Sunday, October 11, 2009
The Buddha told him, "Silence, you skinflint!"
The dog went to lie down in a corner, all trembling, as if he had been beaten.
When Sudatta got back and saw his dog in such a sad state, he asked who had reduced him to this condition. The residents of the house answered:
"The Buddha, treating him like a skinflint."
Enraged, Sudatta went to demand an explanation from the Buddha.
"First of all, why did you treat him like a skinflint?"
"I merely spoke the truth. That animal is your deceased father. Born as a dog in his new life as punishment for his avarice, he continues to keep an eye on his goods. Force him to show you the treasure he has hidden from everyone, even you."
Sudatta returned home and scolded the dog.
"Since you were my father in your previous existence, everything that belonged to you now belongs to me. Let's go, show me the treasure that you kept hidden from me."
The dog slid under the divan and began to scratch the ground. Sudatta began digging at the spot and brought out a great treasure.
Putting his trust now in the Buddha, he asked him to teach him about actions and sanctions. And, among other things, the Buddha told him: "What happens to everyone is inevitably what he chooses. Will causes action, but action causes sanction, against which willing is no use.
"Poverty is the punishment of the rich.
"The dog's life is the punishment of the rich who think of nothing but being rich.
"Respect your dog of a father. Otherwise, in a future life, you will be dogfood."
Monday, October 5, 2009
On the Internet in the spring of 2000, the first disinformation campaign aimed at giving credence to the idea of religious racism in Europe was developed. It made a strong contribution to the about-face of some left and ultra-left militants. These militants didn’t hesitate in renouncing a project, a thought and a language rooted in three centuries of revolutionary battle. The refusal of their history in the name of anti-colonialism is only explained by the abandonment of the anti-clerical universalism of this history. They no longer defend a cause with conviction as masters of their choice, but rather defend the cause that others have chosen for them. Why should they raise doubts, in an unusual manner, about the reasons for their solidarity? Has this world truly changed? Aren’t the forms of domination the same everywhere? Hasn’t capitalism been a pure, unchanging negativity for some time now? Mincing in their certitudes, they judge their moral rectitude to be incontestable. Like in the Victorian era, they have their poor, and they have found the truly guilty once and for all. They even judge those whose critiques don’t spare the social, cultural and religious practices of the victims that these militants claim to defend unfailingly to be suspect or reactionary. How could they admit that their systematic support facilitates the very specific interests of certain victims who aspire to become new masters? In the final analysis, what must be understood is the way that the language of these militants has been falsified to the point where they confuse the anti-clerical and the religious; why, for example, have they been born along from support of the Palestinian cause to defense of Muslim associations, going from the denunciation of racist aggression and police violence in urban ghettoes to the denunciation of anti-muslim racism?
In the name of an “ethnic redefinition of culture”, relativism has become a conceptual jumble that allows any question of the integralist tendency of religion or any specific critique of the fate reserved for women in the urban ghettoes, to be described as racist. In an upside-down world, the critique of religion is no longer a prelude to every critique; it is downright hostile to it. The effects of such a theoretical shift can be measured by the wretched reflections of a leftist, post-feminist writer: “When the economic level is right and social mixture is assured, no threat – real or imagined – comes to bear; religions are respected and assume the most inoffensive form, coming back by themselves to the doghouse.” It isn’t easy to specify which is the most dismaying aspect of such a statement: the bad faith, the idiocy or the flagrant absence of historical memory. In this so very natural way of hastily repeating the worst counter-truths, one recognizes the effectiveness of those who have all the time in the world to think them up and spread them. Seeing the excellence of the result, one might fear that, from now on, religious integralism1 has all the means for transforming society, on the basis of its advantage. Analyzing religion in terms of cultural relativism and a post-modern ideology of diversity denying that the natural tendency of every religion is integralism renders religion and its foreseeable consequences unassailable.
The struggle for freedom has always been carried out against religion, against its self-evident desire to control society and impose its ways and customs with violence. In Europe, it was through merciless struggle that religion was put aside in the sphere of private life; that the freedom of blasphemy was able to prefigure the refusal of any censorship; that the opposition to the religious fetish preceded the attack against commodity fetishism. The democratic simulacrum that is the supposed improvement of the standard of living doesn’t get rid of the religious question at all, and the example of the United States provides evidence of this every day. So-called “secular society” has no reason to renegotiate the separation that it has imposed between church and state, nor to dialogue with religions in the name of religion. Defending the excluded by identifying ourselves in a centrally totalitarian religion is subjecting society to an attack with fatal consequences: its dissolution.
