The Way of Hilton: Esprit de Corps in The UK and the USA in the Twentieth Century

Edinburgh University Press and myself are delighted to offer you in open access the chapter 7 of my book Ensemblance. Feel free to download – the introduction is also open access.

A happy phrase is sometimes coined, so humanly expressive that barriers of language are swept aside and like music it becomes a universal sentiment. To the French we are indebted for such an expression, ‘esprit de corps’, which our English tongue has adopted and naturalized because it visualizes, as no idiom of our own does, the essence of co-operation. ‘Esprit de corps’ is the common spirit pervading men associated in business or social activity, implying sympathy, enthusiasm, devotion and jealous regard for the honor of the body as a whole. In concrete form it symbolizes the story of co-ordinated effort that has gradually raised humanity from the brutish isolation of history’s dawn to the intensive inter-relations of today’s high civilization. In proportion as‘esprit de corps’ becomes a motivating force in men’s lives do they transcend the narrow bounds of selfishness and become social beings, for it brings into action forces potent to lift men’s thoughts from their own petty affairs to the contemplation of wider horizons. On this great co-ordinating emotion each of the component factors – sympathy, enthusiasm, devotion and jealous regard for honor – taken separately would be sufficient to elevate standards of conduct; taken together, they are the stuff that wins forlorn hopes, founds empires and conquers the world. A great business is very much like the human body, many different parts working together in close harmony. The human factors in business, each allotted to different tasks, are as dependent one on the other as are the organs and tissues of the body – one cannot do the job to the utmost if others fail to work to the same end. In a large organization ‘esprit de corps’ must be the soul that animates the body if the business is to function with the vigor of healthy growth, inspiring every one associated in the enterprise to pride in the purpose and value of his work, and to resolute determination to add his full quota to the total of achievement. A task of real importance devolves upon each one of us – so to imbue our associates by precept and example with ‘esprit de corps’ and all that it implies that we may work together as a great harmonious whole for the common welfare which, in the end, must be for the greatest good of each.

John Scofield Rowe, ‘Practical Philosophies: Esprit de Corps’, The Monroe Monitor, 9 August 1929, p. 2.

The End of the Old Earth, the Beginning of the New World

Coming November 3 from Snuggly Books (USA)

Paridaiza, a sense-stimulating game invented at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, is a three-dimensional reproduction of Earth; a vast holographic territory referred to by its devotees as Biearth to distinguish it from what they now—and not without irony—call Old Earth. Cities such as New York, Peking, Moscow, Paris, and Berlin can be found in Paridaiza, duplicated with unsettling accuracy. In this breathtaking novel by Luis de Miranda, presented here in a masterful translation by Tina Kover, Paridaiza one day welcomes Clara and Nuno, a drifting couple who hope to find re-enchantment in this virtual world where everything is possible.

“You Should Be Happy To Be Alive”, Says the Master to the Slave. Pandemic Biopolitics in 2020.

In 2020, a pandemic shook the earth across nations and continents, inducing a heavy human, economic and psychological cost. The core of the crisis was not principally an issue of statistics, logistics, or even physical health: the essence of the 2020 pandemic disorder was humanity’s deficiency in political and philosophical health.

Philosophical thinking, in its various global forms, seems to have been a feature of the human species for less than three thousand years. This, in evolutionary terms, is so recent that we may be led to think that philosophical thinking is not hardwired to the human brain, in the way competitive or emotional thinking is. The idea of human flourishing is closely tied to the invention of philosophy. It seems to be related to a moment were humanity starts aspiring to free itself from fear, war, religion or mental servitude. With philosophical thinking and its ideal of human flourishing, humanity becomes not only preoccupied about survival on earth and paradise after death: philosophy’s gift to humanity is the idea of paradise on earth – a earthly good life must be possible if we organise it as republic, said Plato.

Later on, philosophers like Confucius, Spinoza or Nietzsche, among many others, would insist that philosophy could help us to realise a joyful, meaningful and fulfilling political life on our planet. There can be no mature politics without philosophy. Yet, the planet in 2020 is still widely a place of immaturity. Many politicians over the world used the 2020 pandemic as a means to control and continue to infantilise the populations.

