Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature | Mises Institute

Some scientists treat every proboscidean extinction as a unique mystery, unrelated to other proboscidean extinctions, and climate and resulting vegetation changes are hypothesized as agents of extinction (or other causes invoked), when the most probable cause stares at them each morning in the mirror. The devil in the details, but regarding the megafauna extinctions, some specialists cannot seem to discern a very clear pattern. Scientists, because they are human, have an inherent conflict of interest when attributing such catastrophes to non-human causes. During the remainder of this essay, it will become evident that there is a human penchant for absolving one’s in-group of responsibility for catastrophes and crimes committed against the out-group, and , scientists, and other professionals regularly engage in such interest-conflicted acts, whether they were defending their species, race, gender, nation, class, ideology, ethnicity, or profession. That in-group/out-group difference in treatment has a long history and probably goes back to the beginnings of territorial social animals.

Egalitarianism as a revolt against nature and other essays

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I retort that the question is wrongly put. The citizen gives his consent to all the laws, including those which are passed in spite of his opposition, and even those which punish him when he dares to break any of them. The constant will of all the members of the State is the general will; by virtue of it they are citizens and free. When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what the people is asked is not exactly whether it approves or rejects the proposal, but whether it is in conformity with the general will, which is their will. Each man, in giving his vote, states his opinion on that point; and the general will is found by counting votes. When therefore the opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the general will was not so. If my particular opinion had carried the day I should have achieved the opposite of what was my will; and it is in that case that I should not have been free."(The Social Contract, Book II, Chapter 2, "Voting")

The "totalitarian" catch here is the short-circuit between constative and performative: by reading the voting procedure not as a performative act of decision, but as a constative, as the act of expressing the opinion on (of guessing )what is the general will (which is thus substantialized into something that PRE-EXISTS voting), he avoids the deadlock of the rights of those who remain in the minority (they should obey the decision of the majority, because in the result of voting, they learn what the general will really is). In other words, those who remain in the minority are not simply a minority: in learning the result of the vote (which run against their individual vote), they do not simply learn that they are a minority - what they learn is that they were MISTAKEN about what is the general will.

The parallel between this substantialization of the general will and the religious notion of Predestination cannot but strike the eye: in the case of Predestination, fate is also substantialized into a decision that precedes the process, so that the stake of individuals' activities is not to performatively constitute their fate, but to discover (or guess) one's pre-existing fate. What is obfuscated in both cases is the dialectical reversal of contingency into necessity, i.e., the way the outcome of a contingent process is the appearance of necessity: things retroactively "will have been" necessary." This reversal was described by Jean-Pierre Dupuy:

Egalitarianism as a revolt against nature and other …

This strange coupling of democracy and dictatorship is grounded in the tension that pertains to the very notion of democracy. What Chantal Mouffe calls the "democratic paradox" almost symmetrically inverts the fundamental paradox of the authoritarian Fascism: if the wager of (institutionalized) democracy is to integrate the antagonistic struggle itself into the institutional/differential space, transforming it into regulated agonism, Fascism proceeds in the opposite direction. While Fascism, in its mode of activity, brings the antagonistic logic to its extreme (talking about the "struggle to death" between itself and its enemies, and always maintaining - if not realizing - a minimum of an extra-institutional threat of violence, of a "direct pressure of the people" by-passing the complex legal-institutional channels), it posits as its political goal precisely the opposite, an extremely ordered hierarchic social body (no wonder Fascism always relies on organicist-corporatist metaphors). This contrast can be nicely rendered in the terms of the Lacanian opposition between the "subject of enunciation" and the "subject of the enunciated (content)": while democracy admits antagonistic struggle as its goal (in Lacanese: as its enunciated, its content), its procedure is regulated-systemic; Fascism, on the contrary, tries to impose the goal of hierarchically structured harmony through the means of an unbridled antagonism.

In a homologous way, the ambiguity of the middle class, this contradiction embodied (as already Marx put it apropos Proudhon), is best exemplified by the way it relates to politics: on the one hand, the middle class is against politicization - they just want to sustain their way of life, to be left to work and lead their life in peace (which is why they tend to support the authoritarian coups which promise to put an end to the crazy political mobilization of society, so that everybody can return to his or her proper work). On the other hand, they - in the guise of the threatened patriotic hard-working moral majority - are the main instigators of the grass-root mass mobilization (in the guise of the Rightist populism - say, in France today, the only force truly disturbing the post-political technocratic-humanitarian administration is le Pen's National Front.

