Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spectacle & God

- So. It's Donald & Hillary.
- If not the end of the world. Did you watch Bernie Sanders' capitulation speech, Hillary Clinton standing by his side?
- No. What did I miss?
- As he talks about his campaign, boasting of the millions of individual donations received and the number of delegates won, Clinton goes through a whole series of gestures apparently at random, smiling, nodding, turning her head to the side. Sanders is talking about his battle against her. What can she be agreeing with, if that is what she is doing, nodding her head? Is she letting herself go, showing the world now it no longer matters that it is in fact literally true she is a puppet? Finally Bernie Sanders says with spirit, 'The revolution continues!' But, he says, 'She won,' and wraps his arm around her shoulders for about a quarter of a second before he thinks the better of it.
- That's worth watching. I'll take a look.
- Sanders, the presumed honest politician, who ran a campaign that, as one comedian put it, went to the extreme of offering the people everything they want, with his arm around Hillary Clinton, the epitome of the dishonest politician who has spent the last decade going around with her husband from one corporation to the next giving speeches at two or three hundred thousand dollars a pop, collecting more than a hundred million dollars in what can only be called bribes: corporation executives are required by the terms of their employment to seek profit for their shareholders and can't be seen as throwing away money expecting nothing in return but the words of a woman who never in her life said anything memorable.*
- You think Bernie Sanders is a hypocrite?
- I think he is a politician who wanted to be a politician and asked himself what would be the least bad position he could get away with taking and went ahead and took that position.
- But it was a honest position, honestly representing the people's wishes, promising to give the people what they wanted: free health care, education, etc.
- Is it honest if he is not willing to do what it takes to make good on his offer? To follow in the footsteps of the Prime Minister last year in Greece, who when presented with the choice between doing what he said he would do and taking a risky path, or going against his own principles and the expressed will of the people keep doing his job under fairly regular circumstances, chose the latter?**  Guy Debord, the Situationist philosopher of the '68 student revolution in France, said that in our times spectacle has become real, and real become spectacle.
- If Bernie Sanders allowed himself to tell the truth about what might be better politics it was because he knew it would only be a show? What's real then?
- Politics based on the power of money.
- What is the spectacle become real?
- Our entertainments. For Aristotle an exchange economy was destructive because it was potentially infinite. Money accumulation can go on forever, destroying the order and limits necessary for life lived well. He allowed trade to the extant it served home life. But our times have turned Aristotle upside down, and home life is dedicated to achieving maximum efficiency in the exchange economy. The consequence is that for respite from the endless striving of money making we throw ourselves into our entertainments which still do have ends.
- And because Aristotle was right and we are ordered things who have limits our games which return limits to our lives feel more real than the reality of our money making.
- Yes.
- This statement is by the Eleatic Stranger in Plato's dialog The Sophist (247E):
I suggest that anything has real being that is so constituted as to possess any sort of power either to affect anything else or to be affected, in however small a degree, by the most insignificant agent, though it be only once. I am proposing as a mark to distinguish real things that they are nothing but power.
- I see. Bernie Sanders' 'real' words of truth about what the people want and think would be good for them, being without power are not real. And our games, which giving us conclusions and rests we need, having that power, are real. That leaves what goes on in 'politics based on the power of money'.
- Real, but not a spectacle.
- It is what goes on in the background while the people are occupied with the spectacle of their unreal games and the spectacle of truth equally unreal because without power to have any effect. Everything for us is spectacle.
- Yes.
- But only for us. For those in power, life is real, because they do have power. But they don't have the power to tell or act on the truth except if that makes them money and they don't have the power to rest, because money making has no end.
- A real bad life on one side, on the other, an unreal life of unacted upon truths and meaningless games. Such is the Situationist analysis. Plato's definition of real as power reminds us that our ideas don't exist independently as things (or if they do they are imitations, unreal, that is, spectacle), rather they arise in movement: they have a past and they have a future. We see and identify a thing because we have a past with it, learning what it is by repeated encounters with it, and once we have a name for a thing we more easily see it. Note that this is the real Plato, not the Christianity influenced misinterpretation prevalent more or less for the past two thousand years. However, with life as spectacle mowing down everything in its path, religion too has become a casualty, with the result that theologians and philosophers of religion have turned to the process philosophy we talked about*** and gone back to Plato looking for answers, this time with more open eyes, adopting Plato's idea that the world has a soul just as individual animals do and interpreting our god in accord with this idea of world soul.
- But in process philosophy there are no things.
- Only patterns in flux.
- Then, to paraphrase a popular song, what's god got to do with it?
- Ideas, which are unchanging, are moment by moment brought into being by the demiurge, an aspect of the soul in operation at each individual moment. God, the world soul, persuades us to participate by our own free will and realize eternal ideas in our lives. God is aware of us and of eternal ideas, just as we are of our own particular situations and eternal ideas we strive to bring to reality.
- No things, but we have us, animals with souls, we have the demiurge, and we have god, the world soul. A lot of things for a world without things!
- Which is why Plato presents these ideas and moves on.
- You explained last time,**** quoting his predecessor Heraclitus: language is a sacred disease, to be used with caution.
- Let's go back to the people with power who run the world of buying and selling. What about their ideas?
- You mean the ideas they use to justify what they do?
- Yes. Are they real? Do they have any power?
- No serious economist says they are anything other than the most provenly false ideas in social science history.
- But we, the powerless people, live in worlds of spectacle, where ideas put on a show but have no power, and the ideas we play with we know are false.
- Our overlords get away with imposing on us their false ideas, their Neo-Liberalism, their Free Market economics, because we have no use for truth?
- Yes.
- Why can't we put our true ideas into practice?
- The world of power struggle over money has no place for them.
- Then why can't we do something about that world?
- Change the system? Real change?
- Yes.
- You'd have to first change the way we the poor people think.
- How?
- We'd have to stop thinking of ourselves as things.
- As long as we think of ourselves as things we'll be easy to convince it's right that we be manipulated by supposed natural laws regulating exchange of things, right that we be reduced into beings fit only for a world of spectacle. Well, we've got the process philosophers and theologians to help us. They're even Americans mostly.
- I wonder what it would mean if we as a people were able to read Plato right. A new renaissance?
- You say while this very year we may have a fascist president waiting for us.

Further Reading:
Philosophy & Politics, Saving The World 
The Society Of Spectacle (pdf)
WikiLeaks Exposes Clinton Connection to ISISCorporate Cash
** Bernie Sanders: "The structure of American politics today is such that I thought the right ethic was to run within the Democratic Party." Armed with Wikileaks documents showing DNC bias in favor of Clinton and systematic influencing of the news media in her favor, the outcome of the primary could be contested. (A report by Election Justice USA, a national coalition of attorneys, statisticians, journalists and activists, estimating the distortion of results from electoral cheating and fraud concludes Sanders to be the actual winner.) A run as an Independent looks to stand a chance. Voters by party affiliation: 39% Independent, 31% Democratic, 29% Republican.
*** Consciousness (For Sale)
**** The First Loser