Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The new Speaker and the Poles: Another bad week for the Tories

Its been on the cards for a bit, but the Tories, and David Cameron, are going to lead a new right-wing fringe group known as the European Conservatives and Reformists, the Guardian reports. (Read on)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It’s not just the message, Gordon.

Michael Ellam, the current spokesman to Gordon Brown, declared the news on Tuesday that he is being replaced by Simon Lewis – the former spokesperson to the Queen. Good communications with the public is the sine qua non for an incumbent whose party’s latest ICM polls show that they are 15% behind the main opposition on the question of cleaning up the political system. (Read on)

Raincoat Optimism

For the record, I keep a political blog called Raincoat Optimism

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu in Israel

Emil Ludwig Fackenheim (1916-2003), the late Jewish philosopher, Holocaust survivor and Reform rabbi created and advocated the concept of the “614th commandment” or “614th mitzvah”, which asserts that people should not act in order to validate Hitler or his beliefs. This “commandment” is Fackenheim’s controversial extension to the 613 commandments compiled by the 12th century Rabbi Maimonides, whose works are viewed by many as the major authority of Jewish history.

In that “commandment” is the recognition that, though the 613 laws cover all aspects of life, it was written too early to anticipate the Holocaust, and thus, the need for one further law was a historical necessity. This included the notion that “to speak or write about Hitler gave him a posthumous life”.

To be seen to dignify Hitler in the act of analysing his personal background or his personal motives is, for Fackenheim, some sort of persistence of the Nazi legacy, and a continued contempt for God, or as he put it “To despair of the God of Israel is to continue Hitler’s work for him”.

It was Fackenheim’s view that the State of Israel be understood in the context of the Holocaust justifying the imperative for the prolongation of the Jewish people. It was by this opinion that Fackenheim emigrated to Israel in 1984.

And Monday (27th April, 2009) was the day that Israeli politics canonised Fackenheim’s legacy and truly credited him for his opinion that words have more than just mere symbolic value, they have real weight too, and that the utilisation of the language we use to describe global tragedy, like the Nazi’s, be considered and reconsidered in the framework of the Talmudic Law (even if unintentional).

I’m speaking of course about Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, of the United Torah Judaism Party, who, on the day that Israel received news of its first suspected case of Swine flu (and its second suspected case soon after that), declared that Israel drop the internationally recognised terminology, and call the global pandemic “Mexican flu” on account of religious Jews not eating pork.

For Litzman, the word swine - pig, which Jewish law forbids from eating - gave the “unclean animal” (a view held by Maimonides himself) a culinary life.

Of course it should be pointed out to him that the reference to the swine in the flu threat has nothing whatsoever to do with dietary habits. In fact, as Lauran Neergaard for Associated Press has said, pork is safe to eat and Swine influenza does not pass through food. The flu is thought to be a mix of pig, human and bird influenza being spread, unlike more typical swine flu, to humans by humans. This is unusual as it is more commonly spread by human contact with animals.

The issue certainly does raise awareness about the possible consequences of words, and their cultural communicability, but we shouldn’t be anticipating a 615th mitzvah too soon for the reason that Maimonides’ commandments were too early to anticipate the Swine flu. Indeed, would Litzman extend his linguistic over-sensitivity to Jews suffering from a gammy leg by virtue of the prevention of gammon in their diets?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Slur on Jack Jones

I just read the Telegraph's Jack Jones obituary. Positive?

The writer of the piece tries to blame Jones' fight against Harold Wilson's legal sanctions on striking workers for Labour's election defeat in 1970:

In 1969, when Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle attempted to subject the unions to legal sanctions, Jones led the opposition against the Labour government. As the debate raged, he organised a strike against the management of Ford, which was bent on introducing penalties for breaking contracts, and on securing “cooling off” periods before strikes.


This made it easy for the Tories to claim that Harold Wilson lacked the will to deal with Britain’s industrial problems. No one did more than Jack Jones to secure Labour’s defeat in the general election of 1970.

