Opinions and Books
Deciphering the Martian Rosetta Stone
6 February, 2015Posted by on
One day, ALH84001 will be remembered as the Rosetta Stone of the hieroglyph of life.
When the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799, our information about the ancient world was limited to the Bible and Greek historiography. The triple script of King Ptolemy gave Champollion the opportunity to transliterate the hieroglyph, providing the key to decode older writings.
We have moved beyond the Bible and the Greeks, as regards human history. And yet, when it comes to the meaning of life, we find ourselves still imprisoned in the biblical-ptolemaic paradigm. You don’t have to be an advocate of intelligent design, to think that life on our planet is something unique in the Universe, regardless of whether you conceive it as a miracle, or as an accident. It comes naturally to think that we are center-stage, albeit no longer the center. We are the protagonists. The Universe is just mise en scene.
However, “somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known”, as Sagan said. On August 6, 1996, David Stewart McKay, Chief Scientist for astrobiology at the Johnson Space Center, published an article in Science, claiming that his team has discovered microbial fossils of extraterrestrial origin in a martian meteorite indexed as ALH84001. For the first time, we looked at another script of life.
As usually happens, the media distorted the news under sensational headlines, and, accordingly, offered a convenient straw man to be criticised by both the skeptic and the true believer. The dust has settled over the headlines ever since, but the evidence was strengthened by new findings, unnoticed by the sensation machine.
Skepticism is a sound reaction, but if the history of science teaches us something, the guts of a passionate scientist is worth more than technically correct objections from philosophical skeptics. McKay’s passion was aroused in 1962, as he watched JFK’s speech about putting a man on the Moon by the end of that decade. He trained the astronauts of the Apollo missions in geology, and served as advisory during the Moon trip. He was the principal investigator of the samples brought back from the Moon. He published over 200 research papers over lunar dust. To put it plainly, when it comes to extraterrestrial life, McKay knew better than the rest of us what to look for.
So, what is the evidence carried by the martian meteorite? To answer this question, we must start with what one may call the Rosetta Stone hypothesis. In order to transliterate the hieroglyph, Champollion had to assume that the three writings on the stele had the same content. McKay and his team looked for traces of Martian life that were consistent with what we know about life on Earth.
We are searching for martian biomarkers on the basis of what we know about life on Earth. Therefore, if there is a martian biomarker, we may not be able to recognize it, unless it is similar to an earthly biomarker.
The research result was summarised by McKay in five points.
In examining the martian meteorite ALH84001 we have found that the following evidence is compatible with the existence of past life on Mars: (i) an igneous Mars rock (of unknown geologic context) that was penetrated by a fluid along fractures and pore spaces, which then became the sites of secondary mineral formation and possible biogenic activity; (ii) a formation age for the carbonate globules younger than the age of the igneous rock; (iii) SEM and TEM images of carbonate globules and features resembling terrestrial microorganisms, terrestrial biogenic carbonate structures, or microfossils; (iv) magnetite and iron sulfide particles that could have resulted from oxidation and reduction reactions known to be important in terrestrial microbial systems; and (v) the presence of PAHs associated with surfaces rich in carbonate globules
Let us review them in some detail.
Allan Hills 84001 (ALH84001) is a 1, 93 kg (4 pounds) meteorite, discovered on December 27, 1984, in Allan Hills, Antarctica.
Meteorites originate in the asteroid belt. They coalesced 4,55 billions years ago from primeval matter in the proto-planetary disk. Most of them formed through the accretion of silicate minerals floating freely in the molecular cloud.
A few other other formed as debris of differentiated crust and melted iron-nickel core, ejected into space by impacts between the first asteroids and planetoids. A narrower class have been ejected from Mars or the Moon by asteroid impacts.
During the early stage of the solar system, planets were subjected to heavy bombardments by asteroids and comets. The traces of such cosmic cataclysms have been eroded away on Earth, but we can see them plainly on the Moon, and identify them on Mars. Such impacts often project into space pieces of molten rock. Escape velocity on Mars in 5 km/h, less than half its value on Earth, therefore strong collisions may project pieces of Martian crust into space. The sun’s gravity will attract such objects toward the earth, and sometimes they end up landing.
Meteorites from Mars are indexed as the SNC (Shergottites, Nakhlites, Chassignites) group, after the name of the location where the first meteorite of each type was discovered. They are younger than other meteorites, and mass spectrography indicates isotope ratios that put earthly origin out of question, while being consistent with other SNC samples. After the Viking Landers (1976) measured the isotopic composition of the atmosphere on Mars, and analyzed the chemical composition of rock samples, it turned out that they match those of the SNC group. More recent measurements by orbiters and rovers, have demonstrated beyond doubt the Martian origin of these meteorites.
Allan Hills 84001 is a martian meteorite from the Shergottites group. Radiometric datings show that the rock crystalised on Mars 4.5 bya ago, was blasted off about 4.09 bya ago, and landed in Antarctica 13,000 years ago. The meteorite has thin fractures that have been penetrated by martian water. Within these fractures, the research team found carbonate globules containing tiny structures identical to earthly bacteria.
The carbonate globules formed on Mars (as determined by isotopic content), from CO2 in the martian atmosphere, recycled in water at 18 degrees C, and are flattened parallel to the phracture, evidence of restricted growth within the fissure..
The martian origin of the globules is important because, along with the analyses of the environment where the meteorite was found, additional tests in laboratory, and strict precaution in handling the sample, excludes the possibility of contamination.
Structures that are similar to bacteria on Earth were seen through the scanning electron microscopes in the carbonate globules. They are very small (20 to 100 nanometers), and are similar in shape and size to fossil and living nanobacteria on earth. Such organisms on earth have been found to live rocks, some of them similar to ALH84001.
Three mineral by-products similar to those produced by bacteria on Earth were found in the carbonate mineral globules: magnetite (iron-oxide), pyrrhotite (iron-sulphide), and greigite (iron-sulphide).
