Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy New World

Even with a pending Mass Transit Authority strike and the very real probability I’d bounce, yet another, check in some wasted attempt to “pay the rent,” my thoughts were on other things. I found myself sandwiched between the tale end of a horrible hangover resulting from two nights of partying at the office, a holiday party in Brooklyn, and back to El Barrio for a nightcap. And still, ahead of me, the necessary two weeks of always boring, often depressing, and—most importantly—time consuming, grand jury duty. Nevertheless, these things seemed insignificant when placed alongside two of the more astounding and audacious arguments unfolding in Washington DC during these final despicable days of this sordid year, 2005.
Fortunately, I’ve found the time to write down my reasons to why The United States is on St. Nick’s “naughty” list. Happy New Year, you unhappy New World.

Norvus Ordo Seclurum: Morally Permitted to do Terrible Things?
By Nicholas Allanach

I.
Charles Krauthammer recently suggested in The Weekly Standard we should “work together to codify rules of interrogation” and be “honest about doing terrible things.” Rightfully so, anything less would only continue blindfolding our eyes to the appalling standards the U.S. government, military, and intelligence agencies have utilized to achieve and sustain an imperial agenda. Krauthammer is—in some respects—correct, it’s time to be honest about things we would just as soon prefer lie about. After all, despite President Bush’s claim “We do not torture”, it’s no secret –we do. Certainly, we will never wish to designate such deplorable and unsavory techniques as our finest of qualities, but we must admit, when justifying such techniques we (however inadvertently) take part in them as well. Thus, if we seek to remove violently tyrannical regimes from the world, we can only hope to do so by renouncing the, apparent, logic of such acts ourselves.
Regrettably, when even entertaining the “to torture, or, not to torture” debate, our rhetoric inevitably taints the very qualities and values we, purport to protect from this very type of “evil”. A recent issue of The Nation, “Conspiracy to Torture”, goes so far to warn, “Our democratic institutions are vulnerable to erosion.” Krauthammer seems to be aware of this danger, when writing, “there is no denying how corrupting [torture] can be to the individuals and society that practice it”; however, Krauthammer’s rationalization of these viscous techniques only illustrate what “standard” he is not only willing to tolerate, but set.
Certainly, Senator John McCain’s recently proposed (and thankfully, approved) amendment to standardize interrogation techniques to, subsequently, ban “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” of detainees has done much to provoke the recent torture buzz. And, it would be comforting to say this is only a recent, uncommon, and regrettable discussion; but as we already well know, the “to torture, or, not to torture” impasse is, in fact, something our society has been struggling with for quite some time. After all, lest-we-forget the twelfth century when Henry II created a criminal justice system in England, which placed a suspect of a crime through a Trial by Ordeal? Admittedly, Trial by Ordeal was only used in situations when there was not enough evidence, or witnesses, for a case to properly accuse a suspect. Trial by Ordeal consisted of binding the accused with rope and then tossing them into the water. If the subject drown, this would indicate the water (which the locals believed to be “pure”) had accepted the subject making him/her innocent. However, if the accused remained afloat, they were then subjected to the vengeful will of their peers who, usually, sought to torture the now “guilty”.
Although western society no longer uses such barbaric and primitive techniques to enforce the law, it would be presumptuous to assert this same society is without its own share of ignorant beliefs. In fact, such arbitrary ideas have only grown more sterilized and precise in their execution and are evident throughout the gambit of rationalized “coercive interrogation techniques” used to (arguably) protect us from “evil.” Now, instead of drowning our “witches” we “waterboard” them instead. Three cheers for progress!
Fortunately, healthy debate and more civil forms of understanding also remain a vital part of society; thus, our comprehension of torture has much to do with how we legitimize executing it. Societies have often believed some admittedly foolish and violent things (i.e. human sacrifice, Trail by Ordeal, Iraq’s WMD program, etc.). Thankfully, these regrettable beliefs are inevitably tossed onto the scrap heap of history so society can properly replace them with more effective and less crude techniques. Sure, call me an idealist, but I confidently put torture on this same list alongside history’s gravest mistakes.
Whatever society frames torture as being justified, also willingly takes part in an ideological exercise that believes it is better to rule through force and coercion, than by example and a logical conviction of its own values. Furthermore, such rationalization of this brutality only exemplifies the lies we must tell ourselves in lip service to domination. For instance, how is the U.S. version of torture any more justified to a proverbial “greater good”? In The Plague of Fantasies, Slavoj Zizek writes, “Ideology is at work especially in the apparently innocent reference to pure utility.” Thus, when torture is rationalized as a “useful” mode of preventing terrorist attacks it becomes—like “collateral damage”—another accepted tool we (however reluctantly) resolve to use in the horrible project of creating larger wars and more viscous modes of domination. And all of this will still be proudly carried out under the ideological edifice of “for the greater good.”
Regrettably, the arguments, implications, and potential amendments the torture debate has inspired could cause irreparable damage to our civic ideals. In fact, Senator McCain’s proposal is most certainly, a crucial step, but could be a moot point. For instance, what happens behind closed doors is bound to occur anyway. No matter what law one passes –war is (to say the least) messy. Nevertheless—starry eyed pacifism aside—those advocating the benefits of torture do present the semblance of a convincing argument. Thus, torture unfortunately holds a rather attractive logic underneath its despicable veneer. Nevertheless, as we should well know from the aforementioned historical mistakes, we’re often wrong about some really fucked up things. Thus, if we are, as Krauthammer indicates, “morally permitted to do terrible things.” Then perhaps it’s time for us to consider what it is about our “morals” that permit us to justify them? Or, if we’re to agree with Sam Harris’s argument in The End of Faith, that “Violence is often an ethical necessity.” Then perhaps, we should also ask what constitutes such ethics?
Ironically, the moral and ethical argument Krauthammer and Harris present in their advocacy for torture is to actually “protect” human life. Again we turn to the paradox, how much should we abuse individual human rights for the protection of a greater number of human lives? The heavily contested torture argument revolves around Alan Dershowitz’s paradigmatic scenario of a “ticking time-bomb terrorist.” Accordingly, we must imagine a terrorist has planted a bomb in a city. Fortunately, we have in our custody another terrorist (conveniently) involved in the same plot. Do we torture our captive in hopes of gaining information to prevent the attack? Or do we interrogate, without violence, so as not to damage our civilized “moral vanity”? Of course, how can we ever demarcate what is or is not interrogation without violence? After all, some would even go so far as to say the words on this page are a form of violence. Thus, more pragmatically, should we be relieved to know “interrogators would be constrained to use the least inhumane treatment necessary, relative to the magnitude and imminence of the evil being prevented”? (Italics mine.) I should hope not. After all, how can we prevent an “evil” that we have no proof will even occur?
Such logic (using the term lightly), like many tools of combat in the “War on Terror”, does far more harm than good, and does so because it is primarily based on speculation. The slim chance of a “ticking time-bomb” situation happening is not enough to rationally legalize the use of torture, which will—in its own respects—create as much terror as any attack. I know. I know. That’s what “we thought before.” And, of course, the always reliable, “Have we learned nothing from 9/11?” Shut up! This tired vengeful prattle does nothing to make the world a more peaceful, educated, or better place. Instead, it only continues to make things infinitely worse. We must find new ways to resolve our current impasse. One sure way to do so is by renouncing torture and violence as a justified means of acquiring power. Violence begets violence; we only lie to ourselves when claiming it ever came from out of “a clear blue sky.” Admittedly, this will be difficult; fortunately, one of the few things Bush is right about is our country’s “lack of intelligence.” It is my hope we can begin to take steps to rectify this problem.
Despite my obvious hope for peace, I do not support total pacifism; especially, when there is proof of a threat or worthy cause to fight for. However, what I will never support is violence executed on the basis of pure speculation. None of us should tolerate the excuse, “stuff happens in war.” As we continue to learn everyday this disastrous and deceitful conflict in Iraq fumbles on, war is costly and should only be executed when absolutely necessary. Of course, one could just as easily take the same argument with torture. Admittedly, where should we draw the line? We can’t. The important thing to realize when playing this dangerous game is that no line will ever be good enough. In many respects, the “to torture, or, not to torture” debate exemplifies the horrible false logic of the “War on Terror”: no one side is ever the right side to be on. We cannot completely reject torture, nor can we ever fully justify it. It’s unfortunate we should even have to consider setting such standards; however, we must cease fooling ourselves –not everything we do is in service to a “greater good.” In fact, we’re a violently brutal nation that, regrettably, destroys its best ideals of peace, freedom, and democracy every time we use force to assure a false sense of security. We must reaffirm our ideals, lead by our example, and never sink to the level of the tyrants our country claims to be so set against.
I realize I’m idealistic, by I still believe America is a nation of idealism. Futility, hopelessness, and apathy are not this nation’s qualities. We are visionaries and my hope is that we will somehow find a way to see past the deplorable violence being foolishly executed in our nation’s name. All war is torture. The series of “black sites” set up to do The White House’s dirty work is only a pathetic and deceitful attempt to hide the malignant shadow of our nation’s character. This is where the real problem originates, not in the laws or bans that justify torture, but in how the American character rationalizes this behavior as okay. Perhaps, our very idea of a “national identity” is already so misconstrued with false morals and spiteful ethics that it is already too late to change anything for the better? I’d like to think otherwise.
Krauthammer admits, “torture is not a reliable tool.” Of course, he then goes on to defend this “is very different from saying it is never useful.[In fact,] the monstrous thing about torture is that sometimes it does work.” However, if we are to succumb to this rational, our country must also prepare to admit that “sometimes” child abuse, police brutality, and lying “works” as well. Or, it can instead bravely defend non-violent techniques that also work, such as diplomacy, trade, education, technology, and an honest attempt to acknowledge the interconnected reality of every human being on this planet.
As we well know, war in the twenty-first century is, without rules. The lines demarcating enemy from non-combatant have been obliterated. The most effective way to attack an enemy is by spilling the blood of unsuspecting civilians. If one side (“the enemy”) seeks to win by breaking all the rules, how can the other side (which considers itself the “solution”) hope to ever counter such a fiercely unrelenting violence if it chooses to begin breaking its own rules as well? By justifying this absence of a proper standard, the enemy has already won.

