“No critique of progress is legitimate save one that names the reactionary element in the ruling unfreedom and thus unapologetically precludes its misuse in the service of the status quo.”
Quote by Slavoj Žižek from “Margaret Atwood’s Work Illustrates Our Need to Enjoy Other People’s Pain”:
“In his Summa Theologica, philosopher Thomas Aquinas concludes that the blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned in order that their bliss be more delightful for them. Aquinas, of course, takes care to avoid the obscene implication that good souls in heaven can find pleasure in observing the terrible suffering of other souls, because good Christians should feel pity when they see suffering. So, will the blessed in heaven also feel pity for the torments of the damned? Aquinas’s answer is no: not because they directly enjoy seeing suffering, but because they enjoy the exercise of divine justice.
“But what if enjoying divine justice is the rationalisation, the moral cover-up, for sadistically enjoying the neighbour’s eternal suffering? What makes Aquinas’s formulation suspicious is the surplus enjoyment watching the pain of others secretly introduces: as if the simple pleasure of living in the bliss of heaven is not enough, and has to be supplemented by the enjoyment of being allowed to take a look at another’s suffering – only in this way, the blessed souls ‘may enjoy their beatitude more thoroughly’.
“In short, the sight of the other’s suffering is the obscure cause of desire which sustains our own happiness (bliss in heaven) – if we take it away, our bliss appears in all its sterile stupidity.”
Link to a review by George Martin Fell Brown of Helena Sheehan’s book Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (1985/2018):
This review does suffer from a bit of a Trotskyist (anti-Stalinist) bias, but it still provides a useful historical overview.
Links to, and quotes from, interviews with Alenka Zupančič from the LA Review of Books:
“The rise of the affect(s) and the sanctimony around affective intuition are very much related to some signifiers being out of our reach, and this often involves a gross ideological mystification. Valorization of affectivity and feelings appears at the precise point when some problem — injustice, say — would demand a more radical systemic revision as to its causes and perpetuation. This would also involve naming — not only some people but also social and economic inequalities that we long stopped naming and questioning.
“Social valorization of affects basically means that we pay the plaintiff with her own money: oh, but your feelings are so precious, you are so precious! The more you feel, the more precious you are. This is a typical neoliberal maneuver, which transforms even our traumatic experiences into possible social capital. If we can capitalize on our affects, we will limit out protests to declarations of these affects — say, declarations of suffering — rather than becoming active agents of social change. I’m of course not saying that suffering shouldn’t be expressed and talked about, but that this should not ‘freeze’ the subject into the figure of the victim. The revolt should be precisely about refusing to be a victim, rejecting the position of the victim on all possible levels.
“(Moral) outrage is a particularly unproductive affect, yet it is one that offers considerable libidinal satisfaction. By ‘unproductive’ I mean this: it gives us the satisfaction of feeling morally superior, the feeling that we are in the right and others are in the wrong. Now for this to work, things must not really change. We are much less interested in changing things than in proving, again and again, that we are in the right, or on the right side, the side of the good. Hegel invented a great name for this position: the ‘beautiful soul.’
“What distinguishes children from adults is not that the latter are sexual beings whereas the former are not. What distinguishes them is that adults are supposed to be basically able to understand and handle intersubjective situations that involve sexuality. This means above all that the fact that children are, as Freud argued, very much sexual beings does not absolve adults when they want to involve them in their own sexual gratification. On the contrary, it makes their endeavors worse. There is a limit. To some extent, this limit is arbitrarily set — one could always say, why not two months earlier or later than the so-called ‘age of consent’? What is important is that there is a limit. This limit does not protect children against sexuality; rather, it protects their sexuality, making it so to say theirs and nobody else’s.
“Desire aims at what we didn’t get when our need, articulated in demand, was satisfied. It always aims at the other thing, beyond the thing at hand. Desire sustains itself through the difference between two kinds of satisfaction: satisfaction of the need or demand, and another satisfaction, the only support of which is negativity — That’s not It! I want that which I didn’t get. This is the symbolic frame through which objects appear as objects of desire. Drive, on the other hand, is not driven by what we didn’t get, but by the paradoxical surplus satisfaction that we got without even asking for it. We didn’t ask for it, yet it got unexpectedly attached to the satisfaction of the need. (The classic Freudian example is the oral pleasure produced during our satisfaction of the need for food.) Drive wants to repeat this satisfaction and precisely that satisfaction, again and again, often regardless of what “we” want. The motor of the drive is repetition of the unexpected real satisfaction, whereas the motor of desire is difference, which is why desire is in perpetual, ‘metonymic,’ movement further.”
“sexuality is not, as is sometimes said, at the bottom of every other problem, but something that, in and of itself, constitutes a problem. A problem for every subject to grapple with, that every subject is divided by. It is a negative core of any identity, not its positive foundation.
“This is why there are no direct, immediate sexual identities. Even when one identifies with one’s anatomy, this is already an identification, there is nothing immediate about it. Sex involves much more than anatomy, even when it coincides with our anatomy. The popular opposition between genders as biological or else socially constructed is a false opposition: there is no ‘biological gender’ in the sense of identity, because identity is by definition never immediate, ‘biological’ in this sense. Biology, anatomy is obviously a factor; it is far from insignificant. But a sexed subject does not simply emerge out of this or that anatomy, but out of its symbolization, including its rejection. *** One always becomes what one is, and this is to be taken quite literally.
