Russia: Assault on Freedom of Expression

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/07/2017 - 2:48pm in

Human Rights Watch | – –

Repressive Laws and Policies Restrict Online Speech, Stifle Critical Voices

(Moscow) – Russia has introduced significant restrictions to online speech and invasive surveillance of online activity and prosecutes critics under the guise of fighting extremism, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 83-page report, “Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression,” documents Russian authorities’ stepped-up measures aimed at bringing the internet under greater state control. Since 2012, Russian authorities have unjustifiably prosecuted dozens of people for criminal offenses on the basis of social media posts, online videos, media articles, and interviews, and shut down or blocked access to hundreds of websites and web pages. Russian authorities have also pushed through parliament a raft of repressive laws regulating internet content and infrastructure. These laws provide the Russian government with a broad range of tools to restrict access to information, carry out unchecked surveillance, and censor information the government designates as “extremist,” out of line with “traditional values,” or otherwise harmful to the public.

Human Rights Watch: “Russia: Crackdown on Social Media Users”

“Russia’s authorities are leading an assault on free expression,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These laws aren’t just about introducing tough policies, but also about blatant violation of human rights.”

Russia should repeal the repressive legislation adopted in recent years, stop prosecuting critics under the guise of fighting extremism, and uphold its international obligations to safeguard free expression, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 lawyers, journalists, editors, political and human rights activists, experts, and bloggers and their family members, and analyzed laws and government regulations pertaining to internet content and freedom of expression, as well as indictments, court rulings, and other documents relevant to specific cases.

Some of the restrictive laws appear designed to shrink the space, including online, for public debate, especially on issues the authorities view as divisive or sensitive, such as the armed conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s role in the war in Syria, the rights of LGBT people, and public protests or other political and civic activism.

Curbing free speech serves to shut down public debate and denies a voice to anyone dissatisfied with the ongoing economic crisis or simply critical of Russia’s foreign policy, Human Rights Watch said.

“We have dozens of cases where people were literally sent to jail,” Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist and expert on internet freedom in Russia, told Human Rights Watch. “That of course has its effect on the level and freedom for political and public debate in social media.”

Other laws aim to undermine the privacy and security of internet users by regulating data storage, unjustifiably restricting users’ access to information, and ensuring that a wealth of data, including confidential user information and the content of communications, could be made available to authorities, often without any judicial oversight.

In 2016, parliament passed a set of counterterrorism amendments requiring telecommunications and internet companies to retain the contents of all communications for six months and the metadata for three years. The law makes it easier for the authorities to identify users and access personal information without judicial oversight, unjustifiably interfering with privacy and freedom of expression. A 2015 law that applies to email services, social media networks, and search engines prohibits storage of Russian citizens’ personal data on servers located outside Russia. A 2017 draft law aims to prohibit anonymity for users of online messaging applications, such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

“The Russian government effectively controls most traditional media, but independent internet users have been openly challenging the government’s actions,” said Gorbunova. “The authorities clearly view independent online users as a threat that needs to be disarmed.”

Russian authorities have increasingly used vague and overly broad anti-extremism laws against people who express critical views of the government and, in some cases, have conflated criticism of the government with extremism. Laws adopted since 2012 in the name of countering extremism have served to increase the number of prosecutions for extremist offenses, especially online.

Based on the data provided by the SOVA Center, a prominent Russian think tank, the number of social media users convicted of extremism offenses in 2015 was 216, in comparison with 30 in 2010. Between 2014 and 2016, approximately 85 percent of convictions for “extremist expression” dealt with online expression, with punishments ranging from fines or community service to prison time. In the period between September 2015 and February 2017, the number of people who went to jail for extremist speech spiked from 54 to 94.

In the three years of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, authorities have silenced dissent on the peninsula. They have aggressively targeted critics through harassment, intimidation, and, in some cases, trumped-up extremism charges, including prosecution for “separatist calls.” Human Rights Watch found that most prosecutions of Crimean Tatar activists, their lawyers, and others were for peacefully criticizing the occupation.

Freedom of expression is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and it extends not only to information and ideas that are received favorably but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb. The Russian government should respect and uphold the right of people in Russia to freely receive and disseminate all types of information protected under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said.

Russia’s international partners should raise concerns at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe about Moscow’s curbs on free expression, as well as in bilateral conversations with the Russian government.

Major internet companies operating in Russia, such as Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and VK should carefully assess Russia’s government demands to censor content or share user data and refrain from complying where the underlying law or specific request are inconsistent with international human rights standards. They should not put people at risk, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Russian government has been casting criticism of it as extremist, instilling fear and encouraging self-censorship,” Gorbunova said. “Today people in Russia are increasingly unsure about the boundaries of acceptable speech.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Russia: a target, not a superpower

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/07/2017 - 11:00pm in

by Sara Flounders, via The corporate media’s constant use of Cold War terminology to describe the meeting of the U.S. and Russian presidents as a meeting of the “two superpowers” masks the present relationship of forces. U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin met at the Group of 20 summit on July 7 in Hamburg, Germany. Old preconceptions and terms must be challenged in order to have an accurate view of the present international situation. Russia today, as a capitalist country, is not even a fifth-rate economic power. The Russian economy is smaller than the economy of Brazil, south Korea or Canada. According to World Bank and International Monetary Fund measurements, Russia now ranks 12th globally in its gross domestic product. This measurement is the market value of goods and services. Today’s Russian Federation is a vastly different state — socially, politically, economically and militarily — from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of even 27 years ago. It is important to understand what Russia is today in order to understand …

More Hypocrisy from the Tories and the Daily Mail as They Accuse Labour of Bigotry and Intolerance

The Conservatives and Daily Heil are back to the old tricks of accusing the Labour party and its supporters, particularly those in Momentum for Jeremy Corbyn, of intolerance, vandalism and intimidation. Sheryll Murray, the Tory MP for South East Cornwall, whined in an article in the Fail about her treatment by Labour supporters. She claimed that

“I’ve had swastikas carved into posters, social media posts like ‘burn the witch’ and ‘stab the C’, people putting Labour Party posters on my home, photographing them and pushing them through my letterbox. Someone even urinated on my office door.”

Dominic Sandbrook, one of the rag’s journos, then went on to opine that “The fact is the overwhelming majority of the abuse, bullying and intimidation comes from the Left.”

Tory MP Nadine ‘Mad Nad’ Dorries put up a photograph of one of these vandalised posters with the accusation that it was done by Momentum supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, along with her judgement that Britain was heading back to the 1930s.

As Mike has pointed out on his blog about the article, citing Tom Clarke, the Angry Yorkshireman, neither Murray, Dorries nor Sandbrook has absolutely any evidence that this was done by Labour supporters. It’s just another unfounded accusation to smear the Labour party.

And Murray herself also has form when it comes to intolerance. At one of her rallies, she stated that she’s glad there are food banks in Cornwall. When a section of the crowd, not unreasonably, shows its anger, she first tries to wave it off by saying, ‘Let’s ignore these, shall we?’ As Mike also asks rhetorically, what does she mean when she refers to the protesters as ‘these’? When they continue, she threatens to call the police.

Mike concludes

This Writer reckons the Tories are on the back foot, and this is a desperate attempt to regain credibility with the public.

It must not succeed.

So, if you see a Tory trying to defame the Left in this manner, don’t let it pass; challenge it.

We’ll see how long their feigned indignance lasts when they’re made to produce evidence – or shut up.

There are a number of issues underlying the petulant shrieks of intolerance by the Tories, some going back to patrician attitudes to the working classes that predate democratic politics.

Firstly, as Mike and the Angry Yorkshireman point out, there’s absolutely no evidence linking any of this to the Labour party. Indeed, some of it is just as likely to come from the Lib Dems or indeed just from people of no fixed political opinions, who are fed with the Tories. In rural areas like parts of the south west, the main rivals to the Conservatives aren’t Labour but the Liberal Democrats, and I’ve heard from former Conservative local politicians that the real hatred isn’t between Labour and the Conservatives, between the Tories and Lib Dems.

Secondly, the Tories’ attitudes in many ways is simply a display of the old, upper class suspicion of the working class. Way back in the early 19th century the upper classes hated and feared the Labouring poor as prone to rioting, and potentially subversive and disloyal. The only way to keep the unwashed masses in line was through outright repression and stern policing. This attitude vanished, or at least was seriously weakened when the great unwashed turned up at the Great Exhibition. And instead of wanting to burn the place down, showed themselves orderly, responsible and interested. But this latest accusation from the Fail with its petit bourgeois readership shows that the old hatred and fear of the working class as a seething mass of social disorder, yobbishness and violence, still remains.

Thirdly, it shows just out of touch ‘Nads’ Dorries, Murray and Sandbrook are. If people are lashing out at Tory MPs and their propaganda, it’s because they’ve been driven to it by grinding poverty and an administration that ignores everyone except the richest quarter of the population. Many areas of rural Britain, including Cornwall, have high unemployment. There’s also a problem of getting housing, which is often well out of the price range of locals thanks to wealthy people from outside the area buying it as second homes. I’ve a friend from Cornwall, who was particularly angry about this nearly a decade ago. I can remember him getting up to tackle a group of ‘upcountry’ people about it in a pub, when he overheard them talking about how cheap property was down there.

Then there are the national problems of acute poverty, caused by stagnating wages and cuts to basic welfare support. People want and deserve proper unemployment and disability benefits, and very definitely not to be forced to support themselves through charity and food banks.

And then there’s the whole issue of the privatisation of the NHS. A few months ago I wrote another pamphlet about that, in addition to the one, whose contents I put up here a week or so ago. While writing this, and documenting the way a long line of right-wing governments have been aiming to privatise the NHS since Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s, I felt so furious that I really couldn’t face any kind of Tory propaganda. I felt so bitterly angry at the way the health service is being run down, in order to soften it up for privatisation and purchase by largely American private healthcare companies.

