Archive | November 2015

The Way of Pain

“No pain. No gain.” This is an entrenched belief amongst human beings the world over. It is a very deeply held belief that any gain in human functioning or freedom must come at a very great price and at a high cost in terms of pain and suffering, or even violence and bloodshed. We’ve even enshrined it in our economic system — to gain something you must part with something, called “trade-off” or “sacrifice”. Or reward and punishment. Other cultures also have their cult of pain, suffering, and sacrifice — circumcision or tooth-filing, for example. Pain is held to be a necessary concomitant to a gain.

None of that, though, is at all necessary, fundamentally. It is a “truth” only because we have made it so. Our very belief that pain is necessary to learning and change sets up the terms of our individual and collective existence in that way — the way of pain.

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1984 in 2016

I have an old photograph of myself from 1984. I’m sitting at a kitchen table. In the background, pasted to a cupboard door, is a full page clipout from the local newspaper. It’s a picture of “The Eye” — the all-seeing eye of Big Brother (or of Sauron for that matter). With all the naivete and myopia of the contemporary mindset, the picture and the accompanying article is a celebration of “the fact” that 1984 had arrived with no sign of George Orwell’s Big Brother.

Phew! What a relief! We could all relax our vigilance now. The thing of Orwell’s dread and horror, the dystopian future of his novel 1984, could safely be said to have passed us by, and 1984 could now be consigned to the dustbin of history. The “end of the world” had come and gone without any sign of Big Brother.

That naivete, myopia, and mere superstition about the date, 1984, goes a long way in describing what came next — Fukuyama’s triumphalist declaration of “the end of history”. One delusion fed into another.

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Jihad vs. McWorld: In the Current of the Demonic

Towards the end of his productive life, Nietzsche suggested that in future, Europe (the West generally) would have to engage with Islam in a kind of dialectic simply in order to become clear about its own values. I’m not sure that Nietzsche anticipated that this dialectic would take the form of war and terrorism, but that seems to be the form this dialectic has now taken. No doubt the soul-searching is reciprocal, with the need altogether to question value-systems that seem to have gone awry. But given that Nietzsche also anticipated “two centuries of nihilism” it would seem logical that Nietzsche believed that the form of the “engagement” would be very turbulent and violent.

A century later, in 1995, Benjamin Barber made a name for himself when he published Jihad vs McWorld: Terrorism’s Challenge to Democracy. It was really an attempt at such values clarification that Nietzsche anticipated would simply be forced upon everyone. I finished reading the book in August, 2001 — just a month before 9/11. Barber’s book immediately became a bestseller after 9/11, of course. You could say it was prescient. Or you could say, rather, that it was simply the logical step in Nietzsche’s prophetic anticipation of his “two centuries of nihilism”. Now all are drawn into the current of the demonic.

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