Magnetite is magnetic iron-oxide. Bacteria produce magnetite and use it as an inner compass, to orient themselves along the lines of the magnetic field. Mars used to have a magnetic field like Earth, which protected the atmosphere against solar winds, and, accordingly, made liquid water possible. Once upon of time, Mars had a large ocean, third of its surface, lakes and rivers crossing the land. Then something happened, the geological activity ceased, the magnetic field died, and Mars along with it. The fossils inside ALH84001 come from that remote past when Mars was like Earth. There are a lot of questions about us to be answered on Mars.
Iron sulfides may appear on Earth as waste bacterial products, along with iron oxide, like within ALH84001. The iron-sulfides in ALH84001 are similar to those produced by earthly bacteria. Any of these minerals could have been generated by nonbiological processes. However, what matters as a biological marker is their combination, iron-oxide and iron-sulphide being patched together inside the globules of magnesium carbonate. This combination is very unlikely to happen without biological activity. Moreover, the carbonate globules bear the marks of acid water. Both minerals can form inorganically, but only in alkaline environment. The acid water would have dissolved the iron-oxide and iron-sulphide at least partially. The only explanation is biogenic origin.
Another biomarker is the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) around and in the carbonate mineral globules. PAHs are chemical combinations of carbon and hydrogen, spatially structured in cyclic rings (mostly hexagons) of carbon atoms. On Earth, PAH is generated naturally through the activity of bacteria and other living organisms, or by their decay.
The presence of PAH in ancient sedimentary rocks indicates the degradation of dead marine plankton and vegetation, and is interpreted as a sign that petroleum might be present. Nevertheless, most PAH in today’ environment comes from burning fossil fuels. PAH is also found in meteorites and this is thought to originate in the early molecular cloud.
McKay and his team proved that PAH molecules in ALH 84001 are from Mars, and are of the same class as those that on Earth come from the decomposition of bacteria. The PAHs in ALH 84001 represent only a limited variety, as it has been observed on Earth to form from the natural breakdown of simple living organisms.
From my perspective, their strongest conclusion is that ALH84001 contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that formed on Mars. These PAH molecules may be related to martian microorganisms, as McKay and co-workers suggest. The PAHs might also have formed without assistance from living organisms, in what might be called a prebiotic organic chemistry. Proof of a prebiotic organic chemistry system in Mars would be nearly as exciting as proof of life itself. (Allan H. Treiman, Lunar and Planetary Institute, August 21, 1996).
Each of these features can be explained by a naturally (although unlikely) occurring abiotic processes. It is their grouping that makes the inorganic origin highly improbable. As McKay said:
None of these observations is in itself conclusive for the existence of past life. Although there are alternative explanations for each of these phenomena taken individually, when they are considered collectively, particularly in view of their spatial association, we conclude that they are evidence for primitive life on Mars.
In November 2009, NASA Johnson Space Center announced that the case for martian fossils on ALH84001 “further strengthened by the presence of abundant fossil-like structures in other Martian meteorites.” So, even if the jury is still out, the evidence is compelling.
Ludwig Wittgenstein declared that the sense of life must lie outside of the world. I will go beyond his intention in reformulating this statement in astrobiological terms: the sense of life is to be found in comparative abiogenesis. We seem to have come closer to it.
The misrepresentation of Martin Luther King
21 January, 2015Posted by on
Every Martin Luther King day, every street that carries his memory into the city slums, every movie that holywoodises his cause, is a celebration of victory. The victory over Martin Luther King.
Let me explain.
King did not fight for racial emancipation. He fought for the emancipation of humanity from identification with race. The black community was to him what the proletariat was to Marx: the universal emancipator, because the universality of its misery.
They invented diversity.
His revolution was not about integration, because integration assumes the conservation of the status quo. Revolution means dis-integration. MLK’s cause was about the disintegration of privilege.
They extended privilege beyond one race.
His dream was that each be judged by his/her character.
They acquiesced in the conceited black man.
Martin Luther King believed that the arch of the universe bents toward justice. Talking Hegel in the age of Einstein.
They answered: Jesus was politically correct.
25 November, 2014Posted by on
The allegation that Christianity worships money has a deeper meaning than the truism that the church is after money. Actually, it is the institution of money that needs the church.
According to Walter Benjamin, Christianity has reached the point where it has turned itself into cultic Capitalism. Contending against Weber’s thesis that Capitalism draws from protestant ethics, he held that, on the contrary, it is now Christianity that has become incumbent on Capitalism. “Capitalism has developed as a parasite of Christianity in the West…”, but now “Christianity’s history is essentially that of its parasite”. Walter claims that Capitalism as religion is purely cultic, and, therefore, capable of accommodating every particular dogma.
One has only to watch the ubiquitous ritual of tithe and offerings in order to ascertain Walter’s intuition across sectarian differences. The passing up of the collection plate mimics the passing down of the communion plate. Just like with the sacramental bread and wine, the money is consecrated by prayer and liturgical reading into an external sign of grace. The offertory is a parody of the Eucharist.
According to Emile Durkheim, the hidden purpose of any religious ritual is to seed the political ideals of the establishment into people’s minds. Far from being a response to grace, and a participation in its ministry, liturgical giving aims secretly at reinforcing faith in money as an absolute. Money is the Incarnation of God.
Back to Walter Benjamin: “Capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.” Nevertheless, in the era of bubble economies and shaking currencies, Capitalism can no longer accomplish this purpose without the aid of explicit religion. That is because, contrary to the classic thesis that Capitalism has substituted immanence to transcendence, a return to transcendence and faith has become essential for Capitalism today.
In order to understand this shift, let us first return to Weber’s classic definition of Capitalism as as the historical product of Calvinism. His favorite example was a quote from Benjamin Franklin:
Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.[…]Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and three pence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.
“Time is money” sounds like an ontological parody. After all, living in time is the very essence of being human. The same goes for the sentence: “Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature”. Money is extolled here as a creative power, with an allusion at the original blessing of Genesis: “be ye fruitful, and multiply”. Money is attributed the ontological predictions of God.