Given all this, the British public has an absolutely right to be angry, and while I don’t approve of people urinating in anyone’s letter box, I honestly can’t blame them for vandalising the posters. In Bristol popular anger against the Tories could be seen just before the general election in a piece of graffiti scrawled outside the Eye Hospital near the BRI. It read: Donate Tory Blood – It’s Worth More!

Nads’, Murray’s and Sandbrook’s sneering about ‘left-wing intolerance’ shows the complacency and complete indifference to suffering of the Tory middle and upper classes. They’re very comfortably off, thank you very much, and the Tories are serving them very well. So they have no idea, and indeed react with absolute horror at the very idea that part of the masses hates them with a passion, because they have no understanding, or sympathy, with the real poverty and deprivation many people are struggling with. We’re back indeed in the territory of Matthew Freud’s comments about how the poor should be more flexible than the rich, as they have less to lose.

There’s also an element of the old Tory landlord class, who expect their workers to put up and tug their forelock to the master, no matter how badly they were treated. A few years ago one of the BBC history programmes covered the Highland Clearances, the period in the late 18th and 19th centuries when the Scots aristocracy enclosed and forced their tenant farmers off their land so they could devote it to sheep rearing. The image of the wild, romantic Scots countryside actually post-dates this process. Before then the countryside north of the border was filled with rural communities – townships – and their people. It only became a wilderness when these people were forcibly evicted and their crofts and other homes pulled down.

And to add insult to injury, those workers, who managed to keep their jobs were expected to tug their forelocks and sing the praises of their masters. The programme mentioned how one ‘improving’ landlord, who was actually English, or half-English, got very upset when he decided to have a statue put up of himself. He expected his workers to pay for it, and was furious when many of them were less than enthusiastic.

It’s the same attitude here. The Tories still expect absolute feudal loyalty and subservience. When this is not forthcoming, and anger is shown instead, their own selfish indifference to the plight of the lower orders comes out, and they start screaming about how it’s all so unreasonable, intolerant, and, by implication, disobedient.

And lastly, it’s also massively hypocritical. The Tories have absolutely no business accusing anyone of intolerance, and especially not the Daily Heil. Not when sections of the party is still bitterly racist, with Mail and the Tory party championing even more stringent state censorship and surveillance of what we may read and post online, or say on the phone or other forms of social media. Not when they’ve created the legal infrastructure for secret courts, where you can be tried without trial, with having your lawyer see vital evidence against you, or even know who your accuser is, if the government decides this would all be against ‘national security’. Just like Stalin’s Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy!

And the Tories certainly have no problem with violence and intolerance when it directed against the left. I remember how the Scum put up an approving story during the Miner’s Strike, about how an old lady struck the then head of the NUM, Arthur Scargill, with a tin of tomatoes she’d thrown. This old dear was praised for her pluck and daring at the evil Commie, who was destroying the mining industry and forcing all good, right-thinking Thatcherite miners out of the pits. Yet when the reverse occurs, and someone throws eggs at the Tories, they start frothing and screaming at their intolerance.

And if we’re talking about the Right’s intolerance during the Miner’s Strike, then how about the way Thatcher used military-style policing, including unprovoked charges, against the miners. This was done officially, and covered up by a complicit media, including the Beeb. Violence, and the savage beating of protesters, ain’t intolerance when it’s done by the Tory forces of law and order.

Dorries, Murray and Sandbrook show themselves with this article, to be intolerant hypocrites themselves. They’re all too happy to see people ground into the most extremes of poverty and misery, but panic when some few show their dissent by tearing down their propaganda.

Team Syntegrity, a comprehensive method of hope

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/07/2017 - 9:30am in

Collaborating, competing, contradicting,
negotiating, accommodating and compromising, all took place to different
degrees in one symbiotic process. Our first participant report-back.

lead Team Syntegrity participants in Barcelona in June, 2017.The Team Syntegrity (TS) sessions
held in Barcelona on 19-22 June provided a space and a method of hope in which
a variety of social powers unfolded through association and combination.

The objective was to think
collectively about how civil society may be able to confront the main global
crises and democratise our societies. Since the results will be made public shortly,
I will focus in this piece on the method that allowed us to come up with
concrete proposals and the processes that helped us to advance and build a
sense of belonging.

One of the key strengths of the
sessions was the cybernetic method of non-hierarchical participation that set
the rules for constructive and efficient dialogue and decision-making. This
approach was based on 12 teams comprised of five members from a variety of
backgrounds. Each team was in charge of discussing one specific topic and developing
concrete statements, proposals or recommendations that set the path for
strategic action.

Topic discussants (at the table) and a row of "critics". Behind them, some"observers".They received feedback from the
"critics", who contributed to improving the discussions and the
proposals. In addition, the "observers" moved information from one team
to another in informal conversations, helping to develop further synergies. All
participants were involved in each of the three roles, thus providing different

Fundamental to the method was
relating the different topics in order to address the interconnected crises
that are generating so much suffering at a global level, such as the economic,
environmental, educational, media and ethical crises. Since everybody
participated as a member in two teams, we were able to integrate bilateral
learnings. For example, participating in the Internet and the Biosphere teams
helped me reflect on the environmental consequences of the current models of
production, distribution, consumption and disposal of communication
technologies and contents.

The TS method therefore helped us analytically
to connect multiple levels of reality. It provided the perfect organisation for
efficient, individual and collective self-management. Although the method
included several more aspects that I haven't mentioned, the following icosahedron
is really helpful as it shows the different connections between topics and

The icosahedron for Team Syntegrity 2017 in Barcelona.

The methods of collective
participation, although extremely rich opportunities for the exchange of ideas,
are never easy to complete successfully in practice – challenges
and difficulties always arise. This is why the frameworks for discussion and
decision-making that we established spontaneously were so fundamental. We had
to decide on the fly the processes we wanted to promote and those we wanted to

For example, it was important to
manage time wisely so that each team member would have the same opportunities
to express ideas. Equally important were the processes of individual
self-management, which worked great, as demonstrated not only by the
high-quality contributions of participants, but also by the ways of
contributing: the respect for others, the language, the tone, the demonstrations
of support, the reorientation of discussions that went off-track...

The author and fellow participants.We managed to deal individually,
severally and collectively with misunderstandings, dissatisfaction, irrelevant
conflicts that distract us from the main effort, and even with the all too
common problem of swollen egos, which had very little presence in these days.

In the face of dominant values of
rugged competition, selfishness and the sick obsession with capital
accumulation, we foregrounded the principles of cooperation, mutual trust and
support, free sharing and empathy. However, we did not do so through simplistic
binaries, but rather through an empirical, imaginative and creative orientation
of these natural human traits. This way, competition ceased to be understood in
the negative way that capitalism promotes, i.e., as a zero-sum game in which
one side wins to the detriment of the other side. Instead, we practiced a
healthy approach that allowed us to question, criticise and contrast ideas,
discard, refine, piggyback or develop them as a team to reach the optimal level
in what we may call a process of competitive collaboration. This is the kind of
highly effective process of individual and collective improvement also
to be found in team sports.

All of this was accomplished by
treating others as human beings with intrinsic dignity. Acknowledging the value
of each of us was fundamental in opening our minds to listening, learning and
cooperating with others while still defending our own point of view. Collaborating,
competing, contradicting, negotiating, accommodating and compromising, all took
place to different degrees in one symbiotic process. Consensus was often
reached, but it was not a necessary outcome since the statements and the proposals could also include differing views.

In contrast to the perverse logic of
labour exploitation and consumerism that affirms the principle of "tomorrow,
corpses, you will enjoy life", we experienced the joys and pleasures of
engaging in practices of and for social justice. Against the loneliness that
the system creates, we continued to build networks grounded on friendship,
affinity, community and trust that can grow with time.

This is the logic of taking care of
ourselves and of others, since we acknowledged that individuals fulfil
themselves collectively and that the community requires individual freedom and
creativity. This approach allowed for the crystallisation of a philosophy of
practical love to different kinds of people; a potential that we all have inside
us. This is love as the practice of freedom because liberty can only be
expanded through genuine solidarity.

If the Enlightenment showed the
power of rationality while excluding the power of emotion, Romanticism showed
the power of passion while excluding reason. The exclusionist pattern has continued
until today, when perspectives on the power of affects preclude the power of
reason. However, social change requires a combination of affects and rationality.
There is nothing more rational than the emotions that push us towards justice,
freedom, fraternity and equality. In this vein, we engaged with the politics of
feelings through a systematic TS method that helped us develop the concrete
proposals and plans that we will shortly deliver.

The opening question.This approach of rational passion
involved the diagnosis of classism, racism, sexism, LGBTI-phobia and other
types of oppressions, as well as the therapy. First, understanding reality, to then
develop the tactic of being change at
an individual and community level, within a strategy to change concrete social
realities and, eventually, achieve the objective of macro-social

The TS is one of the many practical
examples developing around the world that provide a real demonstration that
other forms of life and sociability are not only desirable, but also possible. In
other words, massive oppression is not unavoidable, there are many alternatives
taking place and we can learn from all of them.

The event showed that of course we
can, when many people are dedicated to social justice and that, as Antonio
Machado wrote, "the path is made by walking". The TS experience was
one more step in building the "We" — based on informed
hope, collective struggle and mutual trust and support — that
is needed to face the multiple crises looming over humanity and the environment.
And to create a more liveable world by and for the majority of the population.

'Read On' Sidebox: 

Meet the participants of Team Syntegrity 2017 oganised by openDemocracy this June in Barcelona, More here.

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Government Internet Censorship in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/07/2017 - 6:04am in

One of the very real concerns about the current attacks on freedom of speech by British and American governments is these states’ demands for increasing powers to regulate and censor what is posted on-line. This has all been framed under the pretext of protecting the British and American peoples from pornography, especially paedophile, and terrorism.