II.
In an attempt to legitimize its oppressive security strategy, The White House aggressively defended its decision to allow the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation the unwarranted ability to secretly monitor the phone calls and Internet behavior of suspected “threats” in the President’s “War on Terror.” Unfortunately, we have now learned many of these supposed “threats” are American citizens. Obviously, it is too late to discuss why we’d meekly stand by and allow fear the capacity to create such a hyper-vigilant-security-state that has the ability to ultimately destroy the very democratic principles our government purports to represent. After all, we know why it happened: on Sept. 14th 2001, Congress authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.” Unfortunately, we don’t know why the President and his Administration felt this authorization also granted them the ability to illegally tap and monitor U.S. citizens. Obviously, it is time for Congress to rectify this gross misinterpretation and strip the President of his, apparent, authorization of domestic eavesdropping.
Clearly, the resolution of Sept. 14th 2001 makes no mention of unwarranted surveillance activity. Undoubtedly, such unchecked power is not only “dictatorial” but also theocratic. Ironically, under the leadership of the Bush Administration, our country has become the same type of fascist state it claims to have “removed” from Iraq. Furthermore, the line separating megalomania from Bush’s faith and conviction in the existence of an all-knowing-all-seeing God is not only thin, but now, non-existent. It seems obvious, Bush (and those who think like him, i.e. Saddam Hussein) can only seek to actualize the fantasy of an all-seeing God by actually attempting to become it.
Unfortunately, it seems difficult to stop the administration from such deplorable techniques. The legal loophole of this situation is, as John Roberts told viewers of CBS Evening News, “No citizen can come forth with charges against the N.S.A., unless that citizen can also provide proof the N.S.A. has monitored their phone.” This will, obviously, be difficult. Of course, is proof really necessary? After all, The White House repeatedly admits to, not only practicing this type of reprehensible behavior, but also arrogantly assures us it plans to “continue to do so.” Bush does not think, he knows that he is above the law.
Obviously, there is perhaps no greater political challenge today than trying to win the “War against Terror” without also eradicating the very democratic principles we claim to represent. Many on the “right” claim “liberal ideas”—such as those often expressed in this column—are “only complaints” and “do not offer any constructive solutions to the world’s many problems.” I resent and reject such classifications, and know I can just as easily label the “right” “dictatorial megalomaniacs”, and I will; especially, when they prove they are such by practicing this type of behavior. However, in an attempt to also break free from partisan fighting, I promulgate my own reasons to why I believe the idea of “total security” is not only a no win situation, but an ideological illusion fueled by fear and will ultimately destroy everything that makes our country so great.
The total security proposition is not a solution it is an illusion. The very system that pretends to protect us will inevitably cause our very undoing. Put it this way, what other options are there then three? Option #1.) Let us suppose coercive interrogation techniques, wiretapping, propaganda planting, occupation of foreign territory, etc. is no more. With all of our, apparent, defenses “down” the U.S. becomes vulnerable to the “enemy” to rise up and destroy us. Option #2.) The total Security State is established, the government regulates all thoughts, transactions, and communications; finally, we are safe, but without freedom. Option #3.) We regulate and define the boundaries of coercive interrogation, spying, and surveillance; unfortunately, the risk of something happening is always an antagonistic possibility. We never know if we should do more, or less, to protect us. None of these options is conducive to democracy and it is no wonder we are seeing our flag unfurl from the very seams that once made it so strong.
To assure the public domestic wiretapping is necessary, the President once again uses his “smoking gun” worst case scenario to justify his dictatorial decisions. Bush claims, “A two minute phone conversation…could lead directly to the loss of a thousand lives.” I must, Mr. President, how will we ever know when to listen in on the right conversation? As with the “coercive interrogation” logic, there is none, it is based purely on speculation. The only thing we can be sure of is that this President and his Administration continue to destroy the very freedom that makes our nation great.
Hopefully, these findings will be a blessing in disguise. After all, the President may be on holiday vacation for now, but there will be no stopping the loud and unrelenting demands from the press and public that will seek to hold him accountable for his erroneous and deceitful behavior to the American people.
By the way Mr. President, I hope you’re listening in on my phone, because if you do this is what I will be telling people my wish is for the New Year.
“I hope my great nation’s New Year’s resolution is to finally rise up and demand it is time to impeach this lying bastard and all of his crooked cronies from The White House for good. You do not represent America Mr. President you are, however, its antithesis.”
See you in the New Year, New World! The fight continues.

