The Lacanian flavour of Dr. Who

The first in a two part series of Dr. Who appeared on BBC1 a moment ago, in which David Tennant manages somehow (who knows) to morph into floppy-haired Matt Smith. Who, here, is met with his old nemesis the Master (John Simm), born again, for Christmas day.

The subject for the episode, and the next, is the end of the world, and I did pick out some rather interesting philosophical elements there, Hegelian in nature too. But it had little to do with Ends, or rather the Hegelian End of History, popularly utilised by Marx and more recently Francis Fukuyama. It had nothing to do with any Christian eschatology – the notion that John Gray manages to utilise as his impetus for conflating radical politics with religious End Time – but actually something more substantial in Hegel’s work, namely the Master.

Without further ado, there is a strict Lacanian correlative in the Hegelian Master, one that needs to be discussed outright in order to emphasise the relevance with which the Master (Dr Who character) has with the Hegelian Master. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the analyst has to conduct himself in such a way as to aim to reveal the analysand’s fantasy, and the way in which to do this is not to act as the absolute knowledge – even though, generally, the analyst is, at least in a clinical context, in other words the analyst has to act as a passive observer, not as the strong knowledge base against the weak, passivity of the analysand. Once this “recongition” of roles has taken place, the revealing of the fantasy can begin, and the ends of psychoanalysis can at least begin to come to fruition.

Now what is significant about the analyst, or master, in this sense? Slavoj Zizek words it thus: he [the analyst] renounces all enforcing (forçage) of reality and, fully aware that the actual is in already itself rational, adopt the stance of a passive observer who does not intervene directly into the content

This is to say that he creates the conditions for which the analysand is said to be most comfortable at revealing, the conduct of the analyst sets this mood as such. Paradoxically, the analyst creates a condition for which s/he is not allowed to direct the flowing or revealing of the analysand, by conducting his or herself in such a manner, the analyst allows for analysand revealing.

What other familiar words could be used to explain the conduct of the analyst? Perhaps a kind of conscious disavowal. The analyst could, if s/he had an agenda or an ax to grind, force the analysand to say what s/he wanted to hear from them, you can imagine it now in a kind of parody, an analyst hearing from the analysand “well, when I was growing up, life was very hard” to which the analyst with their agenda replies “so, your faced severe problems with your Father figure” – this is not the conduct of the Lacanian analyst. But what is further to this conscious disavowal? That the analyst has to not display their similarities to the analysand – this would, too, not be the correct conduct. But why? The analyst, or in this case the Master, is no different, and let us remember the true Hegelian root of this in the Master/Slave dialectic; the Master is only such because the slave recognises this, the slave, also, is only such because the Master recognises this, and in this recongition, and acknowledgement, the two binary codes persist in human ontology.

So if the analyst, or Master, is no different in constitution from the analysand or slave, what does this reveal? That both are constituted equal, in the mirror – as Lacan’s early work would dictate. But, for Lacan, how is the subject constituted? Put simply, as a split subject. More specifically, subjectivity, for Lacan, is born of two things, truth and knowledge; simply put, the truth of something is what exists even in spite of our subjective awareness of it, so, for example, a transcendent God might exist, because of the conditions of its being, the limits in knowledge that a person can have of something that is constitutionally transcendent, renders the truth-realm of it to be unknowable. And this defines knowledge, in the Lacanian sense, which is this proximity to our limits in knowledge. The split, therefore, is in experiencing what Lacan calls the Real – what goes beyond our knowing of something – and knowledge – characterised as that which we can plausibly know.

Further, the subject is a constant bargaining between being-for-others and being the cause of their being. Simply, the subject is both defined by its contrast to an object, and the task of rendering itself a subject, or making oneself an individual, thinking for oneself, choosing for oneself etc. It is these conditions that render the subject in a constant state of split. So, to bring us back to our point, the Master in Dr. Who, becomes everyone – it is quite simply just him – it is, in the strictest Lacanian sense, never just him, because he is always split. The episode, therefore, has stayed true to a Lacanian core: The Master is always a split subject, defined in turn by the other. On this basis, I predict that the next episode will reveal Dr Who and his cohorts defeating the evil, and clearly deluded, Master race.

