In 1699, Captain William Kidd, despite having been provided with a letter of marque (essentially a license to pirate in the service of the issuing government) by William III, became embroiled in the inter- and intra-national politics associated with the fine-line between privateering and piracy, and was captured and imprisoned in Boston before being transferred to Newgate Prison in London.
Abandoned by the Whigs who had supported his appointment as privateer, Kidd’s execution was ordered by the High Court of the Admiralty, where he was found guilty of murder and five counts of piracy. Hung successfully on a second attempt, his body was then gibbeted at Tilbury Point ‘as a warning to seamen and pirates‘.
In 1752, the Murder Act was passed by the British Parliament, in which the power to gibbet (called here ‘hanging in chains’) was granted:
…it shall be in the power of any such judge or justice to appoint the body of any such criminal to be hung in chains: but that in no case whatsoever the body of any murderer shall be suffered to be buried; unless after such body shall have been dissected and anatomized as aforesaid; and every such judge or justice shall, and is hereby required to direct the same either to be disposed of as aforesaid, to be anatomized, or to be hung in chains, in the same manner as is now practised for the most atrocious offences.
These most atrocious offences were murder, piracy, sheep stealing, highway banditry, and treason—all activities that interfere with the proper function of a distributed societal network.
Nearly a hundred years before, the body of Oliver Cromwell had been disinterred to be gibbeted before being decapitated, and re-buried beneath the gallows at Tyburn, with the head displayed on a stake on the city wall.
There are certain delusions that can tolerate no interference, even in death.
* * *
In Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari attempt to produce a picture of a materialist psychoanalysis, taking on Freud and Lacan by way of Marx and Plato (amongst others) to produce what they call ‘schizoanalysis’ of capitalist society.
As with Plato’s Republic, where the problem of finding a ‘just’ person is addressed by imagining the individual to be an entire city (before shrinking that thought experiment back down to the individual level), Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus also posits a relation between the body and the state. While the body-as-metaphor-for-state in Plato works to demonstrate that the individual must be ruled by philosophy and reason so as not to be subject to the power of the state, Deleuze and Guattari’s version of Plato’s thought experiment repeats and inverts the metaphor. Society is imagined as a body, except that the body is a delusional model of the human body. It is the ‘body without organs’ of schizophrenic delusion, via Daniel Paul Schreber and Antonin Artaud. They call this process a ‘phenomenological’ one, ‘drawing no conclusions whatsoever as to the nature and the relationship’ between desiring production (the way that they describe human desire and natural being-in-the-world) and social production (p. 10).
Unlike Plato, who paradoxically attempts to oppose Athenian democracy by recourse to an internalized divine monarchy of reason, Deleuze and Guattari are addressing a world economic system that has no clear political shape. It intersects with many different sorts of governments and political systems, but capitalism has no dependence on a particular state for its existence.
The Platonic corporal model of the state became particularly powerful in Roman Stoicism, and then in the Church, also via Stoicism and then (Neo)platonism. The European model of kingship was closely predicated upon this same model. Foucault’s treatment of capital punishment in the Early Modern evokes this, in a way that coheres closely with Deleuze and Guattari’s approach to societal organization:
We must regard the public execution, as it was still ritualized in the eighteenth century, as a political operation. It was logically inscribed in a system of punishment, in which the sovereign, directly or indirectly, demanded, decided and carried out punishments, in so far as it was he who, through the law, had been injured by the crime. In every offence there was a crimen majestatis and in the least criminal a potential regicide. And the regicide, in turn, was neither more nor less, than the total, absolute criminal since, instead of attacking, like any offender, a particular decision or wish of the sovereign power, he attacked the very principle and physical person of the prince.
(Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 53-54)
When Deleuze and Guattari introduce the notion of the body without organs, they suggest that, although they will be discussing only the body without organs of capitalism, the body of every type of socius is in potential view: ‘This socius may be the body of the earth, that of the tyrant, or capital’ (p. 10). As is often the case, the broad-stroke philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari is neatly complimented by the microscopic focus of Foucault. (Discipline and Punish is another work to depend upon and problematize the Republic—instead of developing a picture of an idealized state as the individual, Foucault produces a kind of anti-Republic by demonstrating that society has become the prison that is imagined in the cave analogy of Republic book 7.)
