coromandal


seduction and control

tea garden 3

In the discipline society bosses and workers were locked in a continuous pitted struggle for dominance and advantage. There were wins and losses on both sides and to a greater or lesser degree it worked: there was clarity about what each side stood for which made the society understandable and transparent, and afforded people a semblance of success and fulfillment in their lives.

In the control society this essential struggle between boss and worker is removed, the corporation and shareholders sit at the top making decisions and collecting profits without being challenged, while at the bottom a vast sea of workers engages in an endless and fruitless campaign of competition for survival.

The control society is fundamentally manipulative, passive aggressive and opaque. It has removed the clearly defined adversary and the straightforward rules, and substituted a milieu of confusion and fluidity in which people fight each other to stay afloat. Everyone is an entrepreneur now, said Margaret Thatcher as she and her contemporaries stripped away all of the assurances and infrastructure on which one relies when living in a modern discipline economy.

The outcome is continuous muggings and fatigue. How many friends have we recently heard say – I’m exhausted? How many – implicitly or explicitly – blame themselves and not the system for their frustrations and failures? Now you are the master of your own domain, and you are to blame if you fall through the cracks.

Surely none of us would have thought to say it but: we need a new enemy! To convince a critical mass of people that we need a new adversary could be the way out of the manipulations of the control society and back into a place where we can mount proper campaigns for meaningful work, healthy environments, balanced days, sufficient remuneration, and happy retirements. We need an enemy who we can define and see and mount a real tangible assault against to win back worthwhile and respectful lives.

Byung-Chul Han describes the control society:

In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labour entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.

The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.

Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themself (sic) and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.

Why Revolution is No Longer Possible, Byung-Chul Han, University of the Arts, Berlin



πλάνης vagabond fever

A Plague, a Cure and Some Art: the Museum of Medical Sciences

A wandering star, a stranger in town, and a highly contagious plague are inextricably related in the minds of the ancients. In the western tradition, Greece and Rome, the universe was moral. Lives were defined, prescribed and ordered by the gods, the law, the state, and the family. Things outside of this bounded universe were treated with suspicion, a very human instinct.

Stars that moved in unrecognized patterns, and foreigners who wandered into town were unknown and from away and engendered caution and fear. They were named for their outsider status. Plagues were foreign too, they invaded the sanctity of the community and killed its members, and were named with the same words as the stars and drifters.

 The Stoics, believers in an interdependent cosmos, looked to the night sky to augur our predestined lives. Of particular interest to all these ancients was the stella erratica, or “errant star,” so called for its shifting location. (Our familiar constellations, by contrast, remain fixed in the firmament.) Romans borrowed a word from the Greeks to denote these celestial strays: planeta, or “planet.”

Derived from the verb “to wander,” the original Greek noun πλάνης was applied to more than just Mars and Saturn—in Euripides’s Bacchae, to take just one example, it refers to a “vagabond” who comes to town. Among the physicians of the ancient world, including Hippocrates himself, πλάνης could also mean “fever,” a pestilence that migrates from person to person. The Romans, of course, had their own words for disease—morbuspestis—but they adopted this astronomical language in their own medical writings too, using the Latin cognate. In one account, planeta refers to a fever with an “unrestrained onset.” In another, planetae are those illnesses that obey neither finite duration nor predictable prognosis.

Gore Viral, How We Got Our Language of Infectious Disease, By Charles McNamara, May 6, 2020



difficulty in dying
May 8, 2020, 8:14 pm
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Looking back at 'La Peste' by Albert Camus - The Hindu

How very lonely dying must be. How much more lonely today as we isolate to keep the virus from spreading.

In normal circumstances, confined to bed whether at home or in hospital, with media – a book and a TV perhaps – the nurse, the occasional visitor for company, but mostly we’re left with our memories of people we miss and of friendships. Our thoughts form around muffled sounds of talking in the hall, pets in the courtyard, household work, local construction. The curtain, window and door are important thresholds that let in the outside to enliven our minds. The images are pleasurable as each reminds and promises us of our deep connection to the world.

