“In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.” Bertolt Brecht
A bad Preface of meandering and ambling thought
I am taking (and pushed) into a little procrastination break. I am not entirely sure if it is a break or simply I am lost in the long-term malaise. If it is a break, then I will take it, but I am worried that I might have to fight that darkness of the sticky malaise. I am unusually tired these last few weeks- perhaps my job is finally going to get me. My job is useless retail for most people. I am not even good at my job! I am terrible at asking people anything. For some odd reason, I have trouble asking things of people or telling people what to do. I am sure it part of my network of insecurities that form the fabric of me.
I have been prickly, irritable and pessimistic. I suppose I am not the only person. I know I am not the only person feeling the pessimism. I am tired and angry. Unfortunately, that is not unique to me. It could be assumed that for the last eight hundred years millenarianism has always came up. It was a Wilco song that said “every generation thinks it is the end of the world.” I suppose that is true in some sorts. Though…
It seems we are living in a dark age- a sort of reversal of the age of continuous progress. I am going to write about these and other dark times, not searching for answers, but rather searching for questions to be answered- Perhaps by someone else.Many will not read this essay, and it is much longer than I have posted before. In this part, I will like to focus on things that I do have a grasp on and set the search in a direction– in any direction. I speculate that these dark times that we are living in are part of a larger structural problem, but I cannot simply say that without laying some groundwork for that.
I will not simply delve into these dark times head on. I have tried that with great frustration and annoyance. My words tripped upon each other formed in the passive voice with proper nouns rolling on top of each other. The fact is we are not living in the darkest time in human history. It is hard to even write about the 1930-40’s. The horror and reality of the Holocaust is even harder to write about. It was truly an ugly horrible experience. We do face acertain darkness, but it is older than we thought. The symptoms were there and we all recognized them. It is gloom and dread that manifested itself so harshly recently with a terrible vigor.
Part one will be mostly concerning the conflict that brought us to these dark times. Unfortunately for me I have to start simple. If anything else this essay, right here, is the preface for the second part. It shall give context to how I am searching for the problems and questions that arise from dark times.
Other people are the cause of most joys and mysteries of the world along with pain. The interaction between people can create harmonies and conflicts. Everything we are is mostly a result of other people. Otherness is beyond the I, it is the other person. This axiom is rather older than the modern definition of the “I and the other” that we are accustomed to today. It is definitely in Hegel’s The Phenomenology of the Spirit. I am sure it might be a tad older than that.
Though it gets all muddied in language and words that are vague, and lacks a good grasp of the details. It would take a great poet to weave these concepts together in a way that is pleasing to eyes to read- and for the ears to hear.
People in general share a few things in common. This is not a general proposition but rather a small statement. Therefor, other people are not completely other, other people share some qualities with each other. We can say you, vous, ustedes as a formal address to people, or to a plural of people. We can say us and we too! That is the basics here. I am not interested in starting a branch of philosophy here! I am not creating a new and unique work of my own here either.
We know concept otherness from postcolonial philosophy and politics. The other is indefinable because of its separation from the European “I.” It was a way of criticizing the norm and narratives about people. It was a way of speaking for oneself when they were spoken for. Europeans, and its spores, spoke in universals in the 19thand 20thcentury. The postcolonial criticism of the other was showing that their universals were either wrong, missing something, or hypocritical. It attacks European hegemony. Simone de Beauvoir said that women were the ultimate other. I am not going further on this but it helps you can read Simone de Beauvoir, Edward Said or Franz Fanon if you are interested. They cover the topic much better than I could.
It is weird, and not weird, that the “Self and the Other” are European concepts that were used against Europe. Western civilizations, or really cultures from the Golden Crescent, are obsessed with the individual and society. I wonder if that division and unity existed outside of cultures far from the Nile and Mediterranean? Is it casual racism to say the East Asian cultures are more social? I wonder if that is because they do not have that same odd division, and then we placed it on them. When the Spaniards and English came to western hemisphere, I wonder if the native people thought it was absurd and odd that they had focused so much on this division. The division could be older and could have walked out Savannah fifty thousand years ago. What I am saying is that it is a practice and a habit. I am not even sure if the true self exists. It is impossible to prove that there is a spirit, soul, or a self.
