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Saturday, August 24, 2013

PARRHESIA: Reading Snowden Through Foucault's Fearless Speech Part 4

Edward Snowden - Parrhesiastes
A parrhesiastes is a person who practices parrhesia - truth-telling. A parrhesiastes differs from a whistle-blower -  which is a nice sounding sort of euphemism for tattle-tale. A conscientious objector resonates with Thoreau and civil disobedience, a practice most often associated with the Quakers's method of opposing violence. In these previous essays I have argued that Snowden is a parrhesiastes, not a whistle-blower and not a conscientious objector, but a person who practices parrhesia. I think distinctions in words are important, else why have different words.

Here are the previous essays and here, on the historical precedents and evolution of parrhesia and some of its genealogy connected with Snowden, all indebted to Foucault's book Fearless Speech, from which I quote profusely.

Plato: The Laws. Trans. Thomas L. Pangle, Book VIII,835c

....what is required, in all probability, is some daring human being, who by giving honor to outspokeness (parrhesia) will say what in his opinion is best for the city and the citizens. Speaking before an audience of corrupt souls, he will order what is fitting and becoming to the whole political regime; opposing the greatest desires, and having no human ally, all alone will he follow reason alone.

Chapter Four: Parrhesia in the Care of the Self begins with Socratic parrhesia and to demonstrate Foucault selects Plato's dialogue Laches.

First, this parrhesia is philosophical:
  1. the philosopher had to discover and to teach certain truths about the world, nature, etc.
  2. taking a stand towards the city, the laws, political institutions, etc required a political role
  3. parrhesiastic activity also endeavored to elaborate the nature of the relationships between truth and one's style of life, or truth and an ethics and aesthetics of the self.
Parrhesia in this domain of Greco-Roman culture is not a concept or theme, but a practice, which tries to shape the specific relations individuals have to themselves....the decisive criterion which identifies the parrhesiastes is not to be found in his birth, nor in his citizenship, nor in his intellectual competence, but in the harmony which exists between his logos and his bios.

Reading Snowden through this paragraph of Foucault's, does Snowden meet these requirements? 

Secondly (back to Foucault again) the target of this new parrhesia is not to persuade the assembly, but to convince someone that he must take care of himself and of others; and this means that he must change his life. This theme of changing one's life, of conversion, becomes very important from the Fourth Century B. C. to the beginnings of Christianity. (And here we see Foucault's approach at about this time to Habermas and the Frankfurt School.)

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise

the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced

beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders

and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,

burst like a star: for here there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life
Rainer Maria Rilke
...it is no longer just a matter of altering one's belief or opinion, but of changing one's style of life, one's relation to others, and one's relation to oneself. (FS p.106)

Thirdly these new parrhesiastic practices imply a complex set of connections between the self and truth. For not only are these practices supposed to endow the individual with self-knowledge, this self-knowledge in turn is supposed to grant access to truth and further knowledge.
And a final point...about this philosophical parrhesia is that it has recourse to numerous techniques quite different from the techniques of persuasive discourse previously utilized; and it is no longer specifically linked to the agora, or to the king's court, but can now be utilized in numerous diverse places. (FS p.107)

Monday, August 19, 2013

PARRHESIA:Reading Snowden as Parrhesiastes Through Foucault's Fearless Speech-Part 3

"Hence, real parrhesia, parrhesia in its positive, critical sense, 
does not exist where democracy exists." 
Foucault (FS p.83)
Chapter 3 in Foucault's Fearless Speech is titled:
Parrhesia in the Crisis of Democratic Institutions

What if all Germans had worn yellow stars? What if all travelers going through Customs carried a copy of Foucault's Fearless Speech?
What if all emails contained the words terrorist, bomb, backpack, pressure cooker, etc. What if these words were included in all telephone conversations. All comments on the internet. In all blogs, letters, everyday conversations? Jes' sayin'.

