Endless calculations

It is an accepted, if debated, truism that terrorism is the answer of oppressed people, meeting endless illegal violence with illegal violence. Notice the ‘endless’? Acts of sudden death counter the perception of endless oppression by moving the counter from ‘what has been tolerated’ to ‘the intolerable’ and answering endless acts with nothingness and erasure. In case of pitched war (good old days of battlefields), acteurs erase each other, as expected. In the ideological spectrum of disorder into which terror falls, the impact is the element of the unexpected, and acteurs erase someone else entirely.

Terror is outward directed violence; self-immolation is violence directed inward. Both are part of a spectrum of responses to oppression and traumatic disruption. Not all acts on that spectrum are tactics of ‘resistance.’ Both can be claimed as a political gesture by actors. Both harness spectacle, and use the law of unpredictability. They are also still on the edge of the incalculable in expected responses, for the usually accepted ideology is not to cause irreversible harm to self or unrelated others. Death, that ‘horror’ is still a sin in most religions (of faith or materiality). No one expects you to kill yourself in pursuit of your ends; to them, to end yourself leads nowhere, so the calculation of gain or loss that precedes self-annihilation is outside the normally charted territory of probabilities of expected responses to pressure. And, because this is ‘off the charts,’ acts of self-annihilation as well as their acteurs are seen as cowardly for their refusal to continue to fight along the same lines as their baffled opponents who stand waving the red flag when the others have left the field.

In cases of terror randomness, difficulty of prediction of target and timing, and the fact that the affected persons are not related directly to the acteurs contrive to take the events ‘off the charts’ of calculable responses. However, the steady rise in calculated acts of terror against similar targets in the last decade has brought terrorism into the narrow spectrum of global public consciousness (and therefore the narrow spectrum of expected political topics in all nation-states).

The fulcrum of both types of acts of annihilation is the sense of responsibility and the nature of the social/public/civil contract that binds each person in human community, whether they believe in it or not. By harming ‘brethren’ one harms the target. The element of spectacle ensures that many bear witness to the disruption of order, and the public’s sense of self-protection and imaginative horror (what if it was me?!) put pressure on the target–the one most visible and therefore obliged to act–in both offense and defense.

We see, and serve both terrorist and target by witnessing and bringing our responsive horror into the public space. Something has threatened the edges of our ordered world, and we think if we bring it to light it might be dealt with. But acts of spectacular rupture are dealt with only by enlarging the spectrum of responses to them, as much as by enlarging the observers’ capacity to tolerate the new types of acts and acteurs. Quite an immunization process, these exposures. For the public, reeling with horror, quite quickly finds one narrative or another to contain and explain the range of previously unthinkable acts.

The whole is an interesting perversion of the idea that ‘there but for fortune, go you or I,’ each act the fine split between ‘you’ and ‘I.’

Update: March 30, 2015. Continuing the conversation on terror as spectacle, this article by Yuval Noah Harari in _The Guardian_.



All outcomes are trickster justice, all histories trickster narratives. Choice interfaces the dual and ambivalent components of ‘what is’ and ‘what will be.’

Choice itself is both volition and consent. To foreclose on one set of possibilities is to set another unseen few in motion; to control for the other later on is to choose to ignore yet others. And so on into multitudes of choices and sieves.

The serious figure of the clown presides over the momentary revelations of chance. To insist on its absence is to ask for the obliteration of ambivalence, and thus to foreclose the possibility of proportionate justice by long division. For the loss of chance is the loss of unreason, and that makes bewilderment out of history.

Dualities must not be understood as contrasting things, unintegrated, oppositional, even if it is considered ‘modern’ (not ‘primitive’) and enlightened to regard human persons and behavior as arranged around principles rather than the ‘concrete ambivalence’ that constructs most of our material reality.

Neither should dualities in their material examples be considered ‘point and counterpoint’ in an intellectual chorus. For that would not question the order of the small world in which the duality manifests, only argue about its order of things. And in their fixing of the problem (abstract morality and moral exceptionalisms) they would leave out all the world of ambiguity, thus confirming other-worldly power and this-worldly reason.

There is no order, no one Reason, nor even a given moral code. “All antinomies are bound into the ritual cycle” of choice. Choice interfaces the dual and ambivalent components of ‘what is’ and ‘what will be.’ All outcomes are trickster justice, all histories trickster narratives.

–Ref: Paul Radin. The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology.

Changing the World

When we say we wish to change the world we merely mean that we want to fix it in a form of our own making. For the world is always changing, and we enthrone shadows in the end.

All our battles of work and love come to mean the preservation of what we wish the world to be. We suspend it between this or that heaven or hell and try to chastise it into being.

When it is not to our liking, we punish it, or ourselves. We die when we punish what we love in the name of something else we would love. Utopias (nowheres) are by their definition the projections of our desires.

Rallying Cries and Oppositional Politics

This BBC article points to corruption as the menace of the Third World. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-29040793. Factually accurate, but interesting claim nonetheless, when one considers that neocolonialism provides the means necessary for much of that corruption to be sustained, and colonialism may be accused of creating much of the need that fuels the grabbing and the ‘Third World” itself in the last several centuries.

[Naturally, I am reading this accusation leveled at developing nations that they cannot manage themselves (tsk, when will they grow up, the world cannot deal with another burden) incredulously. And, for the purposes of this limited point, I am going with E. San Juan Jr when I accept neocolonialism as ‘a political regime and behavioral pattern of continued dominance of nominally independent nation-states through transnational disguises’; as ‘the domination of peoples and societies by capital through the liberal market and other ideological means, not through direct political rule’; as ‘the practice of exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world’s laboring masses under the guise of democratic access to markets, the free flow of commodities, technology, bodies and ideas’; as a general term for concrete empirical situations where ‘the ascendancy of corporate transnational capital generates effects of misery, violations of human rights, rape, malnutrition, genocide.’ ]

One wonders what would replace the functions currently served by corrupt regimes and systems in the developing world for transnational capital.

What will replace them, and what systems of ostensibly cleaner or more honorable functioning (which might be more protective, nationalist and resistant to transnational capital) would be acceptable to the neoliberal system? The answer depends on what role these developing countries play in the global cartography of capitalist empire: will they be ‘subaltern’ hinterlands and markets to metropolitan centers of empires, as they were in the 19th C? Will those metropolitan centers be the same as those 200 years ago, or will there be new power centers, dictated by resource-richness and geopolitical value? Or will there eventually be vast clusters of semi-urban areas, populated by groups that will trade with or prey upon other such areas, ecosystems of crime and trade and unbalanced labor?

The point of this extended diversion is simply to underscore that news such as this cannot be made a rallying cry without looking at what came before and planning for what could come after.

It is easier to create anarchy and topple a throne than it is to replace the offending regime with a stable and halfway benign system accepted by all. But to people desperate for change, or blame, short-term oppositional politics will come easier.