In the name of the right to difference, of parity between all cultures, all critique of religion gets transformed into a racist crime. It has gone so far as to equate the refusal of the Islamic veil to xenophobia or colonial nostalgia., not to the critique of a religion that oppresses women. One can measure the expected effects by the surprising declarations of some post-feminists for whom “the ease with which European women make love from the first encounter can attack women of other cultures for whom the gift of their body is a spiritual and irreversible experience.” This sudden cultural tolerance in fact implies a cultural vassalage and a condemnation for the fault of sexual freedom that would thus no longer be a universal conquest. It teaches us about a certain basic ambiguity regarding the religious question. The depreciation of atheist positions prepares the terrain for a high-pressure return to moral values, through an opportune media overkill.
When blasphemy takes on the pope, it is thought of as an “obsolete practice”, whereas when it attacks the prophet of Islam , it becomes colonial aggression. Here we see how, through a sort of “deconstruction of discourse”, north African and black African immigrants, including youths and new-born babies, get reduced to their mere religious origins. It is necessary to convince them that their history and their culture are summed up in the passive role as victim of the colonial European past. In this way, they are bullied into becoming one of the faithful and submitting to a Muslim nation that doesn’t exist anywhere, but that imposes its freedom-killing project everywhere. Their only “positive” existence passes through religion. They are kept away from any anti-Islamic culture2 within the Islamic world, since recognizing the existence of such a thing would imply that Europe didn’t have a monopoly on Enlightenment.
For the defenders of political Islam, the attack carried out against Houelleberq’s novel, Platform (he is reproached because one of his characters describes Islam as the stupidest religion in the world) has been the beginning of a campaign that is always in its preliminary stages, aimed mainly at transforming the freedom of blasphemy into a racial crime and preparing public opinion for a new surprise attack. As the signal of an early victory, the media would speak from that time on of anti-Moslem racism. The Houellebecq trial was followed by the affair of the Danish cartoons, coming in to remind the most skeptical of what is really at stake in this semantic war. The other monotheistic religions have clearly understood where their interests lie and have aligned themselves with the Moslems.
In less cowardly times, Luis Buñuel filmed a Christ who survived a bloody orgy of 120 days and the execution of a pope; Benjamin Peret spit on priests; Spanish acratics3 distributed a flyer in the midst of the church and throughout Franco’s dictatorship that proclaimed: Christ is in the shit!
Like Salman Rushdie, Taslim Nasreen rightly observes that the condemnation of religious ideology restores to the men and women that this ideology alienates their status, no longer as believers, but as human beings. Defending this point of view today means risking a fatwa, as in other times it meant the Inquisition’s executioners. In a world where people speak more and more commonly about the Christian West, where politicians lay claim to secularity to preserve, if not strengthen , the privileges of Christianity, the humanitarian and revolutionary message can still be heard in the clear identification of its two enemies: capitalism and religion (two forms of the same fetish?) Can one still assert the struggle of those who still consider atheistic thought as one of the forms of the battle for liberation; who hope that the cult of man replaces that of heaven; who curse the cassock because it teaches submission, maintains superstition and favors exploitation? Yes, the histories of Islam and of Christianity are made of cruel and misogynist practices; and yes, the fight against religion is a fight for freedom and not the expression of a colonialist desire to impose the model of the white man everywhere.
The last few generations have underestimated the return of the religious. In their opinion, from the beginning of the 20th century, the religious question was obsolete and its critique, having become out-dated, served no purpose. Not only was the Islamic influence underestimated, but people often felt a sense of guilt that they could not cast off or understand where it came from. This blindness resembles that of the “moral” left. To avoid making the repressive play of the right and being accused of xenophobia, i.e., racism, one adopts a position of principle favorable to immigrants and urban youth by refusing to analyze the religious subordination of many of them. While violence against immigrant is inexcusable, this does not at all justify the humiliating religious vassalage of women that is far too often present in their lives.