Stephen Baxter is one of Britain’s leading writers of Hard SF. This is the subgenre of Science Fiction, which follows Asimov and Clarke in being based on real science, though obviously also with a greater or less degree of extrapolation and invention permitting the inclusion of FTL drives, AIs and aliens. Baxter’s best known for his Xelee sequence series of books. These are set in a universe dominated by the advanced and unknowable Xelee, an alien race so far ahead of humanity that humans and the other intelligent species compete with each other to scavenge bits and pieces of their technology. At the same time, the universe is being prematurely aged by the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures for whom the light and warmth of the universe of normal matter is a hostile environment.

Baxter has also written a number of novels set in an alternative world. In Voyage, he described a crewed NASA expedition to Mars, whose triumph – a successful Mars landing – comes just when the entire American space programme is cancelled. The book was adapted as a radio play and broadcast on Radio 4.

In Titan, published in 1995, Baxter tells the story of a group of NASA and JPL scientists and astronauts, who launch a manned expedition to Titan to investigate further the discovery of living biochemistry by the Cassini probe. This is to be NASA’s last hurrah after the crash of the Columbia space shuttle results in the cancellation of the manned space programme. The story begins in 2004, in a world that is almost identical to the present of the time the book was written.

There are a few exceptions, however. Amongst the new inventions of this future past are computerised tattoos, which change shape according to the wishes of the wearer, and soft computer/TV screens, which can be rolled up and pasted on walls like paper.

And one of the issues that is very alive is the American government’s ruthless censorship of the internet. This is discussed in one scene, where NASA’s head, Hadamard, meets Paula Benacerraf, an astronaut aboard the ill-fated Columbia mission, her daughter, Jackie, who is responsible for publishing the discovery of life on Saturn’s moon, and her young son, at an official ceremony in Texas to honour China’s first taikonaut, Jiang Li.

He found Paula Benacerraf, who was here with her daughter, and a kid, who looked bored and restless. Maybe he needed to pee, Hadamard thought sourly. On the daughter’s cheek was an image tattoo that was tuned to black; on her colourless dress she wore a simple, old-fashioned button-badge that said, mysteriously, ‘NED’.

Hadamard grunted. ‘I’ve seen a few of those blacked-out tattoos. I thought it was some kind of comms problem -‘
Jackie Benacerraf shook her head. ‘It’s a mute protest.’
‘At what?’
‘At shutting down the net.’
‘Oh. Right.’ Oh, Christ, he thought. She was talking about the Communications Decency Act, which had been extended during the winter. With a flurry of publicity about paedophiles and neo-Nazis and bomb-makers, the police had shut down and prosecuted any net service provider, who could be shown to have passed on any of the material that fell outside the provisions of the Act. And that was almost all of them.
‘I was never much of a net user,’ Hadamard admitted.
‘Just to get you up to date,’ Jackie Benacerraf said sourly, ‘we now have one licensed service provider, which is Disney-Coke, and all net access software has built-in-censorship filters. We’re just like China now, where everything goes through the official news agency, Xinhua; that poor space kid must feel right at home.’
Benacerraf raised an eyebrow at him. ‘She’s a journalist. Jackie takes these things seriously.’
Jackie scowled. ‘Wouldn’t you, if your career had just been f***ed over?’
[Censorship mine].
Hadamard shrugged; he didn’t have strong opinions.
The comprehensive net shutdown had been necessary because the tech-heads who loved all that stuff had proven too damn smart at getting around any reasonable restriction put in place. Like putting encoded messages of race-hate and smut into graphics files, for instance: that had meant banning all graphics and sound files, and the World Wide Web had just withered. He knew there had been some squealing among genuine discussion groups on the net, and academics and researchers who suddenly found their access to online libraries shut down, and businesses who were no longer allowed to send secure encrypted messages, and … But screw it. To Hadamard, the net had been just a big conduit of bullshit; everyone was better off without it.
(pp. 130-1).

This is Science Fiction as the literature of warning: against cuts to the space programme, and net censorship. It even mentions rising graduate unemployment, in a scene where Paula Benacerraf arranges a meeting with her team to discuss the possibility of launching a crewed mission to Titan. They meet at dinner party in Benacerraf’s house, served by her housekeeper, Kevin. Kevin is a fine art graduate, who is working as Benacerraf’s housekeeper in order to work off his student debt. His works are the usual horrors inflicted on the world by contemporary artists. In her only visit to his atelier, Benacerraf is shown a 1/4 size sculpture of himself which Kevin has gnawed from a block of lard. This is just a study for a full-size work, which he intends to gnaw from his own liposuctioned fat or faeces. As she and her guests are being served by Kevin, she reflects that he is like the majority of graduates, who will never have a job.

Well, the shuttle programme has been cancelled, but hopefully this will not prevent the further exploration of universe. The Chinese certainly are looking to put a person into space, and are believed to be aiming to land a human on the Moon by 2020. Baxter also mentions this in Titan in his description of the spacewoman’s mission to the Deep Black, where he states that this is believed to be in preparation for a moon landing in 2019.

And Baxter is absolutely correct about the demands for a comprehensive censorship of the internet by the British and American governments. The only difference is the terrorists the governments are panicking about are Islamist, rather than neo-Nazi. So far, the demands for censorship have been limited, so there isn’t the almost-complete shutdown of the net described in Baxter’s version of the recent past.

But this is still a very real danger, as these accompanying threat, which Baxter didn’t predict, of increased state surveillance of electronic communications, for the same reasons as censorship.

Someone once remarked that all science fiction is really about the issues of the time they were set. Titan reflects the fears about the internet that were present back in the 1990s, when it was first emerging. These fears, and the consequent demands by government to censor nearly everything we see or read online, are still very real, and Baxter’s book is still very relevant.

Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/07/2017 - 10:00pm in

The Torygraph Pours Scorn on Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the guests at the Glastonbury Festival last week, introduced on stage by no less a man than Michael Eavis himself. Corbyn gave a roaring, impassioned speech, inveighing against the Tories’ attack on the welfare state, their privatisation of the NHS, and their forcing of millions into poverty. If I recall correctly, he also mentioned how the Grenfell Tower fire was a direct result of decades of Tory policies dismantling health and safety legislation for the benefit of private landlords. He ended with a rousing passage from Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, urging the British people to rise up ‘like lions’ ‘for ye are many, they are few.’

And the crowd loved it. They cheered, and there were spontaneous chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ This graphically showed the popularity of the Labour leader, at least with a section of the young and not-so young people, who can afford to go to Glastonbury.

Needless to say, the Tory press hated it. The I newspaper yesterday carried a quote from the Telegraph, in which they moaned that it was ‘the day that Glastonbury died’, Eavis was going to lose tens of thousands of visitors and supporters of his festival by inviting Jeremy Corbyn on, and what did it say about the Labour party anyway, when it’s leader was cheered by metropolitan liberals able to afford the exorbitant entrance and camping fees.

Actually, it says that the countercultural spirit of Glastonbury is alive and well, that Eavis has always been against at least some of the policies the Tories espouse, and that the Tories contemplating the spectacle of the young and hip supporting Labour are nervous about their own future.

Michael Eavis was awarded an honorary doctorate or degree by Bristol university at their graduation ceremony a few years ago. Bristol uni is rather peculiar in the conduct of these ceremonies. While other universities and colleges allow the person awarded the degree to make a speech themselves, at Bristol it’s done a special orator. The orator describes their life and career, while the person being so honoured stands by, smilingly politely, until they are finally given the scroll, when they say ‘thank you’. The orator in his speech for Eavis said that he was basically conservative, who shared the work ethic.

Well, perhaps, but I can remember the 80s, when the local Tories down in Glastonbury hated him, the hippies and the other denizens of Britain’s counter and alternative cultures, who turned up to the pop festival with a passion. They were trying to get the festival banned at one point, citing the nuisance and frequent drugs violations.

As for Eavis himself, I can remember him appearing in an edition of the Bristol Evening Post, in which he made it very clear what he thought about Reagan and Thatcher’s new cold war, and the horrors committed in Nicaragua by Fascist death squads trained, equipped and backed by Reagan’s administration. Accompanying the article was a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘How Can I Relax with Ray-Gun on the Button?’, which mixed a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s notorious disc, which had been banned by the Beeb, with the American president’s ‘Star Wars’ programme for a space-based anti-missile system.

As for the hip young dudes cheering Corbyn on, whom the Torygraph sneered at as ‘metropolitan liberals’, this is the crowd the Tories, and Tory organs like the Telegraph, would desperately like to appeal to. These are wealthy people with the kind of disposable incomes newspaper advertisers salivate over. These people also tend to be tech-savvy, which is why the Torygraph imported an American technology guru a few years ago to try and make the rag appeal more to a generation increasingly turning to the Internet for their news and views.

It didn’t work. Sales continued to decline, along with the quality of the newspaper as a whole as cuts were made to provide the savings needed to fund the guru’s wild and fanciful ideas. The young and the hip are out there, but they ain’t reading the Torygraph.

And their also increasingly not joining or supporting the Tory party. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people favour Labour, while the Tories are strongest amongst the over fifties. For any party or other social group to survive, it has to appeal to young people as well as those of more mature years. And the Tories aren’t.