In the time of cholera and covid, the isolation is even worse without visitors, and wary nurses suited in layers of protective equipment, gloves and masks.

Our towns play roles in our relative isolation when sick. At the start of his novel La Peste, excerpted below, Albert Camus’ narrator tells us – before the rats start to die, before the concierge catches the deadly plague – how lonely death can be, and how the conditions of death can vary widely depending on the conditions of the place you inhabit. The town he describes, Oran in North Africa, is a scrappy place, uninspiring, with hardscrabble business affairs, hot and dry with climate extremes and dark nights. All are features that conspire to attenuate the discomfort of an invalid – he hears the despair of the city and and is unsettled.

There is a hint in the passage that an environment can help us to die better. A place that is “inspiring” and affords “small attentions,” and “something to rely on,” render comfort to the sick. These aren’t physical attributes, they’re intangibles. A pandemic by definition circles the globe and the conditions for the sick vary widely from luxurious to squalor. But thankfully, inspiration, support and attention are intangibles that can be built into any place on the planet. This is how we support the sick and dying in the time of covid.

What is more exceptional in our town is the difficulty one may experience there in dying. “Difficulty,” perhaps, is not the right word, ‘discomfort” would come nearer. Being ill’s never agreeable but there are towns that stand by you, so to speak, when you are sick; in which you can, after a fashion, let yourself go. An invalid needs small attentions, he likes to have something to rely on, and that’s natural enough. But at Oran the violent extremes of temperature, the exigencies of business, the uninspiring surroundings, the sudden nightfalls, and the very nature of its pleasures call for good health. An invalid feels out of it there. Think what it must be for a dying man, trapped behind hundreds of walls all sizzling with heat, while the whole population, sitting in cafes or hanging on the telephone, is discussing shipments, bills of lading, discounts! It will then be obvious what discomfort attends death, even modern death, when it waylays you under such conditions in a dry place.

La Peste, Albert Camus



support not struggle
April 22, 2020, 3:24 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The totality of life it seems, in the contemporary world, is competition and struggle: family life, education, work and career, even friendship. For the most part competition today is seen as a good thing: it keeps us on our toes, makes our work and thinking sharper, is good for the bottom line. But for many competition and struggle is less than ideal – I for one can’t see the point – and there’s lots of evidence that the positives are easily matched and often outweighed by the negatives: the unequal outcomes of the meritocratic system logically end in jealousy, fear, and despair.

We are told that competition is not only good but also ingrained in our natures. Is that true?  Below is a counter argument: humans are motivated, throughout our evolution, by love and shared connection. And in our evolution and by our affinity one for another, we don’t naturally struggle against each other, on the contrary we naturally support each other.

Man is appealed to to be guided in his acts, not merely by love […] but by the perception of his oneness with each human being. In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support not mutual struggle — has had the leading part.

Peter Kropotkin, 1902, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution



Comradeship and justice
April 18, 2020, 7:49 am
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saving Hieronymus Bosch from the devil

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Our understanding of the medieval world is on the whole negative: long centuries marked by superstition, plagues, illiteracy, feudal bondage, and wars. We see it as a dark age bracketed by the relative brilliance of antiquity before and enlightenment after. The victors write history and much of what we believe about the medieval world was written in the 19th century to propagate this carefully crafted historical narrative.

The collapse of empire, the crusades, feudalism, and plagues are indeed dark, but there is a lot about the medieval world that is attractive: its mysticism, social life, art and architecture, and stories. Similarly, if we’re honest, there’s an awful lot to not recommend in the Western canon world we live in: its alienation, rationalism, instrumentalism, blind faith in humanism, reason and capital.

As an example, in the realm of work G. K. Chesterton noted that the medieval view was human and redeeming and our modern system decidedly debased:

The principal of medieval trade was admittedly comradeship and justice, while the principle of modern trade is avowedly competition and greed.

