There were a couple things that struck me in the novel. First I was reading Prof’s blog and I have to agree. The juxtaposition of Joseph and Yod create an uneasy dichotomy between “technology” and “magic.” While both beings are created for the use of protection each is created through the force of sheer human will. While the rabbi uses mystical forces Avram uses equally mystical tools. Thus she forces the reader to examine these entities on a different plane. We have to look at them as expressions of human intent, rather than as beings onto themselves. Yet Yod seems to have far more agency than the golem. Yod, created through technological means gets far closer to humanity than the magical golem. Thus we’re brought back to where we started. Yod is different because he was created through technology and not magic. He’s far more of a real being than the golem. So maybe sufficiently advanced tech isn’t magic after all.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
While we know the guardians, Yod and Joseph, are not capable of acting outside of orders, it seems to me that the messiah is also limited in the choice of their actions. As we discussed in class, a messiah may not have the option to not be the messiah. This gets to my question, Is ultimate agency a condition on which to base personhood? Beyond the questions of consciousness that we already have addressed to some extent with the discussion of Mike in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, there seem to be other questions about personhood and humanness that revolve around the question of agency.
Agency as I am discussing it is the capacity of an agent to act in a world or to make choices and to impose those choices on the world. This seems to be an important tenet of personhood and seems to open up an important distinction between Yod and Joseph that I think will expand a discussion of what a person is. Yod when compared to Joseph seems to posses more agency. As we saw when Joseph leaves
As we know, Yod has a much higher level of agency than Joseph. However, to discuss if Yod is a person we need to be able to quantify “his” agency as compared to that of a human person. This discussion of human person agency is particularly illuminated when discussed with a messiah, which to some extent Yod is supposed to be for Tikva. Of the three messiah figures we looked at in class, the one who I think most parallels Yod is Leeloo from The Fifth Element. Both are protectors who possess abilities above and beyond those of humans. Further, both are limited in their knowledge of humanity which they are protecting and must be socialized into better understanding. To return to the discussion of agency Yod’s agencies limits is shown in his and Shira’s discussion of his inability to ever hurt Shira, Malkah, or Ari. While this clearly represents a limit on his agency it does not necessarily seem a negative limit, as human’s possess the ability to make rash decisions which hurt those we love and care about. This being said it is important to keep this limit in mind. I cannot think of a similar limit for Leeloo in terms of a limit on her action, however Leeloo’s agency does seem to be limited by her role as the messiah as she is confronted with the possibility of humanity being as evil and capable of horrific violence as the Mangalores or even possibly the total darkness. However this apprehension is overcome with the experience of human love and she is able to fulfill her goal and release her power.
While I do not think this as the be-all-end-all of this conversation and still do not have my mind made up, my conclusion right now based on agency is Yod and Leeloo are persons, whereas Joseph is not.
So anyway Max Weber. I continue to have massive issues with Weber’s basic liberal ideology. His positions against the revolutionary actions of contemporaneous groups such as the KPD do not fit within even within his own ethics. Weber thinks that revolutionists become wrapped up in an ethics of conviction to the point where their ideals lead to unnecessary violence, charismatic leadership etc. Unsurprisingly this has become the typical mainstream reaction to any and all revolutionary movements. Cynically dismissing these groups as either hopelessly utopian who will irresponsibly risk the lives of others or as cynical manipulators willing to do whatever is necessary for the cause. Yet for all this cynical posturing as ethical, the converse is true. Weber is engaging in a politics of a conviction, a conviction of doing nothing extraordinary.
Weber takes for granted the immense amount of violence perpetrated by the state in a systematic and routinized manner. Weber characterizes the status quo as bad, but ultimately something that we can live with, and maybe even improve. This is wrong. A quick look at the One campaign site, a very respectable mainstream anti poverty group, is a pretty good indicator of what is deemed normal in our current stage of capitalism, one supposedly beyond the imperial excesses of the early 20th century.
“Every year, 10 million children die before their fifth birthday – that’s one every three seconds – nearly all of them from preventable causes.”
“ One person in seven has no access to clean water for drinking, cooking or washing."
“More than 854 million people in the world go hungry.”
What’s so sad is that people think that these problems can be solved under the aegis of a capitalist society. Yet in the past 25 years, with the expansion of neoliberalism, and the penetration of capitalism all over the world, we have seen marked decreases in living standards worldwide in both the developed and the “developing” world. We’ve seen the bloom of the informal economy and informal settlements. A billion people now slums living in a state of precarious survival.