* * *
Pirates are dangerous. Every empire that has had to depend on the sea from Rome onwards has worked hard to publicize its victories over pirates. It’s not that pirates are responsible for massive losses, but rather that they threaten the network that must be trusted to function.
Networks, however, are always susceptible to disruption.
When Foucault suggests that, ‘In every offence there was a crimen majestatis and in the least criminal a potential regicide’, the particular warning punishment of gibbeting denotes a specific revulsion towards a set of crimes that threaten not merely the king, but the proper functioning of the king’s body, the nation.
But networks are merely patterns of behaviour. ‘Capitalism is continually cutting off the circulation of flows, breaking them and deferring the break, but these same flows are continually overflowing, and intersecting one another according to schizzes [breaks] that turn against capitalism and slash into it’ (Anti-Oedipus, p. 376). For a while—perhaps a long while—the slashes into capitalism are met with fierce and horrific reprisal. Hang him at the crossroads. Let his crime be a warning to all.
Terrorism is a fickle concept.
Networks are exponentially more vulnerable as they gain orders of magnitude in complexity. What arms can never guard, cultural logic will do a much better job to safeguard. Hang him at the crossroads. Show the masses the body. Let them gawk:
Squeamishness was never better witnessed than in the hardening response to the gibbeting of murderers’ corpses, a common spectacle on the commons and highways of eighteenth-century England. The 1752 Murder Act had regularized ancient practice by permitting judges to order murderers’ gibbeting as part of the sentence of the court. On Hounslow Heath up to a hundred gibbets were said to have stood in the 1770s, ‘so that from whatever quarter the wind blew, it brought with it a cadaverous and pestilential odour’ [R. Southey, 1807]. Pepys had been disgusted by a gibbeted body long before this; but it remained a popular spectacle, a place of licensed frisson, and protests from squeamishness before 1800 are difficult to find. London was said to have been a deserted city on the Sunday following Lewis Avershaw’s gibbeting on Wimbledon Common in 1795; for several months his decomposing body provided a favourite Sunday outing.
(V. A. C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868, pp. 267-68)
No society condones murder, or violent crime in general. Of course not. But what course exactly is this following? Murder, piracy, sheep stealing, highway banditry, and treason: gibbeting offences because society breaks down if the network is unsafe. We will catch you. We get our man.
But metaphors are fickle, too. When the network is threatened from another angle, for different reasons, it is only too easy for the body without organs to send the same white blood cells to combat the regicide, the anti-capitalist, the revolutionary as it does the murderer, pirate, sheep stealer, bandit or traitor.
Desire is an exile, desire is a desert that traverses the body without organs and makes us pass from one of its faces to the other. Never an individual exile, never a personal desert, but a collective exile and a collective desert. It is only too obvious that the destiny of the revolution is linked solely to the interest of the dominated and exploited masses. But it is the nature of this link that poses the real problem, as either a determined causal link or a different sort of connection. It is a question of knowing how a revolutionary potential is realized, in its very relationship with the exploited masses or the ‘weakest links’ of a given system.
(Anti-Oedipus, p. 377)
We are all implicated and embedded in a system that many of us would love to leave. Desire is an exile. The passing to the other face of the body without organs is not a departure, but rather, a set of recognitions. Revolutions do not happen in movements, but rather in moments. At some point, the cadaverous and pestilential odour becomes too much, and the many gibbets on the heath become not a symbol of terror but an impetus towards change.
The problem we face today, however, is that the economic and social revolutionaries and theorists of the past 150 years did not anticipate the degree to which our future was one of drastic, exponentially increasing global disaster. The network is not merely a set of Roman roads, but also the shock troops of capital that have vested interest in maintaining the status quo of ever-increasing profit, no matter the cost.
Let him hang as a warning to seamen and pirates.
The Occupy Movement failed to do much more than annoy. Let it swing and then cage its failure for all to see. The Egyptian revolution. The Syrian civil war. Hope and Change. Let their cadaverous odour come from all quarters. Some of them are murderers. Some of them stole sheep.
Some of them are revolutionaries.