G.K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, 1926

Strange how the highly religious medieval world comes up with such modern concepts to organize the world of work: comradeship and justice; yet we, drawing on the grand rational traditions of ancient Rome and Athens, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, evolved a system of backwardness and superstition: competition and greed. We have high priests – robed flunkies – to flog this ignorant ideology; its influence is airtight, profound, omniscient, omnipresent. They use propagandas which are part of the air we breathe: Survival of the Fittest! Healthy Competition!

Tom Hodgkinson describes the outcome of our ‘enlightened’ dark age:

The theory is that competition leads to good quality and reasonable prices in goods. But the reality is the opposite: unfettered competition, that is, commercial war, and the endless expansion that necessarily goes with it, inevitably results in monopolies, as one giant company swallows up its failed competitors.

Tim Hodgkinson, The Freedom Manifesto, p84

That’s not enlightened. We’ve no doubt entered one of Dante’s circles, or the hellscapes of Hieronymus Bosch.

It would be unfair to not at least ruminate on the effects on life built on a commitment to comradeship and justice. As we’ve seen, there is a lot of poor scholarship that pushes a view of the desperate nature of the life of the Medieval peasant; no life at any time has been a bed of roses. But we know they held to these commitments and thereby built for themselves meaningful, faithful, and social lives. And we can too.



The rocky path
April 15, 2020, 7:45 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

Why Medieval Serfs Had More Vacation Time Than You Do Today ...

For the medievals labour was first a burden. It was a penance: in which God is feared.

Then it became the difficult means on a path toward freedom. It was an instrument: in which God is bargained with, and even a collaboration: in which God, in the Armenian sense, is a coworker.

Medieval men initially viewed labor as a penance or a chastisement for original sin. Then, without abandoning this penitential perspective, they place increasing value upon work as an instrument of redemption, of dignity, of salvation. They viewed labor as collaboration in the work of the Creator who, having labored, rested on the seventh day. Labor, that cherished burden, had to be wrenched from the outcast position and transformed, individually and collectively, into the rocky path to liberation.

Jacques Le Goff



A pair of faiths
April 4, 2020, 7:40 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , ,

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) – MUBI

There’s a comfort in faith: that the arc of history bends towards justice, that wrongdoing will be remedied, that we will forever remember the people and places in our lives.

Kundera says these faiths are a deception. What’s left without memory and a belief that things will be made right? Perhaps a cold, calculating, puritan existence. Or more likely it’s a matter of degree: the double headed faith will always be there but if we decrease our reliance on its succour we will be better prepared to deal with the ravages of life.

Yes, suddenly I saw it clearly: most people deceive themselves with a pair of faiths: they believe in eternal memory (of people, things, deeds, nations) and in redressibility (of deeds, mistakes, sins, wrongs). Both are false faiths. In reality the opposite is true: everything will be forgotten and nothing will be redressed. The task of obtaining redress (by vengeance or by forgiveness) will be taken over by forgetting. No one will redress the wrongs that have been done, but all wrongs will be forgotten.

Milan Kundera



A Trap
July 28, 2019, 2:19 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , ,

Neoliberalism is a very clever trap, a labyrinth, except instead of being built to contain the beast minotaur, is made to ensnare you and me. All under the guise of freedom.

In the neoliberal labyrinth there are two choices both of which lead to … further entrapment. The way out is a girl, her boyfriend, a piece of string, and a sword updated to the 21st century.

Neoliberalism’s appeal is its promise of freedom in the form of unfettered free choice. But that freedom is a trap: we have just enough freedom to be accountable for our failings, but not enough to create genuine change. If we choose rightly, we ratify our own exploitation. And if we choose wrongly, we are consigned to the outer darkness—and then demonized as the cause of social ills.

Review of Neoliberalism’s Demons by Adam Kotsko



you missed one of the rungs in the ladder
June 9, 2018, 6:39 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

Related image

In his essay Such Were the Joys …, George Orwell describes the claustrophobic social realities of early century England.

