Saturday, November 22, 2014

"A Sort of Song" by William Carlos Williams

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
-- through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

The first half of this poem seems to be about words themselves -- that is "the writing," explained metaphorically with the snake. Williams is expressing his desire to see a new sort of language emerge in poetry, a language that is just as accurate and effective ("sharp to strike"), as well as determined ("quiet to wait, / sleepless") as a serpent hunting its prey.

But furthermore, especially in the second stanza, Williams seems to be referring to a sort of lingual existentialism. "No ideas but in things" is the most famous line from this poem for a reason. With this simple phrase, Williams beautifully reiterates the entire basis of existentialism: there is no essence without there first being existence (that is, there are no ideas of things without the things themselves existing first). This is why "the people and the stones" must be "reconciled" -- not humans reconciled with stones, but humans reconciled with humans, stones reconciled with stones, selves reconciled with selves. Not only the philosophy, but the language of our times as well, has apparently been corrupted by the illusion of an essence. According to Williams, a person can never be just "a person" -- instead, he will always be himself, a singularity, an existence who will always prove more beautiful than the idea of "a person" (that is, any person). Interestingly, Williams understands literature as a way of expressing singularity, a way of illustrating existence itself (by no means a simple "individuality," which always expresses itself in the form of lonely predicates, or in other words the very "ideas" to which Williams refers*), hence his poems' frequent use of detailed of imagery.

The final line is a metaphor that concludes the poem perfectly: his vibrant saxifrage, that is his gorgeous imagery, will subvert and "split" all of the supposed concreteness and coldness of modern language.

*Everything in these parentheses is extremely unclear, but I can clear this up eventually

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Refusal to Vote

There are few things more sickening than the condescending demand to “get out and vote.” To expect any sort of real representation in the current political system is purely delusional. Raising or lowering the income tax by five percent, passing an “overhaul” of the healthcare system, or investing in alternative energy all change nothing in reality. There will still exist the most humiliating poverty -- now, more social than economic. There will still remain the most brutal racism. There will still linger the most vicious wars. For everyone, there will still remain the crushing monotony of work.

Nothing remains in the realm of classical politics besides a desire to sustain the status quo, an inclination to reinforce the current mode of production. Once conservatives are pressed, they eventually admit that all the life-support machines deployed by the welfare state are the only things keeping riots from breaking out at each and every moment. Once progressives are scrutinized, they all eventually begin telling about the wonders of the free market and of capitalism -- albeit a “regulated” capitalism. We cannot help but suspect that the supposed conflict between Left and Right is a false dichotomy: even the state-controlled economies of Leninist states, once analyzed from the correct perspective, begin to look eerily similar to the most unregulated markets of the West. For this reason, everything that has been presented to us thus far -- within the realm of classical politics -- must be considered capitalism. The Right and the Left represent different approaches, each with its own benefits, but no real difference in principle. It is surprising that two sides of the same coin have created enemies out of each other for so long.

The shift to the Left that occurred in the 20th century after the world witnessed the horrors of completely unregulated capitalism does not represent a victory for the working class in any sort of way. Leninist states in the East and the more moderate welfare states of the West always served as mere methods of keeping capitalism alive. If these welfare-based reforms had not taken place, society would not have been able to function at all. People would not have been able to live in such severe poverty and inequality without erupting into violence. And here we find the only question with which we are faced in classical politics today, the question that sparks so many banal debates between conservatives and progressives: “To what degree should we regulate capitalism?”

Of course this question comes along with the assumption that capitalism must survive at all costs. This is why we reject classical politics. This is why we find ourselves unable to be represented. We are not concerned with the degree at which the government should regulate this mode of production. We are instead concerned with destroying this mode of production. We are solely interested in abolishing capitalism.

Radicalism aside, we must all agree, at the very least, that it is simply impossible for an individual to represent hundreds of thousands of people, or that a legislative body made up of a few hundred could represent hundreds of millions. From the perspective of pure liberty, we ask that people refuse to vote in order to delegitimize the elections, in order to demonstrate that there is no longer any faith in this ridiculous idea of “representation.”

Finally, we come to Ferguson, where a “democratically elected” apparatus decides to violently suppress peaceful protesters -- the same protesters who supposedly voted for this government in the first place. As usual, the election itself gave the government the legitimacy to use violence. Democracy, everywhere, looks like Ferguson. It is not enough to retroactively analyze the polls for racial turnouts or for a specific political climate: we must denounce the polls themselves.

From this angle, it becomes clear why so many citizens in the West describe their vote as “a choice between two evils.” When presented with such a predicament, we understand that the only real choice that remains is the refusal to vote. This is why we say do not vote. We have too much dignity to willingly vote for a lesser of two evils, to willingly sign over our personal liberty to someone else. From now on, our ballot will be our absence. Our representatives will come from the streets.