And yet, too many of our problems spring from that “prolific, generating nature” of money, so enthusiastically expounded by Franklin, briefly: Capitalism. The analogy that comes to our mind today is rather that of a virus attacking its host, rather than the Genesis blessing of all creation. Capitalism is destabilizing society and destroying nature. It is a virus that has infected the very core of human existence: time. Time is no longer the experience of conscious living. Time is money.
Paradoxically, it is exactly this new ontology that has turned economic discontent into existential anxiety. Far from satisfying “the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion”, Capitalism is now the object of doubts and blasphemies once reserved for God. A simple Internet search for the keyword phrase “does money exist” will show that demonstrating the existence of money has become as elusive a task as demonstrating the existence of God. Every argument for the existence of money goes down to the so called ontological argument, which relies on metaphysical reasoning rather than hard facts. Consequently, criticism of Capitalism is no longer the criticism of free market economics, but of its metaphysics.
Let us review briefly the ontological argument. The classic version was elaborated in the eleventh century by the Benedectine monk and Archbishop, Anselm of Canterbury. It consists in a syllogism based on the premises that, first, God is the highest being to be conceived and, secondly, whatever exists must be necessarily greater than its concept. The syllogism added up to the conclusion that God must be necessarily greater than what we conceive of him. So God cannot not exist.
Anselm was aware that the theological argument made no sense from the perspective of simply common sense. Therefore, he warned against using such reasoning outside the realm of pure ontology.One has to master the scholastic distinction between contingency and logical necessity. Something may or may not exist contingently. Ontologically, something is either logically necessary or logically impossible, like in Euclidean geometry. God is an ontological concept.
Now, let’s draw the parallel. First, money is defined as the highest desirable good. Secondly, money is argued to be pure necessity, beyond tangible currencies and fluctuations of buying power. Money cannot not exist. Capitalism is an ontological concept.Therefore, It is not by accident that Immanuel Kant substituted “money” for “God” as the variable in Anselm’s equation, as part of his demolition of metaphysics. “A hundred real thalers do not contain the least coin more than a hundred possible thalers” contented the German philosopher. Critics have accused Kant of ignoring Anselm’s distinction between the necessary and the contingent. Actually, he might have chosen his example exactly because money blurs such distinction. As Franklin says: “He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds”. Unlike Kant, Franklin thought that the real one hundred thalers represented much more more money than the contingent one hundred pieces.
Kant’s pecuniary illustration shows that, just like faith in God, faith in money cannot rely on metaphysics. The medieval Church did not preach the ontological argument but reinforced its beliefs through sacraments and rituals. Similarly, modern Capitalism needs a cult of money to reinforce faith in it. “Compare de holy iconography of various religions, on the one hand, with the banknotes of countries, on the other”, argues Walter Benjamin in Capitalism as Religion (1921). According to St. John of Damascus, an icon is a “channel of divine grace”. However, an icon is not an icon until consecrated by the church. The purpose of the ritualised collection of tithe and offerings is to consecrate money as channel of grace. In other words, the accidental dollar bill becomes consubstantiality with ontological money.
This sacrament of money is actually the reenactment of the dark side of the Lord’s Supper: the betrayal of Judas. The consecrating words would be in this case: “quod facis fac citius” (“that thou doest, do quickly”). In other words: “be ye entrepreneurial”. Just like in the gnostic Gospel of Judas, where Judas is selling Christ in obedience to his secret instructions, the entrepreneurial church performs the rite of betrayal as an expression of the Capitalist gnosis.
The 95 thesis from Marx to Luther
16 June, 2014Posted by on
“From Marx to Luther” is a calculated anachronism. Reading the 95 thesis as a post-note to The Capital is made arguable by three presuppositions of Luther’s theses. They are: Nominalist ontology, repentance vs. penance, and grace vs. money. Essentially, they correspond to the three tenets of Marx’s economic philosophy: his anti-metaphysical ontology, the dialectics of labour and capital, and the dialectics of humanity and money.
Marx saw in Luther a pre-modern revolutionary. We may find in Marx the underlying argument for a new Reformation.
Luther was a Nominalist. The Nominalist school considered that the properties and predicates of individuals do not truly exists. Only individuals or particulars possess ontological status. What Plato called ‘ideas’, and Aristotle called ‘substance’, represent only nomen (‘name’) shared by individual entities.
The consequences were disastrous for Scholastic theology, which saw its ontology relegated to a mere word game. William Occam, of whom Luther was a disciple, considered that the ways of salvation are not revealed to the human intellect. Accordingly, canonic laws and theological abstractions were only conjectures. Luther was looking for a new certitude based on God’s revelation within the individual. He took the Greek word metanoia (‘repentance’) for what it literally means – ‘beyond mind’. Accordingly, Luther held that repentance goes beyond the mere anthropological into an ontological event, by which human and divine will fuse together.
For his part, Marx rejected the idealist notion that universals are categories of pure reason. They rather represent the “production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness,” all that “men say, imagine, conceive,” and include such things as “politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc.” (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. “The German Ideology”. Karl Marx, “Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy”). Production is to Marx the process by which man, unlike all other species, creates and recreates his own world.
“If man’s feelings, passions, etc., are not merely anthropological phenomena in the (narrower) sense, but truly ontological affirmations of being (of nature), and if they are only really affirmed because their object exists for them as a sensual object…” (Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844). Alienated labour is production in which the above mentioned ontological affirmation of human nature is no longer present. The object of waged labour is something abstract, alien to the worker, rather than the sensual object of his feelings and passions.
Although they speak in different terms, Luther and Marx agree as regards the ontological status of the individual and the secondary character of ideas and abstract systems. This common ground is the starting point of our Marxist interpretation of the concept of penitence vs penance as expressed in Theses 1, 2, 30, 33, and 34.
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
2. The word (repentance) cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy…
30. No one is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of receiving plenary forgiveness…
33. We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say that the papal indulgences are an inestimable divine gift, and that a man is reconciled to God by them.
34. For the grace conveyed by these indulgences relates simply to the penalties of the sacramental “satisfactions” decreed merely by man.
