GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

December 25, 2007

Political Syntax I: Mythical and Legal Declaratives

Filed under: GA — adam @ 11:19 am

The most exemplary declarative probably issues from the ideal court when it simply declares what the law is:  “statute x violates the First Amendment”; “y has no standing to speak here”; “fact z is legally irrelevant”; etc.  Such sentences sustain a world comprised solely of utterances governed by rules of internal coherence; they are situated at the crossroads of demands that can only made commensurable within the legal system; and they correspond to the generative character of social reality (drawing upon precedents and leading to appeals, translating external conflicts into ones internal to the system).  The judge as umpire or arbiter ensures the “proper” alignment of deferred imperatives and imperative-ostensive articulations that goes into making a declarative order:  facts are only allowed into evidence if a “chain” of custody can be established ostensively at each point along the way, the reliability of testimony is rigorously allowed for, in part through the exclusion of testimony which is intrinsically below a certain threshold of reliability (“hearsay”), those facts must touch directly upon some violation which has been alleged, etc., etc.

The law itself is somewhat less exemplary as a declarative, insofar as any law verges on the imperative; nor, however, is the law a body of commands.  Whether we are speaking of general, constitutional laws, such as “The power of the executive will be vested in the President” or “homocide will be punished by…” or “a Department of Health Services is hereby established pursuant to” some previous statute requiring such a department for its activation, what laws do is authorize someone to issue imperatives within a restricted sphere of activity.  But wherein, exactly, does this “authorizing” lie?  The law doesn’t create the world of imperatives, even if it adds to it, prodigiously–it takes a prior world of imperative-ostensive articulations as given.  The law, as an independent reality, must emerge as a transcendence of some crisis in that world of articulations, a crisis in which the demand that others recognize the same ostensives as oneself becomes impossible.  The separation of the imperative and the judgment of its provenance and legitimacy is the result–this separation is “law.”

In my previous posts on “originary grammar,” I have posited a crisis of the imperative which I have called “originary nihilism”:  due to incompatability between imperatives and/or between imperatives which cannot be rescinded and a reality which cannot be adjusted to satisfy them, the interlocutors lose the common object which makes the completion of the imperative possible in the first place–the crisis gets to the point, in other words, where the crisis is intensifying while knowledge of what would count as its resolution recedes.  Now, I would like to add to this analysis the assumption that what the impossible imperative ultimately demands is the “total” presence of the one to whom the imperative is issued:  the more the imperative goes unfulfilled, the more the “will” and “good faith” of the one expected to carry it out becomes the issue, and the more the crisis-ridden demand swerves into one that the subject of the demand “saturate” the linguistic space with “proof” of his bona fides; but it is precisely such “proof” that is always impossible to provide in a satisfactory manner.

This analysis would link, loosely (as part of a long term process of consolidation), the emergence of the declarative with the emergence of the big man in the post-egalitarian community.  The declarative event, that is, preserves the memory of the imperative crisis which itself provided the first indication that a crisis of the community tended to single out some member as origin of that crisis.  Further, it seems reasonable to assume that the emission of the first declarative would not have been by the focus of the crisis, who would be too busy trying desperately to fulfill the impossible demand and would himself be “saturated” with the expectations flowing his way; rather, it would be some relatively unassociated member of the community who would place the term for the demanded object (or some object singled out among the swirling demands) next to a term for some other familiar element of the community’s common reality and redirect the group’s attention to the possible reality evoked by that articulation. If, as Eric Gans contends in his “Originary Narrative,” “narrative is the declarative reading of the originary sign,” the declarative is simultaneously the translation of the originary scene into a narrative, the movement from one center qua site of crisis to another center qua site of transcendence.  And this translation is necessarily a “misreading,” or at least a “mythical” reading, insofar as the declarative must locate the source of transcendence in the seamless continuity between the “struggles” of the subject of the impossible imperative and the ostensive verification by the group that the center has been restored as a result of those “struggles,” even if the “verification” can only be in the formation of the declarative “distraction” itself.  To put it otherwise, the fully originary declarative must align within a single vector all the criss-crossing imperatives:  one imperative must be represented as a response to another leading to some concluding fulfillment of an inner or outer demand.  At any rate, the division between storyteller and actor, king and shaman/priest, etc., is already implicit in the originary declarative, which is why I associate the emergence of the declarative with the emergence of the minimal conditions for the big man, which, again, need be nothing more than a recognition that crises tend to establish a “force field” in which attention gravitates toward a specific “responsible” member.

