Great Scot

The Thin Red Line–the famed Scottish Brigage–thankfully took down, as I read at their museum today, those “uncivilized Indian revolutionaries” who were taking on the British crown for their independence.

Then I learned that thank God for Robert the Bruce, who took on the British crown for their independence.


Clovis became for some reason a figure of mine–he was great in working on sovereignty: barbarian and Latinized, pagan and Christian…but most of all are the stories: the bashing of the head of the man who broke his vase, thus doing the same to him as he did to the vase; the use of his double-side battle-axe at a moment’s notice… and of course, his very sincere baptism. He is likely neither the first nor the last to claim God’s hand in winning a battle, and surely his example is there every Sunday during the football season when God is thanked for some victory, because, you know, He does choose sides. From Gregory of Tours (by the way, if you like Gibbons, Gregory of Tours’s Historia Francorum is …well, I don’t know what the word would be: interesting?)

The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis’s army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: “Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the 1iving God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries.” And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: “Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now.” And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.

Small side note: when Clovis first presented to his troops the idea of converting, they  are said to have literally turned their backs on him. It was only this victory–thank God–that gave him the ability to get baptized and then later baptize en masse his troops.

Death and Taxes

I should first stipulate the following post has nothing to do with my own trip with my father (not least because, alas, there is no inheritance to speak of, especially after his trips to various distilleries in Scotland yesterday). Here’s a part of a short article on the end of the estate taxes later this year, which will give people of a certain income a dangerous incentive before the end of the year…

As economists will tell you, when you tax something less, you get more of it. Various studies have shown that this logic applies to life and death as well as to more modest behavioral choices. In a 2001 paper titled “Dying To Save Taxes,” Wojciech Kopczuk and Joel Slemrod examined 13 tax changes since 1917 and concluded that “for individuals dying within two weeks of a tax reform, a $10,000 potential tax savings … increases the probability of dying in the lower-tax regime by 1.6 percent.” A 2006 study done in Australia, which abolished its inheritance tax in 1979, reached the same conclusion: “a statistically significant effect of the abolition of inheritance taxes on the number of deaths.” More than half the people who, according to statistics, ordinarily would have paid the Aussie inheritance tax in its final week managed to evade it by living a bit longer. Here, Congress has created an incentive for Grandma to stick around through Jan. 1, 2010, then snuff it before the end of next year. … I do not wish to alarm older, wealthier readers, but you may find family gatherings becoming increasingly tense over the next year. Do not be surprised if your heirs and assigns try to sit you down for a “conversation.” You may want to have a witness or security guard present. 

This murderous strain, of course, is but the logic of capitalism at its best. We are told often that we can’t have single payer health insurance since doctors, apparently, would rather let people die than take a pay cut. Now, off to have a convo with dad…

The Secret Government

A lot of my recent work has been in the area of sovereignty, in particular critiquing the focus on state figures (the president, etc.) that Schmitt’s decisionism leads to. But the story of modernity is the movement of sovereignty and sovereign decisions out of the oval offices and so on–that’s what national sovereignty has meant with the rise of those “executive agencies” working outside the law in order to protect it. Schmitt’s decisionism deflects the focus from where it needs to be, or least it tends to in the readings of him. In other words, it’s this form of sovereignty that Benjamin means when he talks about the “state of exception” in his Theses on History, and perhaps we might side with Benjamin as I read him, since he was taking on Schmitt. Strangely, in the legacy of that battle, the force seems to be on the side of Schmitt in academia, no matter how much Benjamin is brought out as this strange oracle to cite in texts that otherwise have nothing to do with him.

Anyway… all of that is to note Chris Hayes’ good piece in The Nation on the need for a new Church commission, but more importantly, what’s inherent is the danger that this sovereignty always poses in latter day states that hold themselves democratic.

The Church Committee came at a time when the public was in the midst of a wrenching (and necessary) loss of innocence. But in our age, secret government crimes and plots are almost a cliché. Polling shows trust in government has returned roughly to its mid-’70s nadir. The danger now isn’t naïveté but cynicism–that we just come to accept that the government will commit crimes in our name under the cover of secrecy and that such activities are more or less business as usual, about which nothing can be done. But something can be done. Something must be done. And Congress should do it.

