2007 - 2020

Living In Coronatime

LIVING IN CORONATIME: From The Province Of The Cat by George Gunn

It was in the nineteenth century that the not so crazy German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche declared that “Forgetfulness is a property of all action. The man of action is also without knowledge: he forgets most things in order to do one, he is unjust to what is behind him, and only recognizes one law – the law of that which is to be.”

Was he having a vision of Donald Trump? The paths to enlightenment laid out by Nietzsche led directly to Hitler for Nietzsche was an arch-reactionary and generally his writing should be read as a warning, not as illumination. But in relation to political power his observation has a cruel resonance, in as much as all politicians like to be men or women of action. None are exempt. It means that they are seen to be doing something. Even if that “something” is destined to cast us all into oblivion.

The most recent and sinisterly comic version of this condition of “being” is the new “leader” of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, that Linesman for the Union, who, in opposition, injects the testosterone of amnesia into every announcement of what his party will do if and when they gain power. Forgetting that they are already in power. In Westminster. It sounds fair and fine to all who listen until the realisation dawns that the good Douglas has, in Westminster, in power, voted against such measures (whatever they are) ever happening in Scotland. But, of course, this doesn’t matter. Douglas is too busy being Douglas, the man of action, conveniently forgetting his party’s dreadful historical record in resisting anything and everything which would benefit Scotland, the poor, democracy or the future. You can take your pick; it all adds up to the same thing. He has to be seen. He has to speak. He has to mean nothing. In all of this Douglas Ross is a resounding success.

Politicians like Douglas Ross believe that the electorate are made up of things that vanish, like debris on a beach. The rise of populism and the hard right across the world is testament to this. Every day the Covid-19 pandemic exposes the none too secure mooring lines of our good ship democracy to the latent pirates of reaction who would cut them at a stroke. In the US Trump has declared, more than once, that he will “wait and see what happens” before he concedes to a smooth transition of power should he lose the presidential election in November. There has not been a situation like this in the history of democracy in America which goes back to 1776. Like a man strapped to the mast of a shipwreck he is ranting and raving about his innocence as the ocean claims him.

Closer to home Boris Johnson, when he can remember who he is and where he is, continues to refuse even to consider granting a Section 30 order if the SNP manage a landslide in next May’s Scottish election. All the British political parties parrot this anti-democratic line. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit makes no difference to them because they are, to paraphrase Nietzsche, unjust to what is behind them and abandon history, principle and reason to the Union. They are also abandoning democracy. At the moment, for Bojo, getting through the day and sounding like he knows what is going on is considered success. This is the best we can hope for from the Prime Minster of the UK at this time. As the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca observed, “What difference does it make, after all, what your position in life is if you dislike yourself.”

The public health emergency we are experiencing worldwide has had a curious effect on humanity. Other than killing a lot of us, disabling a lot more and increasing the levels of anxiety and downright fear in all of us: it has warped our sense of time and space and transported us into coronatime, an asymmetrical dimension where the speed of light and the distances between one set of solid matter and another is relative to the general optimism you either feel or do not feel at any given moment. So belief in humanity can bend around the Tree of Liberty in the morning and sink into the depths of Múspellsheimr, the Norse realm of fire giants and chaos, by bedtime. Coronatime is exhausting, even fatal.

The fact that the good ship democracy might be sinking, no matter who is chained to the mast, does not help lower the stress level. Poverty certainly does not help. The fact that we do not seem to be able to believe the evidence of our own eyes about anything does not help. That most politicians are detached from reality does not help either. Nor does the fact that the stock exchange is disconnected from the real-world economy or that according to the World Economic Forum the GDP of the world at approximately $100 trillion dollars is the same total as that of world debt. None of it helps lower your blood pressure or helps you understand anything because you are living in coronatime. Consumer prices will rise for everybody no matter if you are in the United States at the top of the GDP tree or in Niger at the bottom. This will inevitably lead to worldwide social unrest, which we are witnessing but refuse to see. Coronatime is where we find that it is perspective itself that is warped, where concave and convex reflections are the same and where the limits of our knowledge are actually the limits of our language. So when Matt Hancock and Rishi Sunak stand up in the House of Commons to make announcements they are actually talking in tongues, in the language of the chaos loving fire giants of Múspellsheimr. Everything they say is false. Everything they say is true. Everything they say burns the trees in the forest of reason. Or is that in California, the Amazon, Australia, Russia?

