Toothpaste and Taboo. (First letter to the newcomers of Cinemaximiliaan)
first letter to the newcomers of Cinemaximiliaan (and all the other newcomers that we are forever and a day).
The second day of my residency at Cinemaximiliaan (as house philosopher say) I suddenly got fed up with having no toothpaste. I had asked to buy some when Goran passed to go to the shop earlier and asked me kindly if I needed anything, but he said there was a lot of toothpaste upstairs, but later he forgot of course, then I asked Fatma, she also forgot. Could not go and steal toothpaste myself could I? So, after more than 24 without toothpaste I got fed up, half-jokingly, and when I finally got some toothpaste, we tumbled into a meditation on culture and cleanliness. Lubnan said that culture is about being clean, about an idea of cleanliness. Inner and outer. Purity of the body and purity of the soul. Yes, I said, the other is always dirty, nature is dirty. Culture, my culture is clean, halal, kosher, pure, right. Of course there is truth in it: all that lives stinks. Metabolism is dirty business. So the human animal needs a lot of hygiene (because of naked ape very sweaty). Fatma added that in warm countries like Somalia, this is essential…
Then we came to secrets, because culture is also about hiding, about hiding all that is natural, nakedness to start with. Let alone all our desires. I quoted one of my favourite phrases: ‘Give up your secrets, and become an untouchable’. Dangerous wisdom. Madness really. I explained that it is your secrets that make you weak, vulnerable for social control, for public exposure, for your enemies, they can blackmail you with your secrets. But it is of course also ambiguous, as untouchable means also pariah, outcast, outlaw. To become an outcast is a ugly position.
Fatma objected that you could get killed in Somalia and many traditional cultures, if you do not hide your secrets. She challenged me if I was willing to die. Well… I said of course you need to be many to emancipate and break open the oppression of a culture. (the Iranian women fighting the veil came to my mind but decided not to mention it, or the Saudi women fighting for the license to drive, they won). You need to be many to change anything, that is an important lesson of all the emancipation struggles in history. I believe I mentioned the suffragettes, who marched on the streets, went to jail, burned houses, vandalized paintings, to get the vote. And lo and behold they got the vote. You need a philosophical attitude towards your own culture, its conventions, prohibitions and creeds, to free your inner thinking. That is emancipation.
Philosophy knows no taboo’s. It breaks down, criticizes, deconstructs common sense, dogma, convention and taboo. That is why so many philosophers were prosecuted, starting with Socrates, who had to drink the poison chalice for not recognizing the gods and leading the youth astray. There are for philosophy no holy books, no dogma’s nor taboo’s. The truth nothing but the truth, so help me God, particularly if he doesn’t exist.
Culture means seeing the relativity of cultures. Civilization means seeing the relativity of civilization. There is by my knowing no other discipline that has made this highest demand so much its very own, as philosophy. If we do not become somehow philosophical about cultures, we will kill each other. Identity is a killer.
Give up your identity to become what you are called to become: a human being, a human, a humanoid. More or less. Anthropogenesis, the process of becoming human, is a Sisyphus labour for ever and a day, both in the phylogenetical and ontogenetical sense . Sorry for being difficult. Just a joke. It means both for the development of the species (phylogeny) and the individual in its development (ontogenesis). But what I try to say is this, in all possible senses and directions: there is only one culture and it is human culture, humane culture, humanoid. More or less.
We are all newcomers, in a sense. We are not all without papers, but we are all ‘in bad papers’(a Flemish expression for being in an difficult, dangerous, ugly situation): climate change, ongoing demographic explosion, and the many wars of capitalism against mother earth and its inhabitants, human and nonhuman. Mother Earth does not really exist, Gaia is just a name. But because we gave up believing that she was our mother, we are now destroying her.
And then we are all gone die anyway. All in bad papers! Right? And in-between birth and this certain death, we suffer a lot and enjoy a bit, a make each other suffer a lot and enjoy a bit. Thank God. Particularly if he doesn’t exist. You get the picture: the only true option is to live without creeds and without fear and without taboos. Why would you? When all considered. Freedom is just, and will remain forever and a day, another word for nothing left to loose (Yes, of course I am referring to Janis Joplin’s immortal phrase).