“To sum up, psychoanalytic theory conceives of sexuality as something which fundamentally disorients the human being, not as something which provides him or her with a solid identity. If the notion that sexuality is at the basis of identity has any meaning, it can only have it in this sense: it is at the basis of any identity because it uproots the subject from the immediacy of her being. And this uprooting, this non-immediacy, is the condition of any symbolic identity. In fact, we can use psychoanalysis in order to interrogate identity itself, both conceptually and as a meeting ground for social struggle.
“Society is not composed of man and women; it is split, and this split is repressed. This is not the same as to say that women are repressed. Women were, are, oppressed, but this is not the same as repression, in the psychoanalytical sense of Verdrängung, of the split inherent in the structuring and curving of social space. Without making this split of negativity part of the picture, significant shifts in the structure cannot really occur. This is what feminism is about; it is not primarily about neutralizing social differences, but about bringing them to light, and attempting to affect the very structuring of the social space. To do something to/with this divide, and not simply to try to climb to the right side of it.
“the Marxian point is that social space is divided in an antagonistic way: it is not simply composed of classes as positive entities, struggling between themselves, but involves a fundamental negativity or divide that structures the very space in which classes appear as different classes. For Marx, the proletariat is not simply one of the classes: as a class that has no class, it embodies the very point of social antagonism; it is the symptom of this social order. Not only does it have some kind of empirical consistency, but it is also located at the very point that reveals the structural inconsistency of an inequality that can be empirically apprehended.
“To put it more simply, the question on the table for every emancipatory struggle is: Do we think that we live in more or less the only possible world, that there are just some pockets of injustice and discrimination still left, and all we have to do is take care of them? Or do we think that these pockets are symptoms of some deeper problem, an asymmetry or antagonism that will not go away even if we manage to do something else?”
Link to an article by Alenka Zupančič:
Alenka Zupančič, “The Apocalypse is (Still) Disappointing,” S: Journal of the Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique, Vol. 11, 16-30 (2018)
Link to Robert Merton’s four norms that constitute “four sets of institutional imperatives taken to comprise the ethos of modern science… communism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism.” (CUDOS is the acronym):
(contrast that with this: “Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex”)
Link to an interview with Robert Pfaller:
In this brief interview Pfaller does understate the problem of discrimination, in that even in a situation of complete economic equality, there can be inequalities in terms of access, prestige, or other forms of capital — Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed even has a plot point to this effect where a stupid physicist tries to distort and suppress the work of another in order to maintain and enhance his own prestige and power (even though the two are economically equal). Still, Pfaller’s analysis is remarkably astute for being so direct and easy to understand!
Link to an article by Daniel Lopez:
“True freedom is not a freedom of choice made from a safe distance, like choosing between a strawberry cake or a chocolate cake; true freedom overlaps with necessity. One makes a truly free choice when one’s choice puts at stake one’s very existence—one does it because one simply ‘cannot do otherwise.’ When one’s country is under a foreign occupation and one is called by a resistance leader to join the fight against the occupiers, the reason given is not ‘you are free to choose,’ but: ‘Can’t you see that this is the only thing you can do if you want to retain your dignity?’
“[Martin] Luther saw clearly how the (Catholic) idea that our redemption depends on our acts introduces a dimension of bargaining into ethics: good deeds are not done out of duty but in order to gain salvation. If, however, my salvation is predestined, this means that my fate is already decided and my doing good deeds does not serve anything—so if I do them, it is out of pure duty, a really altruistic act . . . .
“What Protestantism prohibits is the very thought that a believer can, as it were, take a position outside/above itself and look upon itself as a small particle in the vast reality.”
“What this also implies is that the access to ‘reality in itself’ does not demand from us that we overcome our ‘partiality’ and arrive at a neutral vision elevated above our particular struggles—we are ‘universal beings’ only in our full partial engagements. *** [W]e should assert the radically exclusive love for the singular One, a love which throws out of joint the smooth flow of our lives.
“the true ethical universality never resides in the quasi-neutral distance that tries to do justice to all concerned factions. So, if, against fundamentalisms which ground ethical commitment in one’s particular ethnic or religious identity, excluding others, one should insist on ethical universalism, one should also unconditionally insist on how every authentic ethical position by definition paradoxically combines universalism with taking sides in the ongoing struggle. Today, more than ever, one should emphasize that a true ethical position combines the assertion of Universalism with a militant, divisive position of one engaged in a struggle: true universalists are not those who preach global tolerance of differences and all-encompassing unity, but those who engage in a passionate fight for the assertion of the Truth that engages them.”
See also Sex and the Failed Absolute and Less Than Nothing (“every ethical and/or moral edifice has to be grounded in an abyssal act which is, in the most radical sense imaginable, political, . . . [as] the very space in which, without any external guarantee, ethical decisions are made and negotiated”) and “Ágota Kristóf’s The Notebook Awoke in Me a Cold and Cruel Passion” and The Fragile Absolute and Critique of Cynical Reason
For the exact opposite view, based on a program of depoliticalization/disavowal, see Milton Friedman Capitalism and Freedom (“each man can vote for the color of tie he wants and get it; he does not have to see what color the majority wants and then, if he is in the minority, submit.”) — for that matter, Friedman’s view is completely at odds with the understanding of desire and fantasy that psychoanalysis has established, by neglecting to consider that the color of tie a given man wants is an effort to take on the identity of the sort of man who likes a certain color of tie in order to fulfill the desire of a social group (~majority) for such an identity. See also “Panel #6 – Todd McGowan – Capitalist Subjectivity and Unconscious Freedom”