Daniel Perlin on Fri, 4 Nov 2005 15:52:33 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Plato vs. bush vs. cityslickers

Plato vs. bush vs. cityslickers

After the last presidential election, I wrote a post to <nettime>, later
published in the book Under Fire II by Jordan Crandall,
called rural vs. cosmpolitan vs. bush vs. kerry vs. ontology vs.
epistemology. After hearing Anthony Vidler read from his forthcoming book
Utopia at the Whitney ISP the other day, I began to formulate a new set of
ideas around this topic, and I thought I might share them here.

Vidler talked of Plato's belief that that there should be a movement of
bodies of its citizens between the city and the country-side, dividing half
the year in each. A rotating schedule for citizens (who, as we know, did not
include women or slaves or artisans) to be divided between the country and
the city. Divided into two groups, half would be behind the city walls while
the other half would be in their country homes, relaxing, experiencing
nature. Then they would switch, providing a balanced appreciation of
cosmopolitanism and ruralism for the polis.

If we consider this strategy (which was Utopic, of course, and never
properly realized) and begin to reapply it to the current political morass
that we are living in the US and, effectively, globally, we might begin to
address the imbalance between the perceived secular cosmopolitanism of the
Left vs. the perceived Moral values rooted in a sense of truth based on
religion on the Right. Then everyone would be balanced and great--right? A
perfect liberal democracy with a pumping capitalist economic engine.

Now we all know the contradictions implicit within that system of
accumulation that we have begun to affectionately call the free-market, or,
abbreviated by the Right for purposes of spreading this love, freedom=B2 . 
So it is not enough just balance out the polis and refigure the relations
between rural and cosmopolitan. We would have to also attack the issue of
the marketplace.

A torch and middle fingers.

Hold a torch. Peter Sloterdjik brings us back to the joker Diogenes, the
colleague of Plato and Socrates, sort of the jester that plays with the
norms of the polis. One story is that Diogenes would walk through Athens,
through the marketplace, in broad daylight holding a lit torch saying I am
just looking for an honest man. Another tale is Diogenes was said 'to have
lived like a dog,' such that the politicians threw their dinner bones at
him. Once, he stood up, and like a dog, pissed on them.

Sloterdjik points that Diogenes said In nature, we find nothing about which
we would have to be ashamed. (Critique of Cynical Reason pg. 150). There
may be a suggestion here infuse the principles of nature, rawness, into the
city, to subvert the moral norms of religion and the work ethic that
accompany the city/market. Pissing like a dog on the bones of the market.

Fuck off, let me be.
Sloterdjik tells us of another legend told of Diogenes, his preverbal middle
finger to Alexander the Great. In this legend, Alexander went out in search
of Diogenes and found him relaxing, taking a sunbath. The young sovereign,
in an effort to prove his generosity, granted the philosopher [diogenes] a
wish. Diogenes answer is supposed to have been 'Stop Blocking My Sun!' 
Here we have more than a call to divorce politics from the theory. We have a 
call to let someone be free of power's desires, to be.

How can we get beyond the market, beyond constantly desiring more, excess,
and begin to be free enough to be who we are? The sex-appeal in the rhetoric
of the Right in the US is this this freedom. But as we can see, the practice
of the Right (Religious training in schools, moral regulation of the body,
market capitalism reducing economic power of the individual etc.) is one of
restriction. However, the Left suffers the same constriction of the market
as well, relying on this 'freedom to choose' as its principle of freemarket

Perhaps it's not enough for cityslickers to appreciate the rural, and vice
versa. The City vs. the Country debate needs the jester, the one who plays
with these borders, these frontiers, to go beyond itself. More middle
fingers, more piss, more uncompromising refusals to cater to power. Maybe
it's not just about having a good time, it is about your own good time.

All of this is fine to ponder, but it needs to be practiced as well.
Politically, if can infuse the Left with some of this, it may be a strategy
that helps differentiate the parties, helps increase voter attention, helps
create a sense of hope for a 'freedom' that does not equal spreading war.

<cross posted at http://www.dpblog.danielperlin.net>

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