Cultural Discourse looks at a broad range of cultural issues.
21st March 2016

Donald Trump: A Few More Words

On Donald Trump: A Few More Words

by John David Ebert

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Civilizations do not just unfold randomly. They have a morphological structure to them, with distinct epochs and phases just like living organisms. Oswald Spengler, in his Decline of the West, was not even the first to point this out, for he was coming out of a tradition of ideas regarding historical cycles going back through Goethe, Vico and even Hesiod’s Four World Ages. The Hindus, too, with their great yugas, had similar concepts.

The motivating force, for instance, that brings a civilization into being is always the same: there is a sudden recognition of Death, and a new mortuary cult, with new burial practices, comes into being as the response to the challenge of the metaphysical terror of Death (to borrow now from Toynbee’s vocabulary). The Egyptian pyramids correspond morphologicaly to the West’s Gothic cathedrals and to the now lost wooden temples of the Doric and Vedic ages. The gigantic temples of ancient Sumer from its Late Uruk period (c. 3300 BC) have mostly disintegrated because they were built not with stone, for the most part, but mud brick. They were, however, huge–the White Temple dedicated to the god Anu at the city of Uruk is an example (shown below).

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The great cities that then come into being are mostly concerned with myth and metaphysics until they cycle down into their End Phases, which are also morphologicaly similar. Such phases are characterized by huge and impersonal cosmopolises filled with rootless populations who have poured in from the countryside looking for work, and they are concerned not with metaphysics but with the pragmatics and economics of living. Money now becomes the motivating force as the religious lyricism that brought the society into being begins to grow dim, until finally vanishing altogether. And politics, once based on metaphysical ideas–whether of divinely appointed kings or membership in a city-state polis–begins to disintegrate into mere zoological power struggles.

Which brings us to Donald J. Trump and my earlier warnings this year about his ominous rise to power. Violence is now becoming a standard and expected feature of his rallies, as protesters clash, again and again, with ever more increasing violence, against Trump’s supporters, who are beginning to resemble, more and more, an angry mob loyal only to its leader.

Violence entered the political arena in ancient Rome, too, when the land-reformer Tiberius Gracchus was murdered in 133 BC, beaten to death by senators in broad daylight. And let us not forget the outbreak of the Social War that then followed in  91-88 BC, in which the Roman general Sulla, together with his loyal veterans, turned their army around and marched on Rome as an unprecedented event. Sulla declared a permanent state of emergency after winning the war against Marius and became Rome’s first dictator to hold the office for the rest of his life.

Trump says he has a big job ahead of him in cleaning up ISIS, just as did Pompey the Great, when he was appointed the task of cleaning up the pirates of the Mediterranean and then stabilizing the Middle East, which he invaded in 63 BC, and then stormed the city of Jerusalem, thus clearing the path for the rise of the Roman-appointed client king Herod the Great. Herod’s reign was generally disastrous, as his paranoia led to increasing assassinations among members of his family that he thought might try to murder him and take over the office. A similar disaster lay in store for Nouri al-Maliki, as his persecution of the Sunnis–immediately after Obama (disastrously) pulled American forces out of Iraq in 2011–cleared the path for the rise of ISIS.

Trump claims to have hired a “private security force”–who wear plainclothes–after a violent altercation between a Secret Service agent and a Time magazine photographer which took place in Virginia on February 29 (photo shown above). Wealthy men, too, like Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, were able to afford to buy the loyalty of private armies, and they used them to storm Rome and seize control of its political machinery.

Trump has threatened that if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination, then there will be riots; and this has an “ominous” sound to it. In fact, it is beginning to sound more and more as if Trump intends to take the nomination “by whatever means necessary,” and if he comes up short on delegates, there could be even more–and more serious–violence at the GOP Convention in July.

When the political machinery of a civilization begins to break down–as ours here in America has been doing since the 9/11 attacks–ideas gradually give way to violent power struggles. It is like a return to Nature: from the “oystrygods gaggin fishygods” (to use Joyce’s phrase) that marks the start of the civilization, and then onward past the metaphysics that civilize it and transform it from a zone of Maximal Stress to a Zone of Cooperation, it inevitably returns back to Nature, back to zoology, and back to tribalism.

Trust me: Trump will get the nomination and he will not just beat Hillary Clinton, but he will beat her by a landslide.

After that, it might be wise to just stay indoors.

