https://twitter.com/babette_babich on “Nietzsche and War, the philosopher and the Nazi’s”
KY: In terms of the Stoics, how might their approach to “dying well” offer us some resources for thinking amidst our current scene of ecological reorganisation that is named the Anthropocene?
EG: The Stoic concept of ‘dying well’ is immensely important not only when we consider the effects of imminent social collapse on each of us and our possible responses, but also when we consider that we are placed in an immensely vast universe where the call to ‘live well, according to one’s principles’ provides us with a connection to the universe, a fully material universe, as the Stoics understand it, which is nevertheless ordered and framed by an order they call ‘incorporeal’. To live well is to live, not according to the opinions and values of others – what we cannot control – but according to one’s own rational sense of one’s place in the world, according to actions we can control. To live well is to live according to what one can control, one’s own inner states, one’s own bodily behaviour, one’s own principles. This position is fundamentally anti-egoistic: it is directed to a knowledge of the world and one’s place in it. However, as a psychical attitude – perseverance, acceptance, self-reliance – I suspect that Stoicism is perhaps not the best psychology for struggle, as the devastation of many of the earth’s resources draws closer. Nietzsche understood that in times of violence, the Stoics were immensely life-affirming in their fortitude, but that in times of peace and plenty, he prefers the Epicureans (The Gay Science #306). The Stoics affirm that we are the subjects of destiny, which is indifferent to our needs and interests. The task of a reasoned or reflective life, a life lived in according with what is beneficial to one’s nature (according to one’s own understanding) is a life able to fully affirm its destiny, a life that seeks to be worthy of what befalls it, even as it has little or no control of such a destiny.
This is a very similar line of thinking that led me to pick up and start practicing Stoicism in the first place- and what has also led me to look into radical variations of ecopsychology that lead us towards first an acceptance of the situation as it is, devoid of ideological blinkers, and thereby to being able to adapt to it and act within it. At some point soon I hope to have some drafts or outlines up of reflections on these concerns in relation to the questions of suicide, eco-catastrophe, and extinction.
Elsewhere in the interview the above excerpt is taken from Grosz links the Stoics to Spinoza and nietzsche in a philosophical counter-tradition. I would say that this is the tradition of ontological corporealism that I identify with and unsurprisingly with an ethics centred on compassion and care. To this tradition we could add Schopenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Ernest Becker, Judith Butler and geo/eco-feminists such as Stacey Alaimo and Grosz herself.
Albert Camus wrote that suicide was the only serious philosophical question. Today this must be said of the meanings and the projects of extinction.
Constitutional democracies – moving beyond abstraction and reflection – a politics of bodies, things and relations
Part of an unpublished paper by Linda Stewart
“These days it’s the rights of man that provide our eternal values. It’s the constitutional state and other notions everyone recognizes as very abstract. And it’s in the name of all this that thinking’s fettered, that any analysis in terms of movements is blocked. But if we’re so oppressed, it’s because our movement’s being restricted, not because our eternal values are being violated. In barren times philosophy retreats to reflecting “on” things. If it’s not itself creating anything, what can it do but reflect on something? So it reflects on eternal or historical things, but can itself no longer make any move (Deleuze Negotiations 121-122, emphasis added).”
[this is a draft of a work-in-progress]
Thinking about existential finitude is one thing, solemn and practical in range, but acknowledging and then living with an awareness of the myriad of blindnesses, biases and otherwise unconscious routines and functions which generate and afford sentient experience is quite another. Increasingly empirical science is suggesting that we often fail to understand just how little we are capable of understanding. “Reason”, logic, intentionality, agency, etc., are all weak conceptual placeholders for much more complex, varied and distributed realities. Human cognition is not an organ for the bequeathing of ‘Truth’, nor the realization of extra-material value and purpose, but a relatively modular capacity that specific types of bodies have for coping with sensory information in differentially structured environments. And it is my contention that becoming aware of the embodied, “bounded” and limited nature of our conscious lives has far reaching consequences for the stories we are willing to tell about the world, how it works, and, more importantly, how we might engage within it.
For me, a move toward praxis via a post-nihilist attitude (a ‘pragmatism’ never content to be defined as such) is about attempts to instantiate varieties of what, following R. Scott Bakker (here), we might call ‘neglect-awareness’ when deploying our all-too-human knowledges. If nihilism is in large part an unraveling of traditional structures of meaning accompanied by the collapse of certainty then scientific suggestions about the limits of human know-ability and its supporting unconscious operations can only serve to intensify the nihilistic tendency. Meaning, value, truth, agency, understanding and consciousness are being exposed as ghost-objects of conceptual association, previously (mis)taken as ontological rather than functional singularities. Our hitherto waywardness in this regard has allowed us to set and accumulate confused and misguided cognitive, existential and practical tasks dangerously disconnected from the autonomous and mostly anonymous life of non-linguistic, non-intentional corporeality. Yet possibilities remain.