Lobster a little while ago carried a piece on the current state of the Tory party, which reported that a very large number of local constituency parties really exist in name only or have very, very few members. The membership is increasingly elderly, and several local parties responded to inquiries by saying that they were closed to new members. In short, the Tory party, which was at one time easily Britain’s largest party with a membership of 2 1/2 million, is dying as a mass party. Lobster concluded that it was being kept alive, and given millions in funding, mainly by American hedge fund managers in London. It should be said here that the party is also benefiting from extremely wealthy donors elsewhere in industry, and the very vocal support of press barons like Murdoch, Rothermere, and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

The Telegraph’s attitude also seems somewhat hypocritical considering the attitude of the press to the appointment of a Conservative editor of Rolling Stone magazine way back in the 1990s. This young woman praised George Bush senior, stating that he ‘really rocks’. This caused a murmur of astonishment amongst the media, amazed at how a countercultural pop icon could embrace one of the very people the founders of the magazine would have been marching against back in the ’60s and ’70s. The magazine was accused of selling out. It responded by replying that it hadn’t, it had ‘merely won the revolution’.

Nah. It had sold out. As one of the French philosophers – Guy Debord? – wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, capitalism survives by taking over radical protest movements, and cutting out any genuinely radical content or meaning they had, and then turning them into mere spectacles. This is what had happened to Rolling Stone. And as Glastonbury became increasingly respectable and expensive in the 1990s, there were fears that it was going to go the same way too, at least amongst some of the people writing in the small press culture that thrived before the advent of the internet.

I don’t remember the Torygraph saying that Rolling Stone had ‘died’ by appointing a deep-dyed Republican as its editor. And I imagine that it would have been highly excited if Eavis had called on Theresa May to appear on stage. Now that would have killed Glastonbury. But the appearance of Corbyn on stage shows that Glastonbury hasn’t yet become a cosy item of bourgeois entertainment.

Corbyn is one of the most genuinely countercultural politicians in decades. He stands for policies which the political establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party itself, loathe and despise. Until a few weeks before the election, all the papers were running very negative stories about him, as well as much of the TV news, including the Beeb. Corbyn is a threat to the free trade policies that the Thatcherite political establishment and media heartily support, and so they attack him every way they can.

But as the mainstream media attacks him, ordinary people support him. Much of the support for Jeremy Corbyn came from ordinary people on blogs and vlogs outside corporate control. Counterpunch a week or so ago carried an interview with one of the ladies behind Corbyn’s campaign in London. She described how they set up apps for mobile phones, to show volunteers for his election campaign which wards were marginal so they could canvas for him in those vital areas. She said that they had so many people volunteering that they had to turn some away.

And youth culture was part of this mass movement. Kids were mixing his speeches in with the music they listened to on their ipods, so that there were movements like ‘Grime4Corbyn’. Again, this was being done spontaneously, outside party and corporate control, by ordinary kids responding to his inspiring message.

Glastonbury is now very expensive, and unaffordable to very many of the people that Corbyn represents. But this does not mean that it is only wealthy metropolitan liberals who support him, or that the well-heeled souls, who sang his praises at Glastonbury at the weekend were somehow fake for doing so ‘champagne socialists’, in Thatcher’s hackneyed phrase. Corbyn also has solid working class backing and the support of the young. He is genuinely countercultural, and so had every right to stand on stage.

And he certainly does share some of the ideals of Michael Eavis himself, at least in the ’80s. As I said, Eavis made his opposition to American imperialism and war-mongering very plain. Corbyn has said that he intends to keep Trident, but in other respects he is a profound voice for peace. There is a minister for peace and disarmament in his shadow cabinet, and he has said that he intends to make this a proper ministerial position.

And so Corbyn stood in Glastonbury, with the support of the crowd. A crowd which the Tory party hoped would support them. They didn’t, and it’s frightened them. So all they can do now is moan and sneer.

Old questions, new answers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/06/2017 - 12:38am in


Ideas, Internet

Rethinking representation involves expanding the deliberative community and redefining not only who can decide on public issues, but how decisions are made. Español Português

Created by Maria Boehling for Flickr. Some rights reserved.

"Together we can be wiser than any of us individually.

The only thing we need to know is how to
take advantage of that wisdom."

- Tom Atlee

Today, the notion of citizen participation has become pivotal in the
public discussion about the form our democracy takes as a system of government.
Participation is now to be found in the slogans of political parties with quite
different ideological backgrounds, as a basic demand of many social movements,
and is actively encouraged by social activists and researchers who see in it a
potential way out from the disaffection that currently permeates our social

But what practices and what phenomena are we talking
about? The different devices, technologies and behaviours referred to as
"citizen participation" constitute, in fact, an eclectic set. Neighbourhood
meetings, citizen assemblies, parliamentary hearings, and referenda are just
some examples of its diversity. And online developments are extending its
frontiers further: the net offers new practices, values and metaphors, showing
the way to a possible new architecture of power.

Today, the notion of citizen participation has become pivotal in the public discussion about the form our democracy takes as a system of government.

This situation allows us to get back to a basic question about our
system of government: how is democracy to be defined, if not by who deliberates
and who decides? In the context of rethinking representation (and the role of
representatives and those being represented), we maintain that it is possible
to expand the deliberative community and to redefine not only who can decide on
public issues, but how decisions are made.

Since late 2012, in Buenos Aires, a group of
activists, social entrepreneurs, students and hackers has been meeting to
explore answers to these questions. We think: what democratic institutions can
we build in the age of the Internet? What would its distinctive features be?
What would be the practices, values, and profiles of the members of these
political communities?

Driven by our research and willingness to experiment, Democracia en Red began working on designing
accessible and versatile open source software tools to enable
"expanded" participation. And it became clear to us that these tools
were simply not sufficient to bring about a change in the connection patterns
between representatives and those being represented. The other key element, of
course, was the political community that would be using these new technologies.

Democracia en Red began working on designing accessible and versatile open source software tools to enable "expanded" participation.

As a result of this reflection, we worked in two directions: creating adequate
online tools to facilitate these processes and, at the same time, developing
strategies for the "institutionalization" of their use.

DemocracyOS (DOS) was born from these premises, as an
online open source platform for helping groups of people and/or organizations
to put forward, debate and vote on freely chosen topics. Being an open source
platform, it can be freely used, modified and redistributed so that the best
arguments emerge to achieve collective decision-making.

Designed primarily to assist the legislative
procedures of local chambers of representatives, its main objectives are:

  1. Increasing
    citizen participation by offering information and opportunities to citizens, so
    that they can participate with other members of their community in public
  2. Promoting
    deliberative democracy by strengthening interaction between public officials
    and citizens to debate and make decisions through dialogue and collective
  3. Promoting the development
    of active citizenship through training and learning activities on the
    characteristics, practices and possibilities involved in the co-creation of the
    public sphere between representatives and those being represented.

From the perspective of DemocracyOS's development
team, these objectives translate into offering citizens equal opportunities to
express their opinions publicly (so that all voices can be heard) and encouraging
unrestricted, unlimited dialogue. In this way, especially through the inclusion
of politically marginalized groups, we expect that the debate processes and the
results of this type of public decision-making can gain legitimacy and breadth.

The development of DemocracyOS as a specific area for
deliberation and online voting is thus an answer to the concerns about the how.
To achieve its stated objectives of expanding participation and deliberation,
DOS shapes its design through continuous iterations and consolidates itself as
a clean design participation tool which prioritizes usability. From the outset,
we analyzed the complexity of handling a lot of information (for example, draft
bills) and we decided to simplify the presentation of these fields to the limit
and to always promote a colloquial language and an intuitive design allowing citizens
to quickly get used to the platform.

On the other hand, it is crucial that the new
decision-making communities be aware of the existence of these citizen
participation spaces – in order to innovate on the basis of inclusive and
equitable criteria. Participation biases (as a result of historical privileges
and the corresponding silence by certain groups) should be taken into account
when rethinking the practices, so as to avoid the continuing representation of
certain social groups to the detriment of others.

Participation biases should be taken into account when rethinking the practices, so as to avoid the continuing representation of certain social groups to the detriment of others.

From our perspective, there are no exclusive
methodologies: there are political problems and optimal solutions that depend
on the social, historical and technological moment in which we live. Today we count
on the networks to delve into the opening of institutions, the opening of
decision-making spaces, and the free circulation of knowledge. This is why we are
taking the networks - because they serve the purpose of emancipation.


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Where we come from

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/06/2017 - 5:46pm in

real problem is a lack of appreciation of history by the general public and their
willingness to accept myth as history.”

lead Tunisian poster for the film, An-nasir Salah ad-Din (Egypte, 1963) directed by Youssef Chahine. Wikicommons/ Netherlands museum for world culture. Some rights reserved.This is another interview in a series on
the dilemmas and contradictions researchers encounter in undertaking research
in the Middle East. The idea of interviewing social scientists on the processes
of the production of knowledge has been inspired from Michael Burawoy’s concept
of  ‘public sociology’, which he initiated and was followed by other
sociologists who carried out further interviews with social scientists in
‘Global Dialogue’.

These interviews will attempt to focus
on questions of methodology, equally, on the obstacles encountered by
researchers when undertaking fieldwork in enduring political upheavals. It will
also attempt to highlight the multiple and varied trajectories and voices which
a younger generation of social scientists in the Middle East have been

Mona Abaza (MA): As an
architectural and urban historian of Middle Eastern cities, specifically Cairo,
you have devoted much of your scholarship to the question of the Arab and the
Middle Eastern city? Why is this concept important to study?

Nezar AlSayyad (NA): The
answer to the question of “What is the Middle Eastern city?” raises the
question, “What is Middle East?” During the two decades when I was chair of the
Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Berkeley, I used always to ask my students,
“Middle of what? and east of where?” We know the answer to that question: it
was born out of a very specific colonial legacy.   