 

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29th January 2016

On the Ominous Significance of Donald Trump

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On the Ominous Significance of Donald Trump

An Essay by John David Ebert

Donald Trump, as everyone knows, is ahead in all the national polls. He will most likely get the GOP nomination, but I think it also likely that his opponent will be Hillary Clinton and that he will be elected president by a landslide. Hillary is cool and calculating and she appeals to the intellect, but there is something cold-bloodedly reptilian about her, and the aura of deceit and dishonesty hangs over her head like a cloud. Trump, on the other hand, is winning because he appeals to deeper, darker gut-level emotions that stir anger and resentment against what he calls “the Establishment” in Washington. He presents himself as an outsider–just as Reagan did–a businessman who doesn’t even like to be called a “politician,” a word he uses with evident disgust.

Trump boycotted the Fox News sponsored GOP debate last night when a press release put out by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes offended him with its sarcastic comment that “the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Trump unfairly if he becomes president. A nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace his Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.” Trump regarded these comments as insulting to his dignity and responded by holding his own rival event last night, a rally for Veterans, which he scheduled to take place five or so miles away in Iowa at almost exactly the same time as the final GOP debate before Monday’s Caucus. During the rally, which was televised on CNN, Trump boasted that he raised five million dollars within 24 hours for the Veterans (one million of which he claims to have donated himself). All well and good.

However. There is something sinister about Trump, something that chills the blood and does not bode well for the future of American politics, since I believe that he will indeed be elected the next US president. Trump is a figure straight out of the days of ancient Rome, and particularly those troubled days of the first century BC when its Republic was being torn to pieces by Civil Wars.

He reminds me, in particular, of the sort of privately wealthy men who formed the First Triumvirate, and who were so wealthy that each could afford to pay for his own private army, an army be it said whose loyalty was not given to Rome but to the highest bidder.

Crassus, for instance, who is the figure who perhaps most resembles him–and whose portrait bust even bears a certain similarity to him–made his fortunes (and they were, like Trump’s huge) off of real estate, especially buying huge latifundia that enslaved people to work the fields in mass agribusiness-like agglomerations that kept the grain flowing into Rome. This was one reason why Crassus was so anxious about putting down the Spartacus slave revolt, for Spartacus himself was killed by the legions employed by Crassus in 71 BC (although Pompey, on his way back from his conquest of Spain, claims to have finished off the revolt and was given honors in Rome for doing so when he returned, much to the chagrin of Crasssus).

But when Crassus announced that he was going to clean up the Parthian menace in the Middle East–sound familiar?–his campaign ended in disaster at the Battle of Carrhae (53 BC), where his son Publius was caught and beheaded and when the Romans saw the Parthians marching toward them with Publius’s head on the end of a spear, Crassus was shocked and dismayed. But the beheading of Crassus himself soon followed and nearly 20,000 Roman troops were massacred while 10,000 more were taken prisoner.

This event destabilized the First Triumvirate, especially since Pompey’s wife Julia–Julius Caesar’s only daughter–had died the year before. Caesar was away on campaign in Gaul, where he made his fortunes capturing slaves and sending them back to Rome to be sold on the market. Rumors circulated that Pompey would have to be made full dictator of Rome in order to keep the peace, but when Pompey heard that Caesar had turned around and marched his troops headed back to Rome, he instead ordered the city to be evacuated and fled with his privately paid legions across to Greece. There had been a law passed as a result of the Civil War between Marius and Sulla–under the latter of whom Pompey rose to fame as a great general–that a general could not enter the city with his troops, but when Caesar daringly broke the law and crossed the Rubicon, all bets were off (Sulla, incidentally, had been the first to declare himself permanent dictator as the result of proclaiming a permanent state of emergency in Rome).

At the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, Caesar, who was outnumbered two to one, was victorious over Pompey, who fled with his family to Egypt, and when he stepped off the boat one of Pompey’s own centurions immediately cut off his head and saved it for Caesar, who followed and was now sole dictator of the Roman Empire. (His murder in 44 BC was executed by Brutus, who had fought with Pompey at Pharsalus, and Cassius who had fought with Crassus at Carrhae).

I could go  on, but I think you get the picture. Donald Trump is a privately wealthy man like Pompey or Caesar or Crassus–he is completely funding his own campaign–and the Veteran rally last night has the feel about it–at least to me, anyway–of laying the groundwork for appealing to soldiers who might, one fine day, become his own private army whose loyalty is given to him rather than the United States of America. After all, he has already shown that he cares nothing for political protocol in skipping the GOP debate: he simply went around it, doing as he pleased, but this may set an ominous precedent for future legalities he may simply decide to step around while in office. Trump, his career has made clear, always finds a way to get what he wants.

