Politics and Sainthood

There are some people who place such expectations on their politicians’ characters, their values and actions, especially those of their national leaders, that we can justifiably declare those expectations misplaced.

Sometimes, one wonders whether they are describing someone who is dealing with the dark, cold, murky world of power–and the little bits of power that are its representation, which we call ‘money’–or not. Power, money, they are guiding threads of our unsatisfactory world. In fact, following their descriptions and the implications of their dissatisfactions over the actions and values of politicians, they seem to prefer a moral saviour, a saint and, would you know it, even God! They forget that the latter’s main impetus is to counteract the world of power and that, by their counteraction, they often unwittingly justify its existence and determine its value for life, their particular counteractive life, albeit by negation…

The necessary by negation, or the inherently valuable by coexistence, is always hard to perceive. The cruel, painful and long history of the unjustifiably subjugated–precisely because insufficiently unappreciated–sex spanning the entire world shows how easy it is to not notice how things can be necessary and valuable by negation.

For those who wish and sometimes demand that politicians never lied, who wish they were always ‘nice’ to everyone at all times and did what was always in our direct, indirect, individual and-or moral self-interest, I have a few words from the master of all saints and moralists, a man whose word is closer to God in our eyes than any other saint:

 Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

— Mark 12:17

How do you understand the words of the master of saints? Allow me the audacity, but only if you accept my apology in advance, to tell you what you would not hear: you are misguided in your expectations. Your expectations are misplaced and I implore you to no longer seek God in all the wrong places.

I will assume this audacity for one reason: you have more power over your politicians than you imagine. If you place such high expectations on them you are asking them to rise up so high that they lose sight of the cold, murky world of power and its representation. Consider the consequences of such expectations.

You need not imagine these consequences; just take a closer look at the actions and consequences of our moral, moralistic, saintly, and ‘nice’ politicians and leaders. Look at the trend about what sells as ‘leadership’ or ‘presidential’ material. Look at what count as qualities of a ‘Prime Minister’. Look at what we are drawn to, what invites our attention when it comes to policy–I promise you, it is rarely the minutia of their policies.

Alas, you will find the saint peer his ugly, albeit warm and nonthreatening face at you from our beloved leaders and politicians. You will often feel like you are in the presence of a pied piper, a great hypnotizer; a man or woman who tries to traffic with God; a pious, warm and cuddly person akin to your caring, cool and always-on-your-side relative.

Oh if I could pluck my eyes and give them to you only for a moment–just so you can see the devastation this trend has wrought on our world from my eyes. Your misplaced expectations have done more to counteract your urge for moral, nice and saintly leaders than I could possibly express adequately in words in order to convince you. Sometimes, I fear that you do not want to be convinced. I think you have already invested too much in your expectations, which thought–I confess–is excruciating to me.

I will speak where my silence is preferable, however. I will say that you are more powerful through your expectations than you probably imagine. I would warn you to use that power wisely, responsibly, with a keen eye to the future. I would implore you to distinguish what you expect from a politician, what you expect from yourself and finally what you expect from God. Why? Because I would rather you did not confound all three into one person and then project that person onto a societal function–as you have been doing hitherto.

Notice that nobody will be able to assume that role and function adequately, but they will nevertheless try in their initially innocent pursuit for power. Noticing they cannot quite meet the expectation, they will resort to lies to acquire your confidence. If lies will not work, then, more and more, day by day, they will assume a power over you and the rest of us that is more formidable than you can imagine now. So formidable, in fact, that its coming into being, their wielding it, would invoke a disappointment in you that I shudder to imagine and digest.

In short: do not expect a politician to be a moralist, a saint or God, because he or she just might . . .

