War, Art, Bureaucracy and other Miscellanies
In my recent articles I’ve working with the assumption that human reality can be comprehended using the categories of the ritual, the juridical, and the disciplinary. I got there from the question of what we might call “admissible language use”—when can we say that something said is true, or fair, or just, or even interesting? We can only make such claims upon a scene, so the question becomes, upon what kinds of scenes are such claims made? The ritual scene needs to be there, simply because it is the first human scene, so, even if ritual is really pre-truth, pre-fair, pre-just, and so on, these concepts, which would be anachronistically applied to the ritual scene, nevertheless must derive from it. Just as the ritual scene defers violence and thereby maintains community by summoning the presence at the center, the emergence of concepts covering “right speaking” must evoke some center in the interest of sustaining institutions of deferral. Even very early humans, even if their communities are overwhelmingly ritually governed, must have concepts and practices that are proto-juridical, and we know from Anna Wierzbicka that all languages have the equivalent of the word “true,” which indicates some preliminary disciplinarity. This means that we can trace the juridical and the disciplinary back to the originary scene and subsequent ritual ones, we can see how they might have infiltrated it, and how they would have conquered swathes of communal territory from it by addressing conflicts on spatial and temporal scales beyond the capacity of ritual. And, so far, I can’t think of another human category that couldn’t be included in one or more of these three or that can be seen as equally imbricated in the ritual scene. But this means that very important social institutions and historical processes must be shown to “fit” these categories, and so I’m setting aside this article to explore a few.
It's obviously critically important to account for war, which it would be easy enough to consider, from certain anthropological standpoints, as the central or defining human institution—and about which, incidentally, GA has so far had very little to say. So, we would need to segment war into the ritual, juridical and the disciplinary. In the first case, war can be an extension of the vendetta, situated within honor culture, itself situated within ritual but on the way, we might say, to the juridical. Honor culture presupposes a pre- or sub-state (or monarchical) social organization along kinship and tribal lines. Honor cultures are governed by Big Men, who control the ritual and distributory center, while sharing power intermittently and “anarchically” with other Big Men at the top of other kinship and tribal networks. The lines of command, through the family and concerning women and children, are sharply defined and defended under the principle that the head of the clan is solely and personally responsible both for whatever happens to any member of the clan but for what every member of the clan does. Everything done or suffered by any member reflects upon the honor of the head—and the honor of the head reflects upon the honor of each and every member. A willingness to commit violence against members of other clans as well as to sacrifice a member of one’s own clan are implicit here—this is the logic of the notorious “honor killings” of young women that get sensationalized today—however contrary to our own juridical logic, that vengeance needs to be taken against a woman who has been dishonored sexually (has engaged in sexual relations outside of tribally sanctioned relations—i.e., relations that consolidate intra- and intertribal relations) makes perfect sense, and how voluntary that dishonoring was is not necessarily a question (that is, there may not be a significant difference between “flirting” or an “affair,” on the one hand, and being raped, on the other). But honor culture also verges upon the juridical, insofar as injuries done by one tribe to another can be compensated materially, in which case something like a legal tradition would develop, albeit one very different than one based upon our notions of the “sanctity” of human life—not all that different, though, than the compensation doled out by insurance companies based on actuarial tables.
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War has historically been a large scale activation of honor culture in many cases and, indeed, even in the most liberal and postmodern societies it would be absolutely impossible to maintain an army, much less wage war, without the residue of an honor culture among at least some portions of the population—even if it’s an honor culture forged in the midst of war itself, say among draftees, who take responsibility for their buddies and would find it “shameful” to let them down. States will still invoke national honor as a reason for going to or risking war, very often including some point of satisfying honor as a sticking point in negotiations, above and beyond whatever “material” benefits a peace treaty at a particular point might bring. And this is necessary if mobilizing the nation for future war is to be possible. Meanwhile, the juridical has crept into war in the modern age with the laws of war and human rights war, leading to the question of how juridical war can be made without rendering it impossible, which is probably what some legal warriors against war would like to see but may, in fact, paradoxically, render war far more total and devastating by making the “crimes” committed by one of the sides so egregious that only an absolutely devastating war, prosecuted as, well, a prosecution, could satisfy it. But this also implies that war can be fought, rhetorically but also in reality, as an extension of the juridical—as an application of law to some new territory where it has been lacking, in which case waging war become more analogous to replacing the vendetta with the juridical. And, of course, the disciplinary has entered war from very early on, as technologies change war dramatically and, as with the juridical, raise the imaginary of a post-war social order, one in which war is pre-empted by the technological means invented for rendering it impossible or pointless. But we should also add that highly asymmetrical forms of war conducted without any moral coloring, such as that conducted by the ancient empires, has something like the character of the hunt—and the hunt is in its origins a thoroughly ritual activity, with the victim brought back as a trophy or for sacrificial purposes. So, it seems to me we can have an exhaustive account of war, in all its historical forms, using solely the categories of ritual, juridical and discipline.
