The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The battle of Tahrir Square means we can all be human again

For the past thirty years humanity has existed only as an animal species. The appropriate science for its study has been zoology. Great advances have in fact been made in that field, notably through the application of genomics. But humanity as a rational and political animal died in 1979, and went to hell. There it did what the damned do: tormented others and itself. The instrument of torment was identity. As some philosopher said, identity politics is zoological. If we don't see our partial struggles as part of a general project of human emancipation, we turn on each other and fight over crumbs.

In Tahrir Square last week thousands of people stood up to a counter-revolutionary mob and fought it back, yard by yard over a long day and night, with sticks and stones. In those few hours they proved in practice that the human being's conscious will can change history. They brought the human subject and human emancipation back into politics. Whatever the immediate outcome in Egypt, this consciousness will not go away. We can all go back to being human. That doesn't mean we will all love each other. It means we can fight each other for good reasons.

As someone said on Twitter: 'Yesterday we were all Tunisians. Today we are all Egyptians. Tomorrow we will all be free.'

And that's your grand narrative, all you post-modernists, rising up and coming right back in your face!

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Amazing words! :) Just had to say it.

"We can all go back to being human. That doesn't mean we will all love each other. It means we can fight each other for good reasons."

Oh, amen.

What? We were human before?

im glad you brought this up ken.

i was there in tahrir square last night and took part in its defense. it was inspiring to see thousands of people working to defend the revolution. everyone was doing a job, whether it was keeping lookout, being a medic, distributing water or food, breaking up stones, making molotovs, making makeshift helmets out of cardboard. people were so brave. even when the counterrevolutionaries started sniping, everyone woke up at the sound of the alarm, and walked towards the frontline, no hesitation, even though we could hear gunfire and see the bodies being brought back every minute.

this is the masses in actions, and destroys the postmodernist ideology


A cold night inside a steam engine.
A warm debris field, left alone and awake.
The juice was sweet. but a bitter pill to swallow.
The ravenous underbelly with stolen tickles,
claims a steady resolve to remember when,
the night still glowed, the hallowed earth was clean.
And all the aftermath is present and accounted for.

Donald Theall (1928-2008) defined as "paramodernist", meaning any cultural text that is neither modern nor postmodern, but can be classified as either/both).

But humanity as a rational and political animal died in 1979, and went to hell. There it did what the damned do: tormented others and itself. The instrument of torment was identity. As some philosopher said, identity politics is zoological.

Why 1979 particularly? I'm pretty sure identity politics was around before then in places like Belfast.

'79 makes perfect sense as a break point in this analysis, because while identity politics existed before, they weren't in the position of unchallenged dominance they've enjoyed since (or so strongly connected with a politically active religious fundamentalism, or flourishing in an environment of "postmodern" thought and neoliberal economics).

'79 was not just the year of Khomeini (and the U.S.'s Moral Majority), but of the publication of Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition (and of Margaret Thatcher's prime minister-ship too). All in all, not a banner year for "grand narratives"--or progress.

Of course, I'm not convinced we've turned the corner on this historical moment (exciting as the thought may be). Then again, I have no personal memory of that earlier world.

And of course, since I failed to mention it earlier--thanks for a genuinely stirring piece that in its critique beautifully expresses many a sentiment I felt suffering through many a lit-theory seminar, wondering why no one else seemed to see what I did.

Here's hoping.

Beautiful statement Ken, couldn't agree more. Even if this is not the official beginning of a new era its certainly showing the potentialities of one ahead, if we seize it.

Early Days of a Better Nation indeed.

ajay - why 1979? What N.E. said, plus Cambodia and Afghanistan, and lots more. I'll write some more on this later.

N.E., Michael, Sharon - thanks!

Hi, Ken, et al.,
This is as mind blowing as your "The Night Fathers" which I am still forwarding to my friends and comrades 7 years after you wrote it. I'm 62; I won't see the end of this new era, but if I COULD believe in god, I would kiss Her feet for living long enough to to see it begin!
This below is the first post of my new blog, and I have cited your paean to the "new times" (I think you get the joke)in it. When I can get one of my Special Education sixth graders to show me how to make a direct link, I'll start doing that. :)) In, the meantime, keep writing forever.
Lee Gloster, South Bend IN, (80 miles from Chicago) USA

A Number of Morbid Symptoms

Reality check. So far you've got two presidents to resign, one of them 74, the other 82.

Anonymous - yeah, right. The events we're witnessing are nothing more than the resignations of two elderly presidents.

