Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ruminations 46--Epigrams on Governance Beyond the Human Condition

This is another in what has become a long series of aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, though now more in the style of epigrams (ἐπιγράφειν), meant to provoke rather than explain. The hope is that, built up on each other, the series will provide a matrix of thoughts that together might lead the reader in new directions. Though each can be read independently of the others, they are intended to be read together and against each other.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The epigrams and interludes that follow suggest something beyond the human condition and its expression in self- and communal governance.  The object is to pierce through convention and travel beyond those frameworks within which the comforting formalist assumptions upon which the structures of law and governance are built; assumptions which, like well compacted sand, when shaken sufficiently will dissolve and consume all that is built upon it.

1. The problem with reducing science to mere empiricism is that the political class then tends to become the professors of political theory and the scientists become the servants of politics.

2. Mass mobilization--the instrument on which our collective orders are now based are both dog and wolf. As a dog, one is constantly reminded of the power of mass mobilization as a great political phenomenon to reinforce the institutions of the state and similar institutions. Mass movements have became the signature legitimate instrument of managed social and political change. As wolf, mass movements can devour those institutions that believe they can control the wolf. Mass movements can both overturn old institutions and replicate the forms and functions of those vanquished institutions. But sometimes the wolf is more  the coyote. The specific object of this lesson is the collective Anonymous--a group that untethered the masses from its masters.  But can the coyote go master-less for long?

3. Sound advice: “Don’t let yourself be controlled by your past, people and money.” More complexity than meets the eye! The first is implausible, the second inevitable and the third is situational; false causes, inversions of cause and effect, and false free will.

4. One can never trust the promises made by a democratic polity and expressed through its legislative processes. This is the case because of the inherent contradiction between the character of the masses as polity and simultaneously as democratically constituted. The structures of procedural legitimacy inherent in the institutional expression of political will can be overcome by inherent power of the masses to change its mind. What is promised today is denied tomorrow. What is enacted through acts of legislative will can be reformed by acts of juridical interpretation or administrative implementation. The case of the revocation of amnesty for the perpetrators of Argentina’s dirty war of the 1970s and early 80s is a case in point, the purpose of which in part was to facilitate peaceful transition to democracy. The result was necessary given the nature of the organization of western democratic polities; but the deleterious effects on the doctrine of legal certainty will make peaceful transitions harder in the future. Perhaps that is as it should be. But there is a price for embracing this tension. It now appears more inevitable that negotiation in the context of transitions of government may rely less on the power of promises backed by legislative or constitutionally memorialized promises. What might have been negotiated peacefully to its end may now be more likely fought harder in the future; these are conflicts to the end without conditional surrenders. The rights of mass democracy will be purchased with more blood.

5. The democratic polity must sacrifice its own soul as the price for peaceful transition from brutal dictatorship. What appears to be the sacrifice of the leaders of the old regime is the opposite—the bodies of the past leaders are in the manner of ancient pagan rituals infused with the guilt of the masses. That is the only way one can make sense, for example of the relentless march of the Argentine people to punish the perpetrators of the mass killings during the last dictatorship, now a generation gone. The amazing thing is, if indeed 50,000 were killed, 30,000 were "disappeared" and presumed killed, and 400,000 were jailed, then the level of complicity among the population must have been substantial. There is a tragedy without apparent recourse, on the bodies of the instruments of these horrible acts and on the soul of the masses who through human sacrifice seek to reconstruct and personalize mass atrocity.

6. Globalization has made it possible to develop governance spaces outside both the state and public international organizations that can produce its own internal constitution exiting autonomously from the government of the state. Borders have changed their character, from an intangible connected to geographic space, to an intangible connected to transaction al space. In the process the mass line—democratic participation as a foundation of governance legitimacy—has profoundly affected the organization of private enterprises. Globalization will make states of corporations, and make corporations of states.

7. In this country transparency involves a delicate balance between corporate willingness to disclose and the state's willingness to coerce disclosure. This is nowhere more Ayn Rand apparent than in the area of "right to know laws" aimed at state organs and related entities. Here is a site with some interesting information about the mandatory disclosure side of things in Pennsylvania.

8. Ayn Rand tell us that “One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment. . . But to pronounce moral judgment is an enormous responsibility. Nietzsche might point to the inversion embedded in that premise and suggest instead that one must never fail to embrace responsibility, but to refrain from ‘pronouncing’ moral judgment may be the greatest responsibility of the moralist.

9. Arthur Schopenhauer tells us: “Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed.” Ah but to dream is to compound the interest and invest its proceeds in life.

10. A famous person, well regarded for writing sustained and periodic columns in famous newspaper and equally famous for well received past work in academic circles, for years now has been repeating the same set of thoughts, recycling them on a periodic basis, and for months now has been writing that he has no idea how to fill his op-ed column. He is invited periodically to teach at the highest status universities and continues to write for the high status newspaper. One can ask: why does he get to teach at the highest status university; what does he have to teach his high status students; and if he has declared that he has no idea how to fill his column, why does the high status newspaper continue to employ him to produce a column which is essentially empty of new ideas? There is a certain comfort in repetition, and perhaps Brooks reminds us of the critical need for ritual and repetition in academia, that is the need to satisfy the hunger among academics and those who consume their products, of a ritualized repetition of an organized scripting of what the community wants to hear over and over. Repetitive droning is comforting for mass academia, as it is for religion, precisely because it provides a means of expressing permanence and for validating what we think we already know; Thus Brooks provides the high ranking priest for Yale's cathedral of knowledge, offering catechistic instruction and socialization in the verities of legitimate knowledge to initiates and legitimating ritual for the rest of us. For those for do not value these rituals and structures of knowledge production, for those who tend to understand the perverse value of discourse grounded in producing what others expect to hear, the only recourse is to abandon priest and cathedral--a tall order indeed, the social cost of abandoning our knowledge production rituals is prohibitive!

11. Nietzsche suggests “Pharisaism is not a degeneration in a good man; a good deal of it is rather the condition of all being good” (Beyond Good and Evil no. 135). I suggest rather that the degeneration of a good man is not Pharisaism, but that a good deal of it is rather in the condition of seeking to construct and apply the ideal of degeneration as both a good and an evil against which collectives can be reduced to hollow protective shells that separate the man from the good.

 12.  Alan Watts says: “Saints need sinners.” I suggest: If saints need sinners then sinners are saint’s saints. If sinners are thus saints, then saints sin in needing sinners.

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