Days of Past Futures: Nostalgia and Ostalgie

Or, in other words, hauntological ontology.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, ushering in an age of prosperity, markets, and capitalism to a relatively economically underdeveloped East Berlin. This was seen as many as the start of the revolutions which would go on to topple Communist dictatorships accross eastern Europe, causing the fall of the Soviet Bloc, an event that would hamper leftist movements internationally and cause the remaining socialist countries (among them, the PRC, the DRPK, Cuba, and Vietnam) to clamp down socially, as democracy proved to be a global phenomenon.

A squad of East German soldiers faces a West German crowd.

This was probably THE major landmark historical event of the late 20th century, all other Cold-War related events excluded. It marked the transition from a bipolar world order to a unipolar world order dominated by one power: the Americans. Indeed, America now stood at the top of the world as the now pronounced World Police. To pronounce America as having less than global dominance over an increasingly unified world (at least, from the American perspective) would be simply folly. The Bear was by all means dead. Long live the Eagle! Or so it seemed.

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and what has happened since then? Well, a War on Terror which suspiciously looks like the previous attempt to rule Afghanistan has raged since 2003 (Though US policymakers probably wonder about the comparative costs of pulling out and leaving yet another Iran in Iraq's place). Global economic inequality has steadily increased since that time, leading to an increasingly stratified society. However, GDP has increased rapidly over the past few decades, and so has population (though that seems to be changing). So what is the big diagnosis here, the big lesson learned, the, how shall we say, moral judgement on this period of history? It's funny to note that whenever one talks about politics, history seems to be on the side of whatever political belief one espouts, for example, a leftist will cite increasing literacy rates as a reason as to why government interventionism works in regards to improving quality of life for all; a right-libertarian will cry out that wouldn't necessarily be the most effecient way of going about improving education and that literacy necessarily represents maybe only a "base level" of interventionism needed by the government, perhaps a fascist will cry out that several of the countries are majority ethnically white, and so on and so forth.

Narratives have a long and storied tradition in most societies. The Bible is a key example of this, showing remarkable adaptation to modernist narratives of evolution, the other competing narrative in its history being the pagan narrative of many Gods, which is interestingly enough experiencing a revival amongst certain groups of right wing folk. It doesn't matter that any narrative, no matter how seducing the words or how empirical the data, suffers from the problem of induction, because people seemingly end up taking one anyway by virtue of logical necessity. Try to press a fervent racial nationalist on providing unbiased data for the Zionist Occupation Group, and he'll dismiss you as one of the hook nosed set of six parenthises he knows you really are. Hit a Communist with sheets of empirical data from the western bloc, and they'll probably go on about western imperialists selfishly stealing capital for themselves, or historical conditions not being in place for world communism to truly occur, or the much vaunted Not True Communism argument pulled from the less eloquent left-wingers from time to time.

A book, as well as a paper, or a web page, or a series of words, in essence, follows the irresistable structure that language always necessarily maintains. The words must follow, because otherwise there would be no logic; without the logic, there is no words, and thus, no vehicle to convey the logic by which the words operate. But does the vehicle necessarily validate the object which it conveys? Or does our sense data necessarily validate the object which the language-vehicle conveys? Thank God I'm not a philosophy undergrad, because not only would I have to read well informed takes on those questions, I also wouldn't have a job for reading well informed takes on those questions.

Obligatory Wittgenstein reference.

For now we shall confine ourselves to studying a historical (or current) phenomena named Ostalgie, a ramble on discrediting and the seductive nature of not-quite-dead ideologies, and ideological exhaustion.

Ostalgie: Die Partei die hat Immer Recht

It should be funny that an entire academic article, published by Rice University, no less, has appeared on the subject of a phenomena mostly unknown to anyone outside of Germany. My interest in the subject matter was sparked by an interesting videogame which is now availible on Steam for $2.99--AND it runs on Linux systems! There's apparently something captivating about the "Good Old Days", even when memories of the good old days should be marred by things like having a State Security force which controlled the entire population (At least the Germans didn't inherit their old Special Services organization, much unlike the FSS). In fact, memories of the Good Old Days seem to always be abound: remember the 1950s, with the strong, nuclear, white family, and the racial segregation, and the Korean War, and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation? Even the "liberal eugenics" movement of now seems much more humane than the original version. But still, climate catastrophe, or the Jewish Conspiracy [actual citation needed], or the Marxist Academic conspiracy [citation needed], or the US debt crisis, or the... you get what I mean.

Are things going that badly? If they were, would people really care? I mean, all it takes to arouse feelings of being attacked and confusion is to posit a view of the world in "he-said-she-said" lines, a position which has been taken by literally every party in existence, ever. And one can't detach their view from politics, no matter how hard they strive, as Foucault rightly pointed out. Hume may have had a great point, but propagandists have the heart of the people in their palms, and if there's anything popular culture will teach you about the heart and the brain, it's that the heart will take control of the brain no matter who you are and force it to do stupid things which you eventually come to terms with.

But really, this should just be viewed as an extension of what has already happened before. The internet makes platforming ridiculously easy (case in point, me). Freedom of speech necessarily entails freedom of media to circulate at speeds garunteed by your local internet company (no wonder "Middle America" is left behind). So the appearance of long dead theories like Social Darwinism and Marxism-Leninism shouldn't surprise anyone. I mean, it certainly doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is the lack of anything new. You'd think with massive technological improvements, a gradual democratization of means of production (though by no means necessarily an equitable democraticization), and such, we'd see new ideologies popping up left and right... but; this is not so. The only ideological revolution in the past few decades has been the digital one, and even then, that just was the compressing of information into small bytes which could be transferred from place to place wirelessly. The rest seems to be dead ideologies dug up from the grave and given new, reanimated faces from beyond the pale. Never mind that transhumanism is simply futurism, evolutionary thought, and transcendentalism combined, never mind that the new wave of populist movements literally mirrors the same phenomena in the nativist atmosphere of the 1840s, never mind that Slate Star Codex is literally Enlightenment thought combined with statistics (ooh, it even has its own Reactionary movement). In short, there is nothing new under the sun. For now. Or perhaps all the new thoughts are simply too detached from our essentialist, substance-based reality (at least, again, proported by "the masses") to even make