The contradiction between repentance, as a whole life, and penance, as a work demanded by the Church, is the contradiction between the affirmation of humanity in relation to the object of his needs and passions, and waged labour. Penance is alienated religious work.
Let’s move to Luther’s next point: the contradiction between the monetary satisfaction of penance and grace.
56. The treasures of the church, out of which the pope dispenses indulgences, are not sufficiently spoken of or known among the people of Christ…
62. The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
63. It is right to regard this treasure as most odious, for it makes the first to be the last.
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be the first.
What Luther takes aim at is not so much the greed and the corruption of the Church, as the quantification of “the true treasures of the Church” that have been commodified and downgraded to market value. Luther notices that the indulgences market “makes the last to be the first”. We return to Marx.
The distorting and confounding of all human and natural qualities, the fraternisation of impossibilities – the divine power of money – lies in its character as men’s estranged, alienating and self-disposing species-nature. Money is the alienated ability of mankind.
If I long for a particular dish or want to take the mail-coach because I am not strong enough to go by foot, money fetches me the dish and the mail-coach: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, [money] is the truly creative power.
No doubt the demand also exists for him who has no money, but his demand is a mere thing of the imagination without effect or existence for me, for a third party, for the [others], and which therefore remains even for me unreal and objectless. The difference between effective demand based on money and ineffective demand based on my need, my passion, my wish, etc., is the difference between being and thinking, between that which exists within me merely as an idea and the idea which exists as a real object outside of me.
If I have no money for travel, I have no need – that is, no real and realisable need – to travel. If I have the vocation for study but no money for it, I have no vocation for study – that is, no effective, no true vocation. On the other hand, if I have really no vocation for study but have the will and the money for it, I have an effective vocation for it. Money as the external, universal medium and faculty (not springing from man as man or from human society as society) for turning an image into reality and reality into a mere image, transforms the real essential powers of man and nature into what are merely abstract notions and therefore imperfections and tormenting chimeras, just as it transforms real imperfections and chimeras – essential powers which are really important, which exist only in the imagination of the individual – into real powers and faculties. In the light of this characteristic alone, money is thus the general distorting of individualities which turns them into their opposite and confers contradictory attributes upon their attributes.
Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things – the world upside-down – the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.
He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every quality for every other, even contradictory, quality and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace (Marx, 1844).
Analogous to Luther, Marx is not concerned primarily with capitalist greed and corruption. The problem with money is that of trying to quantify and abstract the ontological affirmation of human need and passion, and of losing its true substance in the process. Marx’s concern is thus essentially religious. “The last becomes the first”. The absence of human qualities is compensated by the illusion of being able to buy them. The cardinal sin of the market goes down to being ultimately a materialist form of selling indulgences.
On the flip side, the sin of postmodern religion is that of being only another place where commodities are produced to satisfy the demands of the market. Pastors, evangelists, administrators, theologians, faith-healers, saints and crooks, are either business entrepreneurs investing their capital for profit, or simply waged workers alienated from the object of their passion, that has once motivated them to choose a religious vocation. Every believer is born again as a consumer on the religious market. Make no mistake. Doctor Tetzel was the first Evangelical.
Time to re-nail the 95 theses.
Marx’ opium statement revisited
17 April, 2014Posted by on
Karl Marx is back. The specter is haunting again. The Capital appears to be vindicated by the crisis of global capitalism.
I will leave economics with the economists. My interest is only in one single aspect of the global market: the cancerously thriving market of postmodern religion. Like every other cancer, it progresses toward the destruction of its own host. The ultimate victim of commodified religion will be religion itself. In order to decode the symptomatology of this process, I will conjure – to use one of Marx’ favorite cliches – the ghost of the young Marx.
This brings certainly to mind the predictable truism ‘religion is the opium of the people’. Below is the full statement as it appears in the Introduction Marx’ project-book, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.
In the preceding paragraph, Marx notices that “the criticism of religion has been essentially completed”. This ‘criticism’ consists in a secular version of Christianity, attempted by Hegel and Feuerbach.
Hegel developed his religious philosophy around the concept of alienation. The alienated spirit represents human reason that cannot recognise itself in the authoritarian institutions and dogmas of its own creation. While Hegel defines alienation as a condition of every religion, he nonetheless discriminates among various degrees of religious alienation. In this respect, he notices that: “the objectivity of the deity increased in direct proportion to the increase in the corruption and slavery of man, and this objectivity is in reality no more than a revelation, a manifestation of the spirit of the age”. Once the age that has given birth to certain deities or canons passes away, they will turn more and more into abstract and authoritarian traditions. The alienated humanity is no longer able to recognise himself in his own creations.
Ludwig Feuerbach operated a sort of materialist inversion of Hegel’s concept of alienation. To him, the objective deity was no longer the universal spirit lost into externality. It was rather a psychological projection of man’s latent potential. Marx endorses Feuerbach’s inversion. “Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again”. Yet from this point on, he parts with Hegel/Feuerbach and develops his own theory of alienation.
To Marx, the origin of religious alienation was not to be found in religion itself, but in the state of society. “This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world”. One recalls the scene in “The Dictator” where Chaplin unknowingly flies the plane upside down. He cannot make sense of the anti-gravitational properties of his watch which keeps pulling up (actually falling down) from his pocket. The scene is an innuendo at the “inverted reality” of nazi Germany, where the ‘miracle’ of national resurrection was a distorted perception of the national catastrophe. Downfall presents itself to the upside down humanity as a soaring toward the otherworldly.
This raises the question of what has generated such an inversion of reality? Marx contends that human alienation is the byproduct of the division of social labour. Man acts only as an atom in the production of everything: food, culture, state, religion, ideas, etc. Consequently, he cannot recognize himself in the world of his own creation. He projects his creative powers on the gods that become the object of his disempowered petitions. On the other hand, he perceives himself as an object, rather than as a subject of this estranged world.