There are two elementary and irreducible sides to democracy: the violent egalitarian imposition of those who are "surnumerary," the "part of no part," those who, while formally included within the social edifice, have no determinate place within it; and the regulated (more or less) universal procedure of choosing those who will exert power. How do these to sides relate to each other? What if democracy in the second sense (the regulated procedure of registering the "people's voice") is ultimately a defense against itself, against democracy in the sense of the violent intrusion of the egalitarian logic that disturbs the hierarchic functioning of the social edifice, an attempt to re-functionalize this excess, to make it a part of the normal running of the social edifice?

The problem is thus: how to regulate/institutionalize the very violent egalitarian democratic impulse, how to prevent it from being drowned in democracy in the second sense of the term (regulated procedure)? If there is no way to do it, then "authentic" democracy remains a momentary utopian outburst which, the proverbial morning after, has to be normalized.

The Orwellian proposition "democracy is terror" is thus democracy's "infinite judgment," its highest speculative identity. This dimension gets lost in Claude Lefort's notion of democracy as involving the empty place of power, the constitutive gap between the place of power and the contingent agents who, for a limited period, can occupy that place. Paradoxically, the underlying premise of democracy is thus not only that there is no political agent which has a "natural" right to power, but, much more radically, that "people" themselves, the ultimate source of the sovereign power in democracy, doesn't exist as a substantial entity. In the Kantian way, the democratic notion of "people" is a negative concept, a concept whose function is merely to designate a certain limit: it prohibits any determinate agent to rule with full sovereignty. (The only moment when "people exists" are the democratic elections, which are precisely the moment of the disintegration of the entire social edifice - in elections, "people" are reduced to a mechanical collection of individuals.) The claim that people does exist is the basic axiom of "totalitarianism," and the mistake of "totalitarianism" is strictly homologous to the Kantian misuse ("paralogism") of political reason: "the People exists" through a determinate political agent which acts as if it directly embodies (not only re-presents) the People, its true Will (the totalitarian Party and its Leader), i.e., in the terms of transcendental critique, as a direct phenomenal embodiment of the noumenal People... The obvious link between this notion of democracy and Lacan's notion of the inconsistency of the big Other was elaborated by Jacques-Alain Miller, among others:

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Entropy is another important concept for this essay. Entropy is, in its essence, the tendency of hot things to cool off. The concept is now introduced to students as . Even though science , it can measure its effect. At the molecular level, entropy is the tendency of mass to become disordered over time, as the random motion of molecules spreads in collisions with other molecules, until the interacting molecules have the same . Life had to overcome entropy in order to exist, as it brought order out of disorder and maintained it while alive, and it takes energy to do that. The prevailing theory is that net entropy can only increase, and life has to create more entropy in its surroundings so that it can reduce entropy internally and produce and maintain the order that sustains itself. Life is called a negentropic phenomenon, in which it uses energy to reverse entropy to make the order of its organism’s structures, and it is continually using energy to reverse the natural entropy that is called decay.

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This authentic revolutionary logic can be discerned already at the level of rhetorical figures, where Robespierre likes to turn around the standard procedure of first evoking an apparently "realist" position and then displaying its illusory nature: he often starts with presenting a position or description of a situation as absurd exaggeration, fiction, and then goes on to remind us that what, in a first approach, cannot but appear as a fiction, is actually truth itself: "But what am I saying? What I have just presented as an absurd hypothesis is actually a very certain reality." It is this radical revolutionary stance which also enables Robespierre to denounce the "humanitarian" concern with victims of the revolutionary "divine violence": "A sensibility that wails almost exclusively over the enemies of liberty seems suspect to me. Stop shaking the tyrant's bloody robe in my face, or I will believe that you wish to put Rome in chains."The critical analysis and the acceptance of the historical legacy of the Jacobins overlap in the true question to be raised: does the (often deplorable) actuality of the revolutionary terror compel us to reject the very idea of Terror, or is there a way to REPEAT it in today's different historical constellation, to redeem its virtual content from its actualization? It CAN and SHOULD be done, and the most concise formula of repeating the event designated by the name "Robespierre" is: to pass from (Robespierre's) humanist terror to anti-humanist (or, rather, inhuman) terror.

