealism' of Human Biodiversity (HBD) which is, at best, an honest attempt to question perceived contradictions and inaccuracies about our current understanding of heredity and ethnicity, and at worst an excuse to reaffirm already held racial prejudices. Although within the scope of Neoreaction, both its Inner and Outer territories, it's Monarchists and Neocameralists, we do fine people we could literally call 'white nationalists,' that wouldn't necessarily make them White Nationalists.

The Outer territory, being essentially Atlantean/Moldbuggian has less time for romanticised, neo-Fascist racial-nationalism, and is far more concerned with a kind of eugenicistic selectiveness when it comes to questions like 'Who can live in Shanghai, Inc,?'. It is, therefore, inclusive in a meritocratic sense, though it is a meritocracy that goes all the way down to the worth of your genes... The Inner territory believes that the clock can be turned back, and a mythical Volksgemeinschaft restored under a benevolent King (or some other, appropriate, regional variant); it insists on racial exclusiveness that is not necessarily informed by HBD in anything more than a superficial sense.

As Land puts it:
'...HBD-orientation is associated with cosmopolitan spirit of scientific neutrality, meritocratic elitism, and a suspicion of the deleterious consequences of inbreeding, often accompanied by a tendency to philosemitism and sinophilia. Racial solidarity does not follow necessarily from biorealism, but requires an extraneous political impulse.' [Own italics]

That extraneous political impulse is, of course, the essential populism of nationalist movements, its appeals to the people or the Volk. NRx is defiantly and, arguably, definitionally anti-populist, being inherently elitist, hierarchical, aristocratic etc. in its outlook. This problematises any and all attempts to conflate it with any any and all varieties of nationalism that aren't of a defiantly traditionalist flavour. This is something that those who are racial nationalists realise:

'In my opinion, the main concern of neoreaction is taking away power from the masses and placing it in the hands of an elite few, who are also the most intelligent members of society. You could call it a “geekocracy.”'

Although sympathetic towards it, NRx's Inner current does not want what is generally understood to be nationalism, even if they do want to create an ethnically homogeneous community, because of its tradition of opposition to central authority, privilege, aristocracy and so forth. Being essentially populist, nationalism almost always has some variety of egalitarian and anti-capitalist rhetoric to it, though only for those of the Volk. There simply is no room for either of those notions within Neoreaction. Although NRx wouldn't be likely to have any problem with the creation of racially exclusive zones on a local level in a mythical, post-Cathedral future (assuming that they've been right all along and the Great Collapse does occur...), and would probably be enthusiastic, even encouraging of efforts to bring about something like this right now, simply to undermine the Cathedral, it would largely only be as a tool towards the greater, general collapse on notions of human fungibility and essential equality.

Even with this being said, for the Outer territory of NRx, support for renewed interest in race as something beyond social construction might very well be off-set if heads in the wrong direction and results in something bad for business. Hence concerns about the resurgent extreme Right in Europe; to quote Land again: 'When [White Nationalists] speak of a ‘World Brotherhood of Europeans’ it strikes most neoreactionaries (I suspect) as scarcely less comical than an appeal for universal human brotherhood, since it blithely encompasses the most vicious and ineliminable antagonisms in the world.'

Wrapping this up towards a conclusion: White Nationalism may be useful for NRx, but it seems doubtful that they would ever put their intellectual weight behind it for fear of replacing one notion of fungibility (all humans) with another (humans belonging to ethnotype x). This being said, it is almost impossible to justify many sweeping claims about NRx, and if Land's long prophesied schism does occur, it might be a different matter- but, then, we'd have to redefine what we understand NRx to be in the first place.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The (harrowing, frightening) Aesthetics of Nature

Fun fact, this is a watered down and heavily re-written version of an essay I submitted at university! As such, I am drawing heavily from the lectures of Dr Tom Greaves, and the work of the philosopher R.W. Hepburn. All the Nietzsche is from The Birth of Tragedy. Further, the tone may be a bit uneven, as some of this was written before I found my 'blog-voice.'



I also promise to never use the expression 'blog-voice' again.


I am very lucky.

Literally half-an-hour from my house
I live very close to the South Downs, an extensive and deeply beautiful landscape of hills, fields, little towns, rivers and less picturesque signs of modernity (i.e. pylons and antennae). I enjoy the view literally daily, and go walking on it as often as possible, at least weekly. As such, I do not think that it is bold of me to say that I have cultivated a taste for the aesthetic of nature. This does not translate into a knowledge of it in a scientific or geographical sense (the only trees I can confidently identify are 'silver birch' and 'weeping willow'), but I do certainly appreciate the view, the feeling of the wind, the way the landscape changes over the year. This comes from frequent exposure and contemplation, and is not, in that respect, different from learning to appreciate, for example, an unfamiliar genre of music.