The king isn’t dead.
In a recent set of revelations, it turns out that the Canadian government is actually concerned about climate change, but not the way that you might expect. Travis Lupick, a reporter for the Vancouver weekly The Georgia Straight writes:
Newly declassified documents suggest Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is taking climate change more seriously than many critics have alleged. However, environmental advocates say its approach remains troubling.
On June 5, 2012, then–Environment Canada deputy minister Paul Boothe convened a meeting to discuss geoengineering, according to documents posted online by Mike de Souza, a Postmedia national political reporter.
Geoengineering, which has been advocated by Straight columnist Gwynne Dyer in the past, was defined as “the intentional, large-scale intervention in Earth’s environmental systems”. The list of invitees included the deputy minister of defence, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the national security adviser to the prime minister.
Slides for the meeting acknowledge that the Earth’s climate is warming as a result of human activity, and warn that even a rapid implementation of emissions-reduction measures may not prevent a temperature rise of more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by mid century. A graph projects a global mean temperature increase of 6° C by 2100, a change that scientists warn would likely be catastrophic.
Two classifications of geoengineering are presented as options to reduce future warming: carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) and solar-radiation management (SRM). CDR methods include afforestation, ocean fertilization, and the direct extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the slides explain. One example of an SRM approach is to install “space-based orbiting mirrors” that would “reduce solar input”. Another is to continually inject sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere “to mimic the effect of volcanoes”.
While Charles Taylor and I do not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, in the first of his Massey Lectures of 1991 (later published as The Malaise of Modernity, Anansi Press, 1991), he identified what he saw as the three main phenomena that contribute to the malaise of which he is speaking, and I have found this to be a useful approach. The second of these phenomena is what he calls ‘instrumental reason’, defined as ‘the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical application of means to a given end. Maximum efficiency, the best cost-output ratio, is its measure of success’ (p. 5).
The current global predicament is incredibly frightening—our last century of planetary rapaciousness is catching up to us with alarming speed, and generations that had nothing to do with setting the patterns of incremental destruction in motion are nevertheless implicated in their outcome and attempts at redressing the damage. This has the effect of the Catholic conception of original sin, except without a white knight riding in to save things.
But. We’re pretty addicted to the idea of the white knight. Whether it’s the tendency of western religion or something broader than this, salvation is a pretty nice way out of unwinable situations.
The patterns that led us into our predicament are global, embedded and hard to tease out. It’s easy to see the effects that our behaviour over the last century has had. Melting ice sheets and deforestation are highly visible and easy to understand (for most), but it’s a lot harder to see why these things are taking place, or, to be more blunt, to accept the dramatic change in behaviours that may actually have a chance of staving off the consequences in which we are, every day, more and more implicated.
How deeply unsurprising, then, that, instead of embracing such change, or even accepting the inevitable dissolution of the rapacious pattern that led us to this point, we instead start talking about orbiting mirrors and fake volcanoes. The cost-benefit analysis of actual, long-term change in our behaviours leads to a balance sheet that severly challenges our way of being as a species. Capitalism as a system is like a cancer that controls both disease vector and chemo-therapy clinic, but the host has reached a breaking point. As Deleuze and Guattari state, ‘Capitalism, which is always ready to expand its interior limits, remains threatened by an exterior limit that stands a greater chance of coming to it and cleaving it from within, in proportion as the interior limits expand’ (Anti-Oedipus, p. 376).
There are a lot of good, long-term solutions being proposed, but the hard truth is that the systematic process of capitalism on a global scale has blinded us to the reality that we can not declare bankruptcy for the planet. There is no Chapter 11 protection from what we have done. The party is over. If we are willing to accept this, and change how we act globally, then we may stand a chance.
No more white knight thinking.
In D.H. Lawrence’s 1929 novella The Escaped Cock (also published under the title The Man Who Died), Jesus’ death is imagined to be a mistake—he didn’t actually die, but rather was taken down too early, and then sheltered by peasants. His resurrection appearances are thus imagined to be simply sightings of him as he escaped Roman justice. In his ‘resurrection’, he realizes that he now wants to live his life for himself, and becomes intimately aware of the life of the body.