In 1953 Hannah Arendt wrote that “The ideal subject of a totalitarian state is not the convinced Nazi or Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (that is, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (that is, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Donald Trump, as President of the United States (the POTUS) is a product of fake news and now he spits it back out at the world and Joe Biden like a fire giant. He may or may not be defeated come November but either way democracy loses because the reason for democracy being fundamentally necessary to human development has slid out to sea to be wrecked in the process (with POTUS strapped to the mast). Its enactment is now its destruction. In an increasingly moneyless and meaningless world individual alienation grows like mushroom spores beneath the ground and becomes the biggest organism on the planet and lives very well thank you very much in coronatime. What makes people victims of fake news in the 2020’s are much the same set of circumstances as Arendt observed in the 1930’s, which is “the experience of not belonging to the world at all, which is among the most radical and desperate experiences of man.”

Or as I would call it – loneliness.

In coronatime we are as a fly caught in the world-wide-web.

Totalitarianism is no longer an historical relic buried with the Nazi’s and the Bolshevik’s. It is here every time the POTUS opens his mean mouth to shout his fire giant sound bites, and it lives in the City of London and thrives on Wall Street. So why is all this happening? Why have we succumbed to coronatime? To begin to answer that I think it is necessary to be aware that the collapse of everything and the necessity to start again is a constant modern right-wing dream-fantasy. It is also wise to be aware that because of violence, racism, greed, corruption and the coronavirus, in a world where debt has reached saturation point and where money printing is seen as the solution to economic stagnation, there are mobs of working class Americans, armed to the teeth, marching down Main Street in many cities desperate to shoot immigrants, feminists and left wing poets. This in the richest country in the world. They believe in the fantasy of destroying everything and starting again. With the white man in control.

The weakness of Hannah Arendt’s view is that it is one of what humanity ought to do, not what it does do. It has become a set of slogans for the new left. Nietzsche has become the cult figure of neoliberalism. He is POTUS, or any other modern hardman with a fleet of bargain Russian tanks. He rallies the elite to ensure that they understand why they are the elite. On TV screens he summons forth a future POTUS like a rabid barking dog breaking through the placid surface of the quaint old ideas about fairness, morality and all the rest – a set of notions which no longer have much philosophical glue to bind them together. Yet it is these notions, set firmly in the consciousness of the working class of the world – i.e. the majority – which terrify the elite. This elite will protect POTUS because through his incoherence and rambling, his ranting and raving, he articulates the message that they want the masses to understand, which is that it is not to your advantage to think much or to see the world from the standpoint of somebody else. It’s every POTUS for himself. This is the new order in coronatime. Bad is good. Back is forward. Death is life. The price of the forthcoming (mebbe) vaccine has just gone through the roof. The vaccine will be for the elite who will ensure that the roof has fallen in on the poor.

In a recent article on Open Democracy, and then here on Bella, Professor Paul Rogers talked about using the “f-word” in relation to Boris Johnson’s governments disastrous and shambolic handling of the Covid-19 crisis, which has catapulted us all into coronatime, and the arrogance and the utter self-belief of the narrow coterie of people at the centre of this government who assume that they alone know the true path and that those who hold other views are held in contempt. Rogers concludes his short analysis with this,

“Until recently only commentators typically considered alarmist would use terms such as ‘fascism light’ and ‘quasi-fascism’ in the UK. There is a deep reluctance to go down this verbal path. If we do not, however, we may fail to appreciate what we may really be dealing with: a centre of power exhibiting a zealotry that is rare in British politics and even rarer when it commands centre stage, however much hidden from view.”

Daily the “f-word” is not so much goosestepping, but rather slouching out into full view. The problem is we can no longer recognise fascism when we see it because, intellectually and historically, we think we have seen it before and more importantly seen it off.

In a recent essay, “What We Don’t Understand About Fascism”, the historian Victoria de Grazia, looks at the issue from the other side of the Atlantic.

“I now see the fascist phenomenon with new context — the crumbling of the liberal norms that were constructed to save the world from a recurrence of authoritarianism after World War II; the social inequities and financial crises arising from globalization; the failures of American unilateralism; and the obsolescence of domestic and international institutions in the face of new challenges, from climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, that are posed to wreak even greater global disorder.”

We now call global disorder the six-o-clock news. The problem when discussing fascism, in regards to the greater global disorder, climate and societal breakdown, the crisis created by excess capitalism and exacerbated by the regimes of Johnson in the UK and Trump in the US, is it is the kind of crisis that historically fascism invented itself to address. In Scotland, even in the dystopia of coronatime, we have to summon up a hard substance of resistance to this so that we can speak honestly about our political situation without fear. We have to create and nurture a united front, an anti-authoritarian and pro-democracy movement which the broad Yes alliance is the beginning of. If Scotland is to regain her independence then all the political Nietzscheans active in the struggle have to find empathy and remember that their actions are for a common cause, a thing greater than their desire to be seen, to be. We have to defend and consolidate our democracy now, here in Scotland, so that we can get out of coronatime and on into the future to create a fair and just society.

