Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Trip to the Grocery Store | Oxy Moron »

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The New Universalism

posted by on December 27 at 13:57 PM

This comment by Johnny was made for my post on the expanding war in East Africa:

howabouts, we stop our little experiment in proxy imperialism and allow the people of east africa and the rest of the world to determine their own lives and governments? That’d be novel.

The popularity of this view of things must have something to do with the fact that its intellectual content is terribly weak. It’s the kind of relativism that thinks it’s special/novel but is in fact just bone lazy. It’s postmodernism without effort, without muscles. And even postmodernism with an effort is not much at all, as the work of Fredric Jameson makes evident. Jameson (who aspires to a universalism, but his takes the form of a Marxist nostalgia) thinks big but nothing really moves. His most important idea, cognitive mapping, ends just where it starts to get interesting, where it needs to make a final push toward a new universalism, one that processes the actual state of the world, the vast and varying conditions of humanity. We can not be relativists. Nor can we afford to believe there is no such thing as progress, historical progress, scientific progress. We must find the energy to imagine, and apply to the world of many things, a total system that is not inflexible, that does not convert green life into the fixed gray of thought. The new universalism must be agile, global, and, in the last instance, committed to humanist principles.

(Two quick mid-notes: One, it’s easy to imagine global capitalism, but global humanism seems impossible—the source of this failure will certainly be found in the structure of the idealogical apparatus that maintains the power of capitalism. Two, the anti-humanism that springs from Nietzsche, and is finalized by Foucault, must, as a project, be abandoned. We need humanism because we are nothing but humans. Society has no other purpose than improving the living conditions of humans—if we care about the environment, it is because humans live in the environment; if we care about the stars, it is because humans are made by the stuff of dead stars. What is wrong is that which harms the welfare of humans as a whole; what it is good is that which enhances the welfare of humans as a whole: that is the bottom function of the law, anything else is a corruption of this first and final fact.)

Hegel is the grandfather of this human project, but his universalism, shaped by his extermely limited historical narrative of human consciousness (the dawn: China; the noon: Greece; the dusk: Germany), is nowhere near wide or complex enough. His historical concept is nothing more than a toy to us. His successor, Marx, was bold enough to provide humanity with a historical machine, but what we really need today is a historical search engine that does two amazing things: integrates, totalizes a wider area of human experience and history and, in the process, removes the halo from reason—in much the same way Baudelaire removed the halo from the poet in the 19th century. Reason must make its return without the glow of Hegel’s giest, nor the specter of class struggle, as Marx, and Vico before him, envisioned it. It is a reason that takes flight at dawn and sees the expanding reality of global humanism. The thinker closest to this new perspective is Mike Davis, particularly in his latest book Planet of the Slums. What he does for the slums of the world must be done for every area of human life.

RSS icon Comments


Plus, y'know, brown people are all backwards and need whitey around to tell them what to do.

Posted by The Baron | December 27, 2006 2:55 PM

Damn man, just say what you mean in nice and normal English. We get it that you read a lot of books and understand how Hegel relates to Marx and shit, but do you really need to reference every thought you have back to the kernel author?

Posted by ...!!!... | December 27, 2006 3:01 PM


We must find the energy to imagine, and apply to the world of many things, a total system that is not inflexible, that does not convert green life into the fixed gray of thought. The new universalism must be agile, global, and, in the last instance, committed to humanist principles.
Explain to me how a system that does not convert green life into the fixed gray line of thought can be thought in the fixed gray line of human existence? You want to bottle the infinitude of possible human existence into a master plan that is not inflexible but is as random and chaotic as the living world itself. Just how, pray tell, do you propose to do that? A magic infinity machine that lets one Know all things in all their possible iterations at one time, thus leading to the Master Plan to which the secrets of human happiness can be discovered? You say "we are nothing but humans" and yet you want some inhuman (i.e. infinite) machine (historical search engine) that integrates the infinitude of human experience (existence) while removing the subjective halos that cloud reason, i.e. that which makes us conscious human individuals. so you want some demigod machine that is more human than human. drop me a line when you've got that working, i'd love to walk with you to the patent office.

