attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: suffering

The stoic as pessimist

The Stoics held that thought was the cause of all suffering, while others like the Buddha, Schopenhauer, Zapffe, Cioran (the whole pessimist gamut) held otherwise. Life itself, existence in this form, this conscious modality, is the cause of all suffering. This is the veil of tears. This is the thesis that seduces many into a subjectivist nihilism, or a resignation. This is the first, the only, noble truth. And from whence does its nobility spring? Are we to think that because it fell from the Buddah’s lips that it is noble? No. It’s nobility is not that of the highborn or the superior, it is the nobile of ‘gnobilis’, the knowable. It is what we come to know. It is the irrevocable knowledge that precedes the writings of any and all traditions, that precedes the production of a system of notation to inscribe meanings on page, on rock, on skin. It is knowledge that precedes even the birth of meaning, and which survives it in death. It is noble because it is always and everywhere the first knowledge; it is what life necessarily comes to know. The neonate’s primitive scream; the President’s tears after gunshots in an elementary school, and the children who ran to hide; the battle fields, the urban squalor, the inherited evolutionary itch to fight, to flee, to erect dwelling and cower (in comfort admittedly) from the elements. Suffering is what life comes to know irrevocably.

Some would say the function of art, and all aesthetics maybe, is to deliver us from suffering- to provide a salvic operation on what we have discounted as our ‘soul’. Beauty is born to soothe us, to raise us above the murk and mess and mulch of darkness, pain, and the compacted rot of corpses we call our history, our present. And I won’t dispute that. What do I know that those greater minds didn’t?

But the Stoics. They refused to characterise existence as suffering. We suffer to the extent that we acquiesce to the events that we take as the external source of our suffering. Writ large: we suffer because we don’t know how to be indifferent to the fact of life, to living. It was this that allowed them, or at least some of their contemporary interpreters, to make the illegitimate move of thinking that life is, in the words of one such modern Stoic, ‘amazing, incredible, wonderful’.

But then, it’s undeniable that beauty is produced by suffering. This isn’t to say that all who suffer produce beauty (and nor is it to say that beauty transforms  suffering- the beautiful and the merely pretty don’t necessarily coincide). It is simply to say that suffering appears necessary for the beautiful to emerge in conscious life.

So what have we said? That life is suffering. That the living suffer. That suffering is the fertilizer of the production of beauty. That the beautiful might elevate us, however fleetingly, from our condition. So don’t we have sufficient ground to say with the contemporary Stoic, who is surely exceeding his ancient Masters, that life is amazing, incredible, wonderful. In short, beautiful. Beauty, after all, is not opposed to ugliness but to the bland.

The pessimist  can find in life, in death as idea and as materiality (as corpse), some beauty. Likewise the pessimist need not be viewed as the dour and miserable or the cold and distant. The pessimist is overwhelmed sometimes by the world, not just in its aspect as source of suffering but also as source of beauty- because that is the same.



Beasts of the burden of death

I am late in recieving the news that on  July 7, 2012 a series of neuro-experts from the field of cognitive studies gathered together in order to announce that

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from
experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the
neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with
the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that
humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-
human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also
possess these neurological substrates.

That consciousness is not confined to humanity won’t shock most people (any pet owner for instance will be entirely unsuprised). This declaration is important though in that it marks that the evolution of consciousness, with all its affective states, is nothing unique to human animals as a peice of scientific truth. From now on, those who speak of conscious beings can’t confine themselves in all good faith to speaking about that mammal that builds cathedrals and crafts pop songs. If ti is the case, as I contend in agreement with the pessimists, that consciousness is a disease, an aberration that was once a useful adaptation which, in developing surplus to environmental needs and in part thanks to its guiding ability in humans to help sculpt environment and be sculpted through it in return, then we must acknowledge our fellowship with other mammalian, avian and cephalopod life. The question of suffering is no longer theoretical, as the animal studies have always maintained, and it is undeniable now that such nonhuman lives be recognised as suffering lives. Again, for a good deal of people this is not a revelation.