The “moral” left can be recognized by its lack of historical culture. What it confronts always seems new. It is convinced that the presence of believers in leftist and ultra-leftist organizations is a recent phenomenon, specifically linked to the development of Islam in France. A superficial study of the organizational practices of proletarian movement of the second half of the 19th century prove otherwise.
In Spain, the militants of the founding cells of the International Workers’ Association had to convince and organize workers and peasants whose daily life was blindly submitted to the dogmas of the violently reactionary Catholic church. These militants, noting that religious obscurantism was universal, radically cut to the heart of the problem by prohibiting any religious manifestations in the proletarian organizations and transforming this ban into a daily critique of religious alienation in social life and state organizations.
Their developmental strategy was ruled by a cultural and educational practice that, alone, might liberate the people from superstition.
It’s difficult to imagine militants of the AIT participating in meetings where militants of Islamic organizations could defend Koranic dogma. It is difficult to imagine them presenting petitions and preparing actions together with religious associations that exclude women from social and political life. They would never put up with the lie, which has gone on too long, that there is such a thing as anti-islamic racism. In their day they would have responded in the way that we can respond today: there is such a thing as anti-Arab racism that needs to be fought, but there is no anti-Muslim racism. Islam is an ideology, and must be fought as an ideology, in the same way as capitalism, Nazism, Hinduism, Catholicism. What we have conquered through hard struggle cannot be compromised by making peace with any cult.
1 I have chosen to translate “integralismo” as “integralism” rather than “fundamentlism” in order to make it clear that the problem is not one of a literal interpretation of scriptures, but of trying to bring the whole of society under religious control, to integrate all of society into a religious body.--translator
2 For example, Qadarism in the 7th and 8th century, whose refusal of divine fatalism led to the execution of Ma’bad al-Jahuni in 699 and Ghaylan al-Dimashqi in 743 by the Caliphs; or rationalist Mutazilism in the 9th century with the famous “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad where Nestorian physicist Hunayn ibn-Ichaq (called Joannitius) translated Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Categories and Physics. Qadarism and Mutazilism were judged as heretical by orthodox Islam and condemned. In 922, the well-known mystic al-Hallaj was whipped, mutilated, hanged on the gallows, beheaded and his corpse burned.
3“Acratic” is a term that anarchists in Spain and other places have often used for themselves. It indicates that they are for acracy—no government—rather than democracy—government by the people. If only more present day anarchists would get this.--translator
Sunday, October 4, 2009
How could someone think that he had to make belated “excuses” – or even merely express “regrets” – for the passionate groping path, for the fever that had been?
For desiring only the fiery beauties and comradeships never dared – with a frightening lack of concern (never found again) on all sides in the face of all powers?
It is definitely necessary to pay for guilelessness of this caliber. We have seen reason.
But once they were dreamed, could beauties, comradeships, expenditures without calculation ever cease to be – even if we ignored the entire world in which they demanded to have a value?
Besides, how could it have gone differently with regard to knowledge and action, considering what we were in that historical instant and in that moment of our life?
A force drew us, blind as life, without fear or remorse: a possibility, a happiness, an innocence, a festival.
That loss would be expiated through leaps of this kind: and how thoughtless, empty, out of place it would be!
What we wanted so intensely, others will “want” with the same boundless passion, without having “chosen” it first. The world will be young and beautiful once again, each time authentic life abandons its old skin at the winter’s end.
This is not a prophecy. Just a statement of fact.
How could anyone go to meet such an unknown, if not with a blindfold over his eyes?
If “everyone is a Child of his times”, what sense is there at this point in “repenting” in the face of absolutely destined passions? And how do we abandon ourselves to repentance, when, contrarily, in these transits we stored up a stock of cloudless joy for so much time? – of fierceness, honor, pride, guilelessness, beauty, courage?
Should we excuse ourselves for having been happy, innocent, mad and beautiful?
Another problem is really knowing how much of our “knowledge”, our words and even our actions we had “chosen”: above all, it was an uncontainable, very youthful, vital thrust!
Presuming that then we had not recognized the fantasies that carried us away as fictions – powerful, outdated illuminations. Again: fated –, what sense would there be in not recognizing these illuminations as such? So that we can be pitifully cross with the boundless drunkenness generated by those battles?
And how will we be able to speak without sadness of any new acquisition of “knowledge”, if we had to barter for it with so much lost joy?
—Meager profit, great loss.