"It is a reason that takes flight at dawn and sees the expanding reality of global humanism." -- the expanding reality of global humanism perpetually expands in three dimensions simultaneously. It expands into the past, it expands into the future, covering all that in the NOW. In order to comprehend this through a consciousness only aware of itself reflectively as a thinking thing IN TIME, you'd have to be able to grasp that infinitude finitely. That'll be the day.

Posted by charles | December 27, 2006 3:11 PM

Does anyone know where I can get a copy of "Charles Mudede for Dummies?"

Charles, you may be 100% right, but I get a headache trying to read your post.

I just want to know what "police action" the U.S. has been involved in that you support, and what countries we should be fighting in now.

Posted by elswinger | December 27, 2006 3:58 PM

1) Should Ethipoia be actively trying to impede the spread of extremist Islamist regimes in east Africa? A definite yes. Islamists are trying to turn Somalia into a bad version of Sudan so Ethiopia stopping them is a good thing. Much like Nyerere sending troops to oust Idi Amin, Africans will sometimes have to fight other Africans. It's unfortunate but neccessary.

2) Is there an over arching humanist phylosofical rational to this? No. This is where I depart with Charles. This war makes sense. Period. There's no humanist Hegelian impetus behind it, only the desire for a greater east African stablity. Its better for sub-Saharan africa if we don' get entangled in the Sharia law mongering rhetoric of isilamic governments. Thats all thats going on here. Move on people, nothing to see.

Posted by Deeply Depressed | December 27, 2006 4:13 PM

Who would have thought that my simple comment would have inspired a quick survey of western philosophy? It’s nice to see that the war in East Africa can be turned into an exercise in abstraction, but one shouldn’t go about supporting invasion, war and potential genocide without a look at the facts. Perhaps you should review the Seattle Times’ report on Meles Zenawi, which notes the great progress and democratization that has come about in Ethiopia under his rule. You can see the article at: The man has been redubbed the moniker of “the butcher of Addis Ababa” for a reason.

You speak of reason, but what reason can support the invasion of a nation in turmoil by a neighboring dictator, a dictator who upon his ascent imprisoned 30,000 of his political opponents and summarily executed hundreds of them? He’s certainly not my type of liberator.

You speak of humanism as well. Ah, humanism, that great, unquestionable ideal. But in reality, isn’t humanism just thee creation of a universal human which is really a simple mirror of the Western ruling class and the use of the ideology of humanism as a guise for dominance and imperialism, demanding that all the world take the form of the West or perish? Don’t forget that the humanism of the Enlightenment brought us Western imperialism to begin with and had no small part in creating the mess in eastern Africa to begin with. Indeed, it probably wouldn’t be wrong to say that western claims of humanism as a support for imperialism are none too different than the religious extremism of the Islamic Courts. Both claim a higher power (Allah! Hegel! Purity! Humanity! Etc) as the directors of their actions, both end up being little more than guises for the increased concentration of power into the hands of a few.

In your original post, you asked, “But in the end, how can one side with the Islamic fundamentalists?” The implication here being that one must either support the invasion of a dictator who maintains his brutal and corrupt rule almost solely through the backing of the United States, or one must support the fundamentalist nightmare of a theocratic government. That’s a pretty simple adoption of the ole us vs. them worldview. I’d argue that there are many more us’es and many more them’s, and that the war you want to support for some naïve, backwards (really, Hegel? In 2006? What’s next, Spinoza as our guiding political light?) philosophical reason will really just bring more death, suffering and exploitation to the people of each region.

You want change? Then argue then for the rights of these people to determine their own lives and political futures, whether they be Ethiopian or Somalia, Hegel or Mustafa. This war certainly isn’t going to help. Such wars rarely do.

Posted by Johnny | December 27, 2006 5:29 PM

Do you like to hear yourself talk or in this case read lots of text after you have had a brain fart.

Posted by -B- | December 27, 2006 6:50 PM


Posted by -B- | December 27, 2006 6:52 PM

Shorter Charles Mudede:

"I can't decide who to root for."