Yet even in the US we have 45 million people without basic healthcare. We have 2.2 million people incarcerated (China has only 1.5 million) a great many of them for non violent offenses. While productivity skyrockets our wages stagnate, our excess productivity loaned back in the form of subprime loans, pay day advances and high rate credit cards. Economic calamity slinks behind every corner as the day when a perfect storm of credit crunches, oil shocks, and falling wages causes a steep global recession.
Yet we sit back and wait for our government to solve our problems. War’s already been declared by the elite on everyone else. They’ve already busted unions, lowered wages, sponsored paramilitaries, and sponsored genocide. Yet we debate whether or not we should defend ourselves and if this system “works.” It’s never worked and it’s never will, its designed to expropriate and dominate and will continue to do so. We have a political economy sick with mutated typhoid and Tylenol aint gonna help. To sit here and bash our heads against the wall of government is a grossly immoral action. We cannot afford to sit and wait. We and Weber presume that the possible violence necessary for the elimination of oppression is worse than the levels of everyday atrocity. But this is pure idiocy and grossly irresponsible. We’re living in a world of cynical conviction. All too wrapped up in our hope for personal advancement at all costs. We’ve lost sight of the ethics of responsibility, i.e. a responsibility to stop the violence of everyday life.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Secondly, on Webber's point that politics is best run by those who devote there lives to it, and everyone else is just to disinterested, Dune represents a perfect model. Having gone back to the feudal system he speaks to, the Duniverse is run completely by those whose economic wellbeing is set so they have complete time for political maneuverings. I would even place a majority of the Bene Gessirit and the Guild as an institution in this category as they would attempt to subtly alter the politics. The people and most plants seem to be relatively indifferent to politics as it seems their specific duke or leading House was subject to change without too much a notice. But this supposedly should not interest them for they were still under the Emperor. The Freemen seem to be the exception to this rule of common apoliticalness. Within their own governing structure, there are leaders, but they are placed there due to their own skill and through the respect of their people, meaning that the people are actually paying attention to and involved in the political process.
Anyway I think I should spend proper time on the last 15 pages of his lecture, aka the thesis. Weber’s thesis isn’t very well put. His language is wavering and indecisive. Unsurprising since his ideal of politics is wavering and indecisive. Weber is the liberal ideal, a quivering pile of academic goo, able to engage in complex thoughts, but unable to really ever come up with a grand vision or a strong political will. Heaven forbid we have ambition, for to do so would lead to charismatic leaders, and fanciful “revolution.” Politics will never provide us with any kind of real transformative change. Weber rather has consigned himself to a masochistic quest for the mediocre, urging on the political individual to push forward with the morals of conviction but the tactics of responsibility. This is a tried and true political position, it’s known as pragmatism.
This is the problem with Weber, he’s the typical AU SPA student. In fact, he’s the original SPA student, the Adam and Eve of silly liberal bureaucrats, technocrats, democrats, and a whole lot of other crats. Instrumentalist in his logic, he only sees the world as it is in front of him. He cannot imagine political possibilities outside of what is considered common “human nature.” Thus, he descends into an impoverished discourse, attempting to minimize damage rather than optimize potential. As I stated above, those who try and optimize are uniformly dismissed as charismatic leaders, out to take power and loot. You can see these assumptions at work in any Govt at au. Students of the SPA variety are inevitably trapped into a cage of illogic. They become extremely skilled in matters pertaining to the cage, but they are still in the cage. Their Machiavellian realpolitik only serves to make our lives worse as they fight with each other over regulations and parliamentary procedure.
Why does Weber fall into this trap? Well, I think a pretty good clue is in the title. “Vocation” is not something one associates with a transformative social program. He does not see politics as a matter of social justice and redistribute power, but as a skill you learn, like a mechanic or a painter, or a skill you’re born with like a math genius. If politics is a skill, then it no longer is a collective endeavor. It falls to the realm of talented individuals. If politics is the realm of talented individuals, it is cursed to a sad existence. A sick sport they play while the rest of us are killed by the penalty kicks, for any sport is only played by those who wish to play and those who despise power and conquest are unlikely the play the game. Even those individuals who are good hearted, will be ground out by a system constructed by many others already obsessed and intoxicated with power.
That said, I think there is a long history of politics not as a vocation but as an exercise in collective self transformation. When illiterate peasants gathered each Friday in a barn to have philosophy read to them that was anti-vocational politics. When black liberation groups organized free breakfast programs that was transformative politics. And yes, when the KPD organized worker’s councils it was transformative politics-no wonder Weber didn’t like em. Politics organized at the base, and managed at the base, takes it out of the realm of vocation and into something completely different. That is if you don’t mind the inevitable repression, self defense training and pitched street battles.