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Aeon Flux" Sucked!


By Nicholas Allanach

Sexy and sleek Charlize Theron flipping, flying, and swinging across a large screen in black spandex was a good enough reason as any to see the newest tough-chick-flick from director Karyn Kusama. Regrettably, eye candy alone doesn’t make for a satisfying night at the movies (unless you’re Paul Ruebens, a.k.a Pee Wee Herman). In fact, the only scenes worth viewing were those in which Theron was either suspended from a ceiling, clinging to a wall, or posing and pouting in that oh-so fashionable (and actually practical) attire. In fact, the film would have been better (or at least tolerable) if there was more high-flying eroticism and less bland talking heads and horrible acting.

Based on the MTV Liquid Television cartoon of the same name, “Aeon Flux” takes place in the future after 99% of the world’s population has been killed off from a virus. The remaining 1% lives in the heavily fortified LaCorbussier-esque city of Bregna. And—as seems to be the case with many dystopias—Bregna is just as boring and monochrome as other future landscapes. In fact, sci-fi fans will note many similarities with (another bad idea for a film, but certainly a cult classic) “Zardoz”. Much of the failures of the film (and I can assure you there are many) are a result of its inability to successfully communicate the same dry delivery and black humor that made the cartoon so funny. Somehow, the human actors in the film are less life-like and believable than the cartoons their based on (except for of course Theron, she’s breathtaking). The acting is so deadpan I often felt like I was watching some soap opera or strange episode of Twin Peaks from the future.

At no point in this movie was I at all concerned about the outcome (except for it to come quickly). In fact, before the movie even begins the audience (unless there complete rubes) should already foresee the conclusion –Aeon is an assassin and will inevitably destroy the dreadfully boring social order that has been established by geneticists/fascist leader, Trevor Goodchild (who could have been really cool, but was terribly portrayed). The only thing interesting about this bland social order is that it is maintained through DNA cloning (sorry to give away any secrets of the film, but trust me, you’d be better off to just rent the DVD and skip all scenes without Charlize in an action sequence). The old man who is the keeper and organizer of the DNA wears an extremely ridiculous outfit and hovers over Bregna in a strange Zeppelin-like machine that, supposedly, stores the entire cities’ DNA code in a super computer.

“We’re all copies!” exclaims Aeon when discovering the reason for her odd flashbacks and unexplained desire to “complete her mission”, which is to destroy the simulated reality of Bregna so as to allow the real and chaotic world of the jungle surrounding its periphery inside. In this respect, “Aeon Flux” did make for an interesting compliment to a book I’m now reading by Jean Baudrillard called “The Intelligence of Evil: or The Lucidity Pact”, in which Baudrillard proposes “something resists all our efforts to confine the world to a sequence of causes and effects.” In other words, the propensity to devise a cold and calculated “utopia” in which all is predicted inevitably produces an equally significant need to circumvent this same order. Unfortunately, Aeon is also part of the control she seeks to destroy; in that even her drive to obliterate the idea of Bregna has already been planned out by the strange man in the Zeppelin (once again, another direct relation to “Zardoz”).

Anyway, I’m stretching it. Of course, this is all just in an attempt to find something worthy about a film that could have been cool. I can assure you, it wasn't. Don’t waste your time going to see it. After all, despite the appeal of Charlize Theron in a tight fitting outfit, nothing can justify how our society can feel so indifferent about a crappy film that cost the same amount of cash it would take to feed a starving village for a year.

Friday, December 02, 2005

War and Religion: When Myth Goes Too Far

By Nicholas Allanach

Despite the numerous (and heavily contested) reasons for the American led war in Iraq, some—specifically Evangelical Christians—believe they “know the undisputed purpose” for this reprehensible conflict. Unfortunately, as always with belief, there is little room for reason; thus, what many Christians regard as the “true basis” for the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq is based primarily on fear, speculation, and illusion. (Of course, how are the religious right’s justifications any different from those touted by the Bush administration?) But seriously, such harmful and destructive rhetoric from Evangelicals not only defies logic by espousing an all-encompassing apocalyptic scenario, but also weaves a self-aggrandized “end time” myth to explain away the (admittedly sparse, yet justifiable) reasons for the war (i.e. democracy and independence for the people of Iraq). This mode of thinking (assuming one can even call it such) is absurd, highly irrational, and—most importantly—capable of provoking greater and more intense acts of violence.

Religious fundamentalists hell-bent on Armageddon should be exposed, interrogated, and opposed. Their vitriolic oratory is malicious, dangerous, and shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone (especially a Christian) who considers themselves reasonable and sincere individuals. If we continue to entertain, or even tolerate such outlandish views, it will only be a matter of time before our world is truly brought “to an end.” However, such a finale may look nothing like the gory wet dreams of Evangelicals; this world will have no “savior”, but will, instead, be reduced to a horrific landscape of utter ignorance, perpetual violence, and compounded tribulations that have no hope of resolution. At this time, only the fundamentalists who brought this world into being will be to blame.

