clear bright future
(2019) by Paul Mason
excerpt before getting book – Reading Arendt Is Not Enough
Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) tweeted at 5:03 AM – 2 May 2019 :
Reading Arendt is not enough – an excerpt from my book #ClearBrightFuture via @nybooks https://t.co/ftMRHZIZzK(http://twitter.com/paulmasonnews/status/1123905920457682945?s=17)
In 1951, Arendt wrote that the ideal subject of a totalitarian state is not the convinced Nazi or communist but “people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (that is, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (that is, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
What had made people susceptible to fake news in the 1930s, Arendt argued, was loneliness: “the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”
That’s the kind of loneliness you experience today in small-town America, or in the left-behind industrial towns of Britain, or the backwaters of Poland and Hungary—all heartlands of the new authoritarian racism. It’s also, paradoxically, the kind of loneliness you can experience in a networked society:
Later, in her report on the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Arendt coined the famous phrase that could be applied to many of today’s authoritarian kleptocrats: “the banality of evil.” Thousands of Nazi functionaries like Eichmann had participated in mass killing, only to return home each evening to humdrum domestic life. What made them capable of this, Arendt argued, was the loss of their ability to think: “
This, in turn, was rooted in the modern bureaucratic lifestyle. Totalitarian states make people into cogs in an administrative machine, Arendt argued, “dehumanizing them.” Worse, she said, this might even be a feature of all modern bureaucracies.
too much ness
as we copied and pasted insights from Arendt into our Facebook pages, and held up her words on placards at anti-Trump rallies, a series of disturbing questions arose.
Third: Hitler was destroyed by Stalin. The entire postwar world in which Arendt, Orwell, Koestler, and Levi wrote their critiques of the totalitarian mind-set was created by the victory of one totalitarian state over another.
The paradox of today’s cult of Arendt is that, among all the anti-authoritarians of that era, her thought is the least equipped to help us answer those questions..t
Practically, Arendt solved the problem of fascism versus Stalinism by escaping to America, an achievement nobody could begrudge. Theoretically, however, she solved it by claiming that American constitutional democracy was a form of industrial society uniquely immune to totalitarianism.
deeper: maté basic needs
Arendt was a theorist of “What’s gone wrong and how should humans live?”—but not “What’s happening, and why?”
The assumption that Arendt was the first person to identify the common features of the totalitarian projects of Nazism and Stalinism is nonsense.
The Austrian socialist Lucien Laurat proposed in 1931 that the USSR was neither capitalist nor socialist, but “bureau-technocratic”: a new ruling caste had seized control and imposed a new form of class society.Laurat explicitly connected this to the emergence of managerial bureaucracy in Western countries, creating “another form of exploitation of man by man” to replace capitalism.
It was in the aftermath of the Moscow trials that an oddball left-winger named Bruno Rizzi published a book entitled The Bureaucratisation of the World. In it, he argued that the Soviet bureaucracy was simply a Russian expression of a new form of class society that was replacing capitalism all over the world: “bureaucratic collectivism,” he called it.
When Hitler and Stalin signed their peace pact in August 1939, ..Rizzi’s bureaucratic collectivism thesis took off powerfully inside the Western left. ..“a new form of exploitative society.” This “managerial revolution” was destined to triumph everywhere, leaving historical progress with no option but to operate through the actions of totalitarian dictators.
In George Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is Burnham’s ideas that are parodied in The Book, the secret manual of the underground movement trying to overthrow Big Brother. Orwell rejected Burnham’s claim that the world was about to become three unmovable totalitarian dictatorships, but explored—by way of a warning—how it might come about: by suppressing all knowledge of the past; by turning language into political jargon so that people can’t think rebellious thoughts; and by repressing sexual desire.
Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, does find out about the past. .
He maintains a critical private language in his diary..t
this is key/huge to resistance/humanism/et-al
These ideas—circulating from Rizzi to Burnham to Orwell—had been current for more than ten years when Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism. What distinguished Arendt, then and later, was her refusal to explain why totalitarian ideologies triumph. “There is an abyss,” she wrote, “between men of brilliant and facile conceptions and men of brutal deeds and active bestiality, which no intellectual explanation is able to bridge.
Arendt failed to understand the class dynamics of the societies that produced both fascism and Stalinism.
the number one weapon for the US right is that self-same “eighteenth-century philosophy” that Arendt assumed had given Americans immunity from totalitarian rule: their individualism, which has been turned against them during thirty years of free-market rule, and their belief that economic choice constitutes freedom.
Collapse everything and start again is the modern right-wing fantasy.
if Trump has triggered a crisis of progressive thought, it is in particular a crisis for the cult of Hannah Arendt. The United States of America was her last and enduring hope: the only political institution on earth that was supposed to be immune to totalitarianism, nationalism, and imperialism.
Arendt’s humanism was based on “what ought to be,” not on what is. Human beings, she wrote, should resist totalitarianism by trying to live an active life of political engagement, and by carving out freedom to think philosophically.
