Sunday, June 15, 2014

Zeitgeist (2007)

One thing I like very much about being a historian who has treated her own writing as a historical record, is that I can assess just how well I process the world as I pass through it.

I used to think that the careful archiving of my diaries, journals, blogs and emails was an affectation, a wish to leave a historical record of my thoughts to future historians.

It turns out that the use of that archive was going to be more personal, and the application of its lessons more contemporary, than I ever anticipated.

My history degree was supposed to stay history, but it didn’t.

Today I completed another step in this journey of history into reality by finally getting around to watching Zeitgeist.

The thing I find most interesting about Zeitgeist was the familiarity of the material; my historical and political studies sit exactly parallel to the thrust of the arguments in Zeitgeist, so I was comfortable with the broad ideas and the conclusions from them. All of the conclusions can be argued robustly, but the wider movement of world ideology is very strongly illustrated.

Setting the Scene

The first part of Zeitgeist was about religion, and as a Catholic-raised Medieval Literature major with a fondness for 5,000 years of myths being recycled through endless new retellings of old ideas, I didn’t bat an eyelid. Yes, there are only a few basic stories in the world, yes all the major (and minor religions) are more similar than they are different, yes, yes, it’s all storytelling, keep going ...

Towards the War on Terror

The second part of Zeitgeist was about the War on Terror, and again I felt at home in the context of the arguments because I have on record my own journey through the creation of the Governments that Rule by Fear.

In September 2001 I was in my third year of university and writing an essay on the Tampa crisis that allowed me to watch in real time what would, in hindsight, be the disintegration of the remains of the 20th Century into the 21st Century of the War on Terror.
The Tampa: Defining the threat of the other
This essay was written for a UWA History Unit in September 2001, so soon after September 11 that I referred to those events in their long format. I actually haven't had to change a word to publish it twelve years later in 2013, which is a sad state of affairs for Australian narrative on refugees.
I finished university, moved to London for two years, and until the July 7 bombings four weeks before I left London, I was completely uninterested in the politics of the War on Terror, enjoying only my long desired residence in my favourite country in the world.

The great catalyst for change in the months of July and August of 2005 was a simple string of events.

On July 6 I was offered a job in Sydney by the company I was working for in London. They would give me two weeks in Perth before requiring me to relocate to Sydney.

On July 7 I got off a Piccadilly Line tube carriage that was heading towards the bomb that had exploded ten minutes down the route between Kings Cross and Russell Square.

In shock I declined the job offer and went home a month later, finally part of the conversation about the War on Terror.
Prising the Greatest City on Earth from my Cold Dead Hands
Well, this post title was supposed to be used for my huge farewell love letter to London. It was going to contain all my sadness and reluctance to leave, all the things I love about London, all the things that I hated about London.
Being Afraid of Dying
Claire (24): I feel like I am in a f^£king Bruce Willis movie.
Tereza (20): You are really showing your age with that comment.

Away from the War on Terror

When home I secured a new job, a one bedroom apartment and the fastest internet connection of my life (I was being served by the commercial connection of the Beaufort Street/Walcott Street hub and I had unlimited downloads in 2005, it was a joy!) I also had no TV, so my information collection became borderless, confined only by the internet.

I had a blog of travel writing and a desire to go back to study, and so I am incredible proud to say that my first piece of writing on returning home was this one, six months before An Inconvenient Truth arrived on the scene.
The Good News Greenie
Last night I went to see one of Australia’s favourite popular scientific writers give a talk at UWA.
It would take over six months of daily interaction with the huge amount of sources that I followed before I was confident enough to start writing about politics, but even reading this piece now, I cannot see a sentence that could not have been written today.
Baby Steps
But most of all I nurtured a climate of openness in my mind. Not openness so that everything fell out, but openness so that everything ran through and each new day polished or rearranged or carried away or left behind an idea that would mean I learnt something from the flood of information that reached my brain each day.
I was able to utilise some very useful sources that allowed me to be in dialogue with some of the dissenting voices of the 2005/2008 era: 

