Just finished reading Alan Badiou’s Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Instead of reviewing or giving a synopsis of the book, there are some interesting reflections in the essay on the current political environment that plays on ethics.
Ethics is for Badiou in contemporary dialogue evil in that it comes across as ‘disinterested interest’. In other words, ethics wears a cloak of tolerance, of creating stability, of treatment as the other as equal. It is disinterested in that it takes such notions as objective, as something akin to the law that operates according to a higher power. Ethics, sees Badiou, as emanating from a theological notion, of expected behaviour according to the will of the divine. In imposing then a standardised code of ethics, one is imposing a fabricated truth, a truth that seeks to create a universal human subject. How different, we might wonder is the current war in Syria against IS, to that of colonialism or of the Crusades? The question he is posing is what furnishes the consensus for the current war but ethics.
Ethics take an objective stance. It operates with the guise of objective disinterest. It is seemingly rational, coded according to the law that privileges the behaviour of the interventionist (in this case). Ethics sees the human being as inherently weak, in need of protection. It thinks of itself kindly as a protector especially in regard to the idea that humans mostly need protection from themselves. It brandishes its power against those that it perceives infringe on the rights that ethics itself has given man. Human Rights for example is a code of ethics, given according to an objective legal standpoint that writes in law a universal code to be met in order to be considered a dignified human being. It is not so much a Catholic priest preaching on the alter but a Salvation Army member giving shelter in return for the good book being read. When the objective standard of ethics is reached, so to does man rise to his dignity as human. This is the theological aspect of ethics, the objective stance.
“The Law… regulates judgements and opinions concerning evil that happens in some variable elsewhere. But there is no question of reconsidering the foundation of this ‘Law’, of going right back to the conservative identity that sustains it.”
The variable is incredibly important for Badiou, that there are multiple upon multiples of difference and within these multiples many multiples more. That variable ensures that one standpoint according to a rigid ‘objective’ ethical standpoint can never understand the multiplicities inherent in this variable ‘elsewhere’. This belief in the ‘objective’ standpoint isa quasi religious belief in the creator that invested divinity in such a stance and thus the upholders of ethics have the power to carry out their stance with as much power as they desire while still being in public opinion on the side of the good.
We can see how the current war in Syria is daily co-ordinating social discourse in Europe. One just need look at this image below to see the ethical standpoint of protection (in this case the vulnerable white and pure woman against the black and evil other) as it informs discourse in the German media.
All Muslims, not only refugees, all those others are being demarcated as evil. Instead as Badiou would insist should happen is recognising the multiplicities and going from there, there is a singular response one that demarcates those that are not the same as us as violating that which makes us us i.e. our morals, our ethics. This is again where the conservative stance begins to assert itself, by recognising its own political interest in the event and creating a consensus within the reaction.
Something similar occurred in Britain yesterday with David Cameron stating,
“I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he told BBC radio. “But if you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message.”
Cameron sums up Badiou’s argument in a nutshell implicating that an identity out of that which is set by power, something as innocuous as speaking Arabic, Persian etc is associate with evil. And on a side note, as the British Imperial State know as well as anybody else, is that engaging in cultural genocide in alienating a people from their language makes them more susceptible to their own manner of subject formation. In the imposition of an identity, the flux that configures every single person’s innate nature is stabilised. Perhaps this is what makes the late and great David Bowie such an illustrious example of Badiou’s philosophy but more of that on a later post.