Meeting with Madeleine (Magdalen) soon after his ‘death’, he responds to her question as to whether or not he will come back to his followers:
‘I don’t know what I shall do,’ he said. ‘When I am healed, I shall know better. But my mission is over, and my teaching is finished, and death has saved me from my own salvation. Oh, Madeleine, I want to take my single way in life, which is my portion. My public life is over, the life of my self-importance. Now I can wait on life, and say nothing, and have no one betray me. I wanted to be greater than the limits of my hands and feet, so I brought betrayal on myself. And I know I wronged Judas, my poor Judas. For I have died, and now I know my own limits. Now I can live without striving to sway others any more. For my reach ends in my finger-tips, and my stride is no longer than the ends of my toes. Yet I would embrace multitudes, I who have never truly embraced even one. But Judas and the high priests saved me from my own salvation, and soon I can turn to my destiny like a bather in the sea at dawn, who has just come down to the shore alone.’
There’s a Nietzschean flavour to this, but also a Deleuzio-Guattarian one, and the combination of the two produces an effect that I find quite satisfying. The despotic signifier of Christ, brought down to examine the implications of his own despotism, while at the same time echoing Zarathustra’s down-going question of the hermit in the forest: ‘Can it be? Does he not know that God is dead?’
The history of Germany and the Arabs during World War I permits several observations. On the one hand, the Germans and Ottomans realized increasingly during 1915–16 the importance of the Arab leaders in Arabia, especially the sharif of Mecca, but neither Berlin nor Istanbul seemed able to grasp the full significance of such leaders for the pan-Islamic campaign. Except for the Ottoman persecution of Arab nationalists in Syria, neither the Germans nor the Ottomans officially acknowledged Arab nationalism or aspirations for independence. For Germany, this was hardly a surprise. How could it recognize the demands for sovereignty of Arabs in the Ottoman Empire and not those of the Slavs in Austria-Hungary? Furthermore, national self-determination was not a policy that fitted with the xenophobic war aims of the German government, military and other elements of society, including industry and the professoriate.
On the other hand, neither the Arab–Ottoman hostility nor the British negotiations with the Arabs, much of which the Germans knew about, precluded attempts by Berlin to address the Arab question. But three factors severely limited such efforts, resulting in the failure of Germany to produce a coherent and effective Arab policy. There were not only disagreements among the German leadership over how to deal with the Arabs but there was also the persistence of the German view that Arabia should serve Germany as a base for its political and military expansion into Africa and Asia; there was moreover the lack of material resources and knowledge to match Germany’s imperial and other objectives. Consequently, with few exceptions, Germany found itself perpetually deferring on Arab policy to its Ottoman ally which, for other reasons, refused to conciliate the Arabs until it was much too late.
Meet Baron Max von Oppenheim. Archaeologist, diplomat, political agitator, spy. Head of the German Intelligence Bureau for the East during the Great War. Involved in German attempts to subvert British imperial ‘possessions’ throughout Northern Africa, the Near East, India and Afghanistan by encouraging rebellion and manipulating Islamic religious opposition to British rule.
And now meet James Pearson, my grandfather on my father’s side. Born and raised in Preston, Lancashire, his father’s signature on his birth certificate is a simple ‘X’. Profession: Weaver. In 1914, he joined up with the 42nd East Lancashire Regiment, I think in the Lancashire Fusiliers, serving primarily in Egypt and then Palestine. After the war, in the 1920s, Jim Pearson emigrated to Canada, finding himself in the very young city of Vancouver, on the outskirts of Empire.
Two European men, from opposite sides of the Great War, from social positions that could hardly be more divided socially and economically. One a boy born in a dirt-floored Preston house combined with a barn, the other an aristocrat born to social and economic privilege. One a soldier moving according to the whims of players with influence and decision-making capability. The other, one of those players.