In 2020, the Western World, up to know less and less inclined in its practices to value the existence and human utility of the elderly, was apparently caught in a wave of gerontophilia. “We must save the physical lives of the old and weak at all cost” became the suspicious slogan of those who were ready, because of their lack of long-term vision and their will-to-power, to jeopardise the economical and psychological equilibrium of millions of existences, as if the economy and the capital where not central, in our late-capitalist human interactions.

The young slave asks: “Does humanism mean spending the longest possible time on earth, even if that time is sad, undignified and with poor creative possibilities?” “You should be happy to be alive” is the sentence the master tells the young slave. Adding: “And you will stay alive if you obey and comply. We know what is good for you.”

Such is the crisis in philosophical health, and such is the solution: a healthy human life should never be measured quantitatively in terms of mere physical longevity. It should be preferable to die young than to accept to live a life of mere biological survival, anxious competition and lack of freedom to decide and do what is good for us, singularly and for our communities. Paradises on earth (notice the plural) is the mission of philosophy – politics, economy or technology should be nothing but its pragmatic tools.

Now, in the middle of the 2020 global abuse of biopolitics, a term Foucault used to describe the quasi-totalitarian administration and regulation of human and non-human life at the levels of the population and the individual body, we can now say that one dispositive enabled the citizens to cope and remain patient: digital tools of communication. But perhaps these very same tools, when used as means of divertissement, prevented many from rebelling against the restrictions of our freedom to self-determine?

The question then is: once our digital interactions will be augmented by artificial intelligence in a Politix 2.0 world, will they allow us to pursue the philosophical project of paradise on earth or will they improve Plato’s cave of illusions to a level of veracity such that we, as Nietzsche’s last man, when told about a better life under the real sun of truth, will smile, blink, turn our eyes back to our artificial screens in a whisper of satisfaction: “My life feels mediocre deep inside. My way of life might be destructive of the future of humanity. But hey!, I should be happy to be alive!”

Awakening Your Inner Philosopher

Birds are singing outside in the garden, perched on trees. I close my eyes and listen to one of them chirping. There is a silence, then a high-pitched chitter composed of a facetious signature of notes, then silence again. Then a similar musical coding repeats. As I focus, the sound seems to be now located in my head. Yet I know that I did not produce it, or only partially. My surroundings are a patchwork of sounds. The more I can name and identify them, the more I hear them distinctly; for example, the normally subconscious droning of the heating unit in the basement, the exinterior of a car passing by, a raven croaking, and my fingers typing on the computer’s keyboard, the latter being marketed as “Magic” by the brand that designed it. I previously heard most of these sounds on uncounted occasions, yet, when I pay attention, they have a freshness to them, a presentness that seems to be proportional to my focus. Other sounds still don’t reach my consciousness and remain subliminal.

Now, as you read these lines, surrender to the sounds around you as if for the first time. And listen to your voice echoing my voice and asking: what is your first philosophy?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, First Philosophy is:

In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the study of being, or being in itself. In Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, the topics include skepticism, the existence of God, and the nature of the soul. The idea that the methods of philosophy should be continuous with those of science, or that there is no “privileged” philosophical perspective on other disciplines, is frequently expressed as hostility to first philosophy.[1]

First Philosophy, or Prima Philosophia in Latin, deals with the simple origin of all there is, endeavouring to expose a first principle of ultimate foundation and its relationship with the beings in the world, for example Spirit in Hegelian dialectics or the I Think in Descartes, the Loved Prime Mover in Aristotle or Being in Heidegger. First Philosophy means a discipline of standing by the source, of meditation on the primordial emotion of being, and listening to your self as cosmic soul, in the present, past and future.

In his written meditations, Descartes is almost never quoting or only implicitly, he is journeying alone, in brave equilibrium between his mind and all there is, without cowardly artefacts like drugs or dogmas. But of course the elimination of references and influences is a myth and in Descartes’s case a self-fulfilling philosophy. No wonder that he discovered himself to be a solipsistic cogito! If you pretend to eliminate all influences when you think, you will believe that you think only when you are by yourself, absolutely detached. I find this to be only partly true.

It is foolish to pretend that we are thinking alone: the Creal (the creative universe), the world, language, culture, past readings, are thinking through us. What we think is a spontaneous thought might be enmeshed in a network of influences. This is why I believe in a balance between personal impressions, a subjective enquiry, and a reasonable amount of erudition.