Should France ban the burqa?

Policymakers are in a constant battle with trying to introduce what they feel is morally right and politically legitimate, while compromising over whether something is enforceable or not. Whether something is right or wrong, and in spite of its urgency, policies might be forced to yield to the loudest voices. We cannot scorn at this fact, this is part of the liberal democratic package, it’s what has been fought for and it’s what most of us feel is the correct mode of political operation. But in the next month, and in recent times, Islam itself will be the force fighting for concession, especially in France where women could be banned from wearing the full Islamic veil in public.

Indeed it has been this notion of compromise and enforcement that has engendered most of the criticism aimed at Sarkozy and the ruling UMP. Rumbold, in a piece for pickled politics, has rightly said that

Enforcing such a ban would be hard. Would we have police ripping off women’s clothes if their faces were covered? Pregnant women and young mothers put behind bars for repeatedly defying the ban? Would anyone who covered their face up be breaking the law?

As we can see, for Rumbold it is not as simple as detailing who exactly is eligible to be vilified were this new law, to be submitted to parliament early next year, be passed – if it were so then extended rigidity of the law would be the answer – but rather questions on how the police would operate, what would be their limits, and what would be the women’s human rights are raised.

Those of us who are not instrumental in policy have a far easier ride in many ways; we can question whether the banning of the burqa is legitimate with little concern for their practical application, and our ideas – so far as we are strong headed about them – need not come into compromise with others’. On this basis I shall explain why I despise burqa’s, but am against the banning of them. In doing this I will largely ignore whether my ideas are enforceable, because for me whether something is right or wrong transcends the problems it might be met with in trying to apply them. Freedom should not be compromised by people with ideas to the contrary.

France has been trying to ban the burqa for many years now, using its obedience to the ideas of the republic, liberty and equality, as justification. But a full ban has been met with many setbacks. It was originally believed that in the scheme of things France was immune from Islamic-led criticism, especially in the early stages of the Iraq war, which French forces declined to take part in. The imagined respect that the French felt they had saw many American and British journalists “pretending they [were] French when they [stepped] into hot spots,” according to Georges Malbrunot, a French journalist working for Le Figaro. Days later, that particular journalist was kidnapped by a group of Wahabbi fundamentalists, calling for the ban on headscarfs in public schools to be repealed, to which Chirac responded with a resounding non, shortly before a show of solidarity with French Muslims, showing how all religions could operate freely inside the republic, albeit privately. This was a huge step for those who supported the ban, but Sarkozy’s great leap has been more punctuated, turning from a full ban to a ban in public places, with grievances from the European Court of Human Rights to boot.

Nevertheless the burqa remains a tool for submission. But how this submission is identified remains a wider problem. Last year France denied a Moroccan woman citizenship for her incompatibility to French values, particularly equality of the sexes. Further details saw that the woman, known as Faiza M., had lived in France since 2000 with her husband and three children all of whom were born in France, though social services reported that she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Reports of her incompatible radical politics were subsequently quashed. So what made her incompatible? At first it would seem too extraordinary that the reason she was incompatible to French values was because she was the human embodiment of inequality. But wouldn’t this show cowardice on the part of the French government for not vilifying the oppressor? Of course it would, and it is this precise reason that the French government has chosen to pick on the oppressed and not the oppressor, cowardice. French philosopher Alain Badiou said of burqa banning in 2004:

Grandiose causes need new-style arguments. For example: hijab must be banned; it is a sign of male power (the father or eldest brother) over young girls or women. So, we’ll banish the women who obstinately wear it. Basically put: these girls or women are oppressed. Hence, they shall be punished. It’s a little like saying: “This woman has been raped: throw her in jail.”

Most would recognise that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and therefore, morally, there is no reason on this world to extend respect for it, but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this dilemma that should be put to the French parliament early next year.