Friday, October 17, 2014

As if I had already seen it somewhere before....

“The Young-Girl understands freedom as the possibility of choosing from among a thousand insignificances.”

Deja vu is a phenomenon created by modern times. Still, no one suspects that decades of homogeneous architectural manufacturing could have such a profound psychological effect. Nonetheless the first accounts of deja vu occur, unsurprisingly, in the 19th century, during the early days of mass production. In a philosophical sense, industrial society came about as the material emergence of Western metaphysics up to that point in time; in particular, the supremacy of essence over existence. Plato’s desire to understand individual objects through mastery of the forms was now finally realized: mass production allows a person to see an individual object and understand it through his preexisting idea of that object, through its essence. So when I see endless roofs zigzagging through entire regions with the most unamusing flow, as is common in most suburban neighborhoods, each house appears to me as a mere example of the true essence, the true form, of a house. As if I had already seen it somewhere before. Each house becomes just another possibility, and most likely an insufficient possibility, since the essence of a house is always portrayed by the Spectacle as superior to a single house. In this way, deja vu was created.

So in response to the phenomenon of deja vu, which loses its original excitement once it is induced constantly and turned into a hellish boredom, existentialism spread as a philosophy (again unsurprisingly in the 19th century), as in “existence precedes essence.” This line of thought was primarily a response to capital’s ability to trivialize everyday life, which in modern times has become the ability to commodify everyday life. This is why Soren Kierkegaard encouraged people to live an “authentic” life: because he understood that there was nothing authentic about commodity society.

So the police can also be analyzed from this perspective. One of their larger goals is to secure the supremacy of essence, a supremacy which is already continuously reinforced by mass production and the Spectacle. This is why, when people pursue their own existence vigorously enough, and reject the boring “possibilities” already imposed onto them, they are suppressed in a seemingly unnecessary way. This is why graffiti is outlawed, or why it is quite literally illegal to be homeless; it's the reason why physical and social presentability, or employment at a high-paying job, or even avarice are all considered to be important virtues. It isn’t because a hoard of disgruntled youths or vagabonds pose an actual threat to anyone; instead, it is because their uninhibited desire to exist -- first and foremost -- is the biggest menace against which commoditism must fight. They refuse, even if only because they can, to give into the supremacy of essence: the youth, by not working; and the homeless, by not consuming.

But what form does this supremacy take today? What essence is our existence ideally supposed to follow? It seems obvious that the dominant mode of production would have us all become the most efficient producers, and the most greedy consumers. Hence the constant repetition of the phrase “humans are naturally selfish” (as if such a statement could relieve the modern citizen of his guilt). And this effectively sums up all of the “self-fulfillment” that capital can provide for us: fulfillment of one’s supposed essence, which only ever amounts to slavery. So when Forbes compiled a list of “Ideas for Self-Fulfillment” it should not come as a shock that one of the items on the list states that “if you don’t like what you do, you won’t love YOU, and the job won’t last.” What they fail to realize is that love is not the same as a lack of hatred. After all, no one really loves their job. Some people just don’t hate it.

Simultaneously, capitalism refuses us the possibility of reaching our own authentic existence. Even the citizen who flees any sort of prescribed essence, always jumping from individuality to individuality, digs his own grave; thus the temp is born, the temporary worker, the most flexible producer. Surely we have all realized by now that the temp is the future of all work in the West. Therefore, even the citizen who appears most unpredictable is recuperated into the workforce, and capital even has an incentive to keep people in this permanent limbo. The ideal existence which has always been sought by capitalism, the ultimate essence, is represented in the subject that has no existence -- not meaning non-existent, but meaning an existence of nothingness, of pure adaptability.

However the “ideal” existence is not only achieved through working. Consuming is also a major aspect, and “the consumer” is one side of capitalism’s phantom essence, an essence with which we are all supposed to match our individual existences. Thus Microsoft’s recent advertisement which describes its latest tablet as “one experience for everything in your life.” This slogan perfectly describes the allure of commodities and their simultaneous attempt to quench our thirst for existence. By pursuing the individualities and pseudo-existences provided by commodities, one actually throws away his authentic existence in favor of commodity society’s solitary essence. In this way, the single experience of consuming can replace all other true desires and literally become the “one experience for everything in your life.”

Of course when we speak of production and consumption so negatively, we are not underestimating the power of creation and fulfillment. From this perspective, an Existentialist Marxism can be developed. Within the dichotomy of essence and existence, it seems obvious that the homogeneous commodity, so easily mass produced, takes the form of the essence, the thing that all competitors must match, the ultimate form of that use-object. On the other hand, existence is that which is not mass produced, the use-object that is made in a DIY fashion, and furthermore, it is the impulse to create. It is the desire to access the means of production in a direct, collective way. In this sense, the socialist revolution coincides with the social insurrection. In fighting for existence, the ultimate enemy is commodification.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


“Truths that are no longer amusing become lies.”

