Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The 'fake' Mandela memorial interpreter said it all

Slavoj Žižek nails it in this Guardian piece: Thamsanqa Jantjie, the man accused of using fake sign language at Nelson Mandela's memorial, exposed "the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony. All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don't care about you. Through his fake translation, Jantjie rendered palpable the fake of the entire ceremony."

Viktor Frankl on 'the defiant power of the human spirit'

In attempting this psychological presentation and a psychopathological explanation of the typical characteristics of a concentration camp inmate, I may give the impression that the human being is completely and unavoidably influenced by his surroundings. (In this case the surroundings being the unique structure of camp life, which forced the prisoner to conform his conduct to a certain set pattern.) But what about human liberty? Is there no spiritual freedom in regard to behavior and reaction to any given surroundings? Is that theory true which would have us believe that man is no more than a product of many conditional and environmental factors— be they of a biological, psychological or sociological nature? Is man but an accidental product of these? Most important, do the prisoners’ reactions to the singular world of the concentration camp prove that man cannot escape the influences of his surroundings? Does man have no choice of action in the face of such circumstances?

Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl
We can answer these questions from experience as well as on principle. The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.
There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jacques Ellul: Politics is 'the realm of the demonic'

Christian anarchist and intellectual, Jacques Ellul, was a prolific author and activist who was deeply concerned about propaganda, the impact of technology on society, and the interaction between religion and politics. In his book entitled Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World, he argues that politics is the modern incarnation of the biblical figures known as Satan and the devil, who "though they follow different paths, are the negation of love and communion, the negation, destruction, and corruption of love." Following is a sample of his thinking on the matter:
"Politics is the contemporary image of absolute evil. It is satanic, diabolical, the home base of the demonic. And when I say 'politics,' I am not pointing at the state -- that's another problem again. The point I want to make concerns those who would conquer and use the state for their own purposes. Nor am I accusing a specific kind of politics, rightist or leftist.

"No, the issue is politics itself, whatever form it may take, whatever its objectives, doctrines, methods, social roots, intentions, or rationales. I am talking about politics in the concrete, as put into practice by the political world... I won't bother with those pious definitions of politics as a quest for the common good or the public interest, as the art of living together, as the blissful key to harmonious construction of the ideal city.

"All such nonsense is worse than the worst religious trickery designed to cast a veil of modesty over naked reality. Politics is the acquisition of power: the means necessary for getting it, and once you have it, the means for defending yourself against the enemy and so holding on to it. But what does one use it for -- for goodness and virtue? No, one uses it for power; it's an end in itself. And that's all there is to politics. All the fine talk about politics as a means of establishing justice, so forth and so forth, is nothing but a smokescreen that on the one hand conceals harsh, vulgar reality and on the other justifies the universal passion for politics, the universal conviction that everything is political, that politics is the most noble human activity, whereas it is really the most ignoble. It is, strictly speaking, the source of all the evils that plague our time. And when I say that it is diabolical and satanic, I mean these adjectives literally...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Anarchism and the future

This may have been Emma Goldman's greatest insight:

"'Why do you not say how things will be operated under Anarchism?" is a question I have had to meet thousands of times. Because I believe that Anarchism can not consistently impose an iron-clad program or method on the future. The things every new generation has to fight, and which it can least overcome, are the burdens of the past, which holds us all as in a net. Anarchism, at least as I understand it, leaves posterity free to develop its own particular systems, in harmony with its needs. Our most vivid imagination can not foresee the potentialities of a race set free from external restraints. How, then, can any one assume to map out a line of conduct for those to come? We, who pay dearly for every breath of pure, fresh air, must guard against the tendency to fetter the future. If we succeed in clearing the soil from the rubbish of the past and present, we will leave to posterity the greatest and safest heritage of all ages."
SOURCE: Anarchism and Other Essays

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Race as oppression, or what Kobe Bryant was saying to Jim Brown

All efforts to determine who is Black and just how Black they are immediately thrust us into an interminable crisis involving criteria. What standard should we use? Should we consider people to be Black merely because they claim to be Black, or must this claim be accompanied by specific biological and behavioral characteristics, including a very circumscribed set of political commitments and cultural expressions?