AlSayyad analyzes settlement forms both historic and contemporary. However, it is really important to recognize that the
origin of a concept is often far-removed from its current use.  The “Middle East” as a concept has been
sustained mainly because the people for whom it was intended ended up adopting
it as a self-description. No group in the Middle East ever talked about themselves
as specifically Middle Eastern in the nineteenth century. But over time, after
the rise of independent nation states, two groups of people in the different
emerging nations of the Middle East adopted this terminology.  These were politicians who engaged with the
rhetoric of nationhood and nation-building, and academic scholars who were trying
to put themselves on the political scene. 
Both adopted this terminology with a degree of flexibility, sometimes
using the term “Arab,” sometimes “Middle Eastern,” and sometimes “Islamic ” for
their own purposes. Although the category itself is not a very accurate
historical or geographic category, it remains a convenient geopolitical
category for both the formerly colonized people as well as their former

(MA): How do historians of architecture explain the
production of the built environment and the contributions they make to this? How
should those interested in the politics of space understand the significance of
the social production of the built environment in the current era?

(NA): The built environment is a good reflection of society
and culture, its practices and social norms, and even its structure. A very
important aspect of the built environment is that it is not static, it responds
to immediate changes in family composition, societal structure, and the economy.
No city ever stays the same even in a single decade. But all cities have their
own frames of reference, significant historical traces which tell their story. For
me, the built environment provides solid evidence of these types of changes. Ibn
Khaldoun, the great Arab philosopher and jurist wrote 500 years ago that the
history of nations and states is the history of their cities.  Similarly, the history of the modern Middle
East is certainly a history forged by its cities. Urbanism cannot and should
not be seen as a separate arena, which only architects and planners engage with:
it must be a fundamental domain for historians and geographers as well.

AlSayyad at the pyramids of Meroe.

cannot and should not be seen as a separate arena, which only architects and
planners engage with: it must be a fundamental domain for historians and
geographers as well.

(MA): For example, could
a comparative history of urban development explain the success and failure of
the different uprisings in Arab cities?

(NA): The answer to this question depends greatly on
the choice of cities we include in this category. I have frequently been
interviewed by journalists who want immediate buzz words as answers or
predictions. I am a historian, so I am not in the business of prediction. Of
course asking about the future requires a reflection on the past. But history
cannot really fully explain for example why an uprising in a particular Arab
city was successful while it was not in another. 

To give you an
example, the tremendous accessibility of Tahrir Square from areas that are very
different in the city played a significant role in the apparent but short-lived
success of the Egyptian uprising in January 2011. Around Tahrir Square, there
was the middle class district of Manial to the south, the dense and populated
Giza to the west, the upper middle class neighborhood of Mohandiseen to the
northeast, the working class district of Shoubra to the north, and downtown
Cairo to the east. What you have are five or six areas that represented all of
the cultural and socio-economic classes from all of Egypt. 

Add to this the
historical significance of the square overtime for Cairenes and the fact that
it was also the venue for earlier protests against colonialism and staging
other important political events. In this regard, history serves as an
interrogative method not as a predictive tool, and urban space becomes a solid
form of evidence for it.  This way, history
allows us to theorize about time but also about space and the interaction
between space and time. 

This is
particularly evident in the study of cities and their urbanism.

(MA): Your
scholarship has engaged extensively with “cinematic urbanism” particularly the co-constitution
of the reel and the real.  Can you introduce
us to this in the context of the Arab or Middle Eastern city?

(NA): Although most of my scholarship has engaged
with either the Middle East or Third World, that book, Cinematic Urbanism, was the exception: it only dealt with the
western city. The presentation or configuration of those cities as they have
appeared in film, and possibly as they have been invented in film, often
becomes the mechanism through which we experience those cities. For me there is
no New York without Woody Allen’s New York or Martin Scorsese’s New York. The
two become two sides of the same coin as they sustain each other.  The real sustains the reel and the reel
sustains the real.  

I am
interested in the Arab cinematic city, and am currently writing a chapter
entitled “Cinematic Cairo” for a book about cinema and the city around the
world.  I am interested in Mahfouz’s old Cairo,
Aswani’s neoliberal Cairo, or Shahine’s cosmopolitan Alexandria as they have appeared
on film, and to what extent our understanding of those cities today is often
based more on the virtual medium than it is on the physical experience. Similarly,
I think social media will also have an effect on urbanism, because our experience
is becoming more informationally-based and less place-rooted. One may ask to what
extent Facebook is going to be part of the life of Cairenes? We do not know yet.
We have to wait and see.

AlSayyad at the source of the Nile in Burundi.

One may ask to what extent Facebook is going to be part of the life of
Cairenes? We do not know yet.

(MA): I would like
to know more about virtual versus physical experience. Tell me about your
encounters as an architect with the physical experience of the city. How does that
influence your work?

(NA): Since the introduction of cinema and
television, the connection between the real and virtual has become increasingly
complex, particularly nowadays because of the new communication technology, the
internet and social media.  Let me share
a personal anecdote with you.  At a field
trip that was part of a conference I organized in Cairo more than a decade ago,
I encountered an American academic on the Giza plateau at the foot of the
Pyramids.  He was looking down toward the
Sphinx in its pit.  “Oh, but it is so
small,” he was saying. Clearly he was really disappointed.  His comment puzzled me, but it took me a
couple of minutes to make sense of what he meant.  When I went to look at his conference badge,
I figured out what was going on in his mind.  It turned out that the man was a teacher at
the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  His
city houses the famous Luxor Hotel and Gambling Casino, built as a glass
pyramid with a greatly enlarged sphinx serving as its entrance. The professor often
parked his car in a lot that faced the giant Las Vegas Sphinx. When he was in
Giza and saw the real sphinx, he was disappointed, not only because the real
thing did not live up to its simulacra, but also because along the way reality had
ceased to be relevant when the image or replica became the principal frame of
reference. Simulation here is no longer a referential frame but a new way of being
that challenges our perception of reality. 

(MA): Coming back to
the present, what are some of the challenges you have faced in Egypt or in
other cities of the Middle East while you were undertaking field research ?

(NA) Working in the Middle
East in general and in Egypt in particularly has become increasingly difficult.
There has always been a suspicion regarding researchers in Egypt. Even the
simple act of taking photographs of spaces or buildings, let alone political
activity, immediately elicits attention and questioning not only from the
security apparatus but also from ordinary individuals. 

complicates matters, of course, is the absence of an archiving methodology or
an investigative research culture in Egypt. 
As an urban historian, the tools of my trade include the study of buildings
and spaces and the documentation of activities that have occurred in them, often
only available in archived documents.  

denied access to the written documents or being prevented from documenting
physical spaces under the guise of it being a threat to security is very
frustrating. But more seriously the real problem is a lack of appreciation of
history by the general public and their willingness or openness to accept myth
as history. I remember when I was doing research for my first book “The streets
of Islamic Cairo” more than three and half decades ago, I encountered many an
old man who had lived in the area for all his life. While I was documenting the
Mamluk structures along the main spine of the medieval city, he insisted on
walking with me to explain to me as a resident what he knows about these
building and to my shock much of what he knew was at best inaccurate and at
worst stories that fall more into the realm of myth than historical reality. But
I also remember that after spending half a day with me, his advice to me as an
architect was that I should forgo the project of documenting these old
structures and focus on the future. His words still ring in my ears, “Why look
at these old things and ruins, there is nothing for your generation here”. 

I matured as a scholar, I realized that he represented a significant segment of
the Egyptian people in terms of how they view their history. I encountered
another equally large segment who were very proud of that history, although
upon further questioning I came to the conclusion that they too are proud of
something that they do not know and have not taken the time to understand. I
think that both of these attitudes contribute to the state of intellectual
malaise that exists in Egypt today. 

(MA):  How are you perceived as an Egyptian-American
in Middle Eastern cities, and has it become easier to do research? 

(NA) It will never be easy to
do research in the Arab World whether one is a local or a foreigner.  Knowing the language well and being able to
blend in with ordinary people and not stand out are important attributes regardless
of your nationality.  Of course if you
are white, blonde and blue-eyed, you will encounter more resistance and
possibly lack of cooperation because the current regime has spread the idea
that anyone who looks like that and is interested in issues of daily life in
Egypt must be a spy or must have sinister motives.  Look at what happened to Giulio Regeni – someone
who spoke such perfect Arabic he could be mistaken for an Egyptian and who
loved the country. Yet, once his foreign nationality and the subject of
research were known, his life was in immediate danger.   

someone who grew up in Egypt but became a US citizen I am lucky that I blend in
easily, a matter that gives me access to many areas in the city that I would
otherwise not be able to enter. I also believe that one’s ethnic and cultural
identity is inseparable from one’s scholarly identity. One of my favorite
writers who made me aware of this fact is the British sociologist Stuart Hall. Hall
was a black man from a Caribbean island that was part of the British Empire. He
landed in Great Britain at a young age and although he was a British citizen he
encountered the usual racism that people of his skin color suffer. But as he
delved more into English society, he started to question what is means for one
to be English. He
concludes that he is more English than the English himself by reminding us that
he is the leaf and the sugar at the bottom of that cup of tea. 

one of his more famous statement he asks, “ What does anyone know about the
English, other than the fact that an Englishman cannot go through the day
without his sugar-sweetened cup of tea?” 
He then remarks that in England there is not a single tea or sugar cane plantation.
Where does the tea and the sugar come from?   From
India, the Caribbean, and other former possessions of Great Britain! And then
he concludes that he is more English than the English himself by reminding us
that he is the leaf and the sugar at the bottom of that cup of tea.  For me this has always been an inspiring
quote because it reminds us that as scholars we should never forget who we are
and where we come from, but that we should always embrace the identities that
we develop into because of our acquired knowledge.

The Nile in Mansura. AlSayyad's latest book is entitled, 'Nile - urban histories on the banks of a river.' Author's own pics.