Please, don’t believe a word of what I say, there are no dogma’s, think for yourself, that is the only axiom. The ueber-categorical imperative. It is even above do-gooding. Above ethics and morals. Think for yourself. No dogma, no taboo. Once you have really understood this, it is too late to be scared. There is no reason to anyhow, because we all gone die, remember? No, you don’t. We always forget. When you are ready to die, there is nothing you can loose. You will win, oh yes: true freedom. Even from the identity, that is so dear to you. Loose yourself.
I will tell you a secret, no not a secret, an intimate confidence: I have a dead brother. He died at thirty-two, and during the six month of his fight with what colloquially is called a flying cancer (as skin cancer, maligne melanoma) - I was 24/7 on his side - I learned one thing: be ready to die at any time. And after he died, I promised to try and live for two. What else could I do? Many of you, dear newcomers of Cinemaximilaan, and all of us, have dead brothers, dead sisters, dead fathers (me too) and dead mothers (thank god, even if he doesn’t exist, mine still is alive). We have to live with loss. By sharing.
In the face of the permanent ecological disasters caused by the combination of carbon and waste-based capitalist growth and the ongoing demographic explosion, I would almost call for a new mystical pantheism or a sort of neo-animism. But I really hope you don’t believe me. Think for yourself. Without taboo’s, and after that we will agree that we have to save Mother Earth together with and through Humane culture. It is one of the biggest challenges we ever faced. Disclaimer: the captains of industry and the mad scientist that work for them as they do for the war industry (name me one university of note that is not working for the military industry, that is not working for the arls industry?) – will not, I repeat, will not save us. It is too late to be scared. We have to start this new civilization now. There is simply no other way. Even if it will not work. Let us at least play best we can, like the orchestra on the sinking Titanic. Let us at least represent redemption even if we know full well it will never come. Just have a look at human history, past and future. Horror.
Unfortunately, we cannot blame the entire history on capitalism. We could, if we extend it to colonialism, but then in an almost transcendental sense. From Altamira to the present. From A to Z. We are a colonizing species, an invasive exotic species, as biologists would say. Think of the revered, the great ancient Greeks: they destroyed the entire city of Melos, killed the men and turned the women into slaves, forgot if according to Thucydides, they spared the children. Detail. Sorry I forgot. Look it up. It might be worth it.
You know what I mean? Political taboos will not help us either, and easy dogma’s are sheer madness here. Even the one about capitalism or colonialism to be to blamed for everything. Too easy alas, dammed necessary criticism and struggle, but not a transhistorical dogma, no, sorry. Melos was long before capitalism.
But, if we can dream for a minute or two. Just imagine that we with the commons start to colonize the world in an inverted way: disclosures of the uncommons, undoing of the enclosures. Just imagine. (Maybe I should explain myself nearer, some other day: we will have to get nearer, we are getting nearer, both in an abstract and concrete, both philosophical and personal way get nearer by living as in exile in this community of people without papers, undocumented people, illegal migrants, newcomers in any case). There is no other option. We are all eternal newcomers. Think about it. Without dogma’s and taboo’s. Please. We are all in bad papers. Maybe love can save us, the love of the commons, the common of love that we all have in common, if we dare to share. Sounds cheesy, I know, but you do it. People of Cinemaximiliaan, RESPECT.
When there is true love and true respect there are no taboos necessary. Some rules maybe. Like consenting adults and all that jazz. Free speech is and remains a holy cause, and only in a philosophical spirit can we truly defend it. Maybe we should be a wee bit dogmatic here. A matter of principles. No taboo’s, except respect and free speech and consenting adults and mutuality and reciprocity and all that jazz. Hillel, Kant, Christ, Boudha, Mohammed, and you can go on, they all agreed this. So? It is all clear. Except for the soap of life. That sucks. But that’s life. Isn’t it?
The vale of tears can only become the wetlands for a new culture if we are ready to jump, with all the love and respect and freedom and all that jazz, with all we have in us.
Freedom is and remains forever and a day, another word for nothing left to loose. We have to win this battle for the planet and the human species. Particularly because it is almost impossible and terribly urgent. Lessons in urgency is the name of the game, and exercises in speechlessness is the name of the next course, let ‘s start with some exercise in globalization. ‘Future shock is culture shock’. (Maybe I should explain myself more at length some other time). But just look around, and feel and admit it in yourself. Without taboo’s.