Admittedly, there has always been your standard “end is nigh” wackos, but now the real danger of this belief is due to not only the way it associates American hegemony with apocalyptic prophecy but from the manner in which it locates legitimacy from it as well. Much of this argument can be attributed to the method by which the Bush Administration deceitfully packaged the war in Iraq as somehow connected to 9/11 and the vague and broad concept of “evil.” By associating America with all that is “good” we subsequently rationalize all those against it as “evil”. Without a doubt, Islamo-fascists and BinLadenists are just as erratic in their theology as Christian fundamentalists; thus, the American administration should have devised a way to move beyond, instead of bolstering, the same empty rhetoric from those it purports to rally against. Consequently, this could be one reason why President Bush is having such a difficult time selling his “Strategy for Victory in Iraq”; after all, everyone now knows this war is less concerned with our “national interests” as it is about instilling Bush’s (and the Evangelicals who put him in power) own form of approved ideological interests.

Some, such as American fundamentalist preacher Michael Evans (author of “Beyond Iraq: The Next Move”) and pastor John Hagee, have taken Bush’s “good vs. evil” hyperbole a step further. In Evan’s book he discusses a blueprint for American domination blessed in the semblance of a global holy war. Evans likens Islam with the forces of the “Anti-Christ” and goes so far as to claim “Islam is a malevolent manifestation of a religion conceived in the pit of hell.” He argues America—being the self-appointed agent of Christ—should have no reservations about invading oil-rich Arab lands. Evans has also advocated terrorism as being an inevitable result of Islam. Of course by pitting Christianity against Islam, Evans seems to be reaffirming the racist myth of a civilizing mission of white America.

Such fantastic associations are obviously harmful and bigoted; moreover, groups preaching Christ alongside Pax Americana, see the U.S.-led imperialist war as a divine mandate that will usher in the “second coming of Christ” and subsequent “end of the world.” In this respect, many religious fanatics are determined to “stay the course” along with President Bush; unfortunately, the rest of the civilized world must be dragged down along with them into this black hole. I am not a religious scholar, nor have I spent years of my life studying the Old and New Testaments; however, I have read the Bible and the Koran and am well aware of the wonderful and deplorably foolish things both books communicate to its ardent believers. Nevertheless, I am adequately versed in current Christian notions of “the end times.”

Much of the “proof” men like Michael Evans and John Hagee purport to have had “revealed” to them come from their own racists and jingoistic ideals; for instance, Evans associates Christianity and America as “truth” and “good” whereas Islam is seen as a “Satanic force.” Accordingly, both men welcome the American invasion of Iraq and implore the United States to expand the theatre of war by invading other, primarily Muslim, countries. Presumably, after Iraq (i.e. Babylon) is destroyed, Christ will have his “second coming” in Jerusalem and establish his global empire, ushering in the “end of the world” or “Armageddon.”

The development of this “New World Order” and subsequent “Day of Judgment” is, in my opinion, an overzealous defense mechanism that ignorant people must, regrettably, use to explain away the admittedly complex and disconcerting realities of this globalized world. Just as death is an uncertainty and something we cannot control; so isn’t, in many respects, the various and complex forces of international affairs. It would be nice to say suicide bombers are “agents of Satan”, or that starving children are merely “signs of an impending apocalypse.” But in reality, this is not the case. Unfortunately, when we begin to explain away such complexities with religious myth we enter into a dangerous game that may just actualize the horrible outcomes we fear. After all, Christians do not see the “end of the world” as a bad thing; in fact, their entire system of belief relies on this narrative so as to be true; thus, if Christians can have something to do with achieving this goal that they believe in, it will only bring them closer to god.

To be fair, there are many Christians who are against the war. For instance a group of Christian clergy recently drafted up the following statement: “We believe that U.S. war against Iraq is unjust and immoral…we appeal to all Christians...to refuse their consent to this war. We call them to nonviolent resistance, rejecting actions that violate moral law.” Unfortunately, such good intentioned Christians are being silenced by the ignominious fantasy spouting out of the “gnashing teeth” of their fanatic brethren.

Unlike John Kerry, who claimed “My religious beliefs are my personal business.” President Bush, on the other hand, blatantly claims “God wanted me to be President.” Such a man is highly dangerous because, like Adolph Hitler, he believes his actions are guided by god and are, thus, predetermined. Such a fatalistic world view makes Bush, like many Republicans, “morally complacent” since they are so obsessed with the end of the world they fail to enjoy life now, or help others in an effort to improve society. Moreover, like these many evangelical fundamentalists, Bush believes in the apocalypse and could conceivably play a significant role in making it happen. And all just to prove the reality of his foolish and weak-minded beliefs. Most regrettably, Bush actually has the power and tools at his disposal to do just that.

One thing the evangelicals are ironically correct in asserting is that we are living in dangerous times. I only hope the end will be of fundamentalism itself and not the world such individuals wish to destroy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Who Believes What Today? (Slavoj Zizek at The New School)



By Nicholas Allanach

It is hard to resist the urge to not toss a beach ball across the crowded audience. And why shouldn’t I? After all, this atmosphere resembles a rock concert, not a philosophy lecture. Of course, the reason I patiently (however uncomfortably) sat on the floor alongside students blocking the aisles, fire escapes, and filling the hall to full capacity, was to see “the Elvis of social theory”, Slavoj Zizek, speak. But, one wondered, how many in this audience had ever actually read Zizek’s work? Perhaps, they were just here to confirm the hype surrounding Slovenia’s most irreverent cultural critic? Whatever the case, Zizek did not disappoint.


Getting right down to it, Zizek launches into his ambiguously titled lecture, “The Ignorance of Chicken: Who Believes What Today?” Of course, to understand the central tenet of Zizek’s proposition “we don’t actually believe –we, only, believe we believe”, one must (as it were) be in on the joke. This joke is about a chicken; or more specifically, a man who believes he is a piece of grain and, subsequently, fears the chicken that could eat him. Eventually, the delusional man goes to therapy; where, ultimately, he becomes convinced he is not a piece of grain; however, the man still feels anxious about the chicken. Bewildered, the therapist asks, “Why are you still afraid of the chicken? You know you’re not a piece of grain!” To which the man replies, “Yes, I know I’m not a piece of grain, but does the chicken know I’m not?”

This joke (however flippantly) illustrates “the function of belief today”, which assumes, even if we don’t believe in God, patriotism, or karma, that there is no real way to differentiate our identities from their connection to larger symbolic constructs. The very language we utilize reasserts such beliefs and their continued social relevance. Thus, “the individual ego may not believe, but does the big Other?” Zizek is obviously—for better or worse—a Lacanian. Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst, proposed human subjectivity as being created through its use of language; thus the symbolic, or “big Other”, organizes all social relations, and does so the instant the subject begins to play the game of discourse. Lacan referred to this moment as “The Mirror Stage.” Therefore, as Zizek states, “The instant we take part in language, we take part in belief.” No exceptions.