But won’t.

Loneliness, Age, and the Life of Crime

“Tokyo police will try to rein in a wave of shoplifting by lonely elderly people by involving them in community service, a police spokesman said on Thursday.”  

Loneliness is apparently a self-reported factor in 25% of the thefts–and that’s self-reported. I can only wonder what the situation is like in the US where there is far less social normalization to pay attention to one’s parents. Now (a) there’s a lot worse things people do in the name of loneliness, (b) Perhaps the real number, thinking about it again, is much lower–who wouldn’t let grandma go if this was the stated reason? It’s better than “I like the bling”…(c) I will refuse to reference the great Seinfeld episode on this (“Come’on Jerry, we all do this!”), which yes, I have thus referenced, (d) Perhaps my travels with father here in Scotland can now be put on the side of avoiding crime.

Democratic ontologies…

I’m a bit tired after flying over to Scotland, so take the below in that vein. I wanted to say I was heading to a conference, but then I remembered someone had a post up calling it star fucking, which means I must be totally off my game when I got to those things. I am looking forward to the objects conference though. 

Another great LS post on democratic ontology. I love the if that begins this…

If the object-oriented ontologist is committed to a thesis as strange as the idea that a phoneme is an object or that Norway is an object, then this is because the criteria for being an object is not whether or not an entity is physical, but whether or not it makes differences…. That which exists is that which is capable of producing differences. But if this is the case, then it follows that we should practice an egalitarianism of difference, thereby arriving at a flat ontology. If to exist is to be capable of making differences, then whatever makes a difference is. This egalitarianism or ontological difference is not the thesis that all beings equally make differences, that they are all equally important (a normative judgment), that all differences are desirable or valuable (another normative judgment), but simply that regardless of the degree to which something makes a difference, if a difference is made then that thing is

I like this because it gets rid of the typical rejoinder, which conflates flat ontology with flat-headed normative claims: “but aren’t you saying the tick or the dart board or the dog is the same as the suffering child?” But I wonder to what degree here this difference is quantitative or qualitative. The word “degree” above suggests that we can wash this out with some good old mathesis, and I’m not sure. That is, I measure some X difference (Harry Potter the fictional character makes Y children smile, and quanta of energy Z is measurable in such and such a way) and thus I have an object. And in so much as this object is … is as different, that is, as making a difference, then I can have a flat ontology, which incidentally has the great upshot of getting out the dead-end of the countless types of realism in analytic philosophy (I remember once getting asked about whether speculative realism fit into some ten different categories). But why not “qualitative”–and I just use that term to raise the question, since I’m not imaginative now. In other words, I’ve been thinking this through someone like J-L Nancy, whose work on sense and realism is really good…and quite “flat.” (Now I’m starting to worry that Tom Friedman metaphors are coming in.) And so I would want to hear more about if one could have what we could call a substantive democratic equality while also noting that when something makes a difference, it also matters, and thus we return to the question of sense…

Creating a common destiny…

For a while I thought Italian philosophy would be the new French. Sure, there’s Meillassoux and Badiou, but Continental philosophy was running out of people with accents, and the Italians were doing great work on nihilism before Brassier made it cool. Alas, Negri tells me this morning that …

When one says ‘philosophy’, one means that critical activity which allows one to grasp one’s time and orientate oneself within it, creating a common destiny and witnessing the world for this purpose. If one defines it in this way, after Giovanni Gentile and perhaps a bit Benedetto Croce, there hasn’t been any philosophy in Italy in the twentieth century.   

…which is one of his typical ways of phrasing things: if you mean by liberation x, y, and z, well, no one has ever thought of it yet. (Though as the person pointing this out, well, I’m the one doing true liberation.) He does identify here three thinkers always worth reading (Antonio Gramsci, Mario Tronti and Luisa Muraro). And if you mean by philosophy “creating a common destiny…” then really, who is doing philosophy? I really wish they had taught that in graduate school…

Incidentally, however much I love reading Negri’s provocations, this has always been what has been wrong with certain post-structuralist readings of him. Multitudes for me always meant what Dante meant by it in De Monarchia, and so let me say that if philosophy is creating the conditions for a common destiny, then I’d … prefer not.