Here’s another re-run:
There is no guest this week as Benjamin and I discuss Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit focussing on Hegel’s ideas about reason and organic life while pointing to the movies Bedazzled (a comedy starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and Frankenstein to help us understand.
I want to thank everyone who is a regular donor to Diet Soap and to thank everyone who regularly participates in the Philosophy workshop. I didn’t receive any individual donations last week, but I did receive help from my regular subscribers. If you’d like to donate or subscribe to the podcast the buttons are at dietsoap.podomatic.com and at douglaslain.com. Donations of $6 or more in the US or $15 internationally will receive a copy of my book “Pick Your Battle.” Also, if you’d rather not receive a copy of “Pick Your Battle” you can get on the list for a copy of “The Doom that Came to LOLcats” which is a novella due out from Eraserhead press this year.
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Again, this week is another Hegel podcast with my son Benjamin. Next week we’ll hear from the journalist Margaret Kimberley, and I have conversations with Daniel Coffeen, Jason Horsley, Bradley Sands, and many others in the hopper. The music you’re listening to is the Vitamin String Quartet’s cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, but in just a moment you’ll be listening to my son Benjamin and I discuss Hegel’s Reason.
Unrelated Essay: Star Trek, Pong, and Class Struggle
One question that came out of John Scalzi’s apt blog post “Straight, White, Male: The Easiest Difficulty Level There Is” is this one:
“How might we understand the idea of class through video games?”
That is, if using the analogy of an RPG video game can help white male nerds understand institutionalized racism and white privilege, it’s also possible that video games might help nerds of every gender and race understand the concept of class structure and class struggle.
In Adam Curtis’s documentary “All Watched Over by Machine’s of Loving Grace” the filmmaker interviewed Loren Carpenter about his 1991 experiment using the game Pong to inspire mass collaboration. In the interview Carpenter explains how a group of 5000 people spontaneously figured out how to collaborate to play pong on a giant screen. The collaborating crowd spontaneously figured out how to cooperate with a minimum amount of communication and no hierarchal structures of power; there were no overt directions nor any chain of command, but the crowd was able to figure out how to collectively move the paddles on the big screen and keep the ball bouncing back and forth. They learned how to run a flight simulator game collectively, and how to solve the variety of other puzzles put to them. They worked together each time in a completely egalitarian way and as a mass.
This is a rerun a conversation with my son Benjamin about a video game that I think illustrates our Late Capitalist dilemma. I’m reposting this because Ashley Frawley mentioned it was particularly useful. The game is called the Stanley Parable and the concept the game may illustrate is that of a Totality.
Here’s some writing to go along with the podcast.
How to Understand a Totality?
Totality as a Goal
Radiohead’s 1995 hit Fake Plastic Trees is a song about longing after a reality that has already disappeared.
She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run
Now we live in a world where these lines about “the real thing” evoke an advertisement for a soda pop much more than they evoke thoughts about philosophy. In 1969 the Coca-Cola corporation replaced its “Things Go Better With Coke” campaign with the slogan “It’s the Real Thing,” and since then the real thing has been associated with soda pop. In a way reality was replaced by sugar water.
This is the dilemma that we have. How can we create a harmonic, balanced, and real society now that reality has disappeared and been replaced with fizzy sugar water?
Maybe we should take a look at what we’re after. What is the real thing? I’d like to suggest that it is a Totality or the idea of a natural social world. Finding the real thing, our true selves, isn’t a matter of just looking, but also means doing some rearranging. To find the Totality we have to put everything in its right place including ourselves and each other. It’s a matter of shifting where we stand and how we act towards one another, because we ourselves are already merely the result of the social order. The philosopher Aristotle said something like this when he argued that the city-state is naturally prior to the individuals in it, because individuals cannot perform their natural functions apart from the city-state, since individuals are not self-sufficient.
What we are after is a harmonic totality, a way to be in the right place, but we’ve got a problem.
Totality as a Problem
How do we know that we’re not already in the right Totality, or, to put it another way, that Coke isn’t the real thing? After all, Coke is a commodity and in our society social relations are determined by relationships between commodities. How is it, if people or individuals really are created by their social relationships, that we might object to the commodity form or any other kind of social relationship? One answer is that maybe we don’t really object to the system or the Totality at all? That it really is impossible to object. After all, if we are only the result of our social relationships then any objections we find ourselves making would actually just be a part of the social Totality.