What happens when God and power mix? Well, let us again refer to our master of saints once more, since, by my observation, your yearning is for God more than it is for politics. I refer you to his words and actions according to Mark (11:15-19) Matthew (21:12-17) Luke (19:45–48) and John (2:13–16). What did he do when he found the money changers and merchants in the temple of God, i.e, what did he do to those who exchanged little bits of power under the warm, embrace and care of God? What did the master of saints, who is more consistent, more moral, more saintly and more loving than any other saint and person hitherto? Well, according to Mark:

And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 

–Mark 11: 15-17

Do not listen to me. If you seek a saint, a moralist and God, then go to the right place. Do not look for him in all the wrong places. Do not let your expectations insidiously coax you into turning our leaders and politicians into saints, moralists and Gods: they cannot possibly be and by their trying they will turn into liars, thieves and finally despots… You are more powerful than you imagine, so wield that power responsibly. Render to God what is God’s–because it is God you seek, not a politician.

Thoughts on the Secrecy of Modern Warfare and its Origin

What strikes me about modern warfare is the secrecy of its agents. We often comprehend this in a ‘Cold War’ manner, i.e., by implying some conflict between two or more superpowers that worry over their reputation. We are not wrong in our comprehension, because the Cold War was fought through the secrecy of its agents. Though, we have to omit that superpowers are too big, too slow and often too stupid to be secret for very long. History has proved that much.

Nevertheless, the observation I want to bring forward is related to the above indirectly. Allow me to waffle my way into this observation.

There is a lesson we can take from the history of human civilization, the means by which it has ‘progressed’ and how a single human being’s fits in it. This lesson is one that was very aptly identified by Nietzsche when he declared:

the origin of the emergence of a thing and its ultimate usefulness, its practical application and incorporation into a system of ends, are toto coelo separate; that anything in existence, having somehow come about, is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed and redirected to a new purpose by a power superior to it (GM II: 13)*

In short, once something comes into existence by having proved useful to one person or set of people towards some specific end can be utilized by other people towards different ends. In sum, the coming into existence of X for purpose Y, once that purpose has been achieved and X has proved useful towards Y and recognized so by others, then X can (and inevitably always does) become appropriated for the purpose of A, B, and-or Z. What is required for X to break free from Y and serve A or B or Z or n, is the creative genius that grows from the needsstruggles and-or interests of human beings.

Let us construe X as a war whose agents fight in secrecy, for whatever reason. What exactly do I mean by the secrecy of the agents, the secrecy of the soldiers? I do not mean that we cannot point to them or the consequences of their actions. I do not mean that we cannot document them, i.e., photograph or film them. Rather, I mean that we cannot identify them and build a coherent picture of their efforts and the extent of that effort.

They do not fight under a single, identifiable banner or uniform. They are not openly represented by a name referring to particular cause. If they claim to fight for a ’cause’, then they do not permit one single understanding of that cause; they create multiple factions for multiple fronts of warfare and so spread the efforts against them. Moreover, they conceal their identify to prevent verification of the genuineness of their cause and so make difficult an ideological battle against them. Their lack of identification prevents people from recognizing the interconnections between factions. They thereby also hide their alternative affiliations to prevent the consequences of their actions from impacting negatively those alternative affiliations, which are often their sources of funding and sustenance.

Modern warfare, in my observation, has two identifiable features:

A) The secrecy of its agents or our inability to identify them because they pose as militia without a top-down structure of organization. They have what was aptly described by Niall Ferguson as a ‘horizontal’ power structure.

B) They do not fight under a single banner, uniform or ideology, but rather multiple, seemingly unrelated factions, which nevertheless work together towards a very similar ends and behave in a very similar manner.

One important question for philosophers with a taste for historical reasoning, but also with an instinct for following the ebb and flows of power structures, is whence this approach to warfare? When did human beings begin to enact war in this manner and what drove them? What were the motivating factors that contributed to enacting such warfare?