Tom Harris, the sacked Christian teacher, violence and bullying

There is a most apt illustration of what violence means to Slavoj Zizek in recent news, regarding the supply teacher who was sacked after telling as child that she’d pray for them to resume health. First, a reminder of Zizek’s thesis on violence:

Early in 2008, philosopher Slavoj Žižek published a book entitled Violence: Six Sideways Reflections in which he aims to describe the differences between the violence we might see on the news in the form of thuggery and the violence incurred by the workings of the rogue bankers tweaking the economy. The difference, for Žižek, is the difference between “subjective” and “objective” violence. That is to say, “subjective” violence is the perceptibly obvious violence seen on the streets in the form of “crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict” whereas “objective” violence is the unseen form of violence that takes the form of either the “symbolic” (bound in language and its forms), or the “systemic” (the catastrophic consequences of our economy when it is functioning as normal). The very notion that this objective violence is unseen sustains the level with which we perceive something as subjectively violent.

Bearing in mind the campaign used by Dawkins et al to assert that to call a child religious is akin to labelling a child Marxist or existentialist, thus linked to abuse, Bullying UK CEO John Carnell said of the matter:

Bullying is completely the wrong word to use here, it certainly isn’t that. We get thousands of emails a year from children who are being viciously attacked at school, cyber bullied and who are also being harassed in the community. That’s bullying.

It’s clear. The benchmark Carnell is using here to perceive violence has been obfuscated by the perceptibly obvious violence, he has forgotten the level of violence at a symbolic level – the violence of words. In this instance however, the supply teacher was trying to do good, but his appeal to prayer was not sensitive the child – namely that the power of prayer is illusory.

Tom Harris MP yesterday scorned left wing bloggers for not sticking up for the poor man: “Why must we allow the right wing to claim that white, middle class Christians are the only minority group in the country that the Left don’t give a damn about?” (it was a wrong accusation he later found out) True in one sense, that people should not be vilified for what they believe, and though there should never be any pretence that prayer can safeguard health, the teacher’s intentions were not vicious (and during the investigation of course intention should be considered). But this mattered less to me, than a comment Tom Harris had made in reply in the comments thread to someone who had said:

“Would it be bullying for an atheist nurse to explain to a Christian child that there is no God, and there are no miracles?”

It would certainly be very crass and insensitive. Perhaps you would think it okay to tell a young child that there’s no Santa Claus?

Theoretically, for matters of certainty, nobody should say for certain what is and is not up there and sensitivity should be bestowed upon children who are currently information processing for themselves as best they can, but what seems to be the case with Harris is that illusion is ok. If he’d had left it with where he stood on the prayer issue, we could simply say he was a Christian promoting values he feels are Christian, but why does he then say it is insensitive to say there is no Santa. Unless he believes in Santa himself (which I’m sure he doesn’t) then this can only be because he thinks illusion is necessary – and it is not controversial, is this not why the myth of Santa persists, so as to promote sapience to children through illusion. Though, further, he illustrates Santa during a debate on the God question, therefore it is hard not to interpret this as Harris saying illusion of whatever stripe (Christian, Christmas etc) serves a positive purpose. What worries me initially is where this ends? At what point do we stop appealing to illusion with kids, when can it harm them? Perhaps Harris can inform us of the wider philosophical elements of his claim, and his likening of Christmas illusion to Christian illusion. I’ll wait for that, but in the meantime here’s a picture of a snowman:

Sure Start in the Recession

The public sector – through whatever fault, Lehman Brothers, state getting too big, decide amongst yourselves – will have to make tremendous cuts. We can (and will) pour scorn on George Osborne for being in the party of VAT raising, only to fund inheritance tax exemption for 3,000 of the richest estates, but for the moment severe cuts is our lot. This among other things, has spurred on calls for creativity and ingenuity in commission services, so as to implement the soundest interventions, make best of what existing resources are already available, and not make recession a regression in productivity (or something along those lines).

