Sunday, May 31, 2020

Derrida: Speech Versus Writing

In his On Grammatology, Derrida shows that there is a binary opposition between speech and writing—with speech being central and natural, and writing being marginal and unnatural. People have been writing for thousands of years, but the tradition of thought from ancient times to modernity favors speech, the spoken word, over the written word. 

The “logos,” which the ancients regarded as the hidden principle in the universe, is a voice or a word—it is a sort of super-word or a God. When we speak, the sounds that we create are closer to the super-word or God, but our writing is marked by an absence, the absence of the Godly sound. What Derrida is really going after is Saussure’s linguistics. 

Saussure had asserted that his linguistics was free of the viewpoints related to God. Derrida shows that Saussure privileges speech because he accepts the pre-scientific assumption of speech being closer to inner meaning, or the logos, and the super-word and God.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Conservatives & Liberals: Action & Inaction

The wrongdoer in politics is often the entity that has left something undone, not always the one that has done something. The liberals commit a wrong by doing something, while the conservatives commit a wrong by leaving something undone. Thus the liberals are the people of political action, while the conservatives are the people of political inaction. This gives the liberals an advantage in the politics. But the conservatives were not always the people of political inaction—they became a passive force after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when they became convinced that with the destruction the Soviet regime, they had already played their world historical role, and that from now on there would not be any challenge to their worldview. The conservatives didn’t realize that the challenge would come from the liberals who, in the post-Soviet world, would find new ways of keeping leftism alive.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Nozick and Libertarianism

Robert Nozick was not a libertarian. He has never claimed that he was. In the Preface to his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he is lukewarm about libertarianism. He writes: “With reluctance, I found myself becoming convinced of (as they are now often called) libertarian views, due to various considerations and arguments.” 

He has based his arguments on the claims about rights (mainly property rights), but his treatment of rights is weak. He starts with a situation in which people are living in a so-called “state of nature,” which is a mythical concept. In his later work, he has admitted that he had developed some doubts about earlier view on rights. One of his intentions in writing the book was to refute the libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard, but Nozick never took his argument with the libertarians forward. After the publication of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he dissociated himself from the book and did not respond to the criticisms of it. His writing work after 1974 is unrelated to libertarianism. 

Anarchy, State, and Utopia became influential in libertarian circles, because Nozick was a high profile professor of philosophy and because some libertarians saw him as the libertarian answer to John Rawls.

Stoic Wisdom

There is an old stoic saying that the easiest way to demoralize a man and degrade his character is to give him something for nothing.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

MacIntyre’s Rightwing Postmodernism

Postmodernism is leftwing, but in his 1981 book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre talks about a form of postmodernism in which there is an emphasis on traditions. MacIntyre’s traditions perform a role similar to the “scientific paradigms,” which Thomas Kuhn has described. The traditions include a worldview or conceptual scheme, and a history through time, as it’s understood by a community with its distinctive way of life and social norms. The traditions are not only rational but serve as the context in which rationality can be determined. All reasoning is conducted in some sort of tradition. 

The traditions can be judged according to the criteria of rationality, One tradition is more rational than another if it can explain the success and failure of the other tradition better than the other tradition itself can. MacIntyre shows that instead of being an escape from tradition, modernity is itself a tradition. 

According to MacIntyre, Modernity’s rejection of traditions is incoherent, and there is a need for a right-wing postmodernism. The problem of modern moral philosophy is that it neglects the notions of character and virtue and that leads to skepticism. Modernity’s focus is on what makes an act right or wrong rather than on what makes a person good or evil. Macintyre says that to learn rational ethics we have to go beyond modernity and study the Aristotelian and religious traditions which focus on the formation of character and the development of virtue.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Vertical Liberals Versus Horizontal Conservatives

The liberals think vertically. The conservatives think horizontally. Vertical thinking encourages the liberals to take a top-down approach for solving mankind’s problems. They entrust the fate of their society into the hands of revolutionary leaders, experts, and technocrats who promise to obliterate the old systems and create a utopia where safety, happiness, and purposefulness are available to all. Horizontal thinking encourages the conservatives to take a bottom-up approach and look around themselves for solutions. Their approach is pragmatic, in the sense that they desire solutions which have a track record of having worked in the past. They revere history and traditions as a compendium of experiences which can serve as a guide for future action. Between liberal utopianism and conservative pragmatism there is no scope for a compromise.