In fact there must be ways forward; because life goes on regardless of how we interpret it to be. We are not our semantic mistakes, nor our projected phantasies, but actual bodies in movement and affective relation enacting consequential situations. And so forward we must go into the storm of nihilistic dissolutions and mournings and reactionary impulses seeking to exist, subsist and generate places and spaces of relief for all that we are given and all that we make. We must continue to communicate, scheme, plot, scavenge and design, but only now we do so with a semblance of awareness of what we do not and often cannot know or understand. The problems that plagued our thoughts and consciences – and our practices and institutions – in the past no longer motivate our existential and social projects. We become experimental beings; as much bricoleurs as ever but now consciously so, seeking solutions not truths, assembly not meaning. We thus become post-nihilists by default and necessity.
Socrates was among the first Western philosophers to formulate a maxim around a reflexive awareness of the limitations of human thinking with his equation of wisdom with knowing that one does not know, but many profound thinkers and teachers have also set about to make ‘neglect-awareness’ a central feature of their own philosophical stories: from Siddhartha (the Buddha) and the Gnostics to Nietzsche, William James, Wittgenstein and Derrida. Their works lay among the ruins of all those edifices build by so many other rhetoricians and professional discourse elites. And so finding out what works and what no longer applies after the tyranny of meaning – a tyrannical state of affairs deposed by the logic of sensation and flesh – becomes a salvage operation lead by sadists and psychonauts whose only function now is to rouse and resonate with those huddled minorities no longer enchanted by the sorcery of language.
To be sure, there is no final liberation. We are phantasmic creatures burdened by the weight of our determining biases as much as our cognitive luminescence. And no heroes remain. Not you, not me, not Socrates, not Obama – and none waiting to be born in the clash of necessity or immediacies of human civilization. Idealistic transcenders and promethean consenters must give way to quiet transgressors and frenzied adapters who, being what they are, gather together on alternating occasions for Dionysian celebrations and ritualistic intellectual humiliation.
The past cannot hold us because the urgency of now is intensifying. And the future was not cancelled because it never existed. We creep forward with disdain for all those spoon fed fascinations and lies propping up the contemporary condition. We are the bastard children of Nietzsche – exposed, temperamental and willing to take the practical exigencies of an immanent life to radical extremes.
The Undeath of God.
God is dead: If there is a more paradigmatic, concise, and ecstatic expression of nihilism it has yet to be uttered. God is dead: there are no transcendent values, no eternal grounding for our laws, nowhere and no one to appeal to in order to give the world meaning, purpose, reasons. In The Gay Science Nietzsche is unequivocal about what the consequences of this are: it is the collapse of ‘the whole of European morality’. The whole of European morality. The entire edifice of European values, and with it the grounds for such an enterprise. This is not simply the end of a moral system, it is the exhaustion of metaphysics. The Christian God, the God who is dead, is the God who is present everywhere, at all times, to all depths. This God who is present, this immanent God, really the Catholic God, is the God who has died. At other points Nietzsche will call Him the Moral God, a phrase that immediately draws up the image of Old Testament wrath, but must no less refer to the Incarnated God who stood on the mount and rebooted the Ten Commandments in that one simple command: love thy neighbour. We stand without foundations, without any exterior assurances, and in the cold shadow of the recession of presence. Among the philosophical inheritors of this death, among those who dwell on this death, and who attempt to make it shine, to be seen and heard as Nietzsche put it, is obviously Derrida. The Derridean deconstruction of this metaphysics of presence amounts to the idea that things (bodies, events, incorporeals like time and language) never fully disclose themselves, always remain shy about standing-forth, moving fully into the open, and presence remains divided from itself.
I am racing ahead. It is impossible not to race ahead. We must return to Nietzsche before tumbling forward. The famous scene in which the madman, running through the streets holding a lantern, first makes the untimely declaration:
The fourth annual Nietzsche Workshop @ Western, April 13 2013 in NYC, hosted by the CTM (Center for Transformative Media) at Parsons: The New School for Design.
‘Cyber-Nietzsche’ — Tunnels, Tightropes, Nets & Meshworks. Organzied by Ed Keller, Dan Mellamphy & Nandita Biswas Mellamphy With lectures by Babette Babich, Shannon Bell, Jen Boyle, Sarah Choukah, Pawel Krol, Nicola Masciandaro, Joseph Nechvatal, Dominic Pettman, Jimmy Raskin, Gary Shapiro, Eugene Thacker and Dylan E. Wittkower
CTM also works with Eileen(is)A Joy to bring you works like:
Alain de Botton is a Swiss/British writer, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur, living in the United Kingdom. In the following video series, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness de Botton features six influential thinkers by exploring their ideas about the pursuit of the good life:
Episode 1: Socrates on Self-Confidence
Why do so many people go along with the crowd and fail to stand up for what they truly believe? Partly because they are too easily swayed by other people’s opinions and partly because they don’t know when to have confidence in their own.
Episode 2: Epicurus on Happiness
British philosopher Alain De Botton discusses the personal implications of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) who was no epicurean glutton or wanton consumerist,but an advocate of “friends, freedom and thought” as the path to happiness.
Episodes 3-6 can be viewed below: