Further Elucidation of the Core

Two months ago I wrote a response of sorts to Alejandro de Acosta called “Affirming the Core of Negation“. The point of the piece was to let Alejandro and others know that my position in After Post-Anarchism changed a little bit. I remain convinced of the necessity of thinking anarchism as a nihilistic meta-ethical system at its core – that is, anarchism is, like all good philosophies, a negative position at its base – however I now believe that we need to begin to take seriously the necessity of an anarchist notion of affirmation. To be sure, there have been plenty of affirmations within the anarchist tradition. It seems to me that the majority of anarchist affirmations within the tradition have been reactions or reactivations inasmuch they were responses to statist or capitalist aggression. My claim is therefore that all of the traditional affirmations are quite simply inadequate for our situation today (and perhaps even for the historic situation itself). They (mostly) operated upon a model of power which presumed the supremacy of the restrictive state. (Incidentally, I am more prone to find Kropotkin’s affirmation a compelling example of an anarchist affirmation, even if it was fraught with all sorts of ontological problems).

I made a very clear distinction between the concept of restrictive state and the concept of general state. The former refers to states which appear within the political world, to nation-states, governments, statements, or anything at all which has a sense of order or grammar to it. I use the concept in a way which is very similar to the way Badiou uses the concept state of the situation. I’ll quote Badiou on this point:

The state of the situation is the operation which, in the situation, codifies its parts, its subsets. The state is a sort of meta-structure which has the power to count over all the subsets of the situation. Every situation admits a state. Every situation is a presentation of itself, of what composes it, of what belongs to it. But it is also given as a state of the situation, that is to say as internal configuration of its parts or subsets, and thus as re-presentation.

For me, the restrictive state is a profoundly symbolic and imaginary form. The general state on the other hand refers to something which is real in its potential; real because it comes from without and moves within the general state, and because it comes from within as its intimate outside. The general state is the constitutive lack or blindspot of the restrictive state apparatus while also the absolute externality and autonomy of things without the restrictive state’s symbolic powers of determination. And so the general state is something which exists with or without humans – it has its own strange rules and regulations. These are the rules which trump all symbolic rules. Whereas previous models of state power would have went something like this:

Restrictive State Power[General State Power]

My conception operates in reverse:

General State Power [Restrictive State Power]

This implies that all restrictive states are subordinate to the rules and power of the general state. This is because the general state can not be precisely defined according to the laws of the restrictive state. Whereas the restrictive state is a profoundly human form of power, the general state is inhuman, thing-centered, etc. Previous models began with the question: how, within the state of the situation or within the restrictive state apparatus, does something like communism emerge? My model begins with the question: how, within the general state apparatus, does something like a restrictive state emerge?

Finally, I want to clear up some confusion about what I mean when I use the word meta-ethics. Meta-ethics is not the same as (normative) ethics. Meta-ethics is much more descriptive in that it is the preoccupation of those who study ethics at a higher level of abstraction. Ethics asks: what is good and what is bad? Meta-ethics avoids these questions and simply asks: where do notions of good and bad come from in the first place?, and how do they move or proceed? When we study meta-ethics we do so because it allows us to abstract from the human world and ask ourselves if it is the case that we are compelled by something else. For example, meta-ethical investigations might reveal that our notions of right and wrong, of law, come from things rather than from the symbolic world of God or the imaginary world of humans.

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4 thoughts on “Further Elucidation of the Core

  1. Pingback: Further Elucidation of the Core | Research Material

  2. I love your distinction between the *general state* and *restrictive state*, especially in conjunction with your’s and Zizek’s interaction. With respect to the final sentence of this piece, I’m curious whether you’re familiar with sociobiology and if so, what you make of the field. Is there a good reason why we should refrain from construing the “thing” as the irrevocable animality of the human being? I’ve just begun reading some of Frans de Waal’s work on the bonobos and the common chimpanzees, and I’d love to investigate E.O. Wilson’s and others’ contributions to sociobiology as well.

    Perhaps I’ve spent the last 10 years overdosing on Nietzsche and anarchism, and the confusions and unsettled questions of each – not to mention betwixt and between them! –, but I’m inclined to think the thing *qua* human is the wild animal and the subject is the governed, civilized beast. Thus, that meta-ethical investigations, especially of a revolutionary bent, would do well to follow the tracks of sociobiology. All of this, too, because I’m as inclined as Nietzsche to doubt any suggestion that humans enjoy free-willed agency. I suspect that our tiny ‘selves’ are the stuff of fiction, are purely imaginary, and that ‘we’ are in no way responsible for how our bodies move or what thoughts flicker through them, and therefore humans are worthy neither of praise nor blame. The thing, the intelligent animal body, is what acts. Of course, this thought wields no victory against government as such, since the societies of common chimpanzees display their own clearly-defined pecking orders.

    Anyhow, if you happen to read this, I’d also love for you to weigh in on the problem of *voluntary servitude*. Every now and again Zizek raises it, and Baudrillard, for his part, suggested via his concept of “fatal strategies” (of the silent majorities, the masses) that the problem could not be answered as conceived. Perhaps it is similar to “the powerful motif of shame” that Deleuze and Guattari mention in the chapter on “Geophilosophy” within their last published work. Servitude and shame are ethical concepts; a few of us claim they describe relationships under the restrictive state and the majorities are indifferent or inclined to disagree. Between us things lies a yawning gap – we are estranged.

  3. Thank you. I do not have anything to add to the discussion right now, except to say that my understanding of voluntary and involuntary servitude has broadened considerably. Saul Newman advances a case for voluntary inservitude. The risk, as a Lacanian versed in Kojeve’s Hegel, is that one reasserts the ego (and not Stirner’s ego) as the imaginary framework of mastery (i.e., ‘self-mastery’). Being a master and being a slave are two sides of the same logic. The master is impotent, castrated, but refuses to recognize himself as such, and the slave sees himself as castrated, worthless, and constantly works for the approval of a master.

    So, it is not a question of servitude, whether voluntary or involuntary – it is a question of the subject and of the subject’s “acts”. What is an authentic act, what is a subject? These are the important questions. Once we understand them as the important questions, we still have a lot of ground to cover before making any advancements upon work already conducted in the early 20th century.

    Thank you again.

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