Anticipatory obedience is a political tragedy. Perhaps rulers did not initially know that citizens were willing to compromise this value or that principle. Perhaps a new regime did not at first have the direct means of influencing citizens one way or another. In 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the SS took the initiative to devise the methods of mass killing without orders to do so. They guessed what their superiors wanted and demonstrated what was possible. It was far more than Hitler had thought. At the very beginning, anticipatory obedience means adapting instinctively, without reflecting, to a new situation. Timothy Snyder (2017) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century
[Yet] precisely because each body finds itself potentially threatened by others who are, by definition, precarious as well, forms of domination follow. This standard Hegelian point takes on specific meanings under contemporary conditions of war: the shared condition of precariousness leads not to reciprocal recognition, but to a specific exploitation of targeted populations, of lives that are not quite lives, cast as “destructible” and “ungrievable.”
Such populations are “lose-able,” or can be forfeited, precisely because they are framed as being already lost or forfeited; they are cast as threats to human life as we know it rather than as living populations in need of protection from illegitimate state violence, famine, or pandemics. Consequently, when such lives are lost they are not grievable, since, in the twisted logic that rationalizes their death, the loss of such populations is deemed necessary to protect the lives of “the living.”
So, one way of posing the question of who “we” are in these times of war is by asking whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable. We might think of war as dividing populations into those who are grievable and those who are not. An ungrievable life is one that cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all.Judith Butler (2009) Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?. Verso.
“Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask. “Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says. “But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.” “What?” I ask. “The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.”Suzanne Collins (2010) Mockingjay. Scholastic. pg 276.
Our century has made a religion of communication, enshrining the idea that we ought to be constantly on tap, endlessly engaged in some or other form of exchanging information and perpetually contributing our due quotient to the sum of nonstop chatter – as if communicating with each other were a moral good, and not merely so much white noise. Our phones have become our oracles. Instant messaging is our hotline to higher communion.
In silence we can find an assured retreat from the intolerable din, but it would be a mistake to think that the allure of silence is primarily that of passive withdrawal, like a child sulking because they don’t want to play with all the other kids. Silence is not what is left once the chatter has died away: it is not a residue, or vacated space. Instead, like the darkness of night, it is a gateway into richness and depth, mystery and resonance. In the coinage of Frauds Bacon, “silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom”.
In thinking about the virtues of silence, I am reminded of the writer Sarah Maidand’s lived experiment, in which she embarked on a quest to rediscover those qualities of silence that have become impossible to access amid the crashing cacophony of modern urban life. What I love about her memoir is that it makes no bones about the difficulty of this journey into silence, which she documents in A Book of Silence. Maitland missed friends and frivolity, the fertilising properties of conversation, not least the refined palliative that is BBC Radio 4, and yet, over the long seasons of her voluntary exile from society, she gradually came to learn the value of truly listening: to her inner voice, her doubts and intuitions, the workings of pre-rational thought. And she learned to attend anew to the world around her, finding real joy, for example, in engaging more viscerally with nature (everything from gardening, to noticing that so many of the forces that our lives depend on are silent: gravity, electricity, light, tides, the unheard spinning of the Earth on its axis). The biggest surprise, writes Maitland, was discovering “the energy of silence”.Marina Benjamin, 2017. The Value of Silence. NewPhilosopher, 17 (Communication), pp 71-72.
Having now come to the of our brief and very incomplete review of the problems of philosophy, it will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It is the more necessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men, under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible.
This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong conception of the ends of life, partly from a wrong conception of the kind of goods which philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science, through the medium of inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant of it; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, or primarily, because of the effect on the student, but rather because of the effect on mankind in general. Thus utility does not belong to philosophy. If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students of philosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study it. It is in these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that the value of philosophy must be primarily sought. But further, if we are not to fail in our endeavour to determine the value of philosophy, we must first free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called ‘practical’ men. The ‘practical’ man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind.
If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had-been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time.
The Stoics saw the world as a single great community in which all men are brothers, ruled by a supreme providence which could be spoken of, almost according to choice or context, under a variety of names or descriptions including the divine reason, creative reason, nature, the spirit or purpose of the universe, destiny, a personal god, even (by way of concession to traditional religion) ‘the gods’. It is man’s duty to live in conformity with the divine will, and this means, firstly, bringing his life into line with ‘nature’s laws’, and secondly, resigning himself completely and uncomplainingly to whatever fate may send him. Only by living thus, and not setting too high a value on things which can at any moment be taken away from him, can he discover that true, unshakeable peace and contentment to which ambition, luxury and above all avarice are among the greatest obstacles.
Living ‘ in accordance with nature ‘ means not only questioning convention and training ourselves to do without all except the necessities (plain food, water, basic clothing and shelter) but developing the inborn gift of reason which marks us off as different from the animal world. We are meant to set free or perfect this rational element, this particle of the universal reason, the ‘ divine spark’ in our human make-up, so that it may campaign against and conquer pain, grief, superstition and the fear of death. It will show us that ‘there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’, discipline the pleasures and the passions, and generally subordinate the body and emotions to the mind and soul.