This is like suggesting that the labour left have a hand in securing David Cameron's election win next year. Its not like suggesting that Ralph Nader lost Al Gore the 2000 elections by taking the 2.74% of the vote Gore needed to secure an election, but rather saying that Jones' logistical opposition to the labour party at the time secured a Tory win. Its amazing just how much this is entertained as being the truth, and just how worried it makes people to criticise their own party. If the Tories do win the general election in 2010, it certainly won't be the likes of John McDonnell, or the labour anti-war backbenchers I will be looking at.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Review of Francis Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future (2002)

Abstract: "For a short while after 1989, Francis Fukuyama was thought to be the leading academic Hegelian when he announced that, since the Soviet Union had collapsed, it was “liberal democracy” that was the end-of-history. Our Posthuman Future, published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and reprinted in 2003 in Britain, is a work that sets out to correct his statement while introducing the case for his concern with the advances of biotechnology and their effects. My review presents the argument that not only did Fukuyama not get it correct in 1989, but he also failed to go far enough in his own refutation. I introduce the case that intervention in biotechnology is a necessary step to make, not because there is a human nature to save but precisely because there is no such nature. Further, the complete autonomy of, for example, pharmaceutical corporations is perilous to the real end-of-history and the freedom of mankind generally." (Continue pp. 317-323)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Where embargo relaxation should not be heading

Stephen Wilkinson, assistant director of the International Institute for the Study of Cuba London Metropolitan University, has written an article in The Guardian explaining that President Obama last week signed the omnibus spending bill that loosens restrictions on American travel to Cuba. The tone of the article is rightly optimistic, detailing the historical necessity of such an event, and also the stubborn thinking behind the persistence of the embargo.

Obviously these events should be welcomed by everyone who continues to condemn the embargo, but it is still an existing worry that the relaxation of restrictions on Cuba will fall directly into the laps of those with less than altruistic plans for Cuba, for example Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute (who I saw speak at my old university, chaired by Stephen Wilkinson). It was his intention that, on relaxation of the embargo, Washington could sweep its way into the fabric of the island, into its ideas and property.

Private business, like the black market taxi industry in Cuba, is proof, so says Peters, that not all aspects of Cuban society can be regulated by the state, and its about time these expressions of free enterprise are authorised. Peters is (obviously) not interested in promoting ties with countries more in touch with Cuba (such as the emerging latin american left) and instigating ways of curbing Cuba's isolation this way, but of seizing cultural hegemony and handing it back to Washington.

Furthermore, despite the progressive turn America under Obama is set to take, there is no evidence to show that the Obama Government will want anything other than this seizure. Obama is a symbol of hope, but his economic advisers (of the Robert Rubin ilk) are covered in scandal.

Sadly, the need to end the embargo has been hijacked by hardcore free marketeers like Philip Peters, and, even if the world was not in the throes of the worst economic crisis we might ever see, this cause would still be as highly dishonest and unethical.

Embargo, after all, should be the mark of a massive apology by the states, not the introduction of the biggest (and most repressed) cultural ambush since the Iraq war.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Benjamin Franklin, Electricity and Slumdog Millionaire

There was hardly a thing not achieved by Benjamin Franklin in his lifetime, political theorist, scientist, inventor, statesman and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He was also very well known for his discoveries in electricity. For example he concluded that “vitreous” and “resinous” electricity were not different, but rather positive and negative, respectively. (Read on)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cornel West: The Modern Day Griot

2009 marked the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, and January the 18th marked the date in which he was executed 14 years ago. Taha was a Sudanese liberal reform figure and believer in a version of progressive Islam. His vision of Islam – one in which maintained the equality of women and was dedicated to socialist republicanism – along with his protests regarding the imposition of sharia law stirred Sudan’s dictator Jaafer al-Nimeiri in the 1970’s and 80’s to the point that he, after efforts to curb his influence and ban his lectures, called for Taha’s blood.

Indeed this was to be the case, when on the 8th of January 1985 Taha, and four other comrades were put on trial for apostasy under section 96 of the Sudanese penal code. The decision was confirmed on January the 17th to execute Taha for his crimes, whereas Taha’s comrades were given the chance to appeal (provided they retracted their “apostasy”, which they promptly did). Taha was eventually put to death on January the 18th by hanging, before his body was taken to a desert location by Helicopter to be buried, reportedly in the west of Omdurman, Sudan’s largest city.