Posted by robotslave | December 27, 2006 10:18 PM

Sir, you fall into self contradiction.

You fault Islamists for "their mad will to make on Earth what they believe is in Heaven."

And yet, you yourself clearly hope for an ideal society which you would impose on others.

Are you therefore yourself an Islamist? You are a humanist, but it's obvious that in both cases, the -ist is a much bigger thing than *which* ideal one actually serves.

Postmodernism doesn't offer any answers, and is certainly no -ism-in-itself, neither humanist nor anti-humanist. It is simply the tendency to note that all views deconstruct themselves.

Posted by John | December 27, 2006 11:04 PM

look john, no fucking around. if i came down with a terrible illness, i'd turn to science for help and not islam (or christianity). to turn to the latter would be an act of madness. to impose the benefits of science on a population is not the same as imposing a god on them--a god that does nothing and demands everything.

Posted by charles Mudede | December 28, 2006 9:46 AM

Shorter Johnny: Human rights are Western imperialism.

Posted by keshmeshi | December 28, 2006 10:00 AM

It's not really complicated what Charles is saying. If you don't understand, it's not because his writing his madness, but that it comes out of a tradition that most readers have not entered into. When a physician converses with other physicians, the language may sound technical; however, it is necessary, despite the frustation many readers will feel, for this seemingly technical dialogue to expand to the public, to the commons, in order to compete in the global, the universal, economy.

As far as whether I agree, I could point to the writings of Jacques Derrida, the man who was known as a deconstructionist, for a little guidance in this debate. For example, in a recently translated book of his, Paper Machine, he makes the argument that the support for the new publication, the support to supercede the support of the book, is not a virtual, not the world wide web, but something of a material quality, though as yet beyond comprehension.

However, despite this seeming impossibility, as Mudede writes, we must try to do the best we can. But then, if the new humanism seems impossible to imagine, is not impossible, then, to imagine, or imaginatively deconstruct, the ideological apparatus of capitalism. Then, if so, is not the tool of deconstruction we are to use not also the one that at once we are blind to and is also that which we seek, that is, the universal support.

Posted by Dobbs | December 28, 2006 12:36 PM

Again, Charles, how does supporting the invasion of a country by a neighboring dictator work "to impose the benefits of science" in Somalia? Sadly, the conflict in East Africa isn't even about the benevolent technocratic West coming in to aid the savage and backward Mohammedans, though we can see how well that project has actually turned out, but one group savagely attacking and destroying others resulting in pretty much no gain aside from the benefit of American interests in the region, more aid and military support to a dictator, some nice propaganda for religious fundamentalists of all stripes, and probably the return of Somalia to the control of feudal warlords. Progress?

Oh, white man's burden, you cruel, syphilitic mistress...

Posted by Johnny | December 28, 2006 1:39 PM

johnny, i do not support this or any other type war. the root problem here is poverty. islamists gained political ground because of poverty. and the source of much of that poverty is the West. and the source which could lessen poverty in east africa is also the West. but the West is faster to support war then end actual poverty. that is the world we live in. i'm not confused about that fact.

Posted by charles mudede | December 28, 2006 2:10 PM

You know, for someone who's only beef is with poverty you don't half bang on about how much you hate muslims rather a lot.

Posted by Art | December 28, 2006 4:09 PM

xdpo fswxbhgar kthgjeacq ztjgudmq atnjsbwz rdtuem fwdnozyr

Posted by irgcfq dyoxa | January 10, 2007 3:22 PM

jibelvpdo vxdpazrgi ybcag gbwszlh uaclzty mnqbohrvg hprbfacs

Posted by zrswgcq vafsq | January 10, 2007 3:22 PM

Very good site. Thanks!!! order meridia

Posted by buy meridia | January 17, 2007 9:05 AM

Very good site. Thanks!!! order meridia

Posted by buy meridia | January 17, 2007 9:05 AM

Very good site. Thanks!!! order meridia

Posted by buy meridia | January 17, 2007 9:06 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).