Not that we wouldn’t like to think of ourselves as old children.
“A form of life was experienced.” Everyone became someone else.
But at least don’t let our new life pass at the expense of slander against what we were in other times.
An injustice of this sort about the past would leave questionable contributions of expectations for future young lives.
We would teach them resignation – the worst defeat of all.
Do what you will, we will not excuse ourselves.
1. A Joy
I recall happy faces, for the most part young people, if not even just teenagers – it takes fifty years to make a man, and most of us were not yet half that age – A joy – very special because it was a historical joy, with an incomparable tone. I have searched high and low for its equal, and I don’t see it.
A discrepancy without equal, in most of the militant groups, between the event and its representation: typical, outdated, compromised, overused discourses – when not downright antithetical, clumsy, stupid, awkward, false (the “pro-Chinese” shamelessly praised Stalin, the gulags, the Moscow trials, Enver Hoxha!). The most timid unduly praised the “popular front” and the “Resistance”; in short: whatever took place in another time, through the pure inability to consider what had never taken place. The Unknown overwhelmed them from all sides, inebriated them, would have left them breathless if it hadn’t been for the old emaciated refrains: their youth, freed from the servile duty to prohibitions that had just the day before limited the possibilities in play to the usual conflicts with heavy overcoats.
3. Old Moons
The beginning of the end for the old moons that had launched pale glows into earlier skies. Retrospective statement of the obvious about a relationship (underground, but direct) between the French May and the internal collapse of the pyramid of state lies and terror that had assumed the appearance of a fatal future in the East for three or four decades. It took the living dead a quarter of a century to realize that they were living dead, but on May 13 for the first time, “the stalinist scoundrels were in the caboose”.
4. The Real End of the “Post-War Period”
The real end of the “post-war period” – After Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, the horrendous colonial wars in Indochina, Algeria, Vietnam, a deep need to look elsewhere was noticed. A certain juvenile pleasure in disorder was a way of breaking down the obstacles of the already given. Proselytes of every sort attributed the most diverse aims to the movement. Everyone brought their demands to that flow. The movement welcomed them all. But the unique tone that was its own did not depend on demands. A fact that may be hard to understand: aware of what it no longer wanted, that May did not have a precise idea of its future and perhaps had no need for one. It went to meet the unknown with a lack of concern never seen in analogous events.
5. A Young Life Awakening
The vital poem of life that awakens. Any poetry other than that of living life would have caused a shrug of the shoulders. Nietzsche: “I am not always sad. I don’t always have ideas.”
6. Return of the Repressed
The return of the repressed, of all the “madnesses of freedom” – from Saint-Just to Rimbaud, passing through Mallarme and Sade, the surrealists and Dada. Far from the obsessions of all the police of thought and feeling. Holderlin, Nietzsche, Breton; and not Jdanov, Stalin, Kanapa. History substantially changed direction. At a single stroke, the prefrontal overturning of symbolic activity occurred in history. Goodbye forever, reptilian brain! Goodbye forever, brow ridges!
7. The innocence of becoming
The innocence of becoming became dangerous again. An adventurous search for a bit of authentic unknown in history. What enthusiasm in this leap. Moods and nuances are all that will be remembered of it.
8. The Impossible
Disarmingly guileless hopes were affirmed with the most tender seriousness. The linear History of yesterday, having escaped the bed into which it was channeled by ideological terror, exploded into unpredictable, distant stars, beyond the barriers. The “im-possible” seemed to be the minimum that was desirable.
9. Authorized by Oneself
The two symmetrical infamies that had terrorized the century were delegitimated together by the children of the protagonists of the preceding generation, which symmetrically lacked the means for reestablishing moral authorities discredited by so many repetitions and now without a future – The first attempt to come out from the logic of resentment in "revolutionary" movements. A new life wanted to live, which was authorized only by itself.
10. “Rather Life!”
Those whose lives then vibrated to the emotional pitch of freedom and existence will never cease to be affected by it. How could they line up for ordinary life any more – taking care in their retreat not to pay tribute to the grayness of the day. They certainly didn’t fight to get wretched “official recognition” or to go up the ladder – “Rather life!”