I know that there are other people. When I say most joys and mysterious are of the interaction of people, I do understand that a beautiful sunset or sunrise is not by people. People did not design the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon. I did see the Alps, the Nile River, the Amazon River, and the Himalayans from other people’s photographs, paintings, and movies. We can see a starry night or look at Van Gough’s Starry Night.
The Earth is another thing but we are part of it. We share similarities with animals and we share spaces with animals. The Earth itself is like an other. Human beings are like children of the Earth. We share the same elements and we come from the processes that the Earth provides. We live on the Earth but we also try to conquer it. We transform the surface and extract materials under the soil. We pollute the air and sea while placing concrete on everything. We also try to stop each other from doing that. The Earth seems not to be concerned with humans. There are natural disasters such as tornados, earthquakes, and cyclonic storms that render building into almost nothing. We picture the Earth as static and forever that is separate from us. Though the Earth is not static and we are part of the nature of Earth. That is a weird contradiction. This paragraph raises more questions that I do not have answers for.
I am speaking more practically. I am speaking about habits and relationships. The economy, politics, and arts are products of human relationships. Economic studies are all about relationships. It was not Marx that came up with this concept. However, Marx is useful. However, lets be broad about it. People cook for each other. People care for each other. People kill each other. People fight each other. People hold hand, kiss, and hug each other. People make love each other. People have sex with each other. People fight. People talk. People hate. People love.
Whole studies are made to understand people. History is not the study of time but rather the studies of peoples in the past. Political and Economic Sciences study particular relationships that people conduct. Philosophy can only exist with other people. I am sure even psychology, which I know nothing about, needs the understanding of relationships between people.
Marx did not just study the economy, but also the power that the relationship of the political economy produces. Adam Smith and David Ricardo already studied the social relationship of producing and selling goods. Marx just looked at the conflict of selling labor hourly and the rapid change it was causing to dominating economic ecology. Marx used a specialized historical analysis to study the relationships in conflict. Nietzsche also used a special historical method to study the power that ideas, practices and beliefs can create conflicts. I am broad here because I think there is a close relationship that is not well explored between those two thinkers.
I think we are all familiar with the Sartre quote from his play No Exit– “Hell is other people.” I am going to do a real disservice to Jean Paul here, because I do not read him. The quote is referring to his psychology of bad faith. People have an expectation of themselves that is in conflict with others. People have a limit of self but they are free and their conflicts erupt at the margins of the other. However, digging deeper, one can say that conflicts of all sorts is between the self and the external, including ones own self- the unconscious mind. Then bad faith would be infinitely inwards from the self and the other. I do not really mean infinite but it is a good word for seemingly endless regression into oneself.
I will not speak of that. I am aware of that line of thinking but I will speak of the frustration and conflicts that emerge from habits and human interaction. I will give you a personal example. I am awkward first meeting people. I guess one can say I am bit shy or introverted. I would say I am just bad at making small talk but that is a lie. I work retail. This is probably the worst job for me, but my folks own the store and I do not want to disappoint. In reality I am selfish and cowardly! The customer asks a question and there is a pattern- but sometimes I accidently break the flow or they do and it becomes hard, frustrating, and awkward for both of us.
Another example- There are often times when you speak and the other person cannot not hear you. So, you speak louder and louder. The moments become tense and painful. It is frustrating for the both of you. Or— Suppose you are with a group and someone recollects a story that you and they shared – but they got all the details wrong. If you correct the story confusion and frustration arises. These are simple things that happen commonly.
Lovers will frequently fight causing extra grief and frustration. The lovers know each other and assume things in the moment. The confusion is heightened by each comment gone astray. The heat from this is caused by the frustration of the knowledge and habits being disrupted. The couple may split by the misunderstanding but most likely not.
Frustration is not all together awful. Bob Dylan and Dali made a career out of being frustrating. Friction between people is not natural or unnatural but it does happen. There might be a world where friction does not happen. Frustration is not conflict, per se but a symptom of conflict. I would say frustration is a sign that something is off.