Friday, May 22, 2020

On Derrida’s Deconstruction of Logos

The search for logos (original presence) is the oldest in the history of philosophy. The Hindu thinkers believed that the logos is in the Trinity of godheads. The Platonic and Aristotelian thinkers found their logos in Plato’s forms. Augustine and his followers found it in the Christian Trinity. In the modern period, philosophy has been dominated by systems which are logocentric (which hold that meaning emanates from some sort of logos). For Descartes, cogito is the logos. For Kant, the logos is internalized in the form of the absolute self or transcendental ego. For Hegel, the logos is the idea or spirit. Logocentrism is generally expressed in the form of binaries in which one term is more privileged than the other: for instance, the Platonic Form is more privileged than the real object or idea which the Form represents. There are several other binaries: soul versus body; theory versus practice; mental versus physical; conscious versus unconscious; rational versus emotional. In these binaries, the term that is closer to the eternal, and has the ability to remain unchanging, is more privileged.

According to Derrida, the philosophers since Plato have devoted their metaphysics to the search for a higher reality which, while being untouched by materialism, gives meaning and purpose to the material world. Most philosophers, even the structuralists, who try to avoid the logocentric approach, use the traditional terminology and its binaries. These philosophers try to reverse the binaries, but they cannot avoid thinking in the terms of binaries. In his 1967 book, Of Grammatology, Derrida deconstructs the attempts to posit a center and establish a system of binaries. He tries to replace the logocentric approach with a free play of meaning. He argues that whenever we think that we have discovered the logos, or original presence, or center, we find that it points towards some other logos. Thus, the search for logos becomes never-ending, the search for meaning becomes never-ending, and there is a breakdown between the signifier (the word) and the signified (the meaning that the word refers to). Derrida saw deconstruction as a form of freedom from fixed truths or origins, and the guilt over absence of meaning.

Goethe's Words

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~ Goethe

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Parable on the Importance of Failure and Unhappiness

The man performed great austerities for several years. One day God became pleased by his piousness and appeared before him. God told the man to ask for a boon. 

The man then asked that he be granted the opportunity to experience failure and unhappiness in every subsequent life. 

God was surprised. He asked, “Why won’t you wish for success and happiness in every subsequent life?” 

The man said that he wants to experience failure and unhappiness in every subsequent life because he desires to forever be a man of wisdom and faith. God smiled and granted the man the boon of failing and being unhappy in every life. 

The irony is that wisdom and faith come to a man when he experiences great failure and unhappiness.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

On Wisdom

Knowledge can be taught, but not wisdom. A wise man teaching wisdom to someone will sound foolish because wisdom cannot be expressed in words. You either discover wisdom in your own way, through your life’s experiences, or you remain unwise.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Digital Revolution’s Unexpected Consequence

The digital revolution has turned man into a cyclops, who is missing one eye, the eye of wisdom. While teaching metaphysics, Immanuel Kant used to remind his students that learning metaphysics is not easy. He used to say: “One who would seek pearls, must descend to the depths.” But the digital technologies of the modern world hinder man from descending to the depths. They make everything easily accessible. What is easily accessible is often superficial. When information and facilities are available at the click of the mouse and a tap on the app, why should anyone descend to the depth or exercise his mind? In the digital age, wisdom has become a vestigial attribute.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Paradox of the Tiananmen Square