11. Here and now
The French May was the first revolutionary movement whose stake was not the conquest of state power. In this perhaps it prefigured the future of truly liberatory human movements: when individuals, many of them, will devote themselves to themselves. Concerned with the effective possibilities that they will have at their disposal for entering directly into the new life that they will have the strength to conceive here and now. And here they are suddenly becoming responsible.
12. Non Serviam
“Not a society of slaves without masters, but a society of masters without slaves.” No revolution despised voluntary servitude as much as the revolution of that May, and, more than this, it distanced itself from the old fatality of separating one’s life from oneself. The taste for style again found an effective use. The S.I. gave it back the brilliance it always had with cruelty and genius.
13. Many Free Human Beings
One result that statistical experts and ideologues didn’t notice: that May would restore many free human beings to themselves, human beings who would never again return to the ranks. This is no small thing. The tone of life would change. What more could one want from an effective revolution that didn’t limit itself to the expectations of slaves? – We had this.
A mutation in spirits. A potent incitamentum to experimentation with concrete freedom. This bad example given to all would go on feeding new audacities. “Do away with the heritage of May '68”, monsieur Sarkozy, is one of the most rhetorical of programs.
15. The Authentic Place
Making the economy ironic. Desecrating the political. The return of complete life as complete, not as mishap, but as possibility, since everything is starting over, with each new young life. The content of real existence – things that have place only once – considered in earnest.
16. A Single Cry: “Be beautiful!”
The end of the separation between art and life, formulated not as a “demand” that leads to a coalition of desires always frustrated at not achieving their aims, but as a sovereign practice of life as art, that suddenly gives everyone what they no longer had a way of “reclaiming” abstractly for an abstract future. The enjoyment of the present, of play, of efforts dared: superior resources of festival and joy. With this, stammerings, so many hints of beautiful moments. - A single cry: “Be beautiful!”
“Slaves, we don't curse life!”
*Latin for incitement
Saturday, October 3, 2009
It's a problem that gets talked about a lot, but whose diagnosis is terse. On the right and on the left, the verdict is the same: we live in an "unsafe climate".
Everyday the news showers us with gallons of blood gathered at the scenes of ambushes, rapes, murders. Bloody events described and filmed with a maniacal wealth of details, making horrible shivers run up our spines that are already weakened by daily genuflections.
Watching the misfortunes of others is no longer a consolation. We aren't able to heave a sigh of relief at having escaped it. It is a nightmare, because these misfortunes seem to press against the screens, so as to hurl themselves onto our living room carpets. And if one day we become the protagonists of these news broadcasts that now drip only death? Prey to terror, we begin to triple lock the door, not talking to the neighbor or going out at night any more. Panic spreads as the following certainty is generalized: lack of safety is the scourge of our times. If it is solved, the gates of paradise will open for us.
To be blunt, there is some perplexity over the real increase in violence. Facing explicit demands, the "experts" themselves are forced to recognize that there is no substantial difference in comparison to the past: the leap in statistics is the fruit of different bookkeeping criteria. But also of visibility. It works like this. The political class puts the question of safety at the center of all its interventions. Journalists, accomodating to their masters as usual, repeat the concerns of the politicians and enhance them, illustrating them with news items. There is no lack of news to report. If the stories aren't relegated to a paragraph on the fifteenth page, they will expand out of proportion until they become exemplary. All that remains to the politicians is to comment about them and the play is made: "Do you see that our concerns were more than justified, they were indisputable? There truly is a safety problem!"
Ultimately, all this ado would not have much importance if it didn't aim to spread terror among the people, pushing them to demand drastic measures from their representatives. Against whom? Why, against those petty criminals who become giants of crime as soon as they end up under the spotlight.
It goes wiothout saying that petty criminals are not exactly at the top of the list of problems that disturb our lives. Quite different problems place our survival and that of our times in danger. The planet is threatened by ecological imbalance, cuts and restructuring loom over workplaces, our houses are at the mercy of theft by the banks, our health is threatened by the poisons we eat and breathe. Our entire existence is threatened by immanent danger (no to speak of current and future wars with their unforeseeable collateral effects), whose consequences are much worse than the theft of a wallet on the bus. The inventory of possible misfortunes is so vast, our days pass so much under the sign of precariousness and misery, that it is completely crazy to think that petty criminals are the cause of the social malaise.