In his , Alain Badiou conceives as a sign of the political regression that occurred towards the end of the XXth century the shift from "humanism AND terror" to "humanism OR terror." In 1946, Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote , his defense of the Soviet Communism as involving a kind of Pascalean wager that announces the topic of what Bernard Williams later developed as "moral luck": the present terror will be retroactively justified if the society that will emerge from it will be truly human; today, such a conjunction of terror and humanism is properly unthinkable, the predominant liberal view replaces AND with OR: either humanism or terror... More precisely, there are four variations on this motif: humanism AND terror, humanism OR terror, each either in a "positive" or in a "negative" sense. "Humanism and terror" in a positive sense is what Merleau-Ponty elaborated, it sustains Stalinism (the forceful - "terrorist" - engendering of the New Man), and is already clearly discernible in the French Revolution, in the guise of Robespierre's conjunction of virtue and terror. This conjunction can be negated in two ways. It can involve the choice "humanism OR terror," i.e., the liberal-humanist project in all its versions, from the dissident anti-Stalinist humanism up to today's neo-Habermasians (Luc Ferry & Alain Renault in France) and other defenders of human rights AGAINST (totalitarian, fundamentalist) terror. Or it can retain the conjunction "humanism AND terror," but in a negative mode: all those philosophical and ideological orientations, from Heidegger and conservative Christians to partisans of Oriental spirituality and Deep Ecology, who perceive terror as the truth - the ultimate consequence - of the humanist project itself, of its hubris.

There is, however, a fourth variation, usually left aside: the choice "humanism OR terror," but with TERROR, not humanism, as a positive term. This is a radical position difficult to sustain, but, perhaps, our only hope: it does not amount to the obscene madness of openly pursuing a "terrorist and inhuman politics", but something much more difficult to think. In today's "post-deconstructionist" thought (if one risks this ridiculous designation which cannot but sound as its own parody), the term "inhuman" gained a new weight, especially in the work of Agamben and Badiou. The best way to approach it is via Freud's reluctance to endorse the injunction "Love thy neighbor!" - the temptation to be resisted here is the ethical domestication of the neighbor - for example, what Emmanuel Levinas did with his notion of the neighbor as the abyssal point from which the call of ethical responsibility emanates. What Levinas thereby obfuscates is the monstrosity of the neighbor, monstrosity on account of which Lacan applies to the neighbor the term Thing (das Ding), used by Freud to designate the ultimate object of our desires in its unbearable intensity and impenetrability. One should hear in this term all the connotations of horror fiction: the neighbor is the (Evil) Thing which potentially lurks beneath every homely human face. Just think about Stephen King's Shining, in which the father, a modest failed writer, gradually turns into a killing beast who, with an evil grin, goes on to slaughter his entire family. In a properly dialectical paradox, what Levinas, with all his celebration of the Otherness, fails to take into account is not some underlying Sameness of all humans but the radically "inhuman" Otherness itself: the Otherness of a human being reduced to inhumanity, the Otherness exemplified by the terrifying figure of the Muselmann, the "living dead" in the concentration camps. At a different level, the same goes for Stalinist Communism. In the standard Stalinist narrative, even the concentration camps were a place of the fight against Fascism where imprisoned Communists were organizing networks of heroic resistance - in such a universe, of course, there is no place for the limit-experience of the Muselmann, of the living dead deprived of the capacity of human engagement - no wonder that Stalinist Communists were so eager to "normalize" the camps into just another site of the anti-Fascist struggle, dismissing Muselmann as simply those who were to weak to endure the struggle.