Spinoza and others
Spinoza has many answers for us humans. We after all are desire machines part of the body without organs. I got ahead of myself by three or four good essays. I may not even write one.- let alone a good one.I am talking about human drives. Spinoza’s Ethics starts simply with God, the universe, or nature and then to the human mind and body finally to drives and then to the good life. The God or Nature is infinite with infinite possibilities but only manifest in coherent ways. God or Nature never contradicts itself although it has infinite modalities and potentialities, it a single substance. The third and forth books deal with the affects and human bondage. These are sections that I will be simplifying now. Remember, it is better to go the source.
There are three root drives: pain, pleasure and desire. All the affects stem from these “roots.” Love stems from joy and hatred is from pain. People love things that are like themselves and want to destroy things that cause them pain. If something is loved and hated at the same time it causes vacillation. Fear comes from pain and hope comes from pleasure.
The root, or really the affect. of joy increases power while pain decreases power. This is because good is useful in attainment of “perfection” and bad is hinders us from this “perfection.” Since Nature, or God, does not have an end it is by which we are closer to nature that perfection occurs. The word perfect is only used by humans when something works. To reverse the formula, something that increase potentialities is good therefor it brings joy. Things that decrease potential are painful. Spinoza basically rewrites the notion of sins by not making them mandated by God as an edict, but simply because they are harmful. Greed, pride, and other sins decrease human power.
Expanding this outward, it will begin to look like the English utilitarianism or Kant’s Kingdom of Ends. This is because people have potential and everyone is basically potential. It is then wrong to harm another person but it is good to increase their power. Since we love things that are like us, then increasing joy make more joy.
Of course I am not doing his ethics any service. Basically I all need to convey a few things:
Affects, or emotions, are the basis of human behavior and therefor human interaction.
Love is joy linked with an idea of an external cause.
Hatred is pain linked with an idea of an external cause.
Last thing Deleuze’s favorite quote of Spinoza is: “We do not know yet what a body can do.” but Spinoza includes the mind here too.
I will speak a little about Nietzsche, which I think can be helpful with understanding the problems. The next sentence is going to a little odd because of how many proper nouns that I will use. Deleuze said in Nietzsche and Philosophy, that Nietzsche was rewriting Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in the Genealogy of Morals. That was an odd sentence. Basically, the schema or categories of Kant are replaced with Nietzsche’s critique of Ressentiment, Guilt, and Asceticism. These are mostly unconscious motivation, but they can be conscious motivation too. Ressentiment, guilt and, Asceticism are negative because they deny life as well act as negation. Affirmation and negation is very important to Nietzsche philosophy.
Ressentiment is negative because it is completely reactive by scapegoating or blaming other people for their problems. A person with ressentiment says no to life. He relates guilt to debt ,by the similarities of the words guilt and debt are in German. Guilt is joyless and produces bad conscience. Asceticism is indifference to life, a sort denial of life that produces nihilism. The Genealogy of Morals is essential criticizing Christian morals. It is also deeply criticizing Schopenhauer, Wagner, the English ,and Kant. The first book opens with British utilitarianism. The third book on asceticism is not about the Priest or monks but on Wagner, Schopenhauer and Kant views of aesthetics. Kant and Schopenhauer views beauty with disinterest, but we should see beauty with interest.
Nietzsche is problematic, really problematic. For a large part of the century he was associated with the Nazi appropriation of a few parts of his work. Of course, his weird ironic language can be easily appropriated. Though- he hated Germans and anti-Semites. Unforetunately, he worked often times using anti-Semitism arguments to produce the opposite of their arguments. Which is really problematic. Also, his philosophy basically lends to hedonism if read wrong. His first work, and perhaps his formative work, was about the division and union of the Dionysian and Apollonian- in which he favored the Dionysian influence. He has been some what redeemed but he does have a problem with women. He has almost a chapter against women, but he weirdly prefaces that it is most likely his ressentiment. He disliked democracies but it tended to favor a sort of minoritarian argument.
Basically, Nietzsche could be understood easier as really critiquing the fundamentals of philosophy. Every concept has an odd origin that is natural as so far that it is invention of human histories. Often times these inventions would lead to negation. There two really important parts to Nietzsche that I wanted to explore. He says that harsh punishment are a sign the society is weak and the strong societies need less harsh punishments- in book two of The Genealogy of Morals. In book one (I think it is aphorism 94?) he says that those who hurt other people are weak, and they hurt people because they lack power.
