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When humanity doesn't rock
by Richard Seymour / Aug. 24, 2018

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on pessimism. so good, as usual

Seymour, R. (2018, August 24). When humanity doesn't rock. Patreon. https://www.patreon.com/posts/when-humanity-20955837

What, you might reasonably sputter at this point, has any of that got to do with politics? But if you've got this far, you've patiently waded through relatively ordinary observations about the anthropocene, guilt and genocide. So stick with it. We're almost there. The point I'm making is that, in political discussions it is increasingly the worst thing in the world to be wrong. Indeed, it's often hard to separate being wrong from being a loser, thick, malevolent, or bigoted.

There's something about social media, in particular, but also the wider culture, that favours zero-sum, win-lose arguments. I often find myself responding to this pressure on social media, but you can also see it in television 'debates'. Not to be precious about this, some arguments are actually win-lose in their essence; sometimes those are the stakes. But it is in the nature of such arguments that we can't encounter other people being wrong without gleefully strutting and clucking over the grave of their rectitude, the tattered remains of their dignity. Logically, that also entails that we can't stand to be wrong about anything ourselves. Which means, we can't stand to learn anything, because in any conversation like that, pedagogy is only ever one-way and takes the form of a punishment beating.

This gleeful grave-dancing of the victors in argument, moreover, looks uncomfortably close to the kind of prideful cock-walking that you might expect from some of the victors of the neoliberal game. At times, dare I say, this form of communication looks a little fascistic, as through difference could be settled through group humiliation. Which brings me back to what I was saying earlier. “Humanity rocks” usually, in practice, means that “humans like me rock hardest”.

If, however, we start from the premise that humanity isn't all that neat, that it doesn't always 'rock', that there is a lot to be wary and frightened of in ourselves, that there are things to be guilty about, that there are failures that are understandable but not okay, that we don't and can't know it all, then we might find the gleeful grave-dancing of the victors (in whatever domain) far more ridiculous and repulsive than the losers. Indeed, we might acknowledge the losers, whether or not we personally like them or their politics, with a certain rueful solidarity, a certain recognition of their predicament. It’s the egalitarianism of universal failure. That’s the sort of pessimism I’m talking about.

fuckkkk

by Richard Seymour 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What, you might reasonably sputter at this point, has any of that got to do with politics? But if you've got this far, you've patiently waded through relatively ordinary observations about the anthropocene, guilt and genocide. So stick with it. We're almost there. The point I'm making is that, in political discussions it is increasingly the worst thing in the world to be wrong. Indeed, it's often hard to separate being wrong from being a loser, thick, malevolent, or bigoted.

There's something about social media, in particular, but also the wider culture, that favours zero-sum, win-lose arguments. I often find myself responding to this pressure on social media, but you can also see it in television 'debates'. Not to be precious about this, some arguments are actually win-lose in their essence; sometimes those are the stakes. But it is in the nature of such arguments that we can't encounter other people being wrong without gleefully strutting and clucking over the grave of their rectitude, the tattered remains of their dignity. Logically, that also entails that we can't stand to be wrong about anything ourselves. Which means, we can't stand to learn anything, because in any conversation like that, pedagogy is only ever one-way and takes the form of a punishment beating.

This gleeful grave-dancing of the victors in argument, moreover, looks uncomfortably close to the kind of prideful cock-walking that you might expect from some of the victors of the neoliberal game. At times, dare I say, this form of communication looks a little fascistic, as through difference could be settled through group humiliation. Which brings me back to what I was saying earlier. “Humanity rocks” usually, in practice, means that “humans like me rock hardest”.

If, however, we start from the premise that humanity isn't all that neat, that it doesn't always 'rock', that there is a lot to be wary and frightened of in ourselves, that there are things to be guilty about, that there are failures that are understandable but not okay, that we don't and can't know it all, then we might find the gleeful grave-dancing of the victors (in whatever domain) far more ridiculous and repulsive than the losers. Indeed, we might acknowledge the losers, whether or not we personally like them or their politics, with a certain rueful solidarity, a certain recognition of their predicament. It’s the egalitarianism of universal failure. That’s the sort of pessimism I’m talking about.

fuckkkk

by Richard Seymour 2 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] the smaller, everyday cruelties and stupidities for which we are on-goingly available, and which form part of the normal run of human experience. The moments when you get so obsessed with your own shit that you forget the effects you're having on other people. When you get so paralysed by rage at some petty injustice while blithely ignoring those you may be inadvertently committing yourself. When, on a low-level, you manipulate and instrumentalise others in a way that you would find humiliating if it was done to you. When your righteousness is so absolute that you can only imagine the worst of anyone who disagrees with you, and so set out to 'destroy' them. When you feel so threatened by someone's beliefs that you actually believe they are in some way oppressing you, and act accordingly. [...]