The rise of China is proof that a world class free market economy can be created after destroying a popular pro-democracy movement. In 1989, the Chinese communist government sent troops armed with assault rifles and tanks to Tiananmen Square to massacre thousands of pro-democracy protesters. The Tiananmen Square massacre put an end to opposition to the communist regime, and China became a politically stable country. Having implemented free market reforms in 1979, China had been receiving foreign investments for a decade. After the Tiananmen Square massacre there was a giant leap in the investments coming into the country. The big corporations prefer to invest in countries which are being ruled by a strong and stable regime. In 2010, China overtook Japan as the world’s second-largest economy.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Long Wait for the Barbarian

I am taking a month long break from blogging. I will use the time that I spend online to do some extra reading and writing. When I am back online, I hope the pandemic related fears will have subsided and the lockdown of the world will have ended. But whether the lockdowns are lifted or continued, I think that the next five years will bring economic decline and political instability to most democratic nations. I would not be feeling this pessimistic if the downfall were the consequence of some natural calamity, like a meteor strike or a super-volcano. What we are presently witnessing is mankind rushing headlong to commit collective suicide. Nietzsche was right—the world cannot function without the barbarians who are capable of taking big risks and doing terrible things to achieve just goals. The democratic nations are in trouble because they are too liberal and effete. They have lost touch with their inner barbarian. But the next five years will bring them ample opportunities for rediscovering the barbarian who hides inside their skin.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Heidegger and the Countermovement to Nihilism

Heidegger never accepted that he had erred by supporting the Nazis. He was convinced that Nazism had failed to achieve its philosophical objectives because it went astray. In a 1930s lecture, he said that he saw Fascism (or Nazism) as a countermovement to the problem of European nihilism which Nietzsche has described. By endorsing Hitler, Heidegger thought that he was endorsing a countermovement to nihilism and bringing Germany closer to the metaphysical realm of Nietzsche. He aspired to have with Hitler the kind of relationship that Plato had with Dionysius (the king of Syracuse). But after the Nazi regime’s fall, Heidegger complained that he felt let down by Hitler. On Heidegger’s dalliance with the Nazis, Karl Jaspers said, “Children who play at the wheel of world history are smashed to bits.”

Between a Utopia and an Apocalypse

Humans are doomed to forever live in a world which is being pulled by the dream of a utopia in one direction, and by the nightmare of an apocalypse in the other direction.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Liberal and His Favorite Apocalypse

The modern liberal recognizes himself in his favorite apocalypse. With the advanced society in which he lives, he identifies just the material dimension of his existence. His spiritual dimension, or his soul, he discovers in the idea of an apocalyptic event, one that will swallow his society as a whole, ripping apart the entirety of his material existence and that of everyone else, leaving behind only their souls. Thus an apocalypse is a spiritual need for the liberal. If ideas like Global Warming, Climate Change, Ice Age, Ozone Layer Depletion, Acid Rain, and Virus Pandemic did not exist, he would feel lonely, lost, and traumatized. He would lose his spirituality and his soul.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Arendt on the Schreibtischtäter

In her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is on the trail of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt says that the holocaust was perpetrated through a new, modern type of murderer: the Schreibtischtäter or the desk murderer. She does not see a linkage between the holocaust and German history. She asserts that the German bureaucrats (the Schreibtischtäters) were responsible for the Nazi atrocities. Modernity, she notes, empowered the Nazi Schreibtischtäters, who blindly obeyed orders, and without personally participating directly in the murders, sent millions to their death by putting their signature on the official documents that came before them. She presents Eichmann as the prototype of a Schreibtischtäter.

The Discontents of Freud

Now that I am a certified pessimist, I can empathize with Sigmund Freud’s discontents. I am talking about his final book Civilization and Its Discontents in which he pours out all his pessimism. He examines the senseless slaughter of the First World War and the Russian communist revolution, and his own financial difficulties, his stomach ailments, his fight with cancer and presents a bleak picture of mankind. Life, he notes, is not being possible without suffering and that there are three ways by which a man might try to alleviate his suffering: first, intoxication; second, seclusion, which might not work for most people because by nature we are gregarious creatures; third, sublimation, which entails giving vent to aggressive impulses in socially acceptable ways (sports or work). He rejects the religious idea that man should love his enemies and agrees with the saying, homo homini lupus (man is wolf to man). Man is naturally inclined to enslave other men and to destroy all those who cannot be enslaved.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Three Impossibilities of Conservatism

