Thinking Positive

Nihilism as Freedom, Never as Truth

Shulamith Firestone on the investigations and eradications of biological sex
Taking Marxist analysis “deeper” into the root divisions of [re]production.

It’s amazing to see this written in 1970, discussing the future “genderless and genderfluidity” that, here now 50 years later, we are finally seeing reach mainstream. Corporate media is so far behind darling, well over half a century!

And people think these “alternate” gender/sexualities are “new.” Ha! That novelty is, I think, the apposite side of Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception: where capital(ism) would eventually result in a state of permanent crisis (as the required growth and cyclical nature of markets and information would lead to perpetual overload).

In short, the idea is this: The present moment is special, it is different from all preceding instants, and the whole future depends on this moment. Oh, and there are no substantial alternatives.1 (ad infinitum, you can see how this gets exhausting after a while) To stop growing is to die, so growth must always be found, wrung out of the world, from the bodies that sustain it. And, eventually, the crisis of slow growth begins to eat itself (the largest overnight stay chain owns no property, it’s very product a liability: AirBnb; the largest taxi service ever owns no cars, has no employed drivers: Uber) and so sustains the metrics of improvement a few more cycles.

What that also allows, other than this perpetualized “future capture,” is the rejection of work done in the past to look into still-present systems of exploitation, of inequity, of violence. In short, it allows us to ignore power and history. Great things to keep people ignorant of if your goal is control.

We can’t study “history,” really, because the past does not exist. What we study (and create simultaneously) are stories about the present, ways of understanding or justifying what is, rather than what was. As Orwell wrote: “Who controls the present controls the past, who controls the past controls the future.”

We are creatures not fully of nature, but of narrative. These stories, from the anthropocene to the triumphant ascendance of global capitalism as the pinnacle organizing logic of human life; they are stories.

So then: how are we to tell better narratives?

(Haraway explainer: Make Kin not Babies, 10min)

I like Haraway and the cyborg-modifying xenofeminists. Why not destroy all sorts of boundaries (such as that between nature/culture) and the human/inhuman? If we create by describing the divisions known as ‘species,’ what if we simply remove it.

I guess I just keep writing things like this: pontificating about interlocking points that, for my lack of mastery and attempts at simplification all seem the same.

It’s not that my thought is monolithic, it’s that I am bad at explaining it. Without massive explication, footnotes, and self-referential half-defenses against critical imaginaries. I hope I sound slightly more coherent and put together than Jordan Peterson did!

But I do also pick up on things that I think are related to whatever I am currently focused on, in the broader sense. Ideas about economic [un]certainty; notions of “civilizational conflict;” the inevitability of war as thought of from within the universe’s largest military empire; love in an epoch of loneliness.

What chance for beauty is there, and how do we create more of it? The importance of critical reflection, yes, of peeling and associating layers of flesh with their history, this wound with it’s historical instigation. But I want, too, to focus on futures of light and potential (the greatest freedom is potential).

I think beauty, joy, love, difference (these words can all be synonyms) are what make living something to commit to. As Diane Nguyen2 said: “Traumatic things happen, you suffer, and then you just…keep on living.” That may well be the beauty of it all: that life is and will be until it is not.

In that sense, in the liberation-from-meaning, perhaps, there is a darkly kind of hope. But that also means we are able to choose our own, to provide to each other what we wish, and to find it handed to us. This, of course, requires community. Sometimes I wonder, whether the whispers and consolations of temporally and geographically distant voices can be enough of a community. Through words, through language (essays by Said, Butler, and others), through internet chat rooms and email. Is joining something like r/collapsesupport really helpful? Is it “the echo chamber” we have been warned about?

(As an aside, I will point out that all culture is an echo chamber of sorts, as it creates and restricts possible actions through shared interpretation. The only distinction is in number of adherants. It’s not a religion until you have a few hundred thousand followers, it’s just a cult. You’re not king after 10 murders, but you are after 100,000)

Choosing Love

Can our souls draw meaning from electrified crystals, trapped in panels transfigured by the finger-twitches of another body thousands of miles away?

(Alain Badiou on Love)

I used to love language, and part of me still does, still revels in the power and beauty of ideas and their enablers to become the world. I used to love language with the naïvete of youth, of a first love: blind to faults, ignoring the shortcomings. In time, those faults came too much to the fore (there is no narrative in life, there is no meaning and no next step, no necessary tomorrow) and I felt betrayed. Now my love for the “life of the mind,” to borrow from Arendt, is tempered by a knowledge of shortcomings, limitations, gross incompetencies.3

Language is not reality, and changing language does not change physicality (at least not entirely, not at first, not without living it).

It was the death of magic that marks the end of childhood. There are no incantations to transform myself or my environment, no book of spells or theoretical know-how. There’s just…me. And the “brute reality of living.” Each day after the other.

On the whole, I find this sort of existential outlook to be grounding. I continue to live, and as I live I generate what it means to live. I don’t know about the future—shared or otherwise—as a certain, fixed point to orient towards. It’s not that I can’t plan, but that to plan is to bring the future into the now, to structure your life around an idea (that I will XYZ). And if I don’t want to live in the future and not this present, then I choose to not decide in my action. What luxury, to remain in uncertainty!

Perhaps that uncertainty, the ability to remain in potential, maybe that is an important space to reserve and keep open. Full commitment to any dogma (even to the anti-dogma of post-modernism) is limiting.

On the whole, I am hopeful for the future of the earth. I think de-colonization and material development have made great strides in recent decades, that the lived world is actually not in poor shape. This is not to downplay climate change or any of the other issues facing the planet. But if we think about it, a massive drop in “standard of living” could well be a better life, if our metrics at present are off.

Does it really make us better off, that we can order useless plastics delivered to our massive, wasteful and lonely suburban houses within mere hours? What value to the lived experience, the everydayness, is brought by having trillions of dollars of wealth locked in stock based on nothing more than “animal sentiments?” What is a billion dollars worth, actually, to a single human life?

It’s questions, all the way down. Wonderfully and horribly.

  1. See Mark Fisher’s «Capitalist Realism: Is There Really No Alternative?» (PDF)  

  2. From «Bojack Horseman», yes. It’s a good show, if often hard to watch. I’d write about it, but the show is so popular and so much has already been said…I fear for originality. Also, not a direct quote. 

  3. One of the most alluring and attractive things about hero narratives may well be the idea of a destiny, a “propecy” or a clear path (fight evil) that can be easily followed. Something to live for, something to progress in. Rather than the Groundhog Day of everydayness.