Respectfully, ideology today functions the same way as belief. Zizek claims, “neither is taken seriously, [we are] distanced from it as if we we’re playing a game.” For instance, one can assert “Belief and ideology are merely societal constructs”; nevertheless, such constructs still make us into who we are by defining what and how we believe. Belief directs being. Thus, we should be very concerned with how beliefs affect our actions. Consequently, one may not believe in belief, because of the repercussions they may experience in their professional life (i.e. one is too educated and/or conscious of such silly illusory constructs). But, does the belief not believe in us?

Put simply, “you can convince someone he/she is not sick, but can you convince the symptom?” Zizek’s argument may seem like a vague “theatre of shadows”, but his social criticism unveils a tangible, realistic, and wide-spread attitude pertaining to belief and ideology today. This attitude isn’t so much about indifference as it is about “believing to believe”, or, convincing oneself in a lie. In this sense, believers “lie sincerely” about what they accept as truth. For instance, one can say, “I believe in God,” but they then must equally “believe to believe” this to be true; the part of them that remains uncertain—or at least, honestly acknowledges God as a societal construct—must “lie sincerely” about their personal beliefs; especially when unable to appropriately prove there validity.

Zizek poses the question; “Do fundamentalists believe?” And then firmly answers, “No. Fundamentalists do not believe, a fundamentalist knows.” Zizek proposes that a fundamentalist is so certain in his/her “belief” that they cannot distinguish religion and God as being “belief”—let alone mere “societal constructs”—but, instead, as actual reality itself. “Belief [is understood as being] a counterfactual wager”, or, “leap of faith”; whereas, to “know” is to interpret religion or politics as absolute truth. Fundamentalism is, of course, highly dangerous since it remains locked into an end-all-be-all-game of apparent certainty. Regretably, by interpreting texts and symbols as absolute, many will live (and subsequently, sacrifice) their entire lives as either martyrs or subservient masses bowing to a symbolically constructed God concept.

The most interesting aspect of belief today isn’t so much about simultaneously “beling in x” while admitting “x” is just a “societal construct” (which it is); but instead, that “believers” are able to explain and legitimize the various uncertainties and/or uncomfortable discrepancies of their own behavior through the apparent “pureness” of an ideology. For instance, Zizek claims, “Capitalism is tolerable not because it is just, but because it is unjust.” Meaning, instead of one taking personal accountability for the fact they’re “an idiot, [one] can, instead, blame it all on chance.” Capitalism is a fine example of a “game that can be played with a fair amount of inner distance.” Zizek states, “Suffering is invisible to the board room and the trading room floor.” Thus, one place remains “pure” and “idealized” while another can be just as easily erased and forgotten. Zizek observes, “An egotistical capitalist (or survivalist) must retain an untouched Other to remain pure.” For instance, one can remain “godly”, even while making ruthless and harmful decisions through deplorable fiscal and social policies. In fact, as long as one is “pure” and “god-loving”, they are subsequently guaranteed a place in heaven. In this sense, “belief” can be conveniently interchangeable. Belief can also be used for purposes of egotistical and self-serving convenience. Thus, the “believer” only “believes to believe” for his/her own purposes, thus making ideology just another exchangeable “societal construct.” In this sense, America can paradoxically profess to be a Christian nation and yet be the least Christian in its greedy, destructive, and hypocritical behavior.

In a world of global finance, “changes can happen arbitrarily in an instant.” Accordingly, it is no wonder such uncertainty would be mirrored through such strange beliefs. Reasonable and logical people are capable of acknowledging that “ones attachment to reality is only perception”; and furthermore, since reality changes, so doesn’t one’s “perception.” In this sense, “There is no self (or “soul”), only a chain of impermanent perceptions.” Nevertheless, each of these perceptions can be trumped up as absolute through an apparent “knowledge of one’s rightful connection to God.” This scourge of fundamentalism rots beneficial, tangible, and honest “societal constructs” with blind faith. Why are we so unable to distance ourselves from these dusty—and often harmful—symbols of “the big Other?” Why should we tolerate religious extremism and fundamentalists readings of religious texts when they continue to inspire and excuse the slaughter of human beings? Perhaps, we tolerate ideological extremism because, if we didn’t, we would have to also question other “extreme beliefs.” For example, “capitalism is tolerable, not because it is just, but because it is unjust. Meaning, it’s not my fault I’m an idiot –it’s [the fault of] chance.” One could just as easily say, “God is great, not because he is just, but because he is unjust. Meaning, it’s not my fault I’m an idiot or that the world is a horrible place. This is all merely god’s will.”

Reasonable people should never espouse such cowardly ignorance -this mode of thinking should be reserved for the chickens alone.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Double or Nothing: The Parallax of Evil (Jean Baudrillard at The New School)

By Nicholas Allanach

Karl Marx claimed, “History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce.” I understand this quote to mean; previously significant struggles eventually end in ruin to then be replaced by a ludicrous and empty spectacle. Internationally renowned (and equally ridiculed) sociologist and philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, recently argued in a presentation titled, “The Parallax of Evil: Hegemony and Domination” delivered at The New School, that traditional forms of domination (i.e. real struggle) have been replaced by hegemony (i.e. parody or farce). Of course, to properly understand Baudrillard’s argument one must first unpack his unique and non-traditional understanding of hegemony.

According to Baudrillard, “hegemony [actually] brings domination to an end [and does so through a capitalist system of] total exchange.” In this sense, hegemony becomes “the ultimate stage of domination” since it replaces all traditional modes of revolt with an utter ambivalence. In other words; customary domination (or, the “master vs. slave” dialectic) is no more and makes revolt an impossibility. Baudrillard sees hegemony as proliferated through “all networks” to subsequently make people “ambivalent” and subject to an “involuntary complicity with the world order.” But how does this happen? Moreover, how does Baudrillard’s argument account for the political conflicts and struggles currently being waged? Are destitute Muslim youth rioting in France, or, workers protesting the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Argentina ambivalent?

To answer the first question, ambivalence is a social result of “power turning against itself.” Such “cannibalization” can only occur when power “moves beyond its own limits.” Respectfully, we observe a “liquidization of value…representation...and [even] reality” itself. Thus, once a sphere of power (i.e. politics, entertainment, business, etc.) moves beyond its own limit (such as capital) it, subsequently, becomes “liquidized” and transfused throughout all other spheres of power, making everything it touches banal, ineffectual, and simulated. Examples of this occurrence (i.e. “operational whitewash”) can be seen within the multiple spaces in which the lines that formerly defined power begin to blur. For instance, politics becomes entertainment, war is sport, and everything is aestheticized. In other words, domination is replaced by a parody of hegemony as well as the “ambivalence [seen] in each of us [which serves as] a mirror to a greater global antagonism.”

