Love and hate, pleasure and pain

I covered parts one and two of Baruch Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’ (1883 translation by R. H. M. Elwes, pagination from the second volume of Spinoza’s chief works) in a previous essay and this time I’ll cover the third part of it, dealing with emotions. I was going to include the fourth part in this essay as well but getting through the third part turned out to be more of a slog than I had imagined. I won’t cover his summary of various concepts at the very of the third part either. It’s useful, fair play to him, but it’s not worth going through here, considering that it just repeats what’s covered before that.

It’s worth noting that what Spinoza means by emotions is not exactly what we tend to mean by that word. Some translators prefer to use affect(s) instead of emotion(s), perhaps because it’s closer to the Latin original, affectus/affectio. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari go with affect in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ by (1987 translation by Brian Massumi) because it’s not about personal feelings or emotions, as such, as experienced by a person, but about a prepersonal capacity to affect and be affected or, in more plain terms, to act and be acted upon, as explained Massumi (xvi) in the translator’s notes.

Right, Spinoza (128) begins by arguing that humans are often treated “as a kingdom within a kingdom”. What he (128) means by this is that humans are often understood as deviating from nature or at least disturbing it, having “absolute control over [their] actions” and “determined solely by [themselves].” If this is not the case, the lack of absolute control and self-determination is then attributed to a lack or a flaw in the individual, to an infirmity or fickleness of that person, as he (128) goes on to add. In other words, unlike animals, humans are typically considered to be autonomous thinking subjects. Those who do not exhibit such autonomy and rationality, thus acting more like animals, are seen as flawed, which results in bemoaning, derision, despise and abuse, as he (128) goes on to specify how such people are often treated by others. I agree. That’s my experience of this as well. That’s how people get treated all the time. I’d say that the bemoaning, derision, despise and abuse is also extended to those who don’t agree with that presupposition, that humans are autonomous and rational. We can’t have wrongthink!

He (128) objects to people who seek to understand those who are deemed to be flawed in attempt to help people overcome their weakness, to help them attain absolute control and domination of their emotions. He (128) reckons that such people, like René Descartes, only manage to realize their own great intellect. To be clear, he (128) isn’t saying that great intellect doesn’t have its merits, but rather that it’s not all that there is. And again, I agree with him.

He (128-129) isn’t fond of treating human emotions as “human vice and folly”, as unreason. To connect this to what he states in the first and the second parts of the book, what I covered in my previous Spinoza essay, if reality, aka nature, aka substance, aka God, is indeed perfect, then human emotions cannot be understood as flaws of human nature, “repugnant to reason, frivolous, absurd, and dreadful”, as he (129) points out, because as imperfect as humans may seem to be, they are always as perfect or imperfect as they should be, by necessity, depending on how you want to assess that, God being perfect, humans being imperfect only in comparison to the absolute and eternal perfection of God. In other words, just to be clear about this, things are the way they are, always perfect, in their own right, thus never lacking anything, even if they may appear as imperfect to us, as lacking, as he (109) points out in part two of the book. We may be confused to think that they are imperfect or lacking, that we ourselves are imperfect or lacking, but, in reality, they are not. Instead, they are always as perfect as they should be, in their own right, at any given moment, by necessity. They could, of course, be otherwise, as things could always be different, but they’d still be perfect, in their own right, by necessity.

Following that introduction to what part three of the book is all about and why he wants to focus on emotions, he (129-130) moves on to provide his readers some definitions. Firstly, he differentiates adequate cause from inadequate or partial cause. The former has to do with causes that have effects that “can be clearly and distinctively perceived”, whereas the latter has to do with causes that have effects that cannot be attributed this way, as (129) specified by him. This leads him (129) to define the former as having to do with being active and the latter with being passive, regardless of whether what takes place happens in us or outside of us. Secondly, he defines (130) emotions as modification of bodies, “whereby the active power of the said body is increased or diminished, aided or constrained, and also the ideas of such modifications.” The bodies that modified by emotions are themselves modifications of substance or, in short, modes, as defined by him (45) in the first part of the book. To link emotions to causes, he (130) differentiates between active emotions or activities, what it is that we are capable of, functioning as the adequate cause, and passions, what it is that happens passively, in us unbeknownst to us, functioning as the inadequate or partial cause.

Following those concise definitions, he (130) postulates that “[t]he human body can be affected in many ways, whereby its power of activity is increased or diminished, and also in other ways which do not render its power of activity either greater or less.” This simply means that something can affect us in ways that increase or decrease our capacity to act. It can also stay the same, meaning that it might have affected us, so that we haven’t been unaffected by it, whatever it is, but our capacity to act remains the same, despite any modifications to our bodies.

To link activity and passivity to how we think, he (130) states that our mind is active or passive, depending on whether we have adequate or inadequate ideas. This makes sense when you take into consideration how he (83, 95, 129) defines adequate and inadequate or partial causes and how things can be compounded, so that ideas can be adequate, function on their own, or inadequate, functioning as parts of something adequate.

To differentiate thinking from motion or rest, that is to say the mind from the body, he (131) states that thinking does not cause our bodies to move, nor does moving or resting cause us to think. To make more sense of this, it’s worth keeping in mind that thoughts and bodies are both things, that is to say modes, which pertain to the two attributes that we have access to, thought (incorporeality) and extension (corporeality), as he (55-56) points out in part one of the book. He (131) wants to emphasize this in this context:

“[M]ind and body are one and the same thing, conceived first under the attribute of thought, secondly, under the attribute of extension.”

So, when we think of causes, be they adequate or inadequate, while they can only “be conceived under one attribute or the other”, the activity or passivity has to do with the same thing, as he (131-132) goes on to specify. It’s just that we conceive the activity or passivity under one or the other attribute. He (132) acknowledges that this may be hard to comprehend, but, well, if you ask me, it does make sense. I mean, I don’t have to think in order for my body to do this or that, for example press these keys on this keyboard, the way I do. I just do, one by one. I don’t have to press the keys to make myself think either. It’s sort of happens, at the same time, hence the apparent simultaneity of it, even though we can, of course, only think of thoughts leading to other thoughts and bodies leading to other bodies, one attribute at a time. Anyway, he (132) really wants to emphasize this point, because it’s absurd to claim that the mind has control over the body, just as it is to claim that the body has control over the mind. In his (132) words:

“[W]hen men say that this or that physical action has its origin in the mind, which latter has dominion over the body, they are using words without meaning, or are confessing in specious phraseology that they are ignorant of the cause of the said action, and do not wonder at it.”

He (132) acknowledges that many will, nonetheless, assert the mind as dominating over the body. For example, it would appear that the body will not be affected if mind is not fit to think. In other words, someone might be considered healthy, but not mentally healthy, which is why that person does not behave as expected. He (132) objects to this by noting that the mind might to be fit to think because the body is not fit. In other words, someone might not be mentally healthy because they are not bodily healthy. He (133) uses the example of how our ability to think is altered when we sleep, just as our bodies are altered when we sleep. We could say the same about alcohol as it the changes that it has on our bodies, there and then, also affects our thinking. I think he (133) summarizes this well:

“I think everyone’s experience will confirm the statement, that the mind is not at all times equally fit for thinking on a given subject, but according as the body is more or less fitted for being stimulated by the image of this or that object, so also is the mind more or less fitted for contemplating the said object.”

Indeed. For example, if I consume alcohol, I may well end up being unfit for thinking this and/or that, whatever that may. I can’t say that everyone’s experience will confirm that because if you’ve never had alcohol or enough alcohol, you probably haven’t experienced that, but those who have can confirm that. That said, consuming alcohol may result in being fit for thinking this and/or that, whatever that may be. Again, if you haven’t had alcohol or not enough alcohol, you can’t confirm that, but if you have, you can confirm that.

He (132) mentions another possible objection, how people can decide to speak or to remain silent. He (133) counters this by humorously noting that wouldn’t it be lovely if people were able to do just that, but, as experience tells us, there’s no shortage of people who can’t keep whatever it is that they have on their mind to themselves. It’s so humorous that I’ll include his (133) version:

“I submit that the world would be much happier, if men were as fully able to keep silence as they are to speak. Experience abundantly shows that men can govern anything more easily than their tongues, and restrain anything more easily than their appetites[.]”

Haha! Priceless! And it’s only funny because it’s true. Sometimes people just can’t help themselves. Sometimes it’s also the other way around, so that we remain silent when it would have been better to speak. I totally agree with him (133-134) on this.

I have already covered how this works, what the limits of activity and passivity are. I have also provided some examples. That said, I think it’s worth summarizing it the way he (134) does:

“All these considerations clearly show that a mental decision and a bodily appetite, or determined state, are simultaneous, or rather are one and the same thing, which we call decision, when it is regarded under and explained through the attribute of thought, and a conditioned state, when it is regarded under the attribute of extension, and deduced from the laws of motion and rest.”

So, going back a bit, acknowledging that the body and the mind are in fact the one and the same thing or, rather, that they are two attributes of the same thing, distinct yet inseparable, we can assess this and/or that decision, for example to speak or to remain silent, as willed by us or as conditioned by our bodies. On one hand, we appear to be free to do as we like, yet experience tells us that it’s hardly the case. On the other hand, experience tells us that we are constrained by who we’ve become, yet it appears that we are free to do as we like at any given moment. Now, of course, this is just how we approach this issue either through one or the other attribute and not how we come to act, considering that all that is simultaneous. He (134) exemplifies this with how our memory works:

“[W]e cannot act by the decision of the mind, unless we have a remembrance of having done so.”

Agreed. You cannot remember something that you haven’t done or, at least, you cannot remember something that you don’t think you haven’t done. It’s the same the other way around, as he (134) goes on to add:

“[I]t is not within the free power of the mind to remember or forget a thing at will.”

In other words, we are always free to do as we like, but only within the confines of what we’ve become, as he (134) points out. Skipping ahead, ignoring the lengthy discussion about the state of things, because it reiterates much of what’s contained in parts one and two of the book, he (137) defines will as what we think of when we assess what we can or can’t do, i.e., our endeavor, solely in terms of mind or thought, taking into consideration only one of the two attributes, appetite as what we think of the same in terms of thought (mind) and extension (body), that is to say when we take into consideration both of the attributes, and desire, the consciousness of appetite. So, as I just pointed out, we are always free to do as we like, but only within the confines of what we’ve become. This is also why, for him (137), we don’t desire what’s good or, to be more accurate, what we deem to good, but that we deem something to be good because we desire it. This is a crucial point that he (156) reiterates later on.

What is that we desire then? Well, he (136-138) doesn’t give us any readymade answers, except persistence or self-preservation or, should I say self-affirmation, considering that nothing can be or contains its own destruction, as only other things may do that to other things, inasmuch as they are capable of such. This has to do with what was already mentioned about perfection and imperfection, how things are always perfect the way they are, in themselves, even though we can, most certainly, think of them as being this or that perfect or imperfect. This also has to do with how we can think of ourselves, but how that can never be in the absence of our bodies, considering that our thought and extension are attributes of the same thing, as already pointed out and as he (138) points out in this context as well.

To be honest, as much as I’ve come to like his way of presenting things, he doesn’t always seem to follow his own rules. Perhaps it’s just a translation issue or I’m missing something crucial, but I don’t like how he (138) moves on to point that our bodies and minds exist in a certain state of perfection, be it a greater or a lesser state of perfection. I mean he is very adamant about things always being perfect as they are. Wouldn’t he negate God, i.e., substance, reality or nature, if it were possible for things not to not be the way they are supposed to be?

The way I understand that passage is that our bodies and thoughts have are always as perfect as they can be, so that the state of perfection, lesser or greater, is always relative to what it used to be. So, they are most or least perfect when our capacity to affect and be affected is maximized or minimized. It may seem contradictory to state that it’s both, to affect and be affected, considering how being affected can diminish affecting, but it isn’t at all contradictory because you do have to take both into account at the same time.

Let’s say that I say or do something which has an effect on you. That’s an act. If it is positive, it increases your capacity to affect and/or be affected. If it is negative, it diminishes your capacity to affect and/or be affected. That act could be something like tying your hands. It diminishes your capacity to act because you can’t use your hands properly. It doesn’t diminish your capacity to be acted upon though. That said, because it diminishes your capacity to act, your body is in a less state of perfection in terms of what it is capable of. I might also say that I’ll tie your hands, that is to say threaten you, without ever tying your hands. That act diminishes your capacity to act if it prevents you from doing something that you would otherwise do. It doesn’t have an effect on your body but on your thoughts, yet your body’s capacity to act has been diminished so that it is now in a lesser state of perfection. We can also reverse this. Maybe you are into being tied, so that your capacity to act actually increases, leading you to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t do or be capable of doing. Just saying that would come across as a promise to you, not as a threat. Now, of course, how that actually works really depends on the circumstances. Maybe you like bondage, maybe you don’t.

Anyway, he (139) reiterates what’s already been stated, that you can’t separate the body from the thought, even though they are distinct, but adds that whatever affects our bodies also affects our thoughts, be it positive or negative.

He (139-140) further elaborates the positive and the negative. Crucially, he argues that one’s mind seeks to conceive or imagine the good stuff, whatever helps to increase one’s capacity to act and be acted upon. Conversely, he adds that one’s mind also seeks to conceive or imagine the bad stuff, whatever diminishes or hinders one’s capacity to act and be acted upon, not because that’s good for oneself, no, no, but because it’s good to avoid the bad, to remember what’s bad, in order to prevent such from diminishing or hindering one’s capacity to act and be acted upon.

He (140) packs these two, the positive and the negative, into two words: love and hate. Firstly:

Love is nothing else but pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause[.]”


Hate is nothing else but pain accompanied by the idea of an external cause.”

Followed by a further clarification, in which he (140) adds that:

“[The one] who loves necessarily endeavours to have, and to keep present to [oneself], the object of [one’s] love[.]”

And, conversely (140):

“[The one] who hates endeavours to remove and destroy the object of [one’s] hatred.”

Now, this makes sense. The first instance is pretty self-explanatory. The second instance also makes sense, if you consider how removing the negative is tied to this or that thing that diminishes or hinders one’s capacity to act or acted upon. If you remove it, if you destroy it, then it can no longer diminish or hinder one’s capacity to act or be acted upon.

He (140) adds to this formulation that it is also possible to be affected by more than one thing at a time, which leads to associating them with one another. This means that if you are affected by one of them, you are also affected by the others, even in their absence. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you are literally affected by the others, but rather that you end up thinking that you are, which is functionally the same as if you were affected by them. These can be positive and/or negative. For example, you may end up associating eating ice cream with the warmth of sunshine or, alternatively, let’s say, tooth ache. In the first instance, you find pleasure in the taste of the ice cream as well as in the warmth of the sunshine, even when there is no sunshine. In the second instance, you find or may find pleasure in the taste of the ice cream, but it is accompanied by tooth ache which diminishes that pleasure at least to some extent. There needs to be no tooth ache. It’s enough that you think there is, which more or less ruins the pleasure of eating ice cream. It might also be that you seek to avoid eating ice cream because you have sensitive teeth or have had sensitive teeth, even though you do like the taste of ice cream. It’s just that the sensitivity issue takes precedence over the pleasure. Now, of course, it is also possible find pleasure in the taste ice cream and in the warmth of sunshine, while also finding it painful to eat ice cream. He (142) is very clear about this, that it is possible to find one thing both pleasurable and painful at the same time.

We can simplify this by saying that you love ice cream and you love sunshine, but you hate tooth ache because it involves pain. Eating ice cream, actual or imagined, and enjoying sunshine, actual or imagined, increase your capacity to act and be acted upon. You love it! Tooth ache, actual or imagined, decreases your capacity to act and be acted upon. You hate it! That said, that’s an oversimplification. How so? Well, the hatred of tooth ache does remove or destroy the tooth ache by preventing it from happening. So, in a sense, it’s not at all clear whether it’s a bad thing to hate something, inasmuch as it prevents one’s capacity to act and be acted upon from being diminished. Then again, the hatred of tooth ache may well be a bad thing for you, inasmuch as there would be no tooth ache. You may have had sensitive teeth in the past, caused by some ailment or dental procedure that needs extra time to heal on its own, which may no longer be the case. If it is no longer the case, that hatred of tooth ache prevents you from enjoying ice cream and thus diminishing your capacity to act and be acted upon. So, simply put, your hatred of tooth ache, likely well justified, ends up causing you to also hate ice cream, not because there is something inherently worth hating about ice cream (unless, perhaps, you are lactose intolerant), but because your hatred of something else has led you to hate it as well. Now, to further complicate this, while tooth ache is generally speaking a bad thing, yes, it may also be a good thing, inasmuch it leads to you to investigate why it happens. If you get your dentist to have a look and fix the issue, that bad thing has led to you to a good thing, which, in turn, allows you to take pleasure in ice cream. Maybe there’s also something else that’s wrong, that you just didn’t know of, and that then gets fixed, so a bad thing can also lead to a good thing, in ways that are often unimaginable.

Later on, he (144) points this out, how getting rid of something positive isn’t good for you, whereas getting rid of something negative is. Conversely, having to deal with something positive is good for you, as it remains pleasurable, whereas having to deal with something negative isn’t, as it remains painful. It’s pretty simple, really. In addition, to add bit of complexity to this, when something good happens to something or someone that we hate, we feel pained by that, as he (146) goes on to add. So, it’s not just about the pain we feel when something bad happens to something or someone that we love, about what he (147) calls grief, but also about the pain we feel when something good happens to something or someone that we hate, because we consider that what we hate to be reinforced or boldened by that, which, in turn, enables it or that person to incur pain us. It might, of course, also be about envy, which he (147) defines as the hatred of people who, instead of us, gain something we would like ourselves to have. Then again, we might also flip-flop on that, if that something or someone we’ve come to hate, for some reason, now negatively affects something or someone else that we hate, it pushes us to love that something or someone, as he (146-147) goes on to specify.

We may also be tempted to take the quickest route, to simply remove that something that we hate, but we don’t always do that. The way he (156) explains this is that we abstain from hatred, from removing or destroying what we consider painful, because we fear (we’ll get to that shortly) something more painful might happen to us as a result. For example, we could do something like go through a red light because it pains us, because it makes us wait, but we don’t because we are aware that it might result in an injury, getting hit by a vehicle, and/or a fine for a traffic violation. This is what he (157) calls timidity or bashfulness if it involves shame (we’ll get to this…) and consternation (…and this…) if it involves vacillation (….in just a moment). And, again, this also works the other way around, as he (156) points out. If you love something but find something that you love more, you turn your attention to that instead, because it’s just more pleasurable to you. He (164-165) distinguishes wonder and veneration from consternation and horror. Wonder is about being captivated by something, in a positive sense, whereas consternation is about being captivated by something, but in a negative sense. In both case you are fixated on something, but for different reasons. Wonder turns into veneration if it has to do with other people and if their positive actions appear to be superior to our own actions. Furthermore, it can lead to not only veneration but also to devotion. Similarly, consternation turns into horror if it’s about other people and if their negative actions appear to surpass ours. It can also lead to derision and scorn. In both cases our love and hate towards such people becomes amplified. He (165) also adds that the opposite of being captivated by something, be it in a positive or a negative sense, is contempt. It has to do with how, instead of being captivated by something special in something, we imagine something else instead, hence our contempt towards it. That turns into derision if we already hate or fear it and scorn if it doesn’t make sense to us.

He (151) also reckons that our love or hate of something is fortified not only when others also love or hate it, but also when we imagine that they also love or hate it. In other words, it’s enough that we think they do, regardless of whether they actually do or don’t. It’s also enough that we think that they don’t love or hate what we love or hate for it to lead to what he (142, 151) calls vacillation, to the conflict of emotions.

We could also swap the ice cream with something that doesn’t really do anything for you, but, nonetheless, conjures up something positive or negative, something pleasurable or painful. This is why he (140-141) points out that the way this works can be accidental. I reckon most people have experienced this when they’ve said something to someone else, meaning no harm, but the other person takes it the wrong way, not because they want to take it the wrong way, but because whatever you said conjured up something negative that they’ve come to associate with it.

To summarize this discussion of pleasure and pain, love and hate, it’s possible for them to co-exist, so that, on one hand, whatever you are dealing with is something that you love, something that gives you pleasure, but, on the other hand, it is also something that you hate, something that causes you pain. This is why he (143) states “that one and the same object may be the cause of many and conflicting emotions.” This is what he (142) calls vacillation. This is related to the aforementioned flip-flopping.

He (143) acknowledges how the way this works not only has to do with the past, that is to say with one’s experiences, but also the future, but always as imagined from the present. He doesn’t explain it this way, but I like to explain it this way, so that to make more sense of this, imagine that you are in the future, which, of course, then functions as the present from which you assess the past, which is the actual present. Anyway, the point is that it doesn’t matter whether you are dealing with the past or the future because the past and the future are always assessed from the present, here and now. In his (143) words:

“[T]he body is affected by no emotion which excludes the existence of the thing, and therefore … the body is affected by the image of the thing, in the same way as if the thing were actually present.”

So, to be clear, as already established, the point he makes is that a body can affect a body and thought a thought. Imaginary things, things that don’t actually exist, whatever the mind conceives, still function as if they did.

From all this complexity of how emotions work, he (143-144) draws hope, fear, confidence, despair, joy and disappointment. Hope is about “inconstant pleasure”, when we can’t be sure whether something will be pleasurable or not, but we reckon it will be. Fear works the same way, as the “inconstant pain”, when we can’t be sure whether will be painful or not, but we reckon it will be. Hope becomes confidence and fear becomes despair once the doubt involved in hope and fear is removed, when we realize how things are panning out for us. Joy and disappointment is about when we look back at those moments of confidence or despair, when we feel joyous or disappointed about something that we simultaneously anticipated and doubted.

To add yet another layer of complexity to this, whatever we reckon as having a positive effect on something that we already consider positive, i.e., love, we’ll also find pleasure in that, i.e., love that as well, as he (145) points out. Conversely, if we consider something as having a negative effect on something that we consider to be positive, i.e., love, we’ll come to hate it, as he (145) also points out. How much one will love or hate that thing that affects what one already loves then depends on how much one loves it to begin with, as specified by him (145). I’d say that this only makes sense. If you are into something, if you think of it in positive light, you’ll be happy to see it being affected positively, but not negatively. Conversely, if aren’t that into it, if you don’t see it that positive light, you won’t really care what happens to it, be it positive or negative.

This is wonderful, really. I mean he isn’t taking any sides, nor appealing to something as inherently pleasurable, nor painful. It really depends on the circumstances. So, for example, if I find myself fuming over something like the mistreatment of my friend, someone I care about, it means that the pain inflicted upon my friend is also painful to me. If I don’t find myself pained by such, it means that that person isn’t really my friend and that I should call that person my friend. Conversely, if I’m happy about something good happening to my friend, it means that the pleasure of my friend pleasures me. If that’s not the case, if that doesn’t provide me pleasure, then, well, I really shouldn’t be calling that person my friend. Now, of course, we can replace that friend in my example with just about whatever, for example by some cause or even by that ice cream that I mentioned. Just think about, it makes sense.

What can be drawn from all this, according to him (145-146) is pity, when we share in someone else’s pain, the opposite of pity, when we share in someone else’s joy, which he has no name for (is it some sort of revelry?), approval, when we love someone for causing pleasure to someone else, and indignation, when hate someone for causing to someone else. I guess we could replace the persons here with things as well, as he (146) does on go on to mention things right after explaining these four emotions. He (146) adds that we tend to approve something good that happens to someone who reminds or resembles us and, conversely, take offense, feel indignation, when something bad happens to someone who reminds or resembles us. In plain terms, we tend to approve or disapprove something if we think that could have been me. He (148) seems to have this urge to further explain this, basically noting how we have this tendency to align with whatever appears to be the same as us, but really just similar (not the same!) to us, and, on the contrary, to say fuck it, fuck them, when whatever doesn’t appear to be the same as us, when it’s clearly dissimilar to us. For him (148-149), the former has to do with compassion, emulation and benevolence whereas the latter has to do with repugnance and, by all logic, malevolence.

This leads him (147-148) to define pride. For him, it occurs when one thinks of oneself, or what one loves, too highly. It also occurs when one thinks of what one hates too meanly, with too much hatred. It’s basically about thinking that you and your crew are the best shit ever and, conversely, everyone is simply shit, even though, obviously, it’s not that simple. I mean, okay, if you are great, then great. Good on you. But if that’s just about posing, then, well, you are poser, which is exactly why I don’t like pride, why I don’t like taking credit for something. I can say that I’m responsible for this and/or that, having done it or played a part, if asked, but I’m not fond of taking credit for something, even if my contribution has been considerable, even if it wouldn’t have happened without me. So, yeah, I don’t like it when someone says they are proud for having achieved this and/or that. I’m like, yeah, sure, sure, you did it all by yourself and no one helped you, it was all you and only you. Maybe that’s too harsh, so, I guess, you can have those brief moments of pride, when you are like nice, nice, well done, good for me, when appropriate, but that’s about it. I just don’t like the notion of pride. There’s just something really complacent about it, expecting others to acknowledge it and all.

You have to be careful with pride though. It’s one thing to point out that someone thinks too highly of themselves, but it’s another thing to mock their achievements for one’s own benefit, which is why he (148) states that thinking too highly of someone else results in over-esteem, i.e., overvaluing them, and that thinking too little of them results in disdain, undervaluing them.

He (150) defines ambition as someone’s desire to please others, i.e., to gain their approval, either by doing something or not doing something, in order to avoid their disapproval, as distinguished from kindliness, which has to do to with doing whatever it is that you are doing, or, alternatively, leaving it undone (but isn’t that sort of still doing something, just negated?) without care for the approval of others. He (150) links ambition to praise and blame, so that one gets praised, i.e., approved by others, or, alternatively, blamed, i.e., disapproved by others, for one’s actions or for the lack thereof. Note here how this doesn’t apply to kindliness, because, well, praise and blame are irrelevant if you don’t do something, whatever it is that you wish to do, or abstain from doing it for the sake of approval.

To give you an example of ambition and kindliness, I’d say that he would argue that charity is about the latter but not about the former. If you give something, if you seek to benefit others, you just do it, not because you want their praise for doing it, but because it is the kind thing to do. If you do it to gain recognition and praise, it’s about ambition. So, the next time you engage in some charitable act, just do it. Don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t ask for attribution. Don’t ask for people’s praise, for whatever it is that you do for them. Now, of course, it’s important that they approve what you do, that they agree with it, as opposed to disapprove it, that they don’t disagree with it, in the sense that whatever it is that you do is supposed to have a positive effect on them, not a negative effect on them. That’d be like walking all over them, telling them that what you do for them is for their own good.

I’d say it’s okay to benefit from a charitable act, inasmuch that’s not your motive to begin with, inasmuch you are indifferent to praise and blame, approval and disapproval. I’d say this also means that you have to be aware that your act of kindliness may not necessarily have the intended effect, which may result in blame, regardless of your lack of ambition. So, yeah, you do have to take that into account.

Then again, I guess he’d argue that kindliness is just that, that you just do it and take the hit if that’s what ends up happening. It’d be about ambition if you weighed on your options, to do or not to do, on the basis of what’s the likelihood of it being approved or disapproved.

Related to ambition and kindliness, he (158-159) notes that if our love is not met with gratitude or thankfulness, or, as I’d put it, appropriate gratitude or thankfulness, we’ll feel pain. For him (159) this has to do with how we tend to love what’s similar to us. To be brief, this is because we expect what’s similar to act similarly and if that’s not the case, we are pained by that, as he (159) points out.

He (150-51) further distinguishes love and hate from honor and shame. In summary, love and hate have to do with something external. You love or hate this or that. The point is that it’s just that, very direct. In contrast, honor and shame are about the pleasure and pain “accompanied by the idea of an external cause”, the point being that we may feel honored or ashamed if we are praised or blamed. If, however, there is no praise or blame involved, it’s not about feeling honored or ashamed, but about what he (151) calls self-complacency and repentance. He (151) then adds that this may lead to pride. I’d say this make sense, considering how I already mentioned that there is just something really complacent about pride. Another good word here is vanity, as he (151) goes on to add, how one “may imagine that [one] is pleasing to all, when in reality [one] may be an annoyance to all.”

Going back a bit here, to the earlier remark about how our love or hate of something is reinforced when others also love or hate it and when we think they love or hate it, he (151-152) notes that we are pushed to not only imagine such, but to make it so. In other words, we are tempted to want others to want what we want. For him (152) this is another definition of ambition, because it’s about wanting others to want exactly what you want and not something else.

Similarly, he (152) adds that we are also tempted to want what someone else has, even if that can only be had by one person at a time. Note how this leads to a conflict. If that person has it and can take delight in it, then you can’t have it and take delight in it. If you want to have it, in order to take delight in it, you must take it away from that other person, who, as a result then can’t take delight in it. This is another definition of envy for him (152). In addition, when we love something that loves something else more than us, our love of it turns into hatred of it and results in a rivalry with that something else, as we come to envy that something else for being loved by what we loved, as he (153) goes on to elaborate. Now, if you’ve ever been interested in someone, only for that someone to show affection to someone else, probably because that’s just how it is, how it already was, nothing against you, you’ve probably experienced this, which is why he (154) aptly labels this as jealousy. To be clear, that doesn’t have to be the case. It can also be that we think that it is the case. We may, for example, be jealous of someone when we think that the person we are interested in is interested in someone else, even when that’s not actually the case. He (154) points this out explicitly, noting that men tend to exhibit jealousy because they think women are theirs and not someone else’s, certainly not other men’s.

He (152) then further comments on our love of what we think as the same as us, or, to be more accurate, what we think of as similar to ourselves. I reckon this connects well with vanity, considering that it’s about the excessive love of oneself. How so? Well, he (152-153) notes that when we love something that’s similar to us, because it reminds us of ourselves, we also want that something to love us back. In other words, there is this desire for something, but also this desire to be desired. The way he (153) explains it is that when we love something similar to us, for being similar to us, like ourselves, we come to expect the same from that, because why wouldn’t it love us if it is like us? Makes sense. The problem with this is that it tends to result in complacency, a self-centered regard for oneself, instead of others, as he (153) goes on to point out.

This also works the other way around, as he (157-158) points out. If we think that others hate us, for no apparent reason, we’ll also hate them, because it only makes sense to hate your enemy, someone who hates you for no reason. He calls this anger (158). This results in vacillation if we think that those we love hate us for no apparent reason. If we don’t really think of anything about others who we think hate us, we’ll seek to revenge that. This can then also be flipped back to positive. If we don’t think much of someone who then shows love for us, for no apparent reason, we are pushed to love them back, to show them gratitude or thankfulness, as he (158) refers to it.

He (158) also further comments on these, on reciprocal love and hate, noting that we appear to be “much more prone to take vengeance than to return benefits.” My guess is that we simply don’t do enough for others, so they don’t reciprocate. Instead, we probably think that others simply seek to gain something on our expense, so it’s like we are already geared up for vengeance. This actually reminds me of how bad faith works, as I’ve explained in another essay, but I’m not going to go on a tangent on that here. Anyway, relevant to bad faith, he (158) also adds that if our hatred, real or imagined, is undermined by being loved by our object of hatred, we vacillate, and if our hatred is stronger than the conflicting love, hatred prevails over love, resulting in cruelty. Then again, if your hatred is met by love that prevails, it’s like when you hate something and, all the sudden, the reason for that is gone, you just can’t do that anymore.

There is also the related issue of reinforcement. Some of this has been covered already, but here he (159) states that hatred tends to reinforce hatred. This shouldn’t be tough to understand, how hatred breeds hatred and how you have to be a proper hater to hate even those who show you at least some love.

To be properly negative again, for a moment, to further comment on jealousy, the more you expect to be loved, the more hatred it fuels in you if what you love, typically a person, loves or appears to love something else, typically another person, as he (154) also points out. On top of that, the more you loved, the more it will turn into hate, especially when contrasted with something that you end up hating but you didn’t love before, as noted by him (155). Simply put, you don’t really mind something if it wasn’t that important to you in the first place, but you do mind if it was important to you. To flip this, yet again, to be positive again, this also works the other way around, as he (159) goes on to add. If you’ve hated, and hated, like nothing compares, but then that object of your hate shows love to you, undermining your hatred to the point that love prevails, your love for your former enemy is now much, much greater than it would have been if that hadn’t been the case, if that love hadn’t prevailed over your hatred.

There’s an important caveat to how love and hate and pain and pleasure may become stronger by flipping from one to the other. As noted by him (159-160), you can’t just do one in order to do the exact opposite. Why? You simply don’t seek to be pained in order to be loved. You don’t harm yourself for the sake of recovery. He (160) also argues that if you seek to access a stronger form of love through hate, you’ll be continuously tempted to hate more and more, and more and more, just so that, in the end, the love would be stronger and stronger. The point here is that if you seek ever greater love or pleasure through hate or pain, there’ll be no limit to it and no end to it. For example, you don’t seek to get seriously ill, let’s say infected by a virtually uncurable disease, just so that you could enjoy the pleasure of being cured from it, rather miraculously, let’s say by getting a transplant from a person who just so happens to be immune to that disease, which then carries over to your immune system. To be clear, people have been cured of HIV following transplant procedures, but, no, I’m quite confident that they didn’t seek to get HIV just so that they make headlines later on. That’d be absurd, as he (160) points out.

Jealousy turns into something even more painful when we already hate the third party and when we’ve been loved by what’ve loved, as pointed out by him (154). On top of that, what else we’ve come to associate with that love will now also incite hatred in us, even though nothing about what we’ve associated to what we’ve loved gives us cause for hatred, as he (154) goes on to add. This pushes us to regain what we once loved but now hate as it should remove the pain caused by the others things, as he (154) points out. In short, it’s not that you want this or that back, typically a former lover, but everything that came with it, with that person. You just want your old life back because everything that was part of it, one way or another, now appears to be painfully absent. The whole thought process involved here, reminiscing about a lost love, is what he (155) calls regret.

This next one is a fairly little thing, but I guess it matters quite a bit, when you think of it. So, he (155) states that the greater the pain endured, the greater the effect it has on one’s capacity to act and be acted upon. That’s the little thing. In addition, the greater the pain involved, the more one wants to get rid of it, as he (155) goes on to add. That’s the important thing here. How so? Well, because the more pain is inflicted, the more obvious it is and the more one wants to get rid of it. It’s like how it is with force and resistance. The more you use force, the more it will invite resistance. This also works the other way around, as he (155) points out. The more something gives you pleasure, the more you want to keep it that way. So, if you have a sweet gig, you’ll want to keep it, which explains why people don’t want to do and/or say anything that might put it to risk.

To go back a bit, again, he (160) further specifies vacillation and similarity. So, in summary, when we have contradictory emotions, we don’t know whether to love or hate and who or what we should love or hate. In addition, we tend to love what’s similar to us and expect all that’s similar to us to act as we do, i.e., to love us. However, that’s not always the case. The problem with similarity is that it’s not about being the same. In short, as people, we are similar to many other people, not just this or that person. So, as he (160) goes on to point out, we are capable of hating what’s similar to us if it appears to hate what’s also similar to us. In other words, our love of something similar to us can trigger hatred towards something else similar to us, inasmuch it appears to us that what we are trigged to hate hates what we love, despite the shared similarity. This also pains us, inasmuch as we, in our hate, succeed in removing, destroying or injuring what we’ve come to hate because of the similarity involved, as he (160) goes on to specify.

This issue that involves vacillation and similarity also has a temporal dimension. When we look back at that, having done that, we are, on one hand, pained by the conflict, having had to deal with it, and, on the other hand, rejoice in having dealt with it. The point he (160-161) makes here is that having to have gone through such, having to take sides with something similar against something also similar, pains us, even in retrospect because, well, we had to get rid of something similar. We rejoice because by doing so we made sure that something similar to us, what we love, wasn’t removed, destroyed or harmed in the process, or because by getting involved we managed to minimize the damage to what’s similar to us. Then again, our joy is shadowed by a certain pain coming from the realization of having to remove, destroy or harm something that we also loved. The problem here is, as you might realize yourself, that we simply cannot remain uninvolved or, well, I guess we can, but then we are letting something that we love perish or be harmed, which will, nonetheless, pain us because our love will be lost or be in danger of being lost.

It’s also worth noting that, for him (160), similarity is not just between individuals, let’s say me, you and someone else, but also between groups, what he calls “a class or nation”. He doesn’t elaborate this in this context, but I reckon this makes sense. We are certainly capable of imagining those similar to us as ‘the us group’ and those dissimilar to us as ‘the them group’. I think it’s also worth noting, and reiterating, that he isn’t saying that we, ‘the us group’, are all the same, nor that they, ‘the they group’, are all the same, so that’d we or they would belong to this or that group because of sameness. He (141-142) uses the word resemblance, which certainly isn’t a matter of sameness, but of similarity. This may seem like a small thing, but it changes everything. I’d say that we are most certainly tempted to think that we are the same within a group, that there is this essence of what’ make us us and them them, but that’s our idea of how things are, not how things are. As a side note, this is something that runs through his text, how it is enough that we think that this and/or that is the case for us to feel and act in certain ways, in relation to others. Things don’t actually have to be that way. It’s enough that we believe that things are this and/or that way.

Moving on! He shifts his attention to causes. He (161) comments on how we like to think that our love or hate for something is tied to that something, typically a person, and how our love or hate is conditioned by that, so that if we come to realize that it’s not the case, that we, in actuality, love or hate something because of something else, to this or that degree, our love or hate diminishes, to this or that degree. For example, if we love a person because we think that person did something for us but, later on, we are told that it was someone else, the person didn’t act alone or the person was forced to do that, our love for that person changes accordingly. He (161-162) actually further comments on the last bit, on volition, noting that it makes a great difference whether we reckon someone does something out of necessity or is free to do so. I think this is pretty obvious, but I’ll provide a couple of examples of this.

Right, let’s say that you ask someone to help you with something and that person says no to it. It’s not clear why the person says no to it. It might be that the person can’t help you or it might be that the person isn’t willing to help you. I don’t know about others but at least I let people off the hook if it is about the former. If it’s about the latter, it’s really telling to me about how that person feels about me. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you don’t know that person (which is why I didn’t specify the relation), you can’t really expect them to help you, to show you any love. It’s the same with a person who isn’t fond of you, not that you’d really ask such a person to help you. If that person is your friend, that person better tell you that they can’t help you, otherwise you’ll probably want to rethink your friendship. If its about the former and not the latter, it also better be the case that it is, otherwise you’ll really want to rethink your friendship because they are, in my view, seeking to gain from you, one way or another, sooner or later, but otherwise they’d not deal with you at all. To use Spinoza’s terms, if it turns out to be the case that your friend could help you but simply isn’t willing to help you, your love is bound to turn into hate, proportional to the level of friendship you thought you had. If you barely were friends, you probably won’t hate the person that much for such treachery, no biggie, but if you are really good friends, you’ll hate them a lot for it.

To flip that example on its head, we can also change the roles, to think of a case where someone asks you for help. Is that person asking you for help, just because that person needs your help, let’s say because you’d be perfect for the job, or is it because that person wants your help. How do you know which one it is? My answer is that if that person doesn’t otherwise associate with you, if they only make contact and speak to you when they need something from you, that person probably isn’t your friend. Chances are the person asks you because they know that you can help them. That person could ask someone else, an actual friend, but asks you because that person reckons you are a more suitable candidate for the task. That person could also pay someone at least equally good as you at the task to help but won’t because it would involve giving instead of just gaining. Does this mean that you shouldn’t help people, just because you aren’t their friend, just because you aren’t fond of them? No. That’s not the point here as you may actually gain a friend by doing that, as doing something for someone who doesn’t expect anything from you may changes their opinion of you. It’s rather that if people only deal with you when they need something from you, it is probably better for you to not associate with them. I realize that it might be me, my aura, my personality, fair enough, but I’m surprised how common this is, how people call you, how they message you, perhaps, at first, asking how you are doing, which is nice, only to then ask you for something, which is like, ah, okay, I see what’s going on here. I’m like … is that it? Is that all that I am to you?

This leads him (162) to note that love and hate seem to be amplified inasmuch we think that people are free to as they like. Conversely, if we assume that the opposite is the case, we tend to let people off the hook. Yeah, I’d say that’s about right.

Moving on, skipping a head a bit, to another topic, he (165) recommends knowing oneself. In short, the better you know yourself, what you can and cannot do, what you can and cannot think, i.e., know your limits at any given time, the more in control you are and the more you’ll feel pleasure. The point here is that you are more capable of affecting and being affected the better you know yourself and your limits. I’d say that all that actually helps you to go beyond your limits, albeit only when assessed in retrospect as you are always within your own limits, no matter what. When that works, you’ll feel pleasure, but when that doesn’t work, you’ll feel pain, as he (166) goes on to add. This makes sense, in the sense that inasmuch as you feel like you can do it, you probably can do it, but inasmuch as you feel like you can’t do it, you probably can’t do it because you’ve let that thought take hold of you. In this context, what others think of you or, rather, what you think others think of you also matters, so that thinking that you are seen in a positive light will make you feel capable and, conversely, thinking that you are seen in a negative light will make you feel incapable. The former he refers to as self-love or self-complacency and the latter as humility. Note how he isn’t saying that knowing yourself is necessarily a positive thing. It can also end in self-indulgence.

He (168) moves on to summarize all this, noting that:

“There are as many kinds of pleasure, of pain, of desire, and of every emotion compounded of these, such as vacillations of spirit, or derived from these, such as love, hatred, hope, fear, [et]c., as there are kinds of objects whereby we are affected.”

In other words, he simply acknowledges that emotions tend to be compounded, rarely occurring separate from one another. This is further compounded by the compoundedness of what we deal with, as he (168) goes on to further specify:

“[T]he pleasure, which arises from, say, the object A, involves the nature of that object A, and the pleasure, which arises from the object B, involves the nature of the object B; wherefore these two pleasurable emotions are by nature different, inasmuch as the causes whence they arise are by nature different.”

Only to paraphrase this (168):

“So again the emotion of pain, which arises from one object, is by nature different from the pain arising from another object, and, similarly, in the case of love, hatred, hope, fear, vacillation, [et]c.”

The point here is that our capacity to act and be acted upon is conditioned by the capacity to act and be acted upon of everything else that we encounter, have encountered and will encounter in the future. It’s very here and now, it is what it is, way of explaining who we are. Stable identity is replaced by this, just this, that we are what we’ve become, as checked by everything else, which, of course, is also defined by the same way as just that, as what it is that they’ve become.

That may make it seem like he ends up contradicting himself, considering that part three is about emotions, what we all come to feel these emotions that he lists and defines, some more than others, only to indicate that none of us is the same. It’s like a lot of talk how we share in these emotions, only to say that it all depends on we are or, rather, who we’ve become, and who others are or, to be more accurate, who they’ve become, but he isn’t contradicting himself. How so? Well, he isn’t saying that these are all the emotions that one may feel, but only some emotions that one may feel. His list is by no means exhaustive. Also, he isn’t saying that everyone will come to have this and/or that emotion, but rather that there are these tendencies, which, of course, depend on who we’ve become and who or what we come to deal with. This is why he (169) stresses that:

Any emotion of a given individual differs from the emotion of another individual”, insofar “as the essence of the one individual differs from the essence of the other.”

