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Thread: The least bad ain't good enough

  1. #1
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    Default The least bad ain't good enough

    So much that is pertinent to recent discussions here in the following passage from Badiou in an an interview with Cabinet magazine :

    'In truth, our leaders and propagandists know very well that liberal capitalism is an inegalitarian regime, unjust, and unacceptable for the vast majority of humanity. And they know too that our "democracy" is an illusion: Where is the power of the people? Where is the political power for third world peasants, the European working class, the poor everywhere? We live in a contradiction: a brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian–where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone–is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we're lucky that we don't live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it's better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it's not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don't make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don't cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.

    That's why the idea of Evil has become essential. No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money and the accompanying political disdain for the disenfranchised, or for manual laborers, but many agree to say that real Evil is elsewhere. Who indeed today would defend the Stalinist terror, the African genocides, the Latin American torturers? Nobody. It's there that the consensus concerning Evil is decisive. Under the pretext of not accepting Evil, we end up making believe that we have, if not the Good, at least the best possible state of affairs—even if this best is not so great. The refrain of "human rights" is nothing other than the ideology of modern liberal capitalism: We won't massacre you, we won't torture you in caves, so keep quiet and worship the golden calf. As for those who don't want to worship it, or who don't believe in our superiority, there's always the American army and its European minions to make them be quiet.


    Note that even Churchill said that democracy (that is to say the regime of liberal capitalism) was not at all the best of political regimes, but rather the least bad. Philosophy has always been critical of commonly held opinions and of what seems obvious. Accept what you've got because all the rest belongs to Evil is an obvious idea, which should therefore be immediately examined and critiqued. My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of Evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of Truth and of the Good. Our ability to once again have real ideas and real projects depends on it.'

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    OK, so that's what Badiou thinks, what do you think?

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    I agree with Badiou, obviously.

    I wanted to hear about what the ppl who disagree thought: if ppl disagree, which bits, and why?

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    Quote Originally Posted by k-punk quoting Badiou
    My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of Evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity.
    The last sentence jumped out at me. It seems to me that "emancipation of humanity" is the very flagship myth project of liberal capitalism, and that any analysis that leads to an examination of said emancipation is liable to feed right back into the gaping maw of the beast, so to speak. I also have a hard time believing anyone is speaking altogether seriously when they say "emancipation of humanity." So is that what he's really talking about? Hmm.

    I really like the article, but I can't fathom how a discussion of the eradication of injustice is going to be served by an analysis of evil, human rights, or democracy. (Of course I haven't read the book, so ...)

    Quote Originally Posted by k-punk quoting Badiou
    It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of Truth and of the Good. Our ability to once again have real ideas and real projects depends on it.'
    This I admire. Real ideas and real projects. 'Reason' as we know it has done nothing but hinder real projects. Of course one better be careful just how "real" one makes one's ideas. The point at which something can be commodified (and therefore nullified) seems to be, like, moments after someone's thought it up. So yeah, on the DL. Shhh. No talking. Talking + thinking = more genocide, rape, torture, lattés.

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    my new years resolution was to give up opinions, so i don't have any thoughts of my own to add
    here's a quote from the book i'm reading which works quite well against this

    "His particular form of peculiarity is totally unlike any of the more usual and harmless ones... It seems to me to belong to one of the rare and dangerous types of originality, to a species of extremely contagious manias: to put it briefly, the social and overweening type... Perhaps it's not yet actual madness exactly that we've to deal with in your friend's case... Maybe not. It's probably as yet only overconviction... But I know what I'm talking about in this matter of contagious dementiae... There is nothing more perilous than overconviction... I myself, as I stand here talking to you, Ferdinand, have known a goodly number of these men with fixed ideas - due to very various causes. Those who prattle about justice have always struck me as definitely the most deranged... At first these seekers after justice used rather to interest me, I admit... But now these maniacs annoy and irritate me beyond words... Don't you agree? One discovers in men a remarkable facility for transmitting this kind of thing, which i find appaling - and all men have it. D'you hear Ferdinand? Take care note of this Ferdinand, they all have it. Just as for liquor or for lechery... The same predisposition... The same fatal urge... infinitely widespread... Do you laugh Ferdinand? Weak... vulnerable...inconsistent... dangerous Ferdinand! And here was I imagining you to be a sound and serious-minded person! Remember that I, who am old, Ferdinand, could afford to snap my fingers at whatever the future may hold in store! I may do that, But you - !"

    journey to the end of the night

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    Let me begin by juxtaposing two of Badiou's statements from the same interview, but not from the passages you quoted

    (1) "There is no natural definition of Evil; Evil is always that which, in a particular situation, tends to weaken or destroy a subject. And the conception of Evil is thus entirely dependent on the events from which a subject constitutes itself. It is the subject who prescribes what Evil is, not a natural idea of Evil that defines what a "moral" subject is. There is also no formal imperative from which to define Evil, even negatively. In fact, all imperatives presume that the subject of the imperative is already constituted, and in specific circumstances. And thus there can be no imperative to become a subject, except as an absolutely vacuous statement. That is also why there is no general form of Evil, because Evil does not exist except as a judgment made, by a subject, on a situation, and on the consequences of his own actions in this situation."