I will venture to put forward some thoughts and pointers on the above questions. Though, I omit from the outset that the motivating factors will not be one thing or one reason, but a whole host of different things and reasons, which can be pulled apart and considered separately. We should not be surprised to find each factor convening to not only make possible the secrecy of modern warfare, but to drive it. Some factors we should look at are the following, though I omit that some of them may be branches growing out of the same tree:

  1. the relationship between mass media and politics, i.e., the former’s effect on power;
  2. international coalitions and quasi-legal international bodies following two World Wars premised on world-wide ideals and driven by the promise of world-wide dominance, i.e., the inevitable, albeit ‘apparent’ push against such world-wide ideals for fear of repeating its devastating effects;
  3. the effect of democracy on the hegemony of a nation state, but also on the state’s ability to hold enough power over its own populace, which allows them to proceed adequately to supervene on other nations and their balance of power such that it can tip it in its direction and interest;
  4. the growing power of international law and its ability to cross borders and legal systems and so the ability of lawyers to argue cases at an international level;
  5. the international financial web that arose from having a world currency and a foreign exchange market;

One thing is certain, in my opinion. This form of warfare has grown more and more widespread and represents the efforts of many different ideologies, i.e., it is put to very different ends and is gaining in appeal. It is, or I believe it should be, my generation’s characteristic problem and key hurdle toward the aim of peace, stability and human decency at the national and international level.

————–

*Friedrich Nietzsche. On the Genealogy of Morality. Ed. Ansell-Pearson, K. Trans. Dithe, C. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Whisper #225

Politicians found the golden grail with ‘quantitative easing’ (Q.E.); provided the recipient of the printed money knows how to spend it, of course. So, a central bank has to be smart in its distribution of the printed money. We know that central banks make good decisions, because they are impartial, don’t we? Their job is to be the engine behind a Minister’s economic policy, so they have to do right by him or her. But, we also know that they are not the final recipient and owner of that money. So, who is? A million dollar question if there ever was one!

Assuming the recipient of that money is ready to collaborate with politicians, what would they spend it on such that an economy seems to be doing well? Will they not spend it on assets that are not very liquid? Do they not seek assets whose inflated prices are based on artificial demand, but which prices do not deter investors and buyers because they are ‘necessary’, they do not expire and will not grow wings to fly away to a country without extradition?

We know what all this has meant for the majority of politicians and their extended financial arms, don’t we? Soft power, or rather, gentle and silent power is synonymous with investment in real estate, real estate, real estate. What better way for a politician to show success in economic policy than to print money and invest in non-liquid, albeit necessary assets that can easily be artificially inflated without blowing bubbles? Well, I say ‘without’ politely, because there has been an example of people who blew a bubble precisely where it seemed impossible to do so–we call it 2008. Some would call this blown bubble a miracle, others genius and the rest–stupid. One thing is certain: I would not have written this without it.

Whisper #224

People with vision and anticipation are never appreciated until what they foresaw happens. Even then, people are often too preoccupied in seeking blame and-or solutions in order to recognize someone’s vision and anticipation. Once the event has passed, we find those whose duty it is to pass credit are too bitter and-or exhausted by the ordeal to bother with credit where it’s due, which is often directed at the problem solvers.

Vision and anticipation are qualities of sensitive people that too often go tragically unnoticed; mostly because they are so sensitive. We can surely have one word of advice for our visionary brothers and sisters: learn to love yourself, because your neighbour is often too thick and blind to do it for you.

For the biggest portion of human history, our visionaries were betrothed to madness and-or the Gods–can you blame them!?

They have one lover among humans, these visionaries, and that is the poet–another sensitive creature that is vastly misunderstood and slowly becoming endangered . . .

Whisper #223

It is because we all can, but not all of us do perform some action X that we can hold each other responsible in the moral sense. Moral responsibility–whether it implies someone’s praise or blame–rests on the ascription of ‘individuality’ to a person. This individuality is understood in terms of actions anyone can theoretically perform, but only he or she or some people actually perform. Morality requires us to have a conception of individuality subordinate to a conception of generality or something common–the two concepts are interdependent. The moment we confound or confuse them, we lapse into amorality, i.e., into anything goes.

There are no individuals in a world where everything goes–only genera, abstractions.

There is no morality in a world with only individuals and nothing to organize them under something common.

Father and Son: Our Modern Problem

Father: Don’t make fun or look down upon those who might have fallen on hard times due to some misfortune, son. What seems to you as a person who has given up on life and so on the rest of us, may be the victim of hard times outside of his control. In fact, if someone appears as if he has fallen on hard times, show some compassion for him, because you do not know how it came to pass that he is in this state.

