becoming, event, interconnection, language, philosophy, Politics, self-organization, society

Occupy Theory!

The 99% movement sweeping the globe is indeed something new under the sun. Little molecular revolutions, the occupations are rhizomes; in this clear revolt against neoliberal “realism” who does not see the spirit of sixty-eight, dormant for a long winter of four decades, awakening once more?

Thinkers have not only the opportunity but in many ways a profound obligation to help focus and organize the will of the people, to help inspire and to amplify revolutionary reflection and affect.

While the medium of thinking is primarily writing, nevertheless theory can help crystalize and push complex systems towards transformation — towards becoming-something-else. This transformation need not, as some might have it, be specified entirely in advance; indeed, such a specification is perhaps impossible.

The self-regulated emergence or becoming of the people’s voice through the consensual decision-making mechanism of general assembly, the thunderous roar of the people’s mic, are things that philosophy should not simply note, or even sit back and interpret, but actively encourage and assist.
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Aristotle, friendship, justice, Politics

Friendship and the State

 In chapter 9 of book III of the Politics, Aristotle discusses the general relation between justice and the state. In the course of examining the relation of equality and inequality, Aristotle proposes that the state “exists for the sake of a good life, and not the sake of life only” (1279b31-32). Notice that the good is already predicated of the state in this statement, and it is because of this bias that Aristotle will conclude: “if life only were the object, slaves and brute animals might form a state, but they cannot, for they have no share in happiness in a life based on choice” (1279b33-34). Although happiness as an end for the virtuous life is one of Aristotle’s primary concerns, the emphasis on the choices that the political situation makes possible seems to conceal the fundamental lack of choices for the individual as well as the a priori nature of any state whatsoever. This assertion stems from Aristotle’s misunderstanding that the political arrangement of a state (whether constitutional or otherwise) has very little to do with the will or mood of the multitude, even if, in the last analysis, they are given priority in power because of their total quantity of property (cf. 1282a37-40).

 In other words, since Aristotle theorized earlier that the state precedes any individual which would constitute it (just as the whole precedes the parts), it seems to be false that the state would only consist of individuals for whom life was founded on a choice. Moreover, when Aristotle claims that the state is a community of families whose goal is self-perfection and self-sufficiency, he seems to undercut the primordial character of the state that would subordinate families for its own ends (i.e. his previous position). More fundamentally, he also seems to negate his earlier statement that political life had anything to do with a choice. He writes: “Such a community can only be established among those who live in the same place and intermarry. Hence there arise in cities family connections, brotherhoods, common sacrifices, amusements which draw men together. But these are created by friendship, for to choose to live together is friendship” (1280b36-38 my emphasis). It then follows that our political environment is contingent and that friendship is only a choice in terms of choosing to live virtuously; only then could we call “living together” a choice, insofar as we choose not to live or strive against one another.

 The concept of friendship, which is analyzed in depth in the Nicomachean Ethics, in relation to political choice can be better illustrated in reference to the pre-eminent individual (1284a10-15). The pre-eminent individual is a person whose excellence, especially in political affairs, overshadows that of anyone else. In fact, Aristotle admits that they are “God among men” and that “legislation is necessarily concerned only with those who are equal in birth and in capacity; and that for men of pre-eminent excellence there is not law—they are themselves a law.” In this sense, they are above the law simply by being at the very center of it. Men of this caliber may find it difficult to find friends because of a lack of equals suitable for them, but the important point is that the example of the man above the law logically leads to the counterexample, i.e. that of the ostracized man, the outlaw, those beneath the law (1284a34-36). 

What is characteristic of these singular positions in society is the fact that they have nothing to do with a political choice, at least in the straightforward sense in which Aristotle presents his argument. If we were to agree that these positions could be characterized by choice, we would be forced to look at the more fundamental phenomena at work in the unconscious of the society as a whole. In other words, ostracizing someone from political life and incarnating them in the very fabric of the law constitute the extreme forms under which the balance of justice and friendship in the state come to take on their most dissymmetrical distributions of equality and inequality. But it is also here that justice as friendship, as the (anonymous) perpetuation of noble deeds in the absence of a telos, can illustrate the very inconsistency of the social bond (Badiou).