This ties in with the discussion of kinds of knowledge in my previous Spinoza essay. In summary, he (109, 113-144) distinguishes between opinion/imagination, reason, and intuition, of which the first is always inadequate knowledge, i.e., confused, whereas the second and the third are always adequate knowledge, i.e., not confused knowledge. The first kind of knowledge deals with a bit of this and a bit of that, in a rather impressionistic and confused manner, whereas the second kind of knowledge draws what’s common between all those bits and bobs. While the second kind of knowledge improves upon the first kind of knowledge, so that it’s no longer confused, providing us with understanding of what’s common between this and that, but not between something else, but which has something else in common with something else, it gets removed from all that particularity, what makes this this and not that, and what makes that that and not this. I’d say that this is how we contemporarily understand knowledge, albeit there is a certain temptation to think that what Spinoza thinks as common is a matter of thinking what’s common or general between everything, i.e., what’s universal, which isn’t at all the case as commonality or generality of his second kind of knowledge is always a matter of thinking what’s common between this and that. That commonality may, of course, extend much further than just this and that, but it’s not about universals, whether this and/or that exhibit some universal feature or trait that is common. So, I’d say that it’s important to keep in mind that it’s always bottom-up, rather than top down. Anyway, only the third kind of knowledge gives us that particularity or, rather that singularity, the essence of something or someone. So, in short, to make sense of this, our emotions differ according to our essences, which, in itself, isn’t fixed. Instead, it’s defined as the capacity to act and be acted upon.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that he isn’t saying that just because everyone is unique, according to one’s essence, according to one’s capacity to act and be acted upon, one isn’t also limited by that. In other words, as he (170) goes on to note, a human is a human, whereas a horse is a horse, an insect is an insect, a fish is a fish and a bird is a bird, and even though we may have this and/or that in common with what else is there, we are not the same, nor, more importantly, can we think that we are something that we aren’t. Simply put, we are what we are, what we’ve become, not what we think we are, not what we think we’ve become. What’s common is, of course, important. It’s a very practical way of dealing with things. That said, it’s not all there is to whatever or whoever we are dealing with.

That’s also why he (169) goes on to point out that certain emotions are very common, so that we keep being tempted by “luxury, drunkenness, lust, avarice, and ambition”, exhibiting “immoderate love of feasting, drinking, venery, riches, and fame.” As you might guess, he (169) juxtaposes these with moderation, “temperance, sobriety, and chastity”, arguing that they “indicate a power of the mind” over immoderate or unmoderated loves. This could, of course, be reversed, in some situation. I mean some people are just so, so overly moderated, you know, like total buzzkills, which is why I don’t totally buy into this, that we should learn to keep ourselves in check at all times. While he does have a point, about how we ought to moderate ourselves, so that we aren’t wont to indulge in luxury, drinking, lust, wealth and personal gain, the Friedrich Nietzsche in me thinks that he is being a bit of a party pooper here. Then again, moderation is not the same as abstinence, so, okay, fair enough, maybe he simply means that maybe, just maybe your life shouldn’t be only about those common temptations.

He (171) reiterates an earlier point, that some emotions are passive, what he (130, 171) also calls passions, whereas others are active, what he (130) also calls activities. This is not worth going into more detail as the point simply is that we may get pleasure or pain from passive and active emotions alike. What he (171) wishes to emphasize here, however, is that when we think in ways that result in the second or third kinds of knowledge, i.e., conceive adequate ideas, we get pleasure out of that activity. He (171-172) then specifies two kinds of strength of character or fortitude. Courage is the desire, i.e., conscious appetite, to preserve one’s being through reason, which involves conceiving adequate ideas, whereas highmindedness or generosity is the desire to do the same for others as guided by reason, to aid them and to unite with them in friendship. To link this back to his wont for moderation, he (172) notes that the aforementioned temperance and sobriety, as well as “the presence of mind in danger” and the like, all exhibit courage, being its varieties, whereas courtesy, mercy and the like exhibit highmindedness or generosity, being its variables.

He (172) wraps things up by stating that our appetites, what I’d call (unconscious) desires, are what drive us, pushing us to do and think, or just do if we collapse thinking into doing, of all kinds of things:

“[W]we are in many ways driven about by external causes, and that like waves of the sea driven by contrary winds we toss to and fro unwitting of the issue and of our fate.”

He doesn’t specify conscious or witting side of things or desires, i.e., conscious appetites, what I’d call reason and intuition, here, but I’d say that he by no means ignores them either. It’s rather that he wishes to emphasize that our desires, i.e., conscious appetites, what I’d call reasoning and intuition, are grounded on what drives us unconsciously. In short, our essence is just that, what we’ve become, as assessed at any given moment as our capacity to act and be acted upon. We like to think that we do or think this and/or that because we choose to do so, freely, but it’s actually not actually the case. We are only to free to do or think whatever, when we acknowledge that, when we seek to actively temper our passions, as he (169) points out.

I’m not a hundred percent fine with this though, considering how he comes across a bit of killjoy. I’d say it’s enough that you realize that we are not free the way we think we are or like to think we are. That already makes us aware of how our passions shape us, how they condition us, setting limits to what is thinkable and doable. Once you just accept that you are what you are, what you’ve become, not what you think you are or what you think you’ve become, you are free to think and do as you see fit, albeit always constrained by what you’ve become.

To be clear, I didn’t reach that conclusion by reading Spinoza. I reached it by reading Deleuze and Guattari. The conclusion is pretty much the same though. Maybe Spinoza puts more emphasis on how things are determined, but that’s about it. The cool thing is that once you come to that conclusion, you get so much more out of yourself as you are no longer simultaneously the master of yourself and the slave to yourself, as I’ve explained this on that essay on bad faith, explaining this through Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, and in some of my essays that concern ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. It is also a real time saver as you no longer spend time thinking what you should and/or shouldn’t be, as you just are, at all times, which then leaves you a lot more time to get things done.

Others are not going to like this type of way of thinking though, because, for them, it’s just inconceivable. You’ll most likely appear to them like you are the smuggest person ever even though that couldn’t be further from the truth, as you couldn’t give less about pride, about defining yourself through achievements. They want everyone to be measured according to their track record, according to their past, but you keep moving on, acknowledging your deeds, yes, but treating as irrelevant for the present. This is exactly what distinguishes what Spinoza (147-148, 150) calls kindliness from pride and ambition. You really aren’t smug, or the like, because it doesn’t matter to you whether you are praised or blamed for what you do. You just do what you do, relying solely on your fortitude, on your reason and intuition, as Spinoza might explain it.

What matters right now is your capacity to act and be acted upon. It’s like do you want someone who used to be good or do you want someone who is good? To me, the answer to that question is a no-brainer. Of course I want someone who is good, instead of someone who used to be good. Then again, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be good if you used to be good though. Of course you can be good if you used to be good. I just don’t think it’s all relevant to the present whether you used to be good in the past. All I care is that you are good now, regardless of whether you used to be good or not. Also, if you are not good now, having been good in the past or not, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be good in the future. Why couldn’t you be good in the future? Of course you can be good in the future, even you are not good right now.

Right, where was I? Well, that’s actually all there is to this essay as that was the last point he makes in part three before moving to provide a list of more concise definitions of the emotions that he has already covered by this point in the book. I’ll jump over it and continue from part four, but I’ll cover that for another essay. Like with parts one and two, what I like about part three is the concistence he has, how he can explain something as rudimentary as emotions with such clarity, while also triggiring certain emotions in you just by explaining how this and/or that emotion hits us, causing pleasure or pain, but without taking any sides, telling how you should or should’n live your life. Okay, he does end up coming across as a bit preachy at times, but that’s probably just my take.

No, not here, not in my back yard, but somewhere else

Peter Howard expresses a central thing about landscape in ‘An Introduction to Landscape’ published in 2011. Introductory books or textbooks usually get a bad rep, and I get why that happens, but I think Howard (2) puts it so well in the … introduction to his introductory book … when he bluntly states that “landscape is indeed the Nimby’s playground”.

He (2) adds that Nimby or NIMBY, short for Not In My Back Yard, involves “a position many of us find ourselves in when confronted by new developments.” I’m pretty sure everyone has resorted to this, wittingly or unwittingly, me included. I try to avoid taking this position, but I can’t say I have never taken it. Okay, I don’t think I’ve had much say about anything, so no biggie I guess, but, to be fair, I’ve used that argument in the past. It’s a shitty move to make and that’s totally on me.

To be fair to everyone, me included, it’s not like you shouldn’t ever stand your ground. I think you should. If you oppose something, do oppose it. Don’t cave in and change your mind just because it might offend someone or be against someone else’s interest. You do have to realize that there are people who’ll first pressure you, claim that you are acting all selfish, hoping that you’ll give in to the pressure, so that you’ll see what’s best for everyone, so that they can walk all over you, so that they can act in their best interest, with little or no concern for your interests. The point here is rather that you shouldn’t be an asshole about it.

I put that a bit crudely, perhaps too crudely for your taste, but I think that needed to be said. When people have opposing views and struggle over something, the solution to it isn’t letting the opposition to do whatever they want just because it involves a struggle or a conflict. I’ll return to this at times, noting that you can and probably should, of course, still oppose this and/or that, but, anyway, he (2) explains in less crude terms:

“Landscape is not very rational. It is intensively personal and reflects our own history, our own nationality, and culture, our personal likes and dislikes.”

I’d actually rephrase this, just a bit, to note that it is so, so personal and it does reflect our history, nationality and culture, our likes and dislikes, not because it does so inherently, but because we’ve accustomed to taking it so, so personally, because we’ve been taught to think that it’s the manifestation of our history, our nationality, our culture and our likes and dislikes. He (2) continues:

“It is always about ‘my place’, or at least somebody’s place.”

Indeed. Note how it’s all about me, me and me or, by proxy, about us, about me and my buddies. Relevant to this, he (2) also notes that:

“This is entirely consistent with the plan of constantly underlining that rational judgements of landscape quality are always overlaid, usually buried, by personal preference.”

He (2) further specifies this by adding that he isn’t interested in presenting something, this and/or that, as good or bad, but rather making you think why it is that you think it is good or bad. I agree with him on this. It’s not my job to tell you that you should or shouldn’t appreciate something. If you do, you do. If you don’t, you don’t. What I want you to do is to think otherwise, to think for yourself, to ask why, how did we get to this or, rather, how might have we got to this?

He (2) also points out that while people don’t really think about landscape, what it is and what it does, it is, nonetheless, “immensely popular”, considering how there all kinds of “meetings to discuss the landscape impact of some local planning proposal” that “attract large numbers” and the people who take part in them “are vocal and defensive.” He (2-3) moves on to liken landscape with place, not because they are the same thing, but because they are often thought to be the same thing. It doesn’t help that the European Landscape Convention also builds on such view, defining it as “‘an area of land as perceived by people’”, which he (2), in turn, spins into “‘an area of land as perceived by me’.” He (3) adds it’s also not just about place but about my place or our place. He (3) doesn’t indicate whether he is for or against this, whether it is a good definition, but he does comment on that in general:

“Academics divide the world of knowledge into much more sophisticated categories of disciplines, but after years of argument and debate they have agreed on a definition of ‘landscape’ that looks remarkably like the local idea of ‘place’ – an area perceived by people, and therefore containing not only their works but also their memories.”

Note how he stresses that it’s not just about the place, as such, nor what’s there, as such, but about how people view it all, as guided by their experiences. This is, of course, the point of contention, where things can get pretty heated.

Let’s go back a bit, just a bit, to the point about landscape being about me, me, and me, and my buddies. We like to think that we simply know what’s good and what’s bad, if not evil, that I know what I want, but that’s not how things work. If we take ourselves for granted, if we start from the ‘I’, the self or the subject, whatever you want to call it, we ignore how others have made us who we are, how everything we’ve learned is from other people, including our views and tastes. Okay, fair enough, maybe, just maybe, we’ve come up with something minute but unique, like once, but I think that even then we just flatter ourselves. That may seem quite offensive to people, I know, because it’s like saying that no one is unique, but it’s not that people aren’t unique but rather what makes them unique is the degree that they copy other people and the number of people they copy, who, in turn, do copy other people to certain degree and so on, and so forth. So, yes, we are all unique, but our views are remarkably alike, albeit their similarity, of course, depends on who it is that we are dealing with.

To give you some examples of how this works, let’s start with something as contentious as religious buildings, such as churches or cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, temples, shrines. If you haven’t noticed, most of these buildings tend to stand out from other buildings, occupying a central place, and/or dwarf other buildings near them. Something tells me that this isn’t a co-incidence. Okay, it does make sense to have the building in a central location rather than in a peripheral location so that it’s equally close to as many people as possible. It also does make sense to have a large building rather than a small building because more people can fit in then. Then again, something tells me that centrality has to do with asserting that the faith is central in that society, an integral part of it, regardless of whether it is or isn’t. The buildings also don’t need to be as big as they tend to be. You could replace one bigger building with many smaller buildings scattered across that society, so I’m not really buying the number of people it can accommodate argument either.

The way I see it is that religious buildings tend to be large and set in central locations, often without anything built right next to them, because, well, they stand out from everything else that way. In other words, they enjoy a privileged position, and they are so prominent in the landscape that they dominate it. It’s not just that they are easy to spot, which is true, but that they are hard to miss. It’s like they are always there, no matter whether you are close to them or far away from them. This is also why the buildings aren’t just large but also tall. If you have a tower or a dome, it can be seen from a far.  It’s like a constant reminder to you that this faith is important.

Some religious buildings are, of course, more dominant in the landscape than others, but if you somehow fail to get the gist of this, look up Hagia Sophia, the once Byzantine orthodox cathedral turned into a catholic cathedral turned back into an orthodox cathedral turned into a grand mosque turned into a museum turned back into a grand mosque. While there are others that are far grander, the Cathedral of Córdoba, once a grand mosque, is another good example of a central religious building, not only because it is large, but because its minaret tower was replaced by a bell tower. The function of a minaret and the bell tower is very similar, to make sure that people know that it’s time to attend the mosque or church. That said, they also serve as a visual reminder that the faith in question is central to that society. I mean, just to have the resources and the influence to build them, for no other official than to let people know that it’s time to attend a ceremony, should tell you enough about their centrality in that society.

Now, of course, most grand religious buildings were built in times when such buildings were built because surely some all-powerful deity needed a lavish palace, as that’s what they really are, palaces, and it’s only likely that you wouldn’t be allowed to build such buildings anymore. Okay, sure there are some new religious buildings that are massive, but they aren’t built by the dozen as they used to be in every central place in various societies. Of course, we could add here that they’ve been succeeded by another type of religious building, the skyscraper. I mean, you could say that they are modern day temples and monuments of capitalism.

To be clear, I have nothing against religious buildings, as such, nor any other kind of building, as such. That said, I don’t we need to build more constant reminders of this or that religion in our societies, especially when their tall bits, such as minarets and bell towers, don’t even serve a real purpose anymore, as everyone has a device that tells them what time it is and can set it to remind them to attend whatever it is that they are expected to attend as a member of a religious society. I just don’t think they are necessary. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should go tearing down minarets, bell towers or the like just because they no longer serve the purpose they used to serve. It’s the same with old palaces. They are quite useless and probably cost a fortune to maintain, but, then again, demolishing them and replacing them with something more practical would also cost a lot. So, yeah, I wouldn’t do that either. Of course, not that it matters as none of this is up to me anyway, nor do I feel like I should be guy in charge of that, nor much of anything else for that matter. This stuff is usually handled by some planning department that you probably have never even heard of.

To go back to the start, the point I wanted to make with religious buildings is that we’ve grown accustomed to them or, rather, some of them and take their presence for granted, but oppose other similar buildings, just because we haven’t grown accustomed to them. It’s that simple, really. A minaret and a bell tower are equally offensive to someone who’s not part of those particular societies, in the sense that their purpose is to constantly remind you, even at great distances, that these faiths and those who believe in them are a big deal in the society, whereas you are not. In itself, there’s nothing inherently offensive about a building, be it tall or short, big or small. It’s rather about the size and position those buildings enjoy in the society that may make them offensive to people.

Mines are, perhaps, better examples than religious buildings. Unlike religious buildings, they don’t really concern most of us. Most people live in cities where you have many, many religious buildings that dwarf everything in their surroundings and their centrality is, at times, a hotly debated issue. Such debates are not, however, even close to embodying the NIMBY-attitude than a mine. The thing with mines is that we don’t get by without them, but people are against them because they do tend to pollute, some more, some less, depending on the circumstances and the people involved, and because they are considered to be worst eyesores ever, despite usually being located in areas that don’t really concern most people directly.

I’m looking at the stuff in this room, wondering if there’s anything that doesn’t have something that has been mined or something has required something that has been mined in order to produce it. Maybe dirt? Then again, that dirt only got here because I wore shoes that either needed some mineral or the production of those shoes relies on some mineral. So, can I really be against mining?

It’s tempting to be against mining, arguing that it ruins the environment, that is to say it ruins our environment, which, of course, it may well do and often does, but when just about everything we use on a daily basis requires minerals, I’m not so sure how we can simply oppose it. Okay, okay, we can, of course, have others do the dirty work for us, but that’s the textbook definition of NIMBY. I don’t think it’s very responsible to deny mining our own back yard because it would pollute the environment and ruin the landscape, while letting others do the dirty work for us, in some mine poor foreign country. It’s like saying I want to enjoy pristine nature, while also browsing the internet on a smartphone that requires rare earth metals extracted somewhere out of sight, somewhere where you never need to visit to see mines. It’s also like enjoying the country roads, taking pleasure in the rural landscapes, on one of those electric vehicles, powered by lithium-ion batteries that probably has cobalt mined in Congo in it, possibly by children. Now, of course, the point here is not to blame you, to be like ha-ha, gotcha, you hypocrite, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. The point here is that we all have blood on our hands and we should owe up to it.

Now, I’m not saying that you should be all in favor of mining, to give it a free pass to do whatever, wherever. No, no. It’s rather that it’s pretty shitty to make others pollute their back yard, for you, while preventing others from polluting your back yard, just because you don’t want some eyesore to ruin your landscape.

I know where the idea to this came from, from Howard’s book, but I don’t know what made me write this essay. Maybe it was some documentaries on architecture or mining. Anyway, this also led me to other acronyms, such BANANA and CAVE, Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything and Citizens Against Virtually Everything. I don’t know how things are elsewhere, but at least here you’ll find people who seem to complain about just about everything, for the sake of it, albeit it might be that they actually in the NIMBY camp. Others include PIBBY and the less specific SOBBY, Place In Black’s Back Yard and Some Other Bugger’s Back Yard, which both seek to explain what tends to happen when the NIMBY-attitude prevails, you know like when mines are built in some poor African country instead of somewhere close to you, even though building it in that place close to you would probably be better for the environment and the workers than building it in that poor African country.

I also provided just a couple of examples, but there are plenty of others to explore as the way landscape functions as an argument lends it so well to NIMBYism. To name a couple more, think of power plants, landfills, wastewater treatment facilities or amusement parks. Even roads and railroads can be understood as ruining the landscape, despite having being part of crucial infrastructure. It’s the same with power lines.

Too broad shoulders

What have I been up to? Well, I haven’t managed to get essays done, that’s for sure. The last two or three I’ve drawn from my archives or just hastily written to get something done. The thing with writing is that you have to do it, otherwise you get what they call a writer’s block. Sometimes that means writing something, just something, even something that later on you’ll look back at and wonder why you ever wrote that. Then again, I think it’s better to not look back. That rarely does people any good. Just keep going, just keep going.

I’ve also been reading and re-reading, time allowing. I recently read ‘Anti-Oedipus’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane) from start to finish, to make notes. What can I say about it? I’m not going to write a review of it here, but I guess I can say something about it in general. I’d say that I’m not as fond of it as I am of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi). I just think that it’s not as strong or thought provoking as the follow-up. Of course, that’s just my take. I think it’s too focused on psychoanalysis. Then again, I think that’s my problem, considering how the book is supposed to be about psychoanalysis and a criticism of it. I can’t blame them for doing what they did. I think it’s also worth saying that my view of the book changed the further I got. It also definitely has its moments. So, while you might not like it as much as ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, if you have read it that is, but it’s still worth your while. It has its moments.

Speaking of moments, fuck it, I’m going to go with it, to take up a central theme in the book and just ramble on. I’d say that sexuality is a central topic in the book. I mean it’s kind of hard to avoid. I guess you could fault them for that, but, then again, they only go on and on about it because psychoanalysts go on and on about it, basically insinuating that no matter what it is, you just want to get rid of your father, to get rid of the competition, just so that you can fuck your mother. Spoiler alert, that’s the so called Oedipus complex and why the book title is ‘Anti-Oedipus’. They gladly, and I think rightly, ridicule it. I mean, come on! Come on! Really! It’s hilarious! You don’t need to read their book to find it hilarious, how everything, no matter what it is, gets reduced into some underlying urge to fuck your mom and kill your dad so that he won’t prevent you from fucking your mom. I was so amused by their examples. I particularly love how anything that enters something or, at least, appears to enter something, ends up being interpreted as some underlying urge to enter one’s mother. I mean come on! How can you not laugh at that! It’s ridiculous.

Now, as funny as that may be, and believe me it is, it gets pretty old, pretty fast. It’s no longer funny when they provide you the umpteenth example of the Oedipus complex. It also gets ridiculed in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ but I’d say that it’s, no, not necessarily a more mature take on the issue, but rather that it’s presented as one issue among many issues that they want to tackle. Sure, it’s still central, but they don’t go on and on about it like they do in ‘Anti-Oedipus’.

Right, now that I covered that, there’s no longer need for me to say more about that. Instead, I’ll comment on how sexuality is presented in the book. Now, the way we generally understand sexuality is, I’d say, very specific. Whenever that word crops up, there’s this big ooh, aah, from some people, while others gasp for air. Almost everyone has this sentiment of oh, oh, no, no, no, no you didn’t! You didn’t just say that word! They just don’t vocalize it. There’s just this awkward silence. I guess the ones not to have such a reaction are people who specialize in sexuality, in one capacity or another, but that’s a small minority. I’d say it’s also a small minority who might not agree with Deleuze and Guattari or, perhaps, it’s the other way around, that Deleuze and Guattari might not agree with them.

What I mean is that Deleuze and Guattari sort of desexualize sexuality in ‘Anti-Oedipus’. To be more precise, they deindividualize or depersonify sexuality. To be even more precise, they desubjectify desire. Now, you may object to the way they use the term, but they (70, 295) reckon that instead of speaking about heterosexuality, the norm, and homosexuality, a now somewhat accepted deviation from the norm, not that I’m saying it’s wrong or deviant but rather that it is often posed as such in contrast to the norm, we ought to really be speaking about transsexuality or, to be more precise, microscopic transsexuality. Now, it’s worth noting that I’m not an expert on sexuality, nor do I claim to be, but I’m pretty sure they define that differently from what people are used to.  You might object to their take on it. You might be tempted to think that they do injustice to it. That said, I’d say that they are on to something and I think I get what they mean, oddly enough. Right, let the controversy begin!

There’s this point that they repeat throughout the book, how we shouldn’t think of men as the ones with a penis or phallus, to use the psychoanalytic jargon, and women as the one who don’t have a penis. It’s not that this isn’t the case, because it is. It’s rather that they are opposed to thinking that what women are to be defined as lacking a penis. Instead, they should be understood in their own terms, not as, this is going to be hilarious again, in search of a penis, not that that might not be the case, just because they are marked by a lack. Similarly, men should not be thought as defined by having a penis, even though, yes, that’s what they have. For men then it’s not a search for a penis that should mark them, because they already have a penis, no need for that, nor the fear of castration, no longer having it or, I guess, having no use for it. It’s not that men and women don’t exhibit such behavior, nor that their bodies aren’t different, but rather that they are taught to behave in certain ways and think in certain ways, which is the problem. You most certainly see people acting this way, even saying such things out loud. I remember reading a comment about some women’s sporting event, where some random man thought it’d be funny to state that things didn’t go too well for the athletes because they were thinking about pussy too much. I was like, well, inasmuch as that might be the case, I mean that might be the case to some extent, that’s more revealing of the insecurities of the person than the women in question. I’d say the person was afflicted by the castration complex, expressing his dismay of not having a purpose for his penis.

What we get draw from all that is that there is no lack. It’s not men have it and women don’t have it. In short, what we have instead is pure positivity or affirmation, desire for whatever it is that draws us to certain people and not to others. Anyway, they (70) state that:

“We are statistically or molarly heterosexual, but personally homosexual, without knowing it or being fully aware of it, and finally we are transsexual in an elemental, molecular sense.”

To get the gist of this, you need to know what they mean by molar and molecular. I won’t get into details here as I’m sure you can look this up yourself if you want their definition of that, but I’ll provide you a short summary. Molar is about rigidity and stability, about aggregation and structures. Molecular is about flexibility and metastability, about flows and connections. They (69) also provoke us by saying that:

“[E]veryone is bisexual, everyone has two sexes, but partitioned, noncommunicating; the man is merely the one in whom the male part, and the woman the one in whom the female part, dominates statistically.”

What mean is that most of us are heterosexual. If we think in terms of aggregates, we are, statistically speaking, heterosexual, man-to-woman, woman-to-man. That said, as they (69) point out, that’s not the whole truth, nor nothing but the truth, as we are, in a sense, all bisexual:

“[T]he male part of a man can communicate with the female part of a woman, but also with the male part of a woman, or with the female part of another man, or yet again with the male part of the other man, etc.”

So, instead of posing this as man or woman, man-to-woman, woman-to-man, they (69-70) push us to think differently, without guilt for assumed deviancy:

“In contrast to the alternative of the ‘either/or’ exclusions, there is the ‘either … or … or’ of the combinations and permutations where the differences amount to the same without ceasing to be differences.”

In other words, we should never think in terms of this or that, either or, as a closed set, but as something open ended, as either this or that or that, like this and this and this and this, and so on, and so on, so that it’s always open ended. The open-endedness is crucial here, as they’ll go on to point out. They (70) move on to rework homosexuality, as explained by Marcel Proust in ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (this excerpt translated by Richard Howard):

“[Men who] seek out women who prefer women, women who suggest young men . . . indeed, they can take, with such women, the same pleasure as with a man. … For in their relations with women, they play – for the woman who prefers women – the role of another woman, and at the same time a woman offers them approximately what they find in a man.”

So, as odd as this might seem, you may have homosexual men/women who, by all logic, ought to be into other men/women, yet they are into women/men. The thing here is that these men/women are homosexual in the sense that they seek out the men/women in women/men. I know, I know! How strange! How queer! That is on a whole other level! And yet it makes sense!

They (69) provide an example that I think is particularly good. It’s another example from Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’, but this time it’s an analysis rather than drawn directly from it:

“[T]he first kiss given Albertine. Albertine’s face is at first a nebula, barely extracted from the collective of girls.”

The point here is that one’s behavior tends to be structured according to molar constructions, such as heterosexuality. In this case, it’s the collective of girls, an aggregate, from which the love interest is drawn from. I believe this happens in the second volume of Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’, when the narrator sees a group of girls on the beach and later on becomes infatuated with one of them, Albertine. Deleuze (76) also explains this in ‘Proust and Signs’ (1972 translation by Richard Howard):

“[T]he beloved belongs initially to a group, in which she is not yet individualized.”

This is the initial molar stage. He (76) continues:

“Who will be the girl the hero loves in the homogeneous group? And by what accident is it that Albertine incarnates essence when another girl might have done just as well? Or even another essence, incarnated in another girl, to whom the hero might have been sensitive, and who would have at least inflected the series of his loves?”

Followed by explain this in other words (77):

“There is, in the group of young girls, a mixture, a conglomeration of essences, doubtless analogous, in relation to which the hero is almost equally accessible.”

The point here is that there is a group of girls, but he might still be interested in one or another, as at this stage they aren’t particular distinct from one another. There is, I guess, just a general heterosexual inclination here. He (77) continues:

“Albertine … is selected from a group, with all the contingency that corresponds to this selection.”

Ah, yes, we might be tempted to say that we select our loves, but, as you can see here, it’s not exactly the case as there are all kinds of contingencies at play here, hence the aforementioned seriality. He (77) goes on:

“The pleasures the hero experiences in the group are sensual pleasures. But these pleasures do not belong to love.”

Indeed, at this stage the girls are still girls, members of a group and the pleasure is drawn from being member of that group. Anyway, he (77) adds to this:

“In order to become a term in the series of loves, Albertine must be isolated from the group in which she first appears. She must be chosen; this choice is not made without uncertainty and contingency.”

Again, this is the point about how an individual is drawn from a group, chosen, yet the choice is by no means unaffected by who the person making that choice has become. Jumping back to ‘Anti-Oedipus’, Deleuze and Guattari (69) state that:

“Then her person disengages itself, through a series of views that are like distinct personalities, with Albertine’s face jumping from one plane to another as the narrator’s lips draw nearer her cheek. At last, within the magnified proximity, everything falls apart like a face drawn in sand, Albertine’s face shatters into molecular partial objects, while those on the narrator’s face rejoin the body without organs, eyes closed, nostrils pinched shut, mouth filled.”

To go back a bit, to the point where things begin here, Albertine is just one of the girls, one among many. As one gets closer her face is one among other faces, that is to say contrasted with them. The others then get discarded. It’s now just Albertine and her face. The thing with a face is that you have to be at a certain distance to see it, for there to be a face. When you get closer, it’s no longer about the face, but all these little things that are part of the face but no longer function as its parts as you are too close to the other person. It’s even more so when the eyes are closed because a face is something that can only be seen. When the bodies get closer, the lips touch, it all becomes tactile. Deleuze (124) also comments on this in ‘Proust and Signs’:

“[T]he shapeless nebula seen from too close and that of an exquisite organization from the right distance.”

The face is there at the right distance, but it’s not if we are too close or too far. He (124) continues:

“Albertine’s face, when we imagine we are gathering it up in itself for a kiss, leaps from one plane to another as our lips cross its check, ‘ten Albertines’ in sealed vessels, until the final moment when everything disintegrates in the exaggerated proximity.”

Later on, he (176) further comments on this, summarizing the passage where the narrator kisses Albertine:

“[T]he  vigilant narrator starts with Albertine’s face, a mobile set in which the  beauty  spot  stands  out  as  a  singular  feature,  then  as the narrator’s lips approach Albertine’s cheek, the desired face passes through a series of successive planes to which correspond so many Albertines, beauty spot leaping from one  to  the  next;  ending  with  the  final  blur  in  which  Albertine’s face is released and undone, and in which the narrator, losing the use of her lips, her eyes, her nose, recognizes ‘from these hateful signs’ that he is in the process of kissing the beloved being.”

In this context, he (176-177) notes that while it would be tempting to claim that Albertine is just “a mask for Proust’s own homosexuality’, Albert femininized as Albertine, that’s not the case. For him (176-177), going that route would be awfully reductive and wrongheaded. It would miss how love is always transsexual, as he (177) calls it and as he and Guattari (70) also call it in ‘Anti-Oedipus’. There’s actually a small typo here, being referred to as transexual (177). It should be transsexual as it is transsexuel in the French original (212). Anyway, he (177) notes here that what we have is, on the one hand, surface normality, marked by heterosexuality, man-to-woman and woman-to-man, and homosexuality, man-to-man and woman-to-woman, as the man and woman arrangement includes all those options, as a matter of bisexuality or intersexuality, and, on the other hand, a completely different arrangement that has no name, what, I think he and Guattari (295) go on to call microscopic transsexuality in ‘Anti-Oedipus’.

To avoid using labels that others probably use differently, I’d say that there’s molar sexuality and then there’s molecular sexuality, which, I guess we could also call transversal sexuality. The problem with referring to molecular sexuality as transsexuality, even if it is specified as molecular transsexuality, is that it is generally understood as having to do with identifying with the other sex that one is deemed not to be and/or transitioning from one sex to another. That’s, however, not what they mean by transsexuality because, for them, that’s still a molar conception of sexuality, as opposed to their molecular conception of sexuality.

They (76) explain this through the schizophrenic, that is to say their schizophrenic which is also what they call the nomad in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, not the clinical schizophrenic. Firstly, they (76) state that the schizophrenic “is not a man and woman.” Instead, they (76) state that the schizophrenic “is man or woman, but … belongs precisely to both sides, man on the side of men, woman on the side of women.” This is well in line with what I’ve already covered. Secondly, they (77) reiterate the first point that the schizophrenic “is not simply bisexual”, i.e., not man and woman, only to add that this does not mean the schizophrenic is “between the two, or intersexual” either. Instead, they (77) argue that the schizophrenic “is transsexual”, someone who “does not reduce two contraries to an identity of the same”, but “affirms their distance as that which relates the two as different.”

Later on, they (295) specify that both bisexuality and intersexuality retain the idea of two sexes, which is, of course, true in the molar sense. Bisexuality assumes both at the same time whereas intersexuality reduces them to one, albeit, I’d say, implicitly retaining the two. The problem with reducing sex from two to one is that while it abandons defining women as lacking what men have, it replaces that lack with a mutual or circular lack, so that women lack what men lack but also men lack what women lack, as they (295) point out. Because women lack a penis, men can then only lack what women lack, a penis, therefore it all gets reduced to castration, the point here being that this leads us nowhere. It’s still molar through and through, no matter whether we assert one sex or two sexes, as they (295) also point out.

What can we learn from all of this? Well, I for one like the way they explain this through Proust’s work. I particularly like the Albertine example. It makes you wonder. What it is that attracts us? Like okay, we might say that men are attracted to women and women are attracted to men, while some men are attracted to other men and some women are attracted to other women, but that’s not really saying much. That’s very superficial. Yes, it holds statistically, but that’s not really what Deleuze and Guattari are after in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ or what Deleuze is after in ‘Proust and Signs’. It’s not reducible to a preference for, let’s say, blondes or brunettes either, because, I’d say, that’s also molar through and through. In addition, saying that one is attracted by blondes or brunettes, or, let’s say tallness or shortness, is rather what they call perversion in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, as, for them (35), a pervert is simply “someone who takes artifice serious and plays the game to the hilt”, not conforming to expectations, what the society expects a person to be attracted to, whatever it is or may be, but comes up with other expectations and seeks to conform to them. I actually quite like their definition of perversion because it’s not simply about sexuality as it is generally thought as. Instead, it’s applicable in general. It’s actually really difficult to say what it is that is attractive, which, I guess, is why they (296) say that it’s not about one or two, but about a hundred thousand. To repeat an earlier point, they (70) summarize this quite neatly:

“We are statistically or molarly heterosexual, but personally homosexual, without knowing it or being fully aware of it, and finally we are transsexual in an elemental, molecular sense.”

What’s my take then? Hmmm, to reiterate an earlier point I made, I’d say that it’s pretty cool how they manage to desexualize sexuality or, rather, deindividualize depersonify sexuality. They push us to think desire and attraction beyond what we are accustomed to, far beyond where should I shove my dick or what should I shove into my pussy. They want to make us think what it is that draws us to do whatever it is that we do. Sure, it can be about a penis and/or a vagina, what it is that we do with them, but that’s just one instance, among many. For example, I’ve met women, I know, how molar of me, who might not have attracted me, as such, like visually, simply judged by their looks, like photographically speaking, but then there’s been just that something to them. It’s not what they are, but how they are. It’s been about their posture, their movement, the sound of their voice, their smile, their touch, their humor, and the like, but at the same time I think I’m not really doing justice to them by listing such. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s the jawline that attracts me, maybe it’s the shoulders, maybe it’s the muscularity, which, by the way, if understood as a masculine feature, makes me homosexual, finding a manly feature in a woman attractive.Then again, that’s a poor way to explain this, because, like with saying that I’m attracted to women, it’s a molar conception utilized to explain something. The whole point of molecular sexuality is to undermine such molar conceptions.

I reckon I’m usually clueless about what it is that I am attracted to and what it is about me that attract others. To be honest, I don’t really think about it. I just do what I do, deal with who I deal with. That’s it. There’s no need to attempt to explain any of it. I just go with it.

As I pointed out earlier on, ‘Anti-Oedipus’ has its moments. I don’t think they intended what I’m about to explain as such a moment, but I was highly amused by their discussion of filiations and alliances. There’s this bit where they (147) mention “groups of men residing in the same area, or in neighboring areas, who arrange marriages and shape concrete reality” which made me laugh out loud. I don’t know about others, but there’s just something hilarious about men coming together, as an all-male panel, to discuss issues that pertain to women. That has got to be the most latently homosexual thing there is, men coming together, being so, so passionate about something that doesn’t even concern them, while also excluding those who it does concern.

It’s like with rappers who feel like they need to distance them from homosexuality or, rather, from being possibly perceived as homosexuals by using the expression ‘no homo’. It’s an odd expression, considering that it’s unlikely that others would think that there is something homosexual about it. It’s just unnecessary. Secondly, it assumes that there is something wrong about homosexuality. Thirdly, it indicates that it’s considered detrimental to one’s image or, possibly, even dangerous to be perceived as such. It might lead to being discriminated, losing friends, job opportunities etc., or even result in physical danger. Fourthly, it comes across as possibly disingenuous, hence the latent homosexuality.

I agree with Joshua Brown (301) who argues in his 2011 article ‘No Homo’, as published in the Journal of Homosexuality, that it’s typically used by men to defend themselves from “presumed attack on one’s masculinity.” That said, I also agree with him (302) on that it can be used to parody the underlying assumption that there is something wrong about homosexuality. Lonely Island’s song ‘No Homo’ does this by particularly well. It’s basically two minutes of compliments from one ‘dude’ to another ‘dude’ followed by ‘no homo’, so that ‘no homo’ is repeated for a total of 40 times. The gist is “To tell a dude just how you feel, no homo”, “Just say no homo so he knows the deal, no homo”, so that even when you say “Yo, I’ve been thinking about fucking a dude, no homo”, there’s nothing homosexual about it. You might as well say “Hey yo, no homo, but today I’m coming out of the closet”, “Wanna scream it from the mountains like a gay prophet”, “These two words have set me free, no homo”, “Damn it feels good to be, no homo”.

Another way to parody ‘no homo’ is to use it in the Latin sense, as in not human, like I did a couple of years ago in one of the essay. What’s funny about that? Well, the funny thing is that you need to know Latin and that it’s correct, that ‘homo’ means ‘human’, and not what you expected. Okay, it’s nowhere close as funny as what the Lonely Island guys manage to do by repeating it, over and over again, but that’s why those guys get paid for making jokes and I write essays, not getting paid to write essays, nor anything else for that matter.

Right, to get back to the start, the more I read ‘Anti-Oedipus’, the more I like it. It’s not as all over the place as ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which I happen to like about that book, but ‘Anti-Oedipus’ certainly has its moments. It’s very quotable, that’s for sure. If you want to learn more about sexuality, especially in psychoanalytic terms, you’ll like it. I still prefer ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ and I can totally see why they opted to approach some of the same issues by abandoning much of the terminology introduced in ‘Anti-Oedipus’. While they do manage to deindividualize or desubjectify sexuality in this book, forcing you to rethink it all, also on the personal level, I can see how people might miss the point and keep thinking that sexuality is about men and women, themselves included, engaging in certain acts. So, yeah, I can totally see why Deleuze and Guattari may have wanted to explain things differently in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

Beautiful roundabouts

The word ‘knacker’ was not really part of my vocabulary before I moved to study abroad in Ireland. Back then it meant something to do with horses and glue, because, for some reason, somehow, I think of glue in connection to dead horses, to their carcasses. Apparently, that’s what a ‘knacker’ is or at least was, considering that there isn’t much of a demand for someone who is in the business of horse carcass disposal. That’s all industrial these days. A dictionary (OED, s.v. “knacker”, n.) tells us that a knacker is:

“A harness-maker; a saddler.”

Or (OED, s.v. “knacker”, n.):

“One whose trade it is to buy worn out, diseased, or useless horses, and slaughter them for their hides and hoofs, and for making dog’s-meat, etc.; a horse-slaughterer. knacker’s yard[.]”

And, by extension (OED, s.v. “knacker”, n.):

“One who buys old houses, ships, etc., for the sake of their materials, or what can be made of them.”

You can also say that you are ‘knackered’ to indicate that you are very tired, exhausted or fatigued, kind of like worn out. That said, that’s not how it is (or at least was) used in Ireland.

In the Irish context, it’s been used to refer to Irish travelers, albeit I never heard it used that way when I was living in Ireland. I assume the connection comes from dealing with horses, in the first sense, as it would make sense that nomads know how to make everything related to horses. That said, it’s generally considered a pejorative. My guess is that it’s because it conjures images of people whose livelihoods depend on carcasses. The point is that the trade of selling horse carcasses for scrap comes across as generally disreputable, even though that was a job that someone had to do back in the day. Dead horses needed to be disposed and someone was willing to do that.

To be clear, someone still has to take care of dead animals, just as someone needs to take care of dead people. There are people who specialize in cleaning up after dead bodies (in the most general sense of the word) or what’s left of them anyway, possibly partially decomposed, in conditions that make your stomach turn, but we simply don’t really talk about them and if we do talk about them, for some reason, we don’t think of them as disreputable. Sure, it’s not pretty, but someone has to do it. I don’t think there’s a lot of people who want to specialize in dealing with biohazards.

I’d say this is also the case with people in waste disposal. I remember it being considered a disreputable job, but, well, I don’t think it as viewed in that way. Judging by the average salary per month calculation, it sure doesn’t look that way either. You make better money doing that than you do by doing a doctorate, regardless of whether you are salaried or on grant money.

Anyway, be as it may, horses or no horses, travelers or not, the word ‘knacker’ was typically used as a pejorative in Ireland and I assume that it still is used in that way. So, what or who did the locals call ‘knackers’? In my experience it was used in reference to any dodgy, shady or questionable character. That was the general sense of it. But it was also used in reference to people from the lower socio-economic classes. That was the specific sense of it. I’d say that’s still too broad, not to mention discriminatory. My sense of it was that it combined those two. I reckon it was used in reference to any dodgy, shady or questionable character from the lower socio-economic classes. There was also something showy and bold about such characters. I’m tempted to say that a ‘knacker’ is someone who wears brand sneakers and track suits, accessorized by shiny jewelry, and sport short, neatly trimmed haircuts, but, then again, in my experience a lot of people wear sports clothing in Ireland. I was also told that brand sports clothing was typically seen as a sign of affluence, so no, I don’t think it was just that. I’d say a ‘knacker’ also had to be someone rowdy. There was something very masculine about it. It had that ‘machismo’ to it, if you know what I mean. I can’t say that I’d associate it with women, but that’s, perhaps, because women tend to be, well, kept at home, so that you won’t encounter them that much, which is why I think of men when that word is used.

Unless I’m mistaken, what people meant by a ‘knacker’ was more or less what others call a ‘chav’ in the English context or a ‘gopnik’ in the Russian context. The problem is, of course, that not everyone who looks like what people typically associate with those words cause any problems. They are sort of sloppy shorthands for people you’ve been taught to disapprove. I remember being on train, sitting next to two guys who matched that description. To be honest, it was strange at first, but that was only because we, the foreign students, had been told not to associate with such people and there I was sitting next to them for, what, two hours. But, as the time passed, it was clear to me that it was just a label that people were in the habit of using to distance themselves from people from the lower socio-economic classes, to be sure that they themselves are not labeled as such. Those guys were probably in their late twenties or early thirties. They enthusiastically talked about their trip to England, how they went to see their favorite football team, I believe it was Liverpool, play against some other team, which I believe was Manchester United. There was nothing odd, nor hostile about that encounter. The only odd or hostile thing was my prejudice.