Is the collapse of a civilization really happening right under our noses? Have the collapses of previous civilizations always come unexpectedly, drawn out so that in a single lifetime nothing major happens until one thinks back? Truly, we are all more interested in the name of Kim Kardashian’s baby than the fact that the US government has been tracking the phone records of most Americans. We are all so easily pacified, there is nothing we can do.

“What should be abolished continues, and we continue to wear away with it. We are engulfed. Separated from each other. The years pass and we haven’t changed anything. Once again, morning in the same streets. Once again the fatigue of so many similarly passed nights. It is a walk that has lasted a long time.

None of these news stories move us like we claim they do. The destruction of the Occupy movement by militarized police can now go neatly hand in hand with the 1968 Chicago police riots in our history books; the conflagration of Ferguson looks like Birmingham circa 1963. No one wonders why the recent wave of mass shootings has spread throughout America, just how to stop it. Nonetheless, every few years, an entire insurrection breaks out against a different government, from West to East. Just in our most recent memory: France in 2005, Greece in 2008, the UK in 2010, the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey in 2014.

It’s becoming apparent that the severe economic wealth of the Western world isn’t doing anything for us but spreading a massive social and cultural depression. The general populace has demonstrated time and time again that they are not happy with the mere guarantee of survival -- they want something more. Tax breaks, public education, and increases in wages are demands of the past. From now on, we will demand a radical change to our everyday lives through concrete means.

The pacification of the populace -- as we all might think -- isn’t done solely, or even mostly, in the political theater, with its continually decreasing voter turnout, and its general lack of awareness or political engagement. Instead, the people of the West are much more pacified in the economic theater, and that is to say, in relation to their everyday lives as workers or managers. There is never even a thought of protesting what a boss demands, what money demands, no matter how unreasonable. There is never an action to truly change life, never a gesture to fight against the monotony of work as a whole (and what is work, today, but the majority of everyday life for the average citizen?). When will people realize that they have no agency, joy, or true companionship at work? Or really the question should be: When will they move to do something about it? When will they destroy what they have already realized to be an irredeemable system? One day, enough people will stop to wonder, “What am I doing?”

They’ll be able to name the tasks of their job, but really, what are they doing?

However, although this general pacification is largely economic, it is not solely limited to the productive sphere of the economy: the constant distractions; the increasing standards of technology, hygiene, and health; reality TV shows; the nonstop merging of real life and fake images. These acts of consumption hit us like artillery bombardments, crippling any continuation in thought, or at the very least, crippling any organized line of thought. After all, how can a person think straight when they constantly have the feeling that they are being watched (this feeling comes from the fact that the idea of images has completely taken over our society’s way of being; this obsession with images blurs the line between reality and fantasy, such that the average individual feels that he or she is at the center of attention, just as his or her favorite celebrities are). This might give reason for contemporary philosophy’s inability to find even a tiny piece of truth, and therefore its degradation into the most cowardly, cynical relativism. Alternatively, it gives reason for the general populace’s ignorance and apathy to their own exploitation.

Production and consumption: the twin edges of the blade of capitalism. When combined, it is not even the economic that prevails in pacifying us. After all, even if we’re exploited economically, it is of little relevance anymore: we have most of what we want in a material sense. When speaking about production and consumption, we must give up Marx’s materialist conceptions: they have proven true, but capitalism has worked its way around them. That is to say, by elevating the economic, by alleviating the materialist contradictions that Marx spent so much time analyzing, capitalism has completely degraded the social.

Work isn’t terrible because of the extraction of surplus value, it is terrible because of its effects on individuals, and, more importantly, its control over a person’s being.

Similarly, consumption isn’t a problem because of the scarcity of goods or even their overproduction, but because we have lost the ability to experience objects as objects or people as people. From the pettiest trinket to the most sacred form of life, everything has been commodified.

Any type of resistance when the populace is stuck in a dream is difficult; however, this society’s extremely high rates of anxiety and depression might counteract that. After all, what does it matter if people are sleepwalking if they know they are unhappy for some reason? Since contemporary philosophy professionally neutralizes all of our holds on reality, that reason, although quite obvious, seems difficult for most to grasp. Nevertheless, we will attempt to initiate a disturbing awareness of our everyday constrictions, to jolt awake anyone who cares enough to read a few truths that are still amusing.