At that time, Marx could only advance his thesis on a speculative basis. We know better than him. Human nature has formed itself in Pleistocene. We have discovered its early imprints in cave art. Contrary to preconceived assumptions, cave art is not the product of shamans. It was created by people, mostly teenagers, of both sexes, without any religious connotations. It reflects pure curiosity and creative play. (Guthrie, R. Dale. The Nature of Paleolithic Art. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2005). It comes from an egalitarian society with no division of labour or gender segregation. The span of time covered by cave art is six time longer that the whole history of civilisation. Prehistory is the real history of mankind. It shaped what we are. The agricultural revolution, with its society based on class division, private property, institutionalized religion and family, was contrary to human nature. We are the alienated adventurers and cave artists of the paleolithic.
Marx transits from anthropology to political economy when it comes to capitalism. The problem with capitalism is, according to him, a process of production which is not subordinated to the real needs of the producer, but to the reproduction of the capital itself. The system has to create the market, the producer, and the need, rather than satisfy the real needs of the real people. The reality distortion consists in the fact that humanity objectifies himself in commodity and its abstract expression, money. The value of objectified humanity is given by the game of the marked, rather than by humanity itself.
The process requires religious faith in the ultimate value of money. “Compare de holy iconography of various religions on the one hand with the banknotes of countries, on the other” (Walter Benjamin. Capitalism as Religion, 1921). ‘In God we trust’ is such a profession of faith. Erich Fromm identifies the religious character of capitalist alienation in the Old Testament denunciation of idols. “The whole concept of alienation found its first expression in Western thought in the Old Testament concept of idolatry… man bows down and worships things… He has become estranged from his own life forces… and is in touch with himself only in the indirect way of submission to life frozen in the idols”. (Erich Fromm. Marx’s Concept of Man, 1961). It is in light of the cultic nature of capitalism that Marx’ gloss over religion as the opium of the people reveals its deeper meaning. His point is rather that of Martin Scorsese’s in The Wolf of Wall Street. “Of all the drugs under God’s blue heaven, there is one that is my absolute favourite,” declares Leonardo DiCaprio’s as Jordan Belfort. The rest of the drugs – and you see all of them in the movie – are only catalysts for the intoxicating effect of money. Erich Fromm defines this psychedelic effect “intense, yet cold excitement built upon inner deadness or, if one would want to put it symbolically, it is ‘burning ice’” (ibid). It is this ‘icy’ character that makes the other drugs necessary.
In the same way, false religion itself is acting as a catalyst, like ammonium in cigarettes, or calcium carbonate in crack. It provides theological legitimacy for the commodified illusions. Take tithing for instance. Behind the anti-materialistic facade of selflessness, tithing reinforces the mystification of money, as God himself needed it. Like paying for sex, paying oneself into a relationship with God is a form of human alienation. The prosperity gospel is itself the ultimate example of bubble economy.
“The imaginary flowers on the chain” the “fantasy or consolation” that make it bearable are no longer the otherworldly ‘fantasy and consolation’ of the Middle Ages. They are now the worldly ‘fantasy and consolation’ of the market. “Capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion” (Benjamin). This is true even when it comes to the otherworldly in our days. They are not relics of medieval faith, as commonly assumed, but rather commodified fantasies produced by religious assembly lines, to satisfy the scientifically surveyed and artificially engineered needs of the religious market. They are another bubble economy.
The implicit affirmation of true religion reveals itself in the the first line of the paragraph containing the ‘opium’ statement. “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering”. Unlike the ‘the imaginary flowers on the chain’ the palliative ‘fantasy and consolation’ that deadens the awareness of human condition, true religion is tragic. It embraces human suffering and the dilemmas of its age. Marx rejected the emasculated atheism of the Young Hegelians as inferior to the religion of common people because the latter was rooted in real suffering. “In then linking itself to suffering, Marxism made contact with and drew upon religion’s principal source of power, now making it available for its own development.” (Alvin W. Gouldner, The Two Marxisms. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). The revolution originates in the same depth of human suffering as does the ‘opium of the people’.
The task of revolution is not to destroy religion but to liberate it. “Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.” It is what Max Weber called ”religions of salvation whose central theme is the restoration of human unity through brotherhood”. The living flower is true religion. We will never pluck it unless we first destroy the imaginary flowers and breack the chain.
The theological roulette
2 April, 2014Posted by on
The global religious market was made possible by two inventions of Blaise Pascal (1623–1662): the mathematics of probabilities and the redefinition of theology as a strategic game. The latter is known as Pascal’s Wager.
Slave trade insurance was the first global-scale application of probabilities in economics. The reintroduction of slavery in Christianity was not a resurrection of pre-feudal economics. It was rather a crude form of the human commodification which is inherent to all modern production. “Its product is the self-conscious and self-acting commodity…the human commodity” (Karl Marx. Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts, p. 111). Modern evangelism inscribes itself in the same logic, i.g. an evangelist is vouchsafed in proportion to the number of won souls. The soul commodity needs to be insured in its own way. Pascal’s Wager was the first to offer a model of theological risk-assessment.
Pascal knew better than the proponents of Intelligent Design that the probability of a pre-ordered universe was impossible to calculate. “’God is, or He is not’… There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… “. He redefined theology as strategic gambling.
Most criticism of Pascal’s wager has focused on the binarity of coin tossing. Pascal ignores not only the multitudes of gods, but also the number of variables involved in each betting. His own Lettres Provinciale, where Pascal debates a Jesuit priest over the use of Penance, offers the best example. Both contenders agree not only about the existence of the Christian God, but also on the importance of Penance. What they disagree upon is the case-based administration of the Sacrament by the Jesuits. A protestant would probably agree with Pascal is his rejection of casuistry, while differing in Sacramental Theology. To make things even more ambiguous, the Nominalist crisis had already questioned any possible answer regarding the will of God.
Pascal’s wager stands only for the blind bet before the cards are dealt. The real game begins when another human player (like the Jesuit in Lettres Provinciale) makes his call. For what is worth, bluffing has its own place in the game. We might, as well, trade the flipping coin for another gambling machine invented by Pascal: the roulette. The particular god one worships is in most cases a matter of chance posing as destiny, in a fashion similar to a gambler’s supperstion. The similarity does not end here. Just like the other global roulette, the financial marked, the player is brainwashed to trust an expert who directs his bet and pretends to foresee the outcome.