Monday, February 18, 2008
In this way, can't elder Keynes be seen as a counter-example 'hero' to Paul?
Sunday, February 17, 2008
This I think would present an interesting new angle to the duniverse. What if Herbert were to write from the POV of someone left out of feudal obligations or fremen custom? What if we had some kind of Dune noir. What if the novel had focused on the smugglers rather than the nobility? What if Paul had fallen in among the smugglers and Gurney Halleck. It’s idle speculation, but it is interesting to think of Dune in a light without the high politics and high food.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Another passage, this time from Muad'Dib's Collected Sayings, (126) speaks of the necessity of maintaining a sufficient amount of skepticism or "even occasional greatness will destroy a man." In this book, the saying seems as it came from Lady Jessica just as much as from Paul since she is the one who constantly comments on how certain mantels should not be taken up, this qualification would provide justification for why she does continue to take on the religious mantel for herself as well as for Paul.
So yeah, Dune is big and long and multi themed. What to do about that…well I’ll just focus on a couple things. I’m not about to write a dissertation on Dune that would be a major loss of street cred. Anyway…let’s move on.
For all their power and glory none of these people seem to be very happy. The dune universe is one of Machiavellian realpolitik sprinkled with a heavy dose of kantian ethics. Characters seem forever plagued by their duties, obligations etc. It’s all very fitting for a feudal society such as this one. This obsession with duty, law and order is the undoing of many of the Dune characters. They lose the ability to be happy when they follow protocol. And like Jessica bearing a son, find more contentment when they do what they wish. However such action are always to be admonished by someone, somewhere. Here in this world there is always a hierarchy to answer to.
Monday, February 11, 2008
One thing we discovered during class (besides the fact computers don't generally help create a good discussion) is that manifest destiny, or at least the idea behind it has become complete rhetoric. As evidenced by the use of it in all the inaugural speeches, politicians feel without constantly stating the greatness and rights of America, they will lose popularity. However, it is such a piece of rhetoric that it is normally recognized as such. Why then, do politicians still seem required to state rhetoric, which does not allow them to move out of this destiny-centric view of the United States?
Sunday, February 10, 2008
I was struck that computers should be kept out of the class room. I don’t know about the rest of you, folks but I thought that the usual freewheeling discussion fell flat because we had too many shiny machines to distract us. Anyway, I’ve been reading some of the blogs and I think it’s interesting that the main topic was the validity of the free exercise clause. From reading mike’s post it seems like Americans today still have a bad habit of thinking that their religion is beyond reproach. This is not a very good policy, because religion is not a sacred cow such as race of gender. Religion is something you actively choose and you should be damn well ready to defend yourself.
I think Kierkegaard is most relevant in this situation. He posited that religion exists outside of the rational. Kierkegaard speaks of the “teleological suspension of the ethical,” which basically means that faith exists in a realm without ethics or morals. Morals and ethics are the purview of universal values. Everyone understands them, and they can be interrogated through reason. Faith simply cannot. Faith is completely personal and thus cannot be communicated and cannot be interrogated by others. Faith is an absurd notion that only exists within your own mind.
This is important to keep in mind when we discuss American policy.
As applied to Manifest Destiny, I think the lesson is rather clear. We need to stop allowing our Jesus to infiltrate our policy. Politics and the social sciences are universalizing frames of reference. They are built on the principles of reason. To allow your faith to creep into your moral beliefs is to play a dangerous game. Jesus may have prohibited this or allowed that, but you have no proof, and so the only way to justify your public actions is through reason.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Another interesting point that he raises is the lack of inherent community the United States has. His view of the US community is that it was constructed and completely not inherent, although now Americans do tend to look back on our country as have been a community from the start. Although he does not put forth exactly how he believes the community was constructed, he seems to believe that the intellectuals, especially those in the north-east and those pushing Manifest Destiny, helped forge this identity from their perspective.
A perspective shift that this book also lent that we tend to blur is that before the civil war 'free states' were not trying to make African Americans free in the states, but rather be free from slavery, slaves and even African Americans all together. Also interesting is that Stephanson points out how many Americans thought that US expansion was inevitable and would proceed into Mexico because we would flow over the border, culturally superior and bleed into their society and gradually take it over. And ironically, now there are some in the US who fear that that the reverse is now happening.
