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Re: <nettime> The alt-right and the death of counterculture
Brian Holmes on Mon, 10 Jul 2017 08:21:54 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> The alt-right and the death of counterculture


Keith Hart wrote:
 
What does it mean to be human? To be self-reliant and to belong to others.

It sounds like such a simple statement. But it spans left and right, society and autonomy, the whole and radical difference. Having lived among  the French intellectuals, I have enormous respect for the left-leaning approach to the social whole. Having lived in the US (but not so close to the US intellectuals, ha ha ha!) I have also developed quite a bit of respect for the governing philosophy that mediates the relations between individuals.

In the past, the US won a war that allowed it to institute an individualist framework that came to permeate international law and diplomacy, decisively shaping the postwar world order up till now. The "golden age of the individual" (generally known as the age of human rights) was vitiated by the abuse of larger sovereignties, whether the corporations, the national states, or the regional blocs, all of which arrogated to themselves the rights that were supposedly those of flesh and blood humans. Sovereign power gave individualism a bad name, for sure: that's why those French intellectuals complain, and they are right to do so. Despite the abuses, the anthropologist Rene Dumont held that in the last instance the demands of holism had to be interpreted within the individualist framework. He believed that, because in his day (40s through 90s) individualism was undeniably the dominant form: the one that could resolve the most contradictions. Private ownership of currency, and the modicum of individual control that it offered over the quintessentially social construct of transnational money, was the linchpin of the individualist order, as Keith Hart (perhaps in the wake of Dumont?) has consistently pointed out. 

I don't think any country, least of all the US, can win a war anymore. The individualism of both the Kalashnikov and the Internet has put an end to that. The new forms of war therefore ravage American hegemony, ever since Vietnam, and even more intensely today. The suicide belt is a perverse vindication of radical individualism against the abuses of corporate and national sovereignty. Yet each explosion in a shopping mall (or wherever it may be) hides a more integral contradiction, what James Lovelock called "the revenge of Gaia." An explosion in a shopping mall (or in Mosul, or wherever) is nothing compared to accelerated ecological change. The species need to care for the equilibria of biogeochemical cycles definitively vindicates the holist critique of the post-WWII social order.

With all that, the glaringly obvious fact (which is the point of this nettime thread) is that the existing political left has almost nothing valid to say about the epochal crisis we're in. The countercultural anarchists are staunchly individualist, just like the neoliberals (only they've got molotovs rather than atom bombs). The old left holists are stridently disciplinarian, just like the neocon authoritarians (only they've got YouTube rather than Fox News). What we don't have is a powerful resolution of the existing contradictions. What we don't have is a new way to be human.

thoughtfully yours, Brian
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