Another way of putting this is that we are, ourselves, just expressions of the social Totality. We’re like characters in a movie or a video game. We are the Fake Plastic Trees in the Radiohead song.
Ashley Frawley is the guest this week. Frawley is a lecturer at Swansea University, her book “The Semiotics of Happiness” is coming out from Bloomsbury in February, and we discuss how happiness was made into a political problem in the UK and how the aim of increasing “happiness” has become a substitute for real progressive politics.
In podcast news, I’m hoping to double my workload. I’ve got a couple Pop the Left conversations in my archive as well as a few other archived interviews meant for Diet Soap, and if I can convince Jim Farris to do it after that long unannounced hiatus I’d like to carry on with the Double Feature Review. So here’s the thing: Zero Squared has a feed over at the Zero Books blog and on iTunes, but if you search for Zero Squared on iTunes you’ll find two feeds, one is the podomatic Diet Soap feed and has a picture of Philip K. Dick with his, cat and the other shows a painting of Jasun Horsley and a guy who looks like Seth Rogen. The guy is me and that feed is the Zero Books blog feed.
So, here’s what’s going to happen…I’m going to phase out the old Diet Soap feed, the one with the picture of Philip K Dick. By April that feed will be gone. Most of you are probably subscribed to that feed. That’s the podomatic feed and for a variety of reasons I think it’s time to leave podomatic behind. However, while I am going to phase out the podomatic feed I’ll be bringing back Diet Soap, Pop the Left and The Double Feature Review over at douglaslain.com. So, if you want to listen to all of it, to Zero Squared and everything else you can subscribe to douglaslain.com through iTunes or some other podcatcher. If you just want to listen to Zero Squared you can subscribe to Seth Rogen picture feed on iTunes or in another podcatcher. Again, my own blog douglaslain.com is where you’ll find every podcast I’ll do. This feed is slowly going away.
Now, while I’m at it I should mention that there is one other podcast you might look for while you’re on iTunes or wherever…actually there are two more. One is the Former People podcast. That used to be hosted on this feed and it features conversations about movies and literature. The other is Symptomatic Redness. That podcast is new and it features my co-host from Pop the Left interviewing theorists and writers from the left.
The music in this episode includes pieces from Nik Walton, you just heard his piece Martha on the Move in the new intro, Dan Lett, and the youtube star Christian Grasslin performing a trumpet loop version of Pharrell Williams’ hit Happy. You’ll also hear a longish excerpt from a American Enterprise Institute talk by Arthur Brooks called “The Secret of Happiness,” David Harvey talking about the Zero Growth economy, and Sam Binkley at the Department of Psychosocial Studies talking on “Happiness as Enterprise,” and finally Jasun Horsley from his liminal corner will be heard, and the music you’re listening to right now is Mark Hosler from Negativland mixing live at the Ghostprint Gallery in Richmond, Virginia.
Diet Soap Update Soap Zero zero books: Britain Labour Party Recession Seventies Thatcher unionism
John Medhurst is a Trade Unionist and activist and we discuss his book That Option No Longer Exists: Britain 1974-’76. We also consider the possibility that the Labour party’s industrial policy was a real solution to economic crisis of the 70s.
Comment on the murder of the staff of the French comic magazine Charlie Hebdo:
As a radical publisher I am compelled to stand in solidarity with these French comrades and announce that “Je Suis Charlie.” More than that I’d want to point out that standing with liberty means precisely standing with the satirists and whether it’s Stephen Colbert, Stewart Lee, Jonathan Swift, or the Charlie Hebdo twelve the obligation is the same. Drawings of monkeys, prophets, or assholes should not stifle our outrage at religious terrorists any more than the crimes these reactionaries should push us into the arms of Le Pen.
The music and voices you’ll hear in this podcast include an amateur string quartet covering the 1979 hit “Funky Town” by Lipps Incorporated, the voice of Brendan Cooney, Esai Morales performing the Internationale on the piano, and Harry Partch’s “And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma,” and Chris Isto White’s “Six Composition in Pastel”.
Jasun Horsley’s first bout of liminalist musings closes out this episode.