* * *
In 1978, the prominent Palestinian academic Edward Said published his now famous book Orientalism, in which he investigates the development of Western attitudes towards the ‘Orient’ in politics, culture and education. Focussed primarily upon the nineteenth century in the first half of the book, in the second on the twentieth, Said takes a snapshot of a process that is both ancient and on-going:
Once we begin to think of Orientalism as a kind of Western projection onto and will to govern over the Orient, we will encounter few surprises… During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Orientalists became a more serious quantity, because by then the reaches of imaginative and actual geography had shrunk, because the Oriental–European relationship was determined by an unstoppable European expansion in search of markets, resources, and colonies, and finally, because Orientalism had accomplished its self-metamorphosis from a scholarly discourse to an imperial institution.
(Said, Orientalism, p. 95)
When I first read this passage, I was struck by Said’s emphasis on the role of imagination in producing a cultural logic that was fundamental to what became something brutally real. In this regard, Said’s analysis is similar to the work of such thinkers such as Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, whose descriptive approach to the political emphasizes, especially for Foucault, the genealogy of concepts and their accompanying practises (while Deleuze and Guattari’s treatment of societal patterns as shared delusions has a similar structure).
* * *
I’ve been doing some work to try to trace my grandfather’s place within the Division, especially trying to figure out where he served. We know that he was in Egypt—I grew up on stories of his exploits in recently-abandoned archaeological digs amongst pyramids, of his passing marmalade-tin labels as money to unsuspecting villagers new to British currency, and fighting near the Suez after Gurkhas had caused terror in the Ottoman camp during the previous night, killing every second sleeping soldier in their tents.
But, if he joined up in 1914, then this likely means that he was with the 42nd when it went to Gallipoli in 1915. There are no stories about this that have been handed down. The 42nd East Lancashire lost nearly two thirds of its force during this campaign.
It was only in the last couple of years that I discovered that he had been amongst the British forces fighting their way through the Sinai, and eventually entering Palestine. According to military records, his division was re-deployed to the Western Front during 1917, but there was never a hint in his stories of involvement in this theatre, so we’re fairly convinced that something happened that allowed him to return home from Egypt, rather than join the rest of his division in France. However, given his silence regarding Gallipoli, it may be that we are never certain on this, either.
It was also in recent years that I discovered how the violence that he had experienced as a young man dogged him through his parenting. Waking him was a dangerous affair. Violation of curfew saw my dad flying down the hallway. A history of violence was working its way forward.
* * *
At the end of March 1915, the Germans expressed their concerns about the Arab question to the Ottoman war minister, Enver Pasha. Almost simultaneously, Berlin decided to reorganize and intensify German propaganda in the Ottoman Empire. It sent to Istanbul Baron Max von Oppenheim, the pre-war German archaeologist-spy in the Orient and head of the foreign ministry’s holy war campaign. On his arrival in Turkey, Oppenheim added an element of nationalism to the holy war propaganda. Although he had no directives from his superiors in Berlin to do so, he nevertheless made inflammatory speeches in mosques approving the massacres by the Turks of the Armenians.This, and his advocacy of the reform of Islam introducing European elements, not only confused many Turks who listened to him, but it must also have done nothing to attract Arabs, especially those with nationalist leanings.
(McKale, p. 239)
Next year marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of hostilities in the Great War. To most of us, this will seem like ancient history—events whose only relevance could be to obtain a mark on a history exam, or as a part of a family genealogy, perhaps. But we are still reaping the rewards of this conflict, and the new world order that it was a part of spawning.
The clashing of empires in what we would eventually call the Middle East demonstrated not just callous disregard for the desires of the people in the region, but, concomitantly, the complete misunderstanding of the cultures of those peoples. European interest in the region was multi-faceted, but entirely Orientalist:
Every [Orientalist] kept intact the separateness of the Orient, its eccentricity, its backwardness, its silent indifference, its feminine penetrability, its supine malleability; this is why every writer on the Orient…saw [it] as a locale requiring western attention, reconstruction, even redemption. The Orient existed as a place isolated from the mainstream of European progress in the sciences, arts, and commerce.
(Edward Said, Orientalism, p. 206)
The semi-mythic importance of the lands and peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean for the biblical heritage that had been grafted into the Roman experience only became more pronounced with the Islamic conquests from the seventh century onwards. The Crusades were, in part, a species of Orientalist tourism. The cultural Orientalism of European and European-derived culture has always been coupled with economic, military and political treatment of this arena.