Taha’s message, expressed in his book “The Second Message of Islam”, was that the Koran had been revealed in two locations, firstly in Mecca where Muhammad and his followers were minorities, and in Medina where the city was brimming with Jews and Pagans. During his verses in Mecca, Muhammad promulgated a “peaceful persuasion,” whereas in Medina the verses are filled with rules and intimidations. The Medinan verses, the first message(s) of Islam, were directed to a whole community of early believers and not Muhammad alone, according to Taha. These messages were a sort of ‘historical postponement’ as George Packer puts it in his New Yorker article on Taha. It was the Meccan verses, the second message of Islam that would represent, for Taha in his revisionism, the perfect religion, an acceptance of equality and freedom that, in seventh-century Arabia, Muslims were ready for. This provided his grounds for a progressive Islam that the likes of Nimeiri refused to even speculate on.

In January, a two-day conference celebrating the 100th birth year of Taha at Baker University, in Kansas, USA, brought together a miscellany of important ideas that reflected the life and legacy of Taha. One of the speakers on the 18th was Dr. Cornel West of Princeton University. He, during his keynote address, called upon the audience to adopt the traits of ‘humility and love’ that encapsulated the mind of Taha. West considered some of today’s existing problems with the same character as Taha. On the question of Israeli-Palestine conflict West observed that “the spirit of Taha leads me to say: Why the relative silence on Gaza” in reference to what West considered to be the US’s refusal to speak out about the Israeli slaughter of the strip, from both Democrat and Republican camps.

The stylistic similarities in West and Taha’s work are quite clear; both have a radical streak to them, challenging the dominant forces in their society and the orthodoxy of their own religions. West’s Christianity is fused with a healthy dose of radical socialism, as was Taha’s Islam. But more than that, both actively sought to show that the existing powers have got their religions wrong. West’s America, as was with Taha’s Sudan, both use religious sentiment - or as West himself referred to it regarding America in his 2004 book Democracy Matters an “imperial Christianity, market spirituality … let’s-make-a-deal with God” mentality - to justify their wars on what they perceive to be an unholy society. In Republican America (or “the age of Ronald Reagon”, as West proclaimed that Obama’s presidency initiated the end to), the efforts to limit time on abortion, cap stem-cell research, and wage wars on foreign countries by ‘God’s own decree’ were all so-called expressions of Christian ideals. But for West, this is a peculiar use of Christianity, which, for him, should explore the problems that sexism, racism and hegemony can bring about in order to remove them. West’s first book Prophecy Deliverance in 1982 advocates the benefits of an African-American Christianity that draws its ethical dimensions from socialism and Marxism.

Cornel Ronald West was born June 2nd 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was in his teenage years when his activism started to develop, caught up in the middle of civil rights demonstrations in which he helped organise and march on. His Harvard years would see him being taught by the libertarian influenced Robert Nozick, most famous for his work on epistemology and his contribution to the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment. His militancy also started here, pushing for his political agenda’s to be met by the education hierarchies and creating a platform for his own “African, Christian and de-colonized outlooks.”

West’s academic life has been truly prolific since the completion of his doctoral thesis on Marxist ethics, which he earned from Princeton in 1980. He is currently the class of 1943 Professor of Princeton University in the centre for African American Studies and the department of Religion. He holds 20 honorary degrees and is the author of 19 books that examine subjects as wide-ranging as racism, the Black Baptist Church, philosophy of religion and jazz. As well as writing books, he helped develop the philosophically charged storyline for the Wachowski brothers’ film The Matrix (1999) doubling up as the film’s official spokesperson and appearing in the final 2 films as Councillor West.

Unheard of for most intellectuals, when he is not working on anything academic or in film, West works on his musical career. He has recorded 3 music albums to date. His last album Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations featured some eminent names such as Prince, Outkast, Talib Kweli and KRS-ONE and took a stand against homophobic rap culture and lyrics that are considered derogatory to women.

Along with the recording of CD’s, advising Rev. Al Sharpton on his 2004 presidential campaign, and several lecture post cancellations, West drew some rather strident criticism from several other professors, who began questioning West’s intellectual rigour. One criticism in particular came from the Conservative professor of Comparative Literature John McWhorter who in April 2002 had written an impassioned article in the Wall Street Journal criticising West for replacing scholarly output with personal gain. McWhorter, who felt that it was inappropriate to keep West on as one of only 14 professors at Harvard, also speculated on West’s recent “decamp to Princeton” which began with a high-profile dispute with Lawrence H. Summers, the former president of Harvard.