Now, of course, just because I happened to encounter a couple of nice guys doesn’t mean that everyone who share their background is a nice guy. Obviously not. The point I’m making is that you’ll run into all kinds of people, regardless of whether they wear a tracksuit or a suit.

Elaine Vaughan and Máiréad Moriarty address this issue, what people in Ireland call ‘knackers’, in their 2018 book chapter ‘Voicing the ‘Knacker’: Analysing the Comedy of the Rubberbandits’, as included in ‘Voice and Discourse in the Irish Context’ edited by Diana Villanueva Romero, Carolina Amador-Moreno and Manuel Sánchez García. They (14) summarize what I just covered:

“These social orders themselves are based on normative understandings of certain accents, registers and other behaviours indexing, for example, criminal behaviour or particular social groups.”

Indeed, what counts as a ‘knacker’ to people is based on certain normativity. Particular social group, in this case certain deprived socio-economic group, forms this basis, mixed with certain behavior that is deemed anti-social, if not criminal, as exhibited by some, but not all members of that group.

I also agree with Vaughan and Moriarty (13-14) that the Rubberbandits, a Limerick based duo, does an excellent job at appropriating and adapting “artefacts from other urban communities’, which, in this case, happens to center around the “‘Limerick knacker’”. They lampoon and glorify it in a way that, nonetheless, isn’t really offensive, as Vaughan and Moriarty (13-14) point out. It’s an interesting thing really. You can’t take them seriously, yet there is something serious about it. They wear supermarket plastic bags over their heads, which is funny in itself. They do that to remain anonymous, but I’d say they also do that because it’s an act, a performance. The serious part has to do with how they deal with serious issues. But why look at serious issues linked to the ‘Limerick knacker’ through humor? Isn’t it bound to come across as disrespectful and offensive? Well, this is a tough one. Sure, what they do or have done can come across as such, at least to some people. Then again, the humor of their performance allows them to avoid glorying the ‘Limerick knacker’, ignoring the negative aspects, while it also allows them to avoid reveling in those negative aspects, from doing poverty porn, from presenting people like curiosities to be ogled at, like in some sort of a circus or a human zoo. I think this is particularly important when doing something that is seen as comedic or entertaining, because there’s the risk of coming across as glorifying something like street violence or substance abuse, taking it for granted, or as profiting from people’s misery.

Now, I won’t get into details about the background of the duo. You can look that up yourself. Vaughan and Moriarty also cover that for their academic audience, but you can just look them up and get the gist. Okay, you might not get their humor, but you should be able to get the gist of their performance. Oh, and yes, it is for sure their performance. They are performers, artists, so no, don’t go thinking they spend their days wearing plastic bags over their heads. It’s part of their act, not their life. Also, keep in mind that what they did ten years ago was what they did ten years ago, as a performance. They might not, no longer do some of the stuff they did back then. While they are an act, a performance, even that act or performance evolves, morphs into something else.

I was there, in Limerick, in 2010 and 2011 when their single ‘Horse Outside’ became a hit. I remember being told by other foreign students about it. It got played a few times. I was like okay. It was more of a thing for my friends who had attended some introductory course to Irish language (Gaeilge) and history. I don’t know who ran the course, but I remember them saying that whoever it was knew the Rubberbandits and, I think, they also said he had been on the ‘Horse Outside’ music video.  Anyway, I wasn’t there, on that course, so I can’t be sure. It’s just hearsay. Anyway, be as it may, I got hooked on their performances, the ‘Guide to …’ stuff they did for RTÉ, for the Irish national broadcaster.

As a quick recap, the gist of the song and the video is that ‘knackers’ have horses. Cars are only cars, but horses are always horses. Oh, and yes, that’s not made up. Some people in Limerick do keep horses. If you ventured close to certain areas where we were told not to go, you could spot a horse or two.

They made a number of other songs, but, to my knowledge, none of them were hits. Then again, something tells me that they didn’t really care if their music was popular or not. As far as I know, they didn’t really even make money from their songs or albums, which, I know, is also the case with just about every musician these days. The singles and the albums don’t really sell nor is there any proper money to be made from streaming. It’s all about the gigs, which aren’t happening right now and no one knows when they’ll happen again.

To my knowledge, they don’t make music that much these days, as each has their own projects. I guess the Rubberbandits is a thing that they do when they feel like doing it. When it happens, it happens. Otherwise, it doesn’t. Blind Boy has that podcast which I listen to at times. I don’t know how to explain what his podcast is about. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I guess it’s about whatever happens to interest him. I’d say it’s easier to just listen to his podcast than to read what I have to say about it.

Anyway, is Limerick a ‘knacker’ city or ‘Knackeragua’? Well, it’s often assumed that it is, that’s it’s worst city in the whole country, its asshole, as I remember someone from Galway pointing out to us. Then again, I’d say no. What I liked about Limerick was that the people didn’t seem to cater to my presence, nor to anyone else’s for that matter. They weren’t trying to sell you some image of themselves or their city. They weren’t trying to sell you anything, really. In contrast, in some other cities or towns, people appeared to be interested in you, but that only lasted until you had completed the transaction. So, yeah, I never felt like I was a tourist or a customer in Limerick because there wasn’t much to see, as such, nor much to sell, except all kinds of everyday stuff that you also get elsewhere. Sure, there are some shady areas, gangland culture and that all, no doubt about it, and I believe someone got shot just down the street from where we lived, no point glossing over that, but that’s not the whole story. I had some interesting encounters with people I met in stores, pubs, at the university, to name some places. I wish I had engaged more with them, but that’s on me, not on them, really.

The local pub owner treated us well, not because we were frequent customers, which we were, but because we brought more than just money to that establishment. I’d say that we also served the locals, in some odd capacity. We kept company to the local regulars at the pub, who seemed like they were always there but in reality weren’t, they just happened to be around when we happened to be around. They had interesting stories to tell, even though, at times, we’d hear the stories they had already told us. Then again, it wasn’t about hearing one story after another, but also about the way the stories were told.

There was also that dark, wavy or curly haired student who kept saying hi to me, knowing my name, every time I passed her on campus or on my way to campus. I have no idea how she knew me, by name. I guess I should have asked.

The local students taking geography courses were also nice. They didn’t have to be. They could have just ignored me and the other foreign students, but they didn’t. Again, I probably should have engaged more with them, but I didn’t.

Anyway, my point is that I for sure didn’t feel like I was living in some hell hole. I can’t say that it was all pure bliss, because it wasn’t, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. I don’t know about others and maybe it’s an unpopular opinion, but I like places with character, even if part of that character is a bit questionable. What I don’t like is posing, giving you a great impression that only lasts as long as your money lasts.

So, it’s only fitting how Vaughan and Moriarty (35) conclude their book chapter by pointing out that “the idea of knacker, and indeed the notion of the Limerick knacker, does not exist as a person but rather as a concept, much like similar labels from other cultures” and it functions “to distance the middle class from the working class along lines of distinction and taste.” I’d say that this also applies more broadly to Limerick itself, or, rather, how it is presented by others in order to distance themselves from it, not because have something to say about the city, but because it allows them to disassociate themselves from certain socioeconomic group or groups of people in order to come across as associating with certain privileged socioeconomic group or groups of people. In short, it’s like self-elevation, putting others down in order to look like you are above them, even though you haven’t moved at all.

The Big Squeeze

I’ve been doing all kinds of things and reading all kinds of stuff. I intended to be done with something else, instead of finishing some stuff that I managed to leave unfinished, but then people started fucking with the stock market in the US. If you thought there was nothing good about 2020 and 2021 is just a sequel to it, like it looks like it is, at least we got to enjoy people squeezing money out of hedge funds.

I don’t know if this is even necessary, but I’ll cover how this works anyway. I don’t know how you could have missed this and not read about how it all works, but gist is that people with a lot of money, so much money that it makes no sense, made a massive bet and now it’s backfiring on them, because a lot of people, so many people that you can’t comprehend it, made a bet against that bet. So, in short, you have a small number of people with shitsloads of money trying to make even more money on top of all that money, countered by a shitload of people with little money, the difference being that it’s really hard win against that many people, because the number of your opponents or, rather, enemies is virtually infinite. One walks away, another walks away, and so on and so forth, but that’s simply not enough as there’s just too many of them and it’s only likely that others will join them. It’s whack-a-mole.

To be more accurate, hedgefunds sought to short-sell faltering game retailer GameStop shares, to the point that more than 100 percent of it publicly traded shares were shorted. If I’ve understood correctly, the shares were shorted 140 percent, meaning that a lot of the shares that had already been shorted were shorted again. It’s unlikely that they were able to get it all, at a go, which means that the same shares were shorted a number of times. If that seems ridiculous, it’s because it is.

The idea behind short-selling or shorting is to borrow shares, sell them at a certain price and then wait for the value of the shares to down, buy those shares at a low(er) price and then return the shares. The point is to pocket the difference, minus expenses (whatever you had to promise to be able to borrow those shares, taxes etc.). If that seems like a good way to make money, by basically doing fuck all, it’s because it is.

It is, of course, a gamble. If the value of the shares goes up, instead of going down, you are fucked. Instead of making money, pocketing the difference, you now have to pay the difference. It’s as simple as that.

What happened in this case is that those who shorted the company, more than once, mind you, thought they had won the lottery because, well, GameStop hasn’t actually been relevant for years. It’s business model just doesn’t make sense these days. It’s like what happened to Blockbuster but with PC and console games. It’s just that bad that shorting it just made sense.

The problem with that kind of mass shorting is that it’s not exactly hard to notice and, well, it being not hard to notice, someone did notice it. This presents an opportunity. If the prices go up, there is profit to be made from it. While it may seem to make no sense to invest in something that is bound to fail, it does when others have shorted the shit out of it. This move to counter the short is known as the short squeeze. The idea is to squeeze money out of the big-time gamblers who shorted the shares. And oh boy, did people jump at the opportunity to squeeze!

Squeezes are not a new thing. What’s new about this squeeze is that it’s a crowd squeeze. To be clear, it’s funded by the crowd, but it’s not crowdfunded. Each person in the crowd acts on its own, instead of placing the money into a shared pot. So, like I pointed out already, you don’t have one big fist that squeezes money out of those who shorted shares, the hedge funds, but a virtually endless number of little fists that do that on their own.

To explain this in fancier terms, first in Tardean parlance, shorting is an invention. Someone came up with it to make money. It was imitated by others. It’s, however, not an invention that is imitated by the many. Why? Well, it’s a gamble. It’s also not a gamble but a dickish gamble. I’d also say that it also requires quite a bit of money to do, at least if you wish to do it consistently. You can’t always win, so you have to be prepared to pay the difference every now and then. You a certain buffer, something that allows you to take some hits. Most people don’t have such luxury, which is why most people don’t go shorting shares. It just doesn’t scale that way.

To make sense of the scale issue, keep in mind that you need to return what you have borrowed. It’s like borrowing some item from a friend. You are expected to return that item to that friend. If you sell that item in the meanwhile, you still need to buy that item back in order to return it. Of course, that item might be something common, like a tool, so it’s going to be fine if the tool isn’t the same tool that you borrowed from that friend, as long as it’s functionally the same. The thing is that you are in trouble if the item that you want to buy back in order to return it is now more expensive than what it was when you sold it. You can’t go back to your friend and hand over the money you from selling whatever it is that you had borrowed from your friend. No. You need to return that thing. It’s irrelevant to your friend that you now need to spend your own money to get that thing back. No one forced you to borrow that thing. It’s your problem that you thought you’d make some money out of selling what’s not yours in hopes of buying it back cheaper so that once you return it.

Squeezing is also an invention, something that’s also been imitated in the past. What’s new about this squeeze is that it is, in a sense, also invention, not a mere imitation of previous squeezes. People didn’t simply adopt the squeeze. They adapted it. They reworked it. They made something new out of it. The new thing about it was that ordinary people, with relatively little money, saw this as an opportunity to squeeze the lights out of wealthy financial institutions. Others then imitated it, so that it became a flow or a wave that is very hard, if not impossible to stop.

To explain this in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms, people countered capitalism by acting as a horde, wittingly or unwittingly. They aren’t seeking to gain from the situation. Okay maybe some seek to gain from the situation, I mean that’s only likely, but it seems that most people involved are not seeking to gain from it or, if they gain, they gain and if they don’t, they don’t. I’d say that many are simply driven by the opportunity to counter the system, to weaponize it against itself. They don’t care or seem to care that they may lose. I reckon they are more than happy spend a couple of hundred dollars or euro to do just that. It’s also a relatively small price to pay for that, hence all the YOLOing. How will it pan out? I don’t know, nor do I recommend people to spend money they cannot afford to lose. Can this, what’s happening, be dangerous? Yes. Can it be cancerous? Yes. But, be as it may, this does express that there’s power in people.

Taking one for the team, any volunteers?

I’ve written about biopower before and I’m not too fond of rehashing, doing the same shit more than once, because it’s just lazy to do that. That said, I’ll reiterate some stuff on biopower because this essay is going to be about the current state(s) of affairs.

Right, to jog your memory, biopower has to do with how power is exercised on people, with particular emphasis on their health, hence the two components, bio and power. It’s connected to discipline, but it’s not the same thing. Michel Foucault (242) provides a concise definitions in ‘Society Must Be Defended’ (lectures held at the Collège de France in 1975 and 1976, translated by David Macey), first for discipline:

“I would say that discipline tries to rule a multiplicity of men to the extent that their multiplicity can and must be dissolved into individual bodies that can be kept under surveillance, trained, used, and, if need be, punished.”

And then for biopower (242):

“[T]that the new technology that is being established is addressed to a multiplicity of men, not to the extent that they are nothing more than their individual bodies, but to the extent that they form, on the contrary, a global mass[.]”

To summarize this, discipline has to do with exercising power on people, disciplining their bodies, individually, making them docile, whereas biopower has to do with kind of the same thing, but as a mass of bodies, rather than as individual bodies. They are connected to one another, or dovetail to one another, as Foucault (242) puts it, but they are, nonetheless, distinct from one another. That said, it’s hard to differentiate them in actuality, because they’ve become intertwined. In his (242) words:

“[I]t does dovertail into [discipline], integrate it, modify it to some extent, and above all, use it by sort of infiltrating it, embedding itself in existing disciplinary techniques.”

But what is biopower really about then? Foucault explains this well in volume one of ‘History of Sexuality’ (1978 translation by Robert Hurley). For him (144), it’s:

“[A] power whose task is to take charge of life needs continuous regulatory and corrective mechanisms.”

But, it’s not about deciding when someone’s life ends, as he (144) goes on to add:

“It is no longer a matter of bringing death into play … but of distributing the living in the domain of value and utility.”

The keywords here are: distribution, life, value and utility. Anyway, he (144) further clarifies this by adding that:

“Such a power has to qualify, measure, appraise, and hierarchize[.]”

And that (144):

“[I]t effects distributions around the norm.”

Again, it’s about keeping people alive, not about killing them, because it’s not about displaying power “in its murderous splendor”, as he (144) goes on to emphasize. In addition to the already mentioned keywords, norm is yet another word to keep in mind. In summary, what we get from this is a focus on the administration of life, making sure that people’s lives are efficient, that they are optimized, so that they have the greatest utility. It’s not about me, you or anyone in particular. It’s about how me, you and anyone matches the norm that is supposed to yield the greatest utility. Simply put, it’s about min-maxing, about minimizing anything deemed undesirable, what’s considered to deviate from the norm, while maximizing what’s deemed desirable, what’s considered to be the norm, because it’s supposed to yield the best results, to have the greatest utility, not for me, not for you, not for anyone particular, but for everyone in general.

I may have led you astray, just a bit, when I pointed out that it’s not about killing people because, well, it’s isn’t about killing people, but it’s not against killing people either, unless, of course, it yields less than optimal results, if the utility takes a hit. As Foucault (136-137) points out, you’d think that there’d be less bloodshed with the decline of sovereign rulers, for example the French kings or the Russian Czars, but, well, that’s not the case. What’s particularly interesting about that is the cynicism of it, how it’s not, no longer, just about warding off outside threats, about protecting the sovereignty of the state, which happened to be the same as protecting the sovereign, because the sovereign is the state, but also about warding off inside threats, about making sure that things run smoothly, yielding the best possible results, as he (136-137) points out. This means that everyone is expendable if necessary, if it’s deemed to yield the best results for the greatest number of people, that is to say for the population. This is why he (137) states that:

“Wars … are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone; entire populations are mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of necessity: massacres have become vital.”

Gilles Deleuze explains the rationale of this well in ‘Foucault’ (1988 translation by Seán Hand) when he (92) points out that it’s about the survival of the population, not as subjects of a sovereign, against some outside invaders who do it at the behest of some other sovereign, because the sovereigns don’t really care about the population, as such, except, perhaps, as people who they can tax, but as that population, against “a toxic or infectious agent, a sort of ‘biological danger’.”

So, to keep this short, to not go on some wild tangent, as I’m tempted often to, think of the modern state and its population as a social body and the pre-modern state and its population as the body of the sovereign (the emperor, the king, the duke, the count, the baron etc.). In other words, when you have a feudal or an absolutist system, the vast majority of people are just nobodies. The bad thing is that they are nobodies. The good thing is that they are nobodies. For the rulers, it matters not which territory and which people they rule over, inasmuch as they do, as long as they do, because that’s how they make their money. There’s that indifference that the rulers have when it comes to the people. The state exists as long as the ruler exists as the ruler, what Foucault calls the sovereign, is the body. The ruler is, of course, replaceable, but that doesn’t prevent the ones replacing the previous rulers from expressing that, that they are the body of the state. The modern state is not like that as the body is the social body, the population, which, of course, is no one in particular, not me, not you, not anyone. To get to the point, like a body, the social body must make sure it stays healthy, to repel and exterminate any threats, by any means necessary.

To make more sense of this, to really make sure you get this, you aren’t making sure that the sovereign stays on the throne, that his or her body stays healthy, but making sure that the social body stays healthy. So, the thing is that it’s not about this or that person, someone important, but about everybody, albeit, potentially, at the expense of anybody, no matter how charming, loving, affectionate and what not that person may be, if that person poses a threat to the health of the social body, that is to say everybody that is, nonetheless, nobody. That means that whatever it may be that poses a danger to the social body, be it actual or potential, is treated like a parasite, a virus or a cancer. So, just like an individual body, the social body will act accordingly to get rid of the parasite, the virus or the cancer, whatever you want to call the threat. If it’s necessary, it will result in dismembering or disfiguring the social body, which, simply put, means hurting people, killing them if necessary, getting rid of parts of the population if need be. The thing is that it’s all calculated, statistical, worth doing, or so to speak, inasmuch it saves the body, hence the vital aspect of it, and/or makes it sure that the body is healthy, operating at its maximum capacity, yielding the greatest utility, hence the min-maxing aspect of it.

Now, of course, this is not just about people’s health, as such, even though that’s certainly crucial to this, because a healthy body is a productive body, resulting in minimal input and maximal output, but also about other forms of health. How’s that? Well, maybe I’m going too far with this, considering that I’m riffing with this, not consulting Foucault or anyone else that some may think I should, but, yeah, I think the health of the social body is not just about how healthy people are, be it me, you or anyone in particular, because putting too much emphasis on health, let’s say at the expense of the economy, is only likely to have a detrimental effect on people’s health, maybe not right now, but in the long run. My point is that you have to take all kinds of things into consideration, which is why I pointed out that it’s all very calculative, very statistical.

We’ve been told to get used to the new normal, which means health first. No, not your health, but the health of the population. Does that sound familiar? If it does, that’s because there’s nothing really new about it. That’s biopower baby! This is exactly why biopower is particularly relevant in 2020. Currently all the decision making revolves around the health of the population, not my, your, or anyone else’s health, at least not in particular.

Now, to be clear, I’m not taking any sides, for or against. So, in short, all the measures taken to combat the virus have to do with biopower, with administering the health of the population. This is why I, you or anyone else in particular don’t matter. Some people object to various restrictions, like how many people can be in the same room or area of a building, because it ruins their livelihoods and, by proxy, the livelihoods of others.

For example, if you run a cafe, a bar, a restaurant, a theater, a cinema, a venue, a museum or the like, having certain expenses that you manage to cover and make a certain profit, you may not be able to run that place with a lower capacity, at least not for long. You are left with two choices: run the place until it runs out of money or close the place down. The end result is the same to the people involved. They are going to be out of jobs. That also affects others as companies that provide their companies with what they need also take a hit. That hit might not be considerable, as places come and go, no biggie, but when it affects all or nearly all of the businesses that they cater to, it’s going to be considerable, which, in turn, results in more people being out of jobs. That’s going to have an adverse effect on their livelihoods, on the livelihoods of a lot of people, which will impact their health adversely. How badly will it affect their health? Well, that’s probably going to be hard to assess, because it depends what they are used to and how the situation changes that. They may get some income if the society happens to have a system for such, but that’s probably going to be less than what they are used to. They might also get nothing or they might not qualify for such. Be as it may, it will likely cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. They were hardly rich when they had a source of income, so imagine how things will be for them without a source of income.

Anyway, the point is that the social body, i.e. the state, deems these parts of the body expendable. In other circumstances these parts of the body might be prioritized. Those jobs of those people would be protected, possibly at the expense of some other part or parts of the body, because they are important to the health of the social body, because they are of great utility. It’s just that now they are seen as expendable. That’s because they are viewed as “a toxic or infectious agent, a sort of ‘biological danger’”, as Deleuze (92) puts it. There’s nothing personal about it, because there’s nothing personal about biopower.

One could assess the data, to point out that the current situation affects only certain parts of the social body, so that the older you are and the more pre-existing conditions you have, the more your health is at risk, and the same the other way around, so that the younger you are and less pre-existing conditions you have, the less your health is at risk, but that’s beside the point, even though, roughly speaking, that’s how it is under these circumstances. We could swap this current virus with something else, so that the parts of the social body affected by it would be different from what they are now, the point being that biopower makes it so that certain parts of the social body are expendable under certain circumstances. I guess it’s actually more apt to say that certain parts of the social body become expendable, because the circumstances do change, changing what parts of the social body are deemed expendable at any given time.

You may feel the urge to object to this, to point out that your health is being neglected, if, for example, you happen to one of the people now without a job, but, as I pointed out already, that doesn’t matter, because you don’t matter, because you are seen as one of the expendables. Your job doesn’t matter because that job is quite literally deemed to pose a biological danger, carrying an infectious agent, which poses a threat to the social body. That may, of course, anger you, because that social body is no one in particular. It’s like being told that your job, whatever it is that you more or less depend on, is no longer to be allowed following a risk assessment, because, overall, it may lower the life expectancy of the population by this or that much, while the positive effects on the economy are only this or that much. While that may well be the case, it ignores the individual entirely, which isn’t going to go well with the those individuals because they’ve been deemed expendable. The worst thing is, I reckon, that it’s not a big fuck you, to you, being told that it’s you, and only you, who is going to get axed. If it was about you, at least there’d be something personal to it. It’s like when someone expresses their hatred of you because then at least that person acknowledges you, that your existence or non-existence matters to to that person. That’s not the case when it’s about biopower.

We can, of course, flip this on its head. One could, for example, also point out that certain parts of the population are treated as expendables, not in the sense that they have to give up their jobs, but because they cannot give up their jobs. The most obvious candidates here are those working in health care, namely doctors and nurses. It probably depends on the jurisdiction, but, to my knowledge, health care professionals have to work in health care if there is a major health crisis, meaning that even if they are no longer working in health care, they may be assigned to it, because they have the necessary expertise in that field. They can’t really give up their jobs, even if they wanted to.

Now, some may wish to object to that, noting that those jobs in health care involve certain risks and they get the best protection against such risks, because it only makes sense that they do. They might also add that those people are already compensated for those risks and have chosen to pursue such careers. Okay, okay, I agree with that, albeit it’s not exactly that clear cut.

There are also others who cannot give up their jobs, not because the state would force them to work, but because their and possibly their household livelihood depends on it. These would be the people working in manufacturing, logistics and retail. There’s a constant need of food and all kinds of everyday goods, such as toilet paper and tooth paste, and so you need people who produce, transport and sell it, to satisfy that constant demand. They can’t work from home. They have to be there and likely have to deal with other people who do the same because that’s how manufacturing, logistics and retail function. You can probably minimize the risks, but there’s only so much you can do. They can’t stay at home and hunker down, ordering what they need to be delivered to their doorstep, while waiting for things to change, because they are the people who cater to the people who can do that, because they are the people who make that possible.

Now, you could object to what I just pointed out. I mean, they could just quit those jobs, to not have that risk. Then again, as I pointed out, they probably do what they do not out of love for their job, but because that’s what they can do in order to get ahead in life, to have a better life, for themselves and for their family, so it’s not exactly a real option for them. They’ve probably calculated how that works, how they make more by working, now and in the future, than they would while unemployed, while searching for a job that they could do, which is only likely going to be just another job in manufacturing, logistics or retail. That’s the know-how they have, which means that it’s only likely that they get employed again in those fields. Sure, they might be able to get further qualifications through studies, but studying also costs and you have be accepted to study. So, yeah, quitting their job is not really a viable option to them, which is, of course, handy for the state because it appears, as if, these people volunteer themselves to be the expendables, even though that’s hardly the case.

There’s the view that the elderly shouldn’t be the ones taking the hit, because they are the ones most likely to be affected by this. In this view the younger population is seen as ready to take the hit, to bear the brunt, as their health is not likely to be affected by it, at least not any more than from any other common ailments that come and go. There are, of course, those who object to this view, those who, I do believe, correctly point out that there are cases where a young healthy person has suffered greatly from the effects of the virus and/or died as a result. Age is considered a major factor, as the numbers do seem to indicate that, but pre-existing conditions are also considered to be a major factor. The numbers do seem to indicate that. The thing is that when we are dealing with people who are considered to be healthy, having no pre-existing conditions, we don’t actually know if they have some pre-existing condition that simply hasn’t been diagnosed. In other words, it would seem to make sense to treat the younger parts of the population as the expendables. Their age and general lack of pre-existing conditions should protect them, so they don’t need protection. Of course, that may be detrimental to the social body in the long run. Then again, now is now, then is then, so, it makes sense to make them volunteer to take the hit, here and now.

I don’t think the main problem with objecting against the age factor has to do with the possible pre-existing conditions factor. That’s beside the point. Instead, I think the main problem is that this is about biopower. The individual simply does not matter. It’s all about the numbers, about what’s the best course of action for the population, which is not the same as the best for you, me or anybody in particular. If you happen to deviate from the norm, if that happens to make you expendable, well, too bad, it’s nothing personal!

To flip this on its head, once more, there’s also the view that the elderly are the expendables, by default. They typically need plenty of health care attention, namely because they are, in fact, old, which, in turn, makes it only likely that they’ve accrued all kinds of medical conditions. Simply, they are very maintenance heavy. On the top of that, they typically aren’t working anymore, so they aren’t adding anything to the system, nor do they have the income to pay for all those medical bills the same way others would. This means that the social body is expected to foot the bill. They are also on pensions, which are, to my knowledge, largely paid by the social body, that is to say taken from taxpayer money, so no matter how you look at it, just having them around results in deficit. They are similar to younger people who have medical conditions, with the exception that they are not expected to work, unlike the younger people who are expected to recover and rejoin the workforce, for that profit.

So, if the elderly are the ones to go, by all logic, how come they aren’t? Well, as much as I’ve tried to write this in a very cynical and calculative way, as if there were no actual people involved, you won’t find a social body that doesn’t consist of actual people who make actual decisions, chosen to do so by actual people. If you look at the numbers, to stay appropriately cynical again, you’ll notice that the elderly make up a significant part of the social body, at least in many western countries. It’s unlikely that they’ll vote for people who seek to go against their interests. Those who seek to make decisions on behalf of the social body must also be well aware of this voting bloc. To get to make decisions on behalf of the social body, you can’t run a campaign that would appear to be against their interests, nor make decisions that would be against their interests if you wish to keep your position, so that you can keep on making decisions on behalf of the social body in the future. Simply put, it’s in their best interests to cater to the interest of the elderly, which is why the elderly are not expendable.

The next in line to go are those who’ve been in the workforce for a considerable time already, but that’s not going to work because there are plenty of them as well, as the western populations tend to be top heavy. They’ve also likely accumulated plenty of wealth and/or hold positions which allow them to influence the decision making, one way or another. This means that they can simply hunker down, for the time being, even if it’s not ideal for them.

So, if not the elderly, nor the older members of the workforce, who then? Who gets to volunteer to take the hit? Well the youngest parts of the social body, of course. They are the ones who end up being the expendables. Firstly, those who do not have the right to vote, namely the children and the adolescent, end up being the expendables because they don’t get to have a say about what concerns them. As a side note, if you’ve ever wondered why things were the way they were when you were young, it’s probably because the social body was min-maxing you. It can do that because it’s not like those concerned get to have a say about what concerns them. Secondly, the youngest parts of the social body are generally the healthiest parts of the society. Their immune system is robust and they haven’t had the time to accrue all kinds of medical conditions, as already mentioned. So, because they are not affected by this virus, at least not in the sense that matters statistically, which is what matters when we are dealing biopower, they can take the hit. The hit they take doesn’t affect their health, at least not directly, but their future prospects, which affects their health indirectly, in a way that is, of course, very hard to measure or calculate.

The youngest parts of the social body include not only those who go to school or attend some college or university, but also the youngest part of the workforce. Some also study and work at the same time. If we focus on those who work, it doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that it’s best for the social body to deal with this part of the population because meddling with their lives is less costly than meddling with the lives of other parts of the population. It’s simply most cost-effective to fuck over the youngest parts of the social body. For example, the younger people tend to have low wage jobs, which means that if those jobs have to go, for now, the state doesn’t have to spend as much money on their unemployment as it would if it axed high wage jobs, typically held by older people. This might not be the case everywhere, but here, if you’ve been long enough in the workforce, the money you get while unemployed is tied to your prior level of income.

If we take into consideration how top heavy the population pyramid is, it should be pretty obvious that the social body will consider the youngest parts of the population as expendables, despite being the healthiest part of the social body and the most important part of it in the future. This is what people call borrowing from the future generations.

Now, of course, I’ve simplified things quite a bit, even though it’s probably fair to say that the youngest part of the population tend to be treated as the expendables, in general, and also in this particular situation. That said, socioeconomic factors should also be taken into consideration. Not every single elderly person is alike, nor is every young person alike, nor is every middle-aged person alike. You have poor people of all ages. It’s same with people who have social issues. This means that expendables then to be the ones who are, well, let’s be appropriately cynical about it, replaceable.

I think it’s also worth emphasizing that biopower is speculative. It doesn’t matter how things actually are or are going to be, because it’s about how they are thought to be, now and/or in the future. So, for example, contrary to what I just pointed about the younger parts of the population being expendable, which I think still holds, they are also the most likely to get hired whereas the older parts of the population tend to have tough time keeping their jobs and getting hired after losing their jobs. This has to do with how the older you are, the more likely it is that you have problems with your health. Now, of course, you might well be very healthy, much healthier than younger people, never missing work, always doing your best, now and in the future, but that’s not how that tends to get assessed because it’s not about the individual.

In summary, I wanted to write this essay because I don’t think things are as simple we keep getting told. That said, the point of this essay is not take sides, as there are no right or wrong way to manage things, only options among options, but rather to point out how the system works at the level of population. It’s always willing to sacrifice some people, for the greater good and there’s nothing personal about. There’s nothing exceptional about 2020 in that regard. That’s worth keeping in mind.

What is not and not what is

I was browsing through ‘Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953–1974’, a collection of short texts by Gilles Deleuze (2004 translation by Michael Taormina, with a couple of the texts having been translated by others), not really knowing what to read, not being sure what I had already read, while I noticed something that tickled my fancy. It’s contained in ‘“He Was my Teacher”’, which was originally published in 1964. Deleuze (79) mentions Jean-Paul Sartre as having created the concept of bad faith, which pertains to how “consciousness, from within itself, plays on its dual power not to be what it is and to be what it is not”.

Sartre discusses this concept of bad faith in detail in ‘Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology’ (1956 translation by Hazel Barnes). However, before I jump into this text, it’s worth noting that the translator has opted to translate apparition as appearance, rather than retaining it as apparition, distinct from appearance, which is rather unfortunate. Where relevant, I’ve consulted the 1943 French original, ‘L’Être et le Néant: sous-titré essai d’ontologie phénoménologique’, to make more sense of the text.

So, Sartre (xlv) starts the introduction of his book by noting that there has been a lot of effort put into overcoming dualism(s) is favor of monism. Simply put, he (xlv) advocates for getting rid of all kinds of ‘embarrassing’ (his wording) dualisms, such as the interior and the exterior, the subject and the object, the thing and the real thing.

These dualisms include all kinds of Platonisms where each sensible phenomenon has a corresponding intelligible noumenon, like an actual table, like the one this computer screen, this mouse and this keyboard rest upon, and the idea of table, tableness, and Kantianisms where the phenomenon is the thing, like this table, as it appears to my senses, and the noumenon is what it actually is, the thing-in-itself, which I can never truly know beyond having an inkling that there is such a thing as my senses are all I have. You could say that the Kantian version gets rid of the noumena and thus makes us focus only on the phenomena, but, then again, while it does push us to focus on the phenomena, as that’s what we can focus on through our senses, it does still retain the noumena. You are still sort of stuck with a dualism, despite the effort that has gone into reworking the age old schema.

Right, so, I pointed out that the translator, Barnes, has opted to translate apparition as appearance. This is rather unfortunate for the reader because in the French original Sartre (11) refers to reality as “la série des apparitions qui le manifestent”, that is to say as a matter of apparition, rather than as the totality of appearances which manifest it, that is to say as a matter of appearance. Now, you could say that the translation of this (xlv), “the series of appearances which manifest it”, retains an important aspect of apparition, its serial nature, as opposed to presenting it as the totality of appearances, but the translation is still rather unfortunate. I don’t know if the more recent translation by Sarah Richmond does a better job at conveying this. Sartre (xlvi) does mention that he is actually referring to the process of “‘appearing’”, i.e. apparition, rather than to appearance, but that doesn’t help the reader much if you are not aware of this distinction. I’ll hop back to Deleuze, who explains this particularly well in one of his 1978 lectures on Kant (first lecture, dated March 14, 1978, translation by Melissa McMahon):

“The appearance is something that refers to essence in a relation of disjunction, in a disjunctive relation, which is to say either it’s appearance or it’s essence. The apparition is very different, it’s something that refers to the conditions of what appears.”

This may appear to be a minor distinction, but it has major repercussions, as Deleuze points out during that lecture:

“The difference is enormous because when I say the word apparition I am no longer saying appearance at all, I am no longer at all opposing it to essence. The apparition is what appears in so far as it appears. Full stop. I don’t ask myself if there is something behind, I don’t ask myself if it is false or not false. The apparition is not at all captured in the oppositional couple, in the binary distinction where we find appearance, distinct from essence.”

In short, this involves a major shift in the way we think about reality and, as Deleuze points out during that lecture, it’s markedly phenomenological:

“[T]he problem is absolutely no longer the same, the problem has become phenomenological.”

I pointed out earlier on, a couple of paragraphs back, that Kant reworks the age old schema considerably, while still hanging on to the past. Now, to add to that earlier statement, I don’t think it’s because he wants to hang on to the past, but because he simply cannot find a way to get rid of it altogether or to explain it in a way that wouldn’t make people think of the previous formulations. Anyway, be as it may, Deleuze gives Kant plenty of credit in this regard:

“[W]ith Kant a radically new understanding of the notion of phenomenon emerges. … I think that if there is a founder of phenomenology it is Kant.”

This leads us back to Sartre who uses the term apparition in the context of phenomenology in French original. If you keep this in mind, Sartre’s book will make way more sense to you. He (xlv) state that, for example:

“The [apparitions] which manifest the existent are neither interior nor exterior; they are all equal, they all refer to other [apparitions], and none of them is privileged.

This is also evident from the examples he provides, when he (xlv) argues that force is not something “which hides behinds its effects” and that “an electric current does not have a secret reverse side”. For him (xlv) there is nothing “which is behind itself”. Anyway, to get on with this, the problem with dualisms is that whatever it is that we are dealing with ends up being presented as an appearance of something else, that is to say as a representation, as a re-presentation of it. As he (xlv-xlvi) points out, the problem with that is that whatever we deal with is then considered as “‘that which is not being’”, as having “no other being that that of illusion and error.” So, in agreement with Deleuze, he (xlvi) states that:

“The appearance does not hide the essence, it reveals it; it is the essence. The essence of an existent is no longer a property sunk in the cavity of this existent; it is the manifest law which presides over the succession of its [apparitions], it is the principle of the series.”

And, similarly (xlviii):

“Since there is nothing behind the [apparition], and since it indicates only itself (and the total series of [apparitions]), it can not be supported by any being other than its own.”

That said, he (xlviii) acknowledges how problematic this can appear to people:

“If the essence of the [apparition] is an ‘appearing’ which is no longer opposed to any being, there arises a legitimate problem concerning the being of this appearing.”

He (xlviii) ponders this problem, noting that it would appear that as a being, apparition is its own being, which is, of course, really contradictory, considering that apparition is about how this and/or that appears, as it does, inasmuch it does, the way it does. In his (xlviii) words, “is the being discloses itself to me, which appears to me, of the same nature as the being of existents which appear to me?” That said, as he (xlviii) points out, this would appear to be the case, but isn’t. How so? Well, this problem has to do with what he (xlix) calls the “being of the phenomena” vs. “the phenomenon of being” and how they are connected:

“By not considering being as the condition of revelation but rather being as an [apparition] which can be determined in concepts, we have understoo[]d first of all that knowledge can not by itself give an account of being; that is, the being of the phenomenon can not be reduced to the phenomenon of being.”

In other words, as he (xlix) further elaborates this, “[t]he existent is a phenomenon”, like this table or this keyboard, which “designates itself and not its being”, whereas “[b]eing is simply the condition of all revelation”, the “being-for-revealing” and not the “revealed being”, which I’d simply call apparition. In short, what we sense are phenomena, but the phenomenal conditions that give rise to us sensing them as such, as phenomena are more important.

So, to explain this in the terms used by Deleuze during that lecture on Kant, when I refer to this table, I’m referring to it as a phenomenon, as what appears, but I’m not considering how it comes to appear to me as a phenomenon, the process of appearing, the conditions of apparition. Alternatively, as also suggested by Deleuze, that which appears can be called apparition, for having appeared, as it does, as long as it does, inasmuch as it does, and conditions as the sense of apparition, as in which sense does it appear to us, what conditions must be met that we come to make sense of it or is it just nonsensical, in which case we do not even register it as apparition. Note how this is not at all like with appearance and essence or phenomenon and noumenon, because there is nothing behind what appears, only conditions of apparition which, of course, may vary, so that if something does not appear to me, right now, it does not mean that it might not appear to me in the future, but not because I’m simply ignorant of it being there, but because its apparition is tied to the conditions which make it appear to me, assuming that it does, of course.

For example, if someone asks me whether I saw petunias on my way to work, I’d be inclined to say no because I don’t know what petunias are. The whole ordeal appears to me as nonsensical. I simply don’t know what counts a petunia. Maybe there were petunias, but they don’t make sense to me as such. For all I know it might be that someone made up that word to mess with me, so there might not even be such a thing as a petunia. I might say that I did see flowers if the person I’m talking with me made me aware that petunias are flowers. Then again, I wouldn’t be able to confirm that I did see petunias on my way to work. Perhaps the other person could be able to tell me more about petunias, which would incline me to say that I did see petunias on my way to work and not some other flowers.

Of course I might also answer no because there weren’t any petunias to be seen on my way to work. It might be that I do know what counts as a petunia, for example if I’m a gardener or a botanist (which I’m not), but I simply didn’t see any. In this case they didn’t appear to me because the conditions of their apparition were not otherwise met. In other words, I’d know full well what a petunia is and could indicate if there were such on my way to work. The point here really is that we do not simply come to recognize something, as if it was waiting to reveal itself to us once we encounter it. We don’t know things because they simply are what they are, recognizable as such, but because we have the appropriate knowledge that forms them, providing the conditions of apparition to us. That said, it’s worth adding that it’s not only about knowledge, how we have acquired and thus share in it, after it has been produced so that it can be acquired and shared, but also about what is out there or, rather, what appears to be out there. My knowledge of petunias doesn’t make petunias appear to me, just because, but, then again, I do need to have the knowledge of petunias for them to appear to me. I know what petunias are, because they make sense to me, so I would know if there actually were petunias.

Another way of grasping this would be to call phenomenon appearance, as it is what appears, the way it does, and the phenomenal conditions apparition. Then again, that may mislead people to think of appearance and essence, which is the exact opposite what I’m after here. Sartre (l) provides a concise way of explaining this:

“What determines the being of the [apparition] is the fact that it [appears]. And since we have restricted reality to the phenomenon, we can say of the phenomenon that it is as it appears.”

That said, he (l) does hesitate a bit, not because he isn’t committed to his own concise definition, but because he reckons that it’s easy misunderstand what he is after:

“Why not push the idea to its limit and say that the being of the [apparition] is its appearing?”

Well, the answer is that you don’t to push it to its limit because that reduces apparition, that is to say appearing, into something definite, as if there was something that just appears, rather than varying sets of conditions that result in apparition, something appearing to us, the way it does, inasmuch as it does. His (l) gripe with this is that it results in repackaging George Berkeley’s stance on this. In his ‘A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’ published in 1710 Berkeley (29) states that things don’t exist in the absence of a sensing and thinking being (pagination from a 1910 reprint edited by Thomas J. McCormack):

“It is evident that any one who takes a survey of the objects of human knowledge, that they are either ideas actually imprinted on the senses; or else such as are perceived by attending to the passions and operations of the mind; or lastly, ideas formed by help of memory and imagination – either compounding, dividing, or barely representing those originally perceived in the aforesaid ways.”

In short, what we call objects are ideas that one thinks of. They are either just thoughts, brought about by what he (29) calls “the passions and operations of the mind” or formed in memory or imagination, going back to some earlier ideas in some way. He (29) continues:

“By sight I have the ideas of light and colours, with their several degrees and variations.”

So, yeah, for him, seeing is connected to thinking, as are the other senses, as he (29) goes on to add:

“By touch I perceive hard and soft, heat and cold, motion and resistance, and of all these more and less either as quantity or degree. Smelling furnishes me with odours; the palate with tastes; and hearing conveys sounds to the mind in all their variety of tone and composition.”

I agree. When you think of it, yes, there is more to sensing that just sensing. There is always some thought involved. He (29) summarizes his thoughts on this:

“And as several of these are observed to accompany each other, they come to be marked by one name, and so to be reputed as one thing.”

Well, yes and no. At first, this seems about right, but it isn’t. Yes, we do come to attribute what it is that we see, feel, smell, hear or, more broadly speaking, sense as this or that, but I’d say that’s not the whole story. He (29-30) exemplifies his take with an apple, arguing that it has “a certain colour, taste, smell, figure and consistence” that co-occur, which is why come to understand it as such. I’m on board with how he (30) attributes all things, that is to say everything, to “collections of ideas” that constitute them, what I’d call knowledge, but I’m not on board with how he subordinates it all to a perceiving active being, to a subject, what he also calls “mind, spirit, souls, or myself.” In his (30) words:

“But, besides all that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them, and exercises diverse operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them.”