In this way we shall arrive at the true end of man, happiness, through having attained the one and only good thing In life, the ideal or goal called arete in Greek and in Latin virtus — for which the English word ‘virtue’ is so unsatisfactory a translation This, the summum bonum or ‘supreme ideal’ usually summarized in ancient philosophy as a combination of four qualities: wisdom (or moral insight), courage, self-control and justice (or upright dealing). It enables a man to be ‘self-sufficient’, immune to suffering, superior to the wounds and upsets of life (often personalized as Fortuna, the goddess of fortune). Even a slave thus armed can be called ‘free’, or indeed titled ‘a king’ since even a king cannot touch him.
Another example of these ‘paradoxes’ for which the Stoics were celebrated is one directed at the vanity of worldly possessions: ‘the route to wealth is the contempt of wealth’.
This student came to me, he said, “I’m leaving.” He was in one of my more advanced classes, I think it was ‘theory of action’ – if you want anything abstract then it’s theory of action. We were having a great time in class, it was fascinating, although totally irrelevant, and he came to me one morning and he said, “I can’t stay because last night I was drinking beer with my buddies and I realised that I practically couldn’t talk to them anymore. I love my friends, I love my family, and I don’t want to lose them. And if I stay here I’m going to lose them.” I was both horrified and I knew he was right. […] There are all sorts of essays written by people from working class families who become professors and they all tell the same kind of story: some can go back, they switch on and off their personalities, and others have a very hard time doing it.
People keep saying that we need to have a national curriculum and I say to them, “We have a national curriculum – through the media […]”. School’s job is to somehow break through that … we have to work on changing the media. The school is educating the heads, not the hearts or anything else, and the media is educating us in ambition and distraction, […] turning us away from the important problems rather than towards them.
John Dewey talked about educating the whole person. What I talk about is that we need to be thinking about educating not just the whole person, but all our children in the whole range of the culture’s wealth. […] So we need to be thinking more broadly about what parts of culture we’re passing down to our children. There’s also the ‘problem of generations’, and this may be the biggest issue of all. If you start looking at education from the perspective of the culture instead of the individual and one of the main questions, in western culture at least, is: “What are we passing down to the next generation?” Are we passing down our cultural wealth? Or are we passing down our liabilities? And when you look around and you see the greed, the racism, inequality and all the rest, you know that we’re passing down our liabilities. […] Instead of just looking at our own child and how he or she is going to get a job we must start looking at what the culture is passing down. Are we passing down any kind of belief in the value of the Earth and the need to preserve it? No! No, but we’ve got to.
What is the meaning of our existence, if it is not that in our own selves that desire for truth has come to it; own consciousness as a problem? . . .
In attaining self-consciousness, the desire for truth will undoubtedly destroy morality; this is that great hundred-act play that is reserved for the next two centuries of Europe, the most terrible, the most mysterious and perhaps yet the most pregnant with hope of all spectacles . . .
Except for the ascetic ideal, Man, the animal Man, has had no meaning. His existence on earth had no purpose; ‘what is the purpose of Man at all?’ was a question without an answer; the will for Man and the world was lacking; behind every great human destiny rang, like a refrain, a still greater ‘in vain!’ The ascetic ideal simply means that something was lacking, that Man was surrounded by a tremendous void he did not know how to justify himself, to explain himself, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his own meaning. He suffered also in other ways; he was in the main a diseased animal; his problem was not suffering itself, though, but the lack of an answer to that crying question, ‘Why do we suffer?’
Man, the bravest animal and the one most inured to suffering, does not repudiate suffering in itself; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided that he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose for suffering. The senselessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse which lay upon humanity until the ascetic ideal gave Man a meaning! It was the only meaning offered till now; but any meaning is better than no meaning; the ascetic ideal was in that connection the ‘faute de mieux’ par excellence that existed at that time. In that ideal, suffering found an explanation; the tremendous void seemed filled; the door to all suicidal nihilism was closed. The explanation –there is no doubt about it– brought about new suffering, deeper, more penetrating, more venomous, gnawing more brutally into life; it brought all suffering within the compass of guilt; but in spite of all that – Man had saved himself, he had found a meaning for himself; he was no more tossed about like a leaf in the wind; he was no longer a plaything of chance, a casualty of blind fate; he could now ‘will’ something no matter what, why and how he did so at first – the will itself was saved.
We can no longer conceal from ourselves precisely what this will, under the direction of the ascetic ideal, expresses, which is hatred of anything human, animal or material; abhorrence of the senses, of reason itself; fear of happiness and beauty; the desire to escape from all illusion, change, growth, death, wishing, even from desiring itself – all this means – let us have the courage to confront it – a wish for oblivion, an aversion to life, a repudiation of everything vital to existence, but it is and remains a will! – and to say at the end that which I said at the beginning Man will desire oblivion rather than not desire at all.