Son: But, father, precisely because we do not know how he came to be in that state that our fun or scorn is not personal, i.e., it is not directed specifically at him, but at an image or a caricature that he unintentionally represents. Surely, a reasonable, self-confident person who has fallen on hard times, a person who understands that his hard times are not self-inflicted and that he is not intentionally remaining in that state in order to acquire our efforts on the cheap is wise enough not to be offended by our humour and scorn. Rather, as is characteristic of someone who does not allow himself to be defeated by his circumstances, that person is more likely to join in with us or maybe roll their eyes at our tomfoolery and get on with it. Also, those that do not accept defeat by virtue of their circumstances are the first to request help with overcoming them without holding it against us if we refuse. In fact, a characteristic mark of such a person is that his is fully confident over his situation and so fully aware of his limits and limitations in accordance with others. Forgive me father, but his being offended by my humour and scorn incites my suspicion over his circumstances or his relationship to them. Isn’t his defensiveness and haste with which he shows that he was offended representative of a concealment that is not only parasitic on his quality of life, but also on other people’s quality of life by extension? Father, people who give up on themselves and the rest of us abuse our compassion. This is my suspicion, this suspicion fuels my icy humour and scorn, but am I wrong for both?

Father: It may be so, son. But, we do not know his specific situation and so our ignorance demands that we show good will. Our ignorance demands that we assume the best of the person, son. This is decency and decorum.

Son: I understand, but isn’t it also just a show? Mustn’t we worry that by giving way to ignorance over inquiry into his personal circumstances, we compromise our ‘good will’ by making its show–its representation–more important than its reality. How can we get to the reality of his situation if we are so concerned about the show that we forget to ask questions, to challenge and to say yes and no appropriately? How can we love properly if we refuse to get to know him personally, father? Moreover, we turn our good will into a shadow of itself by not accepting that not all people who appear unfortunate are so because of something outside of their will. This inevitably poisons our good will.

Consider, father, that so many people fall on hard times, whether by some misfortune or even by their bad choices, nevertheless accept defeat, whereas others in the same circumstances do not. These others never allow themselves to be defeated by their lot in life and if they are defeated, they have enough self-respect and respect for others to end their life while making peace with their loved ones. I love these others like I do God, father. I stand before them willing to kneel hand in heart, literally and spiritually. These people, father, are offended most by our cheap, ignorant compassion; it is poison to them. In fact, father, our haste to pity them without getting to know them, which you call decorum hurts them. Our impersonal and empty compassion, which you call decency, depresses them. This makes their ‘defeat’ more and more enticing, it strikes them like the sweet pitch and rhythm of a Siren’s song. They want our respect and appreciation, father, not our pity. Consider, most of all, that with our inquiring into their life, our respect and appreciation for them rise to the center of our attention over our pity and compassion. Respect and appreciation invites people to rise above their circumstances, father; they are uplifting emotions.

Father: … But, you laughed and poured scorn over them without knowing the details of their life, son.

Son: Yes, father, I did. Forgive me. This is my challenge to them and to you. I want to strip naked your decency and decorum and reveal it for the show that it is. This is my indecency and lack of decorum borne of love. This is my way of saying: show me your heart in exchange for my effort and good will, because anything else is a requisition for my enslavement, which I do not offer at any price. The best a person can request from me father is common effort towards mutually beneficial ends or an exchange. This mutual respect borne of self-respect, father, is my virtue.

Whisper #222

One of the most baffling psychological relations between a person and the world is how self-hatred is so closely followed by love of and devotion to others. Equally, that self-love is never too far from hatred of others represents an even more astounding relationship between the individual and the world. In both cases, a distinction in value is set up and that distinction leads to initially baffling appraisals and actions.

Today, in this abstract age of ours yearning for grand ideas, incessantly looking for virtues, hatred of humanity is quickly followed by love for animals and hatred of life is quickly followed by love of the Earth, or Gaia.

A psychologist who dispassionately looks at this state of affairs shudders as he or she remarks: something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong–our problem is systematic . . .