I have read your last article on psychopathology and demonology in mainstream liberal-conservative discourse about Plebian movements, and in the ways how is written the history of the “totalitarian” political tendencies ever since the French revolution — with particular intensity since the Soviet revolution, turning the “small 20th century” into the “totalitarian century” par excellence.
There are of course many aspects worth mentioning in the article, but I was particularly stroke by your reference of Nietzsche, with his usual “Ultraist” inclinations within this context, hence suggesting the conclusion not just for 2 totalitarian-leaning centuries of enragés, but instead 2 totalitarian-leaning enraged millennia. Obviously, Nietzsche having himself the psychopathological, medical conditions that are known, the whole case becomes immediately so much juicier, with a “who’s really the crazy one”, or indeed “who’s the millenarist one” question inevitably emerging. Moshe Zuckermann, by the way, as you know wrote very interesting comments on precisely this kind of problems, with all the aporias and paradoxes it may well suggest: almost a classical case of “all-Cretans-are-liars-said-the-Cretan” kind of story, with its acknowledged philosophical implications (see here: http://domenicolosurdo.blogspot.pt/2009/11/apologeta-del-dominio-la-traduzione.html).
The “Ultraist” Nietzsche, however, with toutes ses audaces et finesses (or what under other perspective could well be deemed his highly weird tendencies) was recognizably also the “intellectually honest”, and therefore the intransigent Nietzsche, the one that had learnt to be so unspeakably light via being so impenetrably deep, so joker and buffonesque thanks to being so implacably serious, so dovish by means of being so hawkish, etc. And therefore, the basic problem seems to be: what is it that, in the configuration of our societies (culturally, yes, but not only culturally), induces this kind of general mental dispositions that the “epileptics of ideas” — as Nietzsche himself likely was, and above all — tend to capture or attract like a lightning-rod?
Were other societies, epochs different from ours, “mad”, “demented” ones? Are social groups that a researcher identifies as not his/hers — as being “them”, instead of “us” — “crazy” groups? Obviously, I will not lose much more time or space saying the obvious, i. e., recommending prudence, detachment and globally a “Montaignean” inclination whenever possible. But a spicy element is no doubt brought into the cuisine of ideas when the society, the epoch, the class, the country that are objectively “ours” are simultaneously recognized as being “they”, as “alien”, and indeed to many aspects as “ill”, and so as deserving a psychopathological (or even a demonological) approach.
That may well occur to an isolated individual: who therefore will presumably tend to perceive him/herself as intimately exiled, “untimely”, psychologically dissociated, “unempathetic”, etc. But this fact, as one immediately senses, may well be a kind of “poetical”, spontaneous psychological device allowing the reconstitution of the “we-group” to which he/she explicitly or implicitly refers: Machiavelli, keeping “conversations” with illustrious dead people (Ancient Romans) instead of living ones (Renaissance Florentines) is a classical example; and each one of us may feel, and indeed have occasionally felt, inclined to refer to Machiavelli in turn… The very shifting of the “we-group” (from the living “ethnic Germans” to the imaginary “European aristocracy”, returning to the case of Nietzsche) is therefore, at least potentially, an excellent tool both for the enlargement of that “we-group” and for a more detached relationship with it.
Norbert Elias has, to my knowledge, written very interesting pages on this very subject of the dialectics of identification and detachment in socio-historical studies. And so has Moses Finley, by the way, underlining the fact that it is precisely the conscience of the sometimes “desperately foreign” condition of the searcher that, on occasions, allows the overcoming (would it be fair to speak of “Überwindung”, or “Aufhebung”?) of these foreign, alien aspects of the relation of the historian with the artifacts of times past, and so the full assumption of history, and historiography, as what these most deeply are: aspects of (universal) human reason and its self-awareness (see here, please: http://www.thedivineconspiracy.org/Z5266E.pdf). If the challenge is often to shorten distances, on other occasions, however, it seems to be the opposite: to artificially create a distance, or at least a sense of it, in order to gain “perspective”, and likely more accuracy. On a more light note, I would as to this dare mention Léo Ferré’s words on the voluntary — and indeed only partial, also partly fake — estrangement between a lover and a loved one, with his justly famous verses of “Quand tu t'y mets dedans ou quand je t'y exile/ Pour t'aimer de plus loin comme ça en passant”; but also vis-à-vis society at large: “Je suis d’un autre pays que le vôtre, d’un autre quartier, d’une autre solitude”, etc.