And what he wants is the following: he has promised to build a wall along the southern border of the United States and get Mexico, somehow, to pay for it. The building of walls is of course an unfailing sign that a civilization has entered into its Universal State phase, the end phase and ultimate outcome of all great high civilizations.

And he has also promised mass deportations of all illegal immigrants in this country, which sounds to me like a feat that would require “special forces” and “detention camps” to be set up as temporary housing for them while in transit. I don’t see how 11 million illegal immigrants could be rounded up and sent off in any other way.

He has also promised to put a ban on all Muslims attempting to enter the United States, legally or otherwise. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but the entire basis of the United States was set up as a haven for the religiously persecuted of the Old World: it was precisely people whose religions were not tolerated elsewhere that this country opened its arms to embrace. So banning an entire people based on their religious identity is about as un-American an idea as it gets.

He has also promised to “fix” the 17 trillion dollar deficit and to put the kaibosh on the deal Obama made with Iran. No more losing 500 billion a year in trade deficits with China: Trump promises to end all that, though he doesn’t specify how.

He has also promised to “destroy ISIS,” (just as Crassus promised to rid Palestine of the Parthian menace) but he has not given any clear idea what sort of government he would put in their place, while Iraq would most likely descend into chaos and further anarchy. Perhaps he intends to prop it up with corporations that would hi-jack all its oil in order to fund his other massive projects. A local government? I doubt it. Not with Trump running the show. Instead Iraq would most likely become annexed and run by his New Empire.

But it sounds to me like Donald Trump is a man who will, once elected president–and I think I can guarantee you that he will–simply do as he pleases, just as he did in circumventing the Fox News GOP debate last night with his own privately staged and funded rally for ex-soldiers.

Trump is a figure who should make everybody nervous. He may very well shred the Constitution, usurp all powers of the Executive Branch and use his wealth and emotionally-driven followers to help transform him into America’s First Dictator.

Who knows, even lists of proscriptions may follow, just as the proscriptions of Sulla announced everyone who would be murdered without trial or due process of any kind, since they had proven to be political opponents during his wars with Marius.

America, it seems to me, may very well be transformed into a police state–it would certainly have to be if Trump means what he says, and I believe that he has the means, motives and wealth to make it happen.

Get ready, Americans: the Republic–whose founding fathers deliberately (and now, it seems, ironically) founded it on the model of the Roman Republic with all its checks and balances–is about to be torn to pieces once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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19th October 2015

A New Book of Essays by John David Ebert is Out

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This book is now out and can be ordered on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1518673422?keywords=cultural%20decay%20rate&qid=1445282994&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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27th September 2015

New Book Out by John David Ebert

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Preface:

New York is a Dead Museum

by John David Ebert

excerpted from Texts: Collected Book Reviews from Joseph Campbell to Deleuze and Guattari

This book can be ordered on Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Texts-Collected-Reviews-Campbell-Guattari/dp/151752783X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443360322&sr=8-1&keywords=Texts+collected+book+reviews+from+joseph+campbell+to+deleuze+and+guattari

