roter_buchladen on Sat, 21 Jun 1997 22:16:59 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> an Answer to Mark Stahlman's Irrationality

An Answer to Mark Stahlman's Profound Irrationality

Since time immemorial theoretical positions contrary to one's own have
been attacked as 'irrational' in the name of rationality and reason.
Whoever chose not to believe in the prevalent dogmas was branded as
heretic, romantic, daydreamer, fantasist, or left-wing dogmatist.  Nor is
it anything new when the critics of capitalism in capitalist societies are
regarded as the representatives of irrationality itself, for they think and
reflect against the mainstream in which the standards of so-called normal
thinking have been established as the historically specific form of
rationality.  To the apologists of the status quo, such thinking against
the mainstream can only be absurd, ridiculous and unreasonable.  What is
new, however, is that conservative and reactionary critics can only
formulate their "critique" of theories criticizing too-late-capitalist
society, its ideology and the underlying commodity structure of its
economy, in banal slogans which are all-too-often as meaningless as they
are ideologically charged.  There was a time when reactionary criticism
could at least help one to sharpen an opposing argument, to demonstrate the
necessary contraditions, but postmodern gossip disguised as theoretical
argumentation is so often only a confusion of lies, myths and
.....irrationality.  An excellent example of this kind of criticism
undeserving of the name is the manifesto "Three Faces of Studied
Irrationality" provided by the honorable Mr. Mark Stahlman.

     As text, it is almost impossible to criticize, and therefore confines
the critic to the task of disclosing the mythical beliefs underlying the
make-believe arguments.  A peculiar confusion of ignorance and malicious
fraudulence, Stahlman's text can only be analyzed, since he himself has
refused to present it in a form suitable for the reasonable arguments of
others [or: outside his solipsism].

1)  Whoever has actually read any of Hannah Arendt knows that she tried
neither to rehabilitate Heidegger after World War II nor to banalize what
she regarded as totalitarianism.  On the contrary, during her postwar
visits to Germany she was deeply disappointed by Heidegger's refusal to
reflect upon his Nazi past.  Like Adorno, Horkheimer and so many others,
she fled from Germany, as Jew and intellectual, because she was in danger.
They were aware of the uniqueness of Nazi-fascism, and they later became
aware of the industrialized destruction of the Jews in the gas at
Auschwitz.  There exists not a single word of relativism from Hannah Arendt
on that subject.  Post-war nazis, modern fascists and reactionaries have
always tried to reduce any left-oriented critique of capitalism and
fascism, especially any theory concerning totalitarianism, to the single
fact that Stalin was a butcher, too, which he surely was.   The right-wing
comparison of Nazi Germany with the USSR denies the uniqueness of
Auschwitz, and so does Stahlman with his myth that right and left are the
same.  Whether or not it is his intention, the nonsense he disseminates
helps those who are attempting to relativize fascism.

2)  The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno et al. is an empirical study.
If it demonstrates that the individual in capitalist societies has
introjected an authoritarian psychic structure, this empirical evidence
throws light upon the society these individuals live in, and not upon the
theory derived from  the data, and certainly not upon the critics who
undertook the investigation.  Blaming the messenger for the message he
delivers is an old story.  It is symptomatic of a profound inability to
reflect  upon the message, an anti-intellectual bias of the recipient; in
short, it is irrational to refuse to think about society's irrationality.
`	Appeals to "intellectual 'authority' (in the old sense of truth)" 
clarifying the meaning of the 'truth' indicated,  can only amount to praise
of the renunciation of rationality, because, as Stahlman has correctly
stated, one has to 'believe' this so-called truth.  The days of the
scholastic philosophers like Anselm of Canterbury or Thomas Acquinas, when
reason and belief were not considered antitheses, are long over.  Or is it
your wish, Mr. Stahlman, that reflection upon the society which produces
hunger and poverty be replaced by belief in its immanent goodness?  The
Nazis were as authoritarian as any U.S. citizen nowadays who condones the
suppression of blacks, hispanics, and women, or who condones the war in
Grenada, the invasion of Panama, the Contras, the Gulf War and  the War on