But it prompts certain questions. That human and nonhuman lives share ‘primal affective qualia’ tends towards asking after the emotional life of nonhumans. I wonder at the idea of activities of practical necessity, like nest building, being or becoming (at least in possibility) a way of coping, a way of surviving. It makes me want to think of the maybe not so remote possibility of a cephalopod ethics and a form of life, a particular coalition against death, arising in an animal less evolutionarily biased toward developing an ocularcentric culture. Is it the case that more or less developed (from whose perspective?) nonhuman cultures abound around us, cultures that are radically nothing like our own. I remember being present at a horse being euthanised (he had a neurological problem that meant he had gradually become unable to swallow) and how in the blaze of the high Andalucian sun the vet had depressed a peice of plastic and a poison had inocuously flowed into the circulatory system of that horse. He stood upright for a moment, seized and then fell. He lay dead as the vet cut into his throat to examine the mechanics of the problem, a biological engineeer examining a poorly constructed machine, as the lorry backed up on the blood stained dust to whinch and carry the corpse away. The other horses, gathered in a lower paddock of soft sand transported from beaches, had stood in a silent circle. At the time I had wondered if they knew what death was, what it failed to mean, whether they were huddled in fear or a more blunt sense that this wasn’t normal, wasn’t right. Do nonhuman animals shudder at abjection? Might the activity of ants building colonies be aesthetic as well as pragmatic? Is it possible to imagine a psychiatry for nonhuman lives? Why not? After all, psychiatry deals with problems with living…and the problem is living itself.

Of course the scientists haven’t declared that these other animals have this kind of consciousness. There isn’t any reason to think that sharing the material substrate for consciousness means developing the same form of consciousness. That said, what it does do is show the unhuman nature of consciousness. Thomas Ligotti in The conspiracy against the human race (p.79):

One would think that nature was trying to kill us off or get us to suicide ourselves once the blunder of consciousness came upon us. What was nature thinking? We tried to anthropomorphize it, to romanticize it, to let it into our hearts.

We would have to generalise this state of affairs to those nonhuman animal lives that this declaration has deemed to share consciousness with us. Consciousness exists across the old distinction of nature/culture, of animal/man, and obliterates that mark. If specuations about existential horses or artist ants and a psychiatry for octopus seem ridiculous it is perhaps only because of the desire to keep the anthropic machine productive of that cleavage between man and beast. The point of such speculation is to go against the idea that we again find expressed in Ligotti that aside from man, who is the conscious animal, ‘[f]or the rest of earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. They live- they reproduce- they stop living’ (p.8). The idea of a psychiatry for nonhumans is silly (even though the use of psychopharmacology to prove the existence of the substrates of consciousness is in a direct and banal sense the everyday practice of psychiatry). Ligotti’s insistence that it is only we humans that can grasp life and death- his rearticulation of the problem of Dasein– has the power of an intuitive truth for us. Yet this intuition is the very product of our consciousness without any material evidential support; it is precisely the superstition that scientific truth either confirms or denies. If we are going to stay faithful to Ligotti’s line then we have to extend it to humans as well…why not? We too are uncomplicated animals who live, reproduce and stop living. This is factually accurate, even if it seems to us to leave a lot out of the picture…how dare this idea not delight in the complexity of my mood swings during football matches, my fear that if I ask that question in that auditorium I’ll look like a moron. Even Ligotti can’t allow for the notion that these intricacies of character and life story (that I once sat next to Kevin Keegan at a wedding and that he gave me a garish pink tie that for some reason I still keep hold of) are irrelevant differences that make no difference. That would be nihilistic.

So we have that option. And it is powerful. Or, we have the option to believe that other animals don’t live utterly uncomplicated lives. That is the Cartesian picture of the soft machine. But if nonhumans have consciousness then it is at least possible that they too can enjoy all the glory of Daseinification; of being beings that fail to cope, that fail to survive. Yet that these are nonhuman animals that in some instances have no relation to the kind of being that Heidegger describes in Being and Time means that we ought to be cautious to run to familiar themes. In the end Heidegger seeks to domesticate death. The domestication of death renders the concept of death sterile and clean or personal and possessive, small and somehow intimate. Death domesticated is death as it is concieved in the romance of existentialism. It is my death…full of pomp and sense and purpose. That consciousness is unhuman means that death is never mine alone, that the thought of death is never the thought of my death.