CONTENTS
Preface: New York is a Dead Museum 11
Baksheesh and Brahman
Asian Journals: India
Joseph Campbell 21
Dark Age Ahead
Jane Jacobs 27
Civilization and its Enemies:
The Next Stage of History
Lee Harris 31
Guns, Germs and Steel
Jared Diamond 35
Nart Sagas from the Caucasus
John Colarusso 41
The Mind in the Cave:
Consciousness and the Origins of Art
David Lewis-Williams 45
Plato Prehistorian
Mary Settegast 49
When Zarathustra Spoke:
The Reformation of Neolithic Culture and
Religion
Mary Settegast 53
The Indus Civilization:
A Contemporary Perspective
Gregory L. Possehl 57
Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization
Jonathan M. Kenoyer 61
America
Jean Baudrillard 67
The Ever-Present Origin
Jean Gebser 71
The Decline of the West
Oswald Spengler 75
The Mechanical Bride
Marshall McLuhan 79
Simulacra and Simulation
Jean Baudrillard 81
The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn:
The Myths and Symbolism of the Unicorn Tapestries
John Williamson 85
The Disappearance of Childhood
Neil Postman 89
The Gutenberg Galaxy
Marshall McLuhan 93
Amusing Ourselves to Death:
Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Neil Postman 97
The Original Accident
Paul Virilio 101
The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact
Jean Baudrillard 105
The Greek Alexander Romance
Pseudo-Callisthenes 107
The Information Bomb
Paul Virilio 111
Imaginary Landscape:
Making Worlds of Myth and Science
William Irwin Thompson 115
Desert Screen:
War at the Speed of Light
Paul Virilio 117
The Shahnameh:
The Persian Book of Kings
Abolqasem Ferdowsi 121
The Secret History of the World:
As Laid Down by the Secret Societies
Mark Booth 125
Re-Visioning Psychology
James Hillman 129
The Mythic Dimension:
Selected Essays 1959-1987
Joseph Campbell 133
The Olmecs:
America’s First Civilization
Richard A. Diehl 135
Terror From the Air
Peter Sloterdijk 139
Coming Into Being:
Texts and Artifacts in the Evolution of Consciousness
William Irwin Thompson 141
The Plague of Fantasies
Slavoj Zizek 145
The University of Disaster
Paul Virilio 149
Postmodernism, or,
The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Fredric Jameson 153
Neither Sun Nor Death
Peter Sloterdijk and Hans-Jurgen Heinrichs 157
8
Anti-Oedipus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari 161
The Agony of Power
Jean Baudrillard 167
Living in the End Times
Slavoj Zizek 171
Philosophy in the Present
Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek 175
What is Philosophy?
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari 179
The Fold:
Leibniz and the Baroque
Gilles Deleuze 185
A Question of Values
Morris Berman 189
Spheres I: Bubbles
Peter Sloterdijk 197
Telemorphosis
Jean Baudrillard 203
Ethics:
An Essay on the Understanding of Evil
Alain Badiou 207
Difference and Repetition
Gilles Deleuze 211
MSC: Maximal Stress Cooperation:
The Driving Force of Cultures
Heiner Muhlmann 215
Impossible Exchange
Jean Baudrillard 219
A Thousand Plateaus
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari 221
9
Of Grammatology
Jacques Derrida 225
Glittering Images:
A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars
Camille Paglia 229
The Art of Philosophy:
Wisdom as Practice
Peter Sloterdijk 233
The Ontology of the Accident
An Essay on Destructive Plasticity
Catherine Malabou 239
On the New
Boris Groys 245
Under Suspicion:
A Phenomenology of Media
Boris Groys 253

This book is available for ordering on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Texts-Collected-Reviews-Campbell-Guattari/dp/151752783X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443360322&sr=8-1&keywords=Texts+collected+book+reviews+from+joseph+campbell+to+deleuze+and+guattari

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25th November 2014

New Book Out by John David Ebert: “Rage and the Word”

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This book is available on Amazon Kindle ebook

From Rage and the Word, an Excerpt

by John David Ebert

The desert gave birth to civilization.

Mesopotamia and Egypt both came into being in hot, dry desert climates alive with palm fronds, braying donkeys and the squeaking of shadufs drawing up water from wells. Camels, Bedouins, veils and dust: mud brick buildings, red granite cliffs, turquoise skies and crescent-shaped boats going up and down rivers and waterways. Canals splayed across the land like dendrites in a primitive nervous system shooting strips of water across muddy fields to nourish thin and spindly shafts of grain. Heat, flies and dusty pink horizons. Groves of date palms and tamarisk trees the only shelter from a burning disc in the heavens that settles at dusk to a glowing coal where the sky meets the earth.

Such is the world from out of which High Civilization emerged: mathematics and writing, astronomy and sculpture, monumental architecture and cylinder seals, gods and theogonies. A world of mental striations as topologically convoluted as a farmer’s network of fields interlaced by canals and ditches. A world of cracked plaster walls and crumbling roofs; of frayed reedwork boats and threadbare linen clothing; of cows, sheep and goats.

This is the world of the first great cities. But take note: it is also the world that gave birth to the three great monotheisms, founded by Moses, Jesus and Mohammed: all religions favored by the desert, and all inimical—utterly—to life in cities. The three monotheisms bear the hatred of cities within them like striations in woodgrain: the Bedouin’s antipathy to life in cities, for they were all born, these gods—this God—out in the red granite cliffs beneath sagging palm fronds where lizards dart across rocks. As the French theoretician Regis Debray put it: “The city closes man in on himself; the desert opens him up to the Other. The polytheist prefers the vegetal, embellishments and valleys; his despiser prefers the mineral, abrupt canyons, limestone cliffs limned with geological phantasmagoria.”[i]

The desert is the home of monotheism, as Ernst Renan once put it.