Evangelism becomes another signaling game on the global religious market.
The concept of signaling refers to strategic models where one or more informed agents take some observable actions before one or more uninformed agents make their strategic decisions. This leads to situations where the uninformed agent care about the actions taken by the informed agent not only because the actions aspect payoffs directly, but also because the action taken say something about the type of the player. This in turn creates incentives to select actions to send the right signal about type.
An instructive example of signaling game is offered by fireflies’ light signals. When a firefly receives a light signal, it does not know whether the sender is a mating partner or an alluring predator. The bug has to asses the signal from incomplete information. It has to gamble the reproductive payoff against the risk of being eaten. In order for the game to continue, the probability of finding a sexual partner has to be higher than the probability of being eaten. In other words, signaling partners have to outnumber signaling predators.
A similar game is played on the religious market. The informed agent (preacher, evangelist, theologian) sends a message that allegedly comes from God. The receiver has to make a strategic decision on whether or not to accept the message. He is observing the messenger and listening to him in order to assess the probability of being true. He is acting from incomplete information. What he does not know is that the real information the messenger posses is not about God, but about the game. The messenger knows what to say and how to act to induce the right answer from the receiver. In order for the game to continue, the uninformed agents have to outnumber the informed agents, whether in the pews or even in the pulpit. It is the same as with the firefly.
However, as soon as the receiver understands the rules of the game, the religious roulette stops. No wonder the secret is well guarded.
28 March, 2014Posted by on
Ludwig Wittgenstein defined the meaningless and the inevitability of God-talk in one and the same statement: “The sense of the world must lie outside the world” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.41). The sense of life, the world as a whole – in one word – God, is unsayable. “In the world everything is as it tis, and everything happens as it does happen, in it no value exists—and if it did exist, it would have no value” (ibid). On the flip side, every statement of meaning and value, even the most trivial, is ultimately theological. This is even more true with statements and concepts concerning the exercise of power.
I will I will pick two such concepts, one from psychology, the other from international politics, to argue my point. The concept of self-actualisation, was introduced by Kurt Goldstein for the search of realizing one’s full potential. It has been used ever since by various schools of psychology, and made popular by self-help gurus. Another concept is self-determination. The latter has become normative in international relations since WW II. Less well-known is the fact that, whenever we employ these concepts, we operate with Aristotelian/Thomistic theology.
According to the Greek philosopher, actuality (ἐντελέχεια) and potentiality (δύναμις), could never be applied to the same entity. Humans have potential, God is actuality, Actus Purus, unadulterated act. Even more, God is not concerned with us. If he were, he wouldn’t possess the quality of self-determination. That is to say that God’s perfect mind cannot be moved by a thirteen years old girl being raped and stoned in Somalia. Yet human rights activists commenting the atrocity will uphold the universal right to “self-actualisation”, regardless of religion and gender, while acquiescing, in the same breath, that countries where such things happen have a basic right to ‘self-determination”, and should not be imposed alien values. How did we come to reconcile Aristotle’s Absolute Being with the misery and wickedness of humanity?
The paradox originates in the theology of St. Paul. It is the concept of Incarnation that brings together God’s actuality and human potentiality in Christ. Playing with Wittgenstein’s terms, the Cross is both a fact and the totality of facts. The sense of life manifests itself through God’s entering the cycle of birth and death.
It is this theological statement that enabled Aquinas to argue against Aristotle’s contention that God does not mind humanity. “We must say therefore that God knows not only that things are in him, but, by the fact that they are in him, he knows them in their own nature, and all the more perfectly, the more perfectly each one is in him”. His answer can be interpreted in two ways. In one sense, God knows about the girl in Somalia in him. God remains the Unmoved Mover, i.e., he knows but he is not moved by what he knows. God is here the UN inspector, neutralizing atrocity in political cliches and statistics. Yet in another sense, God knows tragedy in its own nature, that is, from the perspective of the cross, which is also the angle of the teen girl. God is, in this case, the revolutionary hero that raises above history and dominates it, in the name, and for the sake of its victims.
The first seeds of the secularisation of Incarnation theology have been planted during the Reformation. Erasmus contented against Luther’s “bondage of will” that God has transferred to humanity his self-determination at Creation. However, it was Luther himself who hit the nail on its head when he defined Christian freedom through the Cross rather than through Creation.
Luther made the individual believer be his/her own pope and the ultimate interpreter of faith. He also substituted secular “calling” to monasticism, and proclaimed the end of the “babylonian captivity” of ecclesiastical clericalism.
The German idealists continued to tent to the blade and the ear until they reached full corn in the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. With the latter, God dies in Christ to resurrect in humanity. The Supreme Being is immanent in history. God descends from abstract actuality into human potentiality, and returns to concret self-actualisation in humanity, through the process of history. Says Hegel: “The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom”. Self-actualisation is thus implicit in human potentiality. Self-determination is implicit in the rattling of the chain.
It is worth noting the opposite trend of returning God to Aristotelian transcendence, taking place at the same time in Deism. Deism is the denial of God’s immanence in history. Theologically, it goes down to the denial of the Incarnation. This is also St. John’s definition of the Antichrist ”For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 Jo 1,7). Politically, Deism is a return to Aristotelian polis-democracy, with its substantial division between citizen and slave, man and woman, Greek and barbarian.
However, the darkest side of polis-democracy was not slavery but the homo sacer “who can be killed but not offered as sacrifice”, the exclusion of bare life from the city. In other words, one could not claim any right to live, unless his/her life was qualified through belonging to social order. There was no intrinsic value recognized in humanity as such.
The Cross was God’s declaration of solidarity with homo sacer, the absolute valuation of human life outside society. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb 13, 12-14). The Pauline gospel was the denial of the polis.