Such “mythical” declaratives constitute narratively an existing but incoherent (from m the new position required by the emission of the declarative) field of imperative-ostensive articulations, primarily by assimilating new articulations into that field.  What the law does is destroy the a priori ordering of imperatives that the declarative would initially help to establish and consolidate, so that “judgment” takes over at least some portion of the function of myth.  In transcending originary nihilism, the declarative is also modelling the intelligence of the center by enabling a mode of centering within what I would like to call the “field of semblances” opened up by the sign:  by “semblance,” I mean any thing that is simultaneously sign and object, something that can be localized, possessed and controlled, while at the same time it (in our very desire to localize, possess and control it) directs out attention elsewhere.  All objects and signs are semblances, but in varying, even widely varying proportions–all objects, that is, except the originary one which, as the source of all signs, always itself resides at least a little beyond signification.  At the same time, there is a certain “signness” that resides slightly beyond objecthood,” in our very freedom to issue new signs.  Any thing we might actually confront or point to in the world, though, is a semblance within the field of semblances, with absolute object and absolute sign serving as guarantees of some minimal coherence of the field.

The field of semblances requires, as I suggested, various centerings, nodal points (what Lacan called “points du caption”) that provide patterns and regularities within the field.  The declarative enables us to produce such centerings by registering the impossible demand, which could emerge at any point and, at least as important, could always be anticipated as a result of some shift in the field of imperative-ostensive articulations, and ordering such demands within a new, projected, reality.  Any sentence, any string of sentences, is modelling a new way of assembling semblances.  The declarative both imitates the chaos of demands it simulates an extrication from and models an appropriate scene upon which such demands would be neutralized because upon that scene the demands would be irrelevant, replaced by new, more manageable and interesting ones.  In such imitation and modeling lies, respectively, the “style” and “content” of the sentence.

So, laws don’t “tell” individuals not to do x or y–the law against murder does not command me, personally, not to commit murder; the laws of taxation do not command me to pay my taxes.  The law authorizes the chain of imperatives that would ultimately lead to my incarceration for murder or tax evasion.  But, again, “authorize” can’t simply mean to conjure up out of thin air–there have always been, since there have been imperatives, individuals whose suppression of certain activities at certain times and places would not be interfered with, and would in fact receive the necessary assistance.  What the law does is separate those authorized functions from specific “imperators,” i.e., those at the highest end of a chain of imperatives.  If the originary declarative establishes the conditions for the big man by interrupting and ordering the colliding imperatives directed at some proto-big man (or, rather some image, even a “negative” one, of a possible big man); which is to say, if the declarative emerges by speaking of the big man, or speaking the possibility of the big man into being (the declarative formally announces the possibility of a concentration of imperatives–and the line between being the target of the concentrated force of ordered imperatives and being the author of that force is an extremely thin one–precisely by deferring the consequences of the chaos of impossible imperatives)–the declarative order, by contrast, effects a transformation from the symbiosis of “imperator” and “declaimer” in the “mythical” declarative to the convertibility of the two positions into each other.

What this convertibility really entails is something as simple, but in a sense as astonishing, as some imperators being willing to act against others without thereby arrogating the entire imperative field for themselves.  (By “act against” [or, really, just to “act”] I mean produce a new ostensive sign available to emitter and audience that will “seal” or provide the “content” of a new declarative affirming that that new ostensive can be accommodated within the possible field of semblances opened up by a prior declarative–a prior declarative which in its turn requires these succeeding ones to provide its own, ostensive, content.)  How important this is is indicated by how difficult it must have been, what a tremendous event it must have required–even now, think of how difficult it is in the most liberal, law governed countries, to get the police or military to police their own.  And I don’t mean to refer merely to some “primitive” solidarity on the part of those (in David Grossman’s terms, the “sheepdogs”) entrusted to protect us (the “sheep”) from the “wolves.”  Rather, the “sheepdogs” are simply aware as the rest of us, ever tempted to confuse the protective growling of the sheepdog for the genuinely dangerous snarl of the wolf, are not, that a far higher threshold for initiating suspicion is absolutely necessary for the sheepdogs since a far higher degree of trust is required for such institutions to function.

