Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa" by Jason K. Stearns

(PublicAffairs, 2011)

The "Great War of Africa" has raged at varying levels of intensity in Zaire / the Democratic Republic of Congo since the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 spilled over into the Great Lakes Refugee Crisis. Despite massive loss of life, the fall of one of the century's most colourful dictators and a continent-wide scramble for the resources of one of the world's richest regions, Westerners/Northerners remain surprisingly under-informed regarding the conflict. The Congo war serves as an African analogue to the Great Imperialist Wars of Europe in the 20th Century, but most people barely bother to untie the admittedly daunting knots that comprise it. At best, they pay attention to the snatches of horrific, almost surreal violence that tend to get picked up whenever Western media trains its eyes on the region. The fact that we're too lazy to understand the conflict, but piqued by its horror stories, is a test case in racism and the out and out failure of our analytical capacities. In the Western/Northern imaginary, the Congo war is continuous with the fantasy of the "Dark Continent"; hence the phenomenon of human interest stories about systematic rape and torture with almost zero attempt to put such violence in geopolitical context and examine our own political and economic complicity.

The virtue of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason K. Stearns is to shatter this myth of innate African savagery while giving the at times numbing complexity of the conflict its due. His angle is simpe but brilliant: reconstruct the conflict historically while applying to its micropolitics Hannah Arendt's thesis on the "banality of evil". Through painstaking collection of first-person reports and reconstruction, some of the conflict's greatest monsters are shown to be petty careerists; ordinary people are seen to have commited gross human rights violations through a kind of poltical inertia. The picture of the war which emerges dispels the idea that it was an inevitable product of the African soul. Rather, it becomes via Stearns a product of the human soul in particularly central-African conditions. Stearns humanizes an inhumane conflict, thereby making it harder to brush off and absolve ourselves of moral responsibility. There is something universal about the Congo war, and this should be sufficiently troubling to give it the attention it deserves.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Corrupt Left and Austerity: Thus Spake Michael Hudson

(By Joshua)

I recently discovered economist Michael Hudson. I've been exposed to him in the past, but I never really paid attention to him. Currently he is hitting banks and government austerity measures with a vengeance. Browsing through many of his lectures one in particular caught my attention. I was riveted by his attack on the so-called Left. He lashes out at European Socialists for being the true implementers of recent reinvigorated pillage-capitalism. (In my opinion it is reminiscent of Social-Democrats' betrayal of international solidarity, in favor of nationalist-war during World War I.) This video I'm posting is from the Modern Monetary Theory summit in Italy last month. I'm also adding a short interview with him on RT about the summit. As I fished around the web I also found some great transcripts from other parts of his presentation. The one I have here I think is especially herculean.  
Whenever you have a misunderstanding of reality year after year, decade after decade, and now for a century, when a false picture of the economy is painted you can be sure that there is a special interest benefiting.  A false picture of reality does not happen by nature; it is subsidised.  And the banking sector has subsidised a junk economics that is taught in the universities, broadcast from your newspapers, mouthed by the politicians, whose election they sponsor, to try to make you believe, that you’re living on Mars in a different kind of a world—instead of the actual country that you’re living in—and to pretend that there is no financial class that is trying to grab what belongs to the public at large.  This is what ends up with a difference between central bank creation by the government with the government aims of economic growth and full employment, as compared with commercial bank credit that aims at economic shrinkage, at austerity, at lower wages, at lower output, so that it can do to you what the commercial banks are doing to Greece, to say give us your ports and your land and your tourist areas and your water and sewer systems, so we can charge you for water and sewer.  And we can take the money that you had expected to get in pensions and we can scale it down, so that we can pay ourselves...This is what it took an army in times past.  And today it’s done without an army, as long as you will be passive and believe the science-fiction of the world that banks are painting.  Thank you.

MMT Summit Italy 2012 (9/12) - Michael Hudson - Corrupt Left

Michael Hudson, MMT: World's First Major Conference, Rimini

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day 2: German Idealism: How Soon is Now?

Today is Day Two of the German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies conference here at the University of Ottawa. For more information, the full schedule is here, a synopsis of my plenary address is here, and a short post about Day One is here.

