Friday, August 23, 2002

formidable jaws gaping wide - who will clean these teeth? lambswool clotted with blood, crown and throne up-ended and shattered. a blizzard of flaming stones, a sea of ground glass. take a step. take a breath. the eyes are open. the ears are listening. what subtle words of destruction and awesome commandments of revelation await? turn away the curve of the earth. peel away the sun. behind the underneath of everything it is slumbering now. it is dreaming then. now: AWAKEN

Thursday, August 22, 2002

On NPR this morning, at the end of a story concerning separation of powers and the ongoing "war on terrorism," the reporter stated that the government was having trouble figuring out the roles of its various branches in a war, "with no identifiable enemy and no foreseeable end." Of course, if this is a clear statement of the case, as I believe it to be, then we have entered a realm (in point of fact, entered it quite a while ago) in which war is a state of affairs, rather than an activity undertaken for a particular end. If there is "no identifiable enemy," how can there be a war at all? If the war has no end, what differentiates it from its opposite?
The American Empire has no identifiable other, no counter-empire, against which is opposes itself. Instead, it only has threats to its structural integrity. "Terrorism" is the word currently used to describe a class of threats, and is, as such, the enemy itself. "Crime" is another word to describe a class of threats. It is related to the class of threats which fall under the term "Drugs," though the latter is ambiguous since, in the case of an anthrax vaccine, "drugs" may actually refer to a class of preventative agents or events.
The system cannot proceed against a class, since it is the system alone which defines it as a class. However, the system can proceed against members of a class. The challenge thus becomes clearly defining the members of the class. The recent debate concerning whether or not we should, unilaterally or not, intervene against the regime of Saddam Hussein is related to the complex described above. If Saddam Hussein can be effectively defined as belonging to the class "Terrorism," then the system can proceed against him. As we have seen, this has not been as easy as one might presume. The international community is not in agreement concerning his classification, and similar doubts have been raised domestically. While there does seem to be a consensus that Hussein, in his attacks on the Kurds, for example, has committed crimes against humanity, the problem with assigning him to the "Crimes" class is that the function of this class is to define internal threats to system stability. Neither the Kurds nor Saddam Hussein nor the gassing of Kurdish civilians can be situated inside the system. As horrible or atrocious as they may be, they belong to the outside of law.
But there may be another problem, deeper than one associated with evidence. The class "terrorist" itself may need further specification, particularly as the justice department begins the process of constructing an internal surveillance network in the US (very 19th century). Prior to an actual terrorist act, and apart from specific plans to carry it out, what observable actions define a member of this class? When will "sympathy" become such an attribute? When will legitimate critique of governmental policies and actions become such an attribute? When will defending yourself against a false accusation become an attribute? When will (did) your name appear on a list?
This set-up, the "war on terrorism," breeds such paranoid musings and is itself a product of them. The bigger question thus becomes, how do we define "threat to systemic stability"? What "system" is the government trying to maintain, what "system" does is thereby create, and, as a result, what other "system" is either destabilized or prophylactically made impossible?