The far-reaching and overly ambivalent “passive majority” that absorbs and is, subsequently, absorbed by images, is a direct result of this total hegemonic order; however, animosity still exists and is most effectively illustrated by “the spirit of terrorism.” Baudrillard admits “The stakes are getting higher”as we find ourselves trapped in an unfortunate “double or nothing” game. Baudrillard asserts any “opposition to global hegemony can only be unpredictable –total revolt is a response to total order.” Of course, Baudrillard is unable to offer any solution to this all encompassing and problematic impasse; (of course, as he jokingly responds to a later question –“I am not a therapist”) however, he does criticize “the dream of democracy [as being] without hope.” Certainly, such a gloomy outlook may displease us; however, it is, in many respects, more realistic than pessimistic. After all, it would be foolish to assume “opening the door for democracy in the Middle East”, is really about people’s rights and not about “opening the door” for a greater free-trade zone for capitalist ambitions.

To recognize “the stakes” of this “double or nothing game” we must understand what Baudrillard means when boldly asserting the “conflict between Islam and the West is only an appearance.” In other words, there is a greater and more fundamental conflict occurring that is not about a war on terror, but is about the war being carried out inside each ambivalent and/or hostile individual on the planet. We are all at war. This war is between two extremely powerful and contradictory poles. One side is represented by the western logic of empire, which is sealed, locked, and seeks to remake the world in the guise of its own image. This logic is inherent to the totalizing system of hegemonic capital and can only exchange money and empty simulated signs to gain greater forms of control. The alternative side to this conflict is a non-western system of symbolic exchange which is genuine, durable, and indestructible since it represents the traditional “foundations” of belief, culture, and society itself. However, this western logic of capital is irresistible, intoxicating, and ultimately seeks to “unveil the symbolic defenses” of the Other so as to more aggressively achieve absolute hegemony.

It is difficult to say what side will ultimately win this conflict or even whether one can begin considering what such a victory might look like. We can only be sure of one thing, the answer to this difficult question will be found in the capacity for violence in the world system itself. What limits will each side of power overstep (through violence) to achieve its goal? Baudrillard sees the “intelligence of evil” as a “reversion” of the totalizing order of hegemonic capitalism. Once again—as is the case with hegemony—“evil” is not to be understood in a customary dialectical sense; but instead, as Baudrillard claims, a “reversion to the dominating totality of hegemony.”

Jean Baudrillard is an incredibly prolific and complex social theorist, his work is often difficult to accept (or for that matter, even understand); however, I often question whether one’s aversion to his philosophy is based more on fear than ignorance? After all, one is a fool if they cannot accept the competing forces in our social landscape: on one side, we see the intoxication of capitalism with all of its empty signs and, on the other, the root of traditionalism and belief itself. Hopwever, one is only afraid if they are unable to accept the real war. In this sense, history does, as Marx observed, “repeat itself”; first, as “the tragedy” of the struggle and then as “the farce”, or appearance, we ambivalently accept and then foolishly ignore.

Monday, October 31, 2005

What's That Smell?

by Nicholas Allanach

On the evening of Thursday October 27th, I had just finished watching Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” (admittedly, not one of my proudest past times). After the show, I shut off the static box and began reading. It was at this point I noticed “the smell.” Pancake syrup? Hazelnut coffee? But from where? At first, I dismissed the smell as nothing more than the lotion I had placed on my dry hands earlier. After all, it couldn’t have been coming from outside, my windows were all shut. Maybe it was coming from one of the neighbors? My living room wasn’t an airtight vacuum chamber; I suppose anything (or, any smell) could drift in.

I began feeling drowsy; brushed my teeth, and went to bed. However, before going to sleep I noticed that “the smell” was still prevalent. In fact, “the smell” was actually more like a taste coming from the inside of my mouth. Maybe it was something I ate? Of course, I had already brushed my teeth, so it wasn’t my breath. Besides when did I have maple syrup? Perhaps, it was a lingering smell from my girlfriend who had been busy baking a cake earlier in our kitchen? I dismissed the smell as something relating to her cooking and tried again to get some shut-eye. However, I tossed and turned for sometime as the smell continued, and paranoia subsequently, seeped in.

Maybe there was a gas leak? Could it be dangerous? Might it be something coming from the basement downstairs? Should I call the fire department? Police? 311? For whatever reasons, my paranoia went away, and I eventually drifted off to sleep.


The next day, New York was still here and I had forgotten all about the mysterious maple-syrup smell. At work, online news agencies were chattering about the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby –nothing about a maple syrup smell. Of course, if I had picked up The New York Post or New York Newsday (publications I normally view as not worth the paper they’re printed on); then I would have read about “A peculiar and mysterious smell [that had] enveloped lower Manhattan for several hours last night, sparking dozens of 311 calls.” (New York Post) Apparently, people all over the five boroughs and even parts of Jersey City reported a “sweet smell.” The influx of similar calls prompted city officials to begin “running tests all night to try to figure out just what the smell was.” Unfortunately, “A spokesman [indicated that these] air samples aren't showing anything hazardous, [and that] the source of the smell is still not clear.” (NY-1)

The mysterious smell didn’t come up in any conversations I had with people at work or on the phone until Saturday night when my neighbor, Blythe, asked me if I “had heard anything about the maple syrup smell?” I hadn’t and, up to that point, had forgotten all about it since I didn’t see anything on the news or in the paper (of course, I wasn’t eagerly digging through the dailies). Of course, if I had picked up The New York Times that morning, I could’ve read about an odor “that raised vague worries about an attack deviously cloaked in the smell of grandma’s kitchen. It was so seductive that many New Yorkers found themselves behaving strangely, succumbing to urges usually kept under wraps. One woman, who never touches the stuff, said she was inspired to eat ice cream.”

Strange. Very strange, and certainly enough of a mystery (with not enough confirmed information) to inspire many conspiracy theorists with jittery post-9/11-nerves to question “what’s that smell?” Of course, no official reports from City Hall, NYPD, or the Department of Homeland Security have confirmed what was happening on Thursday night. My curiosity has certainly been peaked. Over the weekend, I asked a few people if they had also experienced the maple syrup incident. Most people agreed they smelt something strange on Thursday night and, of course, all had their own unique interpretations of what the smell might have been. My bartender and good friend, Orlando, poised the idea that perhaps “this was a test to see where a gas attack might spread if unleashed on New York.” His suggestion seems paranoid, but not outlandishly out of the question; especially, since authorities have yet to confirm (or at least make-up an excuse for) what the smell was.