Freud is perhaps Nietzsche’s best student. I am not sure but a great deal of understanding their works could be reading them together. I wanted to talk about the psychologists that have been abandoned by modern psychology. I think their work is still important but I do not want to go through a psychologist route. Freud has interesting work of the subconscious. He has a schemata of his own. Though the struggles of the subconscious and conscious reveal that there is a deeper interplay at work. His work is very popular in Europe but it can be also used to create good characters in fiction too. People’s relationships with themselves and other have a hidden level motivated by something irrational and subconscious. I do not really believe in the subconscious but I do think there is interplay of forces unknown to use in full play. We do things that hidden to ourselves.
One example of many the Follies of Structural conflict but resulted in many many many deaths.
World War One was seminal but almost avoidable but the structures leading to the war made it unavoidable. None of the Great Powers really wanted war in Europe. The fear of a strong German Empire made odd alliance with the French and Russians. England was heavily invested in keeping Belgium as a neutral party going so far as to protect it in case is sovereignty was compromised. During the nineteenth century major cultural and economic changes completely changed the societies of all the European powers. Industrialization and production of ridicules amount armaments was present in all the European powers. Most countries had navies, artillery and machine guns. Granted this arsenal was primarily used to control the United Kingdom’s and French colonies. With WWI all the weapons returned home. Mobilization took a long time and it was hard to demobilize. Capitalism and industrialization changed the way that societies functioned. Foucault called this biopower.
It did not take much to start the war. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot and Austria gave an impossible ultimatum to the Serbian Government. People tried to stop the war but the tinder was set in a volatile area. Once the war broke out masses of people were conscripted and the Germans wanting a swift victory against the French invaded Belgium. There was no stopping the war- it was like machine work how it unfolded, precision at first -like clock work in the beginning then years of slaughter all plans fell apart. The Russian government collapsed and two revolutions happened in quick secession. Chemical weapon were used, and charges against trenches and machine-guns, where thousand died, with the result of no movement in territories. Some battles have a million or more causalities. The Great Power system that prevented the war might have actually just made it more likely. The shifts of the relationship of the public body and the government had shifted significantly as well. No single person could have prevented the war.
Age of rage.
People have been so angry. It has been like this for longer than I can remember. I do not think anger is completely bad or the worst- but it can betruly awful and the worst. There is righteous anger but also there is anger that stems from a lack of power or fear that can be destructive. Anger out of control from a sense of frustration can lead to horrible effects- And quite frankly it is a joyless existence. It can be a loveless and joyless mode, to where the negative passions consume all activities.
It is where frustrations of the hidden conflicts emerge and unsteady the milieu in favor of wild and unpredictable movements and flows. I say movements and flows because I am talking about more than an individual, I am speaking as a culture or groups of people. Anger is evident from the boiling over of frustrations. If you gander on the various medias you see a seething rage constantly boiling over about everything.
There is rage against people’s favorite television show or movie. There is rage against the very anger against said television show or movie. It is constant and ever present. Wait in line and watch the rage of people buying things. See the anger in traffic. Anger, anger everywhere.
If we go into politics we see this more evidently. I suppose. The media says the US is more partisan than ever. I do not think that is entirely accurate. People are far more angrier than ever. I do not think that is accurate either. People have all sorts of strange arguments. The passion is not interested but a fire of frustration. People hated Barak Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Regardless of their politics there was fierce anger against these men despite their policies. Writers at the Daily Kos, Vox, In These Times,and other American liberal or left periodicals are predicting a civil war within The Democratic Party.
It is worse than that craziness. This is hardly from this year that political allies fought each other. Just look at the Republicans in 2008-2010.Though, honestly, I do not care too much about them. In 2008, feminist and other minoritarian (Deleuzian word!) spheres, the term “minority Olympics” was used often! The same year gay and lesbian group actually blamed the high turnout of black voters in California because proportion eight was passed, banning gay and lesbian marriages. Instead of building coalitions of subjectivities they were enraged. Do not blame them! Remember rage, rage, rage, and anger is everywhere. This was hardly destructive mostly unthinking outburst of rage. People thought they were thinking right but a sudden discharge of rage exploded.