Related stories: 

Multiple entanglements

Sitting on top of Egyptian civilisation

Castaway: Stuart Hall in his own words

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‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/06/2017 - 10:45pm in

Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag published a
densely written book that has become a key title of modern social philosophy.
Underneath its pessimistic granite surface a strangely sanguine message awaits

lead Horkheimer left, Adorno right, Habermas background right, running hand through hair. Max Weber-Soziologentag, Heidelberg,April,1964. Wikicommons/Jeremy J.Shapiro. Some rights reserved.How do you make an argument against social domination when the very
terms, concepts and languages at your disposal are shaped by, and in turn serve
that same social domination? Probably in the way you would light a fire in a
wooden stove. How would you write a book about the impossibility of writing
just that book? Like a poem about the pointlessness of poems. What if your
enemies’ enemies are your own worst enemies? Can you defend liberal society
from its fascist enemies when you know it is the wrong state of things? You
must, but dialectics may well ‘make cowards of us all’ and spoil our ‘native
hue of resolution’.

Dialectic of Enlightenment[1] is a very
strange book, and although it was published, in 1947, by the leading publishing
house for exiled, German-language anti-fascist literature, the Querido Verlag
in Amsterdam, alongside many of the biggest literary names of the time, no-one
will have expected that it gradually became one of the classics of modern
social philosophy.

It is a book that commits all the sins editors tend to warn against: its
chapters are about wildly differing subject matters; the writing is repetitive,
circular and fragmented; no argument ever seems exhausted or final and there
are no explicitly stated conclusions, and certainly no trace of a policy impact
trajectory. Arguments start somewhere, suddenly come to a halt and then move on
to something else. If this sounds like the script for a Soviet film from the
revolutionary period, then that is not totally coincidental: it is an avant-garde montage
film, transcribed into philosophy. It is an avant-garde montage
film, transcribed into philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile
and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism
on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and
Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of
entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This
addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit
here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly
visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that
humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime
earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state.

The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some
liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward
then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would
not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes
to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.

Sergei Eisenstein, the “Father of Montage” in his silent films Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1927), and historical epics Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ivan the Terrible (1944, 1958). St.Petersburg 1910, Wikicommons/Source unknown. Some rights reserved.

Whose barbarism?

A number of propositions have been made, at the time and later, as to
who or what is to be blamed for the barbarism. Capitalism was an obvious
answer, but then, capitalism does not typically and all the time produce
Holocausts (and capitalists could be found among the victims). Others pointed
at ‘the Germans’ and their peculiar intellectual and social history; this, too,
is neither an entirely wrong nor a quite satisfying answer. Again others
pointed at ‘the bureaucracy’ and modern statecraft. These surely played a role
but there are plenty of state bureaucracies that do not engage in genocides and
world wars, most of the time. Horkheimer and Adorno made a much stranger, more
abstract and strangely radical proposition: the barbarism that destroyed
civilization was a product of civilization as such. It is civilization’s

The attempt to formulate a theory of barbarism as the product of
civilization creates a very thorny problem, though: theorizing, the attempt to
bring about enlightenment, is very much the stuff of civilization, as it
involves thinking, language, perceptions, concepts, images, ideas, judgements,
‘spirit’ (which in the philosophical tradition Horkheimer and Adorno came from
means as much as ‘culture’). Dialectic of Enlightenment blames the
destruction of enlightenment on enlightenment, i.e. on itself. The philosopher
Jürgen Habermas some decades later cleverly pointed out that this is a bit of a
contradiction. That was exactly the point, though: the hint is in the title, in
the word ‘Dialectic’.

Title-page of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.The book’s painful starting point is described in the preface:
Horkheimer and Adorno looked for a position from which to confront fascism and
found that ‘in reflecting on its own guilt’, thought finds that it lacks a

In the name of what exactly is it possible to challenge fascism
effectively? In the languages of sociology, psychology, history, philosophy?
The discourses of truth, freedom, human rights? Barbarism…
is civilization’s self-destruction.

Here is the rub: in the period in which fascism took power these sounded
hollow as they had been stripped of their authority. If this sounds familiar,
it is because, almost a century later, we are in a not so different situation.
Horkheimer and Adorno state – still in the preface – that fascist demagogues
and liberal intellectuals feed off the same (positivist) zeitgeist, marked by
the ‘self-destruction of the enlightenment’. Science and scholarship are not
potent weapons against fascism anymore, and this even affects tendencies that
are opposed to ‘official’, positivistic science.

The basic point here is that scientific, materialist, technological
rationality is a force for good only when it is linked to the idealistic notion
of general human emancipation, the goal of full rich lives for all, without
suffering, exploitation and oppression. (Using a word they had good reasons to
avoid, this is what Marx would have called ‘communism’). Only this link gives
empirical and rationalist science its truth and significance: enlightenment
needs to be ‘transcendental’, i.e. something that points beyond the actually
existing reality, not unlike metaphysics in traditional philosophy. It needs to
be critical, that is, in opposition to reality as it is.

The principal thesis of the book is that enlightenment purged itself of
this connection to society-transcending, non-empirical, critical truth, and as
early as on the second page of the preface Horkheimer and Adorno are happy to
name the thinker who exemplifies for them this fatal development: Auguste
Comte, the founder of positivist philosophy. They assert that in the hostile
and brutal conditions of the eighteenth century – the period often described as
that of ‘the Enlightenment’ – philosophy had dared to challenge the ‘infamy’
(as Voltaire called it) of the church and the society it helped maintain, while
in the aftermath of the French Revolution philosophy switched sides and put
itself at the service of the state. This was of course, by now, the modernising
state, but still the same state. They write that the Comtean school of
positivism – ‘apologists’ of the modern, capitalist society that emerged in the
nineteenth century – ‘usurped’ the succession to the genuine Enlighteners, and
reconciled philosophy with the forces it previously had opposed, such as the
Catholic church.

Leaders of the Action Française at their national Festival de Jeanne d'Arc, May 8, 1927. Charles Maurras second from left. Wikicommons/Bibliotheque nationale de France. Some rights reserved.Horkheimer and Adorno mention in this context the ultra-nationalist
organisation Action Française, whose chief ideologist Charles Maurras had been
an ardent admirer of Comte. This hint helps understand what kind of historical
developments they had on their minds: while Comte himself surely saw himself in
good faith as a protagonist of social reform meant to overcome-but-preserve the
achievements of the Revolution, and his translation of enlightenment empiricism
into the system of ‘positivist philosophy’ as a contribution to the process of
modernization, his followers in many ways contributed to the development of the
modern authoritarian state and, as in the case of Maurras, proto-fascism.

R. Fuzier cartoon depicting Daudet and Maurras on the nationalist demonstrations of 1934, among the league members of Action Francaise. Wikicommons/ Le Populaire, organe du Parti socialiste. Some rights reserved.The
elements of these subsequent developments can be found in Comte’s own writings,
which makes his ambiguities a suitable illustration of the dialectic of
enlightenment. (The Action Française is mentioned only in a version of the text
published in 1944 that was mostly circulated informally; it was not included in
the definitive publication of 1947. The authors might have assumed few people
would understand the connection to Comte without further explanation.)

Reason, data, and
the rejection of metaphysics

The two potentials of reason...As elsewhere in Horkheimer and Adorno’s writings, there is a lot of
polemic against ‘positivism’ in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Mostly the
target of their critique is the ‘logical positivism’ of their own time, but
they seem to see the latter as a logical extension or modification of the older
Comtean positivism that was a much more ambitious and comprehensive

There is no detailed engagement with Comte but it is clear that the
principal point of attack is Comte’s rejection of metaphysics: when the
eighteenth-century enlightenment was a combination, or perhaps more often an
assemblage, of empiricism and rationalism, Comte aimed to boil it down to
strictly positivist empiricism that observes the ‘positively’ givens (in Latin:
data) and derives ‘laws’ from them that can be used to predict and adapt
to, perchance slightly tweak, whatever reality has in store for us. And that is

The metaphysical ideas that had been useful in bringing down feudalism
and the old regime – the likes of freedom, individualism, emancipation – need to
be abandoned as they are the playthings of troublemakers, irritants that could
endanger the consolidation of the post-revolutionary new order. Positivism in
Comte’s sense is essentially the scientific basis of governance by experts,
while twentieth-century ‘logical positivism’ is its epistemological complement.
When Horkheimer and Adorno attack the latter, they see it as continuous with
the former. They wanted to be the troublemakers…

The attack on metaphysics was a central theme of German philosophy in the
1920s, and helped weaken the defences against fascism across the political
spectrum. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that the cult of facts and probabilities
has flushed out conceptual thinking, and as humans generally have a need to
explain to themselves conceptually why they should be bothered to do anything,
or resist doing something that society expects them to do, the denunciation and
elimination of concepts as ‘metaphysical’ promotes a passive and fatalistic
going-with-the-flow. The ‘blocking of the theoretical imagination has paved the
way for political delusion’, which in the context meant fascism.

Again, many contemporaries were happy back then to argue for the
reconstruction of some kind of metaphysical system – theological, neo-Platonic,
neo-Aristotelian or whatever else. They had a relatively easy task of this in
the context of WWII as such philosophical or theological systems are something
one can hold on to: they can help one to weather the brute modernizing nihilism
of the fascist barbarians, and after their defeat provide a handy identity

The easy option of a return to traditional metaphysics was not open,
though, to the Frankfurt School theorists who saw themselves within the
tradition of the radical strand of the Enlightenment.  Their main thrust
was to attack its domesticated version, the ‘positivism’ that puts itself and
its expertise at the service of domination. Far from writing against the
Enlightenment, they wanted to restore it to its complex form that contained
traces of the transcendental that Comte – quite correctly – saw as trouble.
They wanted to be the troublemakers whom Comte thought he had exorcised from
the Enlightenment.