The law, then, is precisely this point of convertibility between imperatives and declaratives.  A lawful imperative is one that can be “translated” into a declarative:  “bring that here” is, in other words, only lawful insofar as the linguistic and institutional conditions exist for translating it into something like “for commonly agreed upon purposes it its necessary that that object be moved from its present location to the one I am indicating; and, according to commonly accepted procedures, you are the one with the responsibility to effect that movement.”  While we couldn’t really speak of “lawful declaratives,” we could speak of responsible declaratives within a law governed field of semblances, and such declaratives would be those providing for the possibility of a subsequent declarative assimilating the imperative-ostensive content of the sentence in question:  “ultimate” responsibility would be determined by those (declaratively established) centers within the field of semblances where the imperative-ostensive articulations circulate.

Such “conversions” would always be problematic, and here is where politics would enter.  Leaving aside for now the political founding event that would have been required to bring a regime of laws into existence in the first place, we could say that within such a regime politics would be situated in between the ongoing processes of imperatives-converting-into-declaratives and declaratives-converting into imperative/ostensives. At any point along the way one could sever some link required for full convertibility.  A young man spray painting graffitti on the side of a school is seen by a policeman on patrol–does the policeman pursue relentlessly, using deadly force if necessary against the fleeing perpetrator; does he shrug, or perhaps smile, and let the boy run off; does he apprehend the boy, perhaps a little roughly, and get called up on abuse charges, while the graffitti is celebrated for its authenticity and cutting edge social commentary and its creator given a scholarship to art school from donations by citizens appalled at his treatment?  Any of these scenes, and many more in between, is compatible with the formal prohibition on defacing public property, and whichever is played out will provide us with far more information regarding the quality of the regime than the mere fact of that prohibition.  The lines of force go both ways here:  the declarative stating that vandalism is a wrong against the public gets rerouted along the way to the implementation of the imperative it authorizes; while the imperator must, in a split second, consider whether the imperative he is charged with enforcing can, under these conditions, undergo conversion to a declarative acceptable to himself and his future judges:  can he “justify” the risks of injury to himself, the perpetrator, and bystanders in a pusuit carried out to some degree of relentlessness; will any imaginable enforcement of his charge likely be translated into a widely shared declarative on the order of “this policeman is hereby deemed to have abused his position through the exercise of excessive force”?  And this even leaves aside the far from negligible fact that the policeman also has to “live with himself,” which is to say, carry out the translation from imperative to declarative and back again on his own private, perhaps idiosyncratic, moral terms.

So, we are engaging politically when we produce declaratives that generate regions in the field of lawful semblances that might interfere with declarative-imperative-declarative convertibilities.  Legal declaratives (general prohibitions and licenses, whether formalized by law or not) create a space in which the carrying out of imperatives is supplemented by third party ostensive verification; political declaratives propose imperative fields that serve primarily to generate new ostensives, which is to say, show us something new regarding the imperatives people are ready and able to fulfill, refuse and resist (with refusal and resistance being nothing more than the issuance to oneself of an unauthorized imperative, but one more fully convertible–within the field of semblances centered in oneself, at any rate–with legal declaratives). 

Adam Katz

December 12, 2007

The Global Civil War of Position

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:09 pm

Assume, as per the Girardian account of human origin, that there can be no originary scene without a scapegoat; further assume, contra Girard, that the crucifixion of Jesus was just one more in a long series of scapegoatings, resolving nothing but rather making the process even more insidious because the victim in this case openly asks for it; and, finally, assume that all of the modern social forms that claim to transcend scapegoating, like the nation state, individual rights and liberties, the modern market, etc., are themselves simply extensions and concealments of the now global, unified process of scapegoating (the nation produces the despised minority, the market the exploited poor, individual rights the culturally othered, etc.).  Add to this the immeasurable means of destruction available within this system, and the recent demise of the only possible (because sceneless) alternative to scenic liberty, and you have the ideology of the contemporary Left.  If you believe all these things, where do you look for political salvation, or at least relief–how, if nothing else, do you throw up some roadblocks to the stampede?  Your mission must be to prevent any scene from arriving at closure.  Scapegoating requires some “mark” be attributed to the scapegoat–the more that mark singles out the scapegoat as an object of attention, and as dangerous or subversive in some way to the community, the more it would set in motion the stampede.  What you must do is prevent any mark from taking shape.  You can recognize, in theory, that individuals and even members of groups (at the very least, voluntarily formed groups) might accumulate and call for marks for perfectly legitimate reasons; but overshadowing that abstract recognition is the deeper knowledge that the distinction between legitimate markings and scapegoating will ultimately be made by the same communal mechanism as would orchestrate any scapegoating, so, for all practical purposes, the distinction is irrelevant; even worse, it must be attacked as a distraction, one that the leaders of mobs (the ones with the torches) will predictably deploy.  You must simply reject any marking–wherever some marking is starting to take shape, you must foreground whatever in the potentially marked group resists such marking.  At the same time, there is one exception to your absolute opposition to marking: it is essential that you mark the unmarked markers. Marking the “white” markers, as you have learned from bitter experience, is a question of both sheer survival and justice (they will destroy you if given half a chance; and they deserve it–now all will be marked and a version of original sin put in place); even more, you must do so pre-emptively, because they are experts and it comes naturally to them, while you have to keep reminding yourself to be tough enough. Doing whatever is required to prevent the consolidation of any “mark,” along with the seemingly contradictory task of marking up the putative markers; inventing entire disciplines and political movements dedicated to nothing more than the invention of ways to disrupt “marking” and bring those responsible into ill repute–this is all of the activity of the contemporary Left–they do nothing else.