Shall I tell you the story of Rachida? I will never forget… One day she said in class, a grown up a belgo morrocan woman in her mid thirties, leftist with lots of commitment for the Palestinian cause, mother of two - she said at some point in class, don’t remember how we got there, she said: ‘The Qu’ran is written by an illiterate, dictated by an angel and literally the word of God’. I replied: Rachida, illerates do not write books, angels do not exist and God cannot speak for he has no vocal cords’. She claimed I did not have the right to say that. I look at her and said: Rachida, I am a philosopher, I have to duty to say what I think. This whole story means only one thing, it means to tell in a metaphorical way, that this book, the Qu’ran is a most important book, a holy book. But in philosophy there are no holy books, all books are holy, but none of them is in itself’. We got over it, the Palestinian cause helped us to keep the mutual solidarity going. But you see: the shock of the future in a globalizing world, will be a bombardment of culture shocks. We will have to learn and live with it. Exercises in culture shocks is what we need. Tolerance is golden, more than silence.
‘Your children are not your children, they are the children of the future’. How many times I said this to my mother, this verse of Kahlil Gibran, the prophet? She remembers it well, and now we can laugh about it, in utter love and respect. Your parents are not your parents, they are the parents of the past. Sorry, just a joke. But… no maybe some other time. Brothers and sisters, let’s try and live together, both in an abstract and a concrete way, both philosophically and autobiographically. Not only with the other humanoids. More or less. But with all the species of mother earth. Neo- posthumanist-meta-animism now!
And please, don’t believe a word of what I said. Let’s think together in difference, only difference can save us, identity is a killer. And by the difference, by putting it between brackets, to say it out loud, by deconstructing identity, by differing identity and reclaiming commonness in the uncommon, by practices of commoning, we can maybe begin to handle this, this crisis, this permanent catastrophe much enhanced by the rise of disaster capitalism, but essentially engraved in the genes of the technological species that we are (think of the Chinese before Europe or capitalism even existed, even before the romans and the greeks and all that jazz). Think about it. Let’s think and drink and eat and dance together, and make beautiful things together. You, beautiful people. The brave new world that we bitterly need, you are the vanguard of Skakespeare’s hope: ‘Oh brave new world that has such wonderful people in it’.
Maybe, when we all realize that we are in bad papers, and we are, please believe me on this, no don’t believe, just google it: climate change, demographic explosion and the shadow world of the military industrial complex. And all that jazz. Maybe then, we can save ourselves and the planet, by starting redemption here and now. In love. In despair. Without belief. Though. Ain’t it? But remember: only free spirits can save the spirit of freedom, only solidarity can bridge the gap between equality and freedom.
Self-organization is the method of this game, called skolè, school means free time (strangely enough). This essence is: the commons, the commoning, the sharing of the common uncommon, is both form and content of both my improvised talks and official courses (like the one on eco-feminism). Disclaimer: I am a bad teacher. I cannot teach you how to swim. I can only help you jump in the cold water. Let’s teach each other. Swimming is self organization. Self-organization is swimming. We will have to learn how to swim. The Africans in the first place. Sorry. Not a joke. But no taboo’s, right?
You, beautiful people… Let ‘s be brave and face this ugly world with all the love and energy we have in us. Insch allah. May god be with us. Particularly if he doesn’t exist. Man! Is this scary? PESSIMISM IN THEORY - OPTIMISM IN PRACTICE. But, remember, we all gone die anyhow, so let‘s jump, let’s jump the scale. How to jump the scale is the crucial question of our time, for the planetary scale is the only scale, the only scale that matters. Here Now.
I asked one day to Chinese students what was the ideogram for commonis, well, it was universal: ‘two separate hands eating from the same bowl’ they explained the sign that they wrote on the blackboard, and yes of course sharing food, that is truly universal, from simple hospitality to holy communion:
(I hope it is the right ideogram, if not it is a nice one:)
I truly believe this, I truly believe that this is a universal sign of the commons, the embodiment of communing, of community making, of communion or whatever you call it. That and only that is universal and we will have to include non-humans too, in this holy communion. Even machines. Man. A superhuman task. But quite simple when you look at it. Cyborg intercultural interspecies animist commoning is what we need. It is what we do, since ages. Think of Lubnan and his kitten. She is following him everywhere in the house, in the courtyard and he is following her every move, feeding and cuddling her. He calls her his daughter. Interspecies love is also a way to animist commoning. We have to start somewhere. Here Now. (See you at dinner)