Children’s Services is no different matter. In-keeping with the Action for Children/NEF document Backing the Future, though we realise public spending will have to be curbed, it is still very wise to carry on spending in the correct, carefully targeted, areas. Investment in children – even in spite of the economic climate – is a must, particularly if uncertainty about double dips (and who knows what else) consume commissioning services.

One example of this kind of thinking can be found in health and social care services, where realistic approaches to how the recession will affect mental health have been met with the further understanding that the services themselves are not immune to economic breakdown. For better or for worse, in an attempt to save money the government has already planned to make best use of existing services, with the intention of cutting waste and coordinating planning, is to merge health and social care commissioning functions. In a white paper, due to be published in the new year, consideration will be made for all social care funding to be delegated to Primary Care Trusts, rather than rolling out to local authorities, to avoid the “shunt” of costs from “NHS to local government and vice versa.”

The Backing the Future report also notes how important investing in targeted interventions are (which report doesn’t), and this has also been repeated in the pre-budget report for the DCSF, which have been requested to cut £350 million in order to save. Plans are underway for the money to come from central budgets, non-departmental public body efficiencies – or quangos, such as the Children’s Workforce Development Council, Children’s Commissioner and family courts body Cafcass – and will entail a review of current pilot schemes to concentrate on what interventions are actually working, as well as cut downs on consultancy work where unnecessary. To reiterate, we are looking at savings by merges and curbing interventions that are not securing results, providing the price is right.

A demos report on parenting entitled Building Character took note of Sure Start in the section on policy directions. It said that where Sure Start once had a ‘Children’s Centre’ model, it has slowly over time developed into an ‘arm’ of the welfare state by emphasising “getting mothers into work” and spotlighting teenage years, rather than focusing on early years and early interventions. The report aims not to denigrate such noble input, but simply – on account of best practice and best use of resources – to point out there is both a strategic risk of losing focus, but also economic dangers in doing the job – and undercutting the vision – of already existing work in this field. Demos identified the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) as a programme that has its focus in targeting “parents most likely to need support in their parenting [for example] teenage mothers.” Additionally, the report found “evidence for a strong link between low income parents and lower confidence when it comes to parenting” thus presenting the case that the NFP could place further emphasis in its existing role to tackle low aspirations among vulnerable parents, especially suited it is to do this given that the scheme was launched as a “government drive to drive against social exclusion.”

Merging initiatives has its merits, provided they guard jobs and secure value, and keeping interventions that protect returns is the sine qua non of the public sector, but in this tight squeeze – thanks no less to a culture of excess and risk – if we could match interventions that stand up with avoiding remit overlapping the finances in the public sector would surely fare better.

Beat the gag on the BBC

Doing my bit against gags and censors

And see here for what the BBC’s page on the matter did look like

Well done to leftoutside for doing the legwork for this attempt at online participation democracy – FOI is not something that should be decided by capital.

The internet: site of change, or more of the same?

Last night I attended a Demos event that should have included technocrats – like Tom Watson, present – and technophobes (according to the chair James Crabtree of Prospect) but instead factions were born from it, namely technorealists and technohaters. Typical techinal debates, with their technical language. It coincided with a article by one Evgeny Morozov, Yahoo Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, who has made a name for himself worrying about how the internet, not only will not cause the big revolution people claim it will in repressive regimes such as North Korea, China and Iran (the former being an example of an authoritarian dictatorship that is not embarrassed by its modus operandi, Russia being an example of a country that is embarrassed, and thus tries to conceal, that same modus operandi) but it can be easily picked up by equally unpalatable voices – who seem to be very good at it as well, exemplifying the Muslim Brotherhood.