The dispute started with Summers’ concern that West had started to neglect serious scholarly activity, and that West’s recent work had only consisted of edited volumes. Summers claims that West had cancelled three weeks worth of classes to endorse Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign which led to West responding that he’d cancelled only one class to deliver an address at a “Harvard-sponsored conference on AIDS.” West felt that an academic should be specialised and faithful to her/his field but should not be limited to it, which encroached upon Summers’ very strict view of an academics’ duty and, according to West, is the totality of the disagreement.

But the disagreement went further still when West was taken ill with prostate cancer, he became disappointed that Summers had taken so long to send a get-well message (according to Pam Belluck and Jacques Steinberg for the New York Times in 2002) when by contrast new Princeton president, Shirley M. Tilghman “had called him almost weekly.” West ended up calling Summers the “Ariel Sharon of American Higher Education” and accepted an extended job offer made by Princeton, where he remains.

West’s public intellectual status began with the 1993 release of Race Matters, which has sold half a million copies to date. At the start of his book writing career his political orientation was leaning more towards Marxism, with releases such as Prophecy Deliverance! (1982) and Prophetic Fragments (1988) that contended that class plays a far heavier significance than race in determining who is able to possess and who is lacking in societal power. But it was at the time of West’s release The American Evasion of Philosophy (1989) where his intellectual attitudes began to modify, in which he took up more existential concerns.

For West, to be a left-winger today, one has to be concerned at the level of both the institutional and the existential. In an interview with Democracy Now West claimed that the left today must target “the catastrophic … [so] often concealed in the deodorised and manicured discourses of the mainstream.” This bears many significant parallels to the new project taken up by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, admired by West who chaired an event in November 2005 at Princeton for him, in his 2008 book Violence. The book aims to describe the differences between the violence we see on the news in the form of thuggery and the violence incurred by the workings of the rogue bankers tweaking the economy. The difference, for Žižek, is the difference between “subjective” and “objective” violence. That is to say, “subjective” violence is the perceptibly obvious violence seen on the streets in the form of “crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict” whereas “objective” violence is the unseen form of violence that takes the form of either the “symbolic” (bound in language and its forms), or the “systemic” (the catastrophic consequences of our economy when it is functioning as normal). The very notion that this objective violence is unseen sustains the level with which we perceive something as subjectively violent.

Žižek readily points to the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros as figureheads of a new type of business ethic that implicitly incorporates objective violence. They create a philanthropic standard for themselves at which they desire to be perceived, when in fact the more appropriate standard to which one should perceive them is at the concealed level of their function in the economy, an economy that determines the fate of individuals and whole nations. For instance when their philanthropy is contrasted to a street robber it might seem obvious who the violent criminal is, but when we start to analyse that which may not be readily perceptible – objective violence - we start to understand their violence at another level, which the philanthropy has been used to camouflage.

The notion of objective violence is precisely analogous to what West meant when he called on “sleepwalkers”, during a debate at the 2007 Left Forum in New York, to “wake up from indifference to other people’s suffering.” Market-driven culture, as West would put it, has made people very complacent with their attitudes towards their fellow beings, precisely because of the so-called philanthropic standard, which the capitalist class promotes. West here is calling on an “institutional” solution – like West’s wish that Obama had said something before his inauguration about the Israeli-Palestine conflict – and also, more importantly, an existential one in which we wake up and put the pressure on the government to stop the suffering.

West’s insistence on political existentialism emanates from his views on race. For him the birth of American racism and what he identified in Race Matters as black “existential angst” – which he believes still persists – originated in 1619, when America received shiploads of slaves. At this point, says West, America had both white and black slaves, and slavery itself was not yet “racialised”, but come 1621, white slaves had been named, whereas black slaves were identified simply by reference to their skin colour. West attributes this event as advancing the “black problematic of namelessness.” The black struggle that began with the abolitionist movement, all the way through to the civil rights movement, and to the present day is an expression of the fight against this “namelessness.” And it is an issue that West has always felt himself inextricably linked to.

So what symbolic event could ever take place to start averting Cornel West’s notion that the US is an institutionally racist nation? Surely the one that took place early this year with the presidency of Barack Obama; America’s first African-American president.