“Art” is an important category to take up, not only intrinsically, but because Eric Gans has made the aesthetic so central to his GA. So, the burden is on me to show that art is always nothing more than accompaniments to the staging of ritual, representations and narrativizations of the limits of the juridical, and the development of new ways of perceiving, sensing, experiencing and thinking that derive from and flow back into the disciplines (but which the disciplines could not have produced themselves, without this artistic “annex”). For starters, if we treat aesthetics and art as independent “faculties” or capacities, we end up with vacuous generalizations about transcendence and the realization of some profound humanity; if we trace art back to whatever ritual practices it was invented to compensate for the limitations of, or the way it frames judgments and what exceeds the historical contingencies enabling those judgments, or the way it trains us to organize our attention so as to notice new things being placed at the center, we have far more substantive things to say about it. I’ve noted before that almost all narrative and dramatic art takes on a juridical framing—a crime, or what might be taken as a crime placed at the center, some dispute that characters or the audience are invited to decide, some situation that presents what Jean-Francois Lyotard called a “differend,” where the application of accepted norms of justice leads to a new form of victimization that needs to be named, and so on. What makes it art in these cases is precisely that it resists what might be the easy decision to make by implicating the judge in the juridical process, making such art “infra-juridical.” Meanwhile, innovative or avant-garde art might place the institutions of art themselves “on trial,” exposing their implication in broader failures of the juridical, or “unjust” blockages of disciplinary inquiries; or, for that matter, such art might proceed directly into the creation of new sciences of the human, however anomalous or idiosyncratic (generally by way of satirizing the existing disciplines). Gans places the aesthetic (but not necessarily “art”) on the originary scene itself, in the form of the oscillation of the attention of participants on the scene between the central object and the sign/gesture put forth by other participants. The aesthetic, then, makes the enactment of deferral visible, and this indispensable analysis opens a space for exactly the approach to art I’m approaching here, one in which art inhabits the very constitution of the ritual, the juridical and the disciplinary, while always taking its shape from these practices.
Money is a challenge to work with here, since it arguably supersedes all of our categories as a supreme power in its own right—it has certainly often been represented that way, and you’ll certainly get a lot right attributing the ordering of the world today to international finance. But money begins with ritual, or, rather, with a breakdown or perhaps extension of ritual, when the congregants are unable to bring their own animal to sacrifice and must be provided money (say, by their commander) to buy an animal at the temple itself. Money is always distributed from (and first of all purchased from) the center, so as to pay tribute (taxes) to the center (the king)—money is always the vehicle of a tributarian economic order. In the process, money becomes means of exchange among the subjects of the crown, and hence bound up with the juridical order as, of course remains the case today, where civil court deals primarily with the issue of monetary damages. Money is separated from ritual and the juridical when the occupant of the center is desacralized (first of all sacrificed), which is to say money proliferates when the problem of “tyranny” emerges, and “tyranny” operates overwhelmingly through money since the modes of honor that previously mediated rule are no longer operatives. So, the hostility toward any “usurper” of the center (which means any occupant, sooner or later) and the consequent more or less regular more or less haphazard turnover at the center and the rule of money are one and the same phenomenon. The emergence of capitalism, in which money measures the value of any asset as discounted against its expected future earnings, adds a new dimension to the articulation of money and power. Capitalism is heavily dependent upon the legal system and, as far as I know, capitalist interests have only ever sought to shape and never to eliminate it; but the expected future earnings of a particular asset is a question of knowledge and rather complicated forms of probabilistic knowledge at that, and so money becomes a question taken up by the disciplines. Since both money and state power press in the same direction in creating and maintaining institutions of knowledge making, the disciplines have primarily produced apologetics on behalf of the monetary order, but this is where the real struggle is because in measuring expectations, albeit expectations that the possessors of money themselves shape, money is necessarily itself a mode of knowledge making and the site where assets can be converted into data. And in that conversion the juridical and ritual or, more broadly, the entirety of social practices of commemoration, are to be remade as exchanges between users and producers of data and the data center.
