Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ruda (week 16)


  1. Abolishing Freedom starts us off by noting the absurd proliferation of freedom we have today, if freedom is considered to be the ability to make a choice. Do I get health insurance? which brand of gum and which flavor within the brand that I choose will best meet my desire? Coke or pepsi, or water, or vitamin water and so on. It is mentioned that “freedom of choice” is producing and spreading indifference (3). I’m not aware of how Ruda’s sources (Marx and Badiou) specially refer to this indifference, but anthropologist named Michael Herzfeld has described it as a “rejection of common humanity”. Public school vouchers seem like a good example of freedom of choice leading to this type of indifference. If a localities public schools are below par, then the voucher system solution is to turn every user into a consumer who has the freedom to choice the best public/private/or charter school for their child. This common problem is therefore not addressed by a larger group of citizens working together and making decisions on how to organize their communities education in a better way.

    So does rejecting the belief in freedom as a capacity, or put differently, embracing fatalism help prepare us for the movement that abolishes the present? Or at the very least, can we just get something better than neoliberalism? At this moment, I have no idea. But I was surprised to see Descartes used as a philosopher to get through a Bourgeoisie conception of freedom of choice, so I will focus on it. Descarte’s fatalism is affirmed after arguing against an Aristotelian conception of freedom as a capacity that is within my power (70). According to Descartes there are passions that arise from the outside and can corrupt us. We act as if we are free but the “will is turned inside out…because it has fully internalized its outside…In this very manner the will still wills, but what and how the will wills is not determined and hence not willed by itself”. (51). We seem to have a similar description of the outside folding in as what we got from Deleuze. I’m ultimately having a tough time working out whether, in Descarte, the outside that is internalized is supposed to be God, whose own contingency shows how we are determined by contingency. Or is Descarte arguing for us fight against the passions and desires of the outside, thus reorienting ourselves towards willing towards things that do depend on us?

  2. In Abolishing Freedom, Ruda begins by tracing out how our common conception of freedom leads paradoxically towards indecision and indifference. This problem stems from viewing freedom as a capacity, specifically a capacity to freely choose. Ruda links viewing freedom as capacity to freedom being a possibility. “By understanding freedom as a possibility, we conceive of it as already being real and actual in the form of this possibility” (2). Ruda says that freedom like this is essentially paradoxical. Freedom is real and actual because of its possibility. Freedom therefore seems to be able to be real independent from some kind of actualization process, since it is already real and actual. I follow Ruda in his assertion that capacity implies possibility; to have the capacity to perform something requires that the action is indeed possible in the first place. I begin to get lost at the point of reality and actuality being conflated in possibility. It seems to me that there can be possibilities that are real, but not actual; in fact that seems to be the necessary conditions of possibility. It is possible for me to stand up and lift the chair I am sitting on, and this possibility is real. This possibility is potential, which involves futurity. If I were to stand up and pick up my chair the potential of my real possibility to pick up my chair would be realized, or actualized. At this point potentiality dissipates and actuality sets in; possibility is realized in actuality, but it seems overdetermined if we are to say that actuality is still possibility or that possibility is actuality. It would seem more accurate to me if we were to say I had the possibility to lift my chair, and once I did so I actually lifted my chair. That singular possibility was actualized, destroying its possibility. I certainly have the possibility to lift my chair again, but this is not the same possibility as the first one because of its temporal position.

    I feel like this assessment of Ruda’s problem of freedom probably isn’t doing it justice though. Given that his approach, and seemingly his solution, is very much Hegelian, the problem and solution need to be approached in a Hegelian manner. I’m not exactly sure how to lay out this problem of freedom in a Hegelian manner, but Ruda’s solution of “there is no there is” and our movement through it is definitely Hegelian (171). The structure is the familiar thesis (there is), antithesis (no there is), and synthesis (we must go back to the beginning of the proposition to make sense of it, but it is changed by the proposition itself). This seems on the surface dangerously close to the tragic fatalism Ruda outlines and rejects with the fact that “we cannot avoid the insight that everything is always already lost and that our endeavors to do so are actually comic” (170). So in this process of moving through the proposition and beginning back at the start, we gain self-reflexive insight into this process about its ultimately fatalistic nature. So something is produced, but this something is the Nothing which Ruda talks about, that nothing that is less than nothing since it is stripped even of its nothingness. So, as he states, the freedom which Ruda gives us is the freedom from freedom, to paradoxically choose not to choose.

  3. This book was delightful.

    I like the notion of apocalypse as a freeing kind of insight. I have always been a fan of the end of things, the end of a vacation, the end of the day when it’s time to sleep, the end of emotional arguments, the end of a semester. Essentially the end of anything I’ve accidentally come to view as an obligation.

    I heard today that the buddha would stroll into a village or a town and take the first invitation offered to him to go hang out. The circumstances didn’t matter, only the fact that a person was reaching out to him mattered. This pissed people off. Presumably the buddha and whoever would all go somewhere and talk and reflect on the fact that everything is nothing. Everything is nothing but it’s still better to share that nothingness sometimes. I like that.

    And there’s John Cage and his disbelief in silence, of course. And how before he was famous he spent a year throwing coins and using the I Ching to compose, and saying he was ready to starve to death if nothing ever came of it. And every night he went to the bar around the corner and drank beer and talked with people about his disbelief in silence. And eventually he convinced a lot of people to think about sound differently, and that sound and music were inseparable, and just talked all sorts of shit (I assume) about fighting against the way we’ve been trained to listen.

    These blog posts have been the most frustrating bit of schoolwork I’ve been required to do this semester. I was always curbing my impulse to deconstruct what I saw as the limitations of theory and philosophy, or try to draw attention to the absurdity of the requirement in general. I wanted to respond to everything with some piece of art, or a youtube video, or just some kind of resounding silence. But a blog is not a good medium for silence. But also, summarizing feels like death (but not in a good way). I have no more patience for it.

    So, to end this final blog post, here are some titles of Alan Watts lectures as they appear on youtube:

    How to Get Out of Your Own Way
    Why the Urge to Improve Yourself?
    The Addiction to Control
    Knowing Myself by Letting Go
    The Veil of Thoughts
    Do YOU do it, or does IT do you?
    Is Life Serious?
    Don’t Try
    You Are Who You Keep Seeking
    The Illusion of Expectations
    How to Live Without Making a Decision
    Why a belief in God Reflects a Lack of Faith

  4. I really enjoyed Ruda's book - I like most anything that instructs me to act as if I am already dead.

    I'm having trouble wrapping my head around this idea of the apocalypse and/or the worst having already happened mostly because I cannot conceptualize what the apocalypse and/or the worst looks like. I am certain that these notions are not supposed to look like anything but we just accept that they have already occurred but it seems hard to accept something has already happened if we (or maybe just me) do not know how to recognize it. Ruda uses the Looney Tune imagery of running off the cliff and the wolf/rabbit/and so on keeps running despite the fact that there is nothing holding them up. It is only until the runner looks down that they recognize their instability and then fall. But we've always already been running in the void - right? But what came before the void what is the difference that defines the void from the non-void?

    I don't know!!

  5. I do not get how this is anti-Aristotelian. I understand the book argues against the ide of freedom as a capacity and that Eudemonia relies on chance which is not good, but this does not seem to be the argument that Aristotle is going for.

    First, looking to Agamben’s description of Aristotle’s potentiality, he explains that potentiality always implies the impotential, which means that actuality occurs through the negation of impotentiality: X cannot not be X, which moves X to the realm of actual from the potential. Potentiality, here, not being a capacity that can be exercised, a condition of emergence. The capacity of freedom, the capacity to choose, seems essential as an efficient cause (I chose X; I do Y, ect., the effecting cause—in the phenomenal world). The final cause, however, seems to function as the thing that determines the direction of potential such that it is not a free (a quest for phenomenological authenticity) but is always already determined by the final cause (for a thing to be as it should be, X cannot be not X where X is the final cause toward which something is directed). The capacity to act (freedom as a capacity) relates to the efficient cause, which is still limited by the potential to actualize, but the freedom here seems constrained to the relation to the final cause. The capacity for freedom would seem (in this retendering) nothing but the capacity the negation of negation (look to page 34) such that X can be such that it is. The movment from potentiality to actuality, then, emerges through the negation of impotentiality (through some action), but the choice of X’s becoming is independent of the subject. This, moreover, confirms the rejection of choice with respect to moral action. In some readings of Nicomacian Ethics, ethical action is not a decision to do what should be done but a way of being (a form of life) that does what it ought because it must (echoing the discussion of Luther).

    The real target seems tied to Heidegger’s reading of Plato, which ignores the relation of ‘truth’ to a third thing. In book VI of the Republic, Plato explain that sight is depended on a third thing, light. So, rather than the conception of sight given in the Euthephro (more late), the condition of sights emergaance is the sun: the sun illuminates something, agitating its particles, which fall off and are received (passively) in the eye of the beholder. Or, sight happens to us and being properly turned allows for clear sight (turned toward those things that are illuminated). In Euthephro, Plato explains the relation between affecting and affected things, and locates the cause of something’s existence as emanating from the affecting force (eg. Something is carried [affected] because someone carries it [affecting]). Thus, without the third thing of light, sight appears the affecting force. A thing seen [affected] become possible through one seeing [affecting]. Or, Heidegger can argue in 1935/1936 that the sun creates the conditions of emergence within which one can see but leaves sight (the force of disclosure, worlding), in the eye of the beholder and not as a result of the sun. In Plato, the sun (the form of the Good), determines the emergence through introducing the third thing (in the cave, the light from the fire determines the emergence of images). Welcome to fatalism.


    1. The problem of freedom as a capacity seems to be a problem when we believe that we have the capacity to chose what is seen and how it is seen, that we are the affecting worlding force that can make things other than they are, that we can make things authentic. Here, we believe that we have choices that matter; a choice is an affirmation that makes things new rather than realize what is already within the conditions of emergence or determined by some third thing. Obviously, the teleological structure of this is a problem, but nether seem to locate freedom within the individual—the illusion of freedom as a capacity seems to come much late and find a clear articulation in quests for authenticity or space for undetermined access to becoming.

      Or, the freedom of choosing to become I am attributing to Heidegger (with no real evidence to do so). What is needed, then is to make Plato and Aristotle Fatalists through denying the determinacy of becoming within teleological systems, but tis requires a different approach that the rejection of freedom as a capacity. Honest, I do not know what it means to think freedom of as a capacity; Rude denies determinism, which means that we have the capacity to act in some meaningful way (we can act such that we do not negate a negation or turn such that we cannot see things illuminate through some third thing), but the freedom as capacity seems to imply the capacity to form some third thing (which, descriptively we do), but this structure makes (even in anthropological structures) freedom as a capacity impossible.

      However, if freedom is taken to indicate a capacity to act, the capacity to serve as an efficient cause, then I do not know what about freedom needs to abolished. This vision of freedom, moreover, seems commiserate with fatalism. If not, I do not understand how fatalism differs from determinism.

      In any event I will stop here. All of this to say, I am really confused and am looking forward to tonight class.