Don’t underestimate the power of pretty scientific models! On the catwalk of the universe they are all we have.
Welcome back professor Trompsky, how was your month, I think it has been a month since we have seen each other?
– How was yours? [chuckles and murmurs]
To be honest with you, sir, it has been terrible. I was terrified by all the suspicious packages addressed to the president’s opponents, the horrendous rhetoric of Bolsonaro in Brazil, the shooting in Pittsburgh?
– What we experience is the continuation of a process that has been set in motion, really, by the election of this current president. As a scholar I think the Bolsonaro election could be something of a final blow to global democracy, at least to the spirit of global democracy. That spirit is now in decline and, uhm, against ultra-nationalism we will have to fight an uphill battle.
Do you think the world will see more terror in 2019?
– I prefer not to engage in that kind of speculation, hope you understand. What I do see is a general shift in administration. From the nineties to the early 2010s the world has been governed by comparably capable people (remember how almost everybody currently sees George W. Bush in a favorable light), and now we are shifting to, uhm, the type of rulers that appear to be the lesser hypocrites. Yes, it is a politics of appearance, what we see in Brazil for example. Bolsonaro knows, using fake news, how to appear a tough crime fighter, how to appear the equal of the ‘normal man on the street’, how to appear an outsider of the elite, which clearly he is not. Appearance trumps political expertise and experience, we have seen this in 2016 in the US [chuckles].
Do you think leaders with a similar media strategy, a similar strongman style, will come to power in Europe and the rest of the world?
– Oh yes. This is to some extent a trial-and-error process. The few mistakes Bolsanaro has made, will not be repeated by the next Orbán or Duterte.
What is the proper leftist answer to this? Should they engage in, and could they win the battle of appearances?
– I don’t know. [shakes his head]. I think it will be very hard. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or also Andrew Yang are very authentic politicians. But the left is divided and for proper idealists it is, and I think this is an important point, it is much harder to appear the lesser hypocrite. Wasn’t the media reporting about Sanders’ tax report? It is the absurd paradox of the politics of appearance that Donald Trump, with all his blatant lies, appears as the lesser hypocrite.
And the same goes for Bolsonaro?
– Yes. Brazil is in a way what awaits the US in ten, twenty years. The people are looking for an alternative and this man is filling the empty space on the right. In the case of Bolsanoara, he doesn’t lie directly but his supporters claim that what he says about gays, blacks, activists, women, minorities, it shouldn’t be taken seriously. And the riddle is why that makes him appear to the electorate as the lesser hypocrite.
We thank you for your time, Mr. Trompsky.
– My pleasure. Please do come back.
If democracy hasn’t died in darkness.
– Yes, ahum [chuckles]
Professor Trompsky, welcome. I guess you are a regular on our show now.
– Yes you could say that [chuckles]
Just before this interview, you said you had a mediocre ephiphany. Care to elaborate?
– Yes. Consider thissimple question. Would you increase your happiness at the cost of another’s happiness?
I guess not.
– But isn’t this what the market allows us to do?
You mean the exploitation? The slaves of the modern age who produce our clothes and cell phones?
– Precisely. Consider what is going on in places like Bangladesh [fashion industry, red.] or the coltan mines of the Congo.
Is it not a bit cynical to reduce the function of the market to that?
– Isn’t cynicism the only correct position to occupy these days?
Occupy? Nobody talks about occupy anymore.
– That’s because the movement was never design to last. It was a little steam vent for the neoliberal machinery is what it was. [Huffs and puffs]
Would you like some water, professor Trompsky?
– Yes, please, thank you. But I want you and our listeners to think about my mediocre epiphany. What if [systemically, red.] the function of the market is to make invisible the decrease of other people’s happiness, so we can perceive our own increased happiness as the surplus of capitalism. It allows us to ignore the fact that, to a large extent, the economy is still a zero sum game.
Isn’t that indeed a very trivial observation?
– Surely my darling. But I ain’t getting any younger. Allow me my trivialities.
We thank you for this candid conversation, Mr. Trompsky.
– Thank you. [hums and chuckles]
In a radio interview with a Dutch correspondent living in Rio, she expressed horror. The most likely president elect of Brazil this coming Sunday, the army captain Jair Bolsonaro, is worse than Duterte, Putin, Erdogan, Orbán and Trump combined. He will usher in a whole new level of autoritarianism. This piece of garbage is against minority rights, more specifically indigenous rights, and is lying all he can to ascend to power. His rule will also amount to a death sentence for the Amazon rain forest. He has applauded corrupt police officers shooting hundreds of people in the favelas. He says more people should be shot. He called African immigrants to Brazil the “scum of the earth”.
The popularity of this despicable thug, especially among black and mixed-race voters, is an enigma. Yes, it could partly be explained by the fact that Brazil is in its worst recession ever, partly by the escalating gang violence (black men are 9 times more likely to be killed than white men in Brazil) and partly by the sickening corruption of the ruling political elite. After he was recently attacked with a knife, many people began viewing him as a savior. Perhaps people are getting so sick and tired of the morally bankrupt political elite that they long for a de facto dictator.
But still. Shame on the Brazilian people, at least on the majority who will vote for this man out of fear or desperation or anger or all of those.
