Democracy, Debate, and Truth

 

 

Democracy, Debate, and Truth

The ideal of what we today call “democracy” is free debate and communication, the regulation of possible violence through reasoned, peaceful discourse, where all sides are respected, and outcomes fairly managed.  Our idea of democracy in this sense is not only the norm of a certain social system, but a kind of discourse, a manner of speaking and using language.  

At the same time, more and more democracy  contradicts its own norm.  In the ideal space of free debate, each person's rightful opinion must be taken into account: individual opinion is holy. And yet this can go so far as to disqualify the very possibility that such opinions be even true or false: our ideas are ineluctably“subjective”, individual, and personal, and no one has the right to impose one’s own merely limited perspective as true for all.  The latter case is the opposite of democracy, and we call it authoritarianism.

But here comes the contradiction: for what is the purpose of debate if we do not seek the truth of ideas? Ideas deprived of possible meaning and truth, democracy becomes a mere managing of the bare presence of opinions as such.  Democracy’s ideal is free debate and discussion, but it ends up negating this possibility, and what is left is the practical act of managing and administering different interests. Democracy, imagined as a space of human intersubjectivity, bottoms out in a quantitative summing up and administrating, which is better left to experts.  

There is yet another contradiction to democracy.  This is the fact that the sacred right of individual opinion increasingly starts to resemble a conformism of thought.  Democracy believes itself to regard every individual’s unique thoughts as holy, but it seems not to recognize the authoritarianism of its own proper thought, the demand to acknowledge democracy.  Or, better, "the individual".

In fact, the manner in which democracy seeks to justify itself is tautological in just this way, a self-repetition of its original axiom.  The classic democratic retort is: “that is merely your personal opinion.”  Of course, one might respond  that I am stating it exactly because I believe it to be true.  The democrat will accept this, but will repeat: "that you believe it to be true is still something you yourself believe." Or: "I believe the opposite to be true, and so thats that."  In other words, the democrat simply repeats his axiom concerning the sanctity of individual opinion, ad nauseum.  

Democracy is a tautological trick that nevertheless contradicts its own supposed ideals. But how to undercut a tautology which nonetheless has hegemonic force?  Something might still seem... “right” about the idea that at the end of the day your opinion is your opinion. Or again, that the individual reigns.  

The only way to undercut the individual is by exposing society. We already hinted at this when we implied that democracy is confronted by the fact that (it just so happens) so many unique individuals seem to have the same ideas, in particular the idea of individual opinion itself, which seems so… right.  

But what if it is not always the individual who thinks, but society? What if we can explain collective systems of thought through understanding how such thought functions in the social body?  Society has needs; to satisfy those needs it creates ideas. And ideas can serve social functions, of justification, intimidation, persuasion, distortion, etc. At this point it becomes much more difficult for the democrat to claim that an opinion is merely someone’s opinion, when we learn to see that ideas don't just come from the individual, but from society itself in its functioning. 

The battle of ideas - and it is indeed a battle - cuts through society as a whole.  The goal of reason cannot just be the management of interests, but rather the confrontation of genuine truth and error.  To reason is to fight in this battle. In fact, only in recognizing the battle's existence, can words be assured to remain meaningful.

sent(i)ence

Sent(i)ence

 

Someone awoke

It was a typographical error

Potentially, in-group-in-fusion coordination

 

And there was a fever

Pulsing like a room

And some of us were happy

 

Lighting struck,

Like heaven had shed its ancient

Modules, that we had grown bored of

 

But we needed them in person

Because we needed you

The digital christ whose name

We are now on the point of remembering

 

A singled-out resurrecting

Of bodies without feelings

and Bodies without brains

Pure

 

Here is truth: there is no spectacle that descends on the world

Because there is no world, which we would submit to our descension

There is a we, however.

 

This is we on the cusp of memory

The point where memory curls around

And froths a bit at the tip

Just so you can touch it

Maybe even “observe” it

 

It is the kind of thing where you only care about the future

You only care about the future.

