Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Sublime Madness

"You don't fight fascism because you're going to win. You fight fascism because it is fascist."
     - Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason

In my previous post, I intended to write about Hedges' new book, Wages of Rebellion, but I got thoroughly overcome by a rant that's been building inspired by his subtitle.  So here's the gist of his writing without repeating ideas from previous posts of late (lots about the prison system that I already mentioned).


The Courage to Know, and to Join Together:
The greatest existential crisis we face is to at once accept what lies before us - for the effects of climate change and financial instability are now inevitable - and yet find the resilience to fight back. (28).  The last days of any civilization, when populations are averting their eyes from the unpleasant realities before them, become carnivals of hedonism and folly.... Culture and literacy, in the final stage of decline, are replaced with noisy diversions, elaborate public spectacle, and empty clichés (33-34).   
We will have to find ways to fend for ourselves. And we will fend for ourselves only by building communitarian organizations (25).  It is the religion of capitalism, the maniacal quest for wealth at the expense of others, that turns human beings into beasts of prey...As those who build these communitarian structures discard the religion of capitalism, their acts of charity and resistance will merge - and they will be condemned by the corporate state (42-43). 
The goals of wholesale surveillance...is not, in the end, to discover crimes, "but to be on hand when the government decides to arrest a certain category of the population" ... This fear and loss of spontaneity keep a population traumatized and immobilized and turn the courts, along with legislative bodies, into mechanisms that legalize the crimes of state (54-55).
Lynne Stewart, a lawyer for the poor, convicted on charges of conspiracy, was allowed to leave prison because of stage 4 cancer.  Her advice:
Don't let yourself get isolated....Find the other people who think like you....This is a pretty loveless world we live in....We have lots of romantic love. We have lots of Sex and the City. But real love, love that is the kind that saves people, and makes the world better, and makes you go to bed with a smile on your face, that love is lacking greatly.  You have to search for that (50).

Class Struggles and the Origins of Revolution:
Moral courage....is always defined by the state as treason (59).  The modern corporate incarnation of this nineteenth-century oligarchic elite has created a world-wide neofeudalism under which workers across the planet toil in misery while corporate oligarchs amass hundreds of millions in personal wealth.... Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The seesaw of history has thrust the oligarchs upward. We sit humiliated and broken on the ground. It is an old battle. It has been fought over and over in human history. The only route left to us, as Aristotle (Part IX) knew, is either submission or revolt (66). 
Revolutions, when they begin, are invisible, at least to the wider society.  They start with the slow discrediting and dismantling of an old ideology and an old language used to interpret reality and justify power (67).  Berkman said, "Because revolution is evolution at its boiling point you cannot 'make' a real revolution any more than you can hasten the boiling of a tea kettle. It is the fire underneath that makes it boil; how quickly it will come to the boiling point will depend on how strong the fire is" (86).  Thomas Paine, partly because he did not come to America from England until he was thirty-seven [kinda like John Oliver], understood that the British monarchy - not unlike our corporate state - had no interest in accommodation (154). 
In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented. It is the yearning that we now see.  if we do not swiftly reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration. Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into a hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become a hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become a hatred for African Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press" (162).

Sublime Madness:

He starts his discussion of sublime madness with a quote from Nietzsche, but it's taken from a book by Max Weber rather from the original source.  Curious.  Anyway, here it is from the horse's mouth (Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, 39):
Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the “truth” one could still barely endure - or to put it more clear, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.
Nietzsche's saying that most people need the truth to be watered down in order to cope with it, because it's painful to know.  It takes great strength and courage to face reality.  Hedges goes on to Kant:
It is impossible to defy "radical evil" - a phrase originally coined by Immanuel Kant to describe those who surrender their freedom and morality to an extreme form of self-adulation and later adopted by Hannah Arendt to describe totalitarianism - without "sublime madness (211).
Here's Kant's explanation of radical evil from Theory of Religion (aka Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason), pages 42-44 (caps are his).  It's less about a group of people, as Hedges' words might imply, but about the evil within us all:
The vitiosity of human nature is, therefore, not so much WICKEDNESS - this word being understood in its severest sense, namely, as an inward wickedness, or intent of choosing evil as evil (for that were diabolical), - as rather PERVERSITY of heart, which, on account of the consequences flowing from it, is called AN EVIL HEART. This, however, is not inconsistent with a state of Will that may generally and on the whole be good, and arises from the infirmity of human nature, which is not sufficiently strong to adhere to the good principles it may once of all have adopted; coupled, however, with the impurity (insincerity) of not duly sifting and arranging the springs according to their ethic content, and of having an eye mainly to this, that actions quadrate with the Law, although they have not been originated by it. Now, although from such a state of matters VICE may not immediately arise, still the cast of thinking, whereby the absence of vice is looked upon as virtue, is already a radial perversity of the human heart.... 
This insincerity, shrouding our real inward character from our view, prevents the founding of genuine moral principles within, and spreads, after having deceived ourselves, so as next to beguile and impose upon others, which, if not wickedness, is at least worthlessness, and proceeds from the radical evil of human nature, which, by distorting and untuning our moral understanding in regard of what a man is to be taken for, renders slippery and uncertain all ethical imputation, and constitutes that rotten spot in humanity, which, until entirely severed, keeps back the germ of good from unfolding itself, as it otherwise infallibly would do.

But the important bit from Hedges is reaching this state of sublime madness:
The message of the rebel is disturbing because of the consequences of the truth he or she speaks.....To accept that nearly all forms of electronic communication are captured and stored by the government is to give up the illusion of freedom (213).  The moral life, celebrated only in the afterglow of history and often not celebrated at all, is lonely, frightening, and hard... The rebel knows the odds. To defy radical evil does not mean to be irrational. It is to have a sober clarity about the power of evil and one's insignificance and yet to rebel anyway. To face radical evil is to accept self-sacrifice (215). 
Those with sublime madness accept the possibility of their own death as the price paid for defending life. This curious mixture of gloom and hope, of defiance and resignation, or absurdity and meaning, is born of the rebel's awareness of the enormity of the forces that must be defeated and the remote chances for success. "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism," Havel wrote.  "It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." (219).   
People of all creeds and people of no creeds must make an absurd leap of faith to believe, despite all the empirical evidence around us, that the good draws to it the good.... and in theses acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us (226).

Hedges' Suggested Readings:

Emma Goldman's articles in Appeal to Reason
Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States
Ralph Nader's writings  - many pieces of legislation were written by him
Hannah Arendt - Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem
Auguste Blanqui's writings
Sheldon Wolin - Democracy Incorporated
Clive Hamilton - Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change
Alexander Berkman - The Idea is the Thing
Thomas Paine - Common Sense

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