But, the aesthetic of nature is very different from the aesthetic of a painting in an art gallery- not 'better,' of course, merely different. How so? In several ways, the most important being that there is a clear line of demarcation between the piece of art (painting, sculpture etc.) on display, and the spectator observing and (hopefully) enjoying it. Now, there's no reason why art cannot play around with this boundary, challenge it, render it ambiguous or even obsolete entirely, but it is still present in a way that it isn't when we consider the spectator in nature. When I go for a walk on the Downs, I am a part of the environment I am enjoying; my passage through changes it in a literal sense, and also in a more philosophical sense in that my passage through the landscape allows it reveal itself to me in ways that would remain otherwise hidden. Which is a grand way of saying: my presence allows the landscape to show itself as a landscape, my experiencing of it allows it be something experienced and interacted with. This is a constantly changing flow as I pass through it, the view changes, the experiencing shifting as I, say, depart from my usual pathway and climb up a hill I've never been up before.

Naturally, the art piece in the gallery still needs an observer there to render it an object of observation, but there is still that boundary between observer and observed that is rendered essentially obsolete in the experience of the natural landscape. What us more, it is clear where the 'art' stops and the 'gallery' (or museum or whatever) begins, where the object of aesthetic contemplation is present and where it is not. Again, this is something that art can (and I imagine does) challenge, but this is also something that is very different in the experience of nature. It is not clear where the aesthetic object begins and ends when we are considering nature. Hepburn observes that a passing train whistle cannot become a part of the symphony it intrudes on, but it certainly can become part of the experience we are having of the natural landscape, and add to our experience of it.

*
R.W. Hepburn suggests that the primary way we experience the aesthetic of nature is as a relationship with a perceived unity. Hepburn gives us four examples of this experiential unity: 
  1. Movement from the isolated particular to greater, contextual unity. Consider- you are observing a tree. You allow your gaze to wander down the tree trunk to its roots, and then you consider the soil, the grass, the insect life moving about and then the other trees moving up from it. You comprehension of the single tree is cast into a new light by the realisation that it is not solitary, but rather is on the outskirts of a forest. You might object that it would be a funny kind of walker who doesn't notice that they are approaching a forest, but that is not the point. The point that they did not notice its significance. The nature of this mode of unity is the realisation not of the unity of the subject with the object, but rather the recognition that the 'isolated particular' appears in a context of unity with other things, and that it is not isolated at all: it occurs within a web of other things, without which it could not be as it is.
  2. The second form, that of the ‘humanising’ or ‘spiritualising’ of nature is only noted, and not discussed, by Hepburn. I will thus follow his lead and leave this form of unity to one side, and merely use it as a stepping stone to a third form, the more distinct and definite form of ‘humanising’ nature which he discusses at length. 
  3. The ‘humanising’ of nature blends with the ‘naturising’ of the human. That is, it is the breakdown of strong distinctions between human qualities and ‘natural’ qualities. One example that Hepburn gives is the ‘reading into’ nature of our emotional vocabulary- describing a solitary tree on a hill as ‘lonely,’ for instance. We feel, oddly, a kind of empathy with the object of our aesthetic contemplation. Hepburn goes on to say that we notice similarities between the patterns on a leaf and our own blood vessels; in this mode of unifying experience, we begin to realise that the boundaries between us and the natural scene are not as definitive as they first appeared to be. We feel ourselves transformed by the experience.
  4. The fourth form of unity is rather odd; it is the experience of the cessation of conflict with nature. One no longer stands against nature, but rather with and within nature. We are reconciled with nature in its otherness. 
It should go without saying that these 'modes' are not intended to be read as definitive and distinct from one another, the blur together and mesh with one another. Rather, these are intended to be read as broad currents found within the aesthetic contemplation of nature. Now, I don't think Hepburn intends this list to be read as exhaustive, he is merely attempting to delineate grounds for conversation and experience. As such, I am going to propose I am going to propose a further 'mode' of unity- the loss of 'self' in the face of nature.

*
I dub this, 'the traumatic feeling of unity.'

The following is a recount of an aesthetic experience I have had myself: I was walking along the coast, going along a concrete esplanade beneath a cliff. It was night time, no one else was around and no direct light was illuminating my journey, only the ambient glow of street lights and traffic from the main road above me. The sea seemed more like an abyss or void than a large occupied space, and a strong wind was blowing in from it. I have a feeling I might have been listening to Joy Division.

Quite suddenly, only half-aware of what I was doing, I felt the need to stop and raise my arms up. I simply wanted to feel the wind rushing over me, to feel part of it, but more than that: I wanted to have my sense of self obliterated in the force of the wind; I wanted to be lost to it and to be defeated by it. I felt subordinated to the force of it and lost in it. I had what one might describe to be an experience of unity with the wind, but a unity which I can only liken to the Dionysian experience of Nietzsche. It was not happy, nor was it comfortable. The only aesthetic analogies I can draw are comparisons with being lost in particularly potent forms of music.