The remaining portion of today's schedule, concluding with a keynote address by Iain Macdonald (Université de Montréal), entitled "How Soon is Now? Hegel’s Futures", is copied below:

Location: Arts Building (70 Laurier Av. Est.) Room 509 (5th Floor)

Afternoon Session/Après-midi
14:00-15:00    Matthias Peter Lorenz (Université de Montréal—on exchange from
                       Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität of Munich)—Hegelian Marxism and
                       Negative Dialectics: A Comparison of Lukács' and Adorno's Dialectical
                       Approaches in Relation to their Hegelian Heritage

15:00-16:00    Claire Pagès (ATER, Université Nancy 2—Archives Poincaré)—
                       Le principe d’historicité : de Hegel à Herder

16:00-16:30    Coffee Break/Pause café

16:30-18:00    Keynote Speaker: Iain Macdonald (Université de Montréal)—
                       How Soon is Now? Hegel’s Futures

And, finally, The Smiths:

While I doubt Hegel is "the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar," he might give a new twist to being "the son and heir of nothing in particular."

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 1: German Idealism: Into the Void

I will be giving a plenary address on tonight on Schelling's absolute idealism and the recently translated Philosophy and Religion. The talk is entitled "Into the Void: Schelling on Religion and Absolute Idealism." Here is the conference schedule, here is a brief synopsis of the talk, and below is Black Sabbath's "Into the Void":

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On Schelling's "Philosophy and Religion"

At the end of this week, the graduate students in philosophy at the University of Ottawa will be hosting a conference on German Idealism: Legacies and Controversies. I will be giving a plenary address on Friday night on Schelling's absolute idealism and the recently translated Philosophy and Religion. What follows is a short synopsis of my talk.

If we are going to talk about the legacy of the work of F.W.J. Schelling, especially if we are going to talk about his work prior to the Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, we must confront two difficulties: first, we need to demonstrate the falsity of the caricature of Schelling as a protean thinker; and second, we need to bring some clarity to the relative obscurity of his thought during the period of absolute idealism or identity-philosophy. Both of these difficulties can be overcome if we can identify the threads in Schelling's thought that repeatedly emerge through his transition from his early attempts to mediate between Fichte and Spinoza, through his absolute idealism, to his philosophy of freedom or revelation.

I have discussed Schelling's persistent interest in the philosophy of art elsewhere. In my talk tomorrow, I will look at how he thinks, and rethinks, the problem of the transition from the infinite to the finite from the Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism (1795-1796), the Presentation of My System of Philosophy (1801), to Philosophy and Religion (1804)

I will argue that once he rejects the subjective idealism of his work through 1800, Schelling finds it necessary to reconceptualize the ‘transition from the infinite to the finite’ that had been crux of his distinction between criticism and dogmatism. In the Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism, Schelling (like Jacobi before him) argues that philosophy cannot speculate on the transition from the infinite to the finite; however, unlike Jacobi, he argues that critical idealism’s emphasis on practical reason provides an account of how the infinite can be intuited in the finite as a categorical imperative, which for Schelling is the realization of freedom (I: 314-316). This, he argues in 1795-1796, avoids the so-called dogmatism of Spinoza, but in 1801, how can Schelling avoid reconsidering the relation of the infinite and finite when he announces a system of absolute idealism (or identity-philosophy) that takes Spinoza as its explicit forerunner “in terms of content or material and in form” (IV: 113)?

I will argue that in Philosophy of Religion Schelling develops several important aspects of the solution to this contradiction that anticipate those in Of Human Freedom. In Philosophy and Religion, Schelling argues that the only a “leap” can accomplish the transition from the infinite to the finite. This leap is conceptualized as a series of falls: “there is no continuous transition from the absolute to the actual; the origin (Ursprung) of the phenomenal world is conceivable only as a complete falling-away from absoluteness by means of a leap (Sprung)” (VI: 38). First, nature—the phenomenal world—falls away from the absolute and the ideas, and second, the fall of man occurs so that human freedom emerges, which opens the possibility of finitude's reconciliation with the Absolute (VI: 43). The concept of the fall, especially as the fall of humanity, plays an important role in Of Human Freedom. We will see that, far from being a protean thinker who repeatedly takes up questions only to quickly abandon them, or who develops them without a logical aspect, that Schelling rigorously pursues the consequences of thinking the relationship between freedom, ground, and system.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Coming Soon: The Paperback

You've read this blog, clicked the links, and read the reviews. You've seen the previews online. And you've looked at the price tag, and figured that you'll need to spend that $120 dollars on something other than the hardcover edition of Freedom and Nature in Schelling's Philosophy of Art. Maybe we're friends and you haven't invited me over to visit--for almost two years--because you're afraid I'll be checking your shelves for my debut effort.* Well, if I've described you, Continuum Bloomsbury has announced a publication date and price for the paperback edition HERE: July 26th, 2012, with a list price of $29.95.**

* And maybe I would, but I wouldn't judge you.
**For the Americas, Bloomsbury says September 27th, but won't wait; it also lists July 26th.