One Good Move ensured a steady stream of The Daily Show, Real Time with Bill Maher and Countdown with Keith Olbermann
One Good Move
I got the link to One Good Move from the Blog column of The Big Issue, and I have to admit it is my essential US Politics reading each evening. I was tipped off to Stephen Colbert's now notorious address to the 2006 White House Correspondent's Association Dinner in one of the many political lectures I have been attending, and you can see it here.
Pandora’s Box
I know I am fond of wailing that knowing thyself and thy history is important, but history is not there to be repackaged to make yourself look clever at a dinner party! History is there to act as a cautionary tale - forward, forever forward is its mantra - I do not exist when I am looking back at myself obsessively, only myself when I am hurtling forward in hope.
Maths, Fluffy Subjects and the War on Terror
During work hours I deal with Civil Engineering students and academics; shear tests, torsion and suction caissons. In my lunch hours and after work I study History in Fantasy, Fantasy in History and Magic and Marvel in Early Narrative; consensus reality, subversive literature and radical ideology. In the dark hours of the night I keep an eye on the political opponents of the Bush Administration; comedians, cable TV commentators and Islamic scholars.
The Show with zeFrank provided me with very powerful commentary and with the platform he created for his listeners, I got some incredible feedback on my observations of American Politics
Real Life
My fondest piece of feedback was positive feedback. It is a piece of art forwarded to me by someone who read my American Politics writing through the Org, the artistic collective that sprung up around zeFrank’s The Show. a bomb nation entitled this image “let me out! - or - an explanation of why americans love clairemadeleine's blog" I will never forget his explanation for the image: He said that while he did not agree with my politics - he was a Republican and I most certainly was not - he found my spontaneous and untried analysis was free of the noise of the American Media, and gave him a clearer lines of discussion in the politics of his nation.
To top this all off, the TED Talks became available online in 2006, and I still have an enormous collection of them that I downloaded on my marvellous internet connection. Oh NBN, how wonderful you would have been ...

As I headed into my Honours year, I wrote the two pieces of which I am still incredibly proud. They were the jewels of my political writing until this year, and I am not sure I have yet recovered the humour with which these were written. In fact, I know that I have lost the innocent humour of them. That is what growing up does I guess.
Bear with a Head Cold
Just as my soapbox thought it was on holiday for two years as I prepare to write only for my honours thesis, I was gifted with the following annoying piece of written hokum in my inbox. All the senders that were listed on the forwarding addresses are friends, so I would like to preface this with a disclaimer: I am not arguing with anyone that sent it on, just the man who wrote the words and thought he had found the great truth of the 21st Century. Twat. Also, I am home sick with a head cold. Bear, sore head. You get the picture.
Bear with a Head Cold, Reprise
Second day at home sick, re-reading my post from yesterday, a little concerned that my 'humour'(?) may have been as logical as his 'facts', bored, bored, bored, I think I may have another crack at his ... what I would not like to flatter by calling writing, perhaps more a collection of words ..?
During my thesis year of 2007 I was able to write only one politically engaged piece of writing, although it is still a great conversation starter when confronted with a film buff.
One legacy of reading world news and a certain event between two airplanes and two New York Skyscrapers is that shadowy organizations have stepped into the sunlight, incubators are sending out their products and the hysterical killers are sanctioned. No Ludlum novel can out-spy, out-assassin and out-conspire the real world now, and I think that is the great strength of the movies.

Back to the beginning

And then, ladies and gentlemen, I spent a year with the darling of the neoliberals and fascists of the 20th Century. My thesis explored the transmitting of politics in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and my supervisor directed me towards the Political theorist who would prepare me for my future, the reluctant court philosopher of the Nazis and democracy's most dangerous critic, Carl Schmitt.
Sovereignty in The Book of the New Sun
The sovereignty personified by Severian in The Book of the New Sun is of Wolfe’s own creation, but it can be placed in direct comparison to political theory in the world outside of the text, particularly aspects of Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. The historical record influences and is influenced by political theory, and Schmitt is acknowledged in the western political tradition as the twentieth century’s foremost critic of liberal democratic thought, despite a high-profile collaboration with the Third Reich that resulted in long repudiation of his writing in political circles. This lack of engagement with Schmitt was only overcome in the last three decades with growing numbers of authors translating and discussing his work. One of the most prevalent justifications for rehabilitating Schmitt is best summed up by David Dyzenhaus who asserts that 'echoes of the main themes of Schmitt's work, and in particular of his critiques of liberalism, can be found today in political philosophy and, to an increasing extent, in popular thought.’ This thesis proposes that one such example of Schmittian presence in popular thought is the critique of liberal democracy embedded deep within The Book of the New Sun.
I doubt many readers will be interested in reading the entire thesis, but the introduction and conclusion will do nicely for the illustration of this narrative.