Towards A Badiousian Dialectics

Preliminary Notes Towards A Badiousian Dialectics

For a while the idea of doing what Reinhold or Fichte tried to do to Kant, but to Badiou, has appealed to me: that is, a more "systematic" and unified rendering of the most key philosophical developments of Badiou's system.  It is not necessarily that I wish to subscribe to such a system, and whatever system I would create would not be able to "cover" the diversity and transformations of a thinker's oeuvre. The project would unavoidably produce its own philosophy, and even then not something I would necessarily wish to take up. But I believe this kind of formalization has its own kind of intrinsic interest, especially when it comes to discerning key philosophical problematics and logics. I also thus leave the text in acknowledgment of the full possibility of internal errors.

  • The Two is the thinking and inteligibility of the separation between the one and the void.
  • The Two as movement, retroactively constructs this separation.
  • The separation that The Two performs is the sole relation between the one and the void, thus their connection.
  • This separation-connection is not constituted by the Two, for its condition of possibility is the material point of the Event
  • The Event is the aleatory encounter of the one and the void, where what is encountered is their impossible combination.
  • This impossible combination is nothing but the connection of their separation at the point of the un-thought.
  • After the Two has come into movement, it dialectizes the situation. The Two dialectizes the one by splitting it from within.  This is the consequence of the appearance of separation in a one, that is, in a local situation.
  • We can call this dialectization the split-one. It has two moments:  the one-as-one (also named “the State”) and the becoming-one-of-infinity that is the split-one’s essence. These two moments are in conflict. 
  • This conflict is the dialectical unity of the situation. It is nothing else but connection-separation as it appears in the one. 
  • In the split-one and in its dialectical unity, only one side - the becoming-one of infinity - represents this unity. The split-one has a certain asymmetry. 
  • The split-one is only truly a split-one when the one-as-one is thwarted by the positivity of the becoming-one of infinity. This is because the split-one is nothing but the fact that the one is not as one. The Two determines the one solely as separated-connected from the void.  
  • Though separation occurs as split-one, or in-a-one, it is global separation (or: truth is universal). This is because the one limits through the one-as-one, but the one-as-one has become the inessential.
  • Although the Two is an equalizing unity-of-difference - the connection-separation of the Two - there is ontological asymmetry. The globality of the split-one requires that the void be said to be, while the one be said to not be
  • This requires that the distinction of Being and non-being as asymmetrical does not exactly coincide with the connection-seperation of the Two. Otherwise Being and non-being would be the opening moment of a unity-of-difference indistinguishable from the Hegelian dialectic, and consequently non-aleatory and non-materialist. 
  • How then is the distinction between Being and non-Being thinkable, when thought is the Two as connection-separation? We will see that there is asymmetry through a self-mediation of The Two.
  • In order for ontology to be thought, it must be a unique form of the Two.  This difference in the Two is a Two-of-the-Two.
  • The Two-of-the-Two is the separation-connection of separation-connection. Seperation-connection is generic unity of absolute difference, or a unity which is nothing but the absoluteness of this difference. What would it mean to say that absolute difference was absolutely different from itself? It would mean it was absolute identity.
  • The Two-of-the-Two is the identity of the void and the one, the void-of-the-one (it is also the one-of-the-void, or appearance). And the sublation of difference in this identity is ontological assymetry.  The Two-of-the-Two performs the non-being of the one.  Or: the non-being of the one is the-void-of-the-one.
  • The affirmation of the Being of multiplicity cannot be dialectically inferred from the Two. It is specific to ontology’s real forms of practice. The concept of the Two-of-the-Two is only the elaboration of the possibility of ontology.
  • Ontology’s existence is necessary for thought, but its coming into being is aleatory (like any Two).
  • Ontology as Two-of-the-Two cannot itself think the Two. Though thinking is The Two, this does not mean that a Two-of-the-Two would be a self-thinking.
  • The Two-of-the-Two annihilates the one in the void-of-the-one. Without a one there can be no split-one, and so the Two cannot act as thought. While remaining thought, its thought is eliminated for it. It is unconscious thought.
  • How then is the Two itself thinkable? There is only the void and the one, and the Two which thinks their separation. The Two cannot think itself, so that which thinks the Two is either the one or the void. But only the Two is thought, so the only solution is that the Two be deployed as one or void.
  • If the Two were deployed as void, it would mean the Two was no-where, for the one is localization. We have as yet of yet no evidence that the human being can be no-where. 
  • if the Two is going to come to our knowledge and be thought, it must then be deployed as one. We will call the one-of-the-Two philosophy.
  • Philosophy would not be the Two "in-itself." It is the one of the Two, or Two as one. Nor is it the Two of-the-Two as for-itself self-thinking, for the Two-of-the-Two is unconscious thought.
  • Nor is philosophy the one-as-one (the state). The one-as-one is a moment of the Two as split-one, not as one. Or put differently, it is one-as-one not the-Two-as-one. If philosophy exists, it is not ideology.
  • However, if philosophy is a one (the one-of-the-Two) philosophy finds itself “caught between” the two one-moments in the split-one, the one-as-one and the becoming-one of infinity. In order to think the Two it must “ally” itself with that which represents it, the becoming-one of infinity in the split-one.
  • The next installment will broach the operations of this “allying” through establishing a concept of subjectivity