The question of whether those horses in the sand paddock understood death, whether they were existentialists, is a nonsense in precisely the same way that asking whether we understand death is nonsense. Making meaning out of death is precisely what we do in order to domesticate it. What is to understand? Isn’t that why we have psychiatry, clinical psychology, rituals of grief and mourning…why we make arbitrary decision about what lives are injurable and mournable? It is because there is no meaning that meaning has to be made…even though its absence haunts its presence. Marc Bekoff, ‘the emotional lives of animals’ here

Sea lion mothers wail when watching their babies being eaten by killer whales. People have reported dolphins struggling to save a dead calf by pushing its body to the surface of the water. Chimpanzees and elephants grieve the loss of family and friends, and gorillas hold wakes for the dead. Donna Fernandes, president of the Buffalo Zoo, witnessed a wake for a female gorilla, Babs, who had died of cancer at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. She says the gorilla’s longtime mate howled and banged his chest; picked up a piece of celery, Babs’ favorite food; put it in her hand; and tried to get her to wake up.

I once happened upon what seemed to be a magpie funeral service. A magpie had been hit by a car. Four of his flock mates stood around him silently and pecked gently at his body. One, then another, flew off and brought back pine needles and twigs and laid them by his body. They all stood vigil for a time, nodded their heads, and flew off.

What is new in the declaration isn’t what it declares but that it has been declared by this group of people as such, that it is a declaration- with all the linguistic-political tones and shades that that brings.

All of this begs a question. Let me rehearse some conclusions already reached on this blog. Being alive is a problem because it is generative of suffering. Consciousness is a problem because it is through consciousness that we come to suffer. All life on earth faces extinction (entropy, solar catastrophe etc), and many species, including our own, face extinction due to climate change (for one example among many, see here). It is better that we do not continue procreating (the anti-natalist proposition) and that our projects for the future- whatever political orientation we prefer- must involve the self-management of extinction, a kind of palliative care of the planet. Given these conditions what possible animal rights emerge? What animal politics? Would practices of conservation not paradoxically become modes of prolonging the suffering of conscious beings? Or would it be the opposite tyhat conservationism becomes an ethical injunction…that we extend a kind of protection of nonhuman lives from pets and zoo animals to those in the wild?

Of course, that nonhuman animals have consciousness isn’t really established by this declaration. The authors do not define consciousness at all, and they also posit proof of consciousness in the form of an assertion regarding what they consider to be the ‘material substrates’ of that consciousness, but it is glaringly obvious that a substrate of a thing is not that thing entire. They also state that this substrate, already conflated with the thing, is generative of the thing without explaining how. Thus, they posit a physical material that somehow produces a nonphysical thing…as if there were some ghost in the Cartesian machine.


To shake people up, to wake them from their sleep, while knowing you are committing a crime and that it would be a thousand times better to leave them alone, since when they wake, too, you have nothing to offer them. . . .

-EM Cioran, The trouble with being born

I look about at the world around me, letting the effort of meaning-production drop and turning away from the distractions that keep my mind abuzz and away from the horror; I look about at It and wonder what justification there can be for psychiatry. A hierarchy of sufferings; technologies of anaesthetic; the kingdoms of coping and not coping, deterritorialised. I have chosen a uniform, now I await the revolt that will destroy me. In the meantime I am cast on rough waves of swelling electronic music, films, television shows about the future, the bad infinite of the internet… hyper-aroused in the electronic age I wire myself in to a permanent dose of ECT. The current is passed. I convulse. We all convulse.

Child-eating sharks galore!!! Ethics, objects, death and Darwinism

Thus, when people obtain the right to life, the fact is that they are no longer able to live. – Jean Baudrillard [1] 

 There have been all sorts of things posted about flat ethics recently. My previous post was on the same topic but I’m peripheral to the whole thing, just an interested observer. I particularly like this point though, made by Alex Reid:

In [a] soccer match, those ethical relations are mediated by a grass field, white lines, goal posts, nets, flags, a soccer ball, uniforms, shin guards, cleats, a whistle, a timing device, etc. They are also mediated by language,which is also nonhuman. In fact, one could (and often does) say that one must compete not only against the other team but field conditions, weather, ref calls, and so on. So in imagining ethics, a flat ontology requires us to see that there is no such thing as “human” ethics. All ethics are nonhuman in the sense that “human” refers to a particular modern, ideological context. As such perhaps it is better to say nonmodern ethics than nonhuman ethics.

I also like Jeremy Trombley’s point:

I don’t have a clear answer to this dilemma except that I would consider the ecology of relationships that are involved – the relationships between myself, the child, and the shark, as well as those that extend beyond this specific spacio-temporal interaction.  What would the child’s parent’s think if they knew I could have saved it, but chose not to?  What would the court system think?  Is the shark an endangered species?