West’s opinion on Obama has been critically supportive over the period of time in 2007 and early 2008 that he joined his campaign trail. West's socialist tendencies have meant that he has taken a step back on promoting Obama for his economic policies due to his appointment of advisers such as Robert Rubin, the economist who was behind the financial deregulation of the Clinton years. But West considers the presidency to be symbolic on the psyche of black people and their struggles against what he considers to be America's “white supremacy”.

Another public issue that West has recently immersed himself in is the debate over the term “post-racial America”. For West, the term's recent importance designates a change in attitude that the white voter has of black candidates, what West calls “crossing the colour line”. Which, in his opinion, is obviously no bad thing, but it needn't cross the line into “colour-blindness”. He goes on to say that the “black body” should be associated with “black humanity” and that the term “post-racial” is just an expression of “less racism”.

For justification, West notes that black voters have been voting on white candidates for years and, for them, it was not an expression of the post-racial, but looking for the best policies in a candidate, or, as West himself put it, apropos of the vote for a white mayor over the black candidate in Gary, Indiana, a vote based on “qualification as opposed to pigmentation”. And here, of course, he does have a major point; why should the issue of post-racial America emerge only now that there is a black president when black voters have always been looking beyond racial issues in their candidacy choice?

Whatever the outcome on the post-racial debate, West has told his supporters, and supporters of Obama in general, that the most important thing they can do is make their voices heard during his presidency years, and revitalise American democracy from its slumber. West has said that he aims to put pressure on Obama himself. In the interview with Democracy Now he stated clearly that he hoped Obama will be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass [abolitionist who held talks with Lincoln in 1863 on the treatment of black soldiers] to put pressure on him.” And my suspicions are that in the next few years he will do just that. Cornel West’s highly enthused, energetic and celebrated voice will be heard many more times to come in this new American era, and I also predict that his voice will soon start to be heard more widely in this country as well.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Towards a Violent Absolute

“Life” of course as Kierkegaard told us “can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Obviously the intended observation was on the way human individuals are confronted with an abyss of nauseating freedom from which the only likely emotional reaction is anxiety. However, on the other hand, it does speculate on how privileged an analysis is in hindsight. This form of analysis seems to be the only appropriate one in which to ascertain the evolution of thought, and analysing Slavoj Žižek’s evolution of thought will be no different. By way of an introduction to this essay I will briefly familiarise and put into context the current issues that concern Žižek’s thought, before placing them in their wider context both in his repertoire and modern philosophical paradigms as a whole. I will then discuss what I want to achieve in this essay and how Žižek’s commentary on violence might interact with other domains such as religion, popular culture and political economy. (Read on)

Back to Reality or, the beginning of the end to top-down measures in Iraq

A small section of Britain and America’s most distinguished writers, such as Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch, felt tremendously betrayed at the time of Bush’s decision to surge Iraq and get rid of Saddam Hussein. (Read on)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Orpheus and the Orphic Root of Monotheism

Precious little other than playing the lyre and having women leering over him is known about Orpheus by some, but it is said that some rather important doings of our day are related to our dear chap, one being the invention of writing on the virtue of his poetry (though others who have observed the accounts of Orpheus' life have concluded that he was an aural poet and in any case far too premature for the art of writing). Much time, also, has been devoted trying to attribute homosexual love to Orpheus, notably the Alexandrian poet Phankoles who designates Orpheus on account of his repulsion to women after the loss of his wife, Eurydice, to the underworld. But this could just appear to be homosexuality to the untrained eye, whereas it might actually be nothing less than mournful celibacy (this sort of situation in adaptionism taxonomists debate as homology/analogy). 

One very important factor, overlooked by modern studies, considered to be taken directly from Orpheus and the "Orphic communities" is that of monotheistic religion. Orpheus himself is taken to be prophet of a particular type of mystery-religion, as W.K.C. Guthrie, in whose book Orpheus and the Greek Religions most of the present information can be found, points out, the "mysteries of Dionysos". Indeed the pagan mysteries of Dionysos are said to have influenced Christianity a great deal. Guthrie speculates on the notion that since Dionysos (son of Zeus, of whose leg Dionysos’ heart is implanted within) has many roles, and different names for his identification, study on this period has pointed to polytheism (more than one God) when in fact Phanes and Hades (the place, also named, that Orpheus descended and returned) etc. were used to identify Dionysos' various functions. This and many other factors, supposes Guthrie, were what helped prepare the Graeco-Roman world for Christianity. Here we will discuss those other factors. 