By not answering how the internet enacts or erupts freedom in less than liberal countries does answer a question very much discussed in the event tonight; that being whether the internet is free. Is the internet – for it not to be accepted by communist regimes in the Asian continent or in Islamofascist nations – an indicator of a free country? Well, my answer to this is that it is an idicator to a form of country, but certainly not a free one. In short, why political blogging appealed to me, was because impartiality or independence were very much the order of the day, and even if I chose to wear political colours, I could still operate with freedom. I soon realised that the political blogging hegemons were just as tied – if not more so – to the Westminster villiage – which was on the topic tonight – as either lobby journos or party activists, albeit, not in a usual way. It was said at the time of the Andy Coulson affair that lobby journalists chose to stand off a bit – until it was impossible to do so through hype – because he, being a media oik in the tory party, would have vital information that he might withhold from a blacklisted newspaper, especially given that Coulson might be in charge of what is to be distrubuted to media outlets as an incumbent with an – then (not now) – almost definite Conservative win in the next general election. Blogging was supposed to be the way out of this, but of course the spin emerging out of the blogging hegemons – notably Tories, you can guess who I mean – proved otherwise.

What political blogging proved was that, like democracy, the landscape was democratic, so individuals did not have to be – which is fine. The internet itself is a canvas that has no choice but to play host to the unpalatable, but as a consequence freedom is not what is on offer, any more than simple democracy is freedom (freedom still has to be sought after, often successfully, often not). The blogosphere, and the internet itself, is only free inasmuch as democracy is free, in that it has to allow – by definition – elements that do not have freedom as their objective. And often this is not through conscious effot. I’ve no doubt the blogging hegemons have not set out to cause harm – nor do they on any physical level – or replicate the power relations that exist in a free society – by which is always meant free, so you can operate otherwise (a good government is one which recognises where and when this element can be allowed to operate without causing damage) – but nonetheless this is the reality.

The internet may cause hope for those under dictatorships (whether rightly or wrongly), and with it being censored so much is probably testament to the fact that it replicates freedoms not bestowed parts of the world. But what must be accepted, at the same time, is that the internet replicates freedom by reformatting the power relations at play in world 1.0. Will democracy be given a boost by the internet revolution? What is the meaning of the word revolution when used in this sense, I ask. It means reformulation of the same, it means a re-format, and therefore loses its real meaning or risks obscuring its real meaning. The site of of the power relations has changed, but the internet will not cause the political process to alter – only reinforce the ongoing mode of ideology.

This conclusion should by no means should be unsettling. The internet will change the landscape, and can be altered with much the same precision as real life (that of dimantling power relations at the top), but we should not allow ourselves to be consumed by this argument that that change has already arrived.

As for which basket I will lay my eggs in? I’m somewhere between technorealist and technophile – the general consensus really. Typical.

Tories wrong on Darling’s election tactic

Much of the week’s events – and day-to-day functioning of finances – has been measured by the pre-budget report. Darling’s point that there is evidence to suggest confidence is growing, in house prices both in the UK and the US, as well as the assurances in the manufacturing industry and therefore gross domestic product, is also what informs Darling that growth will return within the next two years (1-1.5% in 2010 and 3.5% in 2011-12).

There seems to be no reason to doubt that he might believe this, on the notion that confidence is evident, and for this reason the opposition’s charge that Darling’s plan for the tax relief of carers, for example, is all strategic is categorically erroneous. The charge has stemmed from the matter of Darling planning to drop these tax reliefs after the election, if indeed that takes place after April. However, the relief – and other measures for the lesser off – is with the intention to help families when the economy is contracting, and, as Darling predicts, when the economy is on the grow, taxes can be levelled again.

Personally, with this, I would like to see city bonuses capped at a price that afforded the worst off to be protected in line with inflation over the next 4 years (benefits were only at 1.5%, and given that inflation is estimated at 3% without the benefit being linked with inflation, this is a problem that needs to be solved – and soon), but I’m able to hold this judgement without thinking that Darling is holding the poorer electorate to ransom.

I would throw the charge back at the Tories. To say that relief for the lower economic scale is merely tactical, is to miss the point, and to block out the predictions such a move by the chancellor is congruent with. It might also be testament to the fact that the Tories had taken their eye of fairness for those to whom the economic breakdown will affect the most. Further, it could show that the Tories are pulling their “don’t trust a labour government with your money” moves, because their support base has, and is, dropping considerably.