That is certainly enough to keep them very busy, though–it may be necessary to represent the “marked-up” as “resistant” to being marked, as challenging the stereotpye through the formation of their own “agency”; but, then, that “resistant” agency can itself become part of the “mark-up” (the group in question is violent, unruly, or untrustworthy), in which case it becomes necessary to deny that the “group” in question exists in any determinate form (it is just a product of the “marking” itself); it may be necessary to discover all kinds of facts that have been ignored in the process of marking that group and simply repeating them whenever you get the chance–but it might also be necessary to produce wholly fictional versions of the group, which can always be justifable on anti-marking grounds. And there can be all kinds of interesting debates about whether marking proceeds along lines of some kind of material interest or is “constitutive”; over which groups are genuinely in danger of being marked (how about veterans?), the various gradations and combinations of markings, and so on.

It is important to analyze the Left on two levels.  First, as a mode of sacrality, a religion:  in this case, the Left could be seen to be worshipping the actual or prospective victim of the normal and we could trace a line from the original victims of the Left (free thinking intellectuals and democrats persecuted by the Church and Absolutist regimes) through the emergence of the “masses” in the Western countries, victims of the gigantic “sparagmos” of the Industrial Revolution, through to women and, especially, the Third World, in the wake of the post-Leninist turn in revolutionary socialism toward oppressed nations as stand-ins for the disappointing Western proletariat.  At an earlier, more “heroic” stage, the Left claimed a project of social transformation in socialisms which, in originary terms, we could simply define as the fantasy of abolishing scenes altogether in our collective subsumption under natural-technological processes; with the collapse of this project, though, the Left is really a death-cult:  the victims of the normal must continually be slaughtered, actually and symbolically, in order for the normal order to be forever marred, forever guilty, incomplete, in need of absolution.

This does not mean that the Left has no political form, of course:  politically, the various currents of the Left have merged into a “transnational progressivism,” in which a post-national international law, with its legitimating roots in the post-War Nuremberg Trials and associated legal innovations, buttressed by the equally transnational, adversarial media and academic establishments, progessively neturalizes all the elements of national and cultural life that might conceivably restart the clash of private and public interests which (on this account) led to the catastrophe of the two world wars (the founding, traumatic scene of modern scapegoating).  But such a world would be intrinsically static, which is to say the telos of transnational progressivism is as much a fantasy as socialism; insofar as the Left is a movement, which is to say, moves–responds to and generates events–it is currently the Global Intifada, an unsteady but sufficiently coherent conjoining of violence and threats of violence which for the most part stays just below the threshold needed to trigger massive retaliation (mostly Muslim, but drawing in the remnants of the socialist Left, e.g., Venezuala); and the ongoing, mobile international war crimes tribunal/class action lawsuit conducted by the elite media human rights groups, NGOs and educational institutions throughout the West.

What this means is that we in the West are in a state of civil war:  that is, a struggle between opposing forces or factions within the same society who recognize incommensurable sovereigns.  There are those of us who recognize the sovereignty of the U.S. Constitution, and those of us who recognize the sovereignty of international post-Nuremberg law. (I apologize for the American-centric character of my argument; am I so wrong in my assumption, though, that if the United States doesn’t remain on the constitutional side in this civil war, it won’t matter very much what anyone else does?) This condition is disguised by the exaggerated, even cult-like, obeisances the Left pays to the Constitution; but the Consitution they adore is not one that would be recognizable to anyone reading the actual text, along with the debates over its ratification, and with the post-Civil War amendments particularly in mind–rather, it is a Constitution which, over the past half century or so has been reshaped along transnational progressive lines, aimed at liquidating intermediate levels of authority between the sovereign state and the sovereign individual (who is therefore defined more and more against local communities, traditional norms and public opinion) and (more recently) subordinating American policy to international actors and agendas. 