Be as it may, the fact remains that ours really seems to be an epoch of collective generalized estrangement, a time where the acute perception of each one’s individuality comes inextricably associated with each one’s radical separation from the others, and indeed from society in general. An epoch that has, arguably, gained in sophistication and richness of individual experiences, and more broadly in what is usually called “negative freedom”; but no doubt lost dramatically in terms of “positive freedom”, the growth of individual autonomy implying a heavy toll being paid in lack of collective self-determination, or democracy proper, with now a huge, disproportionate gap between what is even officially considered “the right thing” and those that simply are the actual facts: often with sheer Might grotesquely (but triumphantly) claiming to be “Right” out of simply being Might, and still no Archimedean point available, or even at sight, in order to countervail those acknowledged, blatantly barbarizing general tendencies.
Without any intent at exhausting the subject, I think worth considering the notion that, out of having so much “Verwindung”, and recognizably without any aim at “Überwindung”, with so much “perspective” being acquired, and presumably detachment, but without these allowing the identification of real parallaxes and the subsequent correction of judgments, we finally came down (in cultural terms, but not just in cultural terms) to a situation where it can be said that, after so much daydreaming, and indeed largely thanks to it, we all became now simply incapable of waking up of this collective living nightmare (see here: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3685157?uid=3738880&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101478179563). Maybe true nihilism, this time? A universal incapacity to make history, and all the more ironic given the officially oh so Nietzschean and also Anti-Hegelian traits of the post-modern esprit du temps?
Ours may, I guess, be considered a rather self-estranged, and in that sense necessarily a sick time: self-estranged, maybe above everything else, as a consequence of the excess of empty individualism and vain particularisms being culturally induced and adopted. If Spinozian potentia agendi does relate to virtù and the correspondent capacity to do things collectively (and in a way also individually), as it is persuasively argued by Jan Rehmann (http://ojs.gc.cuny.edu/index.php/situations/article/view/176/200), then ours seems to be rightfully deemed an inverted Spinozian epoch, for its collective impotence to make history really vindicates Spinoza, conspicuously showing, albeit a contrario, that only united, and indeed politically united, men are able to live fully human lives.
Notice, please, that I am not claiming any precedence of a particular order of factors on the analysis of societies: things affect and are affected reciprocally, and so it doesn’t seem to me to make much sense the search for the “primordial cause”: cultural aspects are no doubt important, but they in turn express other conditioning circumstances. Ah, but how much are these really specific differences or defining traits of our times? Am I not making a mistake of parallax myself? Isn’t it true that all times are “the best of times, the worst of times”? Well, the “objective fact” is that, for instance, ours are days of rampant consumption of psychotropic drugs: both anti-depressives and sedatives, or at least in those varieties. That’s not a conjecture: simply a bold, crude and stubborn fact. And this leaves aside all the illegal drugs, of course: both “uppers” and “downers”. Simultaneously, the Portuguese government has been raising levels of taxation, officially trying to reduce the budget deficit, and betting especially on indirect taxation (which is itself already a rather meaningful aspect), but the other relevant and stubborn fact is that, on account of the contraction of GDP experienced, the global levels of fiscals revenues have also gone down… except precisely the taxes on alcoholic beverages and tobacco. You may laugh of that if you want, and call it a simple anecdote, but then again, that’s another fact, and maybe also a rather revealing one.