Well, then, why the hell is it repeated until we're dizzy that aggression waits in ambush just around the corner? Simple. Because the state can dress up as the Great Protector around which to rally and the Righter of Wrongs to whom to turn. Muggers, purse-snatchers, drug dealers, rapists or murderers--random or hardened, real or presumed, native or foreign--not being the ones responsible for environmental devastations, job losses, financial devastation, food adulteration, workplace accidents, bombings of civilians, famines that afflict the world or any other great social problem, is it necessary to reveal those who are most directly responsible for all these occurrences? The punishment of chicken thieves in the public square serves the state and its hired killers by diverting the general attention from the private foraging of the sharks. One worry drives out another--this is why the institutions spread a panic to be attributed to someone else, feeding it continuously and increasing it in every way.
As a result, the hang-up about safety provides another advantage to the political class, justifying its recourse to increasingly tougher and more severe measures demanded by the population itself, to obtain, first of all, "the certainty of punishment". (For whom? but that is another matter.) Be that as it may, a population terrorized by the possibility of having their pocket picked applauds the increase in the forces of order. A population intimidated by crimes committed by immigrants welcomes the CPTs (Centers of Temporary Residence) with relief. A population frightened by the possibility of finding that someone has broken into their house is favorable to the spreading network of surveillance, and so on. But the provisions enacted in the name of the struggle against a few petty criminals will come in handy especially against the many potential rebels. More than petty criminality, the real danger to repress is social conflict. The political exploitation of the feeling of being unsafe is a formidable force for repressive laws. the climate of terror in which we live is not the natural outcome of hateful social conditions. It has been deliberately created to slip the satisfied city dweller into an unprecedented police regime. The state identifies the problem of public safety with "microcriminality" with the aim of imposing its solution: Public Safety, i.e., the cops.
All safety measures are authentic attacks on individual freedom and couldn't be taken so lightly if there hadn't been a genuine thought police operation aimed at imposing the idea that safety is the guarantee of freedom rather than its preventive negation. So the disease and the cure have been created, reconciling safety and freedom in a firm ideological alliance. An absurd alliance, impossible between two contradictory notions, which, like water and fire, cannot remain in contact without dissolving each other.
The construction sites of safety are built on the tombs of freedom. Safety has the objective of distancing all danger, while the practice of freedom, on the contrary, entails a challenge to every danger. It's no accident that the expression "making safe" usually means the act of putting something under lock and key. The typical example is that of the wild animal snatched from the jungle to be locked in a cage. In this way, the zoo administrators assure us, the animal is rescued from the dangers of the jungle and made safe. Behind bars it will not incur the risk of being shot by hunters or torn apart by savage beasts. Well, this animal is certainly safe, but at a heavy price--its freedom. It is well-known: when one avoids danger, one doesn't live life, one barely preserves it; because only by going to meet danger does one live life in its fullness.
Thus, safety and freedom are utterly incompatible.
"The more control thare is the safer we are," say the knuckleheaded people. And then add: "Video surveillance cameras are useful because nothing can happen under their eyes." Appalling expressions, symptoms of unconditional love for big brother. But who would want to live a life subject to control where nothing happens? Only at the cost of completely clouding the mind could one happily enter into the emotional desert through which our era trudges. Freedom is self-determination, choice of any possibility, risk, a challenge to the unknown that cannot be pampered under a glass bell.
But in our times the first quality required of an "honest" person is precisely that he conduct his life in transparency. A transparent person has nothing to hide, nothing to silence in his public or private life, thus, nothing to fear from others watching him. In the name of transparency, every intrusion is justified, any will to keep a secret indicates guilt. It is curious how the private life of individuals, which was once surrounded by respect and discretion is now watched with suspicion. Through logical and rhetorical acrobatics, protecting one's secrets has been made into a shady behavior. Banishing private life, it is clear that what allows its unveiling--investigation--is consecrated as a primary value. If this is so, then the means employed for this purpose are not and cannot be questioned. A defense of wiretapping!
At first, this demand for transparency was developed to contain the abuses of those who hold power. Requiring transparency in the lives of public men, of those who have high responsibilities, has a more than understandable function. They have to answer for the way that they manage the "public thing", i.e., put in a position where they can't abuse their privileges. But the reverse demand--that common people should be transparent to the eyes of those who hold power--is more terrible than one can imagine. Under the pretext of the exchange of "information" and of mutuality in control, the foundations for totalitarianism are laid.