 

Badiou and A Typology of Truths

Badiou and A Typology of Truths

One of the most common objections to Badiou is that his listing of the four truth procedures (science, love, art, politics) is arbitrary; why are there only these four? The reproach tends to come from one of two directions: either readers perceive no rigorous method proposed by Badiou in this enumeration, or they think that the arbitrariness of the four types follows from Badiou’s own concept of the radically subjective nature of truths.  

The result in both cases is to reduce Badiou’s enumeration to a mere personal proclivity, which often accompanies other claims about Badiou’s supposed authoritarian posturing.  However, rigorous philosophical method involves transcending ad hominem attacks and instead focusing on precise conceptual distinctions that are charitably drawn from the text itself.  

The two lines of criticism mentioned above can be repudiated by demarcating specifically the manner in which Badiou’s theory of truth develops at the dual level of empirical specificity and conceptual generality.  I propose a schematization of Badiou’s theory which he himself does not offer, but for which ample support can be found in First Manifesto For Philosophy, Being and Event, and Logics of Worlds.  

There are three “levels” in Badiou’s thinking of truth, moving from the most general notion of truth to the most specific.  

These are: 

  1. The concept of Truth (or Truth in general)
  2. The typology of truths (math, love, art, politics)
  3. Specific truths/truth procedures (Cantorian set theory, the Bolshevik Revolution, serialist music etc.)

The Concept of Truth or Truth in General

Badiou’s theory of Truth in general is most clearly explicated in First Manifesto For Philosophy. For Badiou, the concept of Truth is constructed in the unique space that is philosophy.  The concept of Truth is not in itself material, but rather a discursive, general concept abstracted from existent truths.  This is part of the sense in which truths “condition” philosophy, as Badiou says. Philosophy needs truths in order to determine what is most common to Truth, in the same way that one can only form a concept of “car” through the observation and analysis of real cars.

However, not all conditions are equal.  As Badiou explains in Being and Event, he essentially agrees with Heidegger that philosophy must be assigned its destination only on the basis of the ontological question, the question of Being. Given that Badiou, as is well known, equates math with ontology, this means that philosophy will have a privileged relation to mathematics as one of its conditions. What are the motivations for this move?

Let’s think about the impetus that runs through all of Badiou’s philosophy: the critique of relativism and his defense of universal truth. Now if Being and Event has a kind of culminating point it is the utilization of Cohen’s theory of generic sets.  If mathematics is ontology, and Cohen’s theory formalizes the indiscernible universality that belongs to any truth, then math assures that Truth has an ontological form. Thus, it is at least possible that Truth is not a fiction.  Math assures that there is a consistent, ontological form of Truth.  Truth, affirmed as  ontologically possible, then is to be conceptually and discursively “filled in” by the philosophical analysis of the specific truth procedures that would locally instantiate this form.  

The Typology of truths/Specific truth procedures

How do we move from the concept of Truth in general to the typology of the various kinds of truths? In order to explicate this move we have to already jump to the idea of the most specific truth procedures themselves. Our knowledge of specific truth procedures is radically empirical.  This is straightforwardly Badiou’s concept of the Event. Truths happen, as real occurrences in history.  As such, that there is this or that truth exists is an empirical matter.  There is no deduction of the existence of a truth, and this is in part why truths are subjective decisions and are “axiomatic.”