That being said, it was very important that this was not an experience of the Dionysian ecstasy of music, it was one born out of experiencing nature. The abyss of the ocean was not rationally reminding me or forming a symbolic image of the mystery of existence, rather it was that very mystery. The power and force of the wind did not stimulate me on an intellectual level to consider the 'frailty of my humanity before the forces of nature,' it was the very fact of my frailty made clear to me. Interestingly, a similar note to this can be found in Heidegger, where when discussing the nature of the work of art, he puts it that ‘[the statue of a god] is not a portrait whose purpose is to make it easier to realize how the god looks; rather, it is a work that lets the god himself be present and thus is the god himself.’ ['The Origin of the Work of Art'] Further, we see in this more of Hepburn’s ideas of the ‘reading in to’ nature, but rather than this being the usage of natural phenomena as a kind of symbol or stand-in for human emotions, it is the very manifestation of those emotions, manifesting in that I am no longer distinct from nature. In that, I felt both a kind of ‘cease-fire’, a ‘letting be’ of nature, but more than that I felt myself swamped and lost in it. As I felt the weight of the wind I felt the illusory barriers between myself as a subject and nature as an object dissolve. This was not a case of the humanising of nature, it was nature transforming my sense of self specifically qua my relationship with nature at that very instant. More than that also, my feeling of myself as a self was lost in it, I felt that kind of ‘mystical oneness’ with nature Nietzsche comments on and Hepburn suggests, but it bore far more of the violence and trauma of the Dionysian than of Hepburn’s gentle considerations of the idyllic scene. I felt baffled, confused, even frightened by it. I felt reason breakdown before the experience of pure sensation, I felt the loss of the principium individuationis. Hepburn does not speak of these things, but they are important aspects of the feeling of unity with nature, and the message ought to be clear: the feeling of unity with nature does not come without cost. Indeed, Nietzsche speaks of the Apollinian as being ‘the inevitable products of a glance into the terrible depths of nature: light-patches, we might say, to heal the gaze seared by terrible night.’

This isn't to deny that it can be beautiful...



It's just to say that beauty can be haunting, even disturbing...


Friday, 10 October 2014

Thoughts on Emoticons

Circa 1880s
Let's hear it for the 'melancholy' emoticon!


This might come to the surprise of the reader (unless you're one of the poor unfortunates who I call a 'friend'), giving the generally pessimistic spirit of this blog, but I am actually very fond of emoticons. I'd never dare use them on here (I'm not hbd chick), simply as a matter of aesthetic taste. I like this to look a little 'proper,' but that's just me. I do, however, make consistent use of them in texts, FB messages and so forth, because, ultimately, they're very good at doing what they set out to do. Namely, convey emotions in script.

Of course, the modern emoticon (I am thinking of FB messenger here) is more than a mere construction of appropriated punctuation, it instead has been abstracted out further into becoming simple images and glyphs. The happy face, the sad face, the winking face, the out-sticked tongue, and so on. Now, I'm one of those wreckers of civilisation who is more likely to have a conversation with a friend online than in person, and the obvious problem of the absence of body language and facial expressions is a major factor in all forms of non-personal communication, but especially in the rolling conversations that we have online these days. This is not, I feel, as much a problem with the dying art of letter writing, as this act typically demands greater attention from the writer, over a longer period of time. As such, the writer is, perhaps, more likely to ensure that they are doing all they can to convey the normally unspoken emotional nuances of communication in a deliberate, written form, for the intended interpretation of the recipient. 

But one cannot do that on Facebook! Typically, in conversation with someone online, it is not dissimilar to a spoken conversation in that it is free-flowing, the words and sentences forming themselves without much conscious volition on my part. The problem therein is the lack of any of the cues that we normally receive from body language, from the face. The emoticon steps in here. 

What I find interesting here is the desire to humanise the otherwise faceless nature of online communication, by including these odd little stand-ins for real human presence. One might say that it is suggestive of the essential poverty of the online conversation, but I feel differently. It, instead, is a reinforcement of the importance of the face-to-face in human relationships, in that we have added this peculiar little construct to this new medium of conversation. It adds a dimension of authenticity to the words pouring out of the screen. Curious that's called 'Facebook,' isn't it?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Kindly Ones: In Review


Spoiler alert and content warning: it is, literally, a 1,000 page (well, 975 page, plus a lengthy glossary) novel about the Nazis.

It took me a while to read The Kindly Ones. After reading the first 200 or so pages in a few days, I got a little daunted by the sheer scale of the thing, and escaped into the comforting world of less crushing fiction for a couple of months (Neuromancer by William Gibson, The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, which I'll be writing about in due course, The Children of Men by P.D. James and Accelerando by Charles Stross, all of which are brilliant and worth your time reading). I dragged myself back to Littell's edifice after finishing Accelerando and picked up where I left off, demolishing it in about a fortnight (I finished it two days before writing this).

Now, I am left with the unenviable, though admittedly self-imposed, task of trying to figure out exactly what to say about the bloody thing. I want to say that a novel that deals with the mentality of genocide and Nazism isn't a pleasant read, but Littell's lucid and deliberate style of writing gave the book a ghostly, harrowing beauty. His descriptions of a Europe ripping itself apart, of the ancient geology of the Caucasus, of the protagonist's, (eventual Obersturmbannfürher) Dr Maximilien Aue, longing not for death but for un-birth, are evocative, delicate, harsh and moving. I understand that it looses something in the translation from the original French, but being embarrassingly mono-linguistic, I'm probably not going to be able to experience it in its original form any time soon. Regardless, what we have here is certainly a masterpiece of modern literature, though it has some inevitable flaws that are hard, though not entirely impossible, to dismiss.