3)  Adorno's Jargon of Authenticity is a radical critique of Heidegger.
Stahlman quotes from this book: "irrationality in the midst of the rational
is the working atmosphere of the authentic." [p. 47]. This is not Adorno's
own theoretical position, but his critique of Heidegger's theoretical
position. Stahlman tries unsuccessfully to turn this statement against
Adorno, as if it actually were Adorno's own position. Anyone who tries to
tie Adorno to "authenticity" has either not really read Adorno at all or
has simply not understood anything he has read.  Whoever calls Adorno a
"Heidegger supporter" must have an urgent (or theoretical?) need to lie
about or to gloss over Adorno's own philosophical perspective.  Stahlman's
remarks in this context are simply ridiculous.  Even the caustic opponents
in Germany have never dared to associate Adorno with Heidegger because
there is not the slightest basis for such rubbish.  This kind of nonsense
has always fallen to the ultra-extreme right-wing thinkers and
neo-fascists.  As a suggestion, Mr. Stahlman might actually try reading
whatever he feels impelled to criticize.  It will simply not suffice to
hide behind quotes from Plato, for such name-dropping tactics are

     It has become fashionable in Germany to parallelize left and right.
Fascists are called 'radical', as were left-wing thinkers earlier, although
'radical' means "to the root".  But if the 'roots' of fascism are to be
discussed, then the proper subject is capitalism.  A classical strategy for
defending the supporters of the commodity economy has been to conceal their
own responsibility for fascist outbreaks in denunciations of the critics of
capitalism.  Fascism is the dark side of capitalism, the flip-side of the
coin, which Adorno criticizes as a whole.  The attempt to associate
Heidegger, a Nazi-professor who believed that his blood-and-soil philosophy
was incarnated in the Nazis, with Adorno, Benjamin, Arendt and others, the
radical opponents of the Nazis and capitalism who were exiled as Jews and
intellectuals, is both malicious and inexcusable.  It can only be based on
incomprehensible ignorance or complete irrationality.  Does Mr. Stahlman
really want to associate himself with such a reactionary position?

4)   The Dialectic of Enlightenment was written in the years before the end
of WWII and published in 1944, not 1947 as Mr. Stahlman incorrectly
indicated.  It was not their "first major joint work," but it was the most
significant one to result from the years of collaborating in exile.
Adorno, Horkheimer et al. discussed as a group the articles included in
their Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung [Journal of Social Research], and
Dialectic of Enlightenment was written when the Nazis seemed to be gaining
the upper hand and Auschwitz was lurking on the horizon.  The irrational
genocide of Auschwitz had its rational component: the destruction of the
Jews that was then taking place in the east of Middle Europe was planned,
cool, and entirely industrialized.  Whoever fails to take this into account
when discussing rationality in too-late-capitalist, post-Auschwitz society,
either wittingly or unwittingly aligns himself with the side of the
irrational.    It appears that Mr. Stahlman has no problem in defending the
rationality that made Auschwitz possible.

     Thinking himself quite clever, Mr. Stahlman shows no ability to
conceive of the rational critique of rationality. But he does know one
thing at once: it must be irrational.  Irrational in relation to what, he
does not say, for throughout his interminable monologue he has never
attempted to define his shibboleth of rationality.  The scattered allusions
to the western philosophical tradition and the mere mentioning of thinkers
like Plato, Aristotle, Nicholas of Cusa, Thomas Acquinas, Descartes,
Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard or Foucault  will not save
him from his own fundamental lack of clarity.