    -- an example of "natural" evil would be torture -- but B says that torture is no less natural than pity, and that the Romans had no qualms w/ torture, that the French & American states have ways to torture & terrorize people, that Revolutionary govts have also had to resort torture ("reign of terror"), and that Resistance fighters tortured traitors of the Resistance

    -- "formal" evil is the failure to constitute oneself as an autonomous subject -- but B says that the possibility of becoming a subject depends not on the person, but on circumstances that are always singular, i.e., the Situation precedes the subject

    (2) "Evil in politics is easy to see: It's absolute inequality with respect to life, wealth, power. Good is equality. How long can we accept the fact that what is needed for running water, schools, hospitals, and food enough for all humanity is a sum that corresponds to the amount spent by wealthy Western countries on perfume in a year? This is not a question of human rights and morality. It is a question of the fundamental battle for equality of all people, against the law of profit, whether personal or national."

    Now it seems to me that statement #2 contradicts statement #1. Is not equality an abstract (formal) standard? Why should people attempt to transform every political situation in the direction of equality? Why should equality be the truth of every political situation?

    Put differently (into "natural" terms), just as the Romans saw no evil in torture, they saw no good in political equality . . . .

    SO PERHAPS equality is the truth of our situation, as well as the situations of 1917 and 1789, but not of every political situation????? -- this reading would at least resolve the (apparent) contradiction b/w statements #1 and #2

    Now let's turn to statement #3 by Badiou:

    "The real question underlying the question of Evil is the following: What is the Good? All my philosophy strives to answer this question. For complex reasons, I give the Good the name "Truths" (in the plural). A Truth is a concrete process that starts by an upheaval (an encounter, a general revolt, a surprising new invention), and develops as fidelity to the novelty thus experimented. A Truth is the subjective development of that which is at once both new and universal. New: that which is unforeseen by the order of creation. Universal: that which can interest, rightly, every human individual, according to his pure humanity (which I call his generic humanity). To become a subject (and not remain a simple human animal), is to participate in the coming into being of a universal novelty. That requires effort, endurance, sometimes self-denial. I often say it's necessary to be the "activist" of a Truth. There is Evil each time egoism leads to the renunciation of a Truth. Then, one is de-subjectivized. Egoistic self-interest carries one away, risking the interruption of the whole progress of a truth (and thus of the Good)."

    Is there not a contradiction -- or at least some tension -- between that which is "new" in a situation and its potential for "universal" significance?

    Is it not the case that in the current political situation the desire for change in the direction of equality hardly represents anything novel, but is in fact a repetition of the desire of 1917/18, the desire of 1789/92?

    Or if the "truth" of every political situation is its potential for the realization of political equality, then is not novelty in every case betrayed?

    OR AGAIN, perhaps today's situation is still the situation of 1789????? -- yet this reading is undercut by Badiou's seeming belief that today's situation is much different from 1968, let alone 1917 or 1789

    Or perhaps the "novel" is not so important a term as "universal" -- perhaps only equality can be a "universal" truth in politics, such that the "novel" is limited a priori to new elaborations on the theme of political equality

    There can be what one theme -- political equality -- but each situation allows for a new variation on that theme

    But if this is the correct reading of Badiou, then is he a philosopher who seriously considers all the political alternatives and potentialities? Are there not other philosophers who would be more concerned with new themes than new variations?
    Last edited by dominic; 03-03-2005 at 05:59 AM.

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    As for my own view, I think that one cannot seriously address the question of the best regime or the best political arrangment by resort to some abstract reasoning that goes (1) all individuals belong equally to the political space where they are, i.e., all count the same; therefore, (2) equality is the truth of politics . . . . This seems to me the height of theoretical emptiness, divorced from knowledge of human nature & history

    Despite his obvious debts to Rousseau, Badiou does not appear to take note of Rousseau's position that the best political regime is necessarily a small political community

    However, the lesson of ancient Greece is that small city-states cannot withstand the military might of empires. Rome conquered all because they had (1) the technology, the military techniques, and (2) the will to empire

    In today's world situation, military might is dependent upon (1) economic wealth and (2) scientific research

    Liberal capitalism has proven *so far* that it is master of both games, the $ game and the science game

    and whether or not liberal capitalism is anything like the "best regime" is, as it were, purely academic
    Last edited by dominic; 03-03-2005 at 05:14 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dominic
    OR AGAIN, perhaps today's situation is still the situation of 1789????? -- yet this reading is undercut by Badiou's seeming belief that today's situation is much different from 1968, let alone 1917 or 1789
    It's kind of like looking at a bunch of teenagers and saying, "they dress like retards and listen to crap music." The second we start to evaluate for the truth of such a statement, we are drawn into the trap: these things are only revelatory as far as the position of the narrator is concerned, and are harmful to determining any actual shifts in power dynamics, cultural trends, etc. By assuming that 1789 is in any way distinctive -- that today's teenagers are somehow always more gullible, libidinous and vile than the previous generation for listening to Avril Lavigne than, uh, Motley Crüe, Duke Ellington, or Hildegard von Bingen (periodize where appropriate) -- we're really setting ourselves up. It's safe to assume that "the past" wil always contain certain arbitrarily defined hallmark events, sweetly packaged and feeding back into liberal capitalism's (periodize where appropriate) lottery-style humanism. "Well kiddo, you just about made it. Tough shit, huh. Better buy more scratch'n'win next time." (I figure if liberal capitalism has a voice, it sounds exactly like Clint Eastwood.)

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