In short, he distinguishes between objects (objects of knowledge or ideas) and subjects. He (30) then subordinates the objects to the subjects:

“By [mind, spirit, soul, or myself] I do not denote any of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them, wherein, they exist, or, which is the same thing, whereby they are perceived – for the existence of an idea consists in being perceived.”

In other words, for Berkeley, the existence of ideas or objects depends on perception. Now, it’s worth going back a bit, to note that, for him, all senses give us ideas, the objects of knowledge or, rather, knowledge of objects. But what is perception? My own understanding of perception is that it’s generally understood as having to do with sensing, that is to say using one’s senses to notice something, but it can also be understood as having to do with thinking, how one realizes something just by thinking. Anyway, as that’s just me, working on my memory alone, lets look at what a dictionary has to say about how we perceive (OED, s.v. “perceive”, v.) something:

“To take in or apprehend with the mind or senses.”

Ah, yes, my memory did serve me right. But, to me more specific, there’s more to this (OED, s.v. “perceive”, v.):

“To apprehend with the mind; to become aware or conscious of; to realize; to discern, observe.”

And (OED, s.v. “perceive”, v.):

“To interpret or look on (a thing, situation, person, etc.) in a particular way; to regard as, consider to be.”

As well as (OED, s.v. “perceive”, v.):

“To apprehend through one of the senses, esp. sight; to become aware of by seeing, hearing, etc.; to see; to detect.”

So, it can be about perceiving through one’s senses, for example by seeing, or by thinking, depending on the context. There are some other uses of perceive that are listed as obsolete and/or otherwise rare. They date all the way back to the 1300s, 1400s, 1500s and 1600s. One of them is particularly interesting (OED, s.v. “perceive”, v.):

“To apprehend (something that is not manifest); to detect or discern (that which is hidden, or not immediately obvious); to see through or into.”

I consider this particularly interesting because it makes it evident how dualistic the process of perceiving is thought to be. It connects well to what I’ve covered so far. What about perception then? Let’s see (OED, s.v. “perception”, n.):

“The process of becoming aware or conscious of a thing or things in general; the state of being aware; consciousness[.]”

And (OED, s.v. “perception”, n.):

“The process of becoming aware of physical objects, phenomena, etc., through the senses; an instance of this.”

As well as, as a countable noun (OED, s.v. “perception”, n.):

“[A] direct recognition of something; an intuitive insight; an understanding.”

Or, by extension (OED, s.v. “perception”, n.):

“[A]n interpretation or impression based upon such an understanding; an opinion or belief.”

And (OED, s.v. “perception”, n.):

“The action of the mind by which it refers sensations to external objects, phenomena, etc., as their cause.”

There are a handful of other uses, namely obsolete ones, but these should be enough. In summary, what’s common to perceiving (to perceive) and perception is the underlying dualism, how the subject comes to perceive objects, as if they were there to be perceived. Anyway, back to Berkeley (30) who stresses the importance of the thinking subject in the process of perceiving:

“[T]he various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together (that is, whatever objects they compose), cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them.”

I was going to point out that he is careful enough to distinguish between sensations and the objects that come to be perceived, but, I’m not so sure about that, considering that he seems to equate sensations with ideas. I can’t be sure, so I won’t further comment on that. Anyway, what’s important here is that he grants primacy to the subject, so that everything follows from that. He (30) moves on to clarify what he means by existence, what he means when he says that something exists:

“The table I write on I say exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I should say it existed – meaning thereby that if I was in my study I might perceive it, or that some[one else] actually does perceive it.”

So, to him, the existence of an object is subordinate to his own existence or to the existence of someone else. Conversely, he thinks that an object doesn’t exist unless he or someone else observes it. If that’s hilarious to you, it’s because it is, because he is indeed saying that the condition of existence of his table is his perception of it. If you are charitable to him, you could say that he isn’t saying that, at least not strictly speaking, considering that he does acknowledge that someone else may give rise to the existence of the table. Then again, I reckon he is merely saying that he is a subject among other subjects, that you, even you can validate this yourself, by just walking out of sight of a table or some other object that concerns you for some reason.

I could add, to his credit, that this whole discussion of what exists and what doesn’t is, of course, only meaningful if you yourself exist. To put it bluntly, if you are dead or about to die, let’s say because you stumbled in your apartment and hit your head on a table corner, the existence or non-existence of a table just doesn’t matter to you, except, perhaps, in those dying moments when you curse the table your head landed on or whatever you tripped on before your head landed on the corner of the table, the point being that all this talk about tables and hitting one’s head on one of its corners only matters if you are there to ponder it. In his (31) words:

“For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible.”

Exactly! That said, he (31) isn’t content on stating just that, the unintelligibility of such a scenario, and goes on to add that:

“Their esse is percipi, nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.”

This is what Sartre (l) means by taking the idea of apparition to its limit, so that, for example, this table that I write on only exists because I’m here to perceive it or if someone, in my stead, is here to perceive it. Sartre (l) objects to this for two reasons. Firstly, perception presupposes knowledge, which means that knowledge is never explained. What is it and where does it come from? In his (l) words:

“This means among other things that an idealism intent on reducing being to the knowledge which we have of it, ought first to give some kind of guarantee for the being of knowledge.”

To be more specific, as he (l-li) goes on to add:

“If one begins … by taking the knowledge as a given, without being concerned to establish a basis for its being, and if one then affirms that esse [is] percipi, the totality ‘perceived-perception,’ lacks the support of a solid being and so falls away in nothingness. Thus the being of knowledge can not be measured by knowledge; it is not subject to the percipi.”

That’s why, for him (l-li):

“Therefore the foundation-of-being … for the percipere and the percipi can not itself be subject to the percipi; it must be transphenomenal.”

In other words, he faults Berkeley for grounding to perceive and to be perceived on to be perceived. To remedy this, he (li) states that:

“Thus the percipi would refer to the percipiens – the known to knowledge and knowledge to the being who knows (in his [or her] capacity as being, not as being known); that is, knowledge refers to consciousness.”

This shifts the discussion from perception and knowledge to consciousness, which he (li) defines as “the dimension of transphenomenal being in the subject” and, to be more specific, “the knowing being in his [or her] capacity as being and not as being known.” To go back to a bit, this is the difference between to be perceived and perceiving. The latter defines this or that, i.e. knowledge, as that what is perceived. The former defines this or that in terms of one’s act of perceiving, the capacity to perceive. Now, to add something here, this, of course, also means that to perceive is to be perceived as if I’m perceiving something, someone else is also perceiving me or might be perceiving me.

He (li) also provides a less abstract definition of consciousness by stating that “[a]ll consciousness, as [Edmund] Husserl has shown, is consciousness of something”, i.e. intentionality, which, in turn, “means that there is no consciousness which is not a positing of a[n] … object, or if you prefer, that consciousness has no ‘content.’” This also means that, for him (li), we must give up on “neutral ‘givens’” that either ground everything on what’s out there or on what goes on in the mind. Simply put, we can’t start with the objects nor with the subjects, taking them as granted.

This leads to the problem of consciousness of consciousness, which, he (lii) argues isn’t mere reflection, mere knowledge of consciousness, because consciousness is not knowledge. Simply put, consciousness is not an object of knowledge, which is why it cannot be approached as such. As he (lii) goes on to add, if it was the case, then we’d end up reintroducing the subject-object dualism we are opposing and trying to get rid of. He (liii) exemplifies this by noting that when we reflect on ourselves, on our own consciousness, we might, among other things, be “ashamed of it”, “proud of it” or “deny it”, that is to say judge ourselves, but this is not how consciousness works because it’s always immediate and spontaneous, lacking judgment. To be more specific, as he (liii) goes on to add, when we encounter something, we don’t mull over it, we simply perceived as such and such. He (liii) uses the example of counting cigarettes that are contained in some case, perhaps their box or an actual cigarette case. He (liii) notes how counting them gives him knowledge of them, how many of them there are in the case, but it doesn’t give him knowledge of counting. As he (liii) also points out, when we do something, like count something, we are probably not even aware that we are doing that, that, for example, we are counting something. It just sort of happens. We don’t stop to think about counting in order to count. We can, of course, reflect on that, as he does in his writing, and as I do here, but, as he (liii) points out, “reflection has no kind of primacy over the consciousness reflected-on.” For him (liii) it’s the exact opposite as “it is the non-reflective consciousness which renders the reflection possible” as there has to be something that be reflected upon prior to the reflection.

He (liv) really stresses the importance of not defining consciousness as a matter of reflecting upon what we are already conscious of. This is the problem with presenting feelings or emotions as something that you ought to reflect upon, as if they were like this or like that. To give you an example, the pleasure you get when someone you like smiles at you is not something to ponder about. It is what it is, that is to say as it appears to you, in its immediacy, at that very moment. If you smile back, then you do, probably because you indeed like that person. If don’t then you might have been surprised or startled by that, but it still gave you pleasure. If doesn’t do anything for you, then it doesn’t, probably because you don’t actually like the person, even if you think you do. You do not stop to ponder how you feel about that and what you might do, what your options are, or at least I hope you don’t. You can of course make a note to yourself, of how pleasurable that was or how long it lasted, to qualify it and to quantify it, but that’s not what pleasure is, in itself. In his (liv) words:

“Pleasure must not disappear behind its own self-consciousness; it is not a representation, it is a concrete event, full and absolute.”

Indeed. That smile is an event. You can analyze it to bits and pieces, as much as you like, but that analysis won’t yield you the smile, nor the pleasure you get from it in that event that you were a part of. This does not, however, mean that analysis of this or that event is therefore pointless. No, no. It’s rather that it’s one thing to enjoy something, as an event, as an apparition, and another thing to analyze it and/or its conditions of apparition, how it came or might have come to being. So, yeah, while I recommend to enjoy the smiles and not to think about them, because you are missing the point if you do, it can, of course, be interesting to assess why someone smiles and why someone else doesn’t, that is to say what might be the conditions of their existence. Do some people smile more than others? Why might that be?

He (lv) moves on to stress that consciousness is a matter of self-determination and self-creation, which means that it does not have a clear beginning nor an end, that is to say a trajectory, nor can it be understood as an act. It’s not a matter of progression involving “self-cause” that leads to “self-effect”, as he (lv) goes on to add. This is also why he (lv) states that “[c]onsciousness is a plenum of existence, and this determination of itself by itself is an essential characteristic.” That said, he (lv) warns not to confuse this, the self-determination and self-creation, as deriving from nothingness as “[t]here can not be ‘nothingness of consciousness’ before consciousness.” Then again, there can, of course, be “nothingness of consciousness” but only if there has been consciousness that no longer is observed by another consciousness which makes note of this passing from consciousness to nothingness, as he (lv-lvi) goes on to add. To explain this in less abstract terms, consciousness always comes to being from something, never from nothing, as he (lvi) remarks in a footnote. Simply put, you always start from the positive, from something, even if you end up on the negative, to nothing, not the other way around.

As this is probably still rather confusing, he (lvi) acknowledges that the self-creation and self-determination of consciousness or “‘self-activated’ existences” may appear paradoxical, considering that how can something be or exist if it appears to come to being through self-activation, but argues that it’s not as that’s just all there is, self-activated existences. To be clear, what he means by self-activation is not something that comes out of nothing, as already pointed out, but rather something continuously (re)produces itself, as he (lvi) also points out in this context. This also means that, for him (lvi), inertia, the resistance to change, from one state to another, regardless of whether it involves movement or not, is just totally incomprehensible or nonsensical because it is assumed that “passive existence” is possible. In other words, inertia makes no sense for him, because it is change that makes something appear unchanging. Stability is thus a mere illusion. What we have instead is metastability.

He (lvi) acknowledges that he hasn’t really explained where consciousness comes from, except that it comes from something. So where does it come from? The simple answer is that comes “[f]rom the limbo of the unconscious or of the physiological” but, being the simple answer, it doesn’t really tell that limbo comes from, as he (lvi) points out. In other words, it does come from those two, from the unconscious and the physiological, they are there, but if we leave it at that, we take the unconscious and the physiological for granted, as having passive existence, which is why he (lvi) isn’t happy with the simple answer. The problem of passive existence remains because those two don’t exactly explain how one moves from the unconscious and the physiological to consciousness, which is why people often seek to explain it away with recourse to something like the will of God. As he (lvi) points out, as there appears to be no necessary connection between the physiological/unconscious and consciousness, only sheer contingency (which is also why the whole world is or at least appears as contingent), we are tempted to fill in the blanks, to bridge the gap, to come up with some explanation that makes this problem go away. This led me on a tangent on what Baruch Spinoza has to say about this, but I opted to focus on that separately. If this interests you, take look at my previous essay.

Anyway, similar to Spinoza, Sartre’s (lvi) answer to what causes consciousness is not the will of God, nor anything similar as “nothing is the cause of consciousness”, but that consciousness is simply that what appears, i.e. apparition, as it “is the cause of its own way of being.” So, what we have, what we are dealing with is “a transphenomenal being”, as he (lvii) points out.

He (lvii) moves on to address the being of the things we perceive, i.e. the perceived. To briefly reiterate a couple of things here, so that you don’t need to crawl back to wherever I presented them first, percipi is what’s perceived, percipiens is the perceiver and percipere is perceiving. Right, to link this to his discussion of consciousness, we got so far prior to that tangent that we don’t simply perceive things that are out there, as if they were waiting for us to perceive them, on an as is basis. Instead, as he (lvii) points out, it is the perceiver that perceives, so that whatever appears to the perceiver depends on the perceiver. This should not, however, be taken to mean that it’s all subjective, because it is more apt to state that what’s perceived depends not on the perceiver but on the knowledge of the perceiver. That said, as already pointed out earlier on, what is perceived is not simply tied to the knowledge of the perceiver as for there to be knowledge, that knowledge has to come from somewhere, as acknowledged by him (lvii). So, for example, this table that my keyboard rests upon does exist, beyond my knowledge of it as a table. It’s not identical to the knowledge of it because then it would not be an actual table but just about knowledge, as he (lvii) goes on to specify. It simply appears to me as a table through knowledge.

So, what’s perceived by the perceiver cannot simply be reduced to what’s perceived. It can neither be reduced to the perceiver, as aptly summarized by him (lviii). So, as I would put it, it’s not objective, nor subjective. The perceived is, of course, to some extent relative to the perceiver as the perceiver’s perception of what’s perceived requires knowledge, as he (lviii) points out. That would, in my view, make it collective. That means that there needs to be reciprocity, so that it’s all connected, directly or indirectly, which, in turn, requires immanence, as otherwise we are trapped in infinite regress. In his (lx-lxi) words, the transphenomenality of consciousness does not sufficiently explain the phenomena that come to be perceived, but rather the other way around as all consciousness is consciousness of something, something which is not itself. To be more precise, he (lxii) states that “consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” Now, that not exactly what Spinoza says as Sartre (lxii) attributes his formulation largely to Heidegger, but I don’t think it’s far from it, considering that for Spinoza (67) each finite thing, us humans included, “cannot exist or be conditioned to act, unless it be conditioned for existence and action by a cause other than itself, which also is finite, and has a conditioned existence”.

To put this all very concisely, as Sartre (lxv) does, there’s no need to think beyond what already is, that is to say to reflect upon it, because what’s reflected upon is not it. As he (lxv) puts it, when we think of ourselves, we can’t think of ourselves, because it’s the self thinking on itself, because “being is opaque to itself precisely because it is filled with itself.” So, when someone states the obvious, that it is what it is, he or she has understood exactly what Sartre (lxv) is after, as silly as that might seem. If that person also acknowledges that it didn’t have to be that way and/or that it doesn’t have to be that way, even though it is what it is, that person has also understood what Spinoza (116) means by necessity and contingency. Anyway, the point here is, in all its simplicity, that it is what it is, you are what you, everything is as it is, ought of necessity. If that wasn’t the case, then it would be some other way, but then again that would still be as it is, only that way instead of some other way, out of necessity. I think Sartre (lxvi) puts it quite nicely when he remarks that “[i]t is full positivity” as “being itself does not exist as a lack”. We can certainly assess what was, what we were, but what’s deemed as a lack is not an actual lack that existed in the past, whenever that was present, because, as he (lxvi) points out, there can be no lack in the present. It’s the same with future. We can fear that we will lack something in the future, but that’s not the actual future present, whenever that will be, which means that there will be no lack. None of this, however, means that one is stuck in necessity, beyond the fact that everything is as it is, as assessed here and now. Things didn’t have to be the way they were, nor happen the way they did, even though they did. Things don’t have to be the way they are now, nor happen the way they do, even though they do. To reiterate the gist of the first sentence in this paragraph, this whole assessment of necessity and contingency is simply unnecessary, considering that “the full positivity of being is re-formed on its giving way”, as pointed out by him (lxvi).

So, not that I’ve managed to explain all that I think I need to explain, in, what, ten pages or so (without the tangent on Spinoza, which is like another ten pages or so), like I couldn’t in an actual article, it’s time to return to the concept of bad faith, what Deleuze (79) indicates in ‘“He Was my Teacher”’ as pertaining to how “consciousness, from within itself, plays on its dual power not to be what it is and to be what it is not”. What’s the deal with that? I think you should be able to get the gist of it, to figure out what Sartre means by bad faith, considering that it has a lot to do with what I wrote in the previous paragraph.

Anyway, for Sartre (47-48) bad faith is a resentful attitude which involves a negation of oneself, typically in the form of self-deception, also known as lying to oneself. The person who exhibits bad faith may well be aware of what he or she is doing, but that’s not necessarily the case, as he (48) points out. It’s one thing to lie in order to deceive others, which he (48) considers to be ideal lie, and another thing to be the victim of one’s own lies, as aptly noted by him (48). I’m not fan of transcendence, because I don’t think there is any otherworldly plane, anything beyond, to the point that I’m not that keen even mentioning it, but something me made me think of something else, perhaps relevant, when he (48) mentions that acting like someone else, someone who does not even exist, like a character, has this claim to transcendence.

So, what this reminds me of is a joke that Slavoj Žižek likes to tell. It’s an old Jewish joke, supposedly loved by Jacques Derrida. You can look this up in ‘Žižek’s Jokes’. It’s a complication of his jokes, published in 2014, as edited by Audun Mortensen. Anyway, so, he (52) has this joke about a rabbi, a wealthy businessman and a poor person who, one by one, claim that they are nobodies, which results in the businessman quietly asking the rabbi who does this poor person think (s)he is? It’s like how dare (s)he also claim to be a nobody?

Žižek probably mentions the underlying issue, what the joke is about, in a number of texts, but I chose ‘Tolerance as an Ideological Category’, as published in Critical Inquiry, because it’s from 2008, so dated but highly relevant at the moment, and because it’s the first thing that I came across when searching where he covers this issue in a non-joke format. So, to unpack the joke and to explain the gist of it, there’s this claim to something through identification, when one claims to be this and/or that, whatever that may be. For him (661, 663), there are those who are born into this or that collective, people who don’t think much of it, how it influences them, because why would they, it’s part and parcel of their reality. The point is that being a nobody is not a choice to a nobody, as he (663) points out. Then there are those who can and do choose, those to whom being a nobody is something that can be chosen, as he (661) also points out. Only they “effectively choose a choice”, as aptly noted by him (663). The joke gets this across particularly well. The poor person is just a poor person, a broke-ass nobody. The rabbi is not a nobody, nor is the businessman, which means that they are free to choose who it is that they think they are. Such a person can claim to be nobody without actually being a nobody. The problem with this, claiming to be a nobody while not actually being a nobody, is that involves a claim to universality, to being above it all, above all the particularisms and parochialisms that come from subscribing to this and/or that identity, for example a culture, as he (661) points out.

Back to Sartre (56) who states that humans have this dual capacity: facticity and transcendence. The former has to do with just what is, how things are, be as they may. The latter has to do with going above or beyond that, exceeding or surpassing it. We can grasp this fairly easily because there’s no doubt that things are the way they are, at all times, out of necessity, but we can think otherwise, as discussed in my previous essay. When we are are aware of facticity, that things are the way they are, and come to terms with it, we can transcend them and actually change things. We run into problems when we fail to grasp that. What’s common about people who exhibit bad faith is that it involves “a certain art of forming contradictory concepts which unite in themselves both an idea and the negation of that idea”, rendering “facticity as being transcendence and transcendence being facticity”, as pointed out by him (56).

Simply put, a person who exhibits bad faith makes use of this dual capacity, but in a way that the person thinks that he or she is this and/or that, which he or she is not, and then acts according to that, so that he or she judges his- or herself according to that. In other words, the poor person doesn’t make a thing out of his or her situation, beyond acknowledging the facticity, that it is what it is, like life is tough and what not, whereas the other two do make a thing out of it. The other two are great examples of how bad faith works because not only do they claim to be what they are not, which would just be lying, disingenuous really, but they also actually believe that to be the case, that they are what they aren’t, that they are nobodies, because why would they otherwise attend a synagogue. They are only there because they think they should be nobodies, even though aren’t and won’t be. It’s like failing upwards, hence the transcendence. If they’d actually be nobodies, they wouldn’t even have to say anything. It may seem paradoxical to state that less is more, that by claiming that they are nobodies they get to go beyond themselves, but that’s exactly the point, as also noted by Žižek (661).

Before I move on, I think it’s worth emphasizing how good that joke is. Firstly, it’s funny because it’s true. It’s so ironic, on so many levels. Secondly, it’s also funny because it’s about good and bad faith, as exhibited in a place of faith, as told from the perspective of those who profess to be what they aren’t. It is such an apt example because, as noted by Sartre (67), it’s not about lying, nor about being certain, but about belief, about “the fact that bad faith is faith.” I also like the joke because it exemplifies how, as Sartre (68) puts it, “at the very moment when [one is] disposed to put [one]self in bad faith, [one] of necessity [is] in bad faith with respect to this same disposition.” This means that the rabbi and the businessman aren’t simply opting to be in bad faith, lying to others, there and then, when they happen to be at a synagogue, but they already were in bad faith. As Sarte (68) points out, “[t]he decision to be in bad faith does not dare to speak its name; it believes itself and does not believe itself in bad faith; it believes itself and does not believe itself in good faith.” This clear from the fact that the rabbi and the businessman are actually upset by the poor person. They really believe that they are nobodies, even though they most certainly aren’t.

I think it’s also worth noting that Sartre and Žižek aren’t exactly addressing the same thing, even though Žižek does acknowledge that the joke is profoundly Sartrean, as mentioned by him in his 2019 essay ‘They are both worse!’, as published in ‘The Philosophical Salon’. I’d say they focus on different things. Sartre is more interested in what takes place when a person exhibits bad faith, in relation to oneself, whereas Žižek is more concerned with how a person seeks to gain from it, in relation to others. So, in contrast to Sartre, Žižek focuses on bad faith as an argument. He (661) emphasizes how a claim to nothing is always, strangely enough, a claim to something, something beyond oneself and others. That’s why it’s okay to speak of transcendence and universality in this context, not in the sense that I find them valid, but in the sense that many people do, which is exactly why they work. In Žižek’s (661) view, the problem with this is that it results in what one might call self-elevation (hence the transcendence), giving the person in question authority over others, a moral high ground, if you will, by renouncing his or her particular position in favor of a supposedly universal position.

Sartre (49) acknowledges the difficulty involved in lying to oneself, the effort that goes into being very aware of something, only to mask it very carefully so as to not be aware of it. He (49-50) adds that there is a further difficulty involved, considering that someone exhibiting bad faith must be aware of it being bad faith, so that, paradoxically, one exhibits good faith towards one’s bad faith. If that seems to require extreme cunning, it’s because it does. It’s like you have to deceive yourself and then be able to submit to that deception in a way that you forget that it’s you who deceived yourself.

He (50-54) assesses whether bad faith can be explained psychoanalytically as pertaining to the unconscious. Long story short, no, it cannot be. In fact, he (53) reckons that psychoanalysis errs in this regard because it attempts to solve bad faith by affirming it. For him (53-54), the problem with it is that there is this cat and mouse game which ends up reifying it. In other words, the analyst seeks to find bad faith and if it doesn’t seem to be there, the analyst thinks that it must be hiding, so that more and more analysis is needed to uncover it. The more the person analyzed denies what it is that the analyst wants to find, the more it appears to the analyst that there is to uncover in the unconscious of the person analyzed.

So, the problem with bad faith is that it is conscious self-deception. This means that the person who exhibits bad faith must actually believe in it all, to be sincere about it. Of course, maybe that’s going too far. It might also be that the person isn’t even sure what he or she wants, as Sartre (55) points out.

He (55) exemplifies this with a woman who is on a first date with a man. To be fair, and not to be sexist, I reckon this example could well be reversed, so that it’s about a man who is on a first date with a woman. It could also be about a man on a first date with another man or a woman on first a date another woman. Any arrangement will do, if you ask me. That said, this is his example, which I take to be time and space specific. Right, the point he (55) is making is that the man seeks to court the woman, showering her with compliments, which she detaches of his intentions to please her, taking them on an as is basis, “as objective qualities”, so that “[t]he man who is speaking to her appears to her sincere and respectful as the table is round or square, as the wall coloring is blue or gray.” He (55) comments on this, noting that the woman in his example “does not quite know what she wants”, so that she is torn between what she desires, what she wants, I’d say intuitively, without much thought given to it, just going with the flow, if you will, and what she thinks she wants, which is to be respected for her personality, for who she truly is. Now, to make more sense of this, my take is that the woman presented in this example has certain desires, what I assume to be sexual desires, but she thinks that she is expected to be modest. She believes more in the latter than in the former, which is why acts the way she does in this imagined example. It’s not what she is but it’s what she thinks she is. He (55-56) takes this example further, so that the man makes a move, taking her hand. She can’t avoid this, as it has already happened, but she ignores this move, so that she doesn’t appear like she rejects him.

Bad faith can, of course, manifest itself in many ways, as he (56) points out, but I’d say that it is, first and foremost, most damaging to oneself. He (57) points out that it revolves around making “judgments which all aim at establishing that I am not what I am” because “[i]f I were only what I am”, no excuses, “I could, for example, seriously consider an adverse criticism which someone makes of me, question myself scrupulously, and perhaps be compelled to recognize the truth in it.” I agree, but I’d say the this aspect of it has more to do with the utility of bad faith arguments, so that, as he (57) points out, “I do not even have to discuss the justice of the reproach.” So yeah, there is this self-deceit through self-elevation, considering yourself beyond reproach. I’d say is this manifests itself particularly clearly in one-sided arguments, where there is no back and forth. It’s almost like there is some sort of realization of it, a disgust of it, marked by the danger of having to come to terms with the self-deception involved. That said, if you manage to push people this far, so that the bad faith becomes apparent, that you are like wow, I think that involved some physical disgust, it’s not what troubles me or it’s not what troubles me the most about it.

What troubles me about bad faith is how commonplace it is, how readily people submit themselves to it. So, what troubles me about it is not really that it manifests in ways that involve other people. It’s rather the way that people buy into it that bothers me. It’s how people come to create their own expectations which they then expect themselves to live up to and punish themselves if and when they don’t manage to live up to those expectations. I think it’s related to other people, yes, considering that we do owe our existence and what we know to others, but what’s so cruel about bad faith is that it’s not only directed to others, but, importantly, to oneself.

He (59-60) comments on this, noting that people end up playing certain roles because it’s simply assumed that one ought to act in a certain way, as “it is precisely this person who I have to be” even though it is “who I am not.” Despite not actually being that person because you always just are who you are, who you happen to be, as already discussed, the person who you have to be, the person who you think you have to be, is “a ‘representation’ for others and for [your]self, which means that [you] can only be … in representation”, as he (60) goes on to specify. In other words, you subject yourself to being who you are not, instead of just being who you are, as you already are. The cruelty of this is that by subjecting yourself to being who you are not, you end up believing that you are what you think you need to be instead of being who you are. It’s a vicious cycle, a negative feedback loop.

To make this more clear, he (60-62) takes his discussion of bad faith to a next level by limiting the discussion to oneself or, rather, what people think concerns only themselves. So, instead of addressing patterns of behavior that we expect of others, how one ought to act in this and/or that setting or context, for example when working in a cafe or on a date, to use his (55-56, 59) examples, he (60-61) addresses something that only concerns oneself as a mode of being. The example he (60-61) uses here is sadness. In summary, sadness is typically considered as something that’s built in, coming from within oneself, which means that it just sort of happens. The point he (61) makes is that we typically don’t think of sadness as a conduct, something that we do, but it is actually a conduct. He (62) provides another example: sincerity. He (62) notes provisionally that “[t]o be sincere … is to be what one is.” Yes, I agree. Then again, as he (62) points out, claiming to be sincere, just thinking that one is sincere, is, paradoxically, the very opposite of sincerity because “[t]hat supposes that I am not originally what I am.” As he (62) aptly characterizes a person in that moment, there is this constant embarrassing constraint that comes with it thinking that I’m this or that because you never are whatever it is that you think you are. I’d say it’s embarrassing in two ways. Firstly, it’s embarrassing because you’ll keep failing, because you’ve set yourself up to fail. Secondly, it’s embarrassing because you fail to realize your own incapacity. In his (62) words:

“[I]t is our very incapacity to recognize ourselves, to constitute ourselves as being what we are.”

Well put, well put. It also works the other way around simultaneously, as he (62) goes on to add:

“It is this necessity which means that, as soon as we posit ourselves as a certain being, by a legitimate judgment, based on inner experience or correctly deduced from a priori or empirical premises, then by that very positing we surpass this being – and that not toward another being but toward emptiness, toward nothing.”

This and what else has already been stated about bad faith may have led you to wonder how is that anything can make sense if something as basic as sincerity is actually insincerity? How does anything work if it’s bound to fail? How does one resolve this duplicity of being and non-being? He (62-64) addresses this very concern by providing an example concerning homosexuality. In summary, he notes that the homosexual in his example has this anguishing feeling of guilt about his homosexuality, which leads him to obsess about it, to the point that it’s all he knows, so that it appears to him as his destiny. In other words, the homosexual in his example is well aware of his homosexual inclinations and what acts of homosexuality he has engaged in, which is fine, no judgment here, yet it appears to him that there is something that bothers him about it, how he feels the need to make it clear to himself that he does not molest people, that is to say those who are under the age of consent.

In this example, the homosexual also has a friend who doesn’t approve this duplicity and who challenges him to recognize that molestation is part of homosexuality. The thing is that there is nothing about homosexuality, in itself, that involves molestation. It’s rather about how homosexuality was viewed at the time and still is viewed to some extent. We don’t know if the homosexual in this example has molested anyone as his acknowledgment of his misdeeds doesn’t necessarily mean that. It could be that he had done nothing illegal, but then again, in this (French) context, the age of consent was considerably higher for homosexual relations, at 21, than for heterosexual relations, at 15, so he could have done something illegal. Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that part of the issue has to do with that age discrepancy. While not presenting homosexuality as illegal, it is heavily implied that, perhaps, it should be. It’s clearly marked as deviancy. Anyway, the point is that we don’t know for sure if he had or hadn’t molested someone according to what was then considered illegal, but now might not be considered illegal. It is implied though. Then again, it’s worth keeping in mind that, heaven forbid, this imagined person may have done something as illegal as had sex with some other imagined person of the same sex who is younger than 21 but older than 15. So, the point is that the man in the example is troubled by this, how he is or might be viewed, which is further reinforced by his friend who confronts him on this.

Sartre (64) notes that the crux of this example is that it “includes … an undeniable comprehension of truth”, so that the homosexual in question is actually correct when he declares to himself that “‘I’m not a paedarast’”, which is the same as saying “‘I’m not what I am’”, but only if he understands it to mean that “‘[t]o the extent that a pattern of conduct is defined as the conduct of a paedarast and to the extent that I have adopted this conduct, I am a paedarast’” while also taking it to mean that “to the extent that human reality can not be finally defined by patterns of conduct, I am not one.’” However, that’s not the case in this example, as Sartre (64) points out, because the person in his example still exhibits bad faith. In other words, this problem wouldn’t exist for the person in his example if he’d just let go of defining himself as this or that, if he’d just say that I am what I am, the way I am, to the extent that I am and reply to others that I am this or that to the extent that it is defined as such, but as that’s not how reality works, I am not really this or that, anymore than I am something something else, whatever that might be. So, as already pointed out, for all we know this imaginary man may have done something as horrible as had sex with some 20-year-old imaginary man, which was, at time time, yes, illegal in France, but that hardly defines him, marking him only as a homosexual molester according to the societal norms of then France.

Returning to the friend of the homosexual in his example, Sartre (64-65) criticizes this type of a person who claims to help others by making them affirm what they are not because it forces them to be who they are not. As he (64) points out, the underlying problem here is that such a person mistakes someone as being something which he or she is not and demands him or her to be that something which he or she is not. It assumes that there is indeed something that needs to be recognized before life can go on, like some sin that needs to be confessed in order to be half pardoned, as he (64) goes on to add. There is this demand of sincerity which simultaneously disturbs and reassures the person addressed, as specified by him (64). I think he (64-65) explains this particularly well when he states that the person acting as the judge asks the judged “that he constitute himself as a thing, that he should entrust his freedom to his friend as a fief, in order that the friend should return it to him subsequently – like a suzerain to his vassal.”

Sartre (65) returns to sincerity in order to contrast it with bad faith. He (65) reiterates much of what’s already been said about it, how the demand of sincerity results in bad faith, being insincere, but adds that what he deals with in connection to bad faith should not be confused with the assessment of sincerity/insincerity, as in, for example, whether what was said by someone was really considered to be true by that person, to the best of his or her knowledge, or not. He (65) wants to be clear about this because there’s nothing wrong in, for example, assessing whether something was the way someone said it was, checking on it, to see if that person was honest about it or not. His (65) objection to sincerity or, rather, the demand of sincerity has to do with how it is set up as a constant check on oneself. In his (65) words, “[t]otal, constant sincerity as a constant effort to adhere to oneself is by nature a constant effort to dissociate oneself from oneself.”

I reckon it’s fair to say that Žižek is known to dislike people who renounce their particularity, sincerely admitting to this and/or that past evil, and denounce those who don’t do the same. He already points that out in ‘Tolerance as an Ideological Category’ but it tends come up in his (more) recent interviews. To explain his position in terms used by Sartre (65), “the sincere [person] constitutes [one]self as a thing in order to escape the condition of a thing by the same act of sincerity”, confessing to being evil only to, “by the same stroke”, escape it, being evil but at the same time above or beyond it. In other words, people may claim to be sincere, to have an honest heart, having publicly confessed to all their past wrongdoings, but, according to Sartre (65), it’s profoundly insincere as it functions as an escape from criticism, “put[tin] oneself out of reach”. There is this going constant back and forth, as aptly summarized by Sartre (66):

“Thus we find at the base of sincerity a continual game of mirror and reflection, a perpetual passage from the being which is what it is, to the being which is not what it is and inversely from the being which is not what it is to the being which is what it is.”

This is the underlying problem with sincerity, as well as bad faith, as Sartre (66) goes on to add:

“To cause me to be what I am, in the mode of ‘not being what one is,’ or not to be what I am in the mode of ‘being what one is.’ We find here the same game of mirrors.”

There is this, what I’d call the doubled subject. The underlying problem with it is that, like with sincerity, there is this ideal of whatever it is that one is supposed to be, as posited by oneself, which one then struggles to attain. In his (66) words:

“Sincerity does not assign to me a mode of being or a particular quality, but in relation to that quality it aims at making me pass from one mode of being to another mode of being.”

So, in short, there is this passage from one mode of being to another mode of being. Anyway, he (66) continues:

“This second mode of being, the ideal of sincerity, I am prevented by nature from attaining; and at the very moment when I struggle to attain it, I have a vague prejudicative comprehension that I shall not attain it.”

So, the shitty thing about sincerity is that you are never actually sincere about it. In other words, your claim to sincerity is insincere, which means that you’ll never be able to attain that ideal you claim to uphold. This is the same with bad faith, as he (66) goes on to add:

“But all the same, in order for me to be able to conceive an intention in bad faith, I must have such a nature that within my being I escape from my being.”

To be clear, he (66) clarifies this with an example:

“If I were sad or cowardly in the way in which this inkwell is an inkwell, the possibility of bad faith could not even be conceived. Not only should I be unable to escape from my being; I could not even imagine that I could escape from it.”

This is not, however, how it is with bad faith, as he (66) goes on to add:

“But if bad faith is possible by virtue of a simple project, it is because so far as my being is concerned, there is no difference between being and non-being if I am cut off from my project.”

If you struggle to understand what he means by that, you are not alone. He (66) clarifies what he means by that:

“Bad faith is possible only because sincerity is conscious of missing its goal inevitably, due to its very nature.”

In other words, as I already pointed out, it only works because it is not possible to reach the goal that one sets up for oneself. He (66) uses the example of cowardice (of being a coward). So, when one images not being a coward, despite being one, in that moment, one attempts to fool oneself to think of oneself as not a coward, so that, at first, it may seem like one isn’t a coward. That said, when one gives it a bit more thought, one remains a coward because, as explained by him (66), the very apprehension of it, whether one is a coward or not, results in its escape and annihilation. In other words, there is this constant self-negation. Trying to convince oneself that one is not a coward instead of overcoming one’s cowardice is, in itself, an act of cowardice. That’s the point he makes about escape and annihilation. Also, you can’t wish not to be cowardly, unless you are a coward, as he (66) points out. If you are not a coward, you don’t think about it. It’s as simple as that. This can, of course, be understood the other way as well, so that one images oneself, for example, as courageous, the point being that one can only image that if one actually isn’t courageous, as noted by him (67). If you already are courageous, you don’t think about it as it’s part and parcel of who you are, your being. It’s as simple as that.

In summary, Sartre (68) notes that the corner stone of bad faith is that instead of considering this and/or that to be the way it is or the way they are, in itself or in themselves, that is to say considering there to be an existing truth of things, an agreement of sorts, one sets out to decide all that first, to decide “the nature of truth.” Argumentatively, that’s the same as rigging the game, as he (68) goes on to point out:

“Consequently a peculiar type of evidence appears; non-persuasive evidence. Bad faith apprehends evidence but it is resigned in advance to not being fulfilled by this evidence, to not being persuaded and transformed into good faith.”

In other words, when you encounter someone who exhibits bad faith, in relation to themselves, which is what interests Sartre, or in relation to someone else, likely you, this is how you notice it. I’d say that it manifests itself as this reluctance to accept evidence that contradicts with the aforementioned truth that has been decided in advance. I wrote a whole essay on this, like a year ago, when I got some feedback for one of my manuscripts. The feedback from one of the two reviewers can be summarized in that way, so that any evidence that should have persuaded that particular reviewer simply didn’t because bad faith doesn’t allow it. This is what Sartre (68) means when he notes that the decision involved is not to be understood as involving “a reflective, voluntary decision, but of a spontaneous determination of [one’s] being.” My interpretation is that the reviewer went through text and came across something that contradicts, challenges or undermines his or her views in some fundamental way, possibly undermining his or her own research and/or position in the field, so that bad faith kicked in and all evidence was rendered into non-persuasive evidence. It was just bad faith from the start to finish, sheer unwillingness to be persuaded by the evidence. It seemed like the reviewer didn’t even entertain the idea that he or she might not understand what he or she read or that his or her limited understanding of what I do, the way I do it, for the reasons I do it, led her to misunderstand or misconstrue what I had written. I think it wouldn’t have been in bad faith had there been that, at least some hesitance, some realization of his or her fallibility. It’s worth mentioning that the reviewer did mention some positive aspects, but I reckon they were there only for the rhetoric effect, not to actually concede but to make a show of conceding. It typically appears in the form of … but … so that what was first mentioned is negated by what follows, what comes after ‘but’. I think it’s also worth mentioning that I’m willing to concede that there were some legitimate concerns, for example that I wasn’t always as clear as I should have been, that some cuts were in order and the like. That’s how you do it, conceding when there’s something to concede, in good faith. Anyway, for Sartre (68), “[o]ne puts oneself in bad faith as one goes to sleep and one is in bad faith as one dreams.” It’s also really hard to get out of it once you are in it, like trying “to wake oneself up”, as he (68) goes on to add.

Having gone on and on about bad faith, he (69) jumps to define good faith. To him (69), it’s about immediacy. What he (69) means by good faith as immediacy is that you take something as it is, at face value. I agree. You could question something, for example what someone says, but you just go with it. It’s like a hunch. He (69) also calls it simple faith because it involves immediate belief. He (68-69) exemplifies this with his relation to one of his friends:

“I believe that my friend Pierre feels friendship for me.”

That’s all he needs. Can he be sure that his friend really is his friend? No, but he trusts his friend to be a friend, acting with certitude, without giving it any actual thought, as he (69) goes on to specify it. If he were to give it thought, to ponder it, to call for mediation, he’d be doubting it and thus no longer having that immediacy, as he (69) further clarifies it. Pierre wouldn’t be his friend if he’d hesitate on that. Simply put, the belief would be turned into non-belief, as he (69) points out. He (69) explains how he views his friendship with Pierre:

“If I believe that my friend Pierre likes me, this means that his friendship appears to me as the meaning of all his acts.”

This same applies to the joke about the rabbi, the businessman and the poor person. The poor person simply appears as poor to others. This is all in good faith. There’s that immediacy to it. The only reason the rabbi and the businessman doubt it is because the actions of the poor person make it apparent to others that their own actions were not done in good faith. Sartre (69) also warns not to confuse belief with acknowledging one’s own belief:

“Belief is a particular consciousness of the meaning of Pierre’s acts. But if I know that I believe, the belief appears to me as pure subjective determination without external correlative.”

In other words, if you feel the need to explain your beliefs, for example why it is that you believe that someone is your friend, you already doubt those beliefs, which in turn negates those beliefs. Awareness of one’s beliefs makes them non-beliefs. This is why he (69) reckons that acting in good faith is very hard. There’s that temptation to doubt which lingers, which then makes it possible to turn it into bad faith, as he (69) goes on to add:

“Consequently the primitive project of bad faith is only the utilization of this self-destruction of the fact of consciousness. If every belief in good faith is an impossible belief, then there is a place for every impossible belief.”

So, in summary, there is good faith and then there is bad faith. The thing about faith is that it always contains the possibility of turning into bad faith. Once one doubts one’s belief, treating it as impossible, it becomes possible to treat that impossible as a belief, and so on and so on, ad infinitum, hence the lure of bad faith. To be in good faith requires you to take things as they come, to face them and to overcome them. He (70) revisits cowardice and courage, noting that one is never simply this or that:

“At the moment when I wish to believe myself courageous I know that I am a coward. And this certainly would come to destroy my belief. But first, I am not anymore courageous than cowardly, if we are to understand this in the mode of being of the-in-itself.”

In other words, you are not born courageous, nor cowardly. That said, you are as courageous or as cowardly as you happen to be at any give moment, as he (70) points out here, reiterating his (64) earlier point about how homosexuality only defines someone’s reality inasmuch as it comes to define their reality as a pattern of behavior among other patterns of behavior. He (70) also adds that there is the problem of certitude about oneself:

“In the second place, I do not know that I am courageous; such a view of myself can be accompanied only by belief, for it surpasses pure reflective certitude.”

This, in turn, reiterates an earlier point made by him (lxv), how being is opaque to itself, how one simply cannot think of oneself. That’s like trying to trying to grab yourself in order to throw yourself. It’s simple as that. If you fail to understand that, you’ll end up acting in bad faith, as he (70) goes on to add:

“In the third place, it is very true that bad faith does not succeed in believing what it wishes to believe. But it is precisely as the acceptance of not believing what it believes that it is bad faith.”

