Some Thoughts on Gorgias

In Plato’s Gorgias we’ve received one of those Socratic dialogues that feels more like a conversation with friends than a treatise. This is a dialogue where Socrates distinguishes his philosophical method from the Sophist’s oratory, yet Socrates himself winds up giving longer speeches and his interlocutors frequently call him out for his own inconsistencies and perceived conversational offenses. After one such episode Socrates will reply that such frank remarks are like the stones on which gold is tested for its purity, he wishing his souls to be made of gold and requiring a sharp friend to smash his rock on Socrates’ gold. In another humorous episode (humorous to me anyways) Socrates tires out his bold and inquisitive friend Callicles to the point where Socrates himself will play both roles in the dialectic and reply to himself with the typical responses “yes I do think that is necessarily so” and “of course it is Socrates.” Socrates even suggests one time that they end the discussion since there seems to be no one left willing to carry on until the dialogue’s namesake in Gorgias speaks up. Socrates continues, pleading Callicles to listen and also interrupt him if he is ever off the mark. This is one dialogue that is not one-sided, it’s flow shifting with multiple contestants from Gorgias to Polus to Callicles. The order here is maintained by Socrates who must constantly reaffirm that his quest is not to win an argument but to find the truth, to search after what is good and just in a spirit of collaborative conversation rather than victory or defeat.

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Origins of the Term ‘Nihilism’

In searching for the origins of the term ‘nihilism’ we are brought back to a moment in history marking a great turning point in Europe. Great Britain had just won what has since been called “the first world war” (The Seven Years War) and its market-based colonial empire could now extend itself across the oceans of the earth “freely.” New ideas about human nature and nature itself had sprouted in France and would charge a gigantic revolution, which had vast consequences everywhere. A faith in reason brought with it a promise of reform and an understanding that scientific inquiry into the natural world would reveal natures laws and even the secret to human happiness. With the expanded development of humanity’s capacity to reason, universal truths would soon be discovered, religious principles would receive firm foundational support, a just ordering of the world could be maintained, and people would generally get smarter. But The Age of Enlightenment would see challenges within its own discourse that would bring it to a crisis in the late eighteenth century. Reason and the authority it claimed would eventually come into conflict with the authority of the church or traditional faith in general. Very few could accept resting on atheistic conclusions in Germany as David Hume’s skeptical atheism could in Great Britain, yet Hume’s arguments gained wide attention. Reason, criticism, faith, nature: where did the authority lie? What would become of society when the human powers of reason were fully actualized?

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A Manifesto for Planet Politics

Planet Politics
One of the most promising of manifestos I’ve seen in the past few years. From this brief summary I can see that a new approach to the emergency of climate change is sought that includes the planet and the biosphere together with international relations and high-powered state politics. Refreshing to see a manifesto calling for more international cooperation and an embrace of the interconnectedness of economics, ecology, and state-politics that seems necessary to me as well, instead of the more insurrectionist-minded manifestos I’ve come across. It’s behind pay-for-view subscription though.

Update: the manifesto is now accessible in this blog post: [Manifesto for a Planet Politics]

Installing (Social) Order

I am proud to be able to share an excerpt from a collective contribution to Millennium’s journal born from the annual conference “Failure and Denial in Global Politics” in London last October. In this article, Anthony Burke, Audra Mitchell, Simon Dalby, Daniel Levine and I argue that IR has reached the limits of its intelligibility with coming climate changes. We call for an expanded dialogue both within and beyond our disciplinary boundaries using the polemic and rhetoric of the manifesto to stimulate debate and response.

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Photo credit: Stefanie Fishel, 2016

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A Manifesto from the End of IR

Anthony Burke, Stefanie Fishel, Audra Mitchell, Simon Dalby, Daniel J. Levine

This manifesto is not about politics as usual. We seek political imagination that can rise from the ashes of our canonical texts. It is about meditating on our failures and finding the will needed for our continued survival. Global ecological collapse brings…

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Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, “Vita Activa and the Modern Age”

Peter Gratton shares his lecture on the last chapter of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, in which she explains how the modern era has altered the thinking of humanity as earth-bound. The resulting world-alienation and earth-alienation is exemplified in the subjectivist philosophy of Descartes and the mathematical concept of the universe, with its place-less thought of the point from which all can be observed (the Archimedean Point). These ideas have far-reaching implications for how we think in the modern era and for perceiving the barriers to significant political change.

PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

[I have been posting my recent lectures on Arendt’s political philosophy. A previous lecture on Part I and II of The Human Condition can be found here and here is another on the crucial chapter “Action.”]

“Vita Activa and the Modern Age”

16 March 2016

This last section of The Human Condition is the most wide ranging and often quixotic of the book. By this point, we have seen the triumph of animal laborans and the corollary rise of the social, which has upset the previous boundaries between labor, work, and action, which made politics in the West possible in the first place. The chapter is best framed between the twin phenomena of “world alienation” and “earth alienation.” Inasmuch as the world is the spacing of plurality among and between humans in the plural, world alienation is another word for the “homelessness” marked out in Origins of Totalitarianism, a homelessness…

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The Anthropocene and the End of Postmodernism

Read Edmund Berger on the meaning of the Postmodern turn in philosophy, resulting from the rise of systems theory and cybernetic sciences. This cursory history hits some of the most important factors that shaped the composition of forces across the earth including the climate forces of the earth itself. The creation and implementation of new machines in the second half of the 20th century have networked human societies in such a way that our imagination of a political future must reckon with. Any sustainable image of the future in the age of climate change and the anthroposcene, and therefore philosophical-conceptual framework from which to elaborate it, will involve an intertwining of human social forms and earth forces.

When researching politics at the earth scale, we must pay attention to the history of imperialism and the variety of techniques used to subjugate peoples. At the highest levels, the international policies and agreements forged by the U.S.A. and detailed by Michael Hudson in SuperImperialism go along way in giving us present day neoliberalism. Geopolitics, which includes monetary forces and debt enforcement as well as raw material extraction, alliance make-up, and topography, has largely been shaped by U.S. foreign policy since WWII. We must think of a post-neoliberal social system together with a geopolitics post-U.S. hegemony.

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In his 1979 book The Postmodern Condition, Jean Francois Lyotard famously described the coming age of postmodernism as a the dissolution of grand narratives, that is, overarching schemes or horizons of thought that move the unifies social forces. “…it is possible,” he wrote, “that these narratives are already no longer the principal driving force behind interest in acquiring knowledge.”[1] From then on, postmodernism became a buzzword, bound up in a nebulous array of definition, counter-definition, debate, celebration, and disgust. It found its application rapidly in the worlds of art, literature, and architecture: postmodern allowed the creator to step outside the conditions of progress and time itself, blending effortlessly the old and the new, the high-brow and the low-brow, the abstract with the concrete.

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The Postmodern Condition is name-checked endlessly, yet something that seems to be repeatedly glossed over is that fact that the argument put forward by…

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[Re]Build: A Call for Contributors and Participants

A networking opportunity lies here.

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Shock and austerity. Stock market instability. Stagnant wages and the decline of purchasing power. War. Climate change. Despite these multiplying crises, capitalism retains an essential tool that allows itself to perpetuate itself on a global level despite its internal contradictions: the ability to leverage technological developments to liquidate the political power of those who would oppose it. At such a crossroads, when labor as an organized force is being dissolved into flexible precarity, how does one attempt to tip the scales and reverse our accelerating fragility? The answer lies in a shift of focus, from a politics of power to a politics that looks critically at infrastructure, a politics of re-purpose, (re-)design, appropriation and the reclamation of space, and of new forms of economic expression.

What the future will be, or whatever name we want to label the path to it, there is one realization that is facing us: it…

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Judith Butler: Public assembly and plural action

A Judith Butler talk on the right of public assembly and the idea of popular sovereignty. Beyond the statist forms of representation, the performance of appearing in public (with thanks to Hannah Arendt) as the enactment of a people seeking to constitute themselves – the always sought after “we”. The difficulties in a politics of appearing in public come from the mediating technologies of representing such an assembled body; the prison, which blocks much of the population from appearing; police/state violence; and privatization, which subjects public spaces to market forces.

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