In an Orphic community (one in which treated Orpheus' writings as a holy scripture, and at least followed Plato's suspicion that Orpheus' writings were too strong to be mere poetry) religious texts and acts were presided over by Telete, daughter of Dionysos. Some in that community thought it acceptable to ignore the "Orphic life" (some basic necessities that ought to be adhered in order to fulfill Orpheus' prophecies, of which more in a moment) and simply assume that teletai alone would secure their salvation, of which the name for this calling was Orpheotelestai (Orpheus-initiators). But this, according to scholarly analysis, is based on a textual misunderstanding (and sounds rather like an ancient form of Pascal's Wager in that one ought to act like one believes – just incase – and, not necessarily specified by Pascal, enjoy all the [Dionysian?] fun rather than commit to the "rules," in order to achieve salvation). Plato, Theophrastas, and Plutarch all condemned the Orpheotelestai for, among other things, guaranteeing that no shared belief was practiced between the Orphics on account of their misunderstandings. The Orphic scriptures did, actually, demand a number of religious formalities, namely conversion, adherence to a religious way of life, original sin, communion, and a particular eschatology (final rewards of the pure Orphics was the eternal enjoyment of union with God). These said notions have, undeniably, a lot in common with Christianity, says Guthrie, and inform part of Christianity's own identity. 

Later on in the Greek world St Paul's "Hellenism" advanced his popularity (the Gospel of Luke explains that the name Paul to identify St Paul was first used in the Graeco-Roman world, rather than using his real name Saul. Paulus was a Roman surname and St Paul was the first to use it specifically as a first name, using it when engaging in his ministerial role to Gentiles), as well as sharing a common tongue (which Paul dedicated a lot of time perfecting). According to Guthrie, other than avoiding talk of the (Dionysos) mysteries, Paul's triumph in the Graeco-Roman world was guaranteed by the great similarities in Christianity and Orphism.

A further comparison should be found in the effect each religion has had on man, in the sense of how man has transformed into individual. Guthrie has described Orphism as "the beginning of man as an individual" since Orphism promoted the individual soul in order to curb the age of competing interests driving it "from the minds of all but the few." The notion that separation brought people together was later used as the founding concept of Christian love, or agape (expression of love in God). In fact, it was rather ambiguously accounted for in the notoriously misunderstood chapters John 15:6 and Matthew 10:34 “Think that I come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword”. As it was rightly elucidated by G.K. Chesterton in his Orthodoxy, Christianity is "on the side of humanity and liberty and love" as well as, and not hypocritically, "a sword which separates and sets free ... that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love." The Christian pursuit, in other words, needs to know its enemy in order to realise the agape revolution (in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his audience that they must not hate their enemy, but love him in order that they, too, can one day be part of the expression of love. What is crucial here is that the enemy be identified, realised). This separation of souls, of individuality, as such, is the only transformation obtainable to promote both freedom and union, and who could deny that this explicitly Christian assertion has an Orphic root. 

What critics may object to in Guthrie's work is that for all his historical work, whether Orphic religion had any real - other than purely analogous - influence on Christianity is all speculation. And this speculation does premise itself on rather grand questions concerning monotheism, its roots and its theological implications. For me, it does offer cultural reasons as to why the Graeco-Roman world took to Paul's Christianity, but it doesn't show Christianity to be in direct correlation to the poetry of Orpheus. The main point, whether Orphism marked the beginning of monotheism is a harder question to resolve. It certainly contradicts Freud's research on the beginnings of monotheism, designating Moses who popularised and intellectualised monotheism in order for the Hebrews to worship one God, rather than embracing the Sun-God Aten (and was subsequently killed by the Jews, who later regretted their decision to kill Moses and acknowledged him in their religion, guaranteeing guilt as part of the Jewish faith). As such, Freud considered the Jewish God at the beginning of monotheism. What is difficult to discern in Guthrie's text is at what point in history began the confusion of whether Dionysos was one God with many functions, or one of many functioning Gods. It is certainly a more established view that acknowledged Greek Gods in their plenty, and it is a problem not having any conclusive reasons as to why Greek and Thracian (group of Indo-European tribes) societies might have found it necessary to acknowledge Dionysos as monotheistic (like Moses’ society did). But some pretty strong conclusions are drawn by Guthrie and others (like Robert Parker in his essay “Early Orphism”). It’s the view of scholar Jan Assman that Orpheus, like Moses, played the mediator of monotheism to a series of religious rites, not least of which in his poetry, and so the debate on the origins of monotheism remain.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Old Sartre Entry

A few years ago I provided the wikipedia entry for Jean-Paul Sartre's book The Transcendence of the Ego.