I have tried to resist the urge to drift down the conspiracy rabbit hole. After all, it is often difficult to see a truth that is right in front of your face. We often construct fantastic and complex scenarios to explain mysterious, and perhaps, even banal phenomena. Moreover, something simple is often blown up to larger proportions and can, subsequently, be connected with other out-of-the-ordinary occurrences. For instance, by Anthony DePalma, writing in The New York Times, that the smell had caused “New Yorkers [to] behave strangely”; one observes a tendency to conflate the everyday with the absurd. Just because some lady on the Upper West Side decides to grab a pint of Ben Jerry’s, doesn’t mean a gas (capable of controlling the urges of New Yorkers) had been unleashed onto the city. With that said, we should never disregard the unexplainable; however, it’d be foolish to become obsessed with a mystery that could, in the end, be nothing. Of course, “the smell” is still unidentified and, for now, New Yorkers aren’t only keeping their eyes to the skies, but, their noses as well.

Afraid? Just go buy some ice cream.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Why I’ll Vote Republican (…just this once)


(Regretably) By Nicholas Allanach

In a little over two weeks, New Yorkers will likely reelect their incumbent Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg and—unless recent polls are incorrect, or something drastic occurs before November 8th—Democratic contender, Fernando Ferrer doesn’t have a chance of budging Bloomberg’s tight political grip on the city. Of course, what’s most baffling about the election is that this (apparently) bluest-of-blue strong holds appears so willing to vote red. Admittedly, Bloomberg is unlike most Republicans; in fact, if Bloomberg was (i.e. morally conservative, as well as, socially and economically inept) then Ferrer would at least have a fighting chance against the billionaire. However, instead of shooting effectively framed attack adds of Mike standing beside liberalism’s antithesis -“G.W” (as in the current heated race for New Jersey’s governor), Freddy, lacking ammo, must fall back on stump statements regarding “affordable housing” and “better education.” Ferrer claims, “This administration isn’t doing enough!” Unfortunately, this quote hasn't inspired New York’s jaded voters to change their minds.

But what if Ferrer is right? Maybe voters should reassess the way Bloomberg has run New York. Of course, this is a difficult argument to sell; after all, City Hall under Bloomberg’s leadership has been forced to meet a strict protocol of statistical accountability. Such shrewd tactics demand that all branches of city governance either “shape-up or ship-out.” Thus, Bloomberg’s strength is exemplified through an (almost) impeccable record; furthermore, he’s a likeable guy. In fact, Democrats are finding it difficult to find anything remotely askew with this, apparently, spotless politician. He has received the backing from labor unions, the gay and lesbian community, and N.A.R.A.L pro-choice. Why then am I (a registered Democrat) so conflicted by my decision to vote Bloomberg (other than being a Democrat)?

First of all, Bloomberg is an incredibly wealthy capitalist, which is, admittedly, more of a personal ideological gripe than a pressing concern for New York (“the capital of capital”) as a whole –or not. But even this argument is weak; after all, when the mayor was elected in 2001, he refused to accept the allocated annual salary and instead chose to be paid $1 for this opportunity. This is hardly the actions of a greedy man! Furthermore, Bloomberg is one of the top philanthropists in the country and is constantly contributing to charities and fundraisers. However, what’s bothersome about Bloomberg’s billions is that they allow him the ability to not only inundate the airwaves and streets with his message of “opportunity”, but also grants him the untouchable privilege of avoiding debates sponsored by the city’s campaign finance program. Bloomberg is scheduled to debate Ferrer on Oct. 30th and Nov. 1st, which will be interesting (especially since he avoided the first debate at The Apollo Theatre), but, regrettably, staged since the event won’t be held in front of a live audience but instead television cameras.

The other reason I’m a bit hesitant to reelect the mayor is because of his ties with the GOP. Respectfully, Bloomberg—as previously mentioned—seems to have no real connection with the Republicans except of course for purposes regarding obvious political opportunism. As most everyone knows, Bloomberg was a Democrat but changed party affiliation in 2001 after recognizing the crowded platform for the primaries. Of course, Bloomberg is still dogged by the ghost of the RNC, which he (despite some contestation on his part) did speak at and to. His contribution and welcoming of the RNC (not to mention the NYPD’s deplorable treatment of contained protesters) left some New Yorkers sour; especially, after the grievous results of November’s presidential election. However, despite my own party loyalties, I am unable to support the candidate it has put forth (if Anthony Weiner was still in the game, I would most certainly be electioneering for the Democrats and, subsequently, writing an entirely different article).

Accordingly, it seems silly for high-ranking Democrats such as Charles Shumer, Howard Dean, and Hilary Clinton to be backing Fernando Ferrer –except of course for (once again) purposes regarding political opportunism. One has to ask themselves, how much of this “backing” is merely an attempt to bolster an already embittered Democratic party? The emails I’ve received from John Kerry proclaim his support for Ferrer. However, Kerry’s pleas are written in a tone of desperation; as if we must back Ferrer because it is essential for the Democratic Party as a whole. Obviously, this line of thinking is destructive. Give me a real contender to stand beside and cease your pathetic plead for my vote!

Perhaps, the 2005 New York mayoral race can shed some light on the plight of the Democratic Party as a whole. After all, I agree with most everything Fernando Ferrer has done and believes in; what I don’t agree with is voting for a candidate based solely on party platform. Let a politician’s record (such as Ferrer’s commendable revitalization of the Bronx as borough president) and character (Ferrer is working-class and socially conscious) guide our decision as voters. Thus, the Democrats must stop saying “things can be better,” Democrats must show they are making things better and are in fact a better party. With that said, I would like to say that despite, Bloomberg’s record and impressive development plans, he must listen to his former party’s criticisms. Ferrer has stated time after time, “Mayor Bloomberg does not represent all New Yorkers.” This statement both alludes to Bloomberg’s connection with the ridiculously wealthy and to John Edward’s class dividing observation of there being “two America’s” (something most glaringly illustrated by Hurricane Katrina).

New York, like the rest of the country, is made up of both money hungry capitalists and a famished poor. How are we to bridge this divide? Ferrer has based his platform on this entirely, and his argument (that Bloomberg is making it more difficult for real New Yorkers to live here) is the number one reason I am hesitant to vote for Bloomberg. In fact, part of me is still—and probably will be right up until standing in that voting booth—torn between Bloomberg, because I think he has done a great job, and Ferrer, because a lot of me wants to really send a message to the rich. Of course, aren’t I sending a more effective message by voting for a socially responsible, accessible, and accountable mayor who has done a good job? If I’m a registered Democract that votes Republican, won’t my vote show the larger political apparatus that people are willing to support a candidate that represents the best interests of society as a whole?