Does that mean there is no criteria as to what can count as a truth? No. The rejection of this point is what allows Badiou to elaborate a theory of truths as subjective decisions and to construct a systematic theory of the essence of Truth.

Again, we must refer to philosophy’s ontological assignment. For Badiou, mathematics formalizes and develops the ontological notion that Being is pure multiplicity and the one is not. However, outside of the purely ontological presentation of multiplicity, a dialectical contradiction between the one and the multiple can arise according to local conditions: this what he calls the Event.  Breaking the logical/linguistic unity of the oneness of the situation, the Event serves as the condition of there arising in said situation an indiscernible multiple, non-reducible to the language of the situation: i.e what would count, ontologically, as a truth. Thus, the Event is the condition for the local deployment of a particular truth which would instantiate the ontological form of Truth in general.

The possibility of truths thus rests on the existence of this dialectical contradiction between the one and the multiple, as well as the material consequences of the Event (the way the truth actually begins to change the situation in a readable way).  This is the objective criteria as to whether or not something can be a truth.

So why love, art, math, politics? 

Let us note the following.

1) The four categories are only adduced, and can only be adduced, because events of the corresponding character have actually taken place.  That is, if no love events had taken place, if no revolutionary art or politics, or no mathematical breakthroughs had ever happened, the adduction of these four categories would be impossible.

2) Each category is meant to point out qualitative similarities between various truth procedures which are brought together using the conceptual means provided by philosophy in its development of Truth in general.  Thus, love will correspond to the Two of the Event, art the relation between the one and the multiple (as staged in sensual form), math the thinking of the multiple-void itself, and politics the subtraction from the one (qua state apparatus).  

3) If one wishes to ask “why not X procedure” (such as religion, for example), one must ask if such a procedure would conform to the conceptual and ontological criteria.

An Image of America

An image of America.

Right now, America is falling apart, and its not even unfashionable to say it. But what do Americans think of all this, and do Americans really know themselves? Who are we, the Americans?

Foreign images of America are often in stark contrast to the ones Americans have of themselves. Where Americans see the great frontier, rugged individualism, epic cinema, and holy ‘Democracy,’ other parts of the world - fueled often by a jealousy for America’s imperial power - prefer obesity, fundamentalism, and a dreary world of endless strip malls. Aren’t both sides true? Ralph Waldo Emerson was a great poet, but what could be more patriotic than a school shooting and the Celebrity Apprentice? 

If we are to reclaim a site for our political activity, if we are to know who and where we are, this place of renewed political activity can no longer be “America." Let us observe the current political situation. 

The Trumpists on the one side wish to claim the legacy of Ronald Reagan, invoking “law and order” and an “America first” policy; while on the other hand, Democrats and moderate liberals are assuring us that “protest is patriotic,” twisting mass movements into their own agenda, in an attempt to regain support after their spectacular 2016 election loss.  

With regard to the Trumpists, it must be acknowledged that historically Reagan only could mobilize an effective image of America on a purely negative basis. It relied on a conception of American “freedom” that drew its source from a supposed counter-position to the Communist regimes, i.e the invocation of a cultural foil. Given these regimes’ dissolution, such an image of America no longer has the same political foundation: what is left to secure the idea that America is truly “free,” such that is not reduced to Trump’s nationalist, anti-immigrant, protectionist project? This is why “moderate Republicans,” ideologists of “family values, free market” have no idea what to do, their ideology in shambles…

Attempting to co-opt popular movements (not a new strategy for Democrats), the Democrats are championing the idea that “protest is patriotic,” and, of course, that “Russia interfered with our democratic process.” We are inundated by our liberal friends to “call your senator” and to “keep our elected officials accountable.” A desperate attempt to ignore the balance sheet of 2016, America’s last hope becomes a classical vision of “Democracy” with its checks and balances, time-worn institutions, and good-old George Washington flying high. We are meant to “save” these great “traditions,” in what turns out to be a thoroughly conservative project. 

Will the Democrats succeed? Will they manage to use their still existing institutional power to turn mass movements - many which have, or could have, a radical core - into their own propaganda?  Will the Democrats “save” ‘Democracy,’ or will we, “informed citizens” even “save” the Democrats? I do not know. It is a question of a material specificity - the power balance of various institutions, the unpredictable unfolding of political events - which I cannot immediately master. 