Nursing unacted

As Horkheimer and Adorno state, the ‘self-destruction of enlightenment’ that
frustrated the writing of the book they initially had in mind – probably a fine
scholarly tome on the role of dialectical logic in a variety of academic
disciplines – came to provide the principal subject matter of the book they did
write. The second line of the title, ‘Philosophical Fragments’, indicated that
they were then still thinking of it as a halfway house on the way towards
writing the real thing. This never happened, so it is what it is: an assertion
that ‘thinking that aims at enlightenment’ is inseparably linked to freedom in
society, but the admission that enlightenment also ‘already contains the germ
of the regression which is taking place everywhere today’. This is the project
of an enlightenment mindful of the antagonisms that drive it, as opposed to a
smug and arrogant one that feels good about itself lecturing the unenlightened.

If this sounds a bit hippy-ish, then this is because there is in fact a
sort of romantic aspect to all this. It is most evident on the very last pages
of the book, in the last of the twenty-four short pieces that make up the sixth
chapter (‘Notes and Sketches’), titled ‘On the genesis of stupidity’. This, the
final statement, begins with a very striking image: ‘The emblem of intelligence
is the antenna of the snail’. ‘The emblem of
intelligence is the antenna of the snail’.

Horkheimer and Adorno do not provide any reference in support of this
claim, but one could think for example of a famous letter by Keats that mentions
the ‘trembling and delicate snail-horn perception of beauty’. The antenna, or
horn, of the snail represents the good kind of enlightenment we should aspire
to: trembling and delicate, as in Keats.  (See also

Horkheimer and Adorno use the image, though, to make an anthropological
argument about the emergence of intelligence: ‘Meeting an obstacle, the antenna
is immediately withdrawn into the protection of the body, it becomes one with
the whole until it ventures forth again only timidly as an independent organ.
If the danger is still present, it disappears once more, and the intervals
between the attempts grow longer’.

They argue here that the development of human mental life is
precariously physical and depends on the freedom to exercise the organs of
perception. Evolution only takes place when ‘antennae were once stretched out
in new directions and not repulsed’. Stupidity, by contrast, ‘is a scar’:
‘Every partial stupidity in a human being marks a spot where the awakening play
of muscles has been inhibited instead of fostered’.

Screenshot of detail from William Blake's engraving for Gay's Fable 24,'The Butterfly and the Snail.' British Museum.Switching to a psychoanalytical argument, Horkheimer and Adorno write
that the inhibition leads to automatized repetitions of the aborted attempt,
such as in neurotic repetitions of a ‘defence reaction which has already proved
futile’, and ultimately produces a numb spot where the scar is, a deformation.
All the deformations we accumulate during individual and species evolution
translate into well-adapted, functioning ‘characters’, stupidity, impotence or
spiteful fanaticism, or any combination thereof. They are so many monuments to
arrested hope.

This is how the book ends: it is implied that the answer to stupidity,
including those of fascism and antisemitism, but also their contemporary second
cousins such as ‘post-truth’, resentment-driven politics from Hindutva to
Brexit, those myriads of irrational particularisms that gang up on particulars
and individuals, ultimately can be defeated only by more freedom of movement
for our antennas and other muscles, and the production of fewer scars on our
various tissues.

Marxism and

One of the stupidest things is antisemitism. The fifth chapter of Dialectic
of Enlightenment
, ‘Elements of antisemitism. Limits of Enlightenment’, is
easily the most complex, ambitious and challenging text ever written on this
particular subject.

The same peculiarity that characterises the entire book is what makes
reading ‘Elements’ rather hard work: the intermeshing of the critique of the
present – capitalist modernity – with the much grander theme of the critique of
human civilization.

Most of what Horkheimer and Adorno have to say on antisemitism in the perspective
of the capitalist present is contained in the first few pages of the chapter
and must have felt like a slap in the face by unsuspecting liberal readers: the
argument emphasizes the continuity between liberal and fascist governance and
the responsibility of the bourgeoisie. First of all, liberals and the
representatives of the ‘democratic-popular movements’ had always been lukewarm
at best about the equality of Jews who seemed less than totally assimilated.
Fascism is then described as the modern bourgeoisie’s move towards ‘regression
to naked domination’, whereby the liberal notion of the ‘harmony of society’
(the harmonious give-and-take of a market-based society) has morphed into a Volksgemeinschaft,
i.e. the nation that declares itself to be ‘race’.

Arbeit Macht Frei gate, KZ Sachsenhausen, Berlin. Wikicommons/Sachsenhausen Archive. Some rights reserved.

Fascism openly reveals and celebrates what had been the essence of
society anyway: a violence that distorts human beings. Those who had embraced
the more idealistic aspects of liberalism only made themselves more helpless
when they had to face up to its unvarnished reality: nice ideals to have, but
potentially self-defeating in practice.

This analysis was seriously out of step with the emergent intellectual
life of a post-fascist Germany that hoped simply to return to its previous
liberal and democratic better self, as if the latter’s total collapse had just
been an unfortunate accident.   

The critique of liberalism and the bourgeoisie is only a minor point
here, though: for Marxists it is hardly shocking news that liberalism can morph
into fascism, usually fails to put up much of a defence against it, and that
the ruling class will encourage the subalterns to embrace any kind of vicious
and violent ideology if they deem it useful to maintain their grip on power. The necessary but not sufficient preconditions for the
emergence of the exterminatory antisemitism of the Nazis.

These were part of the necessary but not sufficient preconditions for
the emergence of the exterminatory antisemitism of the Nazis; they are not
enough to explain a pogrom, and certainly not the Holocaust. This is the point
at which Horkheimer and Adorno shift from ‘modern bourgeois society’ to ‘human
civilization’ as the framework of explanation: the antisemitic pogrom is
described as ‘a luxury’ (given that the material gain for the immediate
perpetrators usually was slim) and ‘a ritual of civilization’. With ‘ritual’
and ‘civilization’ we enter the territory of anthropology.

The point here is that the dynamic of contemporary capitalist society
mobilizes forces that can be described and understood only with the help of
categories of more historical depth than those of capitalist society itself.
This does not, though, mean a turning away from the language of Marxism:
‘civilization’ and ‘society’ are not alternative objects of study – the point
is that either dimension can be understood only through the other. Human
civilization exists in the present only in the form of capitalist
society; capitalist society is nothing other than human civilization in its
current form. (The relationship between these two concepts is similar to that
between capitalism and patriarchy in some forms of feminist theory: they are
not different ‘things’ but the former is the contemporary form of appearance of
the latter, and the latter is undergirding the former. Here, too, the strategic
hope of progressives is that capitalist modernity impacts and transforms its
substratum, patriarchal civilization, so thoroughly that it allows for the
emergence of the post-capitalist non-patriarchy we would like to see.)

Social inequality

The best known part of the argument, though, relates to modern society
and is derived straight from Marx’s critique of political economy: capitalist
society maintains the ‘socially necessary illusion’ that the wage-relationship
is (in principle, or potentially) ‘fair’, i.e. an exchange of equivalent
values: this much labour-power for this much money.

Nevertheless, social inequality is an only too obvious reality. To the
untrained eye inequality seems to be brought about in the sphere of circulation
(as opposed to the sphere of production), say, at the supermarket till where it
becomes manifest how much produce one’s wages will buy.

Marx argues that the apparent fairness of the wage relationship itself
presupposes exploitation that is expressed as the difference between the
‘exchange value’ of labour power (represented by the wage) and its ‘use-value’
(represented by the product that it produced): the product produced by X amount
of labour power must be higher than the wage paid for it because this is where
the profit for the capitalist comes from.

Admittedly this explanation – one of the centrepieces of Marxist theory
– flies in the face of ‘common sense’ everyday consciousness where the notion
of ‘a fair wage’ reigns supreme – not least because we tend to invoke the
ideology of ‘fairness’ when we engage in a wage struggle. (When we ask for more
than what is deemed ‘fair’ we are called ‘greedy’ and forfeit the sympathy of
‘the public’.) (When we ask for more than what is
deemed ‘fair’ we are called ‘greedy’ and forfeit the sympathy of ‘the public’.)

Capitalist common sense, including the ideology of ‘fairness’, thus
produces the need for another explanation for inequality and exploitation; and
helpfully the capitalist exploiters, ‘masquerading as producers’, shout
‘thief!’ and point at ‘the merchants’ and other representatives of the sphere
of circulation. This line of argument, up to this point, has of course nothing
in itself to do with antisemitism: in developed capitalism, the exploitative character
of the mode of production tends to be deflected onto (real or imagined) agents
of circulation, and many forms of (supposed) ‘anti-capitalism’ reflect this.

As Horkheimer and Adorno put it, ‘the merchant is the bailiff of the
whole system and takes the hatred for the other [exploiters] upon himself’.
Which category of people is cast as this particular type of scapegoat is
entirely dependent on historical context; in Christian Europe, this mechanism
of capitalist-anticapitalist ideology found in ‘the Jews’ an ideal object and
thus revived and reinvented, as modern antisemitism, pre-existing traditions of
Jew-hatred. (Modern antisemitism was exported elsewhere, then, in the hand
luggage of imperialism and on arrival sometimes became an element of the ‘anti-imperialism
of fools’, but that is another story.)

Antisemitism and self-hatred

This, the Marxist theory of antisemitism, is contained in very condensed
form on some of the first pages of ‘Elements of antisemitism’. Taken on its
own, this theory only explains antisemitism as a set of ideas, a particular
misguided way of thinking about capitalism. Insofar as these ideas are quite
fixed, they form an attitude, a mental pattern or a ‘habitus’. Ideas and
attitudes alone do not make anyone act, though, and the monstrous antisemitic
acts of the Holocaust need several more layers of explanation.

Nazi antisemitism mobilized a deep-seated force that turned this
antisemitism into an irrational obsession, even though often executed with a
rational deliberation that far surpassed the misguided social protest as which
it may have started in most individuals: the delusion of a moral duty to save
the world by identifying, chasing and killing Jews wherever they are, at
whatever price.