But no matter how many progressive causes she espoused, hers was a worldview tainted by admiration for the reactionary German tradition in philosophy begun by Friedrich Nietzsche.Nietzsche taught the German bourgeoisie of the late nineteenth century that its fantasies of empire and volk were more valid than the working-class project of collaboration, equality, and a human-centered society. Morality is a sham, he said, and the most honest thing to do is to pursue your own self-interest by any means necessary.There is no purpose to human existence, such as the “good life” imagined by Aristotle, and so no set of morals or ethics can be derived from it.
Nietzsche would become the cult figure of neoliberalism. Once human beings are reduced to two-dimensional, selfish, and competitive individuals—in a world where “there is no such thing as society,” as Margaret Thatcher once put it—the only logical response is to cast yourself as one of Nietzsche’s supermen: the alpha male, the ruthless manager, the financial shark, the pick-up artist.
Arendt certainly drew different moral conclusions from those of Nietzsche, but she could never see him or the philosophical tradition he gave birth to as the progenitor of Nazism. Indeed, she went out of her way to absolve him of responsibility for Hitlerism. To her dying day, she remained in awe of Nietzsche’s leading pro-Nazi follower, and her one-time lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger.
For us, understanding the philosophical through-line from Nietzsche via Hitler to the American neocons of the Iraq era and the alt-right of today is critical. Nietzsche is the all-purpose philosopher of reactionary politics. He says to the middle-class mind, dissatisfied with managerial conformity, that there is a higher form of rebellion than the one proposed by socialists, feminists, and other progressives: an individualist rebellion against morality, in favor of oneself.
He tells the elite that elites are necessary, and he is brutally honest that this demands a form of social apartheid in which most people perform “forced labor.” He decries state intervention, just as the modern right does, and advocates “as little state power as possible.” He is appalled, of course, at the possibility of working people using taxation to redistribute wealth. Nietszche, instead, idolizes the “criminal type”: all the gangster lacks to be a superhero, he says, is “the jungle, a certain freer and more dangerous form of nature,” in which he can demonstrate that “all great men were criminals and that crime belongs to greatness.”
Nietzsche greeted the rise of European imperialism with the words: “A daring master race is being formed upon the broad basis of an extremely intelligent herd of the masses.” What that master race needed was freedom from social norms and religious morals, so that they could become “the kind of exuberant monsters that might quit a horrible scene of murder, arson, rape and torture with the high humor and equanimity appropriate to a student prank.”
Any reading of what Nietzsche actually said, in the context of the rise of the German labor movement and the birth of German imperial ambition, should leave any humanist, democrat, or supporter of human rights reeling in disgust. But he did not repel Arendt.
The Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote that there is something logical in the repeated rediscovery of Nietzsche and his superman theory. Whenever the capitalist order comes under stress and the rule of the elite is challenged, the ordinary morality that rich people profess is called into question. Repression, deviousness, lies, and even murder become the order of the day. At these critical moments, the ordinary, boring bureaucrats discover that their norms and morals were just a jumble of old rules without any logical underpinning. Because of this, wrote MacIntyre, “it is possible to predict with confidence that in the apparently quite unlikely contexts of bureaucratically managed modern societies there will periodically emerge social movements informed by just that kind of prophetic irrationalism of which Nietzsche’s thought is the ancestor.”
That is exactly what we are living through now, and Arendt’s thought cannot explain it—because she refused to understand fascism as the elite’s response to the possibility of working-class power, or to understand the essential role of irrationalism in all such reactionary movements, and because hers was a philosophy based on American exceptionalist assumptions of immunity to totalitarian impulses.This is sadly disproved.
Arendt’s optimism about postwar America stemmed from her belief that people can learn to take self-liberating actions, learn to distinguish good from bad, and the ugly from the beautiful. But if you share her optimism—and I do—then you are now up against a very dangerous opposing force.
In this context, the rediscovery of Hannah Arendt and the humanism of the 1950s is not enough.
We need a humanism that can resist the re-establishment of biological hierarchies and root instead the universality of human rights on *more solid foundations than the ones currently under attack..t
This project will need to survive contact with the new challenge of thinking machines and the new ideology of machine control known as post-humanism.
tech as it could be..
livestream of book launch talk
Really interesting discussion of @paulmasonnews’ new book tonight – a humanist (almost liberal) take on the economics and politics we find ourselves in, with a culture war is here to stay edge https://t.co/LerZm2UfUg
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/TorstenBell/status/1125846801188368385
orwell: not about having a crystal ball but about knowing what kind of world you live in
as i’ve tried to report the world.. people don’t know what kind of world they’re living in.. partly because illusion that it will change.. partly because so rapid
my anatomy of the crisis: we are living thru a 3 fold crisis: econ model that doesn’t work for most people; evaporation of consent for democracy/law/rights in most stable democracies in the world; rising problem of algorithmic control.. t
tech power, democracy and crisis of orientation makes me wonder.. is there a deeper thing going on.. in book i call it.. crisis of neoliberal self.. ie: market into everyday life.. the disenchantment of politics by market.. t
can keep an econ on life support for a long time.. but can’t keep keep ideology (i think he said that.. was about human mind/logic) on life support.. why did we become so defenseless against machine control
i think the 30 yrs of evisceration of agency.. to now.. where there’s no market logic.. there’s another logic of nation/race/creed/gender.. i think this neolib self we created.. it’s been like an elementary drug to helplessness..t
while we are talking about rights.. realities are being created.. against which we are defenseless.. t
these mechs of social control will travel.. on what basis do you demand the right to control the machine..