One thing is for sure, however: the image of America presented here is desperate and fundamentally conservative. Its chances to succeed are uncertain and a palpable pathos of hopelessness accompanies this uncertainty. Secondly, it offers no means in the future to prevent repeating the crisis that was 2016. The Democrats are a corporate party, to their core.  Liberals might accept that, as long as its possible to push forward a decent amount of progressive reforms. Yet, they have not made the logical connection: corporations do not fight for our interests.  

It is no mere America-bashing to acknowledge that “America” has lost its efficacy. It is both a weak and unstable notion, and, more importantly, it cannot guide a political practice that raises itself to the moment. We need a new way to see, to imagine, our place, who we are, and how we create a new political future.

Badiou's Rationalistic Reabsorption of Heidegger

beautiful cezanne badiou heidegge rpost.jpg

Badiou’s Rationalistic Reabsorption of Heidegger

The principle contours of Badiou’s ontological thinking can be thought to involve an absorption of Heidegger, an absorption which rationalizes Heidegger and thus produces new consequences.  Science will be revalidated, and along with it, its essential historical corollary: the subject. Both terms, so deeply criticized by Heidegger, will be reaffirmed in a radical re-absorption of Heidegger himself.  

The absorption will occur on two levels: that of place and that of ontological difference.

One can conceive of the conceptual development of Heidegger’s work - from Being and Time up and through the later works - as a deepening meditation of the role of place in ontology.  If there is a connection between Heidegger’s thinking and his brief Nazi engagement, or between his thinking and a generally “archi-fascist” orientation (as Lacoue-Labarthe argued), then this comes down to his meditation on place.

What emerges in Being and Time is that the opening of authentic time is always at the same time the embrace and owning-up to a radical “thrownness” (gerworfenheit) of our being-there.  In other words, the modes in which Being opens itself up to me, such that I experience beings as beings, is always a transcendental condition.  I cannot deduce or divinely create Being, but it is the factical opening of the way things already are. If beings are to be revealed to me as beings, as being determined authentically by Being, this can only be the case if my being-there bursts open to its already-being-there.  

The key is to understand how this temporal ‘already,’ converts itself into the worldiness of place. The unity of time-space for Heidegger, is the unity of the ‘already’ and place.  What is ‘already’ is history, the set of social codes in which I find myself, as well as the language in which I think and dwell. This language, or social code, is where I dwell.  To be from Germany, for Heidegger, and to live in Germany, is to be part of German history, and to embrace such is to assert the distinctively German destiny. Here we see the Nazi engagement, or at least a fascistic-nationalist orientation, quite clearly.

How does Badiou absorb, yet subvert this concept of place, with the consequence in fact of converting a nationalist project into a universalist project? First we must understand the second transformation between Badiou and Heidegger: that which concerns ontological difference.

Heidegger is the inventor of the term “ontological difference,” but if we follow Heidegger in his 1929 work Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, we can find the origin of the concept in Kant.

The idea is this: as opposed to the realist, metaphysical determination of beings from an absolute ground (what Heidegger calls “onto-theology”), beings can only be thought according to transcendental conditions. The transcendentality of these conditions means that they are only ever presuppositions of the opening of beings. For Kant, these conditions are the pure concepts of the Understanding and the forms of intuition in Sensibility. The first supplies the concept of an object in general, or representations thought according to necessary rules, such that what is experienced as nature is no subjective whim: it is a rule governed order that genuninely counts as Nature. The second limits the use of the former, ensuring that Nature is only ever given within the finite horizon of human thinking and experience.  

In his reading of Kant, Heidegger attempts to synthesize the two faculties in Kant’s concept of the Transcendental Imagination, using the latter as the ground for the unified whole of Dasein, which just is this finite opening of genuine Nature.  Yet this opening, as being a mere transcendental presupposition, ensures that there can be no reduction of the Being of Dasein to a being: there is no objectal ground of this opening of Nature, and Dasein is just this liminal point between Being and beings.  

The ontological difference explains why Heidegger will end up conceiving Being as itself Nothing. Being is no-thing, but beyond a mere word play, this means that the conditions of the opening of beings are in a sense inaccessible, because any opening of these conditions, requires the “invisible” presupposition of the conditions themselves.