One of the ideas with which Horkheimer and Adorno respond to this
theoretical need is that of the pogrom as a ‘ritual of civilization’. It is as
if antisemitism as described above gave form and direction to the murderous
obsession – it pointed to who the victims should be and why they deserved what
they got – but it did not in fact cause it. Ideas can trigger, guide and
justify, but do not cause actions. Correspondingly, even the smartest rational
explanations do not usually help much with antisemites ‘because rationality as
entangled with domination is itself at the root of the malady’. If antisemitism
and other maladies are in fact phobias against rationality, rationality will
not wash. Only reflection on the entanglement itself would help: is there
perhaps good reason to be suspicious of reason? This is how ‘Elements of
antisemitism’ feeds back into the general theme of Dialectic of

In the philosophical tradition that Horkheimer and Adorno come from and
that includes Hegel and Marx, ‘reason’ is not a value-neutral concept. What is
reasonable is not simply ‘whatever works’ (efficiently, instrumentally) but
whatever serves human emancipation and autonomy. Rationality understood in this
way has an element of transcendence – some kind of going-beyond the bad reality
as it exists – that is not entirely different from that found in religion.

Indeed they write that before it was reduced to being a cultural
artefact – an aspect of a society’s way of life, something that is considered
useful for holding society together – religion contained both truth and
deception. The truth of religion was the longing for redemption, and this truth
lived on in philosophical idealism. Positivism, in turn, exorcized the longing
from philosophy and reduced truth one-dimensionally to the depiction of the
world as it actually is. (Clever positivists noticed of course that this is
never quite possible and concluded that there is no such thing as truth, then,
which is consistent with their own definition of it.) Spirit, enlightenment,
civilization became dispirited. Enlightenment minus the spirit of longing –
utopia, the ability to imagine something better – is a self-hating
enlightenment. Spirit, enlightenment, civilization
became dispirited.

Whereas civilization and enlightenment are defined as the continuous
effort of humanity to escape the dull circularity of reproduction and
self-preservation, in reality its efforts increasingly went into perfecting
humanity’s means of reproduction and self-preservation (in other words: labour;
the economy). In order to free ourselves from having to work a lot, humanity
had to work a lot in order to develop the means of production (knowledge,
experience, science, technology, social organisation) which are indeed an
important part of what we commonly call ‘civilization’.

Horkheimer and Adorno’s basic point is quite simple: far from rejecting
civilization, we have to rebalance it as it has become an end in itself. We
have developed civilization, productivity, technology, society in order to
spend more time lazing about on the beach, and after all we went through,
humanity is more than entitled now to cash in the chips. The reality of the dialectic
of enlightenment is, though, that the closer we actually come to leading the
life of Riley the further it seems out of our reach, and chances are that by
the time we sort this out beaches may be no more.

Apocalypse Now

In ‘Elements of antisemitism’, Horkheimer and Adorno focus on one
particular aspect of this dialectic: the idea that modern civilization develops
a destructive fury against the ‘anachronistic’ remnants of its own initial
stages, including mimesis and magic. Mimesis is the effort of a living creature
to mimic its natural environment as a survival strategy and is discussed by
anthropologists as one of the oldest aspects of human civilization: humans try
to pacify a dangerous animal by ‘being’ that animal in a ritual dance, for
example. Horkheimer and Adorno discuss this as the beginning of the process of
enlightenment: we mimic nature to escape its domination. Similarly, sacrificing
an animal in order to make the gods grant rainfall or success in warfare is a
form of barter, i.e. an early form of rationality, especially as the clever
humans hope the deal will have them receive something much more valuable than
what they sacrifice.

It is not difficult to recognize some of our own supposedly ‘modern’
behaviour in those supposedly ‘primitive’ practices. One of the key arguments
in ‘Elements of antisemitism’ is that every time civilization progresses from
one stage to the next, it comes to hate everything that reminds it of the
previous stage: in a very general sense, the ‘civilized’ hate (and exterminate)
the ‘savages’ because they remind us that we are just one step ahead of them
(in our own judgment, that is), and it would not take very much to regress into
the more ‘primitive’ state (witness Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now).

Poster for Apocalypse Now. Wikicommons. Fair use.Perhaps we even have a secret desire to go back to being ‘savages’:
after all, the life of a hunter-gatherer might well be preferable to your
average office job. Because the civilized paid a high price to get this far,
they fortify themselves against the threat of regression. Many aspects of
racism can be related to this.

Antisemites like to shudder in fear of supposed Jewish superiority and
secret world domination, but at the same time antisemitism shares with other
forms of racism the projection of aspects of ‘savagery’ onto ‘the Jews’. The
most obvious case is their accusation of ritual murder, but there are other
things that antisemites assert they find unpleasant or disgusting about ‘the
Jews’, and many of these are, in a sense, ‘primitive’: energetic gesticulating,
which is often seen as somehow ‘typically Jewish’, is a form of mimetic
behaviour as the physical movement paints a picture of an emotional state. The
big noses ‘the Jews’ supposedly have point to a more primitive stage of
development where the sense of smell was still more important than the other
senses (whereas in modernity smell, as well as being smelly, is tabooed; those
backward garlic-eaters still have to learn this). Horkheimer and Adorno point
to a bitter irony here: not only was the religion of Judaism in fact very much
driven by the overcoming of magic and mimesis (such as in the ban on images),
it is the antisemites who indulge in bringing back echoes of magic and mimesis
in their love of rituals, sacrifices, formulas and uniforms. The prosecution
and destruction of those accused of mimetic, primitive behaviour provides the
supposedly civilized with a splendid opportunity to indulge in lots of mimetic
and primitive behaviour.

Beyond Gewalt

The principal argument, though, is that the latest stage of the process
of civilization is marked by the destruction of the capability of thinking
itself: highly advanced stupidity. In prehistory, people’s encounters with
animals not noted for spending much time pondering the pros and cons of eating
humans required equally unhesitating decisions: shoot the poisoned arrow or run
fast. No time for dialectics here. Civilization decimated inconvenient animals
and other immediate threats and was thus free to create institutions of
mediation that slowed things down and made space for the new activities of
judging and reasoning. Late-industrial society, though, has brought about ‘a
regression to judgment without judging’: legal process is made short work of in
kangaroo courts, cognition is emptied of active reflection and likes to jump to
conclusions, and thinking as a specialized profession becomes a luxury that
‘must not be tempted … to draw any awkward conclusions’.

Nevertheless, the very last sentence of ‘Elements of antisemitism’ is
guardedly optimistic: ‘Enlightenment itself, having come into its own and
thereby turning into a force, could break through the limits of Enlightenment.’

Adorno Memorial in Frankfurt. Wikicommons/ Der Nähe der Goethe-Universität. Some rights reserved.

Late-industrial society has brought about ‘a
regression to judgment without judging’.

The grounds for this surprisingly hopeful turn are laid out in the
concluding sections of the first chapter, ‘The concept of enlightenment’. Here,
Horkheimer and Adorno assert in the purest spirit of the Enlightenment that
thinking is ‘the servant whom the master cannot control at will’. Even though
enlightenment serves domination, it is bound to turn against domination
sooner or later. The bringer of hope is here, rather unexpectedly, the very
thing that tends to figure as the devil incarnate in most forms of ‘critique of
civilization’ on the left as on the right: reification.

Domination has ‘reified’ itself (which means, made itself into a thing)
by taking on the forms of law and organisation, and in the process limited
itself. These instruments ‘mediate’ domination, that is, they moderate the
immediacy of exploitation: ‘The moment of rationality in domination also
asserts itself as something different from [domination].’ The object-like quality
of the means of domination – language, weapons, machines, thought – makes these
means universally available for everyone, including those resisting or fighting

Also this is, in Horkheimer and Adorno’s argument, part of the dialectic
of enlightenment: although in the capitalist present, thought may become
mechanical, and today’s machines mutilate their operators, ‘in the form of
machines … alienated reason moves toward a society which reconciles thought …
with the liberated living beings’. Dialectic of Enlightenment appears
here, on closer reading, to have anticipated some of the revolutionary optimism
that decades later accompanied the discussions of the internet as somehow
intrinsically communistic – think of shareware and all that – and current discussions
that the latest ongoing round of technological innovation will abolish most
capitalist labour and force humanity either to advance to a truly human society
or regress to some kind of neo-feudal or neo-caste system.

In the last paragraph of ‘The concept of Enlightenment’ Horkheimer and
Adorno are quite explicit about the source of their optimism: they state that
‘the bourgeois economy’ has multiplied Gewalt (a German word that means
violence, power, force and/or domination) ‘through the mediation of the
market’, but in the same process has also ‘multiplied its things and forces to
such an extent that their administration no longer requires kings, nor even the
bourgeois themselves: it only needs all. They learn from the power of things finally
to forgo domination.’

This sentence, written in the midst of WWII and the Holocaust, is
nothing less than astonishing, and has been largely overlooked in the reception
of Dialectic of Enlightenment: in spite of their seemingly overwhelming
darkness, we can learn from the reified forms of enlightenment – the stuff of
civilization: knowledge, science, technology, social-organisational forms –
that we can abolish the domination to which the enlightenment has been wedded
for several tens of thousands of years. This optimism does not come with any
guarantees, obviously: the learning remains for us to do, and the obstacles are

Gedenktafel für Max Horkheimer an seinem Wohnhaus im Stadtteil Westend-Süd in Frankfurt am Main. February 1990. Wikicommons/ Bronzetafel mit Portrait, Edwin Hüller. Some rights reserved.

[1]  Horkheimer, Max; Theodor
W. Adorno, 2002, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Philosophical Fragments, edited
by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, translated by Edmund Jephcott
, Stanford: Stanford
University Press.

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