So, as already pointed out, trying to think of oneself, to reflect on oneself, is simply impossible. That’s why those who do try to do that keep failing at it and why they keep failing to be what they aren’t.

To link the issue of bad faith to other texts, Sartre (47, 65) mentions what Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s calls the relation between the master and the slave, between mastery and servitude, in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ (2018 translation by Terry Pinkard). For Hegel (108-109), self-consciousness is twofold or doubled, in the sense that one sees oneself through the other, that one recognizes oneself in the other. For him (109-110), this results in sublation of oneself, in the sense that the recognition of oneself in the other comes back to oneself and reconfigures oneself. In other words, one continuously synthesizes oneself through others, so that what always gets sublated, synthesized or reconfigured is always based on what has already been sublated, synthesized or reconfigured. To link this back to Sartre, for a moment, Hegel (110) notes that, in its simplest form, one always is for oneself, that is to say a singular being. Things get muddled after this, when one goes beyond oneself, that is to say when one encounters another singular being, as Hegel (110-111) goes on to point out. When this happens, when one being encounters another being, each being in the encounter must hold its ground, to remain being for oneself, to retain its singularity, which then happens at the expense of the other being or beings who also seek to do the same, inasmuch as they do, of course, as also explained by him (111-112). Another way to put this is that one asserts one’s freedom, that one is for oneself, and not for the others, which, of course, comes at the expense of the freedom of the others who, of course, do the same. In his (112-113) words, “[o]ne is self-sufficient; for it, its essence is being-for-itself”, whereas “[t]he other is non-self-sufficient; for it, life, or being for an other, is the essence”, so that “[t]he former is the master” and “the latter is the servant.”

Hegel (113) further clarifies that the master is what exists for itself, but not only through itself, but also through the others. What he means by this is that you can’t be a master unless you are master to someone else, that is to say someone else’s master. To link this to Sartre’s discussion of bad faith, a master never truly exists for itself because it lacks the necessary immediacy to it, because it is only for itself as mediated through others, as Hegel (113) points out. So, yes, the master has dominance over his or her servants and the master is free to do as he or she chooses. That said, the master has this freedom to do as he or she chooses only on the condition that this freedom is not impeded by the others, which is why he or she has forced them into servitude, to be his or her slaves. So, oddly enough, the master can only be free, for itself, only if others recognize him or her as such. This dependence, of course, severely undermines that freedom, so that it’s doubtful whether the master truly ever exists only for itself. In short, by asserting one’s freedom through mastery over others, one always ends up negating it because that very freedom depends on the servitude of others, as he (113) points out. In a sense, the servants are the ones in charge because the master depends on them. That said, as noted by him (113, 115), the servants cannot achieve freedom, to be for themselves, because they are the guarantors of the master’s freedom. In summary, to link this back to Sartre again, the master “constitutes the truth of his certainty of [his- or her]self”, that is to say he or she decides what counts as truth, just like in bad faith, but also fails to achieve this certainty of his- or herself because it is not who he or she is, only what he or she thinks that he or she is, as Hegel (113) points out.

What’s the way out for Hegel then? Firstly, you can’t be a master, because, oddly enough, making other people do what you want makes you dependent on them, which is the exact opposite of what a master is, or what a master is supposed to be. Secondly, you can’t be a servant or a slave either as while you most certainly are engaged in doing something, you are doing it for someone else, not because you want to, but because you have to. This does give you some control over a master, making the master dependent on you, but that’s not much of a consolation as you still are working for the master, doing his or her bidding. So, the way out for Hegel (115) is as simple as to work for yourself, not for someone else, nor making others work for yourself. That said, he (116) also points out that there needs to be an understanding of this dynamic for you to truly escape it. He (116) emphasizes that without fear of this master-servant arrangement, working for yourself will only result in vanity. He (116) also adds that if this fear remains superficial or largely trivial, it will only result in stubbornness, as resistance which is, nonetheless, servile.

Friedrich Nietzsche is also known for his discussion of the master-servant or master-slave arrangement, covering it in ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’ (1994 translation by Carol Diethe, pagination from the 2006 edition). As the title suggests, he (3-4) is interested in morality, questioning the origins of good and evil, how did they come to be as they are understood contemporarily, both in his day and in mine. He (3) emphasizes that nothing is simply given, what one would call objective, nor simply individual, what one would call subjective, but marked by “a fundamental will to knowledge” that speaks through people, what I’d call a collective will or understanding.

Nietzsche (7-8) challenges people to consider the silliness of “placing higher value on ‘the good man’ than on ‘the evil’”, how “the good” is seen as offering “higher value in the sense of advancement, benefit and prosperity”. He (8) ponders “[w]hat if the opposite were true”, what if “the good” was actually regressive, preventing people from all that they deem to be positive to their well-being?

As a related, yet somewhat unrelated matter, taking nothing for granted, always questioning things, no matter how inconvenient that may be, whether it takes resources, namely time and/or money, or ruffles some feathers, is certainly what strikes a chord in me when I read Nietzsche. I like the way he (9) explains this when it comes to reading, how people seem to have forgotten how to do it, how it’s an art that involves what all the cow’s do, rumination, chewing on what you read, over and over again, really digesting it, connecting the dots yourself, rather than expecting everything to be explained to you, predigested. There’s something rather servile about expecting things to be explained to you, as opposed to being left to figure things out yourself, because it doesn’t push you to question things. That said, of course, I don’t think things need to be as impractical as possible, so that the more of an inconvenience something is, the better. No, no. I have nothing against being practical or convenient. I’d say it’s more of an attitude or disposition that he finds lacking in people, which results in taking things for granted, not asking questions such as who and why.

Anyway, he (11-13) comments on good, noting that what people typically mean by good, when they take it for granted, is what they consider to be useful to themselves. The problem for him (11) is that the two have been conflated, so that what is considered good is considered as such, not as good for this and/or that person, even though that’s really how it is. So, when someone this and/or that is good, in general, what they really mean is that it’s good for this and/or that person. Conversely, there’s nothing unegoistic about good, as he (12) points out. He (11) really emphasizes that it’s the other way around, so that those you said ‘good’ always meant themselves, as opposed to some other people who they didn’t consider to be good. For him (11-12), this is how we get to a distinction between the high and the low, the noble and the common, the ruler and the ruled, the good and the bad, which, if you ask me, are the same as the master and the servant. That said, he (12) does acknowledge that we’ve come to think the other way, so that what’s considered to be good is also considered to be good as such, useful and/or unegoistic.

He (15-17) expands on this split between the high and the low or the noble (aristocrats) and the common (commoners), noting that the good and the bad got flipped by priests, by which he means any kind of religious leader, be it Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. He (16) doesn’t comment on any of the religions he mentions because that’s beside the point he is making. The issue he (16-17) takes with priests, the point he is making, is that they are the kind of people who seek to gain a position of power, that is to have the right to exercise power over others, by flipping everything on its head, so that, for example, anything high or noble (good, strong, powerful, beautiful, happy, etc.) is deemed bad (thus not good), cruel, insatiate, lustful or wicked, and anything low or common (bad, weak, powerless, ugly, unhappy, etc.) is deemed good (thus not bad), pious or salvable. In his (17) view this happened because the high or the noble were indeed marked by their physical prowess, like brute warriors, and they could only be countered by intellect.

It’s worth noting here that you could interpret him (17) as antisemitic in this context, considering that he does certainly heavily emphasize that “the Jews, that priestly people” had “the most entrenched priestly vengefulness” and “the most unfathomable hatred”. He (17) states that what they did was “huge and incalculably disastrous initiative”. Then again, it’s worth noting that he (17) objects to other priests as well, as also already pointed out, and acknowledges that others have also played their parts in this reversal of the good and the bad. Later on he (32) mentions that “the Romans were the strong and noble, stronger and nobler than anybody hitherto who had lived or been dreamt of on earth”, whereas, in contrast, “the Jews were a priestly nation of ressentiment par excellence, possessing an unparalleled genius for popular morality”, only to add that others, such as the Chinese and the Germans, had similar tendencies, albeit not to such great extent, the point being that there’s nothing exclusive about the high and the low to the Romans and the Jews. He (17) also points out that the Jewish rejection and reversal was done “with awe-inspiring consistency”. My take is that, for him (18), the Jewish priestly hatred was hatred, just like any hatred, but it was “the deepest and most sublime” form of hatred of its time. He (32-33) is well aware that things have changed, as they do, and notes that, oddly enough, it’s now in Rome where you find the ressentiment par excellence. It’s this priestliness that he is against, no matter who the actual priests are.

It’s also worth noting that he (18) isn’t saying that deep hatred of the high or the noble happened suddenly, out of nowhere, overnight, or the like, but “needed to millennia to achieve victory”. He (20) is also well aware why people would develop such deep hatred, how it’s unsurprising that “those beings who, denied the proper response of action, compensate for it only with imaginary revenge.” He (25-26) isn’t at all surprised by how the weak oppose the strong. It’s in their best interest to do so. It’d be patently absurd not to. It would also be just plain stupid to try to oppose the strong with strength because it’s what the weak lack. It totally makes sense to use your intellect and to outnumber the few strong ones. Duh!

Anyway, what interests me in Nietzsche’s take is his discussion of ressentiment. It’s not exactly the same as bad faith, but it is related to it as it deals with “the nihilation of a possibility which another human reality projects as its possibility”, as mentioned by Sartre (47). It’s this negation, this principle of saying no and not to everything that isn’t oneself, to all of reality itself, as explained by Nietzsche (20) and Sartre (47). To be more specific, Nietzsche (20) explains the noble morality:

“[It] grows out of a triumphant saying ‘yes’ to itself[.]”

In order to contrast it with the slave morality (20):

“[It] says ‘no’ on principle to everything that is ‘outside’, ‘other’, ‘non-self’[.]”

He (20) further contrasts the noble morality and the slave morality. The latter is reactionary as it functions by opposing actions that have already taken place, in order to negate them, whereas the former involves acts and only reacts to other acts in order to affirm them, not to negate them. In connection to bad faith, what I find particularly interesting about his take on ressentiment is how he (21) reckons that the nobles simply exhibit certain qualities without having “to construct [them] artificially by looking at their enemies, or in some cases by talking themselves into it, lying themselves into it”, like “all men of ressentiment are wont to do”, so that it’s part and parcel of what they do, so that it’s not separate from action. Simply put, like with good faith, they don’t think about themselves, not to mention anyone else in order to think about themselves. That said, ressentiment isn’t the same thing as bad faith because you can, for example, express something positive in bad faith, whereas ressentiment is more about harboring “poisonous and hostile feelings” and viewing happiness “as essentially a narcotic, an anaesthetic, rest, peace … something passive”, as explained by Nietzsche (21). Then again, ressentiment does have some similarities with bad faith because someone who exhibits ressentiment “is neither upright nor naïve, nor honest and straight with [one]self.” In other words, both bad faith and ressentiment share this underlying conscious self-deception. It also seems that similar to bad faith, it’s really hard get rid of ressentiment once it manifests in a person. As Nietzsche (21) points out, ressentiment makes one’s “mind love[] dark corners, secret paths and back-doors”, so that “everything secretive appeals to [oneself] as being [one’s own] world, [one’s own] security, [one’s own] comfort”. Simply put, it’s all an imaged me, me and me. As also pointed out by him (21), there’s also this lack of immediacy that’s mentioned by Hegel (113) and Sartre (69), so that one does not forget. Instead, as he(21) adds, one waits, “temporarily humbling and abasing [one]self]”, until the time is right for one’s revenge. As he (22) goes on to specify, instead of an immediate confrontation, or letting things slide, deeming it, whatever it is that one is dealing with, as too minor and shrugging it off, one becomes poisoned by vengefulness. Another way of saying this is that ressentiment results in bad blood.

He (22) also further distinguishes two sets from one one another. Firstly, there’s the good and bad of the noble morality. In this case what’s good is just what one considers to be good, spontaneously or, as I’d put it, intuitively as it’s not really something that one even thinks about. Bad is, as he (22) puts it, “an afterthought, an aside, a complementary colour”. In other words, it’s what’s one deems not to be good, there and then. It’s exactly an afterthought, in the sense that one has to think of it, in contrast to what’s good, which you don’t really have to even think of, except now that one specifies bad in contrast to it. Secondly, there’s good and evil of the slave morality. In this case, what one considers to be good is what’s considered bad in the noble morality and what one considers to be evil is what one considers to be good in the noble morality. The same terms are not used in both cases, in the sense that one would simply flip them, because, for him (22), rendering the good of the noble morality into evil in the slave morality involves substantial re-conceptualization and re-interpretation, so that one starts to see evil everywhere, all the time, really focusing on it, rather than considering it in passing, as an afterthought of good.

He (23) likens those who exhibit the noble morality to “beasts of prey” that “enjoy the freedom from every social constraint” and lists “Roman, Arabian, Germanic” and “Japanese nobility, Homeric heroes” and “Scandinavian Vikings” among them. They are those who were considered “‘barbarian’” for their daring, which may also appear as “mad, absurd and sudden in the way it manifests itself”, as he (23) goes on to add. They also appear to be cheerful, unconcerned and scornful of “safety, body, life” and “comfort”, taking “delight in all destruction”, in “all the debauches of victory and cruelty”, as also specified by him (23). He (23) also refers to these noble wild beasts as the magnificent blonde beasts when he discusses how the Germanic tribes were viewed by others. I reckon this is one of those things that people take out of context, thinking that the Germans are somehow racially superior, as marked by their blondness. I can see how it might be tempting to think that he thinks or thought that to be the case, but it’s worth keeping in mind that he does also list others not known for their blondness, including Arabian and Japanese nobility. He (23-24) also notes that you can’t even claim that contemporary Germans are blonde beasts, nor their descendants.

In contrast to the wild beasts who exhibit the noble morality, he (24) likens those who exhibit the slave morality, those marked by reaction and ressentiment, to household pets, to those beasts that have been tamed and civilized. He (24) notes that people often think that tameness and civility indicate that one is cultured but considers the exact opposite to be the case. As already mentioned, he (24) also reiterates that there is certainly something to fear when one encounters those who exhibit the noble morality. It certainly makes sense to be opposed to them. Then again, he (24-25) reckons that it is better to deal with fear head to head, staying ever vigilant, confronting what one fears, while admiring what one fears, than to deal with it by removing it altogether, pacifying it all, so that there is nothing left to fear, nor admire, only tameness and mediocrity that is heralded as excellence.

He (25) notes how common the slave morality has become, noting that it’s like breathing bad air that suffocates him, draining his will to live. There is something similar to Hegel (115-116) and Sartre (lxv) here. It’s not exactly the same, no, no, but I think they are similar in the sense that they all reject it and advocate in its stead what Nietzsche (25) refers to as someone who justifies oneself, just as is, what Hegel (115-116) specifies as working for oneself and Sartre (lxv) calls just being, affirming what one already is without connecting to it or reflecting upon it.

I think this is also connected to the already discussed issue of immediacy and mediacy. Nietzsche (26) argues that there is something absurd about attempting to explain what it is that people will or desire, “this driving, willing and acting” as subordinated to an autonomous rational subject. I’m not sure his (26) attempt to explain human behavior through likening the noble as birds of prey and the common to lambs works that well, as I think it’s overly simplistic, but, be as it may, he does have a point when he (26) argues that it’s not like the birds of prey choose to prey on the lambs, as if they had deliberated upon it, weighing the pros and cons, nor that the lambs view the birds of prey as choosing to prey on them, as having deliberated upon it, weighing the pros and cons, but just that they do. Now, I reckon some animals are able to weigh different options, to take into account what is and what isn’t advantageous, even in groups with other animals, be they the predators or the prey themselves, but you can’t explain their behavior, whatever it may be, as something that they chose to do.

He (26) really stresses the absurdity of explaining it all through what is known as a “‘subject’” because it involves inventing “‘the doer’” after the fact, after something has happened or taken place. To use his (26) bird of prey example, the birds that prey on other animals do not choose to manifest their strength. Instead, they are strong. That’s part and parcel of what they are. They wouldn’t be birds of prey if they didn’t prey on other animals, nor would they be able to prey on other animals unless they had the necessary strength to do so. He (26) does use other examples as well, one in which people separate lightning from the flash, as if a flash was something a lightning does, and another in which some force moves or causes something, as if the force was separate from what happens. This is bordering on quantum mechanics, whether we have particles or waves, or both, and he (26) does mention quantum in this context, but I won’t get into that in this essay because the point he is making is that whatever this and/or that is, whatever we are dealing with, is, in fact, inseparable from what takes place. I think he (26) is correct when he points out that language is to blame here, as “only the seduction of language (and the fundamental errors of reason petrified within it), which construes and misconstrues all actions as conditional upon an agency, a ‘subject’, can make it appear otherwise.”

This, what Nietzsche says about language, made me think of what Benjamin Lee Whorf says in ‘Science and Linguistics’ (first published in 1940, pagination from a 1956 compilation, ‘Language, Thought, and Reality; Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, edited by John Carroll’). So, Whorf (207) states that language is always systematic, having its own logic, and thus “by no means entirely personal and haphazard”. He (207-208) notes that people tend to think of language as universally the same, reflecting what’s already there, out there, formed non-linguistically, so that languages are thought to be merely its glosses, so that no matter what language you speak, “Chinese or Choctaw”, you’ll always end up speaking about the same thing. This is, however, a profoundly Western conception of language in which “each language is … merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas”, as opposed to being “itself the shaper of ideas”, as he (208, 212) points out.

To summarize Whorf (215), we are tempted to think in terms of nouns and verbs even though there’s no actual basis for that. That’s the point Nietzsche (26) makes. Whorf (215) even includes one of the examples used by Nietzsche (26), noting that some languages, such as English, treat lightning as a noun, whereas other languages, such as Hopi and Nuu-chah-nulth, treat it as a verb. It’s worth noting how he (215-216) struggles to get outside the confines of this noun verb split that is part and parcel of English as he attempts to explain how in Nuu-chah-nulth everything is an event (note how I’m also struggling here, using nouns to explain how everything is a verb, which, itself, is another noun), so that “‘[a] house occurs’ or ‘it houses’” and “‘a flame occurs’ or ‘it burns.’” What he is trying to say is that ‘house’ is always understood as ‘housing’ and ‘flame’ is always understood as ‘flaming’, so that, in a way, what we think of as a house or as a flame is implied by ‘housing’ and ‘flaming’. It’s like this with rain in Finnish, how there’s not it that rains, when there’s rain.

The point Whorf (213) makes, and what I want to make is that:

“We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way – an agreement that holds through our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language.”

I think he (213-214) is also correct when he states that such an agreement is obligatory. That said, I think it’s also worth noting here that he isn’t saying that there is just one agreement that everyone subscribes to as there are as many agreements as there are speech communities. Nietzsche led me to think of Whorf, but now Whorf led me to think of William Labov, what he (94) calls optional or variable rules in ‘Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular’ published in 1972. This is because, for Labov (94-95), speech is first and foremost about variation, free, but not entirely free, because if there’s no agreement, then there’s no accountability, then anything goes, then there’s just individual idiosyncrasy. It’s obligatory that there are rules, but the rules themselves are optional or variable, which is the point Whorf (213-214) makes. The problem is that, as Nietzsche (26) points out, people think that they are autonomous rational subjects when they are not, as Whorf (214) goes on to emphasize:

“”[N]o individual is free to describe nature absolute impartiality but is constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while he [or she] thinks him-[ or her]self most free.”

I think it’s also worth clarifying that a speech community can be nearly anything. Deleuze explains this well alongside Félix Guattari (94) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi):

“In the course of a single day, an individual repeatedly passes from language to language. He successively speaks as ‘father to son’ and as a boss; to his lover, he speaks an infantilized language; while sleeping he is plunged into an oniric discourse, then abruptly returns to a professional language when the telephone rings.”

Valentin Vološinov (97) makes the same observation in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik):

“A different type of structure is worked out in the case of conversation between husband and wife, brother and sister, etc. In the case where a random assortment of people gathers – while waiting in a line or conducting some business-statements and exchanges of words will start and finish and be constructed in another, completely different way.”

So, to be clear, a speech community is not to be understood as some fixed entity, like speakers of Finnish or speakers of a certain dialect of Finnish. I’d say it’s a dynamic conception of how language works. Vološinov (85) further explains how it is to be understood:

“The word is oriented toward an addressee, toward who that addressee might be: a fellow-member or not of the same social group, of higher or lower standing (the addressee’s hierarchical status), someone connected with the speaker by close social ties (father, brother, husband, and so on) or not.”

Note how he (85) states that that there is this expectation to be aware of who you are dealing with and what his or her social standing is in relation to you. This also applies even if there appears to be no addressee, just like there appears to be no addressee as I’m writing this essay, as there always is, sort of, as he (85) points out:

“Utterance, as we know, is constructed between two socially organized persons, and in the absence of a real addressee, an addressee is presupposed in the person, so to speak, of a normal representative of the social group to which the speaker belongs.”

He (93) aptly summarizes the constraints of language:

“The structure of the utterance and of the very experience being expressed is a social structure.”

Right, to summarize all this, and to get back to Nietzsche, Whorf (262-263), in ‘Language, Mind, and Reality’ (first published in 1942, pagination from the same 1956 compilation), holds that “[w]e are compelled in many cases to read into nature fictitious acting-entities simply because our sentence patterns require our verbs, when not imperative, to have substantives before them”, to “unknowingly project the linguistic patterns of a particular type of language upon the universe and [see] them there”, so that “[a] change in language can transform our appreciation of the Cosmos.”

Nietzsche (26) argues, much like Whorf (248, 252, 262-263), that our Western way of thinking, which “is older than Plato”, colors the way we think, so that it’s, I’d say, rather unsurprising that people come to think that they are free do, say or think as they please. To get back on track here, Nietzsche (26) notes that people assume that not only is it possible to act against what one is, which is certainly true, and Sartre would agree with that as that forms the core of bad faith, but also that it is good to do so, so that those who act as they do come to be held responsible for doing so, for choosing to be evil, as if was a conscious choice to do so. As he (26-27) goes on to point out, there appears to be this hatred and jealousy of others who are what one would wish to be but what one isn’t, which is why one seeks to level the playing field by denouncing it. He (26-27) exemplifies this with strength and weakness. One would like to be strong, because it is advantageous to be strong, but because one isn’t strong nor, possibly, capable of becoming strong, one seeks to make everyone believe that while it is advantageous to be strong, one should choose not to be strong, because it is not good to be strong, because it is good to be weak.

To give a more contemporary example, one which doesn’t have to do with birds of prey and lambs, (ice) hockey is a sport that is inclusive to all kinds of people: short or tall, slim or muscular, light or heavy. Skating is, perhaps, the most important part of it. While it’s not that important for goalies, it is, nonetheless, central to everyone else on the ice. Of course, you also need to be able to play the puck and to stay on the puck when you have the puck, and to gain the puck when you don’t have the puck. That means that you need finesse and strength. The former is what people think of as the skill aspect of hockey and the latter is what people think of as the physical aspect of hockey. A finesse player that lacks strength can be very successful. It’s the same with a physical player that lacks finesse. It really depends on the player and the tactics utilized by the team. A finesse player is unlikely to be successful if the team tactics rely on physical prowess. It’s the same with a physical player if the team tactics build on finesse. There is, however, a somewhat recent tendency to favor the finesse players over the physical players. What I mean by this is that physical players, those who are able to stay on the puck by being strong and to gain possession of the puck by being strong, are seen as violating the finesse players when they make use of their strength to their and their team’s benefit. One is expected not to be physical and to be held responsible for being physical, as if it was evil to be physical, even though physical strength is most certainly advantageous in hockey, both on and off the puck. So, instead of putting in the effort to become stronger in order to be more fit, to be able to challenge the strong opponents, one seeks to gain advantage over them by disadvantaging them, by stripping them of their advantage over oneself. This also functions to remove the fear of strong and tough opponents. Instead of becoming stronger, tougher and more courageous, one seeks to remove the fear. It is, of course, advantageous to do so, but it is done to disadvantage those who are strong, tough and cause fear in the opponents. To be clear, what I mean by fear here isn’t about the fear of being roughed up by a stronger opponent, which can and does, of course, happen, but the fear of being rammed into by someone bigger and stronger than oneself. This is already the case in women’s hockey where body checking is not allowed. If you ask me, this is simply hatred of the strong, mind over body, a cunning move to give more value to what oneself is good at while reducing the value of what one is not good at. Now, to be fair, this does not mean that one should promote physical prowess over skill either. In fact, in many cases the best players are skilled and strong, not skilled or strong. I’d also argue that having the physical aspect, including the fear that comes with it, actually forces the players not only to become stronger but also more skilled. When you remove the physical aspect, the more you have time and space for yourself. When you don’t have the time and space, when there’s this constant threat, if not fear, of being body checked, you need to learn to be play faster and smarter, which, in turn, means that you need to be more skilled on the puck.

My own view is that the fairly recent rule change on body checking that limited the window of opportunity made the things much better. You are still allowed to play the body, retaining the imminent danger of being hit, but you don’t see as many hits, which helps to reduce the number of injuries. If you’d take out body checking, you could stay longer on the puck, take your time, which, in turn, diminishes the importance of skill.

Speaking of women’s hockey, not allowing body checking is not simply a conscious decision made by women who play hockey, in order to promote skill in hockey. I’d say it’s tied to a prevailing notion of female fragility. Nancy Theberge covers this issue in book ‘Higher Goals: Women’s Ice Hockey and the Politics of Gender’ published in 2000. While her book is somewhat dated, it’s actually rather fortuitous that it deals with how things were in the early 1990s. She (1, 10-11) notes that, overall, sports or athleticism has been constructed to go hand in hand with masculinity and heterosexual gender roles, so that athletic women have been seen as undesirable outcomes, becoming assertive, acting like men while not being men, and having failed as heterosexual women. This has not always been the case, as the rules were the same in the 1920s and the 1930s, as noted by Andreas Krebs (93-94) in ‘Hockey and the Reproducion of Colonialism in Canada’, as included in ‘Race and Sport in Canada: Intersecting Inequalities’ published in 2012 (edited by Simon Darnell, Janelle Joseph and Yuka Nakamura).

When it comes to hockey, Theberge (115-116) notes that women’s hockey has an uneasy relationship with physical play. Women’s hockey is “typically portrayed as a game of speed, finesse and playmaking” and stands in clear “contrast to the more aggressive physicality of the men’s game, which favors force and intimidation”, as she (115) points out. This is not, however, how women’s hockey used to be and the informants of her (116-119) study, women who play(ed) hockey, note that body checking is a skill, just like any other skill, and not allowing it disadvantages those who are tough and physical. Of course, not everyone in her study agreed. Those who hadn’t played hockey when body checking was allowed and those suffering from injuries were against it, as she (119) points out. Then again, you do have to take into account that those who are not used to body checking are inclined to support there being no body checking because they are not good at hitting or taking hits. In other words, they are biased against it because it’s not in their interest there to be body checking. It’s the same with player who have been injured. Now, of course, you do have to consider whether it even makes sense to compete in something physical, not to mention something as physical as hockey, if you are afraid of being injured. You also have to know how many injuries actually result from physical play, from body to body collisions, as opposed to, say, poor conditioning which makes the player prone to certain injuries. Krebs (94) also makes note of these issues.

The unease with physical play in women’s hockey doesn’t have to do with physicality. Some prefer it, others don’t, which is the same in men’s hockey. Instead of allowing women to play the body, you could equally well ban men from doing it. There are different views and it’s possible to favor skill and/or strength. The unease has to do with how women’s hockey ends up being constructed as a gender appropriate version of hockey, fit for women, which implies that women are inferior to men, as Theberge (135) points out in reference to one of her informants who complains that by playing women’s hockey, according to the rules of women’s hockey, she isn’t playing hockey, but women’s hockey. One of her (136) informants flips this on its head by challenging the prevailing notion that body checking is somehow masculine, as opposed to feminine. That’s a very good point! By branding women’s hockey as something that’s hockey, yet not hockey, by being not exactly the same as hockey, for marketing purposes, because, you know, girls are girls and boys are boys, you end up with this ‘girly’ hockey, reinforcing the image of women as docile and inferior to men, not built for sport, or so to speak, as she (136-137) goes on to point out.

To get back to Nietzsche, the problem with this is, as he (27) puts it, that:

“[T]his grim state of affairs, this cleverness of the lowest rank which even insect possesses … , has, thanks to the counterfeiting and self-deception of powerlessness, clothed itself in the finery of self-denying, quiet, patient virtue, as though the weakness of the weak were itself – I mean its essence, its effect, its whole unique, unavoidable, irredeemable reality – a voluntary achievement, something wanted, chosen, a deed, an accomplishment.”

To be clear, not to diss either the weak, nor the strong, nor anyone else, what he is saying is that one is what one is, at any given moment, in this case weak, strong or something in between. If one happens to be weak, well, then one is. It’s the same with being strong. If strength is understood as being about brawn, it’s most certainly possible to become strong or, well, at least stronger (in the sense that you can’t exercise to be taller in order to have the advantage of a bigger frame to fill in with the muscle). I’d say that you can also improve yourself in other ways, not only in terms of brawn, to become stronger in other ways. It’s going to take time and it’s going to be a gradual process, so, yeah, it’s not like it’s a choice. Anyway, the way I see this is that being weak, strong or something in between is just what is, the way it is, and that’s it, no judgment here. The problem arises when judgment is involved, so that it would appear, as if, people somehow chose to be this or that way, when, in fact, it’s not like people chose to the way they are, by simply wishing themselves into being in a certain way.

So, what troubles Nietzsche (27-28) is that weakness is rendered into an accomplishment, the lack of capacity to act, i.e. impotence, into goodness, shyness, timidness or bashfulness into humility, submission into obedience, and having to wait into patience through raffinement, through refined and good mannered speech. For him (28-29), this is further exacerbated by taking this for granted, as a given, so that revenge and hatred, which may arise, from time to time, do not result in swift retribution, grounded on just that, “sweet revenge”, and nothing more, but in demand of justice, for the injustice. That’s why I’ve italicized every judgment mentioned in this essay (except the ones in quotes). I don’t know how well this meshes with how things are currently, considering how things have changed quite a bit since his time, but, I guess, he (29) is right when he attributes this to the final or last judgment, the judgment of God, so that people act in this way, these days, perhaps, even more unwittingly than they used to, because they think they have to do so in order to succeed, to get what they want, to be compensated for it all in the afterlife. He (29) playfully exemplifies this with how what’s written above the gate to Dante Alighieri’s hell would be more suited to be placed above the gate to paradise:

“‘Eternal love created me as well’”

But with a minor but crucial alteration to the text, rendering it into:

“‘Eternal hate created me as well’”

He (29) considers this to be apt, considering that Thomas Aquinas states in his ‘Summa Theologiae’, published in 1485, that the more you wait for the others to be punished, the more you’ll enjoy seeing them punished. He (30-31) also mentions Tertullian as advocating against swift retribution. It’s this lingering hate that bothers Nietzsche. It’s this just you wait and you’ll see attitude.

Now, the way I see this is that he is not saying that one should do the exact opposite either, so that strength is accomplishment, so that everyone has to be potent, courageous, belligerent, offensive, impatient and revengeful, as he (28) does point out that this is not a black-and-white issue. As he (31-32) goes on to remind his readers, this is not about good and evil, but about good and bad. It’s, as he (33) points out, about going ‘Beyond Good and Evil’.

So, in summary, bad faith and ressentiment are not the same thing. There’s some overlap, but that’s about it. As a final bit, there’s a bit in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that is relevant to both concepts, which is why I actually chose to write on them. I’ve mentioned this a number of times in the past, but it’s worth reiterating and further discussing as I haven’t done that in the past, at least not to this extent. So, Deleuze and Guattari (129) state that:

“There is always an appeal to a dominant reality that functions from within[.]”

They (129) mention the Old Testament and the Reformation, as well as trade and capitalism, as examples of this appeal, which involves what I earlier on called a doubled subject, “a kind of reductive echolalia” in which “[t]he subject of the statement has become the ‘respondent’ or guarantor of the subject of enunciation”. Relevant to this, in addition to the Old Testament, Nietzsche (33) also mentions the Reformation and the French Revolution as involving dominant, popular or majority appeal. Anyway, Deleuze and Guattari (129) add that:

“There is no longer even a need for a transcendent center of power[.]”

In other words, we don’t have some despot, some emperor or a king surrounded by a small circle of advisors, priestly bureaucrats, who tell everyone how things work. Okay, to be accurate, that’s only how it is in most countries, not everywhere. Anyway, that’s why they (129) add that:

“[P]ower is instead immanent and melds with the ‘real,’ operating through normalization.”

This should be easy comprehend if you know what they mean by normalization. It’s just another way to say how people should act according to some dominant, popular or majority way. They (129) continue:

“A strange invention: as if in one form the doubled subject were the cause of the statements of which, in its other form, it itself is a part.”

Here we have the doubled subject, which functions the way Sartre says it does, so that people end up not being who they are and being who they are not. Deleuze and Guattari (129) further specify this:

“This is the paradox of the legislator-subject replacing the signifying despot: the more you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are as subject of enunciation in mental reality, for in the end you are only obeying yourself!”

To paraphrase this, if you have some despot, that emperor or a king, you don’t even get to play this game. Instead, you’ll be told who and what you are. If you don’t have that, you are not told who and what you are. You are just who and what you are. It’s as simple as that, yet, oddly enough, as discussed in this essay, you end up playing the role of the despot. There is no central authority, only this dispersed authority that everyone participates in, hence their point about normalization. You are both the master (the legislator) and the slave (the subject to that legislation). This is why they (129) state that:

“You are the one in command, in your capacity as a rational being. A new form of slavery is invented, namely, being slave to oneself, or to pure ‘reason,’ the Cogito.”

The funny, yet particularly cruel thing is that you, just like everyone else, does it to themselves. It’d be easy there was some despot. That’s why they (129) wonder if:

“Is there anything more passional than pure reason? Is there a colder, more extreme, more self-interested passion than the Cogito?”

Well put, well put. I don’t think there is. I think it also summarizes the issue of bad faith quite well. That said I really enjoyed reading Sartre and all the tangents that it led me on. He also coveres the issue of apparition particularly well, so I’d recommend reading him also for that reason. What will I write on next? I don’t know yet.

God wills it all, or it is what it is

I was writing another essay, which led me to crawl through Baruch Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’ (1883 translation by R. H. M. Elwes, pagination from the second volume of Spinoza’s chief works). There is this bit in Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’ (1956 translation by Hazel Barnes) where he (lvi) makes note of people’s tendency to attribute whatever it is that they fail to explain to the will of God. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve mentioned this issue only in passing. I haven’t really delved into how Spinoza addresses this issue, which is pretty much the crux of his book.

Before I take a closer look at his book, starting from the beginning, I’ll introduce the issue, as it discussed by Spinoza in the appendix to the first part of the book. I could, of course, just start from the beginning, but I think he is more approachable when he isn’t going through it all in his rather cut and dry manner. I think he contextualizes things better when does it in prose. Anyway, so, he (75) makes note of the way people tend to conceive God as a willing being behind everything:

“It is accepted as certain, that God himself directs all things to a definite goal[.]”

He wonders why that might be. He (75) mentions that he will address this by expressing certain underlying presuppositions. Firstly:

“[People] are born ignorant of the causes of things[.]”

Secondly (75):

“[They] have the desire to seek for what is useful to them[.]”

Thirdly (75):

“[T]hey are conscious of such desire.”

Which leads him (75) to state that:

“[People] think themselves free inasmuch as they are conscious of their volitions and desires, and never even dream, in their ignorance, of the causes which have disposed them so to wish and desire.”

And (75):

“[People] do all things for an end, namely, for that which is useful to them, and which they seek.”

He (75-76) then adds to this that when it comes to making sense of something, what might have happened and what might have caused it, people seek to get to the bottom of things, to understand “the final cause of events”. If they get to the bottom of things, or, well, I guess, if they think they do, they are happy and move on. If they don’t get to the bottom of things, they move from what’s out there to themselves, to reflect on what might have made them “to bring about the given event”, followed by extending this way of thinking about themselves to the behavior of others. There is, of course, a lot of which doesn’t seem to make much sense and has little use to people, as such, on their own, which pushes them to think that things are the way they are, because someone else, some other entity made it so, if only so that the things that do seem to make sense to them and have utility can be used to make use of the things that do not seem to make much sense or have much utility. In other words, people are in the habit of explaining why things are the way they are and why this and that happens by attributing it to some otherworldly cause (76):

“As [people] look upon things as means, they cannot believe them to be self – created; but, judging from the means which they are accustomed to prepare for themselves, they are bound to believe in some ruler or rulers of the universe endowed with human freedom, who have arranged and adapted everything for human use.”

So, people tend to think that things are the way they are not because they themselves created them, which I reckon is partially true (like you don’t create your own body, or its parts, like the eyes which allow you to see, but then again, in a way, your parents did, and so did their grandparents etc.), but because someone else created them for the people, so that they would be of use to the people, directly or indirectly, even though this logic of utility to people comes from the people themselves, what they find useful to them. He (76) further clarifies this, how it is that people come to project themselves as these otherworldly entities:

“[People] are bound to estimate the nature of such rulers (having no information on the subject) in accordance with their own nature, and therefore they assert that the gods ordained everything for the use of man, in order to bind man to themselves and obtain from him the highest honor.”

To paraphrase this, people come to fill in the blanks by explaining that things are the way they are because it wouldn’t seem to make any sense to them otherwise. Simply put, people come to think that things are the way they are because that’s the way they find it to be useful to them, that is to say what’s desirable to them, but without acknowledging, without making it clear to others, that they themselves are responsible for this logic. In his (76) words:

“Hence also it follows, that everyone thought out for [one]self, according to [one’s] abilities, a different way of worshipping God, so that God might love [one] more than [one’s] fellows, and direct the whole course of nature for the satisfaction of [one’s] blind cupidity and insatiable avarice.”

So, there are certain desires that come to influence what people think and do (or just do if we considering thinking as doing). When people turn to themselves, to ponder what it is that they desire, they may end up conflating what they think they desire with what they actually desire, which is not the case. Anyway, things don’t seem to make much sense, on their own, only in relation to what people find to be of use to them, that is to say desirable to them, yet they can’t explain why that is, which is why some otherworldly entity must have made them so, so that they are that way, useful or desirable. That’s why people wish to be favored by these otherworldly entities. It’s also why, conversely, people don’t want to fall out of favor with them. As he (76) goes on to specify, when something is negative or, rather, when something negative happens, it’s because people had it coming, because they acted against the otherworldly entities. It’s really just about confusing what you want, which you can’t know, except, perhaps, intuitively, with what you think you want, hence the aforementioned projection. He (78) exemplifies this way of thinking:

“[I]f a stone falls from a roof on to someone’s head, and kills him, they will demonstrate … that the stone fell in order to kill the man; for, if it had not by God’s will fallen with that object, how could so many circumstances … have all happened together by chance?”

In other words, there’s a lot involved in whatever it is that happens. That’s called contingency. It happened but there was nothing necessary about it. It’s all circumstantial, as he (78) points out. It could have also happened if the circumstances were different, which is why he (78) states that “there are often many concurrent circumstances”.

In this case the most likely scenario involves wind that blows the stone from the roof and a man who happens to walk by the building, as he (78) points out. That said, the people he is talking about, those who attribute things to the will of God, won’t be satisfied with that answer because, as he (78) sees it, in their view, that doesn’t explain what caused the wind to blow, nor what made the man walk by that building at that time of the day. You could answer that the most likely scenario for this involves a sudden shift in weather while the man was not at home. The wind was strong enough to dislodge a stone from the roof because of a clear difference in atmospheric pressure had developed quite rapidly and the man had no other options but to return home. He (78) notes that this won’t satisfy the people he is talking about either. They’ll want to know what resulted in those differences in atmospheric pressure and what made the man leave his home, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, so that they can say: ‘ha, see, God willed it!’ That’s what he (78) calls the sanctuary or asylum of ignorance.

Of course, he (77) isn’t buying this final cause argument. He (77) finds it absurd to think that some otherworldly entity, in this case God, “acts for an object”, because, if that were to be the case, then it wouldn’t be perfect, you know, like omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, because it would be desiring something that it lacks. In short, something perfect needs nothing and thus can’t desire or will anything. If it did, then it would not be perfect. It would lack something and the act of desire or will would be directed to perfecting itself.

To him (46), a thing always exist as “in itself or in something else”, which, of course, also exists in itself or in something else, and so on and so on, ad infinitum. Conversely, if a thing doesn’t actually exist, it still can be understood as non-existing. So, in other words, the presence of something can be understood in terms of its absence. Something can appear missing. For example, a dead person doesn’t actually exist, as such, but the person can be conceived as non-existing. As he (51) goes on to clarify this, everything exists or happens for a reason, there being a cause, and even if something doesn’t exist or happen, it also doesn’t exist or happen for a reason, there being a cause for it to not exist or to not happen. In other words, the negative is to be understood as negated from the positive. So, for example, I’m here, writing this essay, but I can also be understood as not existing somewhere else. Being here makes it so that I’m not somewhere else. If I weren’t here but somewhere else, I’d be non-existing here because me being somewhere else “prevents it from existing, or annuls its existence”, as he (51) puts it.

To make more sense of his way of thinking, it’s worth covering his (45-46) definitions of substance, attribute, mode, God, freedom and constraint If a thing exists in itself, if it can only be conceived through itself, independently from anything else, it is a substance. The essence of substance is understood as constituted by an attribute. If a thing does not exist in itself or it is understood through something else, it is a modification of substance, a mode. A substance that consists of infinite attributes, that is to say infinite essences or essentiality, is what he calls God. It’s also worth noting that something that has existence or non-existince, having had existence or not yet having existence, is finite, but only after its kind, so that a body (in the broadest sense of the word) is only finite because it is always (de)limited by another body, which it is not, and a thought is always (de)limited by another thought, which it is not, but never so that a body is limited by thoughts or a thought is limited by bodies as they are not the same kind. In stark contrast, God is infinite because it is not conceived in terms of something else besides itself. To be clear, God is also absolute in its infiniteness, because it is not restricted by its kind. If it were infinite after its kind, it wouldn’t be absolutely infinite. What exists in itself and acts on its own is free, whereas something which is determined with respect to something else, something other than itself, is constrained.

He (54) shifts from speaking of a substance or substances to substance, there being only one substance. Therefore, for him (54-55), substance is God or, conversely, God is substance. I reckon that I probably fail to explain his views properly, but this would appear to make sense, considering that if God exists as this absolute and infinite substance, being constituted by all the attributes, in their infinity, no other substance can exist because it would have to share the attributes with God, but that can’t be because those are attributes of God. If God is constituted by infinite attributes, there can be no other substance as there are no attributes that aren’t constitutive of God. That’s why there can be only one substance, not many. It’s already built into the definition. To make more sense of what was mentioned earlier, and to get somewhere with this, to him (55-56) bodies and thoughts, what he also calls extension (corporeality) and thought (incorporeality), are attributes.

He (46) also reckons that there are causes and effects or, conversely, we understand effects only because we understand their causes, like in that stone falling from the roof example. If there is no cause, there is no effect, so had there been no wind, that stone would not have fallen from the roof or had the man not walked by the building, the stone would not have landed on his head. Of course there can be other causes that lead to the same effect. It doesn’t really matter that it was wind that dislodged the stone, nor that the man was visiting a certain house from which he had to return as what matters is that the falling stone ended up killing the man. Sure, the actual circumstances do matter as they constrain the situation, creating a certain scenario, but they are not to be understood as a necessity, ordained by a divine will.