(emphasis added)

 All ethics are nonhuman ecologies in which humans may appear.


Yet I think it is crucial to remember that in the first quote the key word is that the ethical relationships between players of a football (soccer) game are mediated by nonhuman operatives. Likewise, a trip to the zoo is mediated by the animal feed producers, train operators, railway lines, animal handlers, money, the machinery used to produce a ticket handed over at the gates… but would we say that a trip to the zoo consists of these things? Or rather, would we say that the ethics of a trip to the zoo consisted of these things?


I think we would. If the ticket-machine were produced by a corporation who exploited workers in order to  produce that machine, or some other of its product line. We might feel the same way if the animal feed being given to animal X were made out of intensively farmed animals of the same species as animal X. Yet while we might say they are agents within an ethical ecology, that they are composite operatives within an ethical system, I doubt that we would ever suggest that  either the ticket-machine or the animal feed are ethical agents in that ecology. To risk a paraphrase of poor taste, they really are ‘only following orders’; the banality of evil become the banality of the object. It doesn’t seem to make much sense to say that it is wrong for the animal feed to allow itself to be fed to animal X.


I suppose the thing I’m getting at is that an ethical relationship is much like the love relationship that I believe (I think I remember) Levi Bryant theorised a while ago on his blog; a third, independent object. There is me. There is my partner. We do not fuse into a singular object (two does not become one) but both of us remain autonomous, nested within the third object called the relationship. While we are busy talking about ethical relationships we’re forgetting that each particular ethical ecology is singular (which is the point in Trombley’s quote). the point here is that the ethical ecology is an ontological ecology and not an ecology of ethical actants. In the original shark-child relationship nobody thinks to include the ocean, the sand on the sea floor, the moon and it’s capacity to effect the tides, sea-going vessels.


It appears absurd to me to include these things in an ecology of ethical operatives even though they are ontological units involved in the original ethical ecology, playing a part in determining the shark’s behaviour. Likewise, we might consider why the child is near the shark. Is this a holiday bought by its parents? Should we then include the travel agent that sold the holiday in the ethical ecology, or at least as an operative that aided in the sculpting of process of causality that arrived at that juncture? I suspect we wouldn’t.


That there is a flat ontology does not necessarily imply that all the things that build or generate a particular situation should be considered being ethical agents. I suspect that because things exert an influence on each other, that is because they have powers or capacities to act and act in concert with each other to generate the situations in which ethical problems arise, it is easy to be led to think that they too are subject to ethics. To labour the point let’s return to Alex Reid’s example. There is a football game. A problem of ethics arises in the playing of this game. This ethical problem is mediated by nonhuman things, including language. Here was the ethical problem:


Last week, we found ourselves winning 6-0 about 15 minutes into a 70-minute game. I pulled our strongest players, but we were still up 9-0 at half. In this league, goal differential is a potential tie-breaker for determining the champion, so I suppose there is potential motive for running up the score. But that’s just not something you do with 11 year-old boys. At half-time a instructed the boys that only those who had not yet scored that season should really try to score and that otherwise their job was to make good passes. Again, I kept my best players mostly on the bench, and the final score was 11-3. It probably could have been 22-0. And I’ve seen scorelines like that in my time as a coach, though our team has never been on either end of one.


The question is over the ethics of competition and whether it would have been unethical to give the opposing team a thrashing. Reid suggests that in part this is done out of respect for the game of football. To have won the game by 22 clear goals would be to play football ‘out of the spirit’ of the game, to disrespect football as ‘an emergent object’. Yet why would football care? It can’t care. Here Reid alludes to a kind of spirit and to respect. A sense of fair play and tradition then? I don’t understand why one would need a flat ethics to highlight two pretty standard reasons for playing the game without taking the piss. (A far more compelling reason might be that if you keep playing games where your team- Reid is the coach of child’s football team- constantly embarrassed other teams- composed of kids- you may risk losing having anyone to play with).