 

©George Gunn 2020

Comments (19)

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  1. Daniel Raphael says:

    A caricature of Nietzsche (but a fine article, that aside). Nietzsche can be seen leading “directly to Hitler” only if one accepts historical amnesia and distortions. Recall it was Nietzsche who denounced his sister as a “silly antisemitic goose,” the same sister who patched together Nietzsche’s unfinished notes when he had succumbed to dementia, the result being The Will to Power. It was that book–put together by the “silly antisemitic goose” married to an arch-antisemite who founded a pure Aryan colony in Paraguay, that was used to misrepresent Nietzsche’s thought. It is also worth noting that another trope abused by the national socialists was that of the Superman–who was, as Nietzsche repeatedly expressed in Zarathustra, “self overcoming,” not a mediocre guttersnipe rallying criminal bullies to beat up Jews.

    Nietzsche is not alive to defend himself–but if he were, I’ve no doubt he could, in fine fashion.

    1. Robert says:

      You beat me to it with that response to GG’s ( surprising , as you say , from such an obviously erudite and thoughtful writer ) mischaracterisation of FN , who has to be one of the most misunderstood ( and deliberately misconstrued ) thinkers in history . So , thanks for saving me the effort and for your own excellent post . Otherwise , another fine article by George .

  2. Daniel Raphael says:

    The caricature of Nietzsche as a proto-Nazi is familiar but disappointing from such a fluent author (though I did notice ‘Nazis’ and ‘Bolsheviks’ used as some sort of political equivalent, never mind that remaining Bolsheviks were physically liquidated by Stalin). A brief reminder that this is the same Nietzsche who denounced his sister as a “silly antisemitic goose”–the same sister who, when Nietzsche was effectively erased by dementia due to terminal veneral disease, cobbled together his notes and published them as The Will to Power. There was no “maybe” about her authoritarian and antisemitic views, being married to a fanatic who established a “pure Germanic” colony in Paraguay.

    The caricature typically rests on the Superman as expressed in Zarathustra. It’s important to note that the journey of the Superman is not over the prostrate bodies of countless people, but one of inward, spiritual transformation, “self-overcoming.” While the ascent of the exalted individual to the increasingly cold heights of solitude is something that has any value for us today, it is still important to not fall prey to stereotypes.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      So no gas chambers but apart from that the Tories are just like the Nazis!
      So when is BOJO proposing to invade Europe?
      I’m off to watch Selling Sunset……..

  3. Axel P Kulit says:

    One day I will find time to read Nietzsche and a good set of commentaries on him. I think the right have hijacked a misreading of his ideas.

    I said about a decade ago on some forum that I could see no essential difference between Tories and Nazis and people thought I was insane. I think I had the last hollow cynical laugh. I wish I had been wrong.

    1. Charles Gallagher says:

      Sadly Axel you are not wrong, just look at the Tory Party Family Tree starting from the early ’30s and then look at where most of their current media support and donations come from!!!

    2. John Learmonth says:

      Axel,
      Are the Tories proposing to ‘ethically cleanse’ the UK of Jews and other ‘inferior races’.
      If you beleive that then you are insane.

      1. Bill says:

        They may not be proposing it, but look at the effect of their mad austerity policies. Immigrants dying of starvation, thousands of hungry children, thousands of food banks, at least the ~Nazis were honest and did you in expeditiously. Aneurin Bevan was right, the Tories are lower than vermin
        Bill

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Bill,
          Seriously?
          No fan of the tories but to compare the UK to the Third Reich……….come on.
          John

          1. Daniel Raphael says:

            He wasn’t comparing the UK to Nazis, but the outcome of Tory policies to those of Nazis. Also, it’s probably appropriate to say that though there is not strict equivalency–no gas chambers, etc.–the point is one of de facto extermination of “social undesirables,” by whatever means.

            I believe that’s the essential point. Hope that’s helpful.

            P.S. Sorry for the nearly identical two posts, above…there was a glitch that was corrected by the editor after my original post did not appear, and I did not see it until after my second attempt was published.

          2. Bill says:

            Hi John,
            It is not where they finished, but where they started. Vilification of specific groups in society. Like Theresa May’s hate generating ‘go home’ posters. The ending of Parliamentary scrutiny, the abandonment of convention and protocol and all the other nasty little moves being made by BOJO and DC. The breaking of international agreements etc. I agree it may be a little extreme and that we will not end up with people in camps etc, but no-one seems to care about what is happening and what is being normalised. That was true of Germany in the Thirties.

