Global Dis-integregration and Difference

The events in Paris yesterday now dominate the news-stream, which, all genuine attempts notwithstanding, cannot avoid lumping these events into the cultural-other-as-threat category, therein reproducing the very logic that precipitated the events in the first place: the “other” must be eliminated to vindicate the “same.” The “other” is a threat; the “same” is eternal solace and peace.


In an as-yet-not-integrated world — a world that therefore could not yet undergo dis-integration — the other was not only feared, but anticipated, even desired, particularly among those who — as in the flight narratives from Gilgamesh, from Egypt, from Sodom, from Babel, or from the antediluvian world as a whole — communities felt threatened by the same. So it is that Abraham finds his community outside his community as it were. Both the Hebrew Prophet and “the Prophet” in whose name his self-proclaimed defenders murder comics and critics (who are arguably the real prophets), must leave the city in order to find it, must turn their backs on the same in order to discover their difference.

GWF Hegel may have been the first to recognize the threat entailed to that which is non-identical by comprehensive, universal, global integration. Whatever doesn’t fit is expelled or sublated — placed under, made to disappear. Integration — legal, cultural, social, political, institutional, economic, even religious — is the modern world’s prime directive. Difference in this world is a luxury reserved for those whose money, security, health, education, and well-being grant to them the privilege of naming the other; the other, which is always returning to itself, returning to the Whole. And it is perhaps for this reason that the events in Paris pose such an existential threat to our own Dasein, our own being here. For in Paris we are brought face to face with the complex ways that history and culture and law and economy imbricate one another; how a serious challenge to any one of these critical elements threatens to unravel the thoroughly integrated Whole.

It also explains why anyone seriously devoted to or embedded in another epoch — as Christian Fundamentalists are wedded to the late 19th century or Islamicists to an early twentieth century mystical reading of anti-Imperialist resistance — cannot help but perceive in any competing comprehensive, global integration, such as that arising out of global capitalism, a mortal enemy whose elimination is therefore completely justified. As Herman Dooeyweerd and Roosas Rushdoony, the co-creators of militant modern Christian Fundamentalism knew, God’s Kingdom would appear nowhere else than on this Earth and, since when it comes it will be universal and absolute, it will encompass the whole counsel of God: culture, law, aesthetics, institutions, practices, local and family and political relations. And because nothing will fall outside of this totality, there is complete justice in the elimination of those things that fall outside it today, now, right here.

But the recent mint of this worship of “the same” — not Jesus, nor Moses, nor the Holy Prophet knew anything of this sameness — is thoroughly Hegelian in form; its model and template is not the menagerie of beings that populated the as yet unintegrated world of divine creation. Rather is it modeled after the rational, logical, comprehensive, thoroughly integrated totality of modern capital. But the Marxists are mistaken. When this totality dis-integrates, it does not give rise to benign particularities, as Adorno once taught. Nor, even more fabulously, does it yield its place to a new globally-constituted Forum after the manner of the global south (a la Wallerstein). Rather, it now seems clear, does it yield something much more like Weber’s diagnosis. The gods released with the disintegration of capitalism are far from benign. Having been born and nurtured under the fiction of a rational, singular, global totality, they will tolerate nothing short of total victory and therefore total annihilation of “the other” by the god of “the same.”

In the end it matters little whether this “same” is called Capital, or Yahweh, or Jesus, or The Prophet so long as it remains rational, whole, singular, internally consistent and comprehensive. Because in the end, unless I am mistaken, this kind of totality is a fiction; and because it is a fiction, it cannot help but annihilate itself in its annihilation of the other. Existence itself is grounded in non-subsumed difference. The Same = Nothing. It is by definition therefore nihilistic. What could emancipate difference from the same would be the very kind of historical trajectory that capital rejects from the outset: not the global, universal embrace of an identical set of laws, institutions, customs and habits, but the universal recognition that all Dasein, all being here, is particular, partial, and eternally incomplete. Nor does this require that we make a god out of irrationality or difference. The historical and social specificity of Republican values and Democratic institutions — and therefore their complicity in the rise of modern capital and empire — need not bring us to reject our shared existence (res publica) or the benefits we derive from openly reaching consensus together (demokritos) or protecting those who disagree from retribution (dike).

These values are, on the one hand, larger than France — and surely larger than capital — and, on the other hand, smaller and more modest than any metaphysical universal. They rest, as Aristotle once taught us, on quite substantial, even physical (not metaphysical) things: good health, good education, safety and leisure (thus wealth). Following the multiple fatalities of the early and mid-twentieth century, the many belligerents in those disasters committed themselves to providing precisely these good things to all human beings. We are now reaping the rewards of our profound failure to provide these good things to the many, much less to all. Turning ontology on its head, we have instead mistakenly felt that material deprivation is the midwife of freedom, not its reverse. Asking for fish, we have all given the next generation serpents, thus proving Jesus’ assumptions about human goodness (Luke 11:11) fundamentally flawed. Education, health, security and leisure for everyone is the only insurance humanity can lay claim to in the face of rising totalitarianism. Everything else is a serpent or a stone.

France and Europe may be inclined after the events in Paris to further close their borders. But this inclination is based upon a false diagnosis. It faults difference for violence, which is mistaken. Aristotle again had it right when he credited health, education, welfare, and leisure for everyone — and not merely for the few — for “us” as well as for “them,” as the only secure foundation for peace. To be sure, angry men must be restrained — but then they must be fed, clothed, cared for, listened to, heard, and granted freedom of association. Everything else is Platonic gobbledygook, pie in the sky, ideology. For, as Adorno eloquently put it:

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects — this alone is the task of thought. It is the simplest of all things, because the situation calls imperatively for such knowledge, indeed because consummate negativity, once squarely faced, delineates the mirror image of its opposite. But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hair’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, if it shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape. The more passionately thought denies its conditionality for the sake of the unconditional, the more unconsciously, and so calamitously, it is delivered up to the world. Even its own impossibility it must at last comprehend for the sake of the possible. But beside the demand thus placed on thought, the question of the reality or unreality of redemption itself hardly matters (T Adorno Minima Moralia 2005:247).