Foucault's genealogy of parrhesia begins with ancient Athens. All male citizens had the right of parrhesia at any time, although often they requested permission from the other to use it. Since there was no ruler, parrhesia  was considered as a critical guide to informing citizens and improving their governance, their city. It was a greatly prized right.  As Democracy transformed so did parrhesia noted especially by Isocrates in 355 B. C.

In the "Areopagiticus" (355 B.C.) Isocrates draws a set of distinctions which similarly expresses this general idea of the incompatibility of true democracy and critical parrhesia. For he compares the old Solonian and Cleisthenean constitutions to present Athenian political life, and praises the older polities on the grounds that they gave to Athens democracy, liberty, happiness, and equality in front of the law. All of these positive features of the old democracy, however, he claims have become perverted in the present Athenian democracy. Democracy has become lack of self-restraint; liberty has become lawlessness; happiness has become the freedom to do whatevr one pleases; and equality in front of the law has become parrhesia. Parrhesia in this text has only a negative, pejorative sense. So, as you can see, in Isocrates there is a constant positive evaluation of democracy in general, but coupled with the assertion that it is impossible to enjoy both democracy and parrhesia (understood in its positive sense). Moreover, there is the same distrust of the demos' feelings, opinions, and desires which we encountered in more radical form, in the Old Oligarch's lampoon.

....Plato's Republic  (Book VIII,557a-b), where Socrates explains how democracy arises and develops. For he tells Adeimantus that:

When the poor win, the result is democracy. They kill some of the opposite party, banish others, and grant the rest an equal share in civil rights and government, officials being usually appointed by lot.

This is Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

Socrates then asks: What is the character of this new regime? And he says of the people in a democracy:

First of all they are free. Liberty and free speech (parrhesia) are rife everywhere; anyone is allowed to do what he likes...That being so, every man will arrange his own manner of life to suit his pleasure.

What is interesting about this text is that Plato does not blame parrhesia for endowing everyone with the possibility of influencing the city, including the worse citizens. For Plato, the primary danger of parrhesia is not that it leads to bad decisions in government, or provides the means for some ignorant or corrupt leader to gain power, to become a tyrant. The primary danger of liberty and free speech in a democracy is what results when everyone has his own manner of life, his own style of life, or what Plato calls (Greek untranslated). For then there will be no common logos , no possible unity, for the city.  Following the Platonic principle that there is an analogous relation between the way a human being behaves and the way a city is ruled....And you can see that Plato also considers parrhesia not only as the freedom to say whatever one wishes, but as linked with the freedom to do whatever one wants. It is a kind of anarchy involving the freedom to choose one's own style of life without limit. 
The I Ching

This is what Foucault defines as "problematization", and, in this case political problematization of parrhesia in Greek culture. And he brings our attention to focus and observe two main aspects of this problematization during the Fourth Century B.C. 

And I especially want to point out - here and elsewhere - the correspondence of the destinies of ancient Athens and the present US Empire. The Events that occurred and are occurring that are, while not identical, so similar they cannot be ignored. It is almost as if Toynbee's proposal of "challenge" to an empire, which the empire cannot respond to in a positive way in order to continue to grow, is stalking us from 2500 years ago.

Two main aspects then:
First, in Plato's text for example, the problem of the freedom of speech becomes increasingly related to the choice of existence, to the choice of ones's way of life. Freedom in the use of logos increasingly becomes freedom in the choice of  bios . And as a result, parrhesia is regarded more and more as a personal attitude, a personal quality, as a virtue which is useful for the city's political life in the case of positive or critical parrhesia, or as a danger for the city in the case of negative pejorative parrhesia.  