The novel is presented as the memoirs of Maximilien Aue, a doctor of law and an officer in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the 'Security Service,' the wing of the SS tasked with intelligence gathering. He is blisteringly intelligent, cultured, witty, at least bisexual, if not outright homosexual, with a notable exception we will come to later, the speaker of several languages and bearer of a knowledge of classical music and literature that I'd give my front-teeth for. He is also a dedicated National-Socialist. He isn't some street-thug lacking direction, who is impressed with uniforms and discipline, he is an intellectual Nazi, he believes in National-Socialism, he theorises about it, he reflects on its doctrines, on the relationship between races, the nature of racial hierarchy, the need for 'extreme measures' to be taken against malicious elements for the sake of Volk and Reich. He doesn't oversee mass-executions of Jews because he has fallen into Zimbardo's trap of uniforms and role-playing, he does it because he believes it ought to be done. He justifies his actions not be appealing to the hollow excuse of 'following orders,' but because he believes, genuinely believes, that what happened had to happen. He admits that, if possible, he'd rather not have had to arrange and deal with the systematic extermination of entire ethno-cultural groups, but he is doing his duty to the Volk and the Heimat.

One of the most disturbing sequences in the novel is a discussion that lasts pages and pages and pages about the fate of the Bergjuden, the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus, mostly in Azerbaijan and Dagestan. There is disagreement between the Wehrmacht and the SS about how to deal with them, as it is unclear whether or not they are ethnically Jewish, or if they are Caucasians who converted to Judaism but remained ethnically homogeneous with their non-Judaic neighbours. The SS, being more ideologically motivated than the Wehrmacht, are pushing for them to be treated like any other Jewish group, and exterminated. The Wehrmacht are resistant to this, not because of any particular feeling of sympathy towards the Bergjuden, but for simple Realpolitick: deploying against the Bergjuden would cause hostility from the other groups in the region, leading to support for the partisans. The horrible absurdity of this extended sequence is, of course, that these, for the most part, intelligent, rational and cultured individuals are having protracted discussion on the topics of history, linguistics and ethnography for the purpose of deciding whether or not to commit a genocide. The moral enormity of the question is ignored, utterly ignored, and treated with the same attitude that they would deploy when discussing troop movements or supply issues.

You might think that a novel that deals with the Holocaust from the perspective of its perpetrators, not its victims, would stray into either gratuitousness or clumsy edification, but Littell manages to avoid both these things. The first part of the novel deals extensively with the extermination of Jews and other 'undesirables' by the Einsatzgruppen in occupied Eastern Europe and Russia, and he deals with these scenes skilfully. His descriptions are not lurid, they are honest, stark, almost clinical, almost casual. He is not blind to the effect that the extermination had on its perpetrators. The grinding hideousness of carrying out such a task weighs heavily on Aue, even if he does view it as an unpleasant, though necessary, duty. This is not to say that the novel doesn't lapse into gratuitousness in other places...

Aue...is a pervert. There is little getting around that. As a child, he had an incestuous relationship with his twin sister, Una. Una, seemingly, has 'gotten over' it and has dismissed it as childish 'fooling around,' an ultimately innocent exploration of burgeoning sexuality. Maximilien, however, is still deeply sexually entranced by, and at least apparently in love with his sister. There are not exactly frequent, but certainly memorably...detailed descriptions of both memory and fantasy of this relationship which probably weren't always needed. It isn't that I object to it as a sub-plot, Littell is knowingly drawing on classical mythology's obsession with incest, but it didn't always feel necessary to have every single lavish description of illicit sex and inventive onanism that we are treated to. This being said, the whole novel is essentially a confession by Aue of his deeds and thoughts, so it does make sense that he would put a great deal of detail into assessing a relationship he views as the only really meaningful one of his life, but, without giving too much away: Jonathan, we didn't need to know what Max did with the sausage...

And then there's the shit. There is a lot of shit in this novel. Literal shit. Excrement. Scatology seems to be an obsession of Aue's, to such an enormous extent that I suspect that Littell intends Aue to be read as an archetypal 'anal retentive' case, in the Freudian sense. One must wonder how much this adds to the novel, though it does, I admit, grant it a realism one rarely comes across in media dealing with the war: I can't, off the top of my head, think of any war films which mention that the mixture of terror and malnourishment that fighting on the front lines entails leads to chronic diarrhoea (not to say that there aren't any, somewhere). The omnipresence of shit in the novel is truly extraordinary and unpleasant, which I imagine was Littell's point.

A final criticism of this otherwise outstanding novel: the extended coma-fantasy. Following what we learn later was a severe head wound, Aue leads the reader on a merry romp through the territories of Magical Realism, including an encounter with a French dirigible captained by the inexplicable Dr Sardine. The incest, the shit, I can cope with, I can just about justify, but I can think of no reason why this is in the novel at all. It was irritating and distracting and I was very glad when it ended. Maybe I'm missing something, but I suspect I'm not...