the basis of the whole thing was the attack on the possibility of truth.. (if do that have to believe in agency of human – paraphrase)
what i’ve observed is that we almost don’t need some moral philosophy.. ie: plenty of self driving cars.. we need to teach ourself to become intelligent clients for moral philosophical ideas..t
rather..focus on listening to 7b voices/curiosities everyday..& let morality emerge – aka: it’s already in us
via ie: tech as it could be..
going to have to have something better in minds than a series of market calculuses.. advocacy for a new form of virtue ethics..t
what kinds of ethics are we going to need: what is a good society..t
my real fear – when we create these machines.. if we don’t give them a philosophy of humans.. they will impute one.. likely.. man superman theory.. and they will be the superman
i’ve learned to move the problem away from econ.. if you want to discover humanity.. has to be proposed on a diff level.. t
the moment where all the people are persuadable if passing..
interviewer: you’re now the big universalist
however the left were.. think the anti globalization movement.. marxism was always universalism and humanist
we might one day free ourselves.. has always been there in my thinking.. the real problem is .. for me.. neolib can’t move on by itself.. w an econ void.. and if you keep separating the two.. can never imagine idea..
what’s changed is the threat.. we could lose the enlightenment.. ie: unis..
what we need.. and what we can do now.. is better than uni ness
i don’t think people realize how under threat the truth sources are..t
ultimate truth source for humanity: curiosity.. not unis
interviewer: your focus is more.. what is the big problem
the question you’re asking i would reframe like this:
the customer wants to be human but finds it easier to get his coffee if he goes along w it.. market only measures performivity.. so never had to check a box that said i believe in it all..t
everyone of them (?) produces a manifesto that copies and pastes from prior
the bat fight is going on.. some say way i do that is defend ie: minorities..
the alliance of the elite and the mob.. what they want..both of them.. is access to history.. (arendt)
what she is saying is they can’t survive in a history where there’s progress.. they have to rewind it so there’s no progress
from pew reports – one of key indicators that you vote for trump is you believe getting a degree is a waste in time
that it’s a waste of time to have knowledge
huge diff there.. degree is not knowledge.. so in a bigger bind that what you are voicing..
radical defense of human being is going to be critical.. and overcoming mass feeling of fatalism..
interviewer: what should we do
i want to say.. work it out for yourselves.. you have the answers.. if understand problem correctly..t
the main enemy is no longer goldman sachs.. of goldman would fight fascism.. i’d fight alongside
ep thompson .. two marxisms: 1\ liberation 2\ machine control – history as machine
because of mixture one no many yeses.. no real replacement for capitalism.. along w ‘utopia leads to holocaust’ left has no utopia.. i feel we’re really feel the absence of any goal.. because right has all the utopias
we have to move from reflexes..t
let’s move to ie: daily curiosity
7b of them.. everyday
we have the means to listen to and facil that
ie: tech as it could be..
cultural marxism is .. giving people rights.. (paraphrase correct?)
workers for me was a self taught ethics
yeah.. but more pure would be ie: curiosity (over decision making ness)
the elite doesn’t need fascism.. arendt said german world needed it.. we don’t have strong labor movement so don’t need it in same way.. in a way.. fascism is a romantic revolutionary.. get rid of it all .. great man thrives.. what stops them is defeating them.. that’s why i think ie: protests are right.. but that’s not going to defeat them
on ability to draw on something w roots – a belief system.. so it’s possible.. your gen is going to have to come to some kind of rational.. for if you can’t persuade them.. what could you do.. it’s about the rule of law.. ie: can’t drive 90 mph w/o getting a ticket.. but people can abuse people.. ie: tommy robinson
i’m very optimist about our ability to discourage fascists.. but not about deep rooted ideology from ie: movies/media.. we have created a mythology that is hyper sexualized/genderized
we are in a cultural war.. start telling stories that mean stuff.. stop telling stories that never end
questioner: i think your hope for the world is rediscovering an angry jesus
pinker ideology .. that everything is alright.. but what i don’t buy is that there is an irreversible ness to progress
so you buy the .. everything is alright ness..?
where my optimism comes from.. tech alone never solves things.. it creates situations.. that it’s up to humans to put right.. i believe we can.. why i’m so fixated on controlling ai.. is i believe it can be used for a great alteration..t
indeed.. ai humanity needs: augmenting interconnectedness
what’s the most dangerous – letting go of agency
i believe humans can set selves free.. tech combined with (?)
neolib said – can be good/bad.. as long as follow market..t
what would the angry jesus do.. what table would he/she turn over.. whose feet would he wash.. my answer would be.. the one thing.. ie: roman empire was.. burn incense to your gods.. worship in own home.. and the marxists said.. no..
if performative market relationships (were key).. key to going forward is to stop performing/obeying.. get real beliefs out.. what shall i do..t
notes/quotes from book (still waiting on library purchase):