People will literally make argument about the hidden politics of movies but not out criticism but out of anger. A smart young person, with a lot of education will destroy say a Disney led Marvel movie. Marvel movies are aggressively apolitical to the point if one digs too deep they will find nothing. One cannot deconstruct a Marvel movie, because there is nothing there. I am not against criticizing every possible reading of movie or any text but it is not criticism but almost a discharge of anger. The language in the articles is the key. It is too harsh and too negative, there is hardly any subtle words- it is always a judgment of total condemnation. This is mostly harmless. They are just using their education and writing is hard. However, sometimes it can be hurtful. This criticism uses the deconstructionist framework by Derrida, but instead of making the text authorless, it is against the author. Ta-Nehisi Coates recently wroteand article about Kanye West, but the most striking thing was that people he admired attacked him.
Again, although it can be hurtful, it is mostly harmless. However, these tools are being used by angry Reactionaries. They are making things broken and elevating the explicitly misogynist and racist rhetoric. Did you know that people actually think the newStar Warsmovies are against white men? That is just because they star a woman and an English black man. It is worse than that. I do not circle that area of the internet. I avoid it. It is definitely not the fault of the young too smart writers trying use their postcolonial and deconstructionist studies on pop-culture, but there is a certain normalcy to angry criticism. Joyless criticism is too common and is hardly productive. For this again I have no answers.
There are too many mass shootings. The far-right parties are winning all over Europe. Random acts of violence are being reported on more true, but it feels like they are happening more often. They actually are happening with greater frequency. Unlike war where there is regularity and goals the violence is random and sporadic. ISIS has much more in common with these shooting and random acts of violence than the old guard of the Mujahedeen. There was a rally of Nazis, Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and other racist groups in Charlottesville Virginia. On of these members used a car to run it to the counter-protesters. Nineteen people were injured and one person was killed.
Donald Trump was elected by seething hot rage. It was palpable. There have been many outbursts by the angry man in the last couple of year. It is fuel for more anger. Donald Trump is the candidate and president of aimless anger. Donald Trump is the product of the age of rage.
Like I said anger is not bad alone. There could be real reasons for anger. However, the level and reason for this heighten feeling of anger is unknown to me. There is a small crisis of conflict under the fabric of society. This is not just in the United State, but around the globe in most “developed” countries. This unease and frustration boiling into anger is not easy to pinpoint a reason for this. These things can all be unrelated. It can only be heightened by certain mediation by the functions of our new technologies. Perhaps?
This anger is a symptom. I read somewhere I am not sure that anger in the individual level comes from a feeling of helplessness. I wish I knew where I read that.
A partial conclusion and a reflection
Good times and dark times are products of are relationships practices with other people. What I am saying is that they are sociological rather than errant individuals or actions. All actions and individuals seem to follow certain flows of behavior. We have various ressentiments that are common that manifest collectively.
Perhaps we are living in a secretively joyful time but we are too stupid to realize it. I like the Deleuze’s notion of stupidity. It is not error of judgment, but negative in that it is lack of thought, it is negation. Error is actually affirmative, although wrong, to make stupidis to be passive. Though we might be just passively being confronted, perhaps our hopes are being dashed? This would constantly agitate and frustrate would it not? I am not sure if that is happening. Why are we angry? I am not sure at all. There is something that we fear collectively that is occurring. We are being paralyzed with a certain anxiety, and it is not the primal anxiety of death, but something quite hard to put a finger on it. What is our collective unconscious resenting?
Perhaps this very line of questioning is wrong. It is too vague and too all encompassing. It is too timely. There might be nothing truly amiss, compared to any other time, and we feel special to our history and our place to overcome the dark times. Perhaps we should overcome the dark times, together, face the certain gloom, death and destruction with love and joy. As long as anger has a bit of joy and affirmation perhaps that is the good type of anger. Anger with ressentiment with pain is, perhaps, the bad type of anger.
I might have dug in the wrong direction making a thinking hole shallow and wide, worthless and odd shaped. There might be something there? I might have just repeated sections of Hegel on accident with different words and figures, all from a different direction but struck that same vein. Perhaps there is something there to build something firm on for this inquiry. There might be something here for the reader to understand my next part. Some sort of primordial essay that encompasses enough to set a firm foot on.