Ultimately, though, the novel is extraordinary.

I am not sure if I can justifiably recommend that you, dear reader, invest the time and energy that tackling such a beast of a novel requires (allow me to repeat myself: it is 1,000 pages of the Nazis), but it is certainly a bleak testament to Littell's ability as a writer, and as a historian. Reading this, one learns a lot about how bafflingly badly organised a great deal of the Third Reich was, especially thanks to the glossary at the back. Through the mouthpiece of Aue, we not only learn how Nazi Germany works, but we get a glimpse, more than a glimpse, in fact, of how someone who is clearly anything but stupid can come to believe in National-Socialism. He demonstrates how, if one grants it its initial assumptions (racial hierarchy, Volksgemeinschaft, the Fürherprinzip, the threat of Weltjudentum and other lies), one could come to think of an ideology as factually and morally bankrupt as Nazism as reasonable.

What Littell has done is explore a world-view that is utterly divorced from that of today. He has shown how one can come to believe in such things, and justify such outrages against humanity, and he has done it with a skilled hand, an eye for detail and astonishing ability to weave in moments of extreme beauty. A dark, haunting marvel of letters I won't forget in a hurry.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Children of the Last Men: Nihilism and World-Loss

This was originally going to be part of a much longer piece which never really went anywhere (which is partially to blame for the unofficial hiatus...though that was more due to an onset of lethargy). So, have a piece about P.D. James' novel The Children of Men and the Alfonso Cuaron film adaptation of it. Health warning: this is long and opinionated. 


I will, as ever, assume at least a passing familiarity with the novel and/or the film from the reader. If you want to refresh your memory, or fill it up in the first place, Wikipedia provides (here and here), as it ever does. Obviously, here be spoilers.





I


Preamble

The Children of Men is a conservative novel. More than that, it is a conservative, Christian novel, by a writer who is both an Anglican and a Conservative life-peer. Still here? Good. I thought I'd get the awkwardness out of the way.


To say that it is 'conservative' isn't to say that it has a political agenda, per se. It is, rather, a conservative reaction (don't worry, it isn't those guys again) to the perceived nihilism of the modern age. It becomes all the more interesting in comparison with Cuaron's harrowing and moving adaptation of the novel, which James was reportedly pleased with. The film is more overtly political than the novel, and very obviously leans towards the left, but not to the detriment of having a clear moral centre which will appeal to conservative and progressive alike (at least, it appealed to both my conservative and progressive sides, so...). Like the novel, the film doesn't have an overt political agenda, and like the novel, it is not sympathetic to those for whom politics (or, rather, the politics of Great Deeds) trumps morality. Indeed, there is little real difference between the insurrectionaries seeking to use the pregnancy for political ends and the government they're fighting. 

This isn't going to be a point-by-point comparison between the film and the novel, as that wouldn't be fun to write, and would be even less fun to read. Rather, I'm going to draw on the film and the novel's imagery and themes as I deem appropriate. A few changes and similarities are worth noting, though. Both have main characters named Theo with cousins in position of office. They are both emotionally involved with a woman called Julian. Britain has moved towards totalitarianism. Both stories carry a great deal of Christian symbolism. The major differences are that Theo's cousin in the novel, Xan Lyppiatt, is the country's 'benevolent' dictator, the 'Warden of England,' while in the film his cousin is head of a project that is rescuing the world's art treasures. The infertility crisis has affected women, rather than men, as is the case in the novel. The novel also takes place on a much smaller scale than the film, having a more provincial flair to it. Interestingly, the despotism of the novel is of a noticeably 'softer' variety than the overt quasi-Fascism of the film. But, a lot of this we can put down to the differences between cinema and the novel as mediums. 

Although his occupation and background has changed, Theo is largely the same in both film and book. Disaffected, uninterested, somewhat selfish. It comes across more in the book, largely because of James's narrative voice, that Theo is a man who has run away from every responsibility he has ever had. His failed marriage, his position on the Council, his attempts to distance himself from the Fishes at every opportunity. And, like the Theo of the film, he only comes alive as a person when he does start to take responsibility for his life, his actions and surroundings. It is an ethical awakening, ultimately, a moral one, rather than an heroic Nietzschean awakening (we'll be coming back to dear old Friedrich in a little while, however); it is his recognition of his greater moral role, his duty, his transcendental duty to the Other and to humanity, to the world (to God?) that gives him vigour and vitality.

The Christian voice of the novel is quite explicit: the father of the child (in the novel, it is men who infertile, while the film has it that it is women- I don't think that one should look too closely into this difference, it is more a plot device than anything else) is a priest of a distinctly 'old school' High Church tradition, the mother is an avowed Christian, the story ends with Theo drawing the Sign of the Cross onto the baby's forehead. There are a plethora of cults and sects in both book and film, though both glides over them without much interaction of exposition. Interestingly, the film's cults are of a much darker, self-denying spirit than the book's 'wishy-washy', neo-hippie hedonist movements, but I risk going off on a tangent. The film's religious symbolism is much broader (including several nods towards Eastern religion), though the essential Christianity of its symbolism remains obvious. The focus on the mother of the child (who is, very literally, the hope of the world), of course, ties in with the tradition of Marian veneration. Their refugee status harks, perhaps, to the flight of the Holy Family from Herod into Egypt. The birth of the baby into poverty and chaos reinforces this.