justice, Plato, Politics, sameness, the Republic

On Recognition, or Why Dogs Make Great Philosophers

There are various moments in the Republic, especially in book II which we will focus on here, where justice is elusively illustrated according to those to whom justice is attributed, i.e. proceeding from types which partake in or lay claim to justice and showing by example not only the essence of justice but how it is in itself good. Now, obviously all of this is evident from the text and does not require repeating except to remind the reader, in a sense, the directionality of the arguments through which Socrates proceeds. It would also be obvious to point out how Socrates dialectically presupposes the subordination of the individual to the polis or State, which is manifested through his own “sacrifice” to Athens memorialized in the Crito and the Apology. What I would like to do here is instead to bear this in mind and stop upon a crucial passage in the text that concerns the “natural aptitudes” fitting for a guardian of the state in order to first analyze an example of this procedure from types and then, from there, to make some remarks about the general role of “philosophy” in the Republic along with the manifestation of an implicit argument of the text: namely, that philosophy is necessary for the cultivation of justice.

Let us situate ourselves, for our paths are narrow and fragmentary. After discussing the different duties which are required for the industriousness of a State, Socrates brings up the crucial question about the guardians of the state. It could be interpreted that these guardians would represent the elite elders governing the city, yet these passages do stress the physical requirements along with the necessity of fearlessness and bravery in battle (II 375). Warriors, Socrates argues, need swiftness, braveness, and spirit. Yet they must be gentle, they must be able to treat those like them with fairness. If you remember from the text earlier, Socrates makes the argument that the just man does not wish to exceed others like him. In the same sense, guardians must have a complex mixture of behaviors and instincts: they must combine fearlessness and gentleness. The example given of an animal that combines these traits is found in that of the dog.

In fact, Socrates asks, “Is not the noble youth very like a well-bred dog in respect of guarding and watching?” But, to complexify the argument, Socrates also argues that the dog is very much like a philosopher because “he distinguishes the face of a friend and of an enemy only by the criterion of knowing and not knowing” (II 376b). Before returning to this statement, we can almost sketch a syllogism with major and minor premises:

Major premise: Every noble youth is like a well-bred dog.

Minor premise: Every well-bred dog is like a philosopher.

Conclusion: Every noble youth is like a philosopher.

The cornerstone to this argument is the very nature of justice, for Socrates remarks “he who is likely to be gentle to his friends and acquaintances must by nature be a lover of wisdom.” And, not to jump ahead of ourselves, the reason why the following pages are concerned with censorship are precisely because Socrates is addressing a crucial question of breeding: how do we breed the noble youth into a well-bred dog, i.e. how do we instill justice into the youth, i.e. how do we breed the philosopher? For we are reminded after the claim that: “he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength.”

In other words, what makes the noble youth like a well-bred dog is the presence of philosophy instilled into the essence of his very being. This installation is what allows for the cultivation of justice precisely because justice is defined within the limits of the known and the unknown, i.e. of the like and the unlike. This leads to some startling conclusions: Greek philosophy and ethics are founded on the subordination of the Other, the Stranger, to the Same, which is to say that Greek justice is logocentrically normative or, in another sense, is too worried about the neighbor, the nearest, such that the furthest, in Nietzsche’s political sense, are precisely ignored or non-represented in terms of the situation. Where does this argument stem from?

To come full circle, the dog’s virtue is precisely in his recognition of the face of the Other in relation to that of the Same. As a crucial result, philosophy and justice come to reinforce each other on this basic principle: that the love of knowledge is the exaltation of the Same, and for philosophy to express its domination, the unlike must be rendered unto justice, which is to say that it must be made into the Same. Consequently, the Other and the Stranger are always on the other side of justice, justice always seems to slope off asymptotically upon verging with the unlike. As Laruelle would remind us, though, we are all Strangers in-the-last-instance, which means that the criterion of Sameness and Difference will not help us here if we are to think a completely human notion of justice. On the other hand, Deleuze has convincingly argued that justice does not exist, and where it does exist it must have been constructed, and hence it must have always already been jurisprudence, i.e. it must evolve according to a situation. This is why it becomes disingenuous for Socrates to not only promote the praise of the gods but also to change their very nature through the censorship of literature. Obviously, Socrates’ justice is constructed in such a way that its jurisprudence shows the inherent injustice in the system, for the freedom to know and question are denied to the common folk: what is left is the freedom to obey. Hence the freedom to know must be pre-established: one must be bred for it…