The conservatives are stymied by the three impossibilities: first, the impossibility of deciding what is the national tradition; second, the impossibility of deciding what is to be done to preserve the tradition that they believe is national; third, the impossibility of making national progress while preserving the national tradition. But liberalism is itself a tradition. Leftism is itself a tradition. Fascism is itself a tradition. Modernity is itself a tradition. A conservative who wants to follow the traditions cannot avoid being a liberal, leftist, fascistic, and modernist because these are as much a part of his tradition, as his religion and culture is.

Nietzsche’s Rejection of Conservatism

Nietzsche has called his approach to philosophy “philosophizing with a hammer.” He has claimed that his books are the “dynamite” and the “assassination attempts,” that he was a revolutionary, a destroyer of traditions, a man who lusted for radical social transformations, and that there is nothing conservative in him. The conservative dictum is to keep everything as it is. If the conservatives inherit a corrupt, incompetent, and cruel socialist system, they will ignore the corruption, incompetence, and cruelty, and preserve the socialist system because that for them becomes the embodiment of the national culture which must be conserved. There is no possibility of a conservative Nietzsche, and there is no possibility of major reform under a conservative government.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

On The Conservative “Will to Power”

Twenty-first century conservatism has the will to power, but it lacks the will to build a better world. The conservatives expect to find redemption and meaning in a government that is conservative in name only. They have no desire to fight for the implementation of conservative principles. The conservative mindset follows Walter Benjamin’s insight: “The work is the death of the intention.” For the conservatives, winning the election means the death of the conservative intention; once political power has been acquired, they forget about conservatism.

The Right is the New Left

The right is fascistic, authoritarian, and imperial. Their focus is on winning elections and enjoying the perks of political office. They do nothing to safeguard the civil liberties, dignity, and economic interests of the people. The inability of the right to resist the move towards totalitarian leftism is linked to not only their obsession with winning elections but also to the weakness of their rightist agenda and their contempt for the concerns of the members of the public who hold a rightist worldview. The maxim from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov applies to the right: “We are all guilty of everything and everyone, towards everyone—and I more than all the others.” For the downfall of society, the right is more guilty than all others, more guilty than the left.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Indoctrination in the Trenches and Lockdowns

When people are hiding in the trenches, they become susceptible to the ideologies of hate and violence. In the twentieth century’s second decade, when millions of men were in the trenches of Europe, fighting the First World War, they were being indoctrinated in Nazism, Fascism, and Communism. At the end of the great war, they emerged from the trenches as the warriors of ideology. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, people are once again in trenches (lockdown), which run across homes and offices around the globe: What kind of indoctrination is happening to them? The global lockdown could prove to be a point of no return; it could turn out to be a breeder of revolutionaries, who will plow without mercy through the present and future.

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Blood Brothers: Capitalism & Communism

Capitalism and communism are not antithetical doctrines—they are blood brothers. Both were born in the heart of the western civilization, in the years following the American and the French Revolutions of the eighteenth century. Since their birth, the two blood brothers have coexisted. They have marched hand in hand and transformed the culture and politics of several nations. 

There has never been a capitalist nation that is not rocked by communist movements, and there has never been a communist nation where a section of the population is not rooting for capitalism. All democratic governments are a compromise between capitalist and communist tendencies. The rise of capitalism is linked to the Industrial Revolution. The rise of communism is an outcome of the intellectual work and political activism of Marx and Engels, and their followers. 

Since the eighteenth century, the regulatory system in most nations has kept pace with industrialization. When the first industrialist was building his industry, the first bureaucrat was writing his regulations, and the first communist was arousing the working class.

Blind Faith in Philosophy and Politics

The fervent supporter of a political leader is the man who does not understand his political agenda; the same is true of the fervent adherent of a philosopher—he does not understand the philosopher’s philosophy at all. Blind faith motivates the followers of both political leaders and philosophers.