These are ordinary failings. Yet it would be extremely difficult to look at the texture of political life, be it in party meetings, public events, or online discussions, where they don't have some bearing on the run of things. We can all see this when it's other people who are doing it. The term "political discipline" is in disrepute because of its association with sectarian politics and top-down cults. And if it means suppressing disagreements or keeping secrets, it probably isn't a good idea. But if it means acting on the knowledge that none of us are squeaky-clean, that all of us can be stupid or cruel, that we are often most self-deceiving when we think we're right, and that we often (always) fall short of our own ideals, then it would lead to a far kinder and less volatile discourse. It would not stop people from trying to 'destroy', humiliate or exploit their comrades, or putting their own issues ahead of 'the struggle', but it might put a check on it.

by Richard Seymour 2 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] the smaller, everyday cruelties and stupidities for which we are on-goingly available, and which form part of the normal run of human experience. The moments when you get so obsessed with your own shit that you forget the effects you're having on other people. When you get so paralysed by rage at some petty injustice while blithely ignoring those you may be inadvertently committing yourself. When, on a low-level, you manipulate and instrumentalise others in a way that you would find humiliating if it was done to you. When your righteousness is so absolute that you can only imagine the worst of anyone who disagrees with you, and so set out to 'destroy' them. When you feel so threatened by someone's beliefs that you actually believe they are in some way oppressing you, and act accordingly. [...]

These are ordinary failings. Yet it would be extremely difficult to look at the texture of political life, be it in party meetings, public events, or online discussions, where they don't have some bearing on the run of things. We can all see this when it's other people who are doing it. The term "political discipline" is in disrepute because of its association with sectarian politics and top-down cults. And if it means suppressing disagreements or keeping secrets, it probably isn't a good idea. But if it means acting on the knowledge that none of us are squeaky-clean, that all of us can be stupid or cruel, that we are often most self-deceiving when we think we're right, and that we often (always) fall short of our own ideals, then it would lead to a far kinder and less volatile discourse. It would not stop people from trying to 'destroy', humiliate or exploit their comrades, or putting their own issues ahead of 'the struggle', but it might put a check on it.

by Richard Seymour 2 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] the loaded concept of the 'anthropocene'. On one level, it is a political evasion, diluting the necessarily focused discussion of capitalism and its restless accumulation. On another level, capitalism is something that human beings, and no other species, do. We're all doing it now, even if we don't all have the same level of power or responsibility. It clearly is not the only thing we could be doing, but it does have some relationship to specifically human propensities and capacities. It does something with the cumulative, collective cultural intelligence that make us the number one predator on the planet. It has survived in part through brute force, in part through disciplinary mechanisms. But it also survived because of the promise (for some) of ever-increasing abundance. Why worry about having a smaller slice of the pie? The pie will keep growing. Or, if not, you can steal someone else's slice.

how is he such a good writer

by Richard Seymour 2 months, 2 weeks ago

[...] the loaded concept of the 'anthropocene'. On one level, it is a political evasion, diluting the necessarily focused discussion of capitalism and its restless accumulation. On another level, capitalism is something that human beings, and no other species, do. We're all doing it now, even if we don't all have the same level of power or responsibility. It clearly is not the only thing we could be doing, but it does have some relationship to specifically human propensities and capacities. It does something with the cumulative, collective cultural intelligence that make us the number one predator on the planet. It has survived in part through brute force, in part through disciplinary mechanisms. But it also survived because of the promise (for some) of ever-increasing abundance. Why worry about having a smaller slice of the pie? The pie will keep growing. Or, if not, you can steal someone else's slice.

how is he such a good writer

by Richard Seymour 2 months, 2 weeks ago