Reid is the coach of this football team and he writes about what he can do to have an impact on the emergent object of the game in order to highlight how we can have an ethical relationship the thing called ecosystem:


 As a player or coach, I can’t affect the game directly. As a coach I can put players in different positions, suggest tactics, and prepare players in practices. As a player, I can make decisions about how I play. Those decisions participate with others to create the game experience. I can modify my decisions in response, but there isn’t a direct relationship with the game only with other actors in the game. The extent to which I realize that whatever decisions I make to win require that the overall game continues


Neither Reid, nor myself or any body else, can have a direct relationship with the ecosystem wherein they can directly affect that ecosystem. Instead, Reid might be able to affect petrochemical companies through lobbying against them by joining a lobbying group with other people. You might organise a coalition of environmental or ecological activists to carry out direct actions ranging from tree-hugging, to consciousness-raising, or from occupying an airport to committing acts of ‘ecoterrorism’. I might simply be the kind of person who refuses to recycle and thereby assists in the mass anonymous effort of building the giant debris filled landscapes of landfills (which, I must admit I do find aesthetically pleasing and intriguing). None of these decisions and actions will make direct contact with the thing called ecosystem (things are withdrawn), nor could it ever do so in a unilaterally determinative manner (just as the coach is within the football game, so I am within the ecosystem), and finally because the ecosystem as a thing is emergent from all those other things that we have made contact with (other people, lobbying organisations, parliaments, airports, just as much as trees, oceans, clouds, frogs, catfish and children and sharks).


In Reid’s example we ought to act in a way that allows the game to continue, so by extension we should also act in ways that allows the ecosystem to continue in order to consider ourselves as being ethical in relation to the ecosystem. For Reid these considerations mean that  ‘I am engaged in an ethical relationship’.


A couple of brief problems before returning to the ethical. First, I’m not sure if we can say that winning a game of football 22-0 would mean we were no longer playing a game of football. Playing by the rules and regulations, associated objects (a football etc), the people required (players, coaches, referees and linesmen) are all that are minimally required for us to consider ourselves playing a game of football. In the absence of any of these elements we are not playing football; these are the things in the assemblage that minimally form a game. If we play outside of the spirit of the game, if we do not respect it as an emergent object, we are still playing football but we are playing badly. The second point is whether Reid is talking about a specific game or the game of football itself (is there a ‘the game of football’ that exists in any other form than metaphor? Surely that would be a kind of ideal game or ur-game?)


This reveals the actual problem of the ethical here. Each ecosystem, including that planetary ecosystem as a whole, must be considered in it’s singularity. Isn’t that the point of object-oriented strains of philosophy? If we treat all ecosystems the same, and if we treat ecosystems the same as games of football/the game of football then aren’t we performing a kind of reduction of the singularity of each to the abstraction of all? The pragmatic deployment of Reid’s metaphor might have a material impact on how we conceive of the ethical relationship we have to the ecosystem in a way that draws attention to the complexity and partiality of that relationship but I still don’t see that this is something new to an object-oriented approach or that is inaugurated by a flat ethics.


The original question was whether or not the shark should eat the child. This question is the question of the shark’s ethical relationship to the child, of whether it can be considered an ethical operative. Is a shark the same as a football or a football player? A shark is no more the same as these things as it is the same as a ticket-machine or a batch of animal-feed. The point I’m making at some length is that it makes no more sense to say that the shark should or should not eat the child than it does to say that the goalpost should or should not be an obstacle to scoring. And there is a very good reason for this that Alex Reid hits on: the ethical relationship is one burdened with decision. A shark cannot be said to count within it’s capacities that of making an ethical decision. This is not to say that no animals can make ethical decisions, it is probable that many of them can. This is also not to say that no nonhuman nonanimal things can (or could) make ethical decisions. If we listen to the technoevangelists and transhumanists it might soon be possible for AI to make such decisions, or to simulate them so perfectly as to baffle these considerations even further.



I believe that the entire issue of whether we should let the shark eat the child is centered on this mistake. A shark cannot be held responsible. It can only be held accountable. We can say ‘the shark is going to eat the child’ or ‘the shark ate the child’ but the should has no place in anything. (The question of whether we should kill the shark for what it has done is a separate issue).


A further point emerges from Trombley’s quote- and from others- regarding evolution. Levi Bryant has written in the past about how we have failed to take Darwinism and the lessons we have learned about evolution seriously. Nature, all of nature (and there is nothing that is not nature) is utterly pointless. That is, it is without ultimate purpose. Nature, life, existence, is useless. I think that Levi Bryant hasn’t taken this lesson in fully either. I don’t think any of us can really. We are nature…the pointlessness of the cosmos and of the subatomic particle is the pointlessness of arranjames who is sitting here typing. All ethical problems arise in this context, to those species that have an evolved moral sense…a moral sense that is, in impossible last instance, useless. Yet because the final cause of ethical decision making is pointless does not mean that the affective life of the one making the ethical decisions are pointless; they are immediate and do not require much of a point beyond themselves.


