File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 31

Date: Wed, 07 Nov 2001 22:16:07 -0600
Subject: Ethics as a Figure of Nihilism

This chapter begins with the statement that "ethics designates above
all, the incapacity, so typical of the contemporary world, to name and
strive for a Good...resignation in the face of necessity together with a
purely negative, if not destructive, will.  It is this combination that
should be designated as nihilism."

What Badiou considers as the realm of necessity is one that is
synonymous with ethics as the figure of the logic of Capital.  The role
ethics plays is to organize subjectivity and public opinion to ratify
what seems necessary.  Since this economic realm is sacrosanct, the
roles of ethics becomes restricted to a secondary position.  

The important issues are predetermined and remain unexamined by ethics.
All its judgements of value remain within the context of economics, the
necessary. What must be done is no longer a matter of principle, but
merely a matter of practicality - what is effective under the existing

In this way, ethics acts as an implicit denial of truth.  For what is
characteristic of truth is that it bores a hole in established
knowledges.  Truth is the only thing for all and therefore stands
against dominant opinions which work only for the benefit of some,
namely those who benefit from this so-called necessity.

The way this applies to 'concern for the other' is as follows.  The Law
in the form of human rights is always already there.  It has been
pre-established.  There is, however, no question of reconsidering this
Law and thereby going beyond it.  

Like economics, the Law is governed ultimately by the conservative
identity that sustains it.  The Law is simply another word for
necessity.  As Badiou points out, from a psychological point of view, in
the end such an ethics is governed by a will to nothingness, a death

This leads to the shiver that is felt when the Other comes too close,
when Evil knocks at one's own door.  For at its core, ethics remains
simply the power to decide who is to live and who is to die.  Ethics
regards with pity those victims who are being-for-death.  It condescends
to help, but only to the extent that these victims choose what is
necessary as opposed to what is true. Otherwise, ethics transforms these
victims into criminals who must then be destroyed. 

Badiou next discusses euthanasia and bio-ethics. He remarks that ethics
"allows death to go about its busines, without opposing to it the
Immortality of resistance."

He compares this to Nazism which had a very thoroughgoing ethics of
Life.  The distinction it made was to distinguish between a dignified
life and an undignified one - to uphold the one and to destroy the

Badiou argues that similarly today, the conjunction of bio (genetic
engineering, euthanasia etc) with ethics in the hands of abstract
committees is threatening in similar ways.  "Every definition of Man
based on happiness is nihilist."  He says.

In other words ethics is used to enforce our happiness by imposing
conditions of misery based upon necessity on those who potentially
threaten our superior condition - to improve the white man and destroy
the monster - without recognizing the extent to which the one depends
upon the other.

Ethics is the interweaving of an unbridled and self-serving economy with
the discourse of law. It dooms 'what is' to the Western mastery of death
- conservative propaganda with an obscure desire for catastrophe.  (like
those American conservatives who aren't afraid of global warming because
Jesus is coming back anyway.)

Only be affirming truths against this desire for nothingness can
nihilism be overcome - against the ethics of living-well whose real
content is the deciding of death, there stands an ethic of truth.



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