• Books: Bury the Chains by Adam Hochschild, Endless War: Hidden Functions of the "war on terror" by David Keen, Capital Vol. 1, Tin Drum by Günter Grass, What is Islam? by Shahab Ahmed, Desiring Arabs by Joseph Massad, Spies, Soldiers and Statesmen by Hazem Kandil, La Condition Humaine by André Malraux, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Imagined Community by Benedict Anderson, Culture and Imperialism by Edward Said, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, The Richness of Life by Stephen Jay Gould, Children of the Alley by Naguib Mahfouz, The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Noli me Tangere by José Rizal, Age of Extremes by Eric Hobsbawm, ذهنية التحريم لصادق جلال العظم, Karl Marx by Francis Wheen, وليمة لأعشاب البحر لحيدر حيدر, Candide by Voltaire, النزعات المادية في الفلسفة العربية الإسلامية لحسين مروة, Listen Little Man by Wilhelm Reich ..
  • Films: Alexanderplatz by Rainer Fassbinder, Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, The Battle of Algiers, films by P. P. Passolini, Persepolis, Midnight Express, 1984, Papillion, Gangs of New York, Sophie Scholl, Life of Brian, Ivan the Terrble, Battleship Potemkine ...

Friday, February 23, 2018

"A social system based on private ownership of production can’t support the kind of planning that could avert environmental catastrophe. The owners of capital are fragmented and compelled by competition to look after their own interests first, and any serious planning would have to override property rights — an action that would be aggressively resisted." 
Sam Gindin
"There has been a shift in the mood of liberals. Less than a decade ago, they were confident that progress was ongoing. No doubt there would be periods of regression; we might be in one of those periods at the present time. Today, liberals have lost that always rather incredible faith. Faced with the political reversals of the past few years and the onward march of authoritarianism, they find their view of the world crumbling away. What they need at the present time, more than anything else, is some kind of intellectual anodyne that can soothe their nerves, still their doubts and stave off panic.

This is where Pinker comes in. Enlightenment Now is a rationalist sermon delivered to a congregation of wavering souls."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

In an excellent interview at the Register.com, the documentary film-maker Adam Curtis identifies the contours of this regime of affective management. 

TV now tells you what to feel.
It doesn’t tell you what to think any more. From EastEnders to reality format shows, you’re on the emotional journey of people – and through the editing, it gently suggests to you what is the agreed form of feeling. “Hugs and Kisses”, I call it. 

I nicked that off Mark Ravenhill who wrote a very good piece which said that if you analyse television now it’s a system of guidance – it tells you who is having the Bad Feelings and who is having the Good Feelings. And the person who is having the Bad Feelings is redeemed through a “hugs and kisses” moment at the end. It really is a system not of moral guidance, but of emotional guidance. 

Morality has been replaced by feeling. In the ‘empire of the self’ everyone ‘feels the same’ without ever escaping a condition of solipsism. ‘What people suffer from,’ Curtis claims, 

"is being trapped within themselves – in a world of individu- alism everyone is trapped within their own feelings, trapped within their own imaginations. Our job as public service broadcasters is to take people beyond the limits of their own self, and until we do that we will carry on declining. 

The BBC should realize that. I have an idealistic view, but if the BBC could do that, taking people beyond their own selves, it will renew itself in a way that jumps over the compe- tition. The competition is obsessed by serving people in their little selves. And in a way, actually, Murdoch for all his power, is trapped by the self. That’s his job, to feed the self.
In the BBC, it’s the next step forward. It doesn’t mean we go back to the 1950s and tell people how to dress, what we do is say “we can free you from yourself” – and people would love it."

Curtis attacks the internet because, in his view, it facilitates communities of solipsists, interpassive networks of like-minds who confirm, rather than challenge, each others’ assumptions and prejudices. Instead of having to confront other points of view in a contested public space, these communities retreat into closed circuits. But, Curtis claims, the impact of internet lobbies on Old Media is disastrous, since, not only does its reactive pro- activity allow the media class to further abnegate its function to educate and lead, it also allows populist currents on both the left and the right to ‘bully’ media producers into turning out programming that is anodyne and mediocre. 

Curtis’s critique has a point, but it misses important dimen- sions of what is happening on the net. Contrary to Curtis’s account of blogging, blogs can generate new discourse networks that have no correlate in the social field outside cyberspace. As Old Media increasingly becomes subsumed into PR and the consumer report replaces the critical essay, some zones of cyber- space offer resistance to a ‘critical compression’ that is elsewhere depressingly pervasive. Nevertheless, the interpassive simulation of participation in postmodern media, the network narcissism of MySpace and Facebook, has, in the main, generated content that is repetitive, parasitic and conformist. In a seeming irony, the media class’s refusal to be paternalistic has not produced a bottom-up culture of breathtaking diversity, but one that is increasingly infantilized. By contrast, it is paternal- istic cultures that treat audiences as adults, assuming that they can cope with cultural products that are complex and intellec- tually demanding. The reason that focus groups and capitalist feedback systems fail, even when they generate commodities that are immensely popular, is that people do not know what they want. This is not only because people’s desire is already present but concealed from them (although this is often the case). Rather, the most powerful forms of desire are precisely cravings for the strange, the unexpected, the weird. These can only be supplied by artists and media professionals who are prepared to give people something different from that which already satisfies them; by those, that is to say, prepared to take a certain kind of risk.

— Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism 



“Thus, while capital must on one side strive to tear down every spatial barrier to intercourse, i.e. to exchange, and conquer the whole earth for its market, it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time, i.e. to reduce to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another. The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time." 
Karl Marx
"For the sceptical reader the whole strategy of the book looks like this. Take a highly selective, historically contentious and anachronistic view of the Enlightenment. Don't be too scrupulous in surveying the range of positions held by Enlightenment thinkers - just attribute your own views to them all. Find a great many things that happened after the Enlightenment that you really like. Illustrate these with graphs. Repeat. Attribute all these good things your version of the Enlightenment. Conclude that we should emulate this Enlightenment if we want the trend lines to keep heading in the right direction. If challenged at any point, do not mount a counter-argument that appeals to actual history, but choose one of the following labels for your critic: religious reactionary, delusional romantic, relativist, postmodernist, paid up member of the Foucault fan club."

The Enlightenment of Steven Pinker

And also a review of  Pinker's previous book on "the decline of violence"

Steven Pinker's Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence

"A social system based on private ownership of production can’t support the kind of planning that could avert environmental catastroph...