It is against this background that one can understand why Lacan speaks of the inhuman core of the neighbor. Back in the 1960s, the era of structuralism, Louis Althusser launched the notorious formula of "theoretical anti-humanism," allowing, demanding even, that it be supplemented by practical humanism. In our practice, we should act as humanists, respecting the others, treating them as free persons with full dignity, creators of their world. However, in theory, we should no less always bear in mind that humanism is an ideology, the way we spontaneously experience our predicament, and that the true knowledge of humans and their history should treat individuals not as autonomous subjects, but as elements in a structure which follows its own laws. In contrast to Althusser, Lacan accomplishes the passage from theoretical to practical anti-humanism, i.e., to an ethics that goes beyond the dimension of what Nietzsche called "human, all too human," and confront the inhuman core of humanity. This does not mean only an ethics which no longer denies, but fearlessly takes into account, the latent monstrosity of being-human, the diabolic dimension which exploded in phenomena usually covered by the concept-name "Auschwitz" - an ethics that would be still possible after Auschwitz, to paraphrase Adorno. This inhuman dimension is for Lacan at the same time the ultimate support of ethics.

In philosophical terms, this "inhuman" dimension can be defined as that of a subject subtracted from all form of human "individuality" or "personality" (which is why, in today's popular culture, one of the exemplary figures of pure subject is a non-human - alien, cyborg - who displays more fidelity to the task, dignity and freedom than its human counterparts, from the Schwarzenegger-figure in to the Rutger-Hauer-android in ). Recall Husserl's dark dream, from his Cartesian Meditations, of how the transcendental cogito would remain unaffected by a plague that would annihilate entire humanity: it is easy, apropos this example, to score cheap points about the self-destructive background of the transcendental subjectivity, and about how Husserl misses the paradox of what Foucault, in his , called the "transcendental-empirical doublet," of the link that forever attaches the transcendental ego to the empirical ego, so that the annihilation of the latter by definition leads to the disappearance of the first. However, what if, fully recognizing this dependence as a fact (and nothing more than this - a stupid fact of being), one nonetheless insists on the truth of its negation, the truth of the assertion of the independence of the subject with regard to the empirical individuals qua living being? Is this independence not demonstrated in the ultimate gesture of risking one's life, on being ready to forsake one's being? It is against the background of this topic of sovereign acceptance of death that one should reread the rhetorical turn often referred to as the proof of Robespierre's "totalitarian" manipulation of his audience. This turn took place in the midst of Robespierre's speech in the National Assembly on 11 Germinal Year II (31 March 1794); the previous night, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and some others were arrested, so many members of the Assembly were understandably afraid that their turn will also come. Robespierre directly addresses the moment as pivotal: "Citizens, the moment has come to speak the truth." He then goes on to evoke the fear floating in the room:

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Perhaps the most damaging deficiency in FE efforts, after self-serving orientation, was that the participants and their supporters were scientifically illiterate and easily led astray by the latest spectacle. Scientific literacy can help prevent most such distractions. While writing this essay, I was not only bombarded with news of the latest FE and alternative energy aspirants' antics, but I had to continually field queries regarding whether Peak Oil and Global Warming were conspiratorial elite hoaxes (or figments of the hyperactive imaginations of environmentalists and other activists), for two examples that readily come to mind. Digesting this essay's material should have those questions answered as mere side-effects. Far from being a hoax or imaginary, Peak Oil was and , and it is all downhill from there, and conventional oil will be almost entirely depleted in my lifetime. , although both were heavily promoted in the USA in 2014. In every paleoclimate study that I have seen, so-called greenhouse gases have always been considered the primary determinant of Earth's surface temperature (after the Sun), and carbon dioxide is chief among them. The radiation-trapping properties of carbon dioxide are not controversial in the slightest among scientists, and after the Sun's influence (which is exceedingly stable), declining carbon dioxide levels are considered to be the conditions that have dominated Earth for the past 35 million years. Humanity's increasing the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content is influencing the cause of Icehouse Earth, and , and are merely proximate causes. Increasing carbon dioxide can turn the global climate from an to a Greenhouse Earth, and the last time that happened, Earth had its . But have purposefully confused the issues, and a scientifically illiterate public and have played along, partly because believing the disinformation seems to relieve us all of any responsibility for our actions. Although scientific literacy can help people become immune to the disinformation and confusion arising from many corners, and reading this essay's first half can help people develop their own defense from such distractions, my goals for this essay's first half are far greater than that.