Bureaucracy is always associated with the executive, that is, the command structure, and the command structure is the enforcement arm of the juridical: we could imagine a juridical order so unanimously respected as to be self-enforcing (judgments would have such authority as to be immediately accepted in the spirit as well as letter—but, then, how much serious disagreement, calling for judgment, would there be in such an order?), but short of that someone will have to be charged with enforcing judgments. The bureaucracy, then, exists in the imperative gap: in what happens between a command being issued and that command being obeyed. The imperative gap is where the juridical borders the ritual on one side and the disciplinary on the other—the ritual, because anyone entrusted with implementing the commands of the occupant of the center will have been “sworn in” in some sense, in accord with accepted precedents, or commemorated ways of presenting the initiated individual as a center of attention in organizational terms; the disciplinary, because how to apply a command always includes an element of cause and effect, and you want to both issue and transmit the command in such a way as to ensure its fulfillment as intentioned (which also means knowing what kinds of intentions can be expected to be fulfilled as intended). Even the most secularized, down to earth, casual setting of terms for employment by an institution must include some confirmation on the part of the employee that the terms are “understood” and “agreed to,” and this marks the employee as formally inducted, which is to say “sanctified” in some sense. And even the most direct commands in the most familiar circumstances within the most clearly defined hierarchy can confront circumstances that must invalidate some part of the command. In these ritual and disciplinary elements of the command structure lie the characteristics we associate with bureaucracy: obsessive formalism, lack of accountability, subversion of lines of authority, the creation of hard to find and almost impossible to counter forms of informal power, and so on. Proposals for overcoming bureaucratic inertia, obfuscation and subversion often involve either hyper-ritualization (making initiation and the forms of reciprocal obligation cult-like) or hyper-disciplinarization (the automation of decision-making by subjecting each possible decision to vetted, peer-reviewed, specialist, etc., authorization which can in turn be coded). But, as the internet meme has it, “why not both”? If the crisis of the juridical lies in the encroachment of the ritual and the disciplinary, maybe the juridical is best seen as a kind of holding pattern between them—which, of course, means that it needs to be held. The ritual, most fundamentally, names things in the name of the center; the disciplinary, most fundamentally, asks whether we point to the same things when we use those names. Maybe the juridical is there so that these fundamentally complementary practices don’t devour each other by invoking the name of the center in contrary ways. Historically and anthropologically, the juridical is there because the Big Man was there, and the sacral king was there, various forms of divinized imperial monarchs were there, and more recently the figures placed at the center to endlessly retry the king have been there. And because these figures have been there, others, like corporate CEOs, popes, presidents of universities, generals, and others have been there. If the problem of bureaucracy is the problem of the imperative gap, that’s another way of saying that it’s the problem of the disjunction between the occupied and signifying center, which I have been posing as the central problem for the originary hypothesis for several years now. And so the only encroachment upon of infiltration into bureaucracy I can proposed is that same conjunction of data security and singularized succession in perpetuity I have been hammering out: if you practice and demand from others a kind of cultic attention to succession, i.e., the continuity of your practices, including ensuring you have all the information required to guarantee succession, you will not eliminate bureaucracy or create a universally applicable formula for containing or controlling it; you will, rather, tilt the field in the favor of ruthlessness towards bureaucratic tendencies by forcing everyone in the institution to show themselves in the ways they have “sworn” to show themselves.
The ultra-loyalty and uncompromising search for data points implicit in this model might approximate rule by intelligence agency—which, it seems has become the universally feared and suspected mode of governance today but which can only criticized, much less resisted, by presupposing the possibility of the independence and robustness of the juridical. The juridical presupposes an uninfringable distribution of property and responsibilities that requires the protection of arbitration by those who refrain from making any claims on those properties and responsibilities themselves—which already presupposes considerable levels of deferral. The juridical holds at bay, or allows for hope of salvation from, terrible nightmares of rule by blackmail based on secrets acquired through any means necessary, above all the implication of targeted individuals in criminal, shameful, and especially, sexual, misdeeds. But only the existence of the juridical allows something like this to work—without courts, trials, prison, and the publicity that amplifies all these proceedings, how would the blackmail work? Otherwise, hostage taking would have to revert to older, cruder, grounds. So, you’d need juridical spaces free of such vulnerabilities to contest governance by extortion. For that matter, could democratic governance operate other than through extortion, even if not via these especially sordid means—what kind of “pressure” do “activist groups” and “special interests” apply other than to hit elected representatives (and their supporters) somewhere where it hurts? At a certain point those who could would stumble upon these more sordid and quicker methods. But maybe there’s hope at the other, more disciplinary end—with the possibility of deep fakes and other technologies that make visual, auditory and documentary evidence intrinsically questionable, couldn’t information gathered on individuals simply be denied by those individuals who, if they have not been sufficiently isolated, could always try to gather enough support to go on in the face of even the most discrediting accusations? What can count as “proof” even now, when large portions of the population disbelieve in events that for other portions serve as a bedrock of their political and historical theologies? All information is someone’s disinformation, so maybe governance by blackmail dies of its own over-saturation. The kind of governance by intelligence I’m suggesting here would therefore have to look significantly different, as it could only be intelligence that increases in verifiability and acceptance by proving itself capable of serving sovereign functionality for institutions and companies that can only continue exist, however questionably ethical their goals, if such sovereign functionality is maintained. This would include reliable knowledge of people and the institutions producing people just as much as knowledge of underwater cables or fluctuations in asset valuations or fragilities in governing institutions, all of which counts as data security. Even secrecy might become less important as more refined information will be temporally and spatially tagged information, thereby losing its usefulness quickly or not having any at all for those outside of the disciplinary space. As a result, we might find ourselves with restored juridical institutions, as such intelligent governance would return the juridical to its original function of delegating the resolution of disputes in which the higher levels of authority need not intervene.
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