What justifies my method? It remains subjective while aiming at truth. It believes in creativity while respecting tradition. I am not interested in developping a gray analytic theory in which my joy, my wonder, my embodied ecstasy would not be included. Until now, physicists or scientists mostly managed to describe the world mathematically by bracketing all that is not measurable, all that is not matter, and some would say, all that matters – such as life, love, creation, faith, fervour, joy, play, the active experience of being in the world. First philosophy should be spiritual in the sense proposed by Foucault in his seminar on the Ancient Greek tradition of philosophy a care for the self as well as for truth. Access to a rich and liveable truth must be holistic, embodied, partly subjective, an ethical, not just epistemological, practice, as Nietzsche also recommended. One must listen to evidence, to the world, to the birds, and also to oneself, while being conscious that knowledge is also invention. Foucault writes in The Hermeneutics of the Subject:

Good philosophical listening involves a necessary work of attention, of a double and forked attention. On the one hand looking towards the pragma, towards a specifically philosophical signification in which assertion is equivalent to prescription. And then, on the other, a looking at ourselves in which, memorizing what we have heard, we see it embedding itself and gradually becoming subject in the soul that listens. The soul that listens must keep watch on itself. In paying proper attention to what it ears it pays attention to what it hears as signification, as pragma. It also pays attention to itself so that, through this listening and memory, the true thing gradually becomes the discourse that it clutches to itself. This is the first point of this subjectivation of true discourse.[2]

We can establish the following: contrary to most analytical descriptions of the world, who pretend to be objective and neutral, a crealectical description consciously engages the observer or the listener. Yet, crealectics is not a postmodern discourse about the confusion of relativism and the impossibility of grand shared narratives (the Creal is itself an intersubjective narrative). Here it is worth remembering Lyotard’s influential text on postmodernism, in which he claims that we have lost our credulity toward metanarratives:

I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the her­meneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth.[3]

A first philosophy starts with a grateful belief, an immanent (subjective) and transcendent (objective) first ontological principle. We need credos and mottos against the weakened incredulity of those who, for lack of integrity, get infected by the viruses, fears and infatuations of the masses. I have explained elsewhere, in my book on Lacan[4] and in a chapter on the concept of Creal,[5] that I am convinced that we cannot live without an absolute, without a belief, without a motto. No matter how much we try, we cannot be full nihilists, so those who believe they are agnostic are lying to themselves and probably believe in Competition, Survival of the Fittest, Happiness, Love, Money or some other unexamined truth. We always follow some form of divinity and worship because in the end we are all dreaming of a paradise on earth (even the Marxists did so). But dreams, as Freud proposed, need to be interpreted and analysed in order not to become distorted wishes or death-drives.

The minimal belief that things tomorrow will be like yesterday is partly a matter of faith, whether or not you are depressed. Nietzsche often insisted: don’t be fooled by those who pretend to have no desire, don’t be impressed by the bureaucrats of objectivity. He writes in the Genealogy of Morals:

There is, strictly speaking, absolutely no science “without presuppositions”, the thought of such a science is unthinkable, paralogical; a philosophy, a “belief” must always be there first so that science can derive a direction from it, a meaning, a boundary, a method, a right to existence.[6]

My initial belief is the Creal, which is a grateful emotion of being, an empowering trust in the incessant and generous creative growth of the possibles, and in a form of worldmaking that sings in harmony with what I admire and wish to celebrate in all aspects of my life, day and night. Like Descartes, but no necessarily with the same amount of forced doubt, it is worth listening to your inner philosophical voice, the one that says that tomorrow only has to be like yesterday if your idea of the eternal return of being is a creative offering of sustained, harmonising and universalisable joy.

 

[1] Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[2] Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, translated by Graham Burchell, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), p. 351.

[3] Jean-François Lyotard, The postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. xxiii.

[4] Luis de miranda, Peut-on jouir du capitalisme? Lacan avec Heidegger et Marx (Paris: Max Milo, 2009).

[5] Luis de Miranda, “On the Concept of Creal: The Politico-Ethical Horizon of a Creative Absolute”, in The Dark Precursor: Deleuze and Artistic Research (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2017), pp. 510–6.

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Translated by M. Clark and A. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998), III, §24, p. 110