Already in itself, transparency at all costs has unpleasant fallout. There are areas in the human being that naturally escape every indiscreet gaze. A person's intimacy, with his sexual tastes, is one of these. There was a time when someone who was interested in the intimate life of others was accused of wallowing in rumor-mongering and looked upon with disapproval. Renamed "gossip", rumor-mongering is now considered the spice that gives flavor to otherwise insipid conversations. The dreariness of a world that has transformed private vices into public virtues.
But who stops to reflect on what the cause of this effect might be? Our houses have become caretaker's lodges*, it's true, but it is a matter of a contraindication to the shock treatment ordered against freedom of thought. To flush out this freedom that can always be protected by the secret, the whole pile gets set on fire. The demand for freedom is the eulogy that comes before the funeral of the corpse of freedom in every sphere of human life.
And rather than rebel before the firing squad, we bow our heads. We live in a society where we are all on probation, and every day we diligently go back to sign the register of resignation. Because of the uneasiness we feel in the face of absolute freedom, without limits or boundaries; because of the deafening media overkill that causes us to see enemies everywhere, spurring us to opt for the lesser eveil of social control; but also because of our coparticipation in degradation--we feel somewhat relieved. Over the past few years, televison has reassured us about the goodness of the police, federal agents and judges--heroes of numberless tv shows--but how often has it invited us to directly spy through the keyhole. So-called 'reality shows" have had the effect of making the idea of a transparent life, that unfolds before all eyes and is periodically judged, punished and rewarded, familiar and normative.
The protest against the devastation of discretion runs into a barrier that has become classic: "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from control". Astounding, cop-like reasoning, which once again uses a logical reversal to make discretion a vice and meddling a virtue. Mor and more, daily life comes to resemble a prison, where they take the fingerprints of everyone born, where you walk through numberless metal detectors, where you are observed by electronic eyes, where the presumption of innocence has given way to the presumption of guilt.
There is a further consequence of the climate of terror fed by the ideology of security. If everyone feels unsafe, it means that each represents a threat to the other. Thus, there are no victims, only the guilty and the potentially guilty. If I want to be protected from my neighbor and my neighbor wants to be protected from me, it follows that we are both potentially aggressors and it would be dangerous to grant us our freedom.
We have all become suspects for what we might do if we used our freedom. The state goes all the way with this logic and asserts its right to punish this threat even in its most innocuous manifestations--even preventatively repressing it. Earlier at least, it was maintained that the individual would become punishable by law when he put his transgressive intents into practice. Anyone could dream of killing, you just couldn't do it with impunity (unless you were dressed in a uniform, of course). Western, democratic civilizations loved to shove its superiority over other civilizations down our throats. These other civilizations were judged as obscurantist because they did not guarantee complete freedom of thought to those within them. Just lying propaganda, of course, but that at least had to disguise itself to appear true. Today, repression has rid itself of the burden of any embarrassment, , and it is obvious to all that the mere dream of transgressing, the mere deviation of thought, is enough to attract the iron fist of the judicial system. An example? The busts that periodically snap the handcuffs onto someone who has downloaded images of "child pornography" from the Internet. Ho9wever contemptible, criticizable, hateful such behavior may be, the fact remains that these people are incriminated not for having abused any minors, but for looking at photographs in the privacy of their own homes. How long until the public burning of the works of Sade? Another example on the horizon is what happened to some friends of those arrested last February 12 in relation to the investigation of the so-called "new BR" (Red Brigades). Stopped by a police patrol in the very serious act of putting up posters, they were taken in for arrest. Already the event is telling in itself, since atmost, a poster can express an idea. Furthermore, the idea expressed in these posters wasn't an incitement to armed struggle, but rather the leveling of th War on Terrorism. How long until the raids against anti-militarists and pacifists?
The individual, with her ideas, desires and impulses constitutes a threat for the social order, but also for himself and others. From this is born the climate of civil war that is spreading: nocturnal curfews, patrols by armed soldiers, roadblocks. It is as if war had been declared on an imaginary enemy, that isn't there, but that might be us. On everyone and no one. If each individual is a potential criminal and if every criminal is an enemy of the state, then a war against individuals is being carried out. Now there is a substantial difference between the concept of the criminal and the concept of the enemy. The former is recognized as part of the community. The latter is not. The enemy is not granted extenuating circumstances, his punishments are not negotiated. No pretense is made of wanting to rehabilitate her. She is destroyed. Against him, everything is allowed. Wars are police operations, and police operations are wars.