Demosthenes does not seek or make an issue of institutional guarantees for parrhesia, but insists on the fact that he, as a personal citizen, will use parrhesia because he must boldly speak the truth about the city's bad politics. And he claims that in so doing, he runs a great risk. For it is dangerous for him to speak freely, given that the Athenians in the Assembly are so reluctant to accept any criticism. 
Secondly, we can observe another transformation in the problematization of parrhesia: parrhesia is increasingly linked to another kind of political institution, viz., monarchy. Freedom of speech must now be used towards the king. But obviously, in such a monarchic situation, parrhesia  is much more dependent upon the personal qualities, both of the king (who must choose to accept or reject the use of parrhesia), and of the king's advisors. Parrhesia is no longer an institutional right or privilege - as in a democratic city - but is much more a personal attitude, a choice of bios.
And the "king's" wisdom or folly is revealed by the parrhesiastes. And are we not seeing this today in the US. The parrhesiastes unmasks the smiling face of the tyrant, the fool, the unwise sovereign. And the demos  can see for themselves. 

Edward Snowden has said he doesn't want to live in a world where everything he says and does is subject to surveillance. Well nobody does, so what makes him different from the rest of us who say these things every day? Obviously Snowden has said it very publicly.  Snowden was subject to Foucault's thinking on this: Who can say it, where they can say it, when they can say it, how they can say it,what they can say and why they can say it. Snowden has met every limiting attribute of the practice of parrhesia. This is why he is a parrhesiastes.And this is the difference between Manning and Snowden. This is what makes Manning a conscientious objector or a whistle blower and Snowden a parrhesiastes.

Only by thinking genealogically can we arrive at this conclusion. We are facing another transformation of parrhesia, and this transformation has been driven by the internet. Parrhesia has fused with Cartesian proof, the bio  with the logos. Solzhenitsyn hid his manuscripts of The Gulag with many different people. They were smuggled to the west and published to his dismay and against his desire at the time. It was too dangerous to too many people including himself. His celebrity was too great for him to be snuffed and so he was exiled to Vermont. He said very little about the US but he was not an admirer of our capitalism and said so, but in no great detail. More like a tweet. And as soon as he could return to Russia he went back. And began again, also helping many many ex Gulag survivors, zeks, as many as he could pouring all his financial resources into helping them. His sons went to prestigious New England colleges.

My obsession with parrhesia consists of what the parrhesiastes reveals about the Other, so I hope to get there soon. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

PARRHESIA: Reading Snowden Through Foucault; Part 2

Edward Snowden - A Parrhesiastes
Parrhesia - Fearless Speech - Truth-Telling
 The Parrhesiastes is the one who uses parrhesia, i.e., the one who speaks the truth.

The Meaning of the Word
  • Frankness
  • Truth
  • Danger
  • Criticism
  • Duty    

Frankness:The word parrhesia, then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. ...in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people's minds by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes. 

For, as we shall see, the commitment involved in parrhesia is linked to a certain social situation, to a difference of status between the speaker and his audience, to the fact that the parrhesiastes says something which is dangerous to himself and thus involves a risk, and so on. 

Truth: There are two types of parrhesia which we must distinguish. First, there is a pejorative sense of the word not very far from "chattering," ....This pejorative sense occurs in Plato, for example, as a characterization of the bad democratic constitution where everyone has the right to address his fellow citizens and to tell them anything - even the most stupid or dangerous things for the city. In Christian literature the emphasis will change as it is an obstacle to the contemplation of God.
Most of the time, however, parrhesia does not have this pejorative meaning in the classical texts, but rather a positive one. .....To my mind, the parrhesiastes says what is true because it is really true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. He says what he knows to be true.  The second characteristic of parrhesia, then, is that there is always an exact coincidence between belief and truth.  
It would be interesting to compare Greek parrhesia with the modern Cartesian conception of evidence....It appears that parrhesia, in this Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework.
 I am soon to disagree with Foucault here, as I think the "proof" produced by Snowden satisfies Cartesian evidence while demonstrating classical parrhesia attributes in addressing the "sovereign." I think Snowden has executed a Foucauldian CUT in the genealogy of parrhesia.
The discontinuity is that all requirements of classical parrhesia have been met by Snowden accompanied by Cartesian evidence. By inverting the paradigm, the searchlight is thrown on the Other, the more powerful entity, and we see that the parrhesiastes using parrhesia discloses the character and "truth" of the "sovereign" to the people. In that respect parrhesia lifts the mask of the "sovereign."