Nevertheless, it is the “ continuing city” as opposed to the seeking of “one to come” that constitutes the political core of Deism. According to Michael Bakunin, Deism is: “the reconciliation of Revolution with Reaction… the principle of liberty with that of authority, and naturally to the advantage of the latter… the deliberate submission of free reason to the eternal principles of faith”. Bakunin shows how the desistic Absolute Being of J.J. Rousseau provided the moral frame for Robespierre’s reign of terror, and for the modern worship of the state. One could add the American revolution to his examples. It was the Deism of the Founding Fathers that allowed them to reconcile the Declaration of Independence with slavery, and treat the Indians as homo sacer.
Deism defined God as the Great Watchmaker, and the universe as a perfect clock. William Paley was probably the best known advocate of this concept in natural theology. Every living species is in his view a perfectly designed machine. Contending against the lamarckian evolutionism of his time, Paley held the “argument from perfection”, the historical ancestor of the current “irreductible complexity” notion, used by the advocates of Intelligent Design. His argument will be mercilessly demolished by his brightest disciple, Charles Darwin.
The connection between natural theology and political theology in Deism is seen the anecdote about Napoleon’s innuendo to Laplace about the absence of God in his Mécanique Céleste. Laplace’s infamous answer – “I had no need of that hypothesis” – was tamed by his biographers and eulogists to mean that the solar system was a perfect clock that needed not being unwind from time to time by God. Actually, what he had no need of was the clock and the watchmaker hypothesis. He had the nebular hypothesis. He believed that the universe has evolved. And this was a political problem.
The watchmaker hypothesis in natural theology implies perfect design in nature. Transferred to the realm of politics, it implies a natural order which is perfect. The divine right of kings is replaced with the divine right of nature. The rational state is supposed to preserve the natural order and natural rights.
This is, as I already said, a return to the polis, where the rights of the citizen coexisted with what was universally understood as natural inequality. On the other hand, the political genius of Paul consisted not in being free of such prejudices. He was certainly not. He believed in the natural right of master over slave, of husband over wife. He asserted the natural superiority of Jews. Yet he also proclaimed the end of the law, mosaic as well as natural, along with the universal reign of grace.
Th elite of the Roman empire believed in one God. Their God was defined by Stoic philosophers as identical with the Logos, the divine/natural order of the cosmos. It was their ultimate aim to align the world to the Logos. However, the elite knew that philosophy was not for the commons. This is why Rome patronised over a huge pantheon of gods. They despised pagan superstitions, but found them useful for social control. Nonetheless, they abhorred Christianity because it proclaimed the end of their natural/divine order.
Similarly, the elites of Europe and North America knew that Deism was not for the people. They believed at the same time that the old religion was still necessary, and, as Voltaire said, God had to be (re)invented. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the governments of Europe became strongly supportive of religion. Romanticism was a time of religious revival. God was probably not dead in Europe, but he was on intensive care. The church could not survive without the aid of the state.
Things went differently in America because the Founding Fathers were consistent Deists. They truly believed in the divine/natural order of society, and, like Rome, allowed their pantheon to be controlled by it. What is then this natural order, this perfect clock, initiated by the divine watchmaker and anointed to be his infallible vicar, his redeeming Messiah, and his guiding spirit, in society. It is definitely no longer the sword, or any revealed religion or holy book. IT IS THE FREE MARKET.
America saved religion by inventing the religion marked. It allowed the marked to choose, to eliminate, to invent, to import, and to export its goods-gods. This religious marked has become global.
Ichneumonidae: Darwin’s theological dilemma and the rethinking of creation
27 March, 2014Posted by on
According to Darwin’s own confession, Ichneumonidae was the theological dilemma that would eventually push him toward agnosticism. He was bewildered by a natural order built on cruelty and pain. Ironically, Darwin’s blind spot was the evolution of the concept of God. Contrary to what is commonly believed, the concept of God did not emerge from admiration before a good creation. God was looked upon as the Liberator from a forbidding cosmic order. The Scientific Revolution was also contingent upon a theology that saw in science the instrument of divine liberation, rather than the contemplation of a perfect creation. The book traces the development of heterodox ideas within Christianity that, before Darwin, led to the concept of a self-creating cosmos and humanity, as a cosmic expression of the Incarnation, essential to free will and salvation.
The book can purchased from CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle, or download PDF for free.
Amazing Grace, or the rise of Evangelical biopower
4 March, 2014Posted by on
Two things happened in England in 1772. Judge William Murray concluded in Somerset v Stewart that a slave could not to be removed from England against his will. Secondly, John Newton composed Amazing Grace, his poetic confession. Newton had been a slave trader himself, before becoming an Anglican clergy, and, late in his life, an abolitionist. The two events are tips of the iceberg. They bridge below the waterline across the coalescing body of eighteenth-century biopower.
One should notice that neither Somerset v Stewart, nor Newton’s celebrated repentance, had any problem with slavery per se. Murray’s ruling was exclusively founded on technical issues with the Common Law. Newton stopped cursing and drinking, and no longer neglected private devotion, but continued in slave trade after his conversion.
It is not difficult to see why the use of the moral argument would have set a dangerous precedent in court. After all, the debt prison was not better than slavery. Murray took also precautions with his language, as not to impede on slavery as such. However, how can we account for Newton’s blind spot on the wickedness of his trade?
The plain answer is that Amazing Grace marks in the realm of Religion what Somerset v Stewart did in that of in Law: a mutation in slave trade. I give credit for this definition to the Anglican theologian John Milbank. Below is the quote in full.
American conservative evangelical Christianity in its most recent modes is precisely a new mutation of the slave trade. Pursuit of profits and the salvation of souls becomes so seamlessly fused in the mode of a new ‘Church enterprise’ (involving huge material and abstract capital resources) that here effectively, the ‘born-again’ become themselves the produced, exchanged and capitalized commodities. A new evangelical church’s measure of success, both in spiritual and in financial terms, is precisely its ‘ownership’ of so many souls (and thereby indirectly bodies) or potential to own so many more souls. Of course the notion that these souls are really owned by Jesus, and so only held by men through a sort of proxy, is the alibi which ensures that this enslavement does not appear to be such.