One naturally hestitates to use the term “civil war” not merely because it implies a degree of hostility and division few would wish to concede, but for the more empriical reason that it doesn’t look like a civil war:  no one can really picture “reds” and “blues” facing off in military or physical confrontation.  But, here, the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci (an important forerunner of the contemporary Left)’s distinction between a “War of Maneuver” and a “War of Position” is helpful:  a war of maneuver is when one actually destroys or dislodges the enemy from some position they hold; the war of position is the struggle to occupy those positions which would give one an insuperable advantage once we get to the war of maneuver.  And, of course, if one gains such an advantage, there will be no “actual” war.  In that case, winning the war of position is enough, especially if it is won (as wars of position tend to be) gradually, even imperceptibly, and by subtly “re-inscribing” the positions everyone already occupies so that the war appears to be (even to some of those waging it) merely needed reform of an antiquated set of relationships–in that case, only when one looks back after it is over, or finds out that some customary act is suddenly forbidden, some commonsensical sentiment suddenly unintelligible, does one see the real relation between victor, victim, and spoils.  It is impossible to go for too long without realizing one is in a war of maneuver; but in an intelligently executed war of position, one can indeed be unaware, giving an enormous advantage to those waging it coherently and determinedly.

Just as it is fairly easy to identify the enemy in this global civil war of position, it is easy to identify the means and goal of struggle:  the latter, the restoration where necessary and protection where still possible of commensurability between acts and consequences; which commensurability is the sole guarantee of freedom; the former, the defeat of our “victims” through the defense of their victims, a strategy that works equally well against our jihadist enemies as against our Leftist ones (really, anyone can play:  for example, in harping on the racial disparity in those imprisoned for violent crimes, isn’t one obscuring the racial–and gender!–disparity in the victims of those crimes?).  “All” that needs to be worked out is the proper mode of doing so in each case, on the battlefield, in knowledge, in the media, the law, diplomacy, and so on. 

One thing we are certainly learning these days is how high are the demands of a free order, and how powerful the desire to submit, already, if we can just have stability, if we can just be allowed to ignore prattle about health care proposals rather than having to hear about threats and destruction.  (I, at least, start to look back and wonder:  would we have won World War II if the USSR had not been attacked by Nazi Germany, bringing both Stalin and our own domestic Left onto our side?; would our steadfastness in the Cold War have survived one more “hot” episode on the order of Korea or Vietnam?)

Where are we now?  The one bright spot is Iraq, which contains all the pertinent components of the war, in both its “civil” and “foreign” dimensions:  we are defeating a powerful form of Islam (after having defeated one of the leading practitoners of a newly resurgent–as in Russia–form of “big man” tyrannical rule) by turning its victims against it and are in the process of creating a new, hopefully responsible member of the community of nation states; a member which we have good grounds to think will be jealoius of its sovereignty, suspicious of the intentions of their “Arab brothers” and international caretaker institutions like the UN, and positively hostile to the calls to join the jihad.  Everywhere else there is backtracking and an abandonment of positions, sometimes hard won ones, as in Bush’s complete reversal on the Israeli-Palestinian front.  The general dysfunctionality of our governing institutions, brought to the surface in the demands placed upon them by this new war, have not been addressed at all–the CIA and State Department continue to set their own foreign policy untrammelled, even unmolested; and in 2009, the Democrats, a diminishingly respectable front for the global death cult, might very well control Congress and the Presidency.  And, understandably, no one wants to think too closely about what all this means.  Even Republicans, even the Bush Administration, are staying miles away from compelling new evidence that there were, in fact, chemical and biological weapon stockpiles in Iraq in 2003, which were transported over to Syria and buried (and later, in the chaos of the invasion, removed) in Iraq–just challenging the prevailing narrative (“there were no WMDS!”) seems to require too much energy, to involve too much risk.  In my view the already small number of people who could take the slightest interest in what I am saying here is certainly shrinking daily.