In summary, when it comes to Spinoza’s God, there is no negation, no lack, no imperfection. As negative is to be understood as secondary to positive, negated from it, as already discussed, and God is absolute and infinite, it cannot be imperfect, as he (53) goes to point out. So, yeah, I’d say Spinoza is right when he asserts that there is no recourse to a final cause, to the will of God, because if God did indeed will it, whatever that may be, for example that the man be killed by a stone falling to his head from the roof of a building he happens to walk by, God needed it to happen, to fulfill a will or a desire, which would make God imperfect, that is to say not God.

Now, Spinoza is not saying that God or substance (if you prefer the non-theistic term) is irrelevant when it comes to assessing how things are. He clearly states the opposite, when he (61, 66) argues that “God is the efficient cause not only of the existence of things, but also of their essence” and, more specifically, that “God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things.” In other words, God or substance is immanent, that is to say imbued within everything, not transcendent, that is to say not existing on some other plane of existence. So, yeah, you could, of course, say that things are the way they are or things happen the way the do because of God, but that’s only because there is nothing that exist or non-exists, nothing existing nor non-existing, without substance, without God, as already discussed. As he (55) points out, “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.” So, as he (65) goes to phrase it, “[h]ence it follows that God is not only the cause of things coming into existence, but also of their continuing in existence, that is, in scholastic phraseology, God is cause of the being of things (essendi rerum).” He (88-89) further clarifies this by stating that God is indeed the cause of this and/or that, but he is the cause of the cause, ad infinitum, because modes are always understood through something else. If you ask me, the only way that can make sense, without infinite regress, is the aforementioned immanence, so that it’s all simultaneous, so that the existing modes are always reciprocally presupposing the other existing modes.

Simply put, without God or substance there is nothing, not even nothing. Things are the way the are because without it, they just wouldn’t be. It’s as simple as that. Of course, that’s clearly not the same thing as saying that this and/or that is the way it is or that this and/or that happened because God willed it. If there is some will or desire involved, it’s immanent, not some external final cause. So, if a stone or, to be more contemporary, a roof tile lands on your head from a roof when you are walking home on a windy day, you could curse God for making it possible, for having conditioned the world in such and such a way that it can happen, but not for singling you out, for fucking you over just because.

He (68, 71) specifies the terms necessary or necessity and contingent or contingency. Something is necessary because otherwise it wouldn’t be the way it is. It would be impossible for it to be anything else, which is why it’s necessary. If something isn’t necessary, it’s only because our understanding of the states of affairs, why something is the way it is or, rather, appears to us the way it does, is limited. It’s the same with when we are assessing something that happens. So, something is contingent when we are in doubt of whether something is necessary. For example, if a stone or a roof tile lands on your head, all that matters is that it did land on your head and something happened for it to land on your head. Either it did or didn’t land on your head. This also means that either something happened for it to land on your head or something which would have let to it didn’t happen. That’s necessity and impossibility in a nutshell. Of course, it might have been a stone or a roof tile, or something else, that landed on your head and killed you, but we simply don’t know what it was because there’s nothing that would indicate this in the proximity of your body, no stone, no roof tile, or whatever it might be, to be found by your dead body. We do know that something killed you, that something must have happened for you to die, that’s necessary, but we don’t know enough to be sure, so the circumstances of your death remain contingent. There are many possible scenarios. In short, inasmuch as we know something to be the way it is or to have happened the way it happened, we are dealing with necessity, but inasmuch as we don’t know something to be the way it is or to have happened the way it happened, we are dealing with contingency. This all makes sense and I agree with him on this. That said, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that we can never be certain of what’s what, nor what happened, because we are finite beings, limited in many ways, which, I’d say, makes everything appear contingent to us. I think he is right about things being necessary, actually so and so, but to us they are only virtually so and so because we can’t know for sure, hence the contingency. He is actually very explicit about this later on, when he (116) states that things truly are the way they, never contingent, always necessary, but when “we consider things, whether in respect to the future or the past,” we consider them “as contingent.”

Moving from that example, when it comes to finite things, us humans included, they are always conditioned and thus owe their existence and their capacity to act by something other than themselves, which in turn is conditioned the same way by something other than themselves, ad infinitum, as he (67) points out. These are the aforementioned modes. This makes sense, considering that a mode is not definable in itself but only through something else, as a mode of something (OED, s.v. “mode”, n.).

He (82) also clarifies that a body is a mode, but not all modes are bodies as an idea is also a mode. To him (82), a body is also an extended thing, whereas a thing is whatever makes us understand it as a thing, so that if whatever makes us understand it as such, its essence, is removed, it’s no longer a thing. He (82) adds that an idea is also a thing, but it is not an extended thing. It’s a thinking thing or, as I would call it, a thought. He (82) stresses the importance of understanding ideas as conceptions as opposed to perceptions because the former implies active involvement whereas the latter implies passive reception. In short, bodies are modes of extension, whereas ideas or thoughts are modes of thought. That said, while they can be distinguished from one another, as they clearly are, he (86) notes that, in a way, they are “one and the same thing” because there is only one substance. What differentiates or distinguishes them from one another is that they are “expressed in two ways”, through two different attributes of the same substance, as he (86-87) goes on to add.

He (83) adds a couple of further clarifications, which I won’t cover here in full detail. I’ll skip some, just like I did with eternity when providing other definitions related to the perfection of God or substance. He (83) mentions duration, which “is the indefinite continuance of existing.” This should be familiar to you if you’ve ever read something written by Henri Bergson. Anyway, Spinoza (83) defines duration as necessary for the existence of things, but it’s indefinite because it can’t be understood by assessing this and/or that thing, because, well, things are definite, not indefinite. He (83) equates reality and perfection, which means that reality is substance, because substance is God and God is perfect.

Particularly importantly, he (83, 95) also adds that a number of particular things can also constitute another particular thing, a compound, inasmuch they co-occur, so that they are an effect, not separately but together. He doesn’t specify it here, but following his own definitions, this means that they can be bodies and/or ideas and that any a number of particular things can be understood as a thing, which, in turn, can understood as a part of another particular thing with other particular things, and so on and so on. So, for example, a chair is a chair as what makes it a table makes it a chair and not something else, let’s say a stool or a bench, but when we assess these particular things, the chair, the stool and the bench, they can be considered to be seats. Seats can also be understood to be other particular things, as furniture, if we consider them in combination with other particular things, for instance, long flat surfaces that hold items, such tables, desks and shelves, or people, such as beds. We could also work our way back, to assess which things result in things we know as chairs, stools, benches, tables, desks, shelves or beds, followed by further assessment of what makes those particular things constitute other particular things. In addition, we could take something like an A4 sheet of paper and fold it a number of times, in a certain way, so that it becomes a leaflet, a pamphlet or a booklet (although the more you fold it, the smaller the pages become so that it’s a bit questionable whether you can render an A4 sheet of paper into a booklet), the point being that the thing in question, the sheet of paper, does not change much, but it changes enough so that our conception of it changes. In other words, it would appear that particular things can and do consist of not only bodies but also ideas. I reckon this makes sense, considering that, in a way, one is talking about the same thing, but only in two ways, through the two attributes, as already mentioned.

When it comes to humans, he (83) states that they exist or don’t exist, inasmuch as they do or don’t, just like any other body or extended thing. That said, what makes humans humans and not, say, chairs, is that they think, as he (83) goes on to add. It’s worth keeping in mind that, for him, extension and thought are attributes. This means that humans can be understood as existing in two modes, which, in turn, means that without a body, there is no human. It also means that without thinking, there is no human. But what does he mean by thinking and thoughts? Are thoughts or ideas what someone thinks, what they focus on, or so to speak, or is it anything that just comes to you, somehow, willingly or unwillingly? He (83) clarifies this by adding that there are several modes of thought or thinking, for example love and desire. In other words, thought or thinking is much more broadly conceived by him than what people might generally associate with thought or thinking, which is also the case with bodies, as already discussed. He doesn’t specify this, but he (83) does note that bodies can be “affected in many ways”, but always involving bodies and/or modes of thought, because those are the only modes of the attributes that humans have access to.

When it comes to bodies, that is to say extended things, he (93-94) emphasizes how there are in movement, moving or resting, at various speeds, quickly or slowly, which is what distinguishes them from one another. This aspect is important because if this wasn’t the case, each body or extended thing would simply be the same, sharing in the same attribute, which in this case is extension. It’s also worth noting that when we think of the movement of a body, we shouldn’t think of it in isolation from other bodies. In other words, it’s important to realize that the bodies are in relation to one another, some moving slowly, others moving quickly, coming together to a certain extent, composing and decomposing into various compounded bodies that may also compose and decompose into various compounded bodies, ad infinitum, so that we can think of reality as this ever composing and decomposing infinite set of bodies, as he (96) goes on to note.

I’m skipping ahead again, to a point where he (107) notes that when it comes to duration, all things, humans included, not only do they have finite existence, but they also exist for as long as they do, until they don’t. Our understanding of the duration of their existence is limited and, in his (107) words, “very inadequate”. Anyway, what matters is that he (107) states that “all particular things are contingent and perishable.” This only makes sense, considering that if this was not the case, if things didn’t have finite existence, bodies would not be able to compose and decompose.

But what about what makes this or that thing appear to us as distinct from some other thing? Well, he (109) reminds us that things are the way they are, perfect in their own right, so this and/or that is distinct from what else is there, because, well, reality is, in itself, always perfect. That said, he (109) also reminds us that insofar as we humans are concerned, it appears to us inadequately, as a confused mass of a bit of this and a bit of that. He (109) notes that this has to do with the very definition of a finite thing, which, as already discussed, can only be understood through some other thing, which, in turn, can be understood through some other thing, and so on and so on, ad infinitum. What’s here important here is that this also means that things are distinct, yet they are alike, some more, some less, as he (109-110) goes on to explain. He (111) also adds that we humans understand things better, distinctively as this or that, the more we have in common with what else is there.

What I find particularly interesting about this aspect is what he (111-112) mentions in passing, in a two page long side note. He (111) states that we can only imagine, to recollect or bring back, so a limited number of images because the number of images we can produce is limited. That makes sense, considering that we are finite things, just like everything else, hence our imagination is going to be limited as well. Humans are imperfect. That said, we do encounter a vast number of things all the time. We don’t run into problems stating that. I know what’s what and I can comprehend the vividness of reality. Instead, we run into problems when we try to keep tabs with it all. That’s when things get confused. What he (112) means by this is that there’s just so much detail to that we encounter that we have a sensory overload, which forces us to reduce the complexity of reality into limited sets of things and to rely on various generalizations that we get from our experience, which, of course, varies between people. Simply put, we rely on notions such as “man, horse, dog”, and the like, as he (112) points out, even though they are pretty senseless when you think of it. They are, of course, useful, but the images they conjure are quite generic.

Summarizing this, as he (1139 does, we get knowledge from our experiences. This can be gained through our senses, but it can equally well be gained through existing knowledge that is shared with others, typically either in spoken or written form, as he (113) points out. This makes sense, considering that what other express is also based on they’ve learned from others or sensed themselves.

There are three kinds of knowledge for Spinoza. In his (113) view, the first kind of knowledge is based on opinion or imagination, the second kind is based on reason and the third kind is based on intuition. Highly importantly, the first kind of knowledge is always inadequate or confused to some extent, for reasons already discussed, whereas the second and third kinds of knowledge are always adequate, as he (114) goes on to point out.

He (66, 260) further comments on knowledge, stating that “[t]he more we understand particular things, the more we understand God”, that is to say substance or reality, considering that “[i]ndividual things are nothing but modifications of [its] attributes …, ore modes by which the attributes … are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.” So, the more experience you have of the world, the more it would appear that you know. The good thing is that there is no shortage of this first kind of knowledge. The bad thing is that this kind of knowledge is always in the making. It’s always incomplete, muddled and confused. In other words, while you can learn to better understand the world through examining its particulars, that’s going to be a never ending task. You can never be entirely sure whether you understand it all, whether you managed to piece it all together. It’s all so particular that it’s never going to be adequate. This is also why he prefers the second kind of knowledge (reason) over this first kind of knowledge (imagination).

For him (109, 113), what’s in common between the particulars, what we can reason from them, is much more important and useful than assessing each particular, one by one, in order to understand reality. I’d say it’s also far more efficient and makes a whole lot more sense than compiling a list of various particulars. That said, he (93, 109) realizes that, on its own, this kind of knowledge is kind of pointless because it doesn’t pertain to anything particular, because whatever happens to be “common to all”, for example that “[a]ll bodies agree in certain respects”, “and which is equally in a part and in the whole, does not constitute the essence of any particular thing.” Simply put, while certainly useful, this kind of knowledge doesn’t tell us about anything particular. It’s more like focusing on the relations between things, what does and doesn’t connect them, than about the things. It’s interesting, yes, but what do we do with that? What do we do with, for example, all bodies agreeing with one another in certain respects? Where does that lead us? How does it help us to make sense of the world?

This lack of specificity in the second kind of knowledge (reason) leads him (260) consider the third kind of knowledge (intuition) as the most useful and the most valuable to people. Now, the problem with intuition, what Spinoza calls the third kind of knowledge, is that it’s very hard to explain. What is it? I wouldn’t say it’s this or that, but rather something that just happens. So, to me, intuition is something immediate. Either you get it or you don’t. You can’t really explain it. Everything just is, everything just appears to you, without any explicit reflection, you know, like a singularity. It’s highly useful, on a personal level, considering that all the sudden things make perfect sense, but being irreducible, it’s not something that you can render into other uses, which will probably bother people who don’t get it.

I’ll let someone smarter than me explain what’s the deal with intuition. Deleuze explains this in the second known session of his course on Spinoza, dated December 2, 1980, available as part of ‘Seminar on Spinoza: The Velocities of Thought’ (translation by Charles Stivale). In short, Deleuze likens intuition to “a bolt of lightning.” He considers Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge to be present when things are “going at full speed.” He jumps into something else, sort of related, only to return to discuss intuition on his ninth lecture of this seminar, date February 3, 1981 (also translated by Charles Stivale).

Right, Deleuze makes note of Spinoza’s three kinds of knowledge (imagination, reason, intuition), as already discussed. He comments on the first kind, noting that it deals with an aggregate that he calls “the world of signs”. He also comments on the second kind, noting that it also deals with an aggregate, but this time it’s the aggregate of “common notions”. To make more sense of common notions, Deleuze asks his audience to keep in mind that an abstract idea is not the same as a general idea. For him, an abstract idea involves abstraction, which has to do with “an operation that consists of separating through thought what is inseparable in the representation”, whereas a general idea involves “a relation that suits several things.” So, the problem with abstract ideas or abstractions is that there are none, as he goes on to point out. That’s why they are always empty. They don’t work because they involve separating what’s inseparable, which results in something that just doesn’t make any sense, as he also points out. Anyway, to get back on track here, common notions are not to be confused with essences, which appear to us through the third kind of knowledge, through intuition, what he calls “the knowledge of essences.” This is the aforementioned lack of specificity that plagues the second kind of knowledge (reason).

It’s also important to note that we move from one to the other, from the first kind to the second kind by making note of what’s common between this and that, and from the second kind to the third kind by realizing that while we may have all kinds of things in common with one another, we, “you, me, this table, … the little cat, the dog”, etc., are all nonetheless distinct, singular, if you will, as Deleuze points out. This can also be explained the other way around, as he does, as “you are not only a singular essence” but also “an aggregate of relations” so that everything is, me and you included, an aggregate of parts, which are themselves aggregates of parts, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, composed in certain way that expresses its essence. What’s curious or interesting about this is that the parts appear to depend on the relations rather than existing on their own, so the parts may change and do change, but in a way that the essence is retained, as he goes on to point out. We are great examples of this. Our bodies appear to regenerate, to a limited degree of course as our lives are finite, but, oddly enough we appear to retain our essence, as also mentioned by him as an example.

The superiority of this third kind of knowledge should by now be apparent from what I’ve covered from Deleuze’s lectures. The way I would put it is that you no longer define this or that, whatever it is that you encounter, as representing some abstract idea, but as a “composed relation”, as “a collectivity”, as he might put it. So, as strange as it might sound, there is no objectivity, nor subjectivity, no objective views, nor subjective views, only collectivity and collective views. This does not, however, mean that there is only one collective, but a plethora of collectives that we are composed of. So, oddly enough, you are you, just as I am I, not because you are one and I am one, as a given, but because what makes us one is that we are always many. As Deleuze puts it, alongside Félix Guattari, in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), “[w]e are no longer ourselves”, yet “[e]each will know his own” as “each of us [is] several”.

Deleuze returns to this issue of parts and composition in the following lecture, lecture ten, dated February 10, 1981 (translation also by Charles Stivale). He states that there are three dimensions or layers to what constitutes something, for example an individual, like me or you. Firstly, for Spinoza, this or that consists of parts, which, in turn, also consist of parts and so on, and so on, ad infinitum, as already discussed. If you ask me, this isn’t all that surprising. It just makes sense, which is why I’ve applied this logic in my own work. Secondly, these parts belong to whatever they constitute inasmuch as they do, according to whatever it is that retains them as distinctively this or that. In other words, the relation of the parts is what defines the essence of this or that, not the parts themselves. Deleuze acknowledges that it’s not clear cut to assess what it is that makes this or that, for example a particular table that particular table. I agree.

To expand on his example, if I were to replace one of the legs of my table with another leg, would it still be the same table? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure how assess that, what the criteria for that would even be. He wonders “what does this question mean?”, only to answer his own question with a question: “It means, according to what reasons do any parts whatsoever belong to a given body?” Now, that doesn’t give you any clear criteria, so how do you deal with it? My answer is that you just do. It’s intuitive. If it seems right, it is right, and if it doesn’t seem right, it isn’t right. If you struggle with this, I reckon it will make more sense if you exemplify this with someone you know instead of some table that probably doesn’t mean that much to you anyway. What is it that makes that person that person?

Thirdly, not only do things consist of parts, which also consist of parts, but they are also themselves parts. This also means that as everything is a part of substance that is, in Spinoza’s view, all powerful, so that each part is not only extensive, having certain dimensions, but also intensive, having certain power, that is to say a certain capacity to act (in the broadest sense of the word), if I’m not mistaken. If that’s hard to comprehend, it’s worth keeping in mind that you can always divide something that is extensive, but not something that is intensive. That’s the difference between something that is divisible, a dividual, and something that is indivisible, an individual. This is also not about this or that quality, nor about quantity, as qualifying something as this or that already involves qualifying it as a part, which consists of parts and functions as a part of something else. This does not mean that things, people included, don’t have extensive parts, that they aren’t constituted in a certain way, but rather that you can’t explain them simply as sums of their parts. He jumps through a lot of hoops to explain this during the lecture, that Spinoza’s formulation is not about sums, but about relations, how something is composed or decomposed. That doesn’t negate the parts, as you do need them, only subordinates them to relations so that the parts only make sense relationally.

Deleuze further comments on Spinoza’s take on parts and wholes during this tenth lecture. So, as already mentioned, something can function as a part of something else, forming a compound, but it can also be understood as a compound consisting of parts. When Spinoza mentions great number of this or that, as he does in ‘Ethics’, he isn’t giving us any clear number, only a number that is so large that it exceeds what can be expressed in numbers. That’s infinity. Anyway, to get to the point, Deleuze stresses the importance of understanding parts and wholes in terms of sets or collections that are infinite. That means that there is no smallest nor largest set of sets or collection of collections. There is no end to it, as even the ends are always infinite, as he goes on to clarify. Simply put, something can always be smaller or larger than something else. He also warns us not confuse this with what we can sense as it appears that we do have certain limitations. I think Spinoza would agree with this, considering that, for him, humans are indeed limited certain ways and thus have a limited capacity to act. Anyway, so, Deleuze makes note of a threshold which seems to exist for us, so that we can only sense and think of something that is so or so small, the atom minimum, but we can’t go beyond that. Then again, that’s only because you aren’t thinking in terms of relations. This is also why Deleuze emphasizes the importance of realizing that infinity or “actual infinity” has no beginning nor an end, that is to say that it has no ends, in plural. It stands in opposition to finity, which has a beginning and an end, that is to say that it has ends, and to indefinity (indefiniteness), which has a beginning but no end, that is to say it has an end but not the end.

If this no beginning nor end business seems familiar to you, it’s, perhaps, because it is. For example, think of how Deleuze and Guattari, (21-22) state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that “[a] plateau is always in the middle, not at the beginning or the end” and that “Gregory Bateson uses the word ‘plateau’ to designate … a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities who development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end.” Think also how they (21, 25) state that “[a] rhizome is made of plateaus” and that “[a] rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo”, as well as how they (263) state that “[a] haecceity has neither beginning nor end, origin nor destination”, as “it is always in the middle”, “not made of points, only lines”, which makes “[i]t … a rhizome.” This also means that, for them (25), questions such as “[w]here are you going?”, “[w]here are you coming from?”, “[w]hat are you heading for?” and the like “are totally useless questions.” It’s also why it’s very important for them (25) that the middle, what they (21, 426) also call milieu, is never localizable, between this and that thing, but just in between. They (507) even mention Spinoza as someone who surveys everything in the middle.

Moving on, Spinoza (115) further specifies how knowledge works. So, for example, when we assert something, let’s say that a roof tile landed on a man’s head and killed him, it is true, in itself. Note that this is not a statement of facts. Maybe Spinoza has witnessed such, but I haven’t. This is a made up example. We only consider whether that holds on its own and it most certainly does. We can’t go against that, saying that it didn’t kill him or that it didn’t land on his head because then we aren’t even saying the same thing. We are then saying another thing, which, in itself, of course holds, in its own light, of course. This is why he (115) stresses the importance of “the very act of understanding”, that, in order to be “sure of a thing”, we need to “be first sure of that thing”. In other words, the truth of the thing is immanent to the act, so that light is light because it is light, understood as such, and not darkness, as he (115) points out. As truth is immanent to the act, this of course also means that “a true idea has no more reality than a false idea”.

If this also seems familiar to you, it’s probably because it is, at least sort of. I don’t know about others, but this makes me think of what became known as Speech Act Theory. In Spinoza’s treatment, we aren’t simply presenting information, as if we recognized this and/or that as something and not something else, thus confirming or denying its presence, but doing things with words, as J. L. Austin might express it.

Spinoza (123, 125) exemplifies this with someone who speaks of “a winged horse”. We know that there are no winged horses or, rather, that there are no winged horses that we know of. We have never actually encountered winged horses. We have no experience of such. That said, that doesn’t mean that there are no winged horses or, rather, that there has never been winged horses or that there will never be winged horses. Maybe, maybe not. This is all contingent because knowledge is based on experience, as already discussed. This means that it’s always correct to speak of winged horses, regardless of the circumstances, whether such exist, have existed or will exist, as what matters is that winged horses are immanent to the act of speaking about winged horses. There’s no claim beyond to what is said. This also means that it is correct to speak of winged horses if the circumstances permit to speak of such and claim that they do exist. What are such circumstances then? If there appears to be winged horses, then, well, there are winged horses, unless there is something else that makes it apparent to us that there aren’t winged horses, as he (125) goes on to point out. In his (125) exact words:

“For what is the perception of a winged horse, save affirming that a horse has wings? If the mind could perceive nothing else but the winged horse, it would regard the same as present to itself: it would have no reasons for doubting its existence, nor any faculty of dissent, unless the imagination of a winged horse be joined to an idea which precludes the existence of the said horse, or unless the mind perceives that the idea which it possess of a winged horse is inadequate, in which case it will either necessarily deny the existence of such a horse, or will necessarily be in doubt on the subject.”

As this is or was just me or my take on this, I did a quick search. It appears that at least G. H. R. Parkinson and J. J. MacIntosh seem to agree with my take. MacIntosh makes note of this in ‘Spinoza’s Epistemological Views’, as included in volume 5 (1970/71) of Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures dubbed as ‘Reason and Reality’ published in 1972. He (38) argues that “for Spinoza ideas had, and could not but have, illocutionary forces attached to them”, so that:

“If you have such an image or perception, Spinoza is suggesting, this, in the absence of some countering notion, amounts to an affirmation that there really is such a horse within your visual field.”

In other words, if it appears to be the case then it is the case, unless it doesn’t appear to be the case, which means that then it isn’t the case. It may also be that the conditions change so that something no longer appears to as such, so that it appears to us as something else, which, of course may also come to appear to us as something else if the conditions of its apparition change. This is why Parkinson (39) points out in ‘“Truth Is Its Own Standard”: Aspects of Spinoza’s Theory of Truth’, as published in The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy in 1977, that a chimera may exist, inasmuch there is a body that is in a certain state. So, if there is a thing, let’s say me, that comes to think that such a creature exists, it exists, not because chimeras really exist, to the best of our knowledge that is, but because whatever things define me come to think that it exists.

Parkinson (42-43) also warns us not to oversimplify things, to assert that what Spinoza is saying is the same what Austin is saying. That said, there is a certain familiar ring to Spinoza if you’ve read Austin. There’s a degree of affinity between them. That’s how I’d put it. Parkinson (42-43) points out that this has to do with how Austin assesses speech acts in terms of their happiness/unhappiness or felicity/infelicity. To make sense of that, if you are not familiar with it already, we make sense of what’s been said on the basis of the context, on the basis of what else is there, or so to speak. This means that we may even encounter someone saying something that we can comprehend, okay, but it just doesn’t make sense in that context, as he (43) points out. For example, I can say something like “I sentence you to prison for eight eight years for …” but it won’t have an effect on you because I’m not a judge, nor are you on trial. It would take a judge and you being on trial for that to make sense. Now, as noted by Parkinson (43), I’d say that Spinoza isn’t really concerned with who can say what and in what circumstances, for it to have an effect or no effect, legit or not, but with whether this or that holds in its own right, whether chimeras exist or not, which is a much more general concern.

Spinoza (108-109) also notes that people tend to have a certain way of thinking about freedom, which he disagrees with. This also makes sense, if one considers what I’ve already covered about freedom in this essay. So, he (108) reckons that people tend to think that freedom is about having consciousness of one’s own actions, about willing this and/or that. The problem with that is that it ignores what conditions each and everyone of us, so that, as he (108-109) puts it, freedom is merely about “ignorance of any cause for [one’s] actions.” As he (109) goes on to point out, this is particularly problematic because it’s basically attributing one’s actions to an empty abstraction. It’s empty because it’s never explained what will is. In other words, attributing your actions to your will functions just like attributing something to the will of God.

Right, I went through parts one and two of Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’ and some bits from the other books. I previously hadn’t given much thought to going through this book, definition by definition, proposition by proposition, proof by proof, postulate by postulate, axiom by axiom, lemma by lemma, note by note, followed by going back and forth between it all, because the way it’s written, in Euclidian fashion, appeared dreary to me. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by how I liked the way it is written, even though I still think that it’s a bit of a bore. It’s a tough read, that’s for sure, but not as tough as I expected it to be. You just sort of have endure the boring and convoluted bits, which will then be further clarified in the more loosey-goosey notes. I’m also not entirely sure that I understand it all. I hope I do, but, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something that’s off in this essay. In terms of the content, what I got out of this, it’s interesting how some of the stuff reminds me a lot of what’s discussed in the 1900s and the 2000s, some 300 years later. I think it’s fair to say that this book was far ahead of its time and probably still is.

But why go through the effort of reading his work to discuss whether God wills it or not? Well, my answer is that it’s irrelevant what it is that we ground our arguments on, whatever it is what we call it, if it functions the same way. You can substitute God or god(s), feel free to choose your deity, with something like nature, culture, humanity, ideology, structure or economy and nothing changes. I’d say that even landscape and discourse can be put into use the same way. Alfred North Whitehead explains the issue with such aptly in his 1929 book ‘Process and Reality’ (pagination from the 1979 corrected version edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald Sherburne) when he (20) notes that:

“It is a complete mistake to ask how concrete particular fact can be built up out of universals.”

What one needs to do instead is to do the exact opposite, as he (20) points out:

“[T]o explain the emergence of the more abstract things from the more concrete things.”

In more simple terms, when we deal with abstractions, if we have to, we are always tasked to explain them, from what they are abstracted from. If we look at a dictionary definition for abstract (OED, s.v. “abstract”, adj.), it is typically used as the opposite of concrete, so that we might as well talk about concepts. It (OED, s.v. “abstract”, n.) can also be used in the sense that it’s a summary form of something, like when you abstract or extract something, for example through distillation or condensation (OED, s.v. “abstract”, v.). So, Whitehead (20) is basically saying the same as Deleuze (or, rather, the other way around, Deleuze says the same as Whitehead, not to be anachronistic), that abstractions don’t exist as such, a priori, because what we consider to be abstractions are always abstracted from something. To put this in Spinozist terms, we are never dealing with abstractions. Instead, we are always dealing with common notions, the second kind of knowledge that we get to through the first kind of knowledge by making note of what’s common between this and or that.

To wrap things up, for now, as I might delve deeper into this later on, going through the other parts of Spinoza’s ‘Ethics’, I think it’s also worth noting that like with everything else, you don’t have to agree with everything he has to say about whatever it is that he is dealing with in this book. It’s the same with this essay. For example, I wish the movement from one kind of knowledge to another would be explained in more detail. I felt like I was left hanging. I had to piece it together by myself. I don’t mind that, as such, as it makes me think, but I felt it was a bit sloppy of him, considering the rigor of his approach in this book.

Moving the goalposts

I’ve been reading a bit of this and a bit of that, mainly some Proust, but I’ve also been wondering what to write on. There are a couple of essays that are somewhere there, halfway done, but I wanted to do something short for a change. So, I landed on ‘Instincts and Institutions’ by Gilles Deleuze, as included in ‘Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953–1974’ (2004 translation by Michael Taormina, with a couple of the texts having been translated by others). It was first published as the introduction of ‘Instincts et institutions’, a collection of texts presented by Deleuze (under the supervision of Georges Canguilhem), published in 1953. It’s only some 80 pages, and the introduction is only three pages, so this ought to remain aptly short.

The way I read this is that this is an early account of some of the stuff he discusses with Félix Guattari in, for example, ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane) and ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi). So if some this, what will be covered in this essay, seems familiar to you, having read his later works, with or without Guattari, it’s because some of the stuff was already being worked on by him decades earlier. For example, milieu crops up quite a bit in this text, in the same way that he and Guattari (50-51) also discuss it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ as a matter of interiority, exteriority and association.

Deleuze (19) starts by stating that there are instincts and institutions, which both function to “designate procedures of satisfaction.” To make sense of instincts, he (19) clarifies that they pertain to how “an organism reacts instinctively to external stimuli” in order to take what it needs from it’s surroundings, to “satisfy its tendencies and needs[.]” What’s important here is that “extracting from the external world the elements which will satisfy its tendencies and needs” results in creating a world that is specific to that organism. So, each organism, of course, has different instincts, as he (19) points out. To simplify this, each animal has different tendencies or needs (he uses these sort of interchangeably in this text) that it seeks to satisfy, which also results in a world specific to that animal. In other words, each organism reacts to certain elements in its surroundings. This is all instinctual, what one might be tempted to call natural. It just happens.

To make sense of institutions, he (19) clarifies they have to do with the process of “institut[ing] an original world between its tendencies and the external milieu, developing artificial means of satisfaction.” He (19) states that the subject institutes this, but I’d say that’s this is actually the moment that the tendencies and the external milieu give rise to it. Then again, that’s just my take. Anyway, he (19) adds that these artificial means transform the organism, liberating it from its existing tendencies and needs, not necessarily whole sale, not from all of them, but to some extent nonetheless, by transforming them, by “introducing them into a new milieu.” Of course, if we think that a transformation always results in replacing what was, then, well, I guess you could say that they are all replaced. Then again, that’s debatable. I guess it depends on how substantial the transformations are.

To make more sense of how instincts and institutions function, he (19) exemplifies them with hunger and money. So, an organism, let’s say you, is hungry. It needs to satisfy that hunger. There are, of course, many ways to satisfy that hunger. It doesn’t matter what route one takes, as long as that problem is solved by some means. As an animal, you eat. It’s as simple as that. Now, of course, in the world of instincts, hunger is a recurring problem and solving it takes considerable effort. Introduce money (and all that comes from it, really, as that’s what I think he means by money) and you no longer have to feel hungry. You are liberated from it! Hurrah! The instinctual problem seems to be solved, once and for all, true, but it is solved and remains solved only inasmuch you have money, as he (19) goes on to add. Your problem now really isn’t hunger, as such. It’s money. You no longer need to hunt for food, quite literally, but do you need to make money. If this doesn’t convince you, he (19) provides another example, sexuality and marriage. You seek a partner, which is, of course, a task that is by no means easy as people come and go and there’s also competition. Marriage fixes that by introducing fixity to that arrangement. People no longer come and go when they are fixed to one another. There’s also less competition that way. It’s a solution to a problem, which, of course, leads to other problems, which he doesn’t specify. Simply put, the solutions to existing problems have introduced new problems that need to be solved. In summary, he (19) states that:

“[E]very individual experience presupposes, as an a priori, the existence of a milieu in which that experience is conducted, a species-specific milieu or an institution milieu. Instinct and institution are the two organized form of a possible satisfaction.”

This configuration is, however, a bit simplistic, as one is presented as taking place or being in place before the other, the institutional being considered secondary to the instinctual. He (19) acknowledges this by noting that:

“[Institutions] already presuppose institutionalized behaviors, recalling a derived utility that is properly social.”

In other words, while he retains that institutions are secondary to instincts, institutions feed into behavior, conditioning it, hence the earlier point he makes about something that liberates you from something else comes to subject you to other tasks. I reckon the point he is making or trying to make is that you cannot neatly separate one from the other, to argue that people are like this or that by nature, considering that people owe themselves to others who have inscribed in them all kinds of institutionalized behaviors. You can distinguish one from the other, as he (19) clearly does in this early text, yet we can’t even talk about instinctual behavior without being inscribed with institutionalized behaviors, i.e. without being properly social. He (21) emphasizes this aspect on the last page of this short text, arguing that, in fact, “humans have no instincts” as “they build institutions”; “[t]he human is an animal that decimating its species”, that is to say that it’s species specific to the human species to replace its instincts with institutions.

The clearest distinction between two is to be found in how a need or a tendency is satisfied. In his (20) view, if a need or a tendency is satisfied directly, it’s instinctual, and if it is satisfied indirectly, it’s institutional. So, if we are dealing with instinct, it always direct utility, with no prohibitions or coercions, only repugnancies, as he (20) goes on to add. He (20-21) clarifies instinct as a matter of “double causality” involving individual psychological factors and species specific factors that pertain to the bodily constitution of this or that species. It’s not about “of reflex, of tropism, of habit and intelligence”, even though it sort of is, nor about “the framework of an advantage to the species”, even though it sort of is as well.

He (21) doesn’t go into detail about this, where to draw the line between instincts and institutions, which it a bit hard for me to say much about this. The way he (21) puts it is about whether something is a mere reflex, a trope, a habit or about intelligence, how first three are already instinctually “perfect”, done without hesitation, albeit to lesser and lesser degree and thus less perfect or more imperfect, I guess, whereas the fourth, intelligence, is thus the most perfectible or “imperfect”, done with a great deal of hesitation. I guess another way of explaining that would be like a slider between the unconscious and the conscious. He (21) states that the more perfect ones are more species specific, whereas intelligence is non-species specific and thus appears individual. That said, he (21) reckons that intelligence is always social, i.e. that consciousness is always social, presupposing it.

Anyway, be as it may, as already pointed out, he (21) does reckon that humans do not, no longer have instincts, as such, because such direct instinctual behavior is always replaced by indirect institutionalized behavior. So, as I also already pointed out, we can’t even say much about that because to talk about that, in itself, involves institutionalized behavior. We can, however, infer that animals or, more broadly speaking, other organisms appear to exhibit instinctual species specific behavior and we can also transform some of their behavior, by, for example, domesticating them, which allows us to observe this distinction between the two, as he (21) goes on to point out. Then again, I don’t know what to think of certain animal behavior, such as hunting in packs. Isn’t that a socially instituted way of addressing hunger? Wouldn’t it be more direct to just go after the prey on your own?

He (19) moves on to distinguish institution from law. For him (19), an institution is “a positive model for action”, whereas a law is a negative model for action. In other words, an institution is what seeks to make you do this and/or that, whereas a law is what seeks to prevent you from doing this and/or that. So, when something is institutional, institutionalized or an institution, it functions “as an organized systems of means”, to achieve this or that, as he (19) points out. To use the example of sexuality and marriage, the latter is an institution, because it is what he (19) calls “an organized system of means” to addressing the former. It’s a positive solution to an existing problem, albeit not the positive solution to an existing problem, as indicated by him (20) later on. It’s one among many of society’s positive and inventive ways of fixing a problem, to satisfy certain tendencies or needs, as he (19-20) goes on to point out.

In other words, he (19) argues that in this view of institutions are seen as positive. In stark contrast, the opposing view designates the positive outside the social, so that, conversely, the social is always the negative, the contractual limitation to the positive natural rights, as he (19) goes on to add. In short, when it comes to solving problems, he (19) views institutions as positive means and laws as negative means. The former seeks to push people to do this and/or that, whereas the latter seeks to limit people from doing this and/or that. The opposing view presents everything as given, as naturally and universally applicable law, and institutions as what set limits to it all in some ways. I guess it’s not that one starts from the positive in that view, but that what is seen as negative comes to present what’s already taken for granted (rather underhandedly if you ask me) as positive.

He (20) moves on to emphasize that tendencies or needs are not necessarily satisfied by only this or that institution. In other words, as aptly put by him (2), “the institution is not explained by tendencies.” This is because an institution is only a means to an end, not the means to an end. To exemplify this with what was mentioned earlier on already, marriage is only a specific solution to a specific problem, which could also be solved in other ways, through other means. So, as he (20) points out, “[t]he same sexual needs will never explain the multiple possible forms of marriage” or, should I say, arrangements that seek to satisfy those needs as marriage itself can be seen as a form of arrangement, although I do acknowledge that marriage can and does take many forms, which, in turn, may result in different kinds of other problems that need to be solved, one way or another. This lack of telos, of inherent purpose, can be quite confusing, which he (20) acknowledges:

“This is the paradox of society: we are always talking about institutions, but we are in fact confronted by procedures of satisfaction – and the tendencies satisfied by such procedures neither trigger nor determine the procedures. Tendencies are satisfied by means that do not depend on them. Therefore, no tendency exists which is not at the same time constrained or harassed, and thus transformed, sublimated – to such an extent that neurosis is possible.”

It can indeed be confusing, to the point that you lose your shit, or so to speak, because, well, the sudden realization of this having no inherent connection to that, that is to say there being no necessity of it, only contingency, can result in quite the headache. He (20) further clarifies this lack of dependency between the two by adding that not all institutions satisfy the tendencies or needs of everyone as we are not all alike. In other words, as he (20) goes on to emphasize, it’s very important to investigate institutions because they may seek to satisfy the tendencies or needs of some people, but not all people, while possibly also appearing as if they served to satisfy the tendencies or needs of everyone or, at least, more people than they actually do. In his (20) words:

“[O]ne must still ask the question: useful for whom? For all those who have needs? Or just for a few (privileged class)? Or only for those who control the institution (the bureaucracy)?”

Simply put, don’t just ask what, nor where and when, but also who, for whom and to whom, as those help us to figure out why. To go back a bit, it’s worth keeping in mind that he argues that institutions are always positive. That said, now ask yourself, to whom they are positive? Does this and/or that institution exist to satisfy the needs of the people, or just some people? Does the institution even benefit the people or does it sort of exist for the sake of existing, for itself, for the bureaucrats, for the functionaries whose current livelihood depends on it, on selling the idea that the institution that they are linked to is absolutely necessary even though that’s simply not the case. To exemplify this, in the previous essay I covered how a political party can make it itself appear as an absolute necessity, as the only way to achieve a positive change in society, while, in fact, it only serves the interest of the party members or, more likely, a select few central party members, the vanguard, the party elite, the privileged class who also control it. In his (20) words:

“One of the most profound sociological problems thus consists in seeking out the nature of this other instance, on which the social forms of the satisfaction of tendencies depend.”

To link this to an earlier essay that I wrote on dispositive analysis or, as I would call it, diagrammatics, this is also what fascinates Michel Foucault, as discussed by him in ‘The Confession of the Flesh’, a transcribed interview between Foucault and a number of psychoanalysts, as included in ‘Power/Knowledge: Select Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977’ edited by Colin Gordon (1980 translations Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham and Kate Soper). I won’t go through all of that as that’s what I did in that essay, but, I’ll briefly cover the main points. So, as I pointed out in that essay, for Foucault (198), institutions are non-discursive formations because they involve the act of instituting, establishing, founding or ordaining something, to introducing it and bringing it to use or practice (OED, s.v. “institute”, v.), that is to say giving it visible form. That said, as acknowledged by him (198), to make sense of the non-discursive formations, i.e. institutions, one also needs to take into account the discursive formations, as one cannot be defined without the other, as they are in reciprocal presupposition. He (198) exemplifies this with a specific military school, the building being the non-discursive formation, i.e. the institution, and the architectural plans being the discursive formation (albeit the actual plans for it, drawn on actual paper are, of course, yet another non-discursive formation, an institution, in the sense that paper also needs to have been instituted, formed into being as that thing, as paper). These are, of course, linked to other discursive and non-discursive formations as well. So, to make sense of a military school, one also needs to have knowledge of military and architecture and what roles the play in a certain society, at a certain point in time, which, in turn, may require one to know a lot more about other words and things (and so on, and so on, and so on).

Anyway, institutions interest Foucault (198) for the same reason as they interest Deleuze (20), because the institutions are supposed to have a certain function, to satisfy certain this and/or that tendency or needs, yet there may well be a mismatch between the two. As Foucault (198) points out, when one deals with dispositives or diagrams, the discursive and the non-discursive are supposed to be aligned (yet distinct), but they might also not be aligned and it’s then when things get interesting, when things are supposed to be like this, yet, in actuality, they are like that, having been instituted in a way that results in a mismatch. So, for him (198), a military school is not that interesting if the building conforms to the architectural plans and serves the function it was built for, for training the military the way the military intended it. It’s like yes, okay, what about it? There’s hardly anything surprising about that. It functions as means to a certain end, as a solution to a problem, for training the untrained, and as a building, it functions to create a regulatable indoor environment, solving the problem of being outdoors. It’s as simple as that.