Lee, thanks for the kind words, and the link. And 'new times' - yes, that takes me back :-)

Did and am doing my bit, Ken. Your tweet-stream is impressive. So is that of @3awabawy. Thanks for pointing him out to many. I am keeping my fingers crossed for him and many others. You've inspired many.

PS Always afterthoughts, my occupational hazard. I meant to say , keeping my fingers crossed (etc) especially since yesterday.

You are spot-on about identity politics. It helped Reagan and Thatcher and Kohl, and Lubbers turn much of the Left into squabblers about nothing. I was associated with several universities then, saw it happen, and was appalled. The publication of Lyotard's little book--commissioned by Unesco, I think--was indeed a world-wide breakpoint. A bit later a Jewish postmodernist I know publically announced that "I believe that the Holocaust happened only because it's a story that works for me." Rationality had clearly been derailed, and Lyotard et al helped do it (there were earlier creeps). I hope we are shedding this tripe.

The events we're witnessing are nothing more than the resignations of two elderly presidents.

True... alternatively, we've just seen the destruction of one, maybe two, dynasties of absolute monarchs at generation 1. Mubarak certainly planned to hand the Double Crown on to his son. Ben Ali was more similar to a Yeltsin-style family business.

Big question: who's next? It's not looking good for Bahrain...

John: never knowingly undersold, that's me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
"So many Questions..." - Brecht

One of the advantages that should come to us from Egypt's teaching us how to be human again, (see: “The battle of Tahrir Square means we can all be human again,” is a greater facility to organize our mental data, and focus our political thinking.

A case in point. Last week (February 6-11) in the States began with a wide, vigorous discussion in the media over the political career of Egyptian vice-president Omar Sulemein. Was he a tyrannical man? Was he a torture-enabler? (the "extraordinary rendition" flights to Egypt) About Wednesday, excepting the left media, the discussion stopped dead. By Friday, Mubarek was out. There was hardly any background discussion; attention seemed to focus only on the military. Sulemein and his deeds had apparently fallen down the memory hole.

Yeah, I went to kollitch. I know about oversimplification. I was taught to avoid "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" errors. More sophisticated Marxist professors cautioned me about “reductionism,” and making presumptions about “unnecessary” connections between events and economic interests. Life is strange, Grasshopper, and we musn’t assume that Obama and Clinton wanted Sulemein to come out on top all along.

So no Stalinism here, nosiree! However, one thing continues to nag me. To rephrase one of my favorite quotes from Ursula K. LeGuin: If we continue running around with (and being governed by. L.G.) arsonists as long as we have done in the past, by now shouldn’t we already be better able to smell smoke?
Posted by Lee Gloster at 3:47 PM 0 comments

@Lee I am indebted to you for telling me about Suleiman. Since last Thursday several people went at him with every media technique they had. See Andy Worthington's posts and publications. I was one of them, all the time knowing that all I had was a hope that he'd be dumped, either by infighting or as a publicity risk. But one person told me that he's worse than Mubarac, which is probably why Washington wants him in power. Do look at Mr Worthingtons writings. He's at .
His piece on Suleiman is here .

Events in Bahrain are indeed instructive. Clear the square promptly and your problems are over.

The 5th Fleet's problems are only just beginning.

This has caught fire now, even though the (much under-reported) sparks have been smoldering for years.

Add together 2003 in Iraq, 2006 in Lebanon, and Gaza Cast Lead 2008/09 on top of a century of western imperialism, plus regional population centers with a huge numbers of poverty-stricken, under/unemployed youth whose desperate plight has been sharpened by direct, unambiguous experience of the deleterious socioeconomic effects of globalization - and all US-funded repression in the world isn't going to get this genie back in the bottle.

The Groovy Arab Revolution was irresistible only as long as nobody resisted it.

Give it a few years, and governments in the Middle East & North Africa will look like those today in Latin America.

Hell, Bahrain will probably be being led by a woman like Dilma, with the full backing of the People's Republic of China.

And Iran.

Asmaa Mahfouz is the new Rosa Parks.

Rosa helped trip a revolution by refusing to stand to give up her seat on the bus, Asmaa helped trip a revolution by deciding to stand in protest in the square, even no one joined her.

But they did.

*even if no one joined her.

Ken, you mentioned that at some point you were going to write more on this topic, this short post is one of my favorite commentaries on the revolutions in the Middle East and I don't think I'm alone in wanting to hear more from you on these worldwide events.

Michael - I meant I'd write more about why 1979 was a turning point, not more about the Arab revolutions! For these I point people to the smorgasbord of links on the blog sidebar. But about 1979 and what followed, yes I do have a few points that might be worth making, and will try to make them soon.

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