There is only one way to avoid being considered an internal enemy to eliminate. Respecting legality. But prayers to this modern idol don't protect you from dangers, except maybe that of divine wrath. In an atheist, however, a horrible doubt arises: Why should the law as such by synonymous with the good? Under nazism, the persecution of Jews was legal. The death penalty, torture as a means of extorting information, the manufacture of nuclear warheads, these are all legal in many states... The legality of an act merely denotes its conformity to what is prescribed by law, i.e., to the interests of the ruling class that is its author. It tells us nothing about the value, the meaning, the consequence of the act. The culture of legality thus leads exclusively to ignorance through obedience, which ceased to be a virtue many years ago even for priests (while continuing to be the sweet dream of tyrants).
And this isn't even the worst aspect. To catch a glimpse of the abysses toward which the exaltation of legality pushes, it is enough to ask a simple question: Why don't we cammit an act like, for example, rape? Do we reject it because we consider it a repugnant act, which goes against our ideas and feelings, or because there is an article in the legal code that prohibits and punishes it? In the first case, our motivation could be described as ethical. In the second, it is legal. Maintaining that human beings should follow state legality rather than their own individual ethic means declaring that it is impossible for an individual to establish what is right and wrong for himself. After the capitulation of free will in the face of the will of authority, the penal code becomes the conscience of a world that no longer has conscience. A world in which the human being is thought of as lacking intelligence, with dulled feelings, insensitive to suffering--a savage beast to cage, control, repress. It is the price to pay in order to keep ethics from rising up against legality.
A society that sees its members as its enemies and entrusts authority with the task of repressing their thoughts and actions, a society quick to sacrifice every freedom in exchange for a crumb of safety, a society that sees Good as obedience to the law and Bad as transgression of the law, can only end up becoming totalitarian. How else can you describe a society placed under a regime of probation by a state that is granted every weapon and every police method for dealing with every particle of a person's life? As Hannah Arendt maintained, even a democracy can be totalitarian. A totalitarian state is one that makes it a required civic duty not only to respect the law, but also to think what those laws require you to think. Put simply, the insurgents who broke bank windows in Genoa in 2001 were not the only criminals; those who "psychically participated" by not stopping or denouncing them are also criminals. This social order doesn't limit itself to repressing hostility against itself, but also indifference: loving it is a duty, and whoever doesn't carry it out is persecuted.
Unfortunately, there is a blind spot in our minds that keeps us from comparing the totalitarianism of the modern world to the kind that characterized the first half of the last century. As if the heaviness of what happened in the past certifies the lightness of what is happening in the present. As if the barbed wire that surrounded Auschwitz was of a different gauge than the wire that surrounds present-day concentration camps from Guantanamo to the Centers of Temporary Residence (CTPs). But anyone who doesn't stop in the face of the lack of gas chambers, who doesn't believe that the ruthless ness of a regime is determined by a particularly gruesome aspect, can't avoid grasping the similarity that exists between the two eras. It is enough to look around to notice the same banality of evil, and identical alienation of the individual, the same loss of the I through a combination of ideology and terror. Today a single model of life reigns from west to east, without being called into question from any side. This omnipresence is becoming its concern. As long as capitalism had an enemy, it also had a scapegoat on which to unload all responsibility (a thing that occurred reciprocally for the other). But now, who is there to blame if the world finds itself on the edge of an abyss?
The world at last affordable to all--a vast supermarket vomiting out plastic-coated goods--has not at all increased happiness, peace or equality. The enemy has now become anyone who protests against the world, i.e., potentially everyone.The ideology of safety anticipates the times. It doesn't wait for the explosion of rage. It attributes the terror of current social relationships to the freedom of individuals, suddenly transforming everyone into the enemy, making us all suspicious in the eyes of the other, isolating us in our fear, provoking a war among the poor in order to defuse a social war. And it takes the legislative and police measures necessary for repressing such a threat. In this sense, what some people call the safety drift can be thought of as a huge preventative couterinsurgency operation.
* In Italian, there is a saying: "gossip like a caretaker".