Should the shark eat the child? From the ontological position there is absolutely no reason why the shark shouldn’t eat the child. It would upset me, that is all. Human ethics boil down to ‘this is good, this is bad’.


So it is that I agree with Bryant’s assertion that there is no nonanthropocentric ethics. It is always humans judging what it is that they consider ethical, making their ethical decisions. Other animals might also make such decisions and so might other beings in the future- thus it might not be a human ethics that remains human for all time. The separate question of whether we should kill the shark is really asking whether we should hold that which cannot be held responsible responsible. Why would we do this? I think because, in some sense, our ethical attitude to other things arises from the blind, stupid, pointlessness of the evolutionary processes that compel us to fear death and reproduce. The question of whether we should kill the shark is really asking whether we should pretend to ourselves that their is a meaningful, ordered universe. The clash between the stupidity of nature and our desire for a meaningful (or just) nature is what produces the question of the shark. The shark eats the child because it is a shark; we kill the shark because we are terrified of a cosmos in which children can be eaten.


Like Levi Bryant I don’t think the shark has a right to live. At the same time I don’t think that the child has a right to live either. Bryant’s concern is with the way neoliberalism has deployed rights-discourse, and one could also point to Deleuze’s concerns over rights-discourse being a (non)political sleight of hand where the rabbit is pulled out of the hat only to disappear in a puff of cigarette smoke [2]. I am not concerned here with rights discourse as such but specifically with the idea of a right to life. Life is something that simply happens. As Thomas Ligotti [3] has cogently argued, it is also a phenomena that doesn’t always get off the ground (abortions, miscarriages, still-births, mother and neonate dying during labour). It is imaginable that some process in the Big Bang could have failed or that the Earth did not exhibit the conditions required for the emergence of life. That a conscious operative, capable of making ethical decisions, were somehow to survive a possible Earth swallowing blackhole created by the CERN particle accelerator, could we really imagine that being bemoaning the right to life of all that died and was destroyed? I don’t think so, but I’m sure it’d be extremely upset. There is nothing new in claiming that the right to life is little else than a hangover from a society still enthralled to Divinity; the shark and the child’s right to life are equally fictions pertaining to the sacredness of life that is directly contradicted by the science of evolution; the right to life is a Sacred Left-over. And here, in the divine, lives are considered something inaugurated for a purpose, given a purposeful function, guided and developed…in short Created by a Creator. An ethical Creationism.


It is possible that the ethics we set up, as we necessarily will and do, are rooted in our fear of death, our evolutionary heritage, and our emotions. In the mixture of all these elements. It is a question of finding ourselves with questions about our conduct, questions that are often immediate and in no sense hypothetical (I’d take this juncture to remind people that I’m a nurse), where we don’t know what to do but know we must do something. As such ethics remains a human problem…for now. It is a human problem that is intricately bound-up with (often radically) nonhuman beings.  It is even possible, I am spontaneously inclined to the thought- the feeling,  the sense- that our ethics are a kind of therapeutic aesthetic; a production in the Ballardian sense of a real that finds its reality as a stage-set that may be pulled away. The therapeutics of ethics in this sense would be that ethics are that production that codifies our monstrous awareness of suffering, of ontological vulnerability, of the Inevitable; the disavowed denial of the metaphysical truth of Darwin. None of which prevents there being better or worse ethics, and none of which prevents the production of ethical truths being real or any more or less worth holding on to. It is just the case that in this instance we realise ‘a definitive recognition of nature as waste’ [4], and there is nothing that isn’t nature. To borrow from an earlier post by Alex Reid not concerned with all these sharks and children, it is possible that ethics are a therapeutics that we deploy in order to fix the glitches of reality.



All ethics are human problems embedded in fragile nonhuman ecologies. 








A disclaimer: if I misrepresent anyone’s positions, any ideas or arguments I take fully responsibility for that.






[1] Baudrillard. 2007. Darwin’s Artificial Ancestors and the Terroristic Dream of the Transparency of the Good. Read here.

[2] Deleuze. 1996. On Human Rights. Read here.

[3] Thomas Ligotti. The Conspiracy against the human race.

[4] Baudrillard. Ibid.

Death and the Parochial

The following is a repost of something I wrote on an old blog last June. I’m reposting it here because it fits with the general themes here and, more importantly, because of the resonance with Terror Management Theory and the idea of thanatophobia. It appears here in a slightly edited form.