It is probably uncomfortable for most to speak of a “global civil war,” even one of “position”–everyone becomes a combatant, and such a characterization introduces the frightening possibility of the politicization of all areas of life.  It is precisely the “positional” dimension that makes this war different, though, since victory would involve a complex array of “re” and “de” politicizations–in certain areas, a properly political site would have to be liberated from law and morality; in others, perhaps exchange relations and “culture” (in the broadest sense of the proliferation and dissemination of models for living), what is called for is a liberation from politics; meanwhile, what is often at stake is the relation between political actors and spectators, or between politics in the sense of coercive state action and citizen activity.  The position I seem to have been coming to occupy is that of the analyst of discourse, in its most essential form, that of the sentence, both literally and as focusing our attention on the “syntax” of all practices–a position that, it seems to me, would at times be overtly and even hyperbolically political and at other times detached and ivory towerish; engaging the daily elements of cultural dialogue, but also high culture, “extreme” esthetic experiments and the realm of sheer possibility.  My hope, I suppose, is that simply going about our business as originary thinkers inquiring into the semiotics of reality will be the only global positioning system we require.

Of course, a war of position is simultaneously a deferral of war, but a deferral that creates an interim during which preparations proceed; and, from another angle, war is almost completely preparation–as the saying goes, amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.  And amateurs talk “ideas” and “images,” while professional talk “models” and “narratives.”  The most suitable models and narratives in the middle of our preparatory period will be somewhat counter-intuitive and yet familiar enough; indeed, they will make us wonder what makes them, at least ever so slightly, counter-intuitive.  They will be retrieved and modified models:  the black conservative scapegotated by the “leaders” of his or her community while, in fact, recovering traditions of self-reliance developed under Jim Crow; the “infidel” who embodies a recognizable pattern of feminist awakening, who nevertheless makes “establishment” feminists extremely uneasy; the Muslim stepping forward in defense of a Christian neighbor in a nascent Arab democracy; veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars stepping forward as a new generation of leaders, remaking both political parties and the media; etc.  All these narratives, to some extent, resist the force of accumulated demands made by partisans on all sides, at the very least the “demand” that one’s own narrative, especially the doomsday ones, prove true.  Such models and narratives are already circulating to some extent; the question for a “cultural politics” as well as a “cultural studies,” then, is what would need to change for any one of these narratives to undergo a quantum leap beyond the circle of those who presently cultivate it, to increase in circulation by an order of magnitude (from 1,000 to 10,000, 100,000 to 1,000,000, etc.)?  A precondition, at any rate, is a certain faith in “reality”:  when thinking about who is on the “side” in our “civil war” I am calling “constitutionalist,” aside from small cadres of intellectuals, pundits and activists, the answer is all of us, insofar as we buy and sell on the market, sustain basic norms of civility, insist on keeping violence and obscenity out of spaces whose sanctity we are charged to protect, try and get a little bit closer to the truth when it seems important to do so, measure ourselves against others and others against ourselves, seek out options short of scapegoating in dealing with those we oppose or hate, and so on.  And when we notice and begin to resent, in the name of those for whom we bear responsibiity, those who undermine these props of reality.  When we share such resentments with others, the defense of small things (minor commensurabilities, reciprocities and accountabilities) can snowball, just as the existence of a “democratic enough” Iraq will stick in the sides of the region’s tyrants and terrorists, and become, more and more, an inevitable point of reference and inspiration for its liberators.

In other words, both sides can play the game of a fully deliberate global war which, paradoxically, we will win by reducing its strictly military component:  victory for us would tend towards the narrowing of the confrontation to one between our armed people and theirs, with civilians refusing to act (and effectively assisted in this refusal) as shields; in this case, the war would be over very rapidly.  Getting to that point depends upon whether those intermediate figures who, while unarmed, call for our murder and destruction, will be deemed martyrs or criminals against humanity; and determining that denomination will be whoever gains the “high ground” in the post-Auschwitz political, legal and moral order indelibly stamped by the awareness that our fundamental categories of social life could readily render us complicit in the unthinkable, whether through commission or omission.  That high ground is the unconditional defense of individual freedom as irreducible point of origin and the insistence upon individual accountability as established through freely entered into covenants (the only thing that can genuinely bind up and conclude what a free individual sets in motion):  each point of that structure (freedom, accountability, covenant) is a fulcrum enabling us to overturn victimary revaluations as we hold each other accountable for holding our putative victims accountable for the freedom they deny others (through omission and comission) and the covenanting they consider impossible even as they remain parasitical upon every jot and tittle of the terms devised and agreed upon by those more courageous and generous than themselves.

Adam Katz

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