Of all of the points that Anders Stephanson seems to be making about the way in which Manifest Destiny has become a central tenet of the American psyche, that of American exceptionalism is one I do not think he explores fully enough. While he does focus on the way this exceptionalism is inherent in the idea that we in America are a “city on a hill” chosen to provide the rest of the world with an example of the ways they should be, whether this be religious, as the first settlers saw it, or political as it has been since we became the worlds model for democracy, or economic as we overtook the commercial empires of Europe, he does not seem to touch on the idea that I believe to be ingrained in the American psyche of exceptionalism that makes it seem like America exists outside of world history. I believe Manifest Destiny has become corrupted in the American psyche as
One odd thing that we did not discuss in class was Mannie's quick transformation from "I'll go to this rally thing just to help a friend" to "sure, I'll lead a revolution". Despite the general Loonie pioneering background, and latent dislike for he authority, he seemed to give no long term thought at all to the revolution. To give no long term thought to what would happen seems incredibly outrageous and to give only an evenings thought before committing oneself and his family seems at odds with the family concept. Also, as a computer programmer, he should think what might happen at the end of the program (the revolution) however, he does not and leaves all of the thinking to the others and simply concentrates on the logistics of the campaign.
Stephanson and most foreigners know the facts of American history. However, they might not get why the American elite do this. Of course there’s the clear material reason, it benefits them, but what about the silly ideological reasons. How do the elite get to sleep at night? How do the elite convince the regular folks to go along? How do the elite console the families of the white working class (and later working class people of color) as they die in imperialist misadventures? Well this syncretic ideology provided the answer.
What Stephanson puts his finger on, is the importance of ruling ideology in a society based on domination. Specifically, he elucidates what makes up our ruling ideology. Unlike other hegemonic ideas, the American ruling mystique has been extremely effective and has had extreme longevity. From our inception, America has remained a nation based on Lockean liberalism, Greco-Roman law, and Biblical morality. The elite have created a historical narrative that is simply unsurpassed in its ability to hypnotize the public.
I believe this is because, as Stepanson points out, we are both the New Rome and the New Israel. We inhabit a realm where both the material and spiritual good are offered for the same thing. Unlike typical Catholicism, which preaches acceptance of suffering in the interim in exchange for eternal heaven, the protestant Christianity of the US gave its followers dreams of material success in the now. In fact, this material success was a sign of blessing and, depending on the sect, often a sign of predestination for heaven. This protestant Christianity meshed well with the “Law and Order” ideology of the rational liberal thinkers of enlightenment America. Thus what we have is the creation of a perfect dualistic narrative, a spiritually fulfilling nation destined to become a city upon a hill, composed of complementary Christian and civic virtue.
This is enshrined in our government and social institutions. Government remains an area of Roman law and Athenian debate. We build our federal buildings like they were temples of reason, a clear homage to the ancients. A good example is the mall drinking game. Take a swig every time you see a colonnade. Yeah I think you get my point. Meanwhile we structure our social lives around our community, ie our faith. Americans remain the most religious people in any postindustrial society, primarily because we have few other outlets for community organization and expression. If you’re an atheist you have little choice but to go to a bar for company. So of course the general refrain to my mother about leaving that silly church of hers is that “all my friends and your sister’s friends are there.”
This combination of moral dogmatism and material determinism has created a vicious circle. One compliments and continues the other. If we try to overwhelm the rational and calculating nature of our republic with religious fanaticism, a combination of checks and balances and a loss of faith by Christians eventually restores the establishment clause. Indeed we see that today as the evangelical right is retreating back to the churchyard. After finding nothing but odious air in the halls of power they now want the purity of their silly little buildings. In the converse, as labor unions, social movements, and a general sense of rational thought provide an alternative to Jesus and coffee on Sunday, we see a resurgence of faith. Ever wonder why we have these periodic “Great Awakenings”?
Now what I really wonder is the future of this ideology. As the world globalizes, states are becoming very hollow things. As I’ve said in previous posts, corporations are now the prime movers and shakers of world policy. Nations like the US merely act as the enforcers of corporate policy. They do this via imperialist misadventures in certain oil bearing nations or through the backrooms of the IMF. Now while the Iraq war presented an example of material gain glossed over by spiritual jihad, it also may be the last of these truly American wars. America is no longer a land of plenty, nor is it a chosen land in the wilderness. We’re part of an interdependent web of progressively weakened states. What will happen to our protestant material genocidal impulse in an age of abject consumerism and worldwide communications? We must either pull a Heinlein and start colonizing the moon, or we need to find a technologically inferior alien race in the alpha centauri sector that we can wipe out. Otherwise I think the age of Manifest Destiny has come to something of a close. Well until those centaurans appear and coincidentally look like Native Americans.