            Bill

          3. Axel P Kulit says:

            “I agree it may be a little extreme and that we will not end up with people in camps etc,”

            Patel’s latest plans for Asylum seekers puts the lid on that hopeful statement.

      2. Derek Thomson says:

        Not Jews, but I don’t know if you noticed that “Ugly” Patel (inside , not out, no misogyny intended, she seems to be a very ugly person inside though) was considering transporting refugees to Ascension Island whilst they await their refugee status being confirmed (or most likely, refused.) What the fuck is going on?

        1. John Learmonth says:

          Yes Derek and the Third Riech was full of refugees seeking asylum……you guys on this thread really need a history lesson.
          Anyway series 3 Selling Sunset on Netflix……give it a go.

  4. Gashty McGonnard says:

    George’s articles are a bright point of light in the coronaverse.

    And, as an unfittingly glib aside- can anybody explain to me what’s up with DJT’s chin in that photograph? I assume a trick of the light, but I’m seeing a slice of pepperoni stuck on with marmite. ???

  5. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

    ‘The paths to enlightenment laid out by Nietzsche led directly to Hitler…’

    No, ‘the paths to enlightenment’ to which Nietzsche exhorted us (namely, ‘the revaluation of all values’ by a sheer act of will) led only indirectly to Hitler, via the systematic appropriation to the Nazi cause of his literary estate by his sister, Elisabeth Förster. The whole scandalous episode is well-documented by Walter Kaufmann in his history of Nietzsche’s life, thought, and influence.

    ‘…for Nietzsche was an arch-reactionary…’

    Well, this, of course, depends on what you consider to be ‘reactionary’. Nietzsche diagnosed capitalist society as decadent and self-destructing into nihilism (hence the need for us to revalue all values), but he didn’t thence prescribe a return to the values of premodern culture or some mythic analogue of the same; rather, he prescribed a kind of radical autonomy, in which one each goes his own way into a kind of cognitive, evaluative, and social diversification that affiliates each not to all but to such kindred spirits as circumstances may offer.

    ‘… and generally his writing should be read as a warning, not as illumination.’

    No, his writing should be read as Nietzsche intended it should be read and as he indicated in his prefaces how it should be read; ‘slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers…’

    It was not for nothing that Nietzsche was a philologist, ‘a teacher of slow reading’. Reading Nietzsche should be what in the second of his untimely meditations he called an ‘active forgetting’; a recognition that not all past forms of knowledge and experience (in this case, Nietzsche’s own writings) are beneficial for our present and future life; a critical reading which is attentive to the needs of the present and distinguishes between what one finds advantageous in Nietzsche’s writing and what one finds disadvantageous.

    Nietzsche praised active forgetting as a liberating power because, he argued, the past returns to us as a ghost, and ‘too much past’ can obstruct action, happiness, and development. Freud later took up this idea and made the task of calling up and exorcising the ghosts that haunt us central to his psychoanalysis.

    Active forgetting is, then, part of a more general attempt to rationalise one’s relation to the past and to render conscious, in order to overcome, all those events that return to haunt one’s present and cripple one’s autonomy going forward in the process of self-creation. ‘Not traditions – precedents!’, as the sluagh-ghairm of the 20th-century Scots Renaissance had it. (The Scots Renaissance was in large part inspired by the Scottish modernists reading of Nietzsche).

    Populists like Trump don’t like Nietzsche because they don’t like the sort of self-assertive, value-creating elitism the latter prescribed for us; they would rather we just followed them in docile ‘herds’.

    Arendt we’ll leave for another occasion.

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      Excellent comment. Thanks for that.

  6. Carl Potts says:

    I’ve felt for a long time that Nietzche’s master & slave morality perfectly explains what we have in the UK, a ruling elite who don’t appear to value compassion very highly and a morality that is obviously quite different to the general public

    1. Anndrais mac Chaluim says:

      Yep, in The Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche allegorised that the language, codes, practices, narratives, and institutions of all Western cultures are informed by a struggle between those two mutually dependent kinds of morality, between what we might now respectively call ‘elitism’ and ‘populism’; a struggle he feared would – if we didn’t rise above ourselves – culminate imminently in the self-annihilation of those cultures.

      Some 20th-century commentators saw the dissolution of Enlightenment culture in the First World War and the subsequent rise of totalitarianism in Europe as the realisation of his fears.

      But maybe those commentators had, like Nietzsche’s madman in the story, arrived too soon with their wee glimmering lanterns; the death-struggle between elitism and populism seems to still be alive and well in the 21st century. And the field on which that struggle’s being fought is now global.

      Or maybe he was just talking shite.

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