Metaphysical nonsense

September 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm (History, Oh the humanities!)

Mao Zedong – “Idealism and metaphysics require the least effort, as they allow people to say whatever they want to say. They are not based on objective reality, and objective reality cannot falsify them.” (1955)

Alain Badiou, philosopher and Maoist – “Our epoch is most certainly the epoch of rupture, in light of all that Lacoue–Labarthe has shown to depend on the motive of mimesis. One of the forms of this motive which explicitly attaches truth to imitation is to conceive of truth as a relation, a relation of appropriateness between the intellect and the thing intellected. A relation of adequation which always supposes, as Heidegger very well understood, the truth to be localizable in the form of a proposition. Modern philosophy is a criticism of truth as adequation. Truth is not limited to the form of judgment. Heidegger suggests that it is a historic destiny. I will start from the following idea: Truth is first of all something new. What transmits, what repeats, we shall call knowledge. Distinguishing truth from knowledge is essential. It is a distinction already made in the work of Kant, between reason and understanding, and it is as you know a capital distinction for Heidegger, who distinguishes truth as aletheia, and understanding as cognition, science, techne. Aletheia is always properly a beginning. Techne is always a continuation, an application, a repetition. It is the reason why Heidegger says that the poet of truth is always the poet of a sort of morning of the world. I quote Heidegger: ‘The poet always speaks as if the being was expressed for the first time.’ If all truth is something new, what is the essential philosophic problem pertaining to truth? It is the problem of its appearance and its becoming. Truth must be submitted to thought not as judgment or proposition but as a process in the real. This schema represents the becoming of a truth. The aim of my talk is only to explain the schema. For the process of truth to begin, something must happen. Knowledge as such only gives us repetition, it is concerned only with what already is. For truth to affirm its newness, there must be a supplement. This supplement is committed to chance—it is unpredictable, incalculable, it is beyond what it is. I call it an event. A truth appears in its newness because an eventful supplement interrupts repetition. Examples: The appearance, with Aeschylus, of theatrical tragedy. The eruption, with Galileo, of mathematical physics. An amorous encounter which changes a whole life. Or the French revolution of 1792. An event is linked to the notion of the undecidable. Take the sentence ‘This event belongs to the situation.’ If you can, using the rules of established knowledge, decide that this sentence is true or false, the event will not be an event. It will be calculable within the situation. Nothing permits us to say ‘Here begins the truth.’ A wager will have to be made. This is why the truth begins with an axiom of truth. It begins with a decision, a decision to say that the event has taken place. The fact that the event is undecidable imposes the constraint that the subject of the event must appear. Such a subject is constituted by a sentence in the form of a wager: this sentence is as follows. ‘This has taken place, which I can neither calculate nor demonstrate, but to which I shall be faithful.’ A subject begins with what fixes an undecidable event because it takes a chance of deciding it. This begins the infinite procedure of…
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July 1st in Hong Kong

July 2, 2011 at 8:19 am (History, Personal experiences, Politics)

July 1st is an important date in Hong Kong for two main reasons: it is the day when the sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, thus leading to the creation of the Hong Kong SAR government; and it also happens to be the day when the the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921.

During July 1st, the pan-democracy camp in Hong Kong organizes a march to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong; while the pro-Beijing camp celebrates the anniversary of the CPC. Every year on this date an interesting sign of social division occurs: the sons and daughters of every family leave to march on the streets, while their grandparents stay in their homes humming along with the red anthems on TV.

Yesterday, I joined half a dozen of my ex-schoolmates in the annual march, which turned out to be one of the largest that Hong Kong has ever seen. According to the organizers, around 218,000 people turned out at Victoria Park in the afternoon; the police claim that the number is closer to 54,000. At any rate, this is the largest march Hong Kong has seen since 2003-2004, during the last two years of the extremely unpopular Tung Chee Hwa administration.

The 2011 July 1st march in Hong Kong, at the front

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Signs of Power

June 22, 2011 at 3:02 am (History, Politics)

In history and in international relations, one commonly speaks in terms of the power of a particular country, institution, or group of peopleIt is an intuitive concept that is not meant to be defined clearly, and academics have came up with numerous ways to “measure” power: economic strength, military might, diplomatic relations, and so on. It is very often in dispute which of these criteria are important or relevant; one particular problem is that the process from which we decide these criteria is tainted by power as well.

There are some trivial things like naming and symbolism which, I think, can serve as relatively neutral indicators of the balance of power. Here is an example: There are three common names for the nation that we refer to in English as “Korea”: Chosen/Joseon (朝鮮)[1], Han (韓), and Goguryeo/Goryeo (高句麗/高麗). None of these three are considered standard. This is quite unusual. – for example, while the Chinese ethnicity refer to themselves by various names such as Tang (唐) and Hua (華), the name Han (漢) is generally considered standard. There is no such agreement for the Korean name, however.

This eventually became a problem: For various historical, geographic and political reasons, after the Second World War and the division of Korea, North Korea decided to name itself after Chosen, as 「朝鮮民主主義人民共和國」 (Chosen Democratic People’s Republic, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea); while South Korea decided to name itself after Han, as 「大韓民國」 (Great Han Republic, officially known as the Republic of Korea).[2]
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