As Bane says in The Dark Knight Rises, "When all is lies, the truth is a weapon."
If there is a kind of "proof" of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous - different from what the majority believes - is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes

Danger: Someone is said to use parrhesia and merits consideration as a parrhesiastes only if there is a risk or danger for him in telling the truth. ...when a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign, to a tyrant, and tells him that his tyranny is disturbing and unpleasant because tyranny is incompatible with justice, then the philosopher speaks the truth, believes he is speaking the truth, and, more than that, also takes a risk (since the tyrant may become angry, may punish him, may exile him, may kill him.) And that was exactly Plato's situation with Dionysius in Syracuse....
And of course this is Edward Snowden's situation with the US Empire's government.

 So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk....Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger; it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the "game" of life or death.

It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing. 

When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself; you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken. Of course, the threat of death comes from the Other, and thereby requires a relationship to the Other. But the parrhesiastes primarily chooses a specific relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-teller rather than as a living being who is false to himself. 

Hamlet anyone? 

 Criticism: For in parrhesia the danger always comes from the fact that the said truth is capable  of hurting or angering the interlocutor. Parrhesia is thus always a "game" between the one who speaks the truth and the interlocutor. The parrhesia involved, for example, may be the advice that the interlocutor should behave in a certain way, or that he is wrong in what he thinks, or in the way he acts, and so on. ...So, you see, the function of parrhesia is not to demonstrate the truth to someone else, but has the function of criticism: criticism of the interlocutor....Parrhesia is a form of criticism either toward another or towards oneself, but always in a situation where the speaker or confessor is in a position of inferiority with respect to the interlocutor. The parrhesiastes is always less powerful than the one with whom he speaks. The parrhesia comes from "below," as it were, and is directed towards "above."...But when a philosopher criticizes a tyrant, when a citizen criticizes the majority, when a pupil criticizes his teacher, then such speakers may be using parrhesia.

This is not to imply, however, that anyone can use parrhesia. ....most of the time the use of parrhesia requires that the parrhesiastes know his own genealogy, his own status;...In "democratic parrhesia" - where one speaks to the assembly, ....one must be a citizen; in fact, one must be one of the best among the citizens, possessing those specific personal, moral, and social qualities which grant one the privilege to speak. 

However, the parrhesiastes risks his privilege to speak freely when he discloses a truth which threatens the majority. For it was a well-known juridical situation that Athenian leaders were exiled only because they proposed something which was opposed by the majority, or even because the assembly thought that the strong influence of certain leaders limited its own freedom. And so the assembly was, in this manner, "protected" against the truth. That, then, is the institutional background of "democratic parrhesia" - which must be distinguished from that "monarchic parrhesia" where an advisor gives the sovereign honest and helpful advice. 
And it is here that the boundaries of democratic parrhesia and monarchic parrhesia begin to get blurry for me. Snowden's situation seems not only to be an example of "democratic parrhesia, but also one of "monarchic parrhesia," speaking truth to the tyrant. Although in this case it is a team of tyrants, a multitude of tyrants that includes the rulers and citizens combined. And this is something very new in the US. Solzhenitsyn in Soviet USSR was gulagged and when he survived was exiled. Snowden faced something swifter and something worse. This is where I see the Foucauldian CUT in the genealogy of parrhesia:

  1. A merging of proof and classic parrhesia
  2. An automatic and threatened sentence of endless torture and captivity proposed in advance of the supposed "criminal trial" of truth-telling, to silence all future truth-tellers
Duty: The last characteristic of parrhesia is this: in parrhesia, telling the truth is regarded as a duty. The orator who speaks the truth to those who cannot accept his truth, for instance, and who may be exiled, or punished in some way, is free to keep silent. No one forces him to speak, but he feels that it is his duty to do so. ...Parrhesia is thus related to freedom and duty.