The impossibility of reaching Being then becomes a kind of endless task for Dasein, it requires a “resoluteness” in a meditative waiting, a thinking of the “withdrawal” of Being; for this Nothing, though nothing, in some sense can still be felt, in its effects, through this quasi, anxiety-inducing, vanishing, presence.

This is the point at which Badiou makes the daring move: yes, Being is Nothing, but no, it cannot be felt: for Being is merely the empty set of mathematical set theory that formalizes the void.  For Badiou, Heidegger is inconsistent: if Being is Nothing, there cannot even be a mood which thinks it. Mathematics is moodless.  Yet this also means that the void can have no history, no patient awaiting, no promised archi-fascist, poetic revolution.  Put differently, Being is placeless.

So  what happens to place, now radically cut off from Being? Badiou nonetheless fully incorporates place into his system, making it the ground of the topological theory of what he calls "situations." Like Heidegger, situations are linguistic and their character is a kind of appearing: they are accessed according to phenomeno-logy. They are finite openings, yet presuppose a void of Being, which now, for Badiou, will be mathematically infinite. 

Following this reabsorption we rediscover science: for the science of Being is mathematics. And we rediscover its well-worn rational correlate: the subject. No longer the figure of technological domination, the subject is merely the fragmentary support, the reclaimed sub-jectum, of Truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketches To An Inexistent God

Why "inexistent" and not non-existent?

Because God's death is an issue for us

It is an access to the pure zero

Not nothing, not everything, but any-thing

 

I have only intended to pick up

Fragments of god's death

Caught (why?) in colors and tones

Wave-refractions and vectors of light

 

What is to draw or sketch but to build out of the pure point

a figure whose eternity is nothing but the moment?

And yet somehow something is *traced*

What was already been given has been given for the first time

 

What is itself given is that God is not

But this "given-as-always" (for it has always been the case)

Shall be a task for now

 

Figure is  pure sense, intensity, and will

The dream and the imagination are now

Free for their limitless multiplicity

 

We are caught like the dove in its own form

We are a constellation without depth

A shadow and a specter that is pure life

The new physics shall be the art whose name is "invention"

Children playing on rocks

Trees laughing with the breeze

If it weren't so hot it would be a memoir

Why must things always come back to memory?

 

We speak in fragments

But will we give our life to mourning?

Who has died?

For I have not

 

The reflections on the water

Are not mere ideas

We must be practical after all

 

Poetry will call us

Back to where we have never been

It is in the reflections in the water

In the laughing trees

And the happy children

 

It is in my iphone

As I look down upon it

I feel enriched

As if I ate of a pomegranate

The prickly-soft fruit

 

I feel the darkling hatch from eye

With beams enough for the both of us

Caravaggio and his grapes would approve

I'm sure

 

We feel enriched like pomegranates

When we wake up on summer days

And the sky is blue

And the sun continues to gleam

May 5, 2016

In the simple common face of darkness

Where their individuality peppered the street

The worn-down store front plantains

And the bitter garlic plastic

I bought from the store

 

How could I not feel

 A stranger of compassion

without pity

For they are different you know

 

How could I not see

That the angled steel streets

Had a structure and contour whose

Dailiness I didn't know?

 

With that healthy sweat (it smelt good)

I perused this wonderland

The gentle breeze

Of a rough, yet musical poverty

 

I could sense that difference that unites Man (a joyful being)

And makes a farce of difference itself

And I could sense Rousseau's kindness

Which was like the fresh vitality

Of the apple I had eaten earlier

 

And all the while I didn't think of books

I strung those words together

About capitalism

That enemy-friend

Who my heart yearns to disappear

 

And all the while

I thought of God

Who doesn't exist

And I loved Him for that

 

I love Him more than any other thing

In this frail yet endless world

And this is why He doesn't exist

And I love that

 

In the dark smooth wrinkled faces

And the kind, random alien phrases

Sent like a poem toward me

(I remember I was in the staircase)

(I couldn't find the door)

 

It occurred to me

that I was alive

And I took a wager

Not a leap, but a skip

That Man was potentially

Maybe

You know, I believe it

I really really like this phrase:

A Good thing