It gets interesting if there are other discursive formations at play, let’s say homosexuality or delinquency that, for some reason, come to manifest themselves in the military school, as homosexual or delinquent soldiers. It’s not intended to be that way, for it to be like a gay bar or a shop for stolen goods, where you’d expect homosexuals or petty criminals to appear, but if it functions like that, then that’s interesting. It would also be interesting if the building itself didn’t conform to its plans, if changes had been made to it, for whatever reasons not intended by the architect(s). This is what you find in Foucault’s work (no, not homosexuality or delinquency in the military, as I just made those up), how an institution may have been instituted to satisfy certain tendencies or needs, to fix this and/or that problem, which may have worked, at least to a certain extent, but it may also have had unintended consequences, feeding into the creation of new discursive and non-discursive formations. For example, the way madness is understood right now is not how it used to be understood in the past, which probably doesn’t surprise anyone, really, but it’s not that it just involved a gradual change in discourse, that new, more accurate, knowledge was produced, which, unlike before, then allowed knowledgeable people to recognize the mentally ill. Instead, it’s that when certain people were grouped together and locked up in the same place, in the same building, they ended up appearing to others in a certain light, as if highlighting how different they are from others, which wasn’t the case when they were allowed to live among everyone else, just like everyone else. In other words, while mental illness is a discursive formation, a systematic set of statements, no doubt about it, the non-discursive formations, the institutions that functioned to confine people in order to treat them, to cure them, came to inform how madness came to be (re)defined as mental illness. That’s exactly what’s so fascinating about institutions (not that I necessarily agree with how they function though).

None this, what I’ve added from my previous discussions of Foucault’s work, in a summary form, takes away from what Deleuze has to say about institutions. It adds to it. One must still ask why this and/or that institution exists, what purpose it serves, who controls it and whose interests it serves. Institutions may also have been created for a certain purpose, only to end up functioning in another way. An example of this is how prisons were supposed to function as the solution to crime, like a silver bullet, yet, as you can gather by reading Foucault’s work, namely ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ (1977 translation by Alan Sheridan) in which he (264-268) clearly points this out, or by watching some prison documentaries, prisons ended up creating more of it, by confining people as part of their punishment, lumping them together so that, inadvertently, a prison becomes more like a school of crime than anything else. So, instead of dealing with just petty crime, confining people into an institution known as the prison for various minor offenses tends to result in turning these people into hardened career criminals, which is the exact opposite of what you’d want as a result from a punishment.

Anyway, it was interesting to go through something so old, yet so familiar. That said, I’d still rather check out Deleuze’s later texts, with or without Guattari, or, alternatively, read some Foucault, as the stuff that’s covered ‘Instincts and Institutions’ does leave you hanging a bit if you aren’t already familiar with what it deals with. It’s still totally worth reading though, considering it’s only three pages.

This organization is absolutely necessary!

I ended up writing about this, what’ll basically be an essay about speaking and doing for people, rather than with them, while returning to write an essay that I never managed to complete because something else came up and I had to deal with it. Either I just forgot that text or didn’t care enough about it. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter why what was. I’ll see if I get it done sometime in the near future. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

Right, this essay touches on what Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze discuss in their recorded conversation known as ‘Intellectuals and Power’, as included in, for example, ‘Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews’, an edited volume of Foucault’s work (1977, edited and translated by Donald Bouchard). The gist of this conversation is that both agree that intellectuals, including but not limited to academics, should not speak for people, that is to say speak in their stead, as if they had a calling to speak in their place because the people can’t or don’t understand what’s at stake. Deleuze (206) provides his take on the issue:

“A theorising intellectual, for us, is no longer a subject, a representing or representative consciousness. Those who act and struggle are no longer represented, either by a group or a union who appropriates the right to stand as their conscience.”

He (206) clarifies his view:

“Who speaks and acts? It’s always a multiplicity, even with the person who speaks and acts. All of us are ‘groupuscules.’ Representation no longer exists; there’s only action – theoretical action and practical action which serve as relays and form networks.”

In other words, in his view, which I subscribe to by the way, if one speaks, one already speaks as a member of this and/or that group, because, well, one is a group. Groups are understood as ever shifting, consisting of various points that function as relays and form networks. This means that when you say or do something, no one has the right to do something for others, unless it is done with them, which, of course, then done with their explicit consent. No one can simply claim to know better, be aware of something that others should be aware but aren’t and then act for them.

Foucault (207) provides a more history oriented take:

“The intellectual was rejected and persecuted at the precise moment when the facts became incontrovertible, when it was forbidden to say that the emperor had no clothes. The intellectual spoke the truth to those who had yet to see it, in the name of those who were forbidden to speak the truth: he was conscience, consciousness, and eloquence.”

But, be as it may, he (207) adds that:

“[T]he intellectual discovered that the masses no longer need him to gain knowledge: they know perfectly well, without illusion; they know far better than he and they are certainly capable of expressing themselves.”

So, in summary, thus far, it’s not that an intellectual may not play a role, as he or she most certainly can, but rather that his or her position in any struggle is always within and, conversely put, never without, as he (207) goes on to add:

“But there exists a system of power which block, prohibits, and invalidates this discourse and this knowledge, a power not only found in the manifest authority of censorship, but one that profoundly and subtly penetrates an entire societal network. Intellectuals are themselves agent of this system of power – the idea of their responsibility for ‘consciousness’ and discourse forms part of the system. The intellectual’s role is no longer to place himself ‘somewhat ahead and to the side’ in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of ‘knowledge,’ ‘truth,’ ‘consciousness,’ and ‘discourse.’”

More concisely put, he (208) states that:

“[T]o sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination from a safe distance.”

So, you do and say (or just do if saying is considered doing, which I think it is), whatever it is that you do and/or say with others, as part of the people, not for them, not ahead and aside of people. Deleuze (208-209) responds to this, adding that:

“[R]eforms are designed by people who claim to be representative, who make a profession of speaking for others, and they lead to a division of power, to a distribution of this new power which is consequently increased by a double repression; or they arise from the complaints and demands of those concerned. This latter instance is no longer a reform but revolutionary action that questions (expressing the full force of its partiality) the totality of power and the hierarchy that maintains it.”

In this case, note how he specifies that those who claim to speak for others and subsequently do speak for others are reformers and those who are actually concerned are revolutionaries, inasmuch as they take action, of course. He (209) provides a couple of examples, one pertaining to prisons and another pertaining to kindergartens, in order to point out how, in the former case, prison protests, by the inmates themselves, can thwart reforms, and how, in the latter case, it leads nowhere, because, I’d say, no one actually listen to children, well, except other children, which is why things often are the way they are. In his (210) words, [c]hildren are submitted to an infantilization which is alien to them.” Anyway, to get back to the topic, he (209) rephrases his take on reform and revolution, in reference to his interlocutor, Foucault:

“[Y]ou were the first … to teach us something absolutely fundamental: the indignity of speaking for others. … [O]nly those directly concerned can speak in a practical way on their own behalf.”

Does this mean that the intellectuals, including the academics, have no function then? Well, I wouldn’t say that. It’s rather that the intellectuals are just like anyone else. They don’t have a special license to speak for anyone else but themselves, just like anyone else. They can still advocate for this and that, speaking from own their position, just like anyone else, making compelling arguments etc., based on what they know and how what they know would also beneficial to others, just like anyone else, but they cannot speak for others, to claim to speak from their position, to represent them.

For example, the results of my studies indicate a bit of this and a bit of that, but it does not mean that I get to say that people must or should respond to the results in a certain way, because the results indicate what they indicate. That’d be reformist. I roll my eyes every time that someone asks me to explain the implications of my work, the applicability of it, what good does it do, how it could change the world, or so to speak. It’s just so inane. I agree with Deleuze and Foucault on this. I believe that I must leave it up to the people to do what they will with it and doing nothing is also an option, among other options, as is using a print version of my work as a paper plane or to level a wobbly table. The purpose of the intellectual is to give people tools that they can but don’t have to use, as explained by Deleuze (208), in reference to Marcel Proust:

“It is strange that it was Proust, an author thought to be a pure intellectual, who said it so clearly: treat my book as a pair of glasses directed to the outside; if they don’t suit you, find another pair; I leave it you to find your own instrument, which is necessarily an instrument for combat.”

Now, of course, we don’t need Proust to tell us that (nor Deleuze, nor me, for that matter) but, oddly enough, we do get that in someone like him, someone who is thought to be a pure intellectual, someone who is thought to have engaged in fiction, dealing with figments of his imagination, that is to say being completely alienated from everyday life. He doesn’t tell you what to think or what to do. He leaves it up to you to decide. If you get something out of reading his works, then great, but if you don’t, then, well, too bad, read something else or, more broadly speaking, engage with something else. You might be tempted to think that he is doing all the heavy lifting for you, explaining all that for you, but, the thing with reading is that it always takes effort because you are, in fact, engaging in a dialogue with what you read, even though your interlocutor is a mere figment of your imagination. In other words, it’s actually you who is doing the heavy lifting, for you, and it’s then up to you to think of it what you may.

I’d say the view espoused by Deleuze and Foucault is, nonetheless, a minority view. There’s certainly no shortage of people who speak for others, claiming to represent them and standing as their consciousness. I’d say this is particularly common among the academic activist types who, while knowledgeable and aware, think they know better than the people whose consciousness and interests they claim to represent.

Okay, to be fair, this is hardly a new issue. Much more has been on the line than a bit coffee room chatter or social media rambling. Revolutions are exemplars as they tend to involve people who claim to hold the key to a perfect society, but the results fall short of perfect by … well … they don’t get even close. If you ask me, nothing really changes, only those who run the show. If something does change, it’s like going from a bad situation to an even worse situation. Deleuze explains this well in conversation with Claire Parnet in ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’ or ‘Gilles Deleuze from A to Z’ as it is translated to English (by Charles Stivale). He struggles to keep a straight face when discussing the Left (G for Gauche). He finds it particularly amusing how people keep being surprised by how revolutions go wrong. As he points out, you have to be a bit dimwitted not to realize that there’s something else, something profound, at play that makes them go wrong, not just these or those circumstances. In summary, the Russian revolution, the French, the American revolution and the English revolution, they all went to shit, as did the Algerian revolution, to list all the revolution that he mentions. We could say the same about any of the recent revolutions. The politicians and the media heralded the Arab Spring, as did a lot of people, but, well, you know, surprise, surprise it went to shit. Fuck all changed. Did it surprise me? No. Not at all. The problem is, as Deleuze goes on to explain it, that states of affairs can always be appraised as good or bad, no doubt about it, but that assumes that people are like this and/or that under those conditions and that people want a revolution if the conditions are deemed to be bad for them. In other words, this ignores how people are, in fact, always changing, desiring, becoming-revolutionary. To be clear, to avoid confusion, he is not saying that there is set path to change, going from one state to another (and so on, and so on), desiring or becoming this and/or that, like some object. It’s irreducible to something like wanting this OR that. Deleuze explains this alongside Félix Guattari (292) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi):

“Becoming-revolutionary remains indifferent to questions of a future and a past of the revolution; it passes between the two. Every becoming is a block of coexistence.”

So, yeah, there is of course past and future of the revolution, and they can be understood as states, as how things were and how they will be, like slices of time and space, as examined here and now, even though my here and now examination is already past when you read this and will be in the future for you until you read this, but that’s not the point with becoming. When you think in terms of becoming, there’s no need to explain that. Explaining it would not be about becoming, but about attempting to explain who or what you are or, well, were, because when you assess that, you’ve already changed. Anyway, to get to the point, Deleuze thinks it’s silly to assess whether a revolution failed and to what extent it failed, because, when one thinks in terms of becoming (difference-in-itself or differentiation), a revolution is always a failure. Those who claim otherwise fail to understand that change comes from within and it never stops. No matter how much worse things get, it never prevents people from becoming-revolutionary, as he points out. It’s the same thing even if things pan out great as that won’t prevent people from becoming-revolutionary either.

Right, as I pointed out there’s no shortage of people who wish to speak for people, if not for the people. To further explore this, I’ll turn to what is known as vanguardism. To understand what that is, it’s useful to know that it comes from the word vanguard (OED, s.v. “vanguard”, n.) has its roots in avant-garde or avant-guard (OED, s.v. “avant-garde | avant-guard”, n.), French for ‘before guard’, the part of an army that operates in the front, like a spearhead, it’s opposite being rearguard (OED, s.v. “rearguard”, n.), the part of an army that protects the rest of the troops in the rear, making sure that it is possible to retreat safely. These two, vanguard (OED, s.v. “avant-garde | avant-guard”, n.) and rearguard (OED, s.v. “rearguard”, n.), can also be contrasted, so that, figuratively speaking, the former is what’s at the forefront of something, that is to say pioneering, innovative or revolutionary, and the latter is what’s staying back, that is to say conservative, reactionary or counter-revolutionary. So, in short, vanguardism (OED, s.v. “vanguard”, n.) has to do with “the quality of being in the vanguard of a political, cultural, or artistic movement” and a vangardist is “a person in the vanguard of a political, cultural, or artistic movement”. In contemporary parlance, vanguard (OED, s.v. “vanguard”, n.) is also associated with communism, being:

“[T]he elite party cadre which, according to Lenin, would be used to organize the masses as a revolutionary force and to give effect to communist planning.”

Lenin is certainly best known for this, actually using that word, but, apparently, this can also be traced by to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as Karl Kautsky, a contemporary to both. I’ve been trying to find if someone before Lenin ever used that word, or a variant of it, but so far I haven’t ran into anyone who did that before him. That said, you can argue that it’s there, in their works, at least sort of, at least if the party is understood as separate from the people, which, of course, is debatable. To my understanding, this, whether the vanguard is within or without, was hotly debated at the time and still is today. I realize that this might be a translation issue, but I find it pretty confusing to read the old texts, when, at times, ‘party’ and ‘organization’ are used as mere synonyms, a party being an organization, and other times they are to be understood as distinct from one another, a party being a broad organization involving loose affiliation so that anyone can claim to be a party member, and an organization being understood as acting within the party as a tightly knit and highly selective unit. I’m tempted to explain this as having to do with a political party, on one hand, and a house party, on the other hand, because the former involves membership whereas the other other is something that just about anyone can join, but, then again, typically you need to be invited to a house party, so, yeah, it’s a bit weird because it makes it seem like the party is the people, open to everyone, at least potentially, whereas the organization is not the people, not being open to everyone, yet acting within the party. Isn’t that just some sort of representative structure within the party, you know, like in an association where the members elect certain people to certain posts, for a certain time period, let’s say a year, according to the rules the members have come up with? Anyone can become a member, unless the rules prohibit that, of course, but you do actually have to be a member, as opposed to being just considered a member or self-designating as a member. So, the way I see this is that the party is not the people, but, in this context, there’s a temptation to define it as such because then the organization within the party can claim to stand for the people, even though it is not the people who have elected them to stand for them, because not everyone considers him- or herself to be a party member, that is to say aware of there even being a party, as the party needs to be created first by some people who then claim to represent all of the people. Isn’t that just self-appointment? If that’s not the case, then the organization within the party only represents some people, not all the people, which isn’t as useful for the organization because it can’t to claim speak for everyone, nor to act on their behalf, nor to serve their interests.

Then there’s the issue of having multiple organizations within the party, kind of like circles in a circle, whether or not one has to be a member of an such an organization to be in the party, as well as whether there is an organization that oversees these (other) organizations, that one (central) organization that organizes it all. Then there can also be organizations that operate outside the party, either unrelated to it or unsupervised by it, which further complicates this. Anyway, I don’t think these complications to the formula change much as there is still that (central) organization, that tightly knit and highly selective unit that is seen as a supervisor to it all, one way or another. This is something that I find Lenin constantly skirting in his writings, glossing over the fact that he is in charge of it all, alongside other self-appointed leaders, while making it appear as if that (central) organization was not in control of all the (other) organizations that may or may not exist within the party, depending on how it is supposed to be organized. He seems to be fine with anyone’s presence, but only inasmuch as it does not alter how the party is directed by his crew.

As a related issue, it’s also often unclear what someone means when they refer to people, in what sense it is being used. To some, it’s everyone, as in the people, whereas to others it’s some people, usually their people, which they may then also refer to as the people. It can get pretty confusing when someone who claims to be a man of the people, for everyone, even if he or she puts emphasis on the downtrodden so that everyone gets mentioned, not just those who typically get mentioned, actually advocates for only some people. What is meant by working class and the proletariat can also be somewhat fuzzy, although I think there’s less confusion with these than with people. To my understanding, the former is supposed to mean people who make their living in wages paid by someone else, as opposed to, for example, making a living out of self-employment and/or capital gains, whereas the latter is supposed to mean certain working class people, namely industrial workers. That said, I find these two used interchangeably, so it can be a bit tricky to get what is meant by the former or the latter.

If I’ve understood correctly, all peasants would be considered working class people but not proletariat, because some of those making their living off the land could also be considered the owners of the means of production, the land and what else is necessary, whereas those working in a factory are always solely dependent on wages. This is not to say that many peasants aren’t or weren’t solely dependent on wages, but rather that some either engage in subsistence farming or operate as landholders who hire others to work on the land, while possibly but not necessarily working the land themselves. I’d go as far as to say that, under certain circumstances, living off the land is a prime example of what the Social Democrats refer to as collective ownership of the means of production and products, inasmuch those who live off the land do not own the land. To use a Deleuzo-Guattarian example, nomads live off the land, but they don’t strictly speaking own the land. They are distributed on the land rather than the land being distributed to them. It’s not that they aren’t in control of their surroundings, which change all the time, inasmuch as they do, but that owning something is alien to them, nonsensical really. It just doesn’t compute.

Right, as Lenin is best known for advocating for vanguardism, I’ll try to further elaborate it through his views. But before I do that, I think I need to provide some relevant background information. It’s quite the ordeal to try to grasp what’s what, who’s who and what position they occupy, vis-à-vis others, if you are not familiar with what went on at the time. As the nomenclature can quite confusing, I’ll first cover the main factions, why they are called what they are called, and then I’ll move on to summarize what went on in the Russian Empire in the early 1900s.

So who or what were the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks? The short answer is that they were the two major factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) founded in 1898 before the party split into two rival parties who both claimed the party as their own. Because it’s rather unwieldy to discuss them by using the same name, it’s just easier to refer to them as the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. This issue issue pertaining to the party name appears to have been sorted out later on, but it’s simply more practical to keep using those names for the two parties.

The names were first used following the events of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, which took place in Brussels and London in 1903. In short, the Bolsheviks mean the ‘Majority’ and Mensheviks the ‘Minority’, but these names are not derived from how many people supported these factions at the time, which is not only confusing but also misleading, because it makes it appear as if the Bolsheviks were more popular than the Mensheviks at the time when, in fact, that’s was not the case. For example, Lenin wrote that the Bolsheviks were in the minority and the Mensheviks, alongside other factions, were in the majority in the soviets (short for Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies), in the summer of 1917, as mentioned by him (82) in ‘The Turning-Point’ (1917), as included in volume 25 of his collected works (1964 unspecified translation, edited by Stepan Apresyan and Jim Riordan). I’ll explain the inner workings of these soviets soon enough, but the point here is that by no means were the Bolsheviks a majority faction from the start.

As discussed by Lenin in ‘Account of Second Congress of R.S.D.L.P.’ (1903), ‘Why I Resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board’ (1903), as included in volume 7 of his collected works (1961 translation by Abraham Fineberg and Naomi Jochel, edited by Clemens Dutt), and ‘A Brief Outline of the Split in the R.S.D.L.P’ (1905), as included in volume 8 of his collected works (1962 translation by Bernard Isaacs and Isidor Lasker), majority and minority have to do with how the party members voted on various issues during the Congress, mainstream Iskrists (from Iskra, the party newspaper) being dubbed by him as the majority, and the opposition, the non-mainstream Iskrists (and the anti-Iskrists) being dubbed by him as the minority. In short, he called his side the majority and the other side led by Julius Martov the minority. There were, of course, other factions within the party, consisting of various anti-Iskrists, but, according to one of the party members and congress attendees, Vladimir Akimov (101-106), as mentioned in ‘The Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party’ (1904), as included in ‘Vladimir Akimov on the Dilemmas of Russian Marxism 1895–1903’ (edited by Jonathan Frankel), the Iskrists didn’t consider them welcome to take part in the congress preparations, drafting the party program, nor were they invited to attend the congress, despite calls made for the party program to express collective thought. Moreover, as also mentioned by him (105-106) the anti-Iskrists present at the congress were apparently treated with derision; “the leaders of the congress would stop at nothing in their determination to ‘throw out’, to use Lenin’s expression, all elements that displeased him.” In short, there were many factions among the Social Democrats, but the Iskrists didn’t think there was room for dissenting views within the party. Anyway, these two main factions, later parties, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, were popular in Russian urban centers, namely Saint Petersburg (also known as Petrograd), whereas the Socialist Revolutionaries, led by Viktor Chernov, were popular in the rural areas.

What about the soviets then? Well, a soviet (OED, s.v. “soviet”, n., adj.), as in, for example, the Soviet Union, short for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), simply means council. That said, it’s typically understood as pertaining to how these parties sought to organize, bottom-up, and, more generally, how what came after, the Soviet Union, was to be organized and governed. To be more specific, it (OED, s.v. “soviet”, n.) is typically understood as:

“In the U.S.S.R.: one of a number of elected councils which operated at all levels of government, having legislative and executive functions.”

And, by extension (OED, s.v. “soviet”, n.):

“In other countries: a similar council organized on socialist principles.”

It can also be understood as having to do with the people themselves:

“A citizen of the U.S.S.R. Chiefly in plural (hence loosely, = the Soviet Union or its leaders).”

In other uses, it has to do with the way things are run (OED, s.v. “soviet”, adj.):

“Of, relating to, or having, a system of government based on soviets[.]”

And, more broadly, the way things are in that system (OED, s.v. “soviet”, adj.):

“Of, relating to, under the influence of, or living in the U.S.S.R.”

Now, of course, these are not all uses for the word, but they should give you an idea of what it has to do with. To return to an earlier point, I’d say that it’s most helpful to understand soviet as a council. To my understanding, its use is not strictly speaking limited to these context and it has been used in reference to various councils, but it is, nonetheless, most closely associated with workers councils, hence my previous remark about it being about bottom-up organization, rather than some top-down entity, like a state council. These soviets were promoted as such, giving voice to the people. You don’t see it mentioned that much by the people involved because the parties are not themselves the soviets.

The best known soviet is the Petrograd Soviet, also known as the Saint Petersburg or Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies, that was set up once the Tsar was removed from the throne. In ‘The Revolution in Russia and the Tasks of the Workers of All Countries’ (1917), as included in volume 23 of his collected works (1964 translation by M. S. Levin, Joe Fineberg and an unspecified number of unspecified others, edited by Levin) Lenin (352) refers to it as “a real peoples government.”

So, how does a real people’s government work then? How is it organized? How does it operate? What are its inner workings? Well, according to Lev Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky (151-152), as explained by him in his essay ‘The Soviet and the Revolution’ (1907), as included in his book ‘Our Revolution: Essays on Working-Class and International Revoltion, 1904–1917’ (1918 translation by Moissaye Olgin), a soviet is an organization, but not just any organization as what distinguishes it from other organizations is that it’s not an organization “among the proletariat” but “an organization of the proletariat” which seeks “to become an organ of public authority.” He (152) also characterizes it as “an organized expression of the will of the proletariat as a class.” He (155) calls it “the first democratic power in modern Russian history” and “the organized power of the masses themselves over their component parts.” In contrast to the system put in place by the Tsar as a concession in 1905, he (155) argues that it “is a true, unadulterated democracy, without a two-chamber system, without a professional bureaucracy, with the right of the voters to recall their deputy any moment and to substitute another for him.” In other words, a soviet is a council that consists of elected councilors, what he (155) calls deputies. They are considered to be responsible to the people who elected them to represent them. So, what distinguishes the soviet from other forms of representative democracy is the lack of terms, as the people, the voters, can recall and replace their representatives at any given time, as opposed to waiting for the next election. That said, he (156-157) also argues that while a soviet may not officially represent more than this or that many people, for example some 200 000 workers of the earlier Saint Petersburg Soviet (1905), as opposed to the entire population, the entire 500 000 workers of earlier Saint Petersburg Soviet, it nonetheless represents the interests of the entire population, “of all these proletarian masses”, extending not only to cover the workers, but also everyone else as well, “[a]ll the oppressed, all the unfortunate, all honest elements … all those who were striving towards a better life”, those “instinctively or consciously on the side of the Soviet.” In other words, a soviet is defined as having the license to represent just about everyone. There are, of course, those who oppose a soviet, but, according to him (157), it is “actually or potentially a representative of an overwhelming majority of the population.”

In summary, what distinguishes a soviet from other forms of representative democracy is how it, at least supposedly, represents the will of the people, that is to say virtually everyone, whether they know it or not. In other words, the will of the soviet is not to be understood as the will of the majority, that everyone just has to accept regardless of whether they agree or disagree with it, but as the genuine will of everyone. If you disagree, you either aren’t conscious of the issue, what’s good for everyone, you included, or you are against the overwhelming majority of the people, thus aware of the issue but seek to serve your own interests instead of the interest of the people.

There can also be multiple tiers in the soviet system. A soviet is indeed merely a soviet, among other soviets. In the Russian context, the various local soviets came to take part in a countrywide labor congress, what became known as the ‘All-Russian Congress of Soviets’, which in turn, came to take part in multi-country labor congress, what became known as the ‘Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union’. Simply put, the soviets elected delegates who took part in the countrywide congress, which, in turn elected delegates who took part in the multi-country congress. In other words, people did not elect their representatives at all levels, only locally. The system appears to have been democratic, considering that the local level had direct elections and then those representatives elected representatives to the higher tier soviets, but I’ll return to this shortly.

This system was complimented by executive committees that operated when the congresses were not in session. Simply put, the executive committees were the ones in charge of running the show on behalf of the congresses, considering that the congresses were not in session that often. The countrywide labor congress was thus supplemented by the ‘All-Russian Central Executive Committee’ (commonly abbreviated as VTsIK) and the multi-country labor congress was supplemented by the ‘Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union’ (commonly abbreviated as TsIK). Applying to both tiers, the executive branch of the committees became known as the ‘Council of People’s Commissars’ (commonly known as Sovnarkom and abbreviated as SNK) ‘of the Russian SFSR’ and ‘of the Soviet Union’ respectively. Each commissar functioned as the president of a commissariat, such as the commissariat of foreign affairs, which operated as its own committee consisting of members appointed by the commissars. The executive committees were considered to be responsible for the congresses and the councils of people’s commissars to the executive committees, as the congresses elected the committee members which then elected commissars.

I pointed out already that this arrangement is democratic, but it was only superficially so, because, unless I’m mistaken, the ‘Councils of People’s Commissars’ ran the show, not the executive committees, nor the congresses. Now, that was clearly not intended to work that way, as evident from the 1918 Constitution, but it is what it is. If we gloss over that for a moment, assuming that such violations of rights and responsibilities never happened, there’s also a fundamental issue that undermines this soviet conception of democracy, which Lenin dubbed as real people’s democracy, as already pointed out. This has to do with how the system of representation clearly favors urban soviets over provincial soviets, so that the former can elect one representative to the countrywide congress per 25 000 eligible voters, whereas the latter can elect one representative to the countrywide congress per 125 000 inhabitants, as set in the 1918 and 1924 constitutions. On paper, that’s a 5:1 ratio, which means that if you happened to live in the countryside, well, your vote is 20% of the vote of someone living in a city! Democracy! Equality! Representation!

Oh, and this gets even better on the local levels! When it comes to a regional soviet, an urban soviet can elect one representative per 5000 eligible voters, whereas a county soviet can elect one representative per 25 000 inhabitants. Again, that’s a 5:1 ratio. The same ratio also applies to the aforementioned provincial soviets, so that also aforementioned urban soviets can elect one representative per 2 000 eligible voters, whereas the rural soviets can elect one representative per 10 000 inhabitants. County soviets consist of rural soviets, which can elect one representative per 1 000 inhabitants. Rural soviets consist of village soviets, which can elect one representative per 10 members of the soviet. There are also couple of extra definitions (I have no idea what the Soviets of Deputies are…) and it’s added that the same logic of having executive committees that operate alongside the congresses apply on all of these local levels, but that’s all beside the point I want to make. It’s quite clear that some people are more equal than others in the soviet system.

Now, you might object to my math because an eligible voter is not the same as inhabitant. Correct. This is not a topic that gets covered that much, but, as explained by E. A. Ross and Selig Perlman (318), in their 1920 article ‘Soviet Government in Russia’ that appeared in ‘The American Political Science Review’, while the ratio is not that skewed, the system still heavily favors the urban areas over the rural areas. For example, they (318) estimate that on the provincial level, 2000 urban voters, male and female, count as 5000 inhabitants, considering that not everyone gets to vote. I don’t know what’s that based on, but, okay, if each family has approximately three children, that would be about right. I reckon the fertility level was actually above that, but, then again, you have to take into account infant mortality, as well as other factors, such a shorter life span. So, that would mean one representative from the urban soviets per 5000 inhabitants, whereas the county soviets get one representative per 10 000 inhabitants. Based on that estimate, which may or may not be accurate, that’s a 2:1 ratio, not a 5:1 ratio. That said, one also needs to take into account how the urban soviets are taken into account not once but twice when electing representatives to the countrywide congress, as pointed out by Ross and Perlman (318). Note how in this system each urban soviet elects members directly to to the countrywide congress, as well as to the provincial soviet, with a favorable ratio. Using the same math, each urban soviet gets one representative per each 62 500 inhabitants in the countrywide congress, which translates to 12.5 seats in the provincial congress. Let’s assume that the provincial congress has the maximal capacity set in the 1918 constitution, meaning 200 seats. That means that an urban agglomeration like Saint Petersburg or Moscow, at one million each back in the day, give or take, would result in netting all 200 seats in the province. So, in the countrywide congress, a city size of a million would get 16 seats directly and 8 seats indirectly, assuming there isn’t some clause that guarantees the rural soviets a minimum number of seats in the provincial congress. So, if that 5:1 ratio looked bad, as did the 2:1 ratio, well, I reckon it’s even worse, considering how the urban areas can easily snag the seats in the provincial congresses. Now, I’m not familiar with what counted as an urban soviet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in set in place in such a fashion that they came to dominate the provincial level, so that the those in the countryside had no say in anything in the higher tier soviets.

If I’ve understood things correctly, the complex multi-tier soviet system was subsequently removed in favor of a sole authority: the ‘Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union’ and the ‘Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’ which operated whenever the Supreme Soviet was not in session. In other words, the multi-tier system was replaced by a much more simplistic two-tier system which was, I’d say, more honest about how things worked and had worked in the past as well, top-down, rather than bottom-up. Each constituent country, such as Russia or Ukraine, had its own ‘Supreme Soviet’ and ‘Presidium’, but they were, nonetheless, subordinate to the ‘Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union’ the ‘Presidium of the Supreme Soviet’, which, themselves were, apparently, only nominal rubber-stamp entities within the Soviet Union, as the executive entities populated by party leaders made all the decisions.

I think that’s enough about that. It’s time to explain how things got to that. Firstly, much of what Lenin and others discuss pertain to the Russian Empire, an absolute monarchy. The Tsar (Emperor), Nicholas II (Nikolai II), ran the show from 1894 to 1917. He was forced to abdicate, that is to say to give up the throne. He ended up naming his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as his successor, given his own son Alexei was too young and sickly to assume the position. His brother Michael deferred his acceptance to the will of the people. The problem with the Tsar was that, well, it’s hard to come up with anything positive to say about him. To my understanding, he was pretty much hated by everyone, even by those who supported monarchy, because not only did he act in ways that made people hate him all across the empire, but he was also particularly bad at running the country. In short, it wouldn’t be unfair to characterize him as an incompetent and out of touch with reality. He seems to have been someone who was completely out of touch with what goes on around him, which is why just about anyone else looked in comparison to him.

Secondly, the Tsar is replaced by a Provisional Government in 1917. It pledged to set up free and open elections, so that the people of Russia, including women, mind you, could decide for themselves what kind of system they want. The voters were tasked to choose a party, not specific people in the party. In other words, a party created a list of candidates and the voter chose that list or some other list. The voter couldn’t choose to vote this or that candidate or, conversely, object to some candidate on a party list. It was all or nothing. This became a hot potato following the elections because one of the parties, the Socialist Revolutionaries, split into two parties before the elections, but after the party voting lists had been set.

Thirdly, the Provisional Government was removed by the Bolsheviks before the elections, but the elections were carried out, nonetheless. The results of the elections reflected the demographics of the Russian Empire. Lenin (253-254) summarizes the results in ‘The Constituent Assembly Elections and The Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ (1919), as included in volume 30 of his collected works (1965 unspecified translation, edited by George Hanna): “Party of the Proletariat” (Bolsheviks) ≈ 25 percent of the votes, “Petty-Bourgeois democratic parties (namely Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries) ≈ 62 percent of the votes, and “Parties of landowners and bourgeoisie” (namely Constitutional Democrats) ≈ 13 percent of the votes. While his account may not, of course, be authoritative, I chose it because not only does it exemplify his views on other parties, how he designates the winners of the election, their former fellow party members, the Mensheviks, and the Social Revolutionaries, as petite bourgeoisie, merely democratic, but not really for the people, but also how he was well aware of his own defeat in the elections, no matter how he (255-256) spins the results into a Bolshevik people’s victory over the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie by basically ignoring the parts of the country were people didn’t vote for his party, which is basically the whole country except for Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Tver and Vladimir.

Fourthly, to make sense of the results, the Socialist Revolutionaries were particularly popular because they catered to the rural population, which dwarfed the urban population. In other words, catering for the rural population was a smart move by the Socialist Revolutionaries as most people lived outside the major cities. The rural areas were also important because, surprise surprise, food is typically produced outside the urban centers.

Fifthly, Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks, were in no position to dictate anything in the Constituent Assembly, despite having removed the Provisional Government. They would have had to ally themselves with the clear winners of the elections, but, in their view, collaboration with the winners would have compromised their own views. In their view, the people who voted for the Socialist Revolutionaries ended up represented by people who shouldn’t have represented them because the party list was finalized before part of the party split off from it, forming what is often referred to as the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. At the time, members of this faction held views that were compatible the views of the Bolsheviks. It’s hard to say whether the Bolshevik view on this was correct or not, whether people would have voted differently had there been separate lists for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the mainstream Socialist Revolutionaries, because it’s one of those should have, could have, would have things. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, be as it may, the Bolsheviks opted to ignore the results and set up their own system while preventing the Constituent Assembly from operating.

I’m sure I’ve managed to leave out all kinds of the details, glossing over this and that, perhaps generalizing things too much, but I’d say that’s the gist of it. I’ll now jump to address Lenin’s take on the events. I’ll include some commentary from others, because, well, it should by now be evident that Lenin tends to explain things in ways that make him look good.

So, the elections took place, the results were out and the Bolsheviks ended up in the minority, which is only ironic, considering all the fluff around being called the majority. To be fair, getting about one fourth of the seats in the Constituent Assembly is by no means a bad result. I’d say it’s actually a pretty good result for a party that wasn’t super popular in the first place. That said, it’s clear it simply wasn’t good enough for Lenin because, well, his party had already been running the show. He (254-257) came to realize how unpopular his party was among the people, a clear minority, so he opts to ignore some 75 percent of the population, the vast majority, so that his people can dictate things. He (257) does his best to legitimate this by arguing that the votes cast in cities are worth more than the votes cast outside the cities:

“The town cannot be equal to the country. The country cannot be equal to the town under the historical conditions of this epoch. The town inevitably leads the country. The country inevitably follows the town.”

Simply put, he reckons his party won the elections because, for him, it’s a given that it’s the case. He builds on a presupposition that the cities lead and the countryside follows, which makes his party the winner. Note how he isn’t saying that this must be the case, but that it is the case, nonetheless. That’s a clever move, but, then again, he isn’t saying when this wasn’t the case, nor when this will not be the case, so you might as well ignore how he claims that this applies under the historical conditions of his time. In other words, he is claiming that this is a historical a priori, rather than an a priori, but I’m not convinced. The problem this is that he presupposes that there has always been these two, what he calls the country and the town, and, I guess, always will be. This allows him to state that there is this inevitability. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t saying that it’s universally the case, that it’s always been like this and always will be, because his claim that it’s historically the case is based on what he considers to be universally the case, that there is this country/town dichotomy. He could just say that the strong get to exercise power over the weak, because that’s how it works, too bad, but he doesn’t want to say that because I reckon it would make him look despotic. He (261-263) actually does kind of hint to this direction, considering how the can’t help but to boast how half of the imperial army and navy voted for the Bolsheviks, claiming that proportional military superiority proves that the Bolsheviks won the elections. Okay, so, because you have more troops at your disposal than others, this means that 25 percent is more than 75 percent. Despotic much? On top of this, he doesn’t explain what it is about the historical conditions of his time that makes it inevitable that the town leads and the country follows.

It’s also worth pointing out the obvious, how this is connected to how the country is deemed much less important than the town in the soviet constitution(s) or, quite literally, how it is viewed as less important in the very constitution of the soviets. It doesn’t take a much to fathom why he that’s the case. He does like to remind his audience that it’s the case, that the town trumps the country, even though it’s very clear that he is arguing for this after the fact, after people didn’t vote for his party, or, well, him, really. Of course, to take his side for a moment, this totally makes sense. He is in the minority, in a very clear minority, mind you, trumped by the Socialist Revolutionaries and their allies, his former comrades, those who disagreed with him, the Mensheviks, so, yeah, it totally makes sense that he did what he did. To be brutally honest though, I reckon he fucked up, having illusions of grandeur, grossly overestimating the popularity of his party, which led him remedy his own fuckup by nullifying the election results by force, followed by rigging the soviet election system to relegate the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, while also made it appear that the party elite, he included, of course, were elected to lead the people. I mean I disapprove, but you do have to give credit to the man for all that gerrymandering. He certainly knew how to make sure that he’d be in charge, while making it seem like he didn’t elect himself to that position. I wouldn’t say that that’s unique to him, by no means, but, yeah, he sure seems to have been particularly good at that.

So, why did the Bolsheviks actually go through with the elections? In his book on Lenin, ‘On Lenin: notes towards a biography’ (1925; 1971 translation by Tamara Deutscher), Trotsky (105-113) mentions this being debated among the Bolsheviks. In summary, if the elections were to take place, as they then did, Lenin wanted to postpone the elections, apparently not only because of the voting list issue, but also because he wanted to broaden the voter base by allowing younger people to vote, to rearrange the Bolshevik voting list, to remove all kinds of opportunists and careerists from the ranks, and to disqualify the bourgeoisie from the elections. That said, according to Trotsky, Lenin didn’t actually even want to go through with the elections, calling it unwise and a mistake that could prove costly to the Bolsheviks. For Lenin, it made no sense to let people vote on something that the Provisional Government had considered a step forward, when the Bolsheviks already ran the show. In his view, the Bolshevik rule was a further step forward, meaning that letting the people vote would be just be a step backward. To be more precise, it’s not that this would lead to a step backwards for the eligible voters, that is to say everybody, regardless of how they might vote, but for his party. To take his side, for a moment again, it doesn’t make sense to risk people choosing the wrong people to lead them when the Bolsheviks already lead them. He had already won through coup d’état, so it’s kind of pointless. Anyway, others argued against him, pointing out to him that postponing the elections would make the Bolsheviks look weak and petty, not to be trusted, because they had reproached the Provincial Government for that themselves. Others also pointed out to him that they simply need others to trust them, for now, because further delays may make it evident to others that the Bolsheviks might not be as strong as they claim to be, which, I guess, might lead to strong arming them when it was doubtful whether they could thwart a popular uprising against them.

The problem with Trotsky’s account of this is that while does explain why the Bolsheviks agreed to take part in the elections, just like Lenin’s account on the elections, it’s written much after when all this took place. It’s not entirely clear from his writing whether the Bolsheviks were aware how badly the elections would go for them, considering that he (106) says: “In the meantime it became evident that we would be in a minority, even if the left Social Revolutionaries gave us their support[.]” This might be an issue with the translation, but, if we go with this English translation, I’d say that while they may have had an inkling, they didn’t expect things to go as badly as they did, considering that, according to Trotsky, Lenin hedged on that, challenging others to consider what if the bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie gain majority in the Constituent Assembly and how that would be an improvement to the situation at that moment, right after they had removed the Provisional Government.

Right, what about the soviets then? Why did the Bolsheviks opt for a coup d’état at a time when the soviets were actually in charge of things and the Provisional Government only nominally so? Well, Lenin addresses the position prior to the coup d’état in ‘On Slogans’ (1917), as included in volume 25 of his collected works (1964 unspecified translation, edited by Stepan Apresyan and Jim Riordan). He (185) points out that slogans are only apt in this or that context, depending on the corresponding states of affairs. Simply put, what was once said may have made sense back then, only to make no sense right now. He (185-186) uses the example of “the slogan calling for the transfer of all state power from the Provisional Government to the Soviets”, also known as “All Power Must Be Transferred to the Soviets”, which was “correct” between February 27 and July 4, 1917 as it was “a slogan for peaceful progress”, but is not, no longer, as judged after this time period, or, to be critical, at least that’s what he claims.

To be more elaborate, there was an expectation among the revolutionaries that the position to exercise state power would be fully transferred to the soviets, the “delegations from the mass of free – i.e., not subject to external coercion – and armed workers and soldiers”, from the Provisional Government that shared this position with them (a crippled arrangement were neither could achieve anything), as he (185-186) explains this. He (185) really emphasizes the position of the soviets as “[w]hat really mattered was that arms were in the hands of the people and there was no coercion of the people from without.” People, yes, everyone, were to be free and thus equal, hence the point out there being no expectation to comply to someone or some entity that acted above and beyond them.

To get to the point, he (186-187) stresses that this expectation of peaceful transfer of state power was not met at the time, during that time period, and therefore the slogan is no longer correct in a new situation marked by the transfer of power to the counter-revolutionaries, aka the bourgeoisie and their collaborators, the Cavaignacs (which I take to be the high ranking military officers, in reference to Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, a French general responsible for quelling a rebellion), the Cadets (aka C-D’s, short for Constitutional Democrats), the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. He (187, 189-190) adds to this that not only was this no longer correct but it was also delusional (were it to be correct), against the interest of the people because, in his view, the soviets had become compromised by those who supported the bourgeoisie and the monarchists, partly out of fear, “tainted by abetting the butchers”, the Cavaignacs and the Black Hundreds (Tsarist loyalists). In other words, in his view that slogan was no longer correct because everyone except the Bolsheviks either already were or had turned into counter-revolutionaries. Simply put, he considered the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries to be sellouts, for having cooperated with the bourgeoisie in the Provisional Government.

Note how Lenin (185-187) argues that the slogan, “All Power Must Be Transferred to the Soviets”, used to be appropriate, but no longer was at that point in time because the soviets had been compromised in the meanwhile. I’d say that the problem really was that his faction, the Bolsheviks, wasn’t getting their views through the soviets, which he (185) himself calls the delegations of the people. Simply put, when the soviets weren’t doing his bidding, he turned against them, denouncing them as betrayers, counter-revolutionaries and aides of the butchers. Later on, he (191) points out that he is not against the model of soviets, having the state run by the councils of the people, but against the soviets of that time. What he is really saying is that he is fine with people running the state, as long as the people who run the state through the soviets are Bolsheviks, that is to say as long as they subscribe to his views.

Lenin didn’t want the state to be run by the soviets, and preferred a coup d’état, because, rather inconveniently for him, the soviets were run by the wrong people, that is to say by not him and his crew. Simply put, he thought that the people were wrong and that they kept making the wrong decisions, so it was therefore up to him to run things for them, because they don’t know what’s what, because they’ve been duped to act against their own interests. He wants it all for the people, but, under the supreme authority of the Bolshevik party, the party led by him. Oh, how convenient!