The Transcendence of the Ego is a philosophical and psychological essay written by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1937. The essay demonstrates Sartre’s transition from traditional phenomenological thinking and most notably his break from Edmund Husserl’s school of thought. This transition is more apparent after Sartre’s military service from 1939 where we observe a rather more sympathetic view of being in the world, a topic that is detailed upon in much greater detail in his 1943 work L’Etre et le Néant. It is precisely this essay that begins Sartre’s study and hybridisation of phenomenology and ontology. (Read on)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Titbit on Israel

The Israeli offensive beginning 2008 caused a lot of uproar from both sides of the debate. Expression of this could be found nowhere more roaring than on The Guardian website's Comment Is Free section. To an editorial entitled 'A Pointless War has led to a moral defeat for Israel', I added my own reply to the debate (under my CiF pseudonym carl4sparta), inspired in part by information used in Mark Edmundson's book The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism which I had finished moments before reading the editorial. I'll reprint my reply here:

A pointless war has led to a moral defeat for Israel
carl4sparta's comment 18 Jan 09, 12:51am
I wonder if all this trouble would've occurred had Princess Marie Bonaparte achieved her original plans for European Jews circa 1945. Great granddaughter of Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, she was on speaking terms with Sigmund Freud, who referred to her as "our Princess". She provided economic support for Freud to leave occupied territory and emigrate to England But although her philanthropy stopped there, her original plan was to purchase a section of southern California to be used as a Jewish homeland. All well and good, but imagine what would happen, if a few belligerent émigrés had decided that the original population of southern California were to be perceived as nothing more than second-class citizens at best, bullet fodder at worst. The course of history would have changed rapidly, and the last 60 years would've been a lot different.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cornel West, Barack Obama and post-racial America

George W. Bush’s presidency has come to an end and Barack Obama's inauguration has taken place. The event marks the beginning of a massive change, not least in the economy, for the environment and war, but also on the subject of race - a decidedly evocative topic of conversation in America. (Read on)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

John Zorn: The Paul of Klezmer Music?

The mission of St. Paul, the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” according to the Romans 15:16, was to carry out ‘a priestly ministry’ at the service of God in order that ‘the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable.’ Theologians, and of late philosophers promoting political universalism such as Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou, note Paul to be the figurehead of the break from Jewish racial particularism resonating in his words ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ (Galatians 3:28) ‘For you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). It was universal faith in the resurrection of Jesus which was most important, as instructed by Paul, and that the worship of the God of Israel could be undergone by Jew and non-Jew alike. (Read on)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The New Radical Establishment

What the Left have always said about white-collar crime is now woven into the fabric of the establishment, hopefully this time for good

In a statement that buttresses so-called Tory “modernisation,” David Cameron recently called for the ‘day of reckoning’ against bankers who triggered the economic crisis, saying that the nation’s modest earners – “nurses and cleaners and [sic] teachers” – should not have to fund the “multi-billion pound taxpayer bail-out of the banks” adding "[t]here cannot be one law for the rich and another for everyone else."

Cameron had pledged support for a similar appropriation used by the Americans for those caught cheating the system – a prison sentence of up to 24 years in jail. “Justice” as Cameron was quoted as saying by the Evening Standard “is only effective when it is seen to be done — for the thug locked up for mugging people on the streets to the highest executive in the biggest firm who's been swindling the books.”

With its stylistic similarities to Woody Guthrie’s song Pretty Boy Floyd (“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered, I’ve seen lots of funny men; some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen”) what Cameron’s message maintains is that the notion of ‘white-collar crime’ and economic determinism is now fully woven into the establishment after spending many years way out on the fringes.