“Loss of life”: a phrase that puts your own being in terms of property relations. The sad fact of the matter is that most of the people who inhabit this environment already seem dead. They look like zombies out there, hoards of them gathering for a feast on Black Friday, although none of them seem interested in brains. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, when a teenager holding a Wii remote is shot to death by the police. The cops must defend themselves against such ruthless man-eaters, and the rest of the living dead.

If anything, they must provide even more of the most reliable security nowadays, because of how intense the proliferation of things has become. After all, as commodity society continues to expand and colonize, the police -- so casually militarized now -- must grow stronger. This is because of the boredom and monotony that commoditism naturally creates, just as much as it is the inequality and socio-economic contradictions. The Arizona Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office's recent deployment of the “TechnoCop,” with his blackout shades and AR-15, is enough to prove the direct relationship between capital and the police. The MCSO is not only a force that defends against the relentless, invisible theft that has spread throughout the county, but also a machine that administers the daily dose of hopelessness that keeps people working at entirely superfluous occupations. With the arrival of chain gangs a few decades back, the infamous Joe Arpaio defended such barbarism by quoting an anonymous inmate: “It sure beats being in a cell all day. I’d rather be busy than locked up.” And this generally sums up the choice that the police apparatus presents to the modern citizen: redundant, payless “busy-work” or a jail cell. Even if we find something exhilarating to do with the free time we are so generously given, it is immediately suppressed or covered up by an ever more omnipresent yet “progressive” police force. “The male chain gang, and the world’s first-ever female and juvenile chain gangs, even paint over graffiti!”

But for those who have already realized this predicament, for those who have settled into the routine of work (and we cannot deny the fact that most of us fall into this camp), there requires a plethora of security measures -- the undercover officers, the mass surveillance operations, the deportations -- all which exist to defend our freedom. And that is to say, our freedom to work, the most pathetic freedom, the freedom of slaves. Most recently in Arizona, actual legislation has been passed to “defend” this humiliating form of liberty: SB1070, a senate bill which allows for the most blatant racial profiling (a tactic which was already in effect de facto). This bill gave police the power to create an effective reign of terror in the latino communities, splitting up families on a daily basis all to “protect our jobs.”

Our freedom to work, our freedom to get to and from work, our freedom to pursue work: this is what the police must protect. Many argue that the police have other, much more primary duties, like the duty to protect our civil liberties and political rights. But if the Occupy Movement taught us anything, it is that even the most basic, and most sacred, rights can be taken away if the flow of production is disturbed. When a thousand or so protesters decided to clog up some streets around the New York Stock Exchange, their assembly was immediately deemed illegal and violently suppressed. It doesn't even have to be about the First Amendment or any other legal debacle. The streets were drowned in tear gas, but no one seemed to care.

More critically though, the police are here to defend the modern citizen’s freedom to consume. There is a reason why electronics stores are consistently put on high alert when a minority or a teenager walks in -- and it is not so much the threat of theft as it is the right for others to consume in the most comfortable circumstances. Under semiocracy, if commodities gain their value from being visible to others, then shopping probably follows a similar pattern. One behavioral economist reflects on this peculiarity by drawing from her own experience as a Latina:

"I would never go shopping without makeup, hair done, and dressed really well -- I have to do that to get any respect. And it costs people of color more, just in life in general."

The freedom to consume -- and consume beautifully -- must be defended at all costs to keep capitalism alive, and not only literally. In another sense, the benefits of this freedom must also be defended more vehemently than anything. This is because any criticism of this society can be totally defeated by a simple reference to this freedom. When Shin Dong-hyuk -- the only known escapee of a North Korean prison camp -- was “discovered,” apparently in the same way that a celebrity is, the US seized the opportunity. Only by pointing out our dismal abundance could such ubiquitous social degradation be justified: in one of his many interviews with the elites of the financial world, Shin even stated that he “still think[s] of freedom as roasted chicken.” How heartwarming.

“You have a smartphone, a laptop, a flat screen TV, and you’re trying to tell me you’re not free?” cries the defender of capital incredulously. What he fails to understand is that we can imagine new forms of desire, we can envision a landscape that laughs and screams, instead of one that noisily creaks like the network of machinery that covers the world today.

In the final analysis, the ultimate paradox of the police apparatus lies in the fact that it uses mass surveillance, rubber bullets, sound cannons, silent cameras, plain clothes security guards, and so many other invisible forms of coercion all to defend freedom and democracy.

“Freedom is no longer a name scrawled on walls, for today it is always followed, as if by its shadow, with the word ‘security.’”

An Introduction

The title of this blog says it all: random philosophy. Do not expect to read a cohesive -- whether topically or ideologically -- set of posts. We are a group of perpetual students, who bicker constantly by the way, and we just have a few things to get off of our chests. From continental philosophy to analytic precision, or classical metaphysics to modern existentialism, hopefully something important will be written here.