Now, are the Portuguese a people of drunkards and drug-addicts, or how much are they/we so? Is it nature? Or rather nurture… or indeed culture… or instead, simply an endless mystery? Is it the cycle, some might add, or really the trend? In the meantime, pharmacies, almost exclusively a private business, although strongly subsidized by State-supported conventions, permanently threaten to cease selling reduced prize medicaments, always complaining about the absence or abusive procrastination of State payments that have been arranged. And so, these non-complying public authorities seem this way to promote the “black market” of drugs, the “going under” of the whole business, and therefore further tax evasion and the deepening of problems…
But let’s not get too deep inside that, or else we will be submersed by “the misery of the world”. This was just to give you a rapid insight of the interesting ramifications we step into, once we start discussing social questions appealing to a “psychopathological” approach. On a slightly different toke, the fees paid by people of all conditions in emergency services, in Portuguese public hospitals, have in 2012 gone from 5 Euros to 20 Euros, allegedly because people has to get used to pay “more real” prices, also because the State needs money, of course, and finally, so it was told, because there are too many people going to hospital emergencies, mostly during night time, at least partly because they are lonely, feel anguished… but, sorry, emergency services of hospitals are not the place to deal with that!
And, you know what?, the level of frequencies in emergencies did really diminish. Therefore, maybe it was indeed mostly a psychopathological thing. Maybe all these elderly retired were really mostly asking for company or psychological therapy in a misguided way. The raising of the fee did the trick. It worked, so it must have been a good, appropriate thing. Ah, but simultaneously, truth be said, we have witnessed a relevant raising of the mortality of elderly, retired people; and let’s not forget there are many people in Portugal “surviving” with pensions bellow 200 Euros a month — yes, you have read well: bellow 2 hundred (not 2 thousand) Euros a month. So, why is it that expressions like “sick bastards” and “wicked murderers” keep occurring to my mind when I think both of our ruling politicians and of the trompe l’oeil oppositions? I know all too well that I must resist the tendency to analyze things political in psychopathological or demonological terms, I know, I know…
As a matter of fact, one of the ways for Portugal to get out of the maze of nowadays economic hardships is indeed to simply “let go”, say, 1/4 or 1/2 million elderly, on one side, and 1/4 or 1/2 million more young unemployed, on the other extremity of the age pyramid, who besides have been publically and straightforwardly advised to emigrate by some of our leading politicians. (In a managerial jargon, this would be considered “losing adiposities”, and probably praised as “creative destruction”). The very demographic symmetry may, however, induce some “perspective” and suggest some logical difficulties, implying that the “therapy” is intrinsically vitiated, or even that it has been produced by the mind of a “dangerously mad” person. How is it that, on one hand, it is said once and again that our public system of pensions must be revised and downsized, allegedly because the average person is insisting in living too much time, or ceasing to work too soon, or both… and then on the other hand have so many youngsters that are simply left out of work? How to solve this mysterious “economic contradiction” (or “demographic contradiction”) of our days? If the usual “inverted Malthusian” argument officially so much propagated is true (too many elderly, too few births and young people), how come the few youngsters remaining still can’t find a decent job, so often having to leave the country and even getting publicly advised to do so? And moreover, notice that those are precisely the persons with higher levels of instruction, the more qualified “human capital” that Portugal has ever had. If, as a nation, we are repealing them: how can one not sense the accumulation of signs of collective misfortune in the foreseeable future?
Another way out of the maze, for Portugal, would start by simply leaving the Euro. That would certainly not be the only move (others following like default and several nationalizations), but definitely an indispensable, preliminary one: an absolute must. If we have a problem of recurrent external deficits, and therefore also external debt, we should prioritize the currency devaluation. Impossible to say how much exactly, but since the US dollar has passed from 1.1 to 0.8 of a Euro in few more than a decade, maybe a devaluation of 30 per cent (just keeping the pace with the USA) is not a foolish idea. That would imply a relevant and most needed boost to exports and tourism, and alas also likely an increased inflation of roughly 8 per cent, via “rigid” imports (above everything, oil), therefore in the short run a generalized reduction of real income of round 8 per cent for the totality of Portuguese population. Alternatively, we may of course also try the ways of the “internal devaluation” that is being experienced, which implies reduction of nominal wages of obviously more than 30 per cent, since of course labor costs are not the only input in the cost-structure of what we produce. Maybe, not unreasonably, a 50 per cent nominal cut in all wages and pensions. We have been in that path for the last 2 years, but to tell the truth we are not even yet nel mezzo del cammin… (As to this, see also here: http://resistir.info/portugal/denuncia_do_memorando.html).