If it is true that people increasingly tend to feel life as suffering, first and foremost as their own suffering, then this explains why so many chauvinists are ready to take ownership of the suffering of those they seem to share so much with. Our boys on the front-line, our old people, our kids.

There is a paradox at work in chauvinism. In a world where nationalisms still hold influence we claim ownership of groups in order to elevate them as abject only so that we might bring our suffering closer into focus. Yet it is not our suffering but the suffering of proximate (in one sense and another) others. Simultaneously this allows us to increase our quotient of suffering: we indulge in a safe form of pain and are able to express outrage about that pain, so as, precisely, not to face up to our own. A double evasion though: we do not have to face up to those sufferings that exist on an altogether more monstrous, undomesticated scale. The suffering of distant others, of swathes of humanity, those sufferings of which we ourselves are the cause and finally those sufferings that rear up in obscene dimensions. At the extreme, it is the ecological and cosmological dimensions of suffering that are being disavowed.

Parochial concern is the attempt to both experience and negate intimate and cosmic suffering and, at the same time, to indulge in a certain masochism without really being hurt. Parochialism is, in all its forms, little more than an exchange with death. In order to admit precariousness, existential vulnerability, sometimes it isn’t enough to pretend invincibility or to defer thinking about it…sometimes we have to stage it for ourselves.


The following is an old post that was published on my old blog over a year ago but which sums up how I feel at the moment. Caught in the alluring orbit of a depressive realism, I post it again as a kind of negative affirmation in only a slightly edited form. Lately I have been reading Emile Cioran and it is refreshing to find myself in agreement with a thinker and to come upon the evidence, produced by my own feeble mind, that it is not because I have been intoxicated by their prose that I devour their thought. In these lines, as faulty and amateurish as they are, remain the skeletal scaffold of the obsessions I can’t and won’t be released from; the cage I erect for myself. I call it a ‘reflection’, no longer being full of the arrogance that pretends at having discovered truths or philosophies.


Immersion in dissolution. It is because we exist as we do that we spend all our time searching for something substantial; something that will redeem us of our accidental nature. I suppose this is the quest of faith. Doubt, on the other hand- which is not on the other hand at all but operates always immanent one to the other- is the name for this plunging into a type of dissolution.

We are always torn this way and that, always becoming substantial and becoming dissolute, eventually being neither one the other. Perhaps this is the metaphysical condition for all objects, although with consciousness it becomes acute. We are the flesh that knows its own ambivalence, the skin that tastes its own entropic stasis.

There is a perverse pleasure to be had in the pain of obliteration. There is something comforting in misery, just as there is in joy, the two simply being differing modes of expressing the one fact of existence. There is never any stability to be achieved in the to-and-fro, and if their was wouldn’t we destroy it?

Perhaps this is why misery, dissolution, pain, masochism, sadism and all the negative passions are so attractive, they carry with them the ultimate jouissance of approaching one’s own death, despite the impossibility of such a contortion. This might be why so philosophers and religious leaders believe the ascetic path, the path of suffering, the worldview of pessimism is truer than any other; it is the closest to authenticity we can get- the point at which we are no longer anything at all.

Still we cling to ourselves, turning the nothingness into something; we even mobilise music, films or what have you to give it a meaningful content, to make it into something. Didn’t someone say we had art so as not to die of Truth?

The agonies of the accidental produce in us this thanatic compulsion, repetition and habit crystallising us into something that only feels necessary.

more of this, i beg

Torment, for some men, is a need, an appetite, and an accomplishment.
– Emile M. Cioran

speculating on other minds
i twist circumventing my own reasons,
that domain so well known
once the fire is stopped burning
and the murderer has fled the scene.
struggling with my own contorting
affectivity, magesterially presiding over
these aboriginal aliens with a police
order assembled out of half-illumined
monstrosities, i keep holding on
and asking the same questions
like an autistic child dumbly staring
into the gathered happy faces;
unable or unwilling to let go
even when there seems to be nothing there
to hold but holograms and memories,
corroding representations, ectopic
foetuses in full birthday regalia.
join the party with us. we’re smiling
and we’re laughing and our flesh is
melting in the heart of this interminable
fire, this existence. so much in love
with our little sufferings, we pour the
gasoline while dancing, strike the match
while singing sweetly to the charred
remains of our futures.