The social and class milieu was rooted in low church religion and upper class unattainability and snobbery, which cancelled each other: on the one hand: sex puritanism, hard work, academic distinction, no self indulgence. And on the other: anti-intellectualism, love of games, xenophobia, contempt for working class, fear of poverty,  materialism, power and leisure.

To be socially acceptable one had to live on the interest of a sizable family endowment. It was virtually impossible to attain upper class status from the middle class: best case was a middle manager civil servant, but more likely, after a lifetime of hard work, an office boy.

Today we have indifferent boomers, a majority who can’t retire, lost millennials, the precariat, giggers etc. Was Orwell’s time any different from our own?

The various codes which were presented to you at Crossgates – religious, moral, social and intellectual – contradicted one another if you worked out their implications. The essential conflict was between the tradition of the nineteenth-century ascetism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for “braininess” and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.

Very early, at the age of only ten or eleven, I reached the conclusion – no one told me this, but on the other hand I did not simply make it up out of my own head: somehow it was in the air I breathed – that you were no good unless you had £100,000. I had perhaps fixed on this particular sum as a result of reading Thackeray. The interest on £100,000 a year (I was in favor of a safe 4 per cent), would  be £4,000, and this seemed to me the minimum income that you must possess if you were to belong to the real top crust, the people in the country houses. But it was clear that I could never find my way into that paradise, to which you did not really belong unless you were born into it. You could only make money, if at all, by a mysterious operation called “going into the City,” and when you came out of the City, having won your £10,000, you were fat and old. But the truly enviable thing about the top notchers was that they were rich while young. For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. You clambered upwards on a ladder of scholarships into the Home Civil Service or the Indian Civil Service, or possibly you became a barrister. And if at any point you “slacked” or “went off” and missed one of the rungs in the ladder, you became “a little office boy at forty pounds a year.” But even if you climbed to the highest niche that was open to you, you could still only be an underling, a hanger-on of the people who really counted.

George Orwell, Such Were The Joys …, p 31



a question of where love comes from
March 30, 2018, 3:45 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Image result for Mother and Son antonioni

Some people grow up scrounging for the little love they can get, and end up never really finding the consolation of a deep and abiding affection. Often they were orphans, went to boarding school, or somehow were separated from their parents.

Other people grow up fully immersed in love, and learn to not doubt the source of it. For them love is a limitless wellspring to which they eternally return for succour; it nurtures in them confidence and entitlement.

I imagine for the first group the alienation and pain can last a lifetime and even spread over several generations of lives. The entitlement of the second group can be painful to anyone looking in from an outside position of deprivation. If there is empathy then perhaps they are somewhat less aggrieved, but if no empathy then exponential suffering.

Genevieve Fox on love:

 

From the moment of my diagnosis, and then my prognosis, a positive one affording me a 70–80 percent chance of my curative treatment being successful, I pondered the nature of love: Had I left my sons enough of it? Does love endure? Is love bankable? What, in short, is the measure of love?

I stumble upon the answer courtesy of an illness that forced me to look back on a childhood marked by loss and the absence of love. An orphan’s life such as my own, lived with a hotchpotch of strangers and then, from the age of fifteen, alone, kept me on my mettle. Looking back on that time with my mother-eyes, I only now see that if you’re parentless and live on your wits, if you don’t belong and wish to do so, you look out for love, take it if you find it, look out for more. But you don’t bank the love; you live off reserves, and do not accrue funds. My sons, by contrast, are emotionally entitled; they default to a state of happiness whose roots reach deep, deep into the constancy of love. There is, for them, no question of where the love comes from or if and when the supplies will dry up. This is not because I am in remission, following a successful treatment, and they no longer fear for my health. It is because they have never known a dry riverbed. The experience of love is alchemical; it creates in a child a place of abundance, of safety.

Words to Live By, Genevieve Fox