The most important result of my thesis of 2007 is that I am very familiar with the ideologies of a very specific set of 20th Century men:

Legally Trained
I found the mention of Carl Schmitt at the one hour point of Zeitgeist very interesting, for Schmitt was not translated into English until the Eighties, and the American Political philosopher Madison is much better known for very similar ideologies.
The writings of Carl Schmitt form what is arguably the most disconcerting, original and yet still unfamiliar body of twentieth-century political thought. In the English-speaking world he is terra incognita, a name redolent of Nazism, the author of a largely untranslated oeuvre of short texts forming no system, coming to us from a disturbing place and time in the form of scrambled fragments.
G. Balakrishnan, The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt, London, Verso, 2000, p. 1
I am very glad that Schmitt is being mentioned in America, but it is essential for him to be read in Australia at this moment in our political history.
Political Theology
by Carl Schmitt (Google Books)
Political Theology is interpreted by commentators as a ‘theologically conceived, counter-revolutionary philosophy of history' concerned with the significance of the 'state of emergency' as a constitutional problem from which Schmitt believed ‘it was not longer possible to insulate the legal system.' Political Theology was written in 1922 out of a profound feeling that the legal system was stagnating, that it could not move as swiftly as was needed to follow the 'conflict over substantive political questions' and that legal rationality was incompatible with the political reality of the current European state.
The Concept of the Political
by Carl Schmitt (Google Books)
The Concept of the Political, written in 1926, went on to rehabilitate the ‘classic’ ideas of the state, the current European State misunderstanding the meaning of classical politics. It is Schmitt’s concept of the ‘friend-enemy’ relationship however that made The Concept of the Political and Carl Schmitt both famous and infamous, and it is of interest for the central idea that the ‘friend-enemy’ relationship is not private enmity but the core of the political state and political interactions within the state.

New World Order

Zeitgeist then tackled the structures of the Central Banks, and having lived through the Global Financial Crisis while working for a Saudi and Kuwati Oil & Gas company, I recognised all the information that I had picked up from my Saudi bosses and the incredibly educated Egyptians, British and Indian engineers I worked with. The best way to see the West is to look at it from the other side, after all.
It pulls me in, you know?
And then there was the book he lent me as the world watched the Obama and Clinton nomination race, as the Egyptian mathematician crunched the Electoral College numbers for me each day, as I had discussions on the difference between the Bible and the Qur’an in the corridors with my workmates.
I did note that the very last part of the documentary, which discussed some ‘plans’ for the population of the USA and the world to do with electronics in 2008, was particularly well served by a quick Google search. When watching that section, be sure to bear in mind that the iPhone was launched in June 2007. You can force electronics on people, or you can let them desire, secure, finance and upgrade it themselves; I know which force a capitalist likes more!

And finally, at the one hour thirty five mark is the mention of an event in Basra regarding two British SAS soldiers. I have just finished the book Equal Justice, written by the Perth-born Army lawyer who was sent into the Iraqi jail to rescue those two men. The full story of that incident is a lot more complicated than it first appears; and Rabia Siddique’s recounting of that story does not make the inclusion of the incident in Zeitgeist any less interesting.
Complete Original '07 Zeitgeist With 2010 Updates by: Peter Joseph

Zeitgeist Source Guide
There are two more Zeitgeist movies to go, and I am looking forward to seeing what they say. My own political writing stops in 2008 and does not reappear again until 2013, so I imagine that much could change the parallel journey of Peter Joseph and I.
Fighting Winter with Summer
I credit the 1% with being fully aware of the impending water and energy conflicts, and it is clear from their actions that they are taking the requisite steps to survive while preventing the population from taking the same steps. Unfortunately their pride and entitlement will never allow them to consider the fact that their place in the 1% means nothing to the environment. Water and energy do not obey, and never have obeyed, the forces of nations, economies and capitalism.
Anyone who thinks they can argue for 21st Century Climate Aware action with 20th Century Climate Ignorant ideologies is going to be pulled back into historical patterns of conflict and paralysis, which is exactly where the Government and their corporate partners want their population.
A definition of madness
Systems are just tools, they should react and change with the user, but our systems are not changing with the population that use them, as evident by under-representation of varied proportions of our population in almost every area of public and private life. The systems are wrong, not the diversity of the population trying to use them.
Ask for me tomorrow
The current Australian Government makes announcements that destabilise the news cycle, and these announcements come in two forms:

1. An outrageous suggestion designed to let opponents react with scorn and satire, but neither suggestion nor satire achieves anything but noise, and a false sense of protest for those who did not vote for this current Australian Government.

2. A very real threat that opponents cannot ignore, but is sure to be withdrawn or watered down once it has short circuited the news cycle and wasted the time and resources of those who did not vote for this current Australian Government.

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