Interestingly, in the film there are several references to the phrase 'Shantih Shantih Shantih,' a Hindu prayer for peace that comes at the end of a ritual, lesson or scripture. Importantly, it appears on screen during the end-credits, suggesting the film itself is a kind of ritual re-telling of the sorrows of the world, a celluloid prayer of sorts. What is more, 'Shantih Shantih Shantih' is used at the end of T.S. Eliot's mournful masterpiece The Waste Land, a disturbing image of Western society after the calamity of the First World War (in my reading, at any rate). I can see this post wandering still further into a general discussion of 'themes' and 'imagery,' so I might as well use this as a jumping-off point for the main idea I want to discuss, which is nihilism.


II



Welcome to the Desert of the Now

Both the film and the novel deal with the (at least, perceived) nihilism of modernity. Žižek sums it up nicely in this short clip. What both film and novel deal with is the loss of roots, of tradition and history. For the novel, it is the loss of the Christian tradition in particular that is traumatic, but the film opens the field, makes it global, a true 'world' loss. In neither novel nor film is an explanation for the infertility crisis given, only speculation. This maybe partly to do with avoiding distracting exposition, but I feel that it is linked with the general theme of forgetting one's past, losing one's world. The loss is so total that even the nature of the loss is shadowy at best.

But what does it mean to discuss a loss of tradition, of roots and history? It must be remembered that capitalism is the great innovator and renovator, the re-shaper, the destroy of boundaries and territories. It does, of course, create new boundaries and territories (for Deleuze and Guattari, it creates the nation-state and the 'Oedipal' family), but only at the loss of the old ones, the old certainties, and what it offers us in return is an ambiguous gift to say the least (social atomisation, alienation, uncertainty and all the other irritatingly accurate Marxian critiques). With the loss of the old certainties, it is no longer obvious what to strive for and how to do it. This is where it becomes appropriate to bring in Nietzsche.


"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?" 

The death of God, the opening of possibilities for new forms of relationship, new edifices of value, is a shocking, disconcerting one. The ontological horizon crashes away and we no longer know what it is we stand upon. We loose the traditions of our ancestors, and find ourselves (very literally in the case of Children of Men) unable to pass any such thing along to our descendants, as our world has so little solidity to it. We have become, so suggests the film and novel, Nietzsche's Last Men:
  
"Lo! I show you THE LAST MAN.

'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?'—so asketh the last man and blinketh. The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest.
'We have discovered happiness'—say the last men, and blink thereby. They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loveth one's neighbour and rubbeth against him; for one needeth warmth. Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbleth over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that maketh pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death. One still worketh, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one. One no longer becometh poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wanteth to rule? Who still wanteth to obey? Both are too burdensome. No shepherd, and one herd! Every one wanteth the same; every one is equal: he who hath other sentiments goeth voluntarily into the madhouse. "Formerly all the world was insane,"—say the subtlest of them, and blink thereby. They are clever and know all that hath happened: so there is no end to their raillery. People still fall out, but are soon reconciled—otherwise it spoileth their stomachs. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

'We have discovered happiness,'—say the last men, and blink thereby.—" 

The Last Men are mediocre, unimpressive, believing themselves to have already achieved everything worthwhile. They have little but scorn for the past, and dismiss its values as mere fancies and follies. A phrase used in the novel: 'comfort, security, pleasure.' This is what Britain wants after the infertility crisis has shattered the world. To be given somewhere warm to sleep, in the hope of not waking up. The elderly are encouraged to commit suicide in perversely sentimental rituals dubbed The Quietus; with the accompaniment of familiar songs and the hymn 'Abide With Me,' the (drugged up to the eyeballs) elderly, dressed in white and carrying flowers, are quietly euthanised on a barge which is then left to sink... Oddly, it was these horrible moments of forced sentimentality (women using dolls as surrogate children, blasphemous 'christenings' for animals) that I found the most overtly disturbing in the novel. The film makes use of it too, but not as much. In the opening scene, we hear the announcement of the death of the world's youngest person, the obscenely named 'Baby' Diego, accompanied by soft music oozing with sentiment. The world of The Last Men is awash with sentiment, rather than feeling...

III

What is to be done?

Go forward. Go back. Those are the only two directions open to us in the world of The Last Men: either, we try and go beyond them (dreams of the Übermensch), or we try and go back to what we had before. Discovery, or re-discovery. It is not clear which of these two options is the more accessible one, or even the preferable one. Certainly, there is much now lacking which once we had, but an attempt to abort modernity and simply return to 'how things used to be' is a childish dream; as attractive as it might indeed be, one wilfully forgets the perversities and pathologies of the past that much of the drive to modernity was an attempt to replace. Indeed, if you'll forgive me for paraphrasing Moldbug: Cthulhu swims left. That is, it seems doubtful that we could go back, even if we wanted to.