Man’s worst sin is unconsciousness, but it is indulged in with the greatest piety even by those who should serve mankind as teachers and examples. When shall we stop taking man for granted in this barbarous manner and in all seriousness seek ways and means to exorcize him, to rescue him from possession and unconsciousness, and make this the most vital task of civilization? Can we not understand that all the outward tinkerings and improvements do not touch man’s inner nature, and that everything ultimately depends upon whether the man who wields the science and the technics is capable of responsibility or not? Christianity has shown us the way, but, as the facts bear witness, it has not penetrated deeply enough below the surface. What depths of despair are still needed to open the eyes of the world’s responsible leaders, so that at least they can refrain from leading themselves into temptation?
The civilizing process begins within the framework of the trickster cycle itself, and this is a clear indication that the original state has been overcome. At any rate the marks of deepest unconsciousness fall away from him; instead of acting in a brutal, savage, stupid and senseless fashion, the trickster’s behaviour towards the end of the cycle becomes quite useful and sensible. The devaluation of his earlier unconsciousness is apparent even in the myth, and one wonders what has happened to his evil qualities. The naive reader may imagine that when the dark aspects disappear they are no longer there in reality. But that is not the case at all, as experience shows. What actually happens is that the conscious mind is then able to free itself from the fascination of evil and is no longer obliged to live it compulsively. The darkness and the evil have not gone up in smoke, they have merely withdrawn into the unconscious owing to loss of energy, where they remain unconscious so long as all is well with the conscious. But if the conscious should find itself in a critical or doubtful situation, then it soon becomes apparent that the shadow has not dissolved into nothing but is only waiting for a favourable opportunity to reappear as a projection upon one’s neighbour. If this trick is successful, there is immediately created between them that world of primordial darkness where everything that is characteristic of the trickster can happen even on the highest plane of civilization. The best examples of these “monkey tricks” as popular speech aptly and truthfully sums up this state of affairs in which everything goes wrong and nothing intelligent happens except by mistake at the last moment, are naturally to be found in politics.
The so-called civilized man has forgotten the trickster. He remembers him only figuratively and metaphorically, when, irritated by his own ineptitude, he speaks of fate playing tricks on him or of things being bewitched. He never suspects that his own hidden and apparently harmless shadow has qualities whose dangerousness exceeds his wildest dreams. As soon as people get together in masses and submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and, as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated.
The disastrous idea that everything comes to the human psyche from outside and that it is born a tabula rasa is responsible for the erroneous belief that under normal circumstances the individual is in perfect order. He then looks to the State for salvation, and makes society pay for his inefficiency. He thinks the meaning of existence would be discovered if food and clothing were delivered to him gratis on his own doorstep, or if everybody possessed an automobile. Such are the puerilities that rise up in place of an unconscious shadow and keep it unconscious. As a result of these prejudices, the individual feels totally dependent on his environment and loses all capacity for introspection. In this way his code of ethics is replaced by a knowledge of what is permitted or forbidden or ordered. How, under these circumstances, can one expect a soldier to subject an order received from a superior to ethical scrutiny? He has not yet made the discovery that he might be capable of spontaneous ethical impulses, and of performing them – even when no one is watching.
The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities. Money dominated society as the representation of general equivalence, namely, of the exchangeability of different goods whose uses could not be compared. The spectacle is the developed modern complement of money where the totality of the commodity world appears as a whole, as a general equivalence for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is the money which one only looks at, because in the spectacle the totality of use is already exchanged for the totality of abstract representation. The spectacle is not only the servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself the pseudo-use of life.
At the moment of economic abundance, the concentrated result of social labor becomes visible and subjugates all reality appearance, which is now its product. Capital is no longer the invisible center which directs the mode of production: its accumulation spreads it all the way to the periphery in the form of tangible objects. The entire expanse of society is its portrait.
The victory of the autonomous economy must at the same time be its defeat. The forces which it has unleashed eliminate the economic necessity which was the immutable basis of earlier societies. When economic necessity is replaced by the necessity for boundless economic development, the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-needs which are reduced to the single pseudo-need of maintaining the reign of the autonomous economy. The autonomous economy permanently breaks away from fundamental need to the extent that it emerges from the social unconscious which unknowingly depended on it.
As soon as society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy, in fact, depends on society, This subterranean force, which grew until it appeared sovereign, has lost its power. That which was the economic it must become the I. The subject can emerge only from society, namely from the struggle within society. The subject’s possible existence depends on the outcome of the class struggle which shows itself to be the product and the producer of the economic foundation of history.
The consciousness of desire and the desire for consciousness are identically the project which, in its negative form, seeks the abolition of classes, the workers’ direct possession of every aspect of their activity. Its opposite is the society of the spectacle, where the commodity contemplates itself in a world it has created.
Guy Debord (2000) Society Of The Spectacle, Black & Red, pg. 53