Too True To Be Good

Last week on the Colbert Report, he started talking about the mosque bombing and the incipient civil war and said something like: ‘Civil war. By definition we can’t be involved. Now there’s your exit strategy.’ And the thing is, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Adorno Redux

This long aphorism from Minima Moralia offers a great explanation for why people, and Americans in particular, identify with the wealthy instead of with each other, something that always puzzled and annoyed me.  Adorno was writing about ‘the west’ in general but the dynamic seems to have reached its most advanced form in my country, for obvious enough reasons.

Of course it has great one-liners like: ‘[...] to be good and to have goods coincided from the beginning.’

I think I like the Jephcott translation a little better. This one seems very precise, but a little finicky. It was the best I could find online.

Model virtue. – It is well-known how oppression and ethics [Moral] converge in the renunciation of the drives. But the ethical ideas do not merely oppress other ones, but are immediately derived from the existence of the oppressor. Since Homer, the concepts of good and wealth are intertwined in the Greek language. The kalokagathie [Greek: perfection], which was upheld by the humanists of modern society as a model of aesthetic-ethical harmony, has always put a heavy emphasis on property, and Aristotele’s Politics openly confessed the fusion of inner value with status in the determination of nobility, as “inherited wealth, which is connected with excellence.” The concept of the polis [Greek: city-state] in classical antiquity, which upheld internalized and externalized nature [Wesen], the validity of the individual [Individuum] in the city-state and the individual’s self as a unity, permitted it to ascribe moral rank to wealth, without inciting the crude suspicion, which the doctrine already at that time courted. If the visible effect on an existent state establishes the measure of a human being, then it is nothing but consistency to vouchsafe the material wealth, which tangibly confirms that effect, as the characteristic of the person, since the latter’s moral substance – just as later in Hegel’s philosophy – is supposed to be constituted on nothing other than their participation in the objective, social substance. Christianity first negated that identification, in the phrase that it would be easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. But the particular theological premise on voluntary chosen poverty indicates how deeply the general consciousness is stamped by the ethos [Moralität] of property. Fixed property is to be distinguished from the nomadic disorder, against which all norms are directed; to be good and to have goods, coincided from the beginning. Good people are those who control themselves as their own possessions: their autonomous nature [Wesen] is modeled on material disposition. The rich are therefore not to be accused of being unethical – that reproach has ever belonged to the armature of political oppression – but given to understand, that they represent ethics [Moral] to others. In this latter is reflected having [Habe]. Wealth as goodliness [Gutsein: having goods/being good] is an element of the mortar of the world: the hard-bitten appearance [Schein] of such identity hinders the confrontation of the moral idea with the social order, in which the rich are right, while at the same time determinations of what is ethical different than those derived from wealth cannot be conceptualized. The more that the individual [Individuum] and society later diverged in the competition of interests, and the more the former is thrown back on itself, the more stubbornly do individuals hold onto the conception of moral nature [Wesen] as wealth. It is supposed to vouch for the possibility of reunifying what has been divided in two, into inside and outside. That is the secret of the inner-worldly asceticism, which Max Weber wrongly hypostatized as the limitless exertion of the businessman ad majorem dei gloriam [Latin: to the greater glory of God]. Material success binds individual [Individuum] and society not merely in the comfortable and meanwhile dubious sense, that the rich can escape loneliness, but in a far more radical sense: if the blind, isolated self-interest is driven only far enough, then it passes over, along with the economic one, into social power and reveals itself to be the incarnation of a universally binding principle. Whoever is rich or acquires wealth, experiences what is attained by the ego, “by one’s own initiative,” as what the objective Spirit [Geist], the truly irrational predestination of a society held together by brutal economic inequality, has willed. Thus the rich may reckon as benevolence, what testifies only to its absence. To themselves and to others, they experience themselves as the realization of the general principle. Because this latter is injustice, that is why the unjust turn regularly into the just, and not as mere illusion, but borne out of the hegemony of the law, according to which society reproduces itself. The wealth of the individual is inseparable from progress in society as “prehistory.” The rich dispose over the means of production. Consequently the technical progress, in which the entire society participates, is accounted for primarily as “their” progress, today that of industry, and the Fords necessarily appear to be benefactors, to the same degree which they in fact are, given the framework of the existing relations of production. Their privilege, already established in advance, makes it seem as if they were giving up what is theirs – namely the increase on the side of use-value – while those who are receiving their administered blessings are getting back only part of the profit. That is the ground of the character of delusion of ethical hierarchy. Poverty has indeed always been glorified as asceticism, the social condition for the acquisition of precisely the wealth in which morality [Sittlichkeit] is manifested, but nevertheless “what a man is worth” [in English in original] signifies, as everyone knows, the bank account – in the jargon of the German merchants, “the man is good,” i.e. they can pay. What however the reasons of state of the almighty economy so cynically confesses, reaches unacknowledged into the mode of conduct of individuals. The generosity in private intercourse, which the rich can presumably allow themselves, the reflected glow of happiness, which rests on them, and something of this falls on everyone who they consort with, all this veils them. They remain nice, “the right people” [in English in original], the better types, the good. Wealth distances itself from immediate injustice. The guard beats strikers with a billy club, the son of the factory-owner may occasionally drink a whisky with the progressive author. According to all desiderata of private ethics [Moral], even the most advanced kind, the rich could, if they only could, in fact always better be than the poor. This possibility, while truly indeed left unused, plays its role in the ideology of those who do not have it: even the convicted con artist, who may anyway be preferable to the legitimate boss of the trusts, is famous for having such a beautiful house, and the highly paid executive turns into a warm human being, the moment they serve an opulent dinner. Today’s barbaric religion of success is accordingly not simply counter-ethical [widermoralisch], rather it is the home-coming of the West to the venerable morals [Sitten] of the fathers. Even the norms, which condemn the arrangement of the world, owe their existence to the latter’s own mischief [Unwesen]. All ethics [Moral] is formed on the model of what is unethical [Unmoral], and to this day reproduces the latter at every stage. Slave-ethics [Sklavenmoral] is in fact bad: it is still only master-ethics [Herrenmoral].

A New Word

I’d like to introduce a new verb: ‘To Cheney’ to the English language. 

‘To Cheney’ someone is to shoot a friend or ally when you’re aiming at something else. 

E.g. ‘That motherfucker was just standing there and he got cheneyed.’ 

Since there really isn’t a verb form for friendly fire, it could be used for that as well.
‘A sad commentary on the war in Afghanistan was the cheneying of Pat Tillman.’