Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Philosophers Who Kill

- A competitor kills the competition, in the language of sports, and elsewhere. You were complaining about how shocked you were by government repression in the name of COVID-19, the government's deliberately terrifying people and the people's consequent compliance.
- And you weren't surprised?
- You expressed yourself as astonished, caught off-guard. But, you know, not everyone was.
- Who could have predicted what we're going through?
- Philosophers. Walter Benjamin, writing in 1940, with regard to Germany legalizing Hitler's ascension to status of dictator:
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable. (Theses on the Philosophy of History,VIII.) 
Picking up on the idea of continual state of exception, Michel Foucault described a 'biopolitics' in which government interfered in the lives of the people, managing the health of the bodies and mind that continually were in need of management. And then we have Georgio Agamben, who unlike the previous two is still among the living, who taught us that in a further state of exception not only are we stripped of the protection of the laws, but we become 'bare life', not only our health, not only sexuality, diet, exercise managed but the totality of life now up for grabs. Sound familiar?
- Lockdowns, masks, vaccine mandates.
- Yes. The state of exception of COVID-19 is not an exception; oppression in one form or another has been constant.
- Some examples of the continuous oppression?
- Regular economic crashes, with those who cause them being bailed out by the government they control, everyone else not bailed out; the unprecedented total surveillance of communications leading the populace into self censorship.
- Living in a time when Nazi Germany was actually using state of emergency law to change the rules so as to legitimize Nazi total control, 
Walter Benjamin didn't anticipate that a truly exceptional, innovative form of state of exception would be declared leaving the people in 'bare life', life without political power, in the name of protecting life from a virus, in the name of fighting which the people would be threatened with being stripped of all life activities, under house arrest, masked, facing the possibility of forcible vaccination.
- So even if it were true our political rights were always in various degrees in a state of exception, in this new, particular kind of state of exception, predicted by our philosophers, in the context of a government using the technique of biopower, in the name of 'bare life', life without protection of the laws, all forms of social and personal life were being abrogated. What do you think? Were these philosophers inadvertently writing the instruction manual being used by our leaders to reduce us all to 'bare life'? Or did our leaders make out the exceptional possibilities of biopower on their own?
- Who knows?
- If this 'bare life', lockdown life, mask and vaccine mandate life, really is not exceptional, what follows? More extreme states of exception, social and personal interference, or can we expect a return to a more comfortable political abrogation of rights?
- We can expect the situation to in some ways to get worse in a return to normal history, that is, ongoing war of the very rich against everyone else. For Agamben's particular case of Foucault's biopower involves not only that we are always more or less being stripped of the protection of laws, but in a second phase, the laws of supervision and control previously used to authorize supposed protection of 'bare life' in need of recovery now authorize the extermination of any and all people in the impoverished state of lacking the advanced value of political life, who living in 'bare life' have no right to exist.
- Excluding of course those who are managing the state of exception, the essential job of management entailing interests and rewards adding up to much more than bare life.
- Yes. See them march clothed in the significance of their work right ahead in the drive to transfer all the wealth of those who not being worthy of life certainly are not worthy to have possessions.
- Race is integrally involved here in this exceptional use of this special kind of biopower, government supervision threatening the very existence of 'bare life'.
- How?
- Our l
eaders, clothed with state of exception extra-legal political powers, are clearly distinguishable from those living in the abject condition of 'bare life': they are a superior race. If in our history, progress reflected in the rule of law is restricted by the countervailing force of class war, war of masters against slaves, this conception of race war is something new, something that requires some understanding, some consciousness of life bereft of political protections, something which our philosophers amazingly enough actually foresaw.
- So, with COVID-19 we are in a real state of exception this time?
- Our times, for our leaders, are open season for profits at any cost. Money breeding more money. As often observed, the word for interest in ancient Greek is "offspring". And what is money, and profit, but pure reproduction of something that is without content, is simple potential, power to persist, to continue going on.
- 'Bare life' again.
- Yes. And tied in again with the state of exception. For what is race but a tracing of that history of power to go on, mere persistence, without content?
- You think that our leaders' intimate practice of capitalism and racism was enough to show them the way to the great leap forward of present times COVID-19 repressions: lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates, fear mongering, openly skewed statistics on deaths, risks, efficacy of treatments, vaccinations, etc.?
- Nevertheless our time's philosophers do seem to have had a special relation to the 
'bare life' of race and mass killings. Just yesterday a UCLA teacher of philosophy, a specialist in race and identity who had published an 800 page manifesto loaded with anti-Semitism and threats of mass shootings was arrested after he tried to buy a gun but was refused by the gunshop: his mother had days earlier reported him to the FBI which then put him on a no sale list. How many more philosophers had special connection to killing? I did a quick search on the terms 'philosophers' and 'killing' and found two professors, both with ties to anti-Semitism: a crazy 19th century Austrian who killed his professor, wrongly thinking he was Jewish, then appealing his murder conviction on the grounds that didn't all good German's believe that all Jews should be killed? The other was a 20th century French Marxist philosopher, apparently irrevocably mentally damaged by his experience in a Nazi concentration camp, who in a fit of madness strangled his wife.
- Anti-Semitism seems to show that a state of exemption has been always with us, the life of the Jews valueless 'bare life'. How do we know if our leaders will, like the history of the Jews shows happening regularly and often in the past, shift from naked in need of clothing to naked not deserving of life, from Foucault's care of and management of life, to Agamben's 'bare life' in which we are as 'bare life' of no value except as agents of their, the master race's, profit making?