     There are no doubt some substantial reasons involved in Mr. Stahlman's
skewed process of selective reason, but these seem grounded in myth,
falsehood and unsubstantiated conjecture. Further examples of an
authoritarian personality.  Perhaps an honest critique of what Mr. Stahlman
does not like requires more reasoning ability than he can muster.  He might
actually have to read what he has decided he is against in advance.  But
then we all might be spared the nonsense he bombards us with on a daily

5)  The abovementioned comments apply equally to Stahlman's  misconceptions
regarding Walter Benjamin's experiences with hashish, etc., and WB's
attempts to reflect upon these experiences within the context of a
materialist theory of liberation.  Comments such as Stahlman's obviously
indicate that he has not read the texts in question.  How could he when
these texts are not available in English?  He would have to have read the
German original.

6)  With regard to Adorno and de Sade, Mr. Stahlman again demonstrates his
neo-illiteracy.  The chapter on de Sade in Dialectic of Enlightenment by no
means praises hedonistic lifestyles, orgies or murderous games.  The
reading of de Sade leads to a critique of instrumental reason, and in fact
results in the recognition that de Sade was not hedonistic at all, but cold
and calculating like the engineers and scientists of the present day.

7)  Mr. Stahlman's comments on Plato and Aristotle are also quite peculiar
and equally ridiculous.  Since this is not the place for an in-depth
discussion of his misreadings and misleading quotations, a few comments
will have to suffice.  Anyone who has actually read neo-platonic, hermetic,
scholastic, idealist or gnostic texts immediately realizes that Stahlman
has merely scanned said texts for items he could use in his polemics.  That
is not very difficult, but such tactical misreading in order to prove a
unclearly preconceived idea has nothing to do with rational thinking.
What is clear, however, is Mr. Stahlman's theory of conspiracy: "and as any
competent analysis would show, the central effect of these maneuvers has
been to increase - not decrease - the pervasiveness of social control and,
indeed, oppression throughout society" [Stahlman].  Whatever in the world
could 'competence' mean to such a person? Behind his back the old
anti-semitic cliché of a great conspiracy creeps out, and to prove his
nonsense he plunders every text in sight; the same tactics which the Nazis
used to describe what they considered the "Jewish World Conspiracy".

8)  There is a trick to Stahlman's text.  In the name of rationality,
irrationality is detected wherever there is discontent with capitalism.
The author never defines rationality, associating it as he does with his
own bizarre manner of thinking.  But such 'thinking' as Stahlman's is
really a combination of irrationality and arrogance.  His text is a
wonderful illustration of so-called 'rationality' at its most irrational.

     The idea that society itself may be irrational is beyond the
comprehension of this Popper-fan, whose view of  the world as a whole is
positivistic and instrumental, and who champions a system which objectifies
everything into measurable and exploitable units which can be commodified.
Those who praise the rational commodity might take a look at Marx.  Or
maybe they should stay for a day in the slums of Sao Paulo or Djakarta,  or
take a pleasant trip to Chernobyl to see their rational society at work.

   Refusal to criticize the status quo leads to a totalitarian pluralism,
of which view Popper is a good representative, in which the poor are
allowed to remain poor, women must remainsecond-class citizens, and the
rich are allowed to grow richer: the good ol' every-man-for-himself
survival of the fittest.   To the proponents of such a world, the poor who
turn to narcotics for consolation are responsible for their poverty because
everyone can 'get ahead' if they really want to.  Life is so very simple
when observed through the undialectical glasses of Stahlman's

   It need not be stressed that the rich have a lot more to lose than their
chains and jewels, but it must be questioned whether nettime should become
the stage for smearing critiques of the multiple hierarchies inherent in
capitalism.  Nettime is supposed to be a forum for netcritique.  Is the
netcritique not at stake here?  Is it not at stake when so many jump onto
the bandwagon of the new virtual class and their 'California ideology',
which is heading for such a wonderful capitalist future, and a place near
the warm oven of the cyber-capital.

It is important for everyone who subscribes to nettime to consider what
purpose this mailing-list can serve. Surely it was not intended as a
postmodern, anything-goes forum. It is annoying to read so much stuff that
would be better published in the conservative newspapers.

irritated greetings,

(Goettingen, Germany)

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