Sunday, February 12, 2006

The more things change...

Jim Zogby provides essential rumination on the facts of the "cartoon controversy" (it's hard to discuss this matter without seeming to belittle it somehow). Already this matter had dropped off the radar screen, replaced now with more domestic concerns (Katrina, NSA, Abramoff), largely because there has been no violence in America, and no new violence to report this morning.

Taking Zogby's information as a starting point (especially that these cartoons were originally published as a thumb in the eye of European Muslims), I want to add some oddly applicable (because of the synchronicity of reading the book during this time) thoughts from Derrida's Rogues. He notes that:

It has always been hard to distinguish, with regard to free will, between the good of democratic freedom or liberty and the evil of democratic license. They are hardly different. Book 8 of the Republic, for example, proposes a close examination of democracy as a regime. [According to Plato's critique]...with democratic man comes a general abdication, a complete loss of authority, a refusal to correct by means of the law the young akolastoi, literally those who go unpunished, unreprimanded, who are intemperate, licentious, undisciplined, delinquent, spendthrift, one might even say somewhat anachronistically voyous and roues, "wantons," says Plato, young men "averse to toil of body and mind, and too sfot to stand up against pleasure and pain, and mere idlers." (Rogues, p. 21)
Is it an accident that the critique of Plato sounds very much like the general critique of modern Western culture that sounds from Imams and other leaders or voices from the "East," from Islam? As Derrida himself notes:

This is already beginning to look like a real bazaar, a carnival, a liberal, or better, neoliberal or precapitalist marketplace where the governing oligarchs have en economic interest in maintaining the dissolute life of the profligate in order eventually to acquire his estate. They thus lend money on hypothec, says the Republic, lending against the property of these men so as to enrich themselves even further through speculation:

"And there they sit within the city, furnished with stings, that is, arms, some burdened with debt, others disenfranchised, others both, hating and conspiring against the acquirers of their estates and the rest of the citizens, and eager for revolution....But these money-makers with down-bent heads, pretending not even to see them, but inserting the sting of their money into any of the remainder who do not resist, and harvesting from them in interest as it were a manifold progeny of the parent sum [their capital, which is to say in Greek their patrimony...], these money-makers [these agents, so to speak, of usurious capitalization] foster the drone and pauper element in the state"

We must never forget that this portrait of the democrat associates freedom or liberty (eleutheria) with license (exousia), which is also whim, free will, freedom of choice, leisure to follow one's desires, ease, facility, the faculty or power to do as one pleases. Plato says this explicitly. (Rogues, pp. 21-22)
All of which is prelude to this insight:

But what allows me for the moment to formlate things in this way by making reference to Plato is what the Republic itself draws our attention to just after the passage on the democratic man and his freedoms, eleutheria and exousia. Insofar as each person in this democracy can lead the life he chooses, we find this this regime, this polteia...all sorts of people, a greater variety than anywhere else. (Rogues, pp. 23-24)
License, freedom; what, as Derrida points out even Plato said "they say" are the fundamental hallmarks of democracy, "they" being first the proponents of democracy, but taken up against them by their harshest critics. (The question of whether proponents of democracy actually saw it that way at first, or have adopted that stance from their critics, we will save for later. But keep in mind that "political correctness" began as a shibboleth for assailing "the left," and was never a term used by it, until it adopted the term itself.)

Which is not to say freedom is never a part of democracy. Rather, it is really the risk of democracy. Derrida says:

Freedom is essentially the faculty or power to do as one pleases, to decide, to choose, to determine oneself, to have self-determination, to be master, and first of all matter of oneself (autos, ipse). A simple analysis of the "I can," of the "it is possible for me," of the "I have the force to", reveals the predicate of freedom, that "I am free to," "I can decide." There is no freedom without ipseity and, vice versa, no ipseity without freedom--and, thus, without a certain sovereignty. (Rogues, p. 22)
It is the question of sovereignty we find ourselves bound up with, again. Is the state sovereign, but it cannot control the private press? Is the state sovereign, but it cannot control its angry people? The freedom of democracy leads to the European Enlightenment, the American Experiment, but it also leads to Hamas in Palestine, to "insurgents" in Iraq, hungry to be free of American occupation.

We are brought back to the basic truth, which Ted Rall's cartoon (a cartoon for a cartoon contoversry) also touches on: how much easier it is to see the splinter in another's eye, than the log in our own.

No comments:

Post a Comment