To summarize the foregoing, parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty.  More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy. (FS pp.11-20) 
Although Foucault is constructing a genealogy of parrhesia within the time period of the Fifth Century B.C. to the Fifth Century A.D. - one thousand years! - It would seem with Solzhenitsyn and Snowden that parrhesia does not stop there but has only rested. Its form has changed but I see no reason to change the name or the concept.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

PARRHESIA - Fearless Speech:Reading Snowden Through Foucault

Edward Snowden - A Parrhesiastes

Socratic-Platonic answers to the questions:
  1. How can we recognize someone as a parrhesiastes?
  2. What is the importance of having a parrhesiastes for the city?
  3. What is the training of a good parrhesiastes?
And I would say that the problematization of truth which characterizes both the end of Presocratic philosophy and the beginning of the kind of philosophy which is still ours today, this problematization of truth has two sides, two major aspects. One side is concerned with ensuring that the process of reasoning is correct in determining whether a statement is true (or concerns itself  with our ability to gain access to the truth). And the other side is concerned with the question:
What is the importance for the individual and for the society of telling the truth, of knowing the truth, of having people who tell the truth, as well as knowing how to recognize them?
With that side which is concerned with determining how to ensure that a statement is true we have the roots of the great tradition in Western philosophy which I would like to call the "analytics of truth." And on the other side, concerned with the question of the importance of telling the truth, knowing who is able to tell the truth, and knowing why we should tell the truth, we have the roots of what we could call the "critical" tradition in the West. And here you will recognize one of my targets in this seminar, namely, to construct a genealogy of the critical attitude in Western philosophy. That constituted the general objective of this seminar. (FS pp. 170-71)
My intention was not to deal with the problem of truth, but with the problem of the truth-teller, or of truth-telling as an activity....At issue for me was rather the attempt to consider truth-telling as a specific activity or as a role. ...I could have compared the role and status of truth-tellers in Greek society, Christian societies, non-Christian societies _the role of the prophet as a truth-teller, the role of the oracle as a truth-teller, the role of the poet, of the expert,of the preacher, and so on.  But, in fact, my intention was not to conduct a sociological description of the different possible roles for truth-tellers in different societies. 
What I wanted to analyze was how the truth-teller's role was variously problematized in Greek philosophy. ....this same Greek philosophy has also raised the question of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an activity. It has raised questions like: 

  1. Who is able to tell the truth?
  2. What are the moral, the ethical, and the spiritual conditions which entitle someone to present himself as, and to be considered as, a truth-teller?
  3. About what topics is it important to tell the truth?(About the world? About nature? About the city? About behavior? About man?)
  4. What are its  anticipated positive effects for the city, for the city's rulers, for the individual?,etc.
And finally: What is the relation between the activity of truth-telling and the exercise of power? 
Should truth-telling be brought into coincidence with the exercise of power, or should these activities be completely independent and kept separate?
Are they separable, or do they require one another?
These four questions about truth-telling as an activity:

  1. Who is able to tell the truth?
  2. About what?
  3. With what consequences?
  4. With what relation to power?    

These four questions seem to have emerged as philosophical problems towards the end of the Fifth Century around Socrates, especially through his confrontations with the Sophists about politics, rhetorics, and ethics. (FS pp. 169-173)
And we all know what finally happened to Socrates. 
 And what is disturbing to me is that my tweets on Foucault's Panopticon have been picked up concerning Snowden's truth-telling of NSA surveillance (see a google search on Foucault + Snowden) but no one - NO ONE - is discussing Foucault's last works at the end of his life on parrhesia, or as Foucault calls it truth-telling, outlined in a series of talks at Berkeley in the early 1980's collected after his death from transcripts into the Semiotext(e) edition Fearless Speech.
Is this subject too frightening to touch? Are academics too scared? There are careerist academics who have made their career off Foucault's coattails. They have written dissertations on his work, books on his life, gotten tenure, prestigious chairs at universities all over the world and not one goddamn one of them has connected Edward Snowden to Foucault's work on truth-telling or the ancient Greek term parrhesia and the parrhesiastes!  This is 2500 years of critical tradition in the West, and only in the West, and no one is connecting these dots?