It’s worth noting that this vanguardism is not something new in 1917, something that he came up with on the spot when things weren’t looking so good, when the revolution wasn’t handled the way he wanted it to be handled. In ‘What Is To Be Done?’ (1902), as included in the fifth volume of his collected works (1960 translation by Joe Fineberg and George Hanna, edited by Victor Jerome), he (370) specifies the role of the party:

“At this point, we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.”

Later on he (426) adds that:

“[N]ot only are we able, but it is our bounden duty, to guide[.]”

And (428):

“[I]f ‘we’ desire to be front-rank democrats, we must make it our concern to direct the thought of those who are dissatisfied only with conditions … to the idea that the entire political system is worthless. We must take upon ourselves the task of organising an all-round political struggle under the leadership of our Party in such a manner as to make it possible for all oppositional strata to render their fullest support to the struggle and to our Party.”

In summary, he is promoting the role of those who know better, i.e. those are more conscious about social issues, in making people more aware of those social issues. Okay, I don’t think many people would disagree with that. That’s fine by me. I don’t think that’s what distinguishes his views from the views of his opponents though. He (428-432) promotes propaganda, agitation and political organization among the people, as well as utilizing mass media to make people aware of issues, to expose the government’s role in this and/or that issue, rather than simply seeking to change things through bringing up these issues through the government. To be honest, this isn’t even all that radical. This happens all the time these days. Anyway, so, what distinguishes his (432) view, or the Bolshevik view, from the view of his opponents is the role of party as the vanguard, assuming the leadership role, so that the project won’t get compromised:

“[W]e Social-Democrats will organise these nation-wide exposures; all questions raised by the agitation will [b]e explained in a consistently Social-Democratic spirit, without any concessions to deliberate or undeliberate distortions of Marxism; the all-round political agitation will be conducted by a party which unites into one inseparable whole the assault on the government in the name of the entire people, the revolutionary training of the proletariat, and the safeguarding of its political independence, the guidance of the economic struggle of the working class, and the utilisation of all its spontaneous conflicts with its exploiters which rouse and bring into our camp increasing numbers of the proletariat.”

Okay, so, the party will be responsible for directing all of this, while making sure that no compromises are made and no distortions are permitted. What’s missing is explaining who gets to be in the party, to form the vanguard, and what criteria they must meet. He (438-448) does emphasize knowledge and training, that is to say know-how, at least partially because, well, it’s kinda hard to struggle against opponents who are better prepared than you are, not only in terms of the equipment involved but also the know-how involved in using the equipment. He (450) argues that most people are capable of revolution, but only in the capacity of a foot soldier, a grunt who fights against the system in the streets, taking part in strikes or clashes with the police and military. Conversely, according to him (449-450), most people are incapable of fighting against the “political police”, aka secret police, as dealing with it “requires special qualities” only found among “professional revolutionaries.” Now, at a glance, this appears to be a lot like military organization. An army consists of a mass of soldiers commanded by officers who are not only well versed in tactics and strategy, but also in the tactics and strategies of the enemies. If you ask me, none of this is that surprising. I mean he (458-459) does go on to give some rudimentary, yet proper pro-tips about running an illegal organization, like, you know, not leaving a goddamn paper trail! Amateurs! Everyone knows this! Oh, and, yes, I know, I know, it’s easy to say that now. Anyway, what’s still missing is how one gets to be a professional revolutionary, a member of the vanguard.

He (452) moves on to discuss how things are or, rather, ought to be organized. For him (452-454), the workers form a trade union that encompasses the whole population, being as extensive and public as possible, that is to say open to everyone, also including non-Social Democrats, whereas the revolutionaries, short for the professional revolutionaries or revolutionary Social Democrats, form a party that “must perforce not be very extensive and … as secret as possible.” Later on, he (469) adds to this that “[t]he more secret such an organisation is, the stronger and more widespread will be the confidence in [it].” Well, yes, but only inasmuch as you can trust that organization, which, obviously isn’t a given, even though he, of course, would like people to believe that it is. The problem with secrecy is that people won’t be able to judge for themselves whether someone is on their side or not, which is a bit shit for them, having take that person’s word for it. It’s a bit too convenient that the person can’t tell them, just because it might otherwise risk the cause.

Anyway, it’s interesting how he (452) explains this, the way he does, only to point out that “all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession” must be done away with in both cases. I mean, he (450) refers to the workers as the “masses”, the “average people of the masses”, “the overwhelming majority” and “the labor movement”, while referring to the revolutionaries as “politicians” who are capable of dealing with the Okhrana, the secret police. He (470) also points out that workers and intellectuals can both become professional revolutionaries as all it takes is training, only to also point out that this doesn’t mean that they become alike as the intellectuals still have a broader training, something that the working class revolutionaries won’t have, unless plenty of, supposedly, unnecessary effort is put into giving them broader and, I guess, more academic training. I don’t know about others, but I reckon he is attempting to get away with saying that people are all equal, being part of the same movement, while also saying that some of these people, of course, need to lead others because they can’t lead themselves. He (471) scoffs at people who speak of average workers because, according to him, it is insulting to the workers to think of them as, well, average, talking down to them, just as it would be if one were to talk to students about average students. This is pretty ironic, considering that he himself keeps elevating certain people above everyone else, how it is he (455) who is preaching to the masses about how priests (as well the police, the secret police, agent provocateurs and liberal politicians) seek to lead them astray. The irony is palpable! He presents himself as speaking to the workers, among the workers, like a fellow worker, at their level, man-to-man, or so to speak, despite being an intellectual, whereas others who speak to them always speak from an elevated position, regardless of their background. He (473) even makes this remark about how even the intellectuals stand at a level “so low on the plane organisation that the very idea that we could rise too high is absurd!” Here he is commenting more on what is sufficiently accessible to the masses, noting that what he and other intellectuals can provide cannot be too high brow because they are also there with the masses, in the thick of it, hardly above them.

Come on, even I probably have more credibility as a worker than he does, having worked a number of summers in factories (and yes, I know, being a worker was certainly much tougher back then than it was for me, as was life in general), and serving in the military, whereas he seems to have … well … done fuck all really. I already knew how things went next door, being fairly familiar with it, but, damn, before reading what he has written, I didn’t know or realize how much he clearly hated the common people, how distanced he was from the people he supposedly fought for. He is clever though. He certainly does his best to not appear to speak for the masses, above the masses, even though I reckon that’s exactly what he is doing.

He (458-460) does address why having a two-tier system is preferable, but, to me, this has to do with running clandestine operations. I’d say his merits are to found in that aspect, providing people information regarding sound tactics against the Tsarist autocracy. He (459) even hesitates to call it anything proper because that’s what results in the police clamping down on the workers’ activities under the autocracy. That said, I still don’t see him explaining how this would be relevant under Social Democracy. On top of that, I don’t think he really understands his opposition within the Social Democrat movement, considering that he (460) doesn’t understand, or, well, isn’t willing to understand the potential benefits of organizing non-hierarchically (as presented by someone, unnamed, possibly the editor, Yevgeny Zelensky, aka Nadezhdin, in the journal ‘Svoboda’, which, unfortunately, isn’t readily available for me to read). He (460) just ignores how beneficial it would be for the movement if there were no leaders for the state to imprison and/or execute, only more and more of people capable of doing what the other person can do. Later on, he (464) makes a concession, acknowledging that it is indeed easier to wipe out a handful of leaders, than it is a great mass of people, less being easier to deal with than more, obviously, only to point out that, it is harder to get rid of a “dozen wise men” than it is to get rid of a “hundred fools.” Okay, fair enough, it may well be easier to deal with a hundred easy targets than it is to deal with a dozen difficult targets, but he is clearly missing the point, or, rather sidestepping it. I’d say this is actually a good example of rhizomatics vs. arborescence! As quoted by him (460), his opposition actually states that:

“‘A dozen wise men can be wiped out at a snap, but when the organization embraces the masses, everything proceeds from them, and nobody, however he tries, can wreck the cause[.]’”

His opposition does indeed mention “a hundred fools” (a particularly poor choice of words, if you ask me), in a preceding sentence, which he gladly uses against his opposition (because it’s just too easy to make it work against the argument), but his opposition does not actually argue that “a hundred fools” is harder to get rid of because a hundred is simply more than twelve. What his opposition is saying is that if you have no distinct leaders, only an amorphous mass, it doesn’t make any difference if you wipe out this or that many people as there’s always more of them. It’s like trying to get rid of fungus that grows in a soil. It makes no difference whether you wipe out the parts growing above the ground. There will be more of where that came from. You could, of course, try to replace the soil, sure, but how far, wide and deep will you have to go? Where will it end? He (463) actually acknowledges this, noting that “[t]he fact is, of course, that our movement cannot be unearthed, for the very reason that it has countless thousands of roots deep down among the masses”, but, for him, this is, for some reason, beside the point, considering that he finishes his sentence by adding that “but that is not the point at issue.” It isn’t? Come on, come on! That’s exactly the point at issue. You just have to sidestep it because otherwise you can’t have it your way!

I’d say he is simply unwilling to see the upside of that view because he (449-450) views the masses as incapable of acting without the leadership that he advocates for, which is, of course, he and his crew. That said, he (461) does have a point about how, in actuality, people tend leave it up to a handful of people to do the thinking for them, which is, I guess, why he’d be inclined to point that out. Then again, I’d say that he (461-462) is also simply unwilling to take up this idea, to work on it, as if just because things are the way they are, in a certain context, mind you, they’ll be like that in future, unless he gets his way, unless people subscribe to his views, of course. He (461-462) has this odd example where you have a demagogue, what he also calls a wiseacre, who appeals to the mass, the “hundred fools”, exalting them over the established leadership, the “dozen wise men”, in order to spur the people to act like reckless revolutionaries and distrust the established leadership. He is, again, sidestepping the argument made by his opposition and presenting it as one form of leadership vs. another form of leadership, as the leadership of the fools vs. the leadership of the wise. If you present it like that, then yeah, sure, you’d go with the wise instead of the fools, but that’s not what his opposition is saying.

I think it’s worth emphasizing that he (460-462) isn’t just explaining the pros and cons of mass vs. vanguard. He is also arguing for the vanguard approach by claiming that the mass is simply incapable of coming up with anything worthwhile. He (462, 465) makes these little concessions, noting that students (education, at least some) and workers (little or no education) are alike, one no better than the other, and that everyone gets to have a say, regardless of whether they are part of the mass or professional revolutionaries, to make it seem like everyone is equal or equally worthy in the cause, only to point out that the working-class movement needs a little spark (Iskra?!), as opposed to just waiting for the movement to, well, move on its own, you know, like a movement does or at least is supposed to anyway. This is where the professional revolutionary steps in, to push on, to provide knowledge to the masses, as he (462) points out. He (462-463) reprimands his opposition for presenting the professional revolutionaries as operating from the outside, calling “‘pushing on from outside’” a “hideous phrase”, because it makes the masses suspicious of all outsiders, not only demagogues. He (462-463) appears to struggle with the arguments made by his opposition, because, as already discussed, he wants to comes across as a man of the people, at their level, not above or beyond them, only to state something like that the general distrust of his opposition to all outsiders prevents the professional revolutionaries from bringing the people “political knowledge and revolutionary experience from the outside”. I think he is well aware how his opposition has cornered him by pointing out to him that you can’t be inside and outside, within and without, at the same level and above it, at the same time, how you can’t be one of the guys, part of the gang, or the like, if you keep thinking that you are better than everyone else and that what you do, the way you do, is in everyone’s best interest, but, of course, he can’t actually concede to his opposition because it would undermine his own interests, his sweet gig as a leader.

He (463) is super adamant about this, in fact so adamant that he expresses the need to repeat this point about demagogy and he does this, once again, by first making concessions to his opposition. He (463, 466) goes on the defense, noting that his opposition might consider his methods of debating “uncomradery” and “undemocratic”, that is to say in bad faith (which it is, if you ask me), only to spin this in his favor by acknowledging that his opposition is, in fact, acting in good faith, pure in its intentions, but, also naïve. In other words, it is this naïveté, this unenlightenedness, that makes them demagogues, not their calling or revolutionary desire. In his (463) words, “the unenlightened worker is unable to recognise his enemies in men who represent themselves, and sometimes sincerely so, as his friends” and this particularly problematic because “nothing is easier than to employ demagogic methods to mislead the masses, who can realise their error only later by bitter experience.” It’s interesting how he isn’t seeing how he, as a so called outsider, could also be a mere demagogue, someone who is trying to mislead the masses. He just doesn’t get it that when the development, that enlightenment he refers to, comes from within the mass, rather than from outside it, there will be no demagogues, no outsiders who seek to lead the movement astray, and no leaders to eliminate in order to halt the movement. Okay, I reckon he gets this, but, well, as I already pointed out, the problem with that is that a leaderless movement doesn’t need leaders, that is to say him.

If you look at more contemporary protesting, for example in the US, the strength of those movements is that they don’t have leaders that can be plucked out from the ranks. Okay, some might rise from the ranks, on the spot, only to be removed after gaining some notoriety, but that’s beside the point because they are not irreplaceable, nor do they consider themselves to be irreplaceable. It wasn’t that long ago that the police stated something along the lines of there being gangs that aren’t organized like gangs, in the sense that they don’t have leaders or a hierarchy, which, of course, makes it tough for the police to deal with them, but that’s exactly the point! That’s exactly what Lenin’s opposition is pointing out to him!

Lenin (464) provides a five point summary of his views. Firstly, he reckons that a revolutionary movement always needs “a stable organisation of leaders” in order to maintain continuity. Note how it’s not, no longer, just about having leaders but about having stable leadership, that is to say more or less fixed leaders. Later on, he (469, 476) refers to the leaders as the Party and views this arrangement as “absolutely necessary”. He is, of course, taking it for granted that he and his crew make up the stable leadership and that there is no alternative to this arrangement. Secondly, the bigger the mass, the more urgent need there is for stable leadership. Demagogues are everywhere so leaders are needed to keep make sure people aren’t led astray. He is, of course, also taking it for granted that the leaders themselves aren’t demagogues. Pretty convenient, eh? Thirdly, the leaders should mainly be professional revolutionaries. Note how he isn’t saying that only professional revolutionaries can become leaders, which keeps things open, but then again, the way I see it, he leaves this sort of open just so that people can’t say that only certain people can be leaders. It has sort of an illusory quality to it, making it appear that everyone can become a leader, even though that’s not really the case. It’s not actually impossible for others to become leaders, but it’s virtually impossible. Fourthly, if the state is autocratic or, more contemporarily, the more autocratic the state is, the more there is need to keep things hush-hush, which means that the number of leaders should likewise be limited, thus only including professional revolutionaries, proper pros who can avoid detection by the secret police so that the movement can endure. This does makes sense strategically, as he (477) goes on to specify, I’ll grant him that, but, then again, this ignores the potential of not having a clear hierarchy. Fifthly, the more people are involved in the movement, the more people can become leaders.

The problem with Lenin’s (464) formulation is that he presupposes that there needs to be leaders. It’s easy to undermine him by simply pinpointing how his views are based on that presupposition. That’s exactly what his opposition does. I think he is well aware of this, as already discussed, but he (463) opts to ignore it, to sidestep it as beside the point, even though it’s exactly the point of contention, because it is his Achilles heel.

To explain this issue in Foucauldian terms, the way André Berten and Foucault discuss (413) this in the abstract in ‘What Our Present Is’, as included in, for example, ‘Foucault Live: Collected Interview, 1961–1984’ (a 1989 compilation edited by Sylvère Lotringer and translated by Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston), Lenin (464) thinks that it’s obvious, self-evident, that there is a fixed basis of political power. He (464) asserts that a movement cannot gain traction, that it cannot gain the position to exercise power over others in a society unless it is guided by “a stable organisation of leaders”. He does not, however, have recourse to any a priori basis or foundation of power because there is no such basis or foundation, only local strategies that are used to create a basis and make it appear as legitimate, as expressed by Foucault (413) in response to Berten. Simply put, while Lenin (476) would certainly like people to believe that the arrangement he proposes is “absolutely necessary”, it isn’t. It isn’t any more necessary than any other arrangement, including the arrangement proposed by his opposition. They are all claimants, pretenders, alternatives among alternatives, options among options.

In order to legitimate his views and his position, Lenin (474) appeals to theory, that is to say Marxism. The way he (474) sees it, the mass may well be discontent with the existing states of affairs, but it won’t be revolutionary, leading to change, without being consciously linked to class struggle in capitalist societies. So, for him (474-475), “[o]nly a gross failure to understand Marxism”, including any erroneous or misguided understanding of it, intentional or not, “could prompt the opinion that the rise of a mass, spontaneous working-class movement relieves us of the duty of creating” an exemplary revolutionary organization, when, in fact, the opposite is the case:

“On the contrary, this movement imposes the duty upon us; for the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine ‘class struggle’ until this struggle is led by a strong organisation of revolutionaries.”

In other words, he sees it as his duty to lead the mass of workers as otherwise the mass will not realize their own interest. It’s also a double duty as he must not only guide the mass, but also protect them from losing their way, getting sidetracked and lured by demagogues. As I pointed out already, this, of course, builds on the assumption that he is correct, that only he knows what’s what, that he serves the interest of the people and not his own, which the people cannot know for sure because their leaders assert that they must operate in secrecy. Once more, he (476-476) feels the need to emphasize this, noting that everything else must be made subsidiary to this necessity of secrecy:

“Secrecy is such a necessary condition for this kind of organisation that all the other conditions (numbers and selection of members, functions, etc.) must be made to conform to it. It would be extremely naïve indeed, therefore, to fear the charge that we Social-Democrats desire to create a conspiratorial organisation.”

Haha, fear not my fellow worker! Yeah, there sure was nothing to be afraid of, certainly not a leadership that would act in its own interests instead of the interests of the people who they claim to serve. Nothing to see here, certainly not demagogues!

He (477) repeats his earlier statements on how his opposition mistakes his views as undemocratic, by noting that what he promotes is not “anti-democratic”. He (477-478) acknowledges that democratic organizations are always open and public, so that anyone can join in and have a say by getting elected, not just a select few self appointed individuals. Therefore an organization that fails these criteria is not democratic, as he (477) goes on to add. That said, he (477) opts to sidestep this issue by moving on to indicate the absurdity of pointing out the obvious, that one cannot uphold the democratic principle in an organization that is secret by necessity. Similarly, he (478) adds that he is all for open elections and a fully public political arena, but, again, this can’t be done because of the necessity of secrecy. In short, once again, he is having it both ways, saying that he is all for democracy, like who wouldn’t be, while granting himself an exception to this. It’s all ends justify the means for him, as actually acknowledged by him (479). Knowing how things turned out in the following decades, this bit by him (480) is just too juicy not to mention:

“It would be a great mistake to believe that the impossibility of establishing real ‘democratic’ control renders the members of the revolutionary organisation beyond control altogether.”

Haha! Hahahahahaha! Oh, for sure! It gets even better, even juicier, as he (480) adds to this that:

“They have not the time to think about toy forms of democratism (democratism within a close and compact body of comrades in which complete, mutual confidence prevails), but they have a lively sense of their responsibility, knowing as they do from experience that an organisation of real revolutionaries will stop at nothing to rid itself of an unworthy member.”

To my knowledge that’s exactly how it worked in the following decades, considering how getting rid of ‘unworthy’ members seemed to be like a constant thing within the Party. He (480) adds detail to this:

“[T]here is a fairly well-developed public opinion in Russian (and international) revolutionary circles which has a long history behind it, and which sternly and ruthlessly punishes every departure from the duties of comradeship[.]”

Stern, ruthless, check and check. So, in summary, he (481) argues that there are no anti-democratic tendencies within the leadership, because the leaders keep one another in check instead of looking out for one another. I’m sure no one has ever said such and done the exact opposite, which is what his opponents were concerned with, what he (481) considers to be “the musty odour of the playing at generals”. Again, he acknowledges the issue, but makes an exception for it.

He (481) also questions the very definition of democracy in order to rally support for his views. To him (481), democracy is not properly realized in the so called direct democracy, when each person gets to have a say by casting a vote on whatever is at stake and take part in whatever it is that concerns him or her, because it’s simply less efficient that representative democracy, which, in turn employs full-time officials, professionals who work for the people in representative institutions. He (481) is clearly very much against the direct approach, calling it absurd in its primitiveness. To be clear, what he considers apt for the purpose, representative democracy, is not exactly what one might think it is, considering how he (481-482, 488) is not only troubled by organizations in which decisions are based on majority vote, so that every member gets to have a say, because that’s direct democracy, but also by any organization that itself is “built on an elective basis”. So, according to him, contrary to popular belief, democracy is not a system in which everyone gets to have a say. Now, to be fair, this is actually kind of how it is in representative democracy, considering that one’s say in each matter is at best mediated, there being no guarantee that the representatives actually represent the people following the election. I’ll grant him that. That said, his take on representative democracy also rejects people being elected to represent people. He (482) isn’t very specific about this, but, the way I understand this, he thinks that those who represent people should not be chosen by popular vote. That’s not only a quite peculiar take on representative democracy, but also on democracy in general. I mean it’s literally the exact opposite of democracy, considering that his formulation is supposed to be for the people, but not by the people, not even by proxy.

Now, if you define democracy and conspiracy as something else as what people generally think they are, then, of course, you must agree with him (482) that the objections made against him, calling his approach undemocratic and conspiratorial, are certain “totally unsound”. He is most certainly a man of the people, inasmuch you take his word for it, that he knows what’s best for the people. Speaking of people, the Bolsheviks sure knew when to appeal to the people, in general, on the whole, as the whole population of the Russian Empire, and when to be particular about it. For example, Fyodor Ilyin, best known as Raskolnikov (‘The Tale of a Lost Day’, IV), remarks in ‘Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin’ (1918; 1982 translation by Brian Pearce) how, related to the voting list issue, fellow Bolshevik Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov addressed the party split of the Socialist Revolutionaries in front of the Constituent Assembly in its opening session, with approval from Lenin:

“‘How can you,’ he wondered, ‘appeal to such a concept as the will of the whole people? For a Marxist, ‘the people’ is an inconceivable notion: the people does not act as a single unit. The people as a unit is a mere fiction, and this fiction is needed by the ruling classes. It is all over between us’, he summed up. ‘You belong to one world, with the cadets and the bourgeoisie, and we to the other, with the peasants and the workers.’”

Contrast this with how Yakov Sverdlov (The Tale of a Lost Day’, I) uses the word ‘people’, as reported by Raskolnikov:

“‘The Central Executive Committee expresses the hope that the Constituent Assembly, in so far as it correctly expresses the interests of the people, will associate itself with the declaration which I am now to have the honour to read to you,’ said Comrade Sverdlov. Calmly and solemnly, without haste, he then read the declaration, ending his address with these words: ‘By authority of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, I declare the Constituent Assembly open.’”

Note how, Sverdlov mentions the will of the people and how the Constituent Assembly ought to express it correctly. So, when Sverdlov speaks of the will of the people, he speaks for all the eligible voters in Russia, not only for some eligible voters in Russia, albeit at the same time hoping that the Bolsheviks get their way, despite the elections results. Now, unsurprisingly, this did not happen. Things started going down hill for them immediately as a former Menshevik, now a Social Revolutionary, Viktor Chernov was chosen as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, which prompted the Bolsheviks to reject Constituent Assembly as a legitimate governing body. So yeah, again, Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks were certainly men of the people, inasmuch you subscribe to their definition of people. Remember, the vanguard is always correct, as Lenin (324) points out in his “Speech on the Agrarian Question, November 14 (27)’ (1917), as included in volume 26 of his collected works (1964 translation by Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna, edited by Hanna):

“A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely reflect the average political level of the masses.”

For him, it doesn’t matter what the numbers and percentages are, whether one fourth or the whole population is fully on board with him and his party, because, regardless of the elections results, “the [R]epublic of Soviets is a higher form of democracy than the usual bourgeois republic with a Constituent Assembly”, as he (379) pointed out prior to the first session of the Constituent Assembly, as indicated in his ‘Theses on the Constituent Assembly’ (1917), as included in volume 26 of his collected works (same translators, same editor). As you can see, he was a man with a backup plan. He knew what to do if he didn’t get his way through the Constituent Assembly. Sure, there is the problem of the party split of the Social Revolutionary Party that wasn’t reflected in the elections, casting doubt on the election results, as he (379-380) correctly points out, but, then again, to reiterate an earlier point, I think he is only bringing this up because the Bolsheviks weren’t as popular in the elections as he thought they were. By his own admission, he isn’t even really that willing to build on that as an argument as he (380) considers the poor timing of the election to be a more important factor. Simply put, he (380-381) reckons that people have changed their mind since the election day as things continue to change in Russia, with the Bolsheviks gaining more and more ground around the country each day, which, in his view, is not reflected in the election results. To express this in slogans, he (381-382) states that:

“The course of events and the development of the class struggle in the revolution have resulted in the slogan ‘All Power to the Constituent Assembly!’ – which disregards the gains of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, which disregards Soviet power, which disregards the decisions of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, of the Second All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies, etc. – becoming in fact the slogan of the Cadets and Kaledinites and their helpers.”

In short, he is saying that the Constitutional Assembly is a mere ruse. Now, of course, this is an after-the-fact statement that he has formulated following the elections. He (382) is well aware how it is only likely that he cannot have his way through the Constitutional Assembly, which is why he was willing to reject its authority when things didn’t go his way:

“The entire people are now fully aware that the Constituent Assembly, if it parted ways with Soviet power, would inevitably be doomed to political extinction.”

It’s worth noting here that this is because geography matters. The Bolsheviks were popular in the areas of the country were these things took place, namely Petrograd, and had plenty of troops and weapons to enforce their views. It’s not really a matter of debate, who thinks what and how much support they have from others, if one of the factions can overrule any decisions by force. Anyway, it’s clear that the Bolsheviks were only willing to take part in the Constitutional Assembly if others were willing to let them, the representatives of the one fourth of the population, to do all talking and make all the decisions for them. Everyone else was to be there to listen and approve. Simply put, following the elections, what he (383) needed was a re-election, because, in his view, people had voted incorrectly, against their own interests or, as he puts it, against the will of the people, which, is actually the will of the vanguard, i.e. his will.

Kautsky criticizes Lenin exactly for this in his book ‘The Dictatorship of the Proleteriat’ (1919 translation by Henry Stenning) leaning in on the already discussed issue of what counts as democracy: who gets to have a say, whether they get to speak for the people and who are the people. He (2) states that the Bolsheviks have declared that it is the duty of the people to follow the Party. There is to be no questions asked, as he (2-3) goes on to add. In short, as expressed by him (3), that’s hardly what one would call democracy, because “[o]ne man’s speech is notoriously no man’s speech.”

He (4) lessons Lenin on this issue, arguing that socialism is typically understood as a central goal of socialists, “the socialisation of the means of production and of production”, which, in turn, helps in achieving their ultimate goal, “the abolition of every kind of exploitation and oppression, be it directed against a class, a party, a sex, or a race”, whereas democracy has to do with the means, how to achieve these goals. He (4) comments on the latter, adding that understood as means to the end, democracy can, of course, also be “unsuitable, or even a hindrance”, depending on the circumstances. Aye, the problem with people is that, well, they may disagree with you. Firstly, as he (4-5) points out, it’s your job to get them to agree with you and the best way to do that is to align with the people, supporting them, taking part in the struggle, and not the other way around. Secondly, as he (4-5) goes on to add, once the mass agrees with you, once they are on board, reaching the ultimate goal is only inevitable. That said, in his (5) view, socialism and democracy are both means to the same end, ways of reaching the same ultimate goal, the one already mentioned. In addition, he (5) argues that “[s]ocialism as a means to the emancipation of the proletariat, without democracy, is unthinkable.”

He (5-6) provides a number of examples (which I’m sure you can check out yourself) in order to prove a point, how you can a society, a system, that has social production, people being charge of the production themselves, only to serve some other ends, such as a despot, a trade company or a religious mission. In other words, people may well be in control of their everyday life, and even prosper economically, as he (6) points out, but it doesn’t guarantee a good life for the people, the abolition exploitation and oppression in all its forms, if people don’t to run things themselves. He (7) also reverses this, adding that it also possible to have a democratic society, where people run things themselves, but so that the people don’t own the means of production themselves, there being private ownership. This also prevents the abolition of exploitation in all its forms. In summary, the point he (5-7) makes is that neither socialism nor democracy necessarily lead to the other, but both are needed.

He (7-8) acknowledges that it is certainly difficult, but by no means impossible to achieve both socialism and democracy, to reach Social Democracy. The problem with achieving socialism through democracy is particularly tricky because, firstly, it’s only likely that many people have too much to lose, which means that they’ll do everything they can to prevent the Social Democrats from gaining the needed majority in elections, and, secondly, if that fails, they’ll seek to revert back to how things were by force. So, it would appear that socialism and democracy cannot be achieved through democracy and, in his (8) view, it sort of is, but not because democracy is in itself flawed, but because it isn’t well suited for the purpose. Why? Well, it doesn’t matter what some election result is if someone can nullify it with recourse to violence. That’s what armies are for, for making sure that some people don’t push the reset button when things don’t work out for them. People aren’t fond of that being mentioned, but it is what it is. That said, as he (8) points out, if that does happen, if it results in violence, it proves that it happens precisely because those in the position to do so fear the consequences of democracy, or, should I say, democracy in itself.

Now, to be practical, because I think you have to be, it doesn’t do you much good to get to prove a point, if it only results in a military intervention. In this regard, I think it’s fair to say that a failure is failure. That said, proving a point does tend to swing things in your favor, at least in the long run. The more you claim to uphold democracy while having soldiers bayonet your own people, the more the soldiers will start to question the whole thing, because, to keep the mass in check, you need a lot of soldiers who, guess what, tend to be people who aren’t any better off than those who they are ordered to keep in check. This is exactly why he (8-9) emphasizes the importance of defending democracy, whatever it takes.

He (12-13) summarizes all this as the “Will to Socialism” (which immediately made me think of Schopenhaur and Nietzsche, there being this Will, but I don’t know if there’s anything to that), which can only become manifest in people under certain industrial conditions where people end up being relegated to wage labor, as opposed to conditions where the masses engage in small production, that is to say working for themselves, because that involves the “Will to uphold”, to have private property. The Will to Socialism only emerges and becomes more widespread if people can no longer compete with one another, that is to say when large scale industrial production takes over the market, as he (13) points out. Conversely, if people work independently, as small producers, there isn’t much to organize them socially, as he (13-14) goes on to point out. It’s also not enough for there to be some people who have this Will to Socialism because for it to become a thing in a society, there must be more people who want Socialism than people who don’t want Socialism, as stated by him (14). It’s quite simple, really.

To be absolutely clear, he (16-17) really emphasizes the role of the mass. Sure you have people among the bourgeoisie who have sympathy for the downtrodden, but not even a vocal minority can do much for the majority because it’s up to the people themselves to realize that the way things are isn’t in their interest, as he (17) explains this. This may seem to involve an impossible task, but, as he (17) points out, there have been movements who’ve shown “strength and courage to fight against poverty”, albeit the problem with those, such as Auguste Blancqui and Wilhelm Weitling, has been that they’ve granted themselves the status of a savior, a messiah. In short, there are no easy answers, no shortcuts that can be taken. Speaking and doing things for others just won’t work in the long run.

When it comes to handling criticism, from his fellow Social Democrats, that is to say from within, or so to speak, Lenin (493-495) simply won’t any of it, as evident from his writings in ‘What Is To Be Done?’. His earlier article, ‘Where to Begin’ was not well received by everyone. To be more specific, many didn’t really comment it, at all, which is fine by him (494), but he (494-495) turns very defensive about it when being criticized, picked to pieces, and questioned “merely on the grounds that [its authors] dare to ‘legislate’ and come out as the ‘supreme regulators’” and argues that it’s just demagoguery and “primitiveness of political views.” He (495) can’t or won’t see the merit of his opponents, when, for example, someone finds it problematic “to establish an ‘inspectorship over the Party’.” In a way, it would make sense to have some check on the Party, that is to say the vanguard, but, then again, wouldn’t that simple make that suggested entity the actual vanguard? This is exactly the problem with hierarchy, how positions that make it possible to exercise power over others tend to end up in the hands of the few, one way or another. It’s the same with the criticism over secrecy, which he (495) defends on the grounds of secrecy, end of discussion. He (494-495) wants nothing to do with such petty “‘democracy’” and “‘democratism’”.

When it comes to handling criticism, from his fellow Social Democrats, that is to say from within, or so to speak, Lenin (493-495) simply won’t any of it, as evident from his writings in ‘What Is To Be Done?’ (1902). His earlier article, ‘Where to Begin’ (1901) was not well received by everyone. To be more specific, many didn’t really comment it, at all, which is fine by him (494), but he (494-495) turns very defensive about it when being criticized, picked to pieces, and questioned “merely on the grounds that [its authors] dare to ‘legislate’ and come out as the ‘supreme regulators’” and argues that it’s just demagoguery and “primitiveness of political views.” He (495) can’t or won’t see the merit of his opponents, when, for example, someone finds it problematic “to establish an ‘inspectorship over the Party’.” In a way, it would make sense to have some check on the Party, that is to say the vanguard, but, then again, wouldn’t that simple make that suggested entity the actual vanguard? This is exactly the problem with hierarchy, how positions that make it possible to exercise power over others tend to end up in the hands of the few, one way or another. It’s the same with the criticism over secrecy, which he (495) defends on the grounds of secrecy, end of discussion. He (494-495) wants nothing to do with such petty “‘democracy’” and “‘democratism’”.

What did others think of his views? Well, to return to Kautsky for a moment, he (19) thinks that the class struggle can’t be won and the ultimate goal achieved by using secret methods: “[m]asses cannot be organized secretly, and, above all, a secret organisation cannot be a democratic one” as “[i]t always leads to dictatorship of a single man, or of a small knot of leaders.” He (19-20) acknowledges how tempting it is to operate in the shadows, but as necessary as it may appear, it won’t promote “self-government and independence of the masses” but rather the leaders who end up considering themselves saviors of the people and reinforcing “their dictatorial habits.” He (20-21) lists a number of people, including the already mentioned Weitling, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen, in order to make a point about how there’s a general tendency among those concerned with Socialism to promote strong leaders over people. I’m actually not that surprised by this observation, considering that the 1800s was, more or less, still marked by sovereignty rather than democracy, involving what Foucault in ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prision’ (1977 translation by Alan Sheridan) calls sovereign power, the obedience to central authority, as opposed to disciplinary power, regulatory power effectuated diffusely through various institutions.

Kautsky also explicitly addresses Lenin and Bolsheviks in his book, dedicating chapter VI to this. I don’t think it’s worth including his (59-60) summary of the situation, despite being well informed, clear and concise, because all the relevant background information has all been covered by now. No surprises here. Anyway, he (59) states that:

“[T]he Bolsheviks [have] always believed in the omnipotence of will and force, and now, without considering the backwardness of Russia, are trying to shape the Revolution on Socialist lines.”

In other words, as evident from the 1917 Constituent Assembly election results, the Bolsheviks ignored the importance of the countryside, which, unlike “the rest of Europe, [was] still a revolutionary factor”, as he (59) points out. To add insult to the injury, he (60-61) credits the Provisional Government removed by the Bolsheviks for having “accomplished far more political and social reform than any other middle-class government in the same period”. That says a lot, considering how those changes were made in a few months or so, including coming up with the candidate lists in a country larger than the Soviet Union in its heyday, at a time period when they barely had some telephone lines. Was that enough? Apparently not, which is why he (61) also hedges on whether he thinks it was enough at the time, considering how belligerent the Bolsheviks were at the time.

He (62-63) also reckons that the Bolsheviks were overly ambitious, having too many great expectations based on a flawed premise. Simply put, they thought they were more popular than they were, that people would follow their lead, not only in Russia, but also across Europe. In his view (62-63) this kind of makes sense, but only inasmuch that presupposition holds; “[t]his was all very logically thought out, and quite well founded, provided the supposition was granted, that the Russian Revolution must inevitably chain the European Revolution.” Now, obviously this did not hold, not because it couldn’t hold, but because it just didn’t. The conditions in Russia and in Western Europe were just so different that it just didn’t hold, as he (63) points out. This is, of course, his view. I’m more inclined to emphasize how this presupposition didn’t have much to it even when confined just to Russia. I mean, about one fourth of the votes for a popular movement is by no means a poor outcome, but it’s not exactly a majority, nor a clear or substantial majority. Anyway, he (64-65) reckons that the situation being what it was, made it very hard for the Bolsheviks to do any better, largely because they inherited a defeat in a major war, having to settle for it, while running a campaign for well-being in a country known for the exact opposite. That doesn’t mean they are off the hook, just because things were so off the hook at the time, but I reckon it does help to understand some of the desperation, why they chose to ignore the election outcome, as he (65) points out.

Trotsky, accuses Lenin of substitutionalism in ‘Our Political Tasks’ (1904; 1979 unspecified translation), arguing that the party, that is to say the vanguard, ends up thinking for others, rather than educating the people who would then think for themselves. In summary, the underlying problem is that one substitutes the people with a few people, who will, in turn, be substituted by even fewer people and so on, and so on, until there’s only a dictator who thinks for everyone. In the Russian context, this would mean that one ends up back in square one. If you look at how things panned out, that’s exactly what happened following the revolution.

Similarly to Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg criticizes Lenin’s approach in ‘Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy’ (1904; 2004 ‘Rosa Luxemburg Reader’, edited by Peter Hudis and Kevin Anderson, translation by Richard Taylor). She (248) acknowledges the uniqueness of the situation, how the Russian Social Democrats need to come up with an effective strategy under the Tsarist autocracy. That said, she (248) believes that it is up to the mass of people to make the revolution happen and that it will happen eventually, regardless of the autocracy. She (248-249) sees the difficulty in having to leap from autocracy to social democracy, there being no clear or direct domination by the bourgeoisie like there has been elsewhere. In other words, people don’t feel antagonized by the bourgeoisie, but by the Tsar, which, I guess, may make them even sympathetic to the bourgeoisie, considering that the Tsar’s actions also concern and antagonize the bourgeoisie. There is just Tsar and then everyone else. That’s how absolutism works. In short, it’s hard to unify the mass, to make them conscious of the issue, when the bourgeoisie isn’t there to antagonize them, give them that vital spark, as she (249) points out.

She (249-250) realizes how difficult it is to do what the Russian Social Democrats have set out to do, making people conscious of the political situation. That said, she (250) considers Lenin’s approach to be rigid and ultracentralist, marked by “uncompromising centralism” which builds on the separation of the mass and the professional revolutionaries and strict top-down disciplinary leadership. She (250) explains what this arrangement means in practice:

“[T]he Central Committee has, for instance, the right to organize all the local committees of the party and thus also to determine the membership of every individual Russian local organization … , to provide them with a ready-made local statute, to dissolve and reconstitute them by fiat and hence also to exert indirect influence on the composition of the highest party organ, the congress. Thus the Central Committee emerges as the real active nucleus of the party; all the remaining organizations are merely its executive instruments.”

In other words, while a local level does exist, or at least existed for a while, as already established in this essay, there is no genuine bottom-up organization because the Party, the vanguard, gets to interfere in their affairs as they see fit. It’s all top-down because if the leadership doesn’t like how things are run locally, they get to make changes for them, including appointing whoever they feel is suited to the task into various positions within the local organizations. Lenin addresses these comments in ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Reply by N. Lenin to Rosa Luxemburg’ (1904), as included the seventh volume of his collective works (1961 translation by Abraham Fineberg and Naomi Jochel, edited by Clemens Dutt), but it’s hard say how convincing his arguments are, considering that he adheres to his own views, being a Bolshevik, whereas he considers her to be his opponent, one of the Mensheviks. There’s a clear schism and the more he says in his response, the more it deteriorates into factionalism, considering that, by the end of the text, he (482) considers her views to perversions of Marxism.

She (250-251) doesn’t question the need for centralization because the mass needs to be unified in their struggle. What she (251-252) does question is the way this is to be achieved according to Lenin. She argues that the mass does not become class conscious out of the blue, but as part of the struggle, so they need participate in it, not waiting for the right moment when they are called to action by the vanguard who quickly fill in the blanks for the mass who then execute their orders to perfection. This ties in with her earlier comment about the need for actual antagonism between the classes in the society. Therefore she (252) argues that:

“From this it follows that social democratic centralization cannot be based either on blind obedience or on the mechanical submission of the party’s militants to their central authority and, further, that an impenetrable wall can never erected between the nucleus of the class conscious proletariat that is already organized into tightly knit party cadres and those in the surrounding stratum who have already been caught up in the class struggle and are in the process of developing class consciousness.”

She (252-253) characterizes Lenin’s approach as, on one hand, Jacobin (in reference to the French revolutionary movement), the emphasis being on centralization of all affairs, to the point of micromanagement, and, on the other hand, Blanquist (in reference to Louis Auguste Blancqui), the emphasis being on secrecy. In his response to her, Lenin (474-475) disagrees with her take. Be as it may, Jacobin, Blanquist or neither, I think he sidesteps her (253) main points about his views:

“It be none other than the authoritative expression of the will of the conscious and militant vanguard of the workers, vis-à-vis the separate groups and individuals among them; it is, as it were, a ‘self-centralism’ of the leading stratum of the proletariat, the rule of its majority within the confines of its own party organization.”

Exactly, it’s not the people who are class conscious, that is to say aware of the situation, how things are and what’s at stake, but rather the self-appointed vanguard who claim to speak for the people. Lenin likes to claim otherwise, but, judging by election results following the coup d’état, he clearly overestimated the consciousness of the people.

I think this is enough about vanguardism, at least in reference to Lenin and Bolshevism. It has certainly been interesting reading, even though I can’t say agree with on almost anything. In my view, he is a guy who jumps through all kinds of hoops in order to legitimate his own position as a leader, as a central authority figure within the leadership group, as a man who should be entitled to lead the mass. It’s all very top-down, rather than bottom-up. I can sort of understand why he’d go that route, firstly because that’s what most people are or were used to, he himself included, and secondly because what he opposes, the Imperial Russian government, was known to be very heavy handed, forcing the revolutionary movement to run clandestine operations. Then again, it’s one thing to promote this centralized approach prior to a revolution and another thing to keep going with it following the revolution, which he most certainly did. In his texts, he certainly does his best to not come across as bigoted, by making these little concessions, here and there, but I don’t think he was a man of the people. I don’t think he liked workers, at all. Some may disagree with that, fair enough, but, be as it may, he most certainly hated the peasants, not because he had to, but because they were such an inconvenient mass to him, not knowing who to vote, thus fucking up his project.

He most certainly had a way with words. When you read his texts, he can be very compelling, to the point that he sort of captivates your imagination, I’ll give him that, but, then again, that’s exactly what troubles me when I read his works. You sort of forget that, well, he doesn’t really give a fuck about the people. He doesn’t want to say it, to put it bluntly, without making those little concessions, but I reckon he thought people were idiots, incapable of coming up with anything on their own, which is why he and his comrades are needed. He doesn’t stop in his writings, not even for one moment, to doubt his own position as a leader, which he clearly takes for granted, as simply necessary. I think he did realize the ingenuity of what his opponents proposed, but he couldn’t have any of it because he would have been relegated to being replaceable in that arrangement, just like everyone else. He could have just acknowledged that his work is done once the autocracy was toppled, giving people the option to elect their leaders, the leaders they themselves desire, but, of course, knowing better, he couldn’t handle it that people didn’t choose him and his people, as evident from his remarks about the soviets being compromised, how they included people who he did not agree with.