Evidently, such an idea won’t be presented simply like this to the public. The elite will out of necessity lie: to the masses, first, formal democracy oblige; and then, up to a point, also to itself. The “austerity” measures demanded by this program will imply/are implying gross recessive effects on the economy as a whole, with the downwards spiral having for the moment not really an end at sight. As a matter of fact, after a decade with very slow growth in 2001-10, of 7 per cent on the totality of the period, roughly 0.7 per cent a year, clearly “diverging” from Euroland’s average (still, with Italy being the true laggards, the champions of stagnation, with 0.1 GDP growth a year in that time), Portugal has had two consecutive years of catastrophe, in which 5 of the 7 percentage points of growth previously accumulated were already eroded. Therefore, more than one decade of almost stagnation: Latouche should be glad.
In the meantime, the Welfare State is being dismantled, and indeed as to many aspects the State at large. Things taken for granted in a civilized society are simply collapsing: hospitals, schools, trains, garbage picking… you name it. (We haven’t, true, got yet to the point where Greece already is, with malaria reappearing, but we are certainly on the right track in order to quickly catch up with them…). Ah, but don’t worry. We will certainly have a “libertarian”, free-marketer paradise waiting for us in the end of this process — or at least those of us able to endure the travel: the “fittest” that will presumably survive. And in case this process more or less means the collapse of the entire country as such: then again, who says that a collective euthanasia is a totally bad thing? (See Michael Hudson’s articles here, please: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/25/latvias-fake-economic-model/ and here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/16/latvia-anders-aslund-austerity)
And, what’s probably even more interesting: not only the so-called “European Left” does not recommend peripheral countries to immediately leave the Euro — which to my mind is itself already a clear sign of a dangerously rampant collective insanity — but it does explicitly and emphatically recommend PIIGS to stay: allegedly because it is a sign of “nationalism” to even think of leaving (and presumably an acceptable “internationalist” sacrifice to stay put), and also because it is still expected that the Godot of big scale budget transfers within Euroland will one of these days arrive, hopefully before the complete breakdown (maybe in a foggy morning, somehow like Portuguese king D. Sebastião: http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebasti%C3%A3o_de_Portugal); or that, in absence of such processes, the European peoples will eventually rise up for “the Revolution”, implanting I-must-confess-I-can’t-even-dream-how-and-I-strongly-suspect-neither-do-they the “United Socialist States of Europe”, or anything more or less alike, and certainly not less demented/delusional (see, as illustration of this kind of mumbling, Michel Husson, here: http://www.esquerda.net/artigo/sair-do-euro-ou-n%C3%A3o, or here: http://alencontre.org/europe/euro-en-sortir-ou-pas.html).
Did it occur to you that (what I dared call) the “European ideology” may well operate, within this context, as a sort of tremendous “opium of intellectuals”, and by extension of the generality of the plebs? And what do you say, concerning the “European Left”, about the notion of “social-cretinism de profundis”? Does the appeal to that category also mean recurring to psychopathology? And what should we think about the older metaphor of the “ship of fools”? Briefly: does it make any sense to you the idea of returning to the question that I formulated above, of “who’s really the crazy one?”Since I don’t feel inspired to more, I choose to leave you with this bunch of questions. Please be so kind as to consider them, assuming it as a complement — or what was intended as such — to the assertions produced in your article.
My best wishes. Saudações cordiais e muito amistosas,Lisboa, 31 de Dezembro de 2012