James's novel certainly wants a return to the past, a re-discovery of sorts. Perhaps that felt more likely before the Millennium, and the new (that is, return of the old) conflicts it brought. The film is more ambiguous. 

 Žižek rightly observes that the film ends with the protagonists both literally and symbolically cutting their few remaining roots and forging ahead in a new direction, but it does still take time to observe the customs of the past. The most moving scene for me was a very short one, where an old Russian woman sings a song and plays with Kee's baby, as the camera pans around the room, showing us Icons of Orthodox saints, and images of Lenin. That is what I mean when I talk about handing down tradition, from the ancestors to our descendants: history, stories, songs and pictures. Meaningful things that, their 'truth' regardless, at least deserve to be remembered because they mattered to us. There are other, less sympathetic attempts to restore the past in the film, in particular the 'Ark of the Arts,' a project that 'rescues' works of art from around the world and stores them, far away from the public eye. All this project is doing is lifting out these artefacts from the worlds they occurred in, removing them from their context and keeping them from revealing themselves and their world to us, thus, in a way, destroying what it was that made them 'art' in the first place. All it does is create hollow facsimiles of tradition, forgetting that a tradition is only real if it is lived. 

But if all we now have of those traditions is the facsimile, the simulation of a tradition rather than a real, living, growing, organic tradition, then perhaps the only option that is left open to us is to go forward, to forge ahead and try to create new traditions, find new worlds, new stories to tell. It may be that we have to loose what is left of our world in order to re-discover what it was that made it worth keeping in the first place.




Thursday, 28 August 2014

Difficult Conversations

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about this. During our conversation, I used the expression 'people of colour,' because, as a Tumblr user, I assumed that this was now universally considered to be the acceptable turn of phrase when talking about people who aren't white. My friend, who is mixed race, very politely and with no aggression said that he didn't consider this to be an appropriate expression. I apologised, and the conversation continued as it did before. There was one difference, though, and that was my white-guilt was doing veritable back-flips, and I still feel sufficiently embarrassed and ashamed by the episode that I had to go and get my friend's permission before using this anecdote (Hey there!).

What's interesting about this, I think, is that it demonstrates what happens when you let a discussion about real-world problems (race, gender, sexual orientation etc.) become abstracted from the people who are actually directly affected by it. The discussion becomes rarefied, academic, becomes more about scoring points than anything else. Another example: when talking to a friend, who eventually came out as trans, about gender identity, I was quoting an article I'd read which challenged the right of an individual to decide upon their own gender identity from a 'collectivist' stand-point, thinking myself to be very clever. My friend countered this with the following: 'You shouldn't have to be able to write a Ph.D. on gender theory to justify how you identify.'

(Now I think of it, most people I know who take issue with gender-transition don't tend to have any trans friends...I wonder which way the causal link goes, there...)

My friend's frustration was entirely justified. It is one thing to pontificate about gender-transition and race-relations, and another to actually have to go through gender-transition, or find oneself the target of racial discrimination; I have never had to experience either of these things. The point I am trying to make is: there must be some level of caution and sensitivity when we are discussing these issues, because, frankly, it's right to be cautious and sensitive. There are real people behind these examples, who are the subjects of these theories, people to whom with have an ethical obligation of some kind or another. That must always be retained, even if only for the case of simple manners.

...however...

This is quite a big 'however.' We must guard against it straying to far in the other direction, that is, that we become afraid to discuss these issues for fear of stepping on someone's toes. Because there are always people who are willing to talk about these issues, which are genuinely very important, but they don't tend to be the nice guys. Ethnicity does matter, it does effect social cohesion and how societies function. Race does bring up problems. These aren't pleasant truths, but they are true all the same. But, these problems are not insurmountable by any means. There's no reason at all while different ethnic and cultural groups can't live in at least relative harmony, as long as we do confront the problems that will inevitably arise in these relationships- all human relationships bring up problems. If, however, the only people who are addressing social problems connected to the interactions between different ethnic and cultural groups are radicals of one side or the other, then only their voice is being heard, and it is a voice that tends to only utter variations of 'Send them HOME!', or blindly insist that all we want to do is 'get along,' and refuses to acknowledge that there is even a problem at all.

The triumph and curse of democracy is that it allows a plurality of sentiment and thought to be expressed. This allows us to challenge views that we disagree with, and this is a right that we must never be afraid of using. I have written before about the importance of having more than one opinion being expressed in an open society, and we must make it our duty to ensure that we are able to respond to voices that challenge what is right. Ultimately, this must be done because our words and our theories do effect the people we are discussing, the people whose lives we are debating about.

As such, though we must beware of allowing the discussion to loose its connection with the lives of real people, we must never be afraid of having the discussion, because concepts and nomenclature do matter: there has to be a connection between theoria and praxis. We must be unafraid of having difficult conversations about difficult issues, because our opponents are certainly not afraid of having these conversations, and their conclusions are not appealing...

Update: how NOT to have this conversation...(CW: racial slurs) 

Friday, 22 August 2014

What's with you and Neoreaction? No, seriously...