John Newton’s conversion was the epitome of the emerging ‘born-again’ movement. According to the Catholic scholar Hans Kung, the core of the Evangelical movement consists in a form of “emotional self-redemption”. It is the insulating subjectivity of the “born-again” experience that allows one to pay lip-service to Christ while worshiping Mammon.
Let’s consider this political/religious mutation in the context of historical evolution. The master/servant relationship has gone through three stages in human history. The first stage is slavery de jure. A person is the legal property of another person. In the second stage, serfdom, the master/servant relationship is mediated through the relationship of both to the land. The landlord owns the land, not the servant. However, the serf is a slave of his master de facto, as he is bound to the land de jure. The third stage is capitalism. The master/servant relationship is mediated through their relationship to money. The master owns the capital. The worker owns himself, but sells his/her time and skills to the master, because life depends on salary.
Slavery was reintroduced in Christianity during the New World conquest. Serfdom was problematic in America for multiple reasons, one of them being the absence of feudal relations among the natives. The middle-ages peasant could be chained to the land because he had already been tied to it for generations. The lord and the serf shared in the same concept of land-property. The natives had none of these.
Forced labor was a convenient option for the plantation owner, so it was enforced in court and sanctioned from the pulpit. However, forced labor was problematic with capitalism, which needed free labor movement. Somerset v Stewart reflects the challenge on the legal system to reconcile colonial slavery with capitalism. It acquiescence in slavery while upholding free labor movement. The tension is even more clear in America.
Wall Street was established in 1711 in New York as the city’s first slave market. In a few decades, it evolved into the New York Stock & Exchange Board, known today as the New York Stock Exchange. The ultra-capitalist Wall Street continued to thrive on speculations with cotton and cane sugar from slave labor, even after slavery was officially ended in the northern states. The first Capitol building, where the passing of the Bill Of Rights took place, was also located in Wall Street.
It is at the same time that we witness the birth of Evangelical biopower.
Michel Foucault coined the term biopower for power that makes all life its object. Biopower is a modern phenomenon. Premodern societies, even the most tyrannical and inquisitorial, lacked control over the body. Modern power, however, trends toward the systematic surveillance and policing of biological life.
In his work Truth and Juridical Forms, Foucault sets forth the thesis that certain English sects in the seventeenth century were precursors and served as models for modern biopolitics. Foucault contends that knowledge of juridical truth empowered the upper classes in the seventeenth century England to subject the commoners to arbitrary punishments and confiscate their assets. Religious dissents were particularly targeted.
In order to preempt legal actions against their own people, the Independents developed strict self-policing and surveillance practices. Every member in the congregation was expected to spy on all parishioners, and be spied himself by all of them. Private life was open to public scrutiny by the congregation.
Such self-policing movements became a valuable asset for the upper classes during the industrial revolution. Urban migration generated the need for new forms of mass control. Living at minimum wage, thrown cyclically into temporary unemployment, often disabled by work accidents, the urban proletariat became an epitome for alcoholism and amoral behavior. Even worse, it became the favorite recipient of radical ideas, like socialism or communism.
Mass revivals and street evangelism were strongly encouraged and never in lack of generous funding. Abstinence and tranquility in domestic life were presented as the marks of being born again. The church was also a safety network for the unemployed and the sick. To this effect, it had to inspect the lives of the new converts, to see if they were sufficiently frugal and modest to qualify for help.
Religious surveillance and self-policing proved more financially convenient than government-sponsored programs. Apocalyptic thinking was also seen as an antidote against socialism and syndicalist radicalism. All in all, revivalism was both a way to combat social ills, and a political instrument for the control of the working class. It was under such circumstances that religious biopower became a model for modern biopolitics.
The phantoms of Ukrainian freedom-fighters haunt Europe
2 March, 2014Posted by on
A specter is haunting Europe again. This time it doesn’t show up as a topless woman with a gun in one hand and a red flag in the other. Well, the topless woman might still be there, but the specter puts the face of an WW II veteran, with cossack mustache and wearing a Waffen SS cap. Ukraine has become an unsolvable dilemma for liberal democracy. Whether Europe lets Putin have his way, or incorporates an uncontrollable revisionist movement, the outcome will be the same: challenging the moral consensus on which the present is built.
This moral/political consensus consists briefly in the concept that WW II was manichean conflict between a mad Axis and the Allied forces of good. However, there’s a lot of thrash swept under the red carpet (carpet bombing comes to mind) walked by the WW II victors, and there is lot of innocent blood on the other side.
During WW II, the nations of Eastern Europe faced the inescapable dilemma of choosing between Hitler and Stalin. One was no better than the other, but, under the circumstances, Stalin fought on the good side (sort of). However, Eastern Europe could not afford the luxury of a philosophical perspective. To the common peasant, the difference between the German soldier and the Red Army soldier was that the former did not pillage and rape (Hollywood history notwithstanding). To the business man, Germany meant fair trade agreements. To the generals, fighting along the Germans meant good strategy. The intellectual admired Kant, but considered Machiavelli. For what is worth, the Allied proved themselves equally machiavellian when dealing with Stalin the fate of Eastern Europe postbellum.
Ukraine is the biggest skeleton in the closet. During WW II, Ukraine was an occupied nation humiliated by Russian crypto-nationalism. Its once reach peasantry had experienced mass starvation and terror with the imposition of kolchoz economy. People perceived Operation Barbarossa as an unique chance to liberate themselves. After the victory, the Ukrainian (excuse my word) freedom-fighters turned themselves to the Allied to be, perhaps, prosecuted and tried by western standards. They were sent back to Stalin to be tortured and executed along with their families. It is the phantoms of these soldiers that are haunting now the Euromaidan.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to follow the example of Hamlet. Talk to the phantoms. Let the dead talk to us. “Time is out of joint”. “Something is rotten in Europe”. Let the dark secrets come back to life and shatter the self-righteousness of our moral order. Let Europe, the not so innocent Queen, face her shame, like Gertrude in Hamlet:
Gertrude: Hamlet, you split my heart in two.
Hamlet: Then throw away the worse part. Live with the pure.
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