And monotheism is a type of religiosity that is inherently, and structurally, opposed to life in cities, for it is a religion of nomads and camel drivers; of goat-herders and men living in tents, like the prehistoric Jacob wandering with his sons across the desertscapes of Palestine. The 10th Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house,” may actually be an injunction to the nomad to keep his eyes on the grainy, shimmering horizons and the arcing wave-shaped, wind-blown dunes and away from the cities of the plain, nestled and secure within the mental wombs of their ancient protective gods.

And, just as in chaos theory, in which large effects ultimately result from very small initial conditions, so the monotheistic shepherd’s antipathy to cities will later become the general incommensurability of the Abrahamic worldview with science. The Scientific Civilization, also built by the West, is a civilization that comes out of life in cities, that is to say, the Medieval world of walled cities, towns and hamlets whose capitalistic metabolism nourished the very conditions out of which the scientific mentality could grow and thrive; the Monotheistic Society, though, is a world rooted in the horizontal life of nomads, goats, donkeys, camels and tents. Hence, in the Book of Genesis, Cain (whose name means “smith”) is cursed from the very beginning: nothing good, this text says, can come from technology or the worldview that leads to life in cities. Cain’s son Enoch is the builder of the world’s very first city, and his descendant Tubal-cain becomes the world’s first master of metallurgy. It is thus no coincidence that the Bible portrays Cain as the one who introduces murder into the world, for the Abrahamic vision thereby equates technology with cities, corruption and death. The city builder who, unlike the nomad, is locked into place and is therefore constrained to move vertically, can only ever give birth to his Towers of Babel, those impious and hubristic ladders to the heavens which confer on the city builder his heaven-storming arrogance.

Cain is the farmer; Abel the shepherd. But the excess produce of the farmer will require huge silos and storage buildings within which to store the grain, and soon, this will lead to the necessity for protective enclosures such as walls, armies and temples. One of the very first cities, in fact, the Samarran site of Tell es Sawwan (circa. 6000 BC), was nothing more than a collection of seven large storage silos for grain which, in later levels of the site, gave birth to a walled compound, one of the world’s first walled settlements, in fact. Gilgamesh was later regarded as a builder of walls, but the animal man Enkidu, on the other hand, climbs his way up from the deserts to the inside of the protective womb of Uruk itself: he was precisely the sort of dusty fellow that Gilgamesh had built his walls to keep out. However, Gilgamesh’s partnership with this proto-Martu was prophetic of the future of Near Eastern religion, which would unfold, not from the life of the city dweller, as in the days of the ancients, but from the dwellers in tents who had, from time immemorial, circled the cities as roving satellites. Gilgamesh was, in a sense, the lord of civilization’s past (hence, the true significance of his role as keeper of the dead, for the dead are merely bits of fossilized Past); while the future belonged to the Enkidus who claimed the world of cliffs and valleys, steppes and plains as their home.

The world’s most ancient deity of writing, the Sumerian goddess Nisaba, also happened to be the goddess of grain, for writing was originally invented in Sumer as a means of keeping track of economic flows going in and out of the temples: grain to this god and its priesthood; barley for that man and his fieldwork, etc. Thus, writing, like the first walls, and the farmer’s act of reaping and threshing and storing his grain, is part of the new womb-world of enclosures that the first cities brought into being.

But it is precisely such enclosures that the monotheistic shepherd blows apart: the Tower of Babel must be stopped by introducing foreign languages to break down its lines of communication so that it can no longer be built; the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah must be flattened by divine wrath for their incubation of bizarre and polymorphic forms of sexuality; the earliest cities themselves wrecked by a gigantic Flood, which washes them away like so much ruined silt and debris from the river’s ebb tide.

The monotheistic nomad, and his invisible God, wants nothing of enclosures, which recall too much of the womb and the Great Mother. He wants only open, endless vistas shimmering from one muddy horizon to the next; wants only the freedom to move about unconstrained and wander from one desert spring to the next; wishes only to follow the ancient desert trails of his Bedouin forebears who have tracked the endless, featureless wastes of the desert scrub before him.

For our blackboard, then, another formula: Bondage vs. Freedom; arborescence vs. mobility; submission to a king vs. the shattering visions of the Prophets.

Part Two: The Three Great Monotheisms

[i] Regis Debray, God: an Itinerary (London: Verso Books, 2004), 39.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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