A dear Brazilian friend has already contacted me saying he will leave the country. I will offer him asylum in my appartment.
To be fair, the media is paying some attention, but it is not nearly enough. This is the largest country in South America, one of the 4 economies called the BRIC-countries and two of them (Russian and China) are already clearly not democracies. The world cannot afford to lose Brazil too.
Welcome back professor Trompsky, glad you took your time to talk about the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
– Thank you. These are very serious matters yes. I think he is the least capable person in America today to become a Supreme Court Justice. Every which way you look at it, this nomination is a catastrophe for our country and should be aborted at all costs.
So you are calling for abortion of his nomination. Could you elaborate?
– If we carry this nomination to term, we will have bred a monster. Brett Kavanaugh is a religious fanatic of the sort that would put the church above the constitution. The High Court will turn into a Medusa whose sole purpose it is to protect the powers of the president.
When you say we must prevent Supreme Justice Kavanaugh from happening, what exactly do you have in mind? Polonium?
– This is not the time for flippancy. I personally think there are more civilized ways than radioactive chemicals.
– We just keep repeating the sins he committed as a young adult. Did you know that FFFF means “Find ’em, finger ’em, fuck ’em, forget ’em”? And that boofing is anal ingestion of alcoholic beverages?
This is common knowledge, yes.
– I don’t see how this man still has time for serious legal scholarship, let alone the position of highest judge in the country.
I understand your point professor Trompsky. What do you suggest as a means of last resort, to avoid this twit to ascend to the throne of the American judiciary?
– [shrugs] I don’t know. Maybe burn down the court house.
A great man is always willing to be little. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A modest little person, with much to be modest about. – Winston Churchill
I want to stretch out my tentacles to tackle the idea of modesty. Sound the clarions, hoist the flags, this self-proclaimed writer marches in to lecture about a virtue that has been blemished by the stains of arrogance and self-righteousness from the beginning of text. That writer is anti-consumption, anti-capitalism, and if you don’t commit to end the destruction of the natural world, also anti-you, so he’ll probably offload his praise of Modesty as a vehicle to promote his vegan wonderland of post-consumerist nudist self-absorbed disciples of the Loving Unity and feel good about it. Before you know what has happened, he’d have moved on to his next sermon. His Vision is expanding circles or Truth, and Modesty if the Way to Salvation, to turn you into a blessed celestial elephantine Being of Grace and Glory.
But hold on for a second. Let’s strip off this layer of convenient anti-ideology, this dishonestly cynical modus essendi of lowest possible moral energy levels. It’s getting late, the serpent needs to get rid of his skin. You and I need to find a way again to write large virtues small.
Life is transient. We are guests on this prety blue planet. In fact, we consist of fickle molecules that will be recycled as part of our solar system, which is itself nothing but a speck of dust.
– O, please.
Modesty, being humble, is thinking of yourself – behind closed doors – as a triviality, as just not the thing the world is revolving around. But this is not possible unless we see ourselves as a functional part of something bigger, because as floating egos, cut off from the world around us, there is no way to escape the notion that we are in the center of everything.
The knowledge that we are part of something bigger inevitably makes us feel more important than we are. This feeling can be turned into boasting, a sense of entitlement, and generally the opposite of modesty. But it can also be “put in parentheses” through the application of living irony.
– O, please.
I feel that modesty is an impossible virtue if we follow this logic, a virtue that contradicts itself, a virtue that can not survive its own expression. This does not mean that the virtue is in itself a bad thing. The practice of approaching, circumventing, meandering around impossible virtues might be beneficial to the well-being of our species.
– O, please.
In the case of modesty, our mere intention to be modest can teach us about our innate immodesty, and lead us to live life lightly. Once we learn that we can sing in different registers than those ultra cynical ones that castrate our dear grammatically impossible virtues by portraying them as self-absorbing hypocricy, tainted with the same immoralities they claim to doubt the existence of, we might feel better.
– O, please;-
Drawing by ianbourgeot.com
Professor Trompsky, what do you think of the intellectual climate of today?
There is a worrying decline of what I call the culture of wisdom. More often than not, people engaging in debates are more concerned with cementing their own argumentation, making their own narrative waterproof as it were. Instead of trying to integrate the stories of their opponents in their own Grand Narrative, they readily dismiss them as fundamentally flawed. I miss the eagerness to achieve such inclusivity, the wonder of how an other thinking mind can draw sometimes totally different conclusions. This presuposses, I am well aware, a fundamental respect and we shall call it a belief in the intellectual capabilities of their opponents. Rather than treating them like an annoyance they want to get rid of, I miss the intellectual attitude that wishes to celebrate disagreement in order to proceed to a higher truth. Recently I wrote about this and produced the following formula. We should attempt to reduce a strange narrative we encounter to our own.
Don’t you think this is the faux nostalgia that comes with age? Was it not the case that intellectuals in the cold war era, dismissed each other for chosing the wrong side?
[chuckles] No, I can give you a concrete example. Take the political debate. If we talk about Venezuela, our initial response almost always reveals our political core belief. Media outlets who, under the influence of market pressure, tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to know, amplify this phenomenon.