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

In "Sein und Zeit," Heidegger described "Sein zum Tod," or "Being unto Death," as the authentic existential posture for any "Being there" (what you and I would probably call a "being"). As I recall it through the haze of my post-graduate years, Heidegger was advocating a quasi-buddhistic "keep your eye on your death" approach to living. You will die. You are going to die. Your death is yours alone. It is inevitable, out there, waiting. "Death comes ripping," as Glen Danzig reminded us many moons past. By choosing your own personal and ultimate death as a closing bracket for your life, the latter is illuminated by the proper light of actuality.
The subtext here is that the one thing every human has in common, is this lowering fate. The odd thing to me was the abstractness of it. Certainly, we all die. But some will die before I finish typing this sentence (may you now rest in peace), some will die wasting away in a hospital bed, some will did obliviously as they drunkenly drive their cars over embankments, some will die suddenly of heart attacks on commuter trains, some will die of diseases that were preventable, etc. In fact, unless you commit suicide, the fact of your death remains shrouded in potentiality.
On the other hand, and I think I'm ripping this idea off of Heidegger's old flame, Hannah Arendt, it is a demonstrable fact that everyone living was born and the precise moment and circumstances of that birth are very specifically situated in time. By focusing on this birthedness of us, rather than our eventual mortality, we choose a perspective that gives greater wait to our deep connection to other humans (moms in particular). It anchors our way of living in a (past) certainty rather than a (certain) future possibility. The one event is concrete (I appeared covered with blood and amniotic fluid from my mother's vagina), the other conjectural (I will leave this world in some as yet to be defined way). The one creates a perspective in which our specific origin and subsequent experiences are acknowledged as the necessary foundation for our life as it is, the other creates a perspective in which an idea (that of our death) becomes the basis of our life and actions, thereby facilitating all forms of actionistic fanaticism (either of a heroic or diabolical nature).
All religions focus on death - how to prepare for it and how to overcome it. They leave birth alone because it has already happened (though, of course, some religions focus on death as a way of preparing for a better next birth - nevertheless, even in these cases, birth is mediated by death). When we reverse our perspective and consider birth as the primary, organizing event in our lives, we turn our backs on the so-called spiritual, the beyond, etc., and ground ourselves in the real situation of living here in this world in this way right now. Our death is not the doorway to the beyond, but the beyond itself. There is nothing (literally) on the other side.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Thomas Friedman wrote an editorial in the Times today (if you, whoever you may be, are reading this more than 2 weeks in the future of this posting, you may no longer have access to the above) in which he stressed "context matters." He was talking about democracy in India and how it has prevented the growth of Islamic militancy by providing Muslims (150 million minority population in Indai) real opportunities for social movement and self-actualization. He also stressed, as I have done, that America and the world would be better served by a campaign to promote democracy, rather than a campaign to end terrorism. If you did the one, I believe, the other would follow (and there are real historical examples of this occuring). But that was not what intrigued me. A few days ago, I was writing up a preliminary ethics in which I wrote "Know your context." Which was my way of saying "Context matters," while putting the emphasis on the subjective relationship to context, rather than the latter's objective significance. This is a basic relativist tenet (and critical to the emerging philosophy which calls itself "transversal") and, indeed, relativism provides the context for the contextualization of context. Tis true that context matters, but what, precisely, is the context for any particular thought or event? That is: democracy is the context for Indian Muslims.The European Enlightenment and Ghandi are the context for Indian democracy. The rise of humanism and capitalism in Europe (along with the collapse of Euro-feudalism) provide the context for the Enlightenment (and, by extension, the French revolution). The dark ages are the context for the rise of euro-feudalism. Fall of Rome (and rise of Gothic tribes) context for that. Decline of Alexandrian world context for rise of Rome, etc. etc. Of course, these are merely historical contexts. I could have chosen climactic changes, species migration, technological advances, spiritual innovations, etc. And, of course, the what is the context of the earth itself? of the Milky Way? The history of the universe? Remember: context matters, meaning precisely, what you view as the object of interest and what you choose as its context.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Limits, borders, boundaries, barriers. Strange how few actual, physical limits there are. Most borders, for example, are conventional or merely legally defined. Where does Mexico end and Texas begin? Does the Earth know and respect these relations? Of course not. What if you could arrest clouds or wind for crossing state lines? Which leaves us with the "other" boundaries, those imposed by our thought-patterns or by specific social groups. To be a Kurd in Turkey means something (it may mean that you will be put in prison and executed, if you are politically inclined, or want to teach children to read Kurdish). To be a Kurd in the US doesn't mean anything. The line that distinguishes between Kurd and Turk does not exist here, indeed, it does not exist anywhere, although it is enacted by Turkish soldiers and citizenry.
Such lines can be condensed under the rubric of difference. A difference does not exist in, but in between. The difference is the boundary, the borderline, that only appears through the window of relation. The relation creates the difference and can likewise uncreate it (through rearrangement of the related). This begs the question: Is there ever a "real" difference? Of course, all differences are real. But difference itself faces its own threshold, that dividing sense from the senseless. There is a difference between Turks and Kurds here in the US (differences of language, history, memory, desire, fury, etc.). It is just that, in this context, the difference is senseless.

Friday, August 02, 2002

struggling with the concept of "space-time." everything is a four dimensional object occupying four dimensional spacetime. I realize that the math works, but there seems to be something amiss on the conceptual level. even in the string world, they talk of "x spatial dimensions, and 1 temporal dimension." isn't this formulation itself an acknowledgement, that at least in one regard, time is different from space? indeed, the notion of "spacetime" itself, embeds this difference in its awkward compoundity. heidegger (that wily ol' nazzy), faulted contemporary physics for its "spatialization of time," since this invovled an attempt to make time, the Insubstantial, substantial. Looking at an old Wired magazine (circa '98) the other day, I came across the same tendency in the quote: "Today, time is the only truly scarce commodity." It's a strange sort of commodity since, you can't increase or decrease it quantitatively. You can't stockpile or hoard it. Time simply and inexorably elapses. (Funny to think of "elapsing" as something one thing does to another: "I will elapse you." The triumph of the intransitive.) We spatialize time as a matter of course when we say things (do we "say things"?) like, "This is taking place IN real-time," or "at that point IN time." Spacetime can consist of points (located in some sort of four dimensional grid), time cannot. Our brains, or at least my own, seem incapable of modeling such a structure, though I seem to have no trouble existing as such. We believe that, since there are other places in space, there must be other places in time. is time not the "place" that all space occurs in (or the Space the Place occurs in)? Time resides in the occurrence itself (even if this occurrence takes the form of endurance). We tend to think of time as an abstract, uniformity in and through which the events of the universe unfold. Time, however, is what these events (and ourselves as events), "bring to the table." We (and they by extension, or vice versa) are the fourth dimension.