This exists. I approve. 
In which I answer the questions none of you were wondering

So, what is it with me and Neoreaction? Well, I'm going to steal Scott Alexander's idea and explain this through the format of an FAQ.

What is this Neoreaction thing?

Return to start.

How did you come across this? You must be into some really weird stuff...

Yeah, I'm into some weird stuff. I watch weird movies, listen to weird music, read weird books and spend time with weird people. You'd probably figured this out by now.

I came to this through the weird stuff I read, namely Nick Land.

Some background: my degree is in philosophy. Land isn't someone I've ever studied academically, and I was introduced to his works by a graduate friend who's my go-to when it comes to French philosophy post the existentialists. I won't bore you with too many autobiographical details, suffice to say that we were talking one day and he mentioned this infamous, crazed former academic who got very into Deleuze, Guattari and cybernetics. I looked the fellow up and bought this collection, and became fascinated by him. A little while later, he mentioned to me what Land's ended up doing: The Dark Enlightenment. I investigated further.

From there on in, I was hooked.

Hooked?

Interested in, engrossed by, suckered into. Yep, 'hooked.'

But isn't Neoreaction just racist, homophobic, quasi-Fascist, misogynistic and utterly unrealistic?

All of those things are to be found within Neoreaction, certainly, but it isn't accurately reducible to any one of those things. But this isn't so much about Neoreaction as why I'm interested in it.

Are you racist, homophobic, quasi-Fascist, misogynistic and utterly unrealistic?

No, no, only when I'm very pissed off, no, yes.

So...are you a Neoreactionary?

No. My politics are actually very dull. I'm best described as a pragmatic Leftist, somewhere between being a right-leaning Social Democrat and a left-leaning One Nation Tory. I like freedom, feminism and equality of opportunity, but I also like stability, community and tradition. I've started to identify with some elements of Rightist nomenclature largely out of frustration with the Left, more than anything else.

Then why are you so taken with Neoreaction?

Partly, it's because I'm interested in anything and everything that's odd and out-of-step with the modern world. There's something deeply fascinating about people who think that what we need is less democracy, rather than more, seeing what a heretical idea that is to have.

Partly, it's Nick Land personally. I find the guy immensely interesting and challenging, and even though he's espousing views I disagree with, he does it very well.

Mostly it's because...I get it. I get where they're coming from. When one looks at the world we've made for ourselves, the Modern world, with all its neuroses and pathologies and perversions, one can understandably and, to an extent justifiably say that: we have lost something important. It does make some sense to suggest that there might have been something about how traditional societies worked that was better than how our current societies do. Perhaps, we ought to try and reclaim whatever that thing was.

I sympathise, by Gnon's claws, I sympathise. But, they are wrong. The Modern world has plenty of neuroses and pathologies and perversions...but there is so much that is grand and bold and daring about it as well. They are right, entirely right, to take Nietzsche's hammer to our idols: democracy, egalitarianism, universalism, to see if they ring hollow or not. We need people like that. It's healthy for a society to have people who do that, who challenge and question it. And, to their credit, Neoreaction is unafraid of challenging our most sacred ideals. And thank Gnon for it! After the end of the Cold War, it looked as if that most dull of systems, democracy, had won. It's not good for an idea to have no challengers, it leads to stagnation. Having the Neoreactionaries, dressed in their waistcoats, courtly gowns and cyber-gear, hurling conceptual Molotov cocktails at the ballot box is a vital addition to our society, as it is a call to arms to defend it. The challenge that they issue is one that can be faced down, and we will be stronger and more passionate about our ideals for it. Besides, I think they're right about the arrogance with which we assume that history has reached a kind of apex with our particular way of arranging a society. There's a lot to learn from our past, and we'd be wrong to dismiss all the insights of tradition just because they're 'old fashioned.'

As well as that, there's always the possibility that they are right and everyone else wrong. It would be a real buggery if it were to turn out that Neoreaction had noticed something that we of the Cathedral had fail to notice, and had spent time considering what such a thing meant.

Take Human Biodiversity. What if it were to be proved that race does matter? What if there was irrefutable evidence that there are real, significant, inherited differences between ethnic groups, with repercussions about how we organise a society? If that were to be proved true, it would surely be very bloody handy to have people who have seriously considered the political ramifications of such an eventuality available to deliberate with!

The final reason I shall mention here is: I share their fears.

I fear that Western society has evolved in such a direction that it is not equipped to deal with the challenges that await it. These challenges include the rise of radical Islamism, which is starting to suggest that it might very well be capable of creating a society entirely at odds with our value system; the growing threat of fourth-generational warfare; the challenges proposed by Russia and, in particular, China, countries that are showing the West that our way of doing things is not the only way, for better or for worse...

Are you going to start writing about things other than Neoreaction now?

Yes, but that's not going to stop my Reports on the Reactosphere.

So, what else can we look forward to?

My thoughts on The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and some pseudo-DeleuzoGuttarian guff about Hellraiser. And perhaps something on Richard Dawkins latest outrage-inducing proclamations.

Huh. Cool.

Thanks, I thought so as well.