Of course many people provide swift and savvy answers to such crucial questions. But the more one is persuaded by their arguments and assertions, the more likely it is that one may have to preclude oneself or a significant number of other ostensibly Black people.

It is also disturbing how the notion of "being Black" is often grounded in the very form of racist thinking it is said to oppose.

Racism is the fallacious notion that one can judge which groups of homo sapiens are superior or inferior to others merely by observing the color of their skin and other physiological characteristics, and the exploitative practices and oppressive policies carried out in the name of maintaining this natural hierarchy of racial groups.

Since racists believe that people's pigmentation is necessarily indicative of their proclivities, potential, priorities, and pursuits, this menacing mindset is also mirrored in the expectation that people should believe and behave in certain predictable ways simply because they possess certain biological traits.

Racist logic should be renounced and resisted not only because it's deceptive and distortive -- there is no monolithic "Black community" upon which racial identity has conferred limited likes and dislikes or "a set of unproblematic group interests" -- but also because it engenders perspectives and practices that tend to force people into fixed, fettered, and less than fulfilling modes of being.

Does this mean that a person claiming to be "Black and proud" is necessarily engaging in racial reasoning? Not if by "Black and proud" you mean that you love the skin you're in despite the long history and lingering reality of racial prejudice and the perpetuation of myths about racial purity.

"Black and proud" can also mean that, despite the unreality of race, you make no apology for aligning at least part of your vital political and economic interests with other "persons of color" in their historically contingent struggle against racism and oppression -- a struggle rightly understood as the liberation of human beings from illegitimate and immoral forms of coercion, including every demand for collectivist conformity.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Txtng is killing language. JK!!! It's 'emergent complexity,' says John McWhorter

John McWhorter studies how language has evolved -- and will evolve -- with social, historical and technological developments, in addition to studying and writing about race in America.

In recent work, he's been urging grammarians to think of email and text messages not as the scourge of the English language but as "fingered speech," a new form between writing and talking. These digital missives, despite their "shaggy construction," represent an exciting new form of communication in which "lol" and "hey" are particles, he suggests, and written thoughts can be shared at the speed of talking. Should we worry that knowing how to parse "haha kk" means we'll lose the ability to read Proust? No, he told the TED Blog: "Generally there's always been casual speech and formal speech, and people can keep the two in their heads."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Iceland grieves after police kill a man for the first time in its history

This is going to sound like an Onion piece, but it's not:
"It was an unprecedented headline in Iceland this week — a man shot to death by police.
Here's the rest of PRI's report on the matter:
"'The nation was in shock. This does not happen in our country,' said Thora Arnorsdottir, news editor at RUV, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.
"She was referring to a 59-year old man who was shot by police on Monday. The man, who started shooting at police when they entered his building, had a history of mental illness.

"It's the first time someone has been killed by armed police in Iceland since it became an independent republic in 1944. Police don't even carry weapons, usually. Violent crime in Iceland is almost non-existent.
"'The nation does not want its police force to carry weapons because it's dangerous, it's threatening,' Arnorsdottir says. 'It's a part of the culture. Guns are used to go hunting as a sport, but you never see a gun.'
"In fact, Iceland isn't anti-gun. In terms of per-capita gun ownership, Iceland ranks 15th in the world. Still, this incident was so rare that neighbors of the man shot were comparing the shooting to a scene from an American film.

"The Icelandic police department said officers involved will go through grief counseling. And the police department has already apologized to the family of the man who died — though not necessarily because they did anything wrong.
"'I think it's respectful,' Arnorsdottir says, 'because no one wants to take another person's life.'
"There are still a number of questions to be answered, including why police didn't first try to negotiate with man before entering his building.
"'A part of the great thing of living in this country is that you can enter parliament and the only thing they ask you to do is to turn off your cellphone, so you don't disturb the parliamentarians while they're talking. We do not have armed guards following our prime minister or president. That's a part of the great thing of living in a peaceful society. We do not want to change that.'"
Incredible. But it's good to know that somebody somewhere has some sense, as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would say.