With that said; what side am I on and is that side best for New York? At this point, I’ve reached a rather deplorable conclusion, which I dare say; I am willing to go back on if presented with a clearer and more convincing argument. My answer, (for now, and till Nov.8th) is that Bloomberg is best for New York. The reason I feel this way is that despite Fernando Ferrer’s concerns for the working-class and poor; he does not seem to have the power, connections, or ability to solve the problems he observes, which Bloomberg does. Fernando Ferrer speaks a truth that many (well-off) New Yorkers would prefer to not hear, that truth is that the wealthy are idealized and envied throughout the capitalists system and such wealth is often equated with virtue. It is difficult to not look at this election as the rich triumphing over the poor; however, this is the city we’ve built and the city we’ve built runs on business. By sending a message to the government that we respect Bloomberg for his system of accountability and effectively using the tools of business to make a better city then maybe others will begin realizing the strength of philanthropic deeds and genuine concern for all New Yorkers as well. Bloomberg has the tools and means to make the big changes that are necessary. Ferrer can only face an uphill battle in City Hall (if elected) and it is a battle this New Yorker, will, for now, avoid.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

No 'Totality' For A Polarized World

By Nicholas Allanach

Current polls indicate the American public is becoming fed-up with the war in Iraq. Of course, while there are certainly large numbers of staunch antiwar advocates, there is still a fair amount of war supporters. Certainly, being proud of the values and ideals that, apparently, characterize the “free and just” United States is commendable, it’s also only ignorant and pig-headed when taken too far. After all, absolute American exceptionalism doesn’t make any new friends; it only deters attempts at establishing a true global democracy that is fair for all. In fact, what the war supporters fail to realize is that the longer the United States “stays the course” the more isolated and ineffectual our role as super power becomes.

After the September 11th attacks, the United States was presented with an opportunity. America could either bravely and intelligently exert its hegemonic power through peaceful diplomacy or cowardly and ignorantly through sporadic and increased militaristic aggression. The Bush administration chose the former. What is most childish about this neo-conservative, pro-war argument is that it fully espouses American exceptionalism and feels the only way to effectively communicate its values is by violently subjecting the rest of the world to them. Such a perspective doesn’t position America as a part of the world, but as instead the misunderstood, yet superior, controller of it. Such unabashed and blind arrogance only isolates the United States by discrediting its cooperative and humanitarian position in the global community. If the US chose to “humbly accept its own vulnerability as [a] part of the world, enacting the punishment of those responsible [for 9/11] as a sad duty, not as an exhilarating retaliation” then, perhaps, we would already have captured Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, instead of provoking more like them. Nevertheless, changing this bullish attitude won’t alter the apparent (untruthful and/or conjured up) need to have invaded Iraq –we’re already there. However, altering this stubbornness will most certainly be a step in the right direction of truly advancing peace and democracy.

Over the past few months, despite the escalating body count, I have questioned my own support for the antiwar movement. But why? After all, I know I cannot adhere to the ridiculous blood-soaked wet dream of war proponents; yet, I am also unable to completely dive into the alternative “peacenik” movement without some hesitation. Of course, this creates a rather uncomfortable situation; especially, during a time when nobody wants to be seen as “sitting on the fence.” But let me make myself clear, I am not undecided. In fact, my big problem with war proponents is obvious: The United States is not an “innocent” bystander who was blindly attacked by a third world “evil” and must now “take the fight to the terrorists, so we don’t have to fight them at home.” Respectfully, we cannot fully rely on the deeper sociopolitical causes of Arab extremism either, which would, instead, blame the U.S. for “getting what it deserved.”

Writer Slavoj Zizek confronts this uncomfortable dichotomy in his book Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Zizek states, “The only possible solution is to reject this very opposition and to adopt both positions simultaneously [to achieve] totality: there is no choice between these two positions; each is one sided and false.” Of course, achieving “totality” is easier said then done; after all, such binary black/white tendencies have (throughout the history of Western civilization’s limited logic) divided and compartmentalized ideas and beliefs from each other for centuries. Such polarizations set ideas against each other and make it almost impossible to achieve a more complete truth. It is, of course, tough work to try and understand both “sides” of an issue; however, it should be necessary; especially when making large scale decisions like, say, invading a country.

Obviously, “totality” isn’t an attribute of imperial ambitions. In fact, domination doesn’t need understanding it only demands coercion which entails getting the most people “on your side.” President Bush has clearly indicated his administration’s inability of achieving “totality” by demarcating the world stage as separated into a duel “good vs. evil” and (infamous) “you’re either with us or against us” war mentality. Such thinking is not only dangerous (and limiting) but only further separates the US from a larger global community. Isolationism has often dominated America’s self perception as a mythical place that remains safe and secure from the economic, environmental, and social hardships inflicting other nations.

For instance, consider American responses to Hurricane Katrina. I recall the news being filled with quotes like, “Things like this aren’t supposed to happen here” or “This is the type of thing we’d expect to see in a third world country –not in the United States.” Although such an attitude is reactionary, it does illustrate an American tendency to not only see itself as a separate and/or elevated entity that doesn’t affect the world but—in this case of environmental disaster—shouldn’t be affected by the world either. It is as if America must consistently reaffirm itself as a sanctified and exceptional nation by even going so far as rejecting the reality of nature itself. Judging by the overall response to Hurricane Katrina, it is safe to say America is still unable to understand the lesson of September 11th. Such a lesson was—most likely—not in the minds of the hijackers; however, it frames the entire event and all subsequent ones like it and loudly declares –America is a part of the environmental, political, and social world. Get used to it damn it!

New World


by Nicholas Allanach

New York has been called an "island at the center of the world"; of course, by demarcating one place "the center" everywhere else, subsequently, becomes peripheral. This apparently insular city has also been called "the crossroads of the world", which paints an entirely different picture of the city as an interactive bustle of races and religions exchanging ideas and goods throughout the teeming streets and boroughs. This is the livelier of the two descriptions, but is no truer than the first. In fact, New York City is a paradox. While it remains a welcoming "crossroads" (i.e. "bring me your weak and huddled masses, yearning to breathe free") it is also a cold and distant "center". Glass towers, concrete, and constantly flowing streams of traffic, position New York as the proverbial financial, cultural, and political "center of the world." Such an identity must be maintained even when it is no longer true.

Much like the rest of the United States, New York is fueled by fantasy and myth. Admittedly, New York's power is for real; however, in this increasingly interconnected global environment, it is almost impossible to demarcate anything as a "center". At the turn of the century, New York was seen as a utopian "New World", where the possibilities and aspirations of those who settled here were wide-open, pragmatic, and opportunistic. New York is still inspired by such an imagination as it continues to defy the boundaries that restrict greater human endeavors. Thus, there are, most certainly, dreams and fantastic imaginings still associated with this mythic place. Many such dreams originate in the minds of those who live here; however, even more come from those who've never even set foot on the island. Despite these dreams, New York is no longer the "New World". In fact, the new "New World" is everywhere, it is interconnected, static, and has no center or crossroads.

What purpose can this city (and a writer living in it) then have in this "New World"?