This has not changed in the century since the great empires of the nineteenth century, yet again, used the peoples of this region as pawns. Unfortunately, the West’s woeful ignorance, or unwillingness to realign our understanding, of the history and cultures of this region means that the Orientalist attitudes of the previous two centuries have barely been affected since. We simply won’t be able to sustain such attitudes in the next century, without bringing enormous harm—more so even than the disastrous wars of the past two decades.
* * *
In 2001, Mike Pearson (no relation) and Michael Shanks published a book that I have since dipped in and out of repeatedly for different projects and classes. It’s one of those books that can’t satisfy anyone in the first instance, because its conceptual structure disturbs one’s understanding of both areas of its purview. The book is called Theatre/Archaeology, and its authors are a performance artist and post-processual archaeologist, respectively. The book is a beautiful, poetic treatment both of archaeology and of theatre, as well as of a sort of conceptual nexus between the two. Archaeology is seen as a kind of appropriation of a concept of the past—a performance of a script made up of the entire conceptual fabric of this process of appropriation. Archaeology, from Pearson and Shank’s perspective, can function as an imperial or colonial tool, unsurprisingly similar to Said’s construction of ‘Orientalism’, given the origin of archaeology within the professoriate of the great imperial powers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
As they state:
Perhaps then it is only in landscapes [that are] places of contest, where claims and counter-claims have long been made, where issues of land and language constantly rub against each other, where we can, and indeed must, create work which has none of the dogmatism of the theatrical performance, of architectonics and that distanced aesthetic—framed up, laid out for our pictorial inspection and approval. So that the very inauthenticity of the performance allows room for manoeuvre, allows stances, of ownership, identity and interpretation, to be confirmed, challenged, confounded at the same time.
(Pearson and Shanks, Theatre/Archaeology, p. 146)
Pearson and Shanks later talk about what an archaeology might be, the second part of which is relevant to this investigation of Oppenheimer—Orientalist—and my grandfather—accidental Orientalist:
…archaeology might provide some sort of orientation, something to inform the reading: directions, a map. In that these direct movement around the site, then they could demand an energetic engagement with the site; they may come to resemble choreographic scores or diagrams… it could delineate unusual trajectories of movement—straight lines, circles, arc, traversing the site—revealing unexpected viewpoints, demanding altered stances and body engagements, all serving to defamiliarise the visitor, inviting her to look afresh at detail and at a prospect and to sense the place… [The visitor] wants to put a past onto the phenomenological experience of being present: she needs quite simply a deep map. So if we map, it is not as some banal planning or recording of the ruined structures.
(Pearson and Shanks, p. 158)
We are in a remarkably precarious position, globally, with regard to the histories, cultures, and religions that have given birth to the ‘modern’ world. We are globally reaping the continued history of violence in a way that extends the metaphor of my grandfather’s fist to entire populations.
I believe strongly in the function of understanding in conflict resolution and solution-finding. Unfortunately, bullets and bombs are all too immediately understandable, which tricks us into thinking that we see why, when, really, we have only seen what. From the standpoint of culture, the West has historically anti-understood the ‘East’. Like my grandfather, we are accidental Orientalists, ignorantly continuing a history of blindness.
Our construction of ‘deep maps’ of the past’s interaction with the ‘phenomenological experience of being present’ is an activity of the utmost importance in dispelling that ignorance, and in revealing new details, new prospects: ‘So if we map, it is not as some banal planning or recording of the ruined structures’.
I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience and control.
In 1962, Stanley Migram released the film Obedience, the more popular record of the findings of the so-called ‘Milgram Experiment’, published formally in the following year as ‘Behavioral Study of Obedience’ in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Milgram’s (in)famous experiment, attempting to determine the effect of authority on human behaviour, took place at the same time that Adolf Eichmann was on trial in Jerusalem, while a world continued to reel from the revelations of what a single regime had done using only the most up-to-date methods.
Hannah Arendt, covering the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem (eventually published as her now well-known book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil), records the final statement of Eichmann (p. 118, emphasis added):
His hopes for justice were disappointed; the court had not believed him, though he had always done his best to tell the truth. The court did not understand him: he had never been a Jew-hater, and he had never willed the murder of human beings. His guilt came from his obedience, and obedience is praised as a virtue. His virtue had been abused by the Nazi leaders. But he was not one of the ruling clique, he was a victim, and only the leaders deserved punishment… ‘I am not the monster I am made out to be,’ Eichmann said. ‘I am the victim of a fallacy.’