What I mean by economic determinism is simply that the underpinnings of a working economy effects society as a whole. In this sense, it will not be unheard of, for example, that the economic crisis ‘see [a] rise in crime rates’. This might seem an obvious statement, but it does have its critics (and these critics would have traditionally found support from within the ranks of the Tory party). That the economy might be a factor towards the crime rate finds its critics waxing lyrical about genetic factors in crime development, crime occurring as a result of single parents or broken families, or even, in the spirit of Durkheim’s functionalist view of deviance, that crime is inevitable and even fairly beneficial for a society in small doses.

One other factor that obviously needs to be writ large in the assessment of crime is the neglected likeness of a “thug,” as Cameron describes, to a criminal banker. The obvious difference between the two criminals is that one performs a fairly evident crime, one in which has fairly accurate report figures. We see this type of criminality every night on the news, we know what it looks like and know the effects it has on society. Whereas on the other hand, a white-collar criminal is well concealed by the cover of an economy that, when at its best, fluctuates between high and low days.

Early in 2008, philosopher Slavoj Žižek published a book entitled Violence: Six Sideways Reflections in which he aims to describe the differences between the violence we see on the news in the form of thuggery and the violence incurred by the workings of the rogue bankers tweaking the economy. The difference, for Žižek, is the difference between “subjective” and “objective” violence. That is to say, “subjective” violence is the perceptibly obvious violence seen on the streets in the form of “crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict” whereas “objective” violence is the unseen form of violence that takes the form of either the “symbolic” (bound in language and its forms), or the “systemic” (the catastrophic consequences of our economy when it is functioning as normal). The very notion that this objective violence is unseen sustains the level with which we perceive something as subjectively violent.

Žižek readily points to the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros as figureheads of a new type of business ethic that implicitly incorporates objective violence. They create a philanthropic standard for themselves at which they desire to be perceived, when in fact the more appropriate standard to which one should perceive them is at the concealed level of their function in the economy, an economy that determines the fate of individuals and whole nations. For instance when their philanthropy is contrasted to a street robber it might seem obvious who the violent criminal is, but when we start to analyse that which may not be readily perceptible – objective violence - , we start to understand their violence at another level, which the philanthropy has been used to camouflage.

Incidentally, we should extend this level of objective violence to the way in which George Bush has dealt with the Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who threw a shoe at him last week, by which I mean, although neither him nor Nouri al-Maliki have sought charges, Bush has not come out in protest against Judge Dhia al-Kinani who said he does not have the legal option to drop the case, nor has he criticised the handling of al-Zeidi who was beaten and tortured into apologising for the incident. The level at which Bush desires to be perceived is one of him not holding a grudge, and not callously calling for viscious beatings on the journalist (he told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that he actually thought the shoe-throwing incident was “amusing” and that it was “a sign of a free society.”). But that is simply because the cruel punishment was always going to work in the way Bush wanted it to, he needn’t call for al-Zeidi’s imprisonment and torture, it will happen regardless, and Bush’s lack of motivation behind curbing Iraqi brutality only demonstrates that he embraces it. Surely his excuse will not be that he did not feel obliged to interfere in Iraq’s political and judicial system? Is this same mode of public image not true, also, of Tony Blair’s outgoing messages on the Iraq war, where despite the speculation that he was firm and convicted about sending troops in to overthrow Saddam and to find the Weapon’s of Mass Destruction, his appearances on television depict him as someone who battled with his own morals, and that whether history proves him wrong, “Hand on [his] heart, [he] did what [he] thought was right.”

Žižek, as a commentator, is obviously quite radical, but his views on the level of violence are now being employed by the least likely members of the British establishment. David Cameron even called for a “massive state intervention” into curbing white-collar criminality and what he called Labour’s “inaction”. This doesn’t marry rebellious anti-capitalism to the Conservative Party, but rather to show that the economic crisis has aroused – on the left and the right – what commentators on the left have been saying all along, that crime levels are bound in a pool of cause and effect and maintained by the current economic system.

Further, and this brings us full circle on the specifics of what Cameron said when he referenced thugs, white-collar criminality is usually concealed by the level of criminality addressed on the news, and often interpreted as moderate in comparison, certainly nothing to concern benign politicians about. But this is all set to change in the run of British parliamentary politics, and hopefully for good because opinion on the contrary to it is an inestimable error.