‘Never again.’ But, up until that point within the 20th century, similar genocidal actions to those of the Nazis in the Holocaust/Shoah had taken place in the Belgian ‘Congo Free State’, of the Armenians in Turkey, and under the eventual Ally, Stalin, in the Ukraine. The Nuremberg Trials of the immediate post-war period could barely staunch the psychic wound that the industrialization of empire had brought about, and Arendt’s report of Eichmann’s trial led to an enormously disquieting picture of an ‘evil’ that was brought about simply by the mechanistic actions of industrialized imperialism.
And so, Milgram’s experiment.
The experiment divided apparently random pairs of test subjects into ‘teachers’ and ‘learners’. The learners were responsible to learn a series of word pairs on which they would then be tested, given a series of four options from which to choose in each instance. In separate rooms, the teacher and learner communicated by microphone and a light panel, which allowed the learner to indicate their choice for each question.
Additionally, the learner was strapped into an electrode that would deliver an electric shock—administered by the teacher—when the learner got an answer wrong or refused to answer. The electric shocks were, according to the experiment’s design, to increase with each wrong answer.
Of course, this experiment had nothing to do with teaching and learning, but rather with socially-manipulated obedience. The person running the experiment acted as an authority figure, urging the ‘teacher’ to carry on with the experiment, no matter what. The ‘learner’ was always an actor playing a control part, including disclosing in front of the teacher the fact that he had a heart condition. At a certain point, once the voltage reached a certain level, the learner actor would begin grunting with pain, and then complain that he was worried about his heart, and then, eventually, ask to be let out. At a certain point, the learner stops being responsive at all.
A shocking 65% of teacher subjects continued the experiment until the lethal full voltage of 450 had been achieved, with nothing but the pressure of a lab-coated experimenter egging them on, and four dollars in compensation.
‘The court did not understand him: he had never been a Jew-hater, and he had never willed the murder of human beings. His guilt came from his obedience, and obedience is praised as a virtue. His virtue had been abused by the Nazi leaders.’
Deleuze and Guattari, in their book Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, describe a metaphor for Marx’s notion concerning the transition from early to late capital, namely the shift from awareness that capital is generated by labour to the notion that, somehow, labour earns capital from a pre-existing source. They deal with this in a section that I will be discussing in a post later this week, talking about society as a metaphor of the human body, but a human body as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic delusion. (If you’ve never read Deleuze and Guattari, don’t worry—stick with the metaphor I’m going to describe today, and we’ll get to the more complex metaphor of the body without organs later this week.)
Their metaphor is called ‘the miraculating surface’, and it wasn’t until I’d taught this book for a couple of years that I realized that the miraculating surface they imagine is a vinyl record:
Machines and agents cling so closely to capital that their very functioning appears to be miraculated by it. Everything seems objectively to be produced by capital as quasi cause. As Marx observes, in the beginning capitalists are necessarily conscious of the opposition between capital and labor, and of the use of capital as a means of extorting surplus labor. But a perverted, bewitched world quickly comes into being, as capital increasingly plays the role of a recording surface that falls back on all of production.
Like a record playing back over the traces of the labour that produced it, but apparently ‘miraculating’ the sound of the recording from its own surface, the product of our labour becomes something that we strive for as though we did not own it in the first place. We are alienated from it.
What Marx deals with in a purely economic fashion, Deleuze and Guattari are attempting to draw into a metaphor for the functioning of all society. The irony that they expose in Anti-Oedipus is that the control structures of society are essentially arrogated from those who are controlled. Eichmann, Milgram’s unwitting subjects—these simply write large what happens on a small scale on a day-to-day basis. The sites of control—like the electricity cables stitched into the humans in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix—are installed early and emphasized often. These are the local, the little, the seemingly insignificant sites of control that we accept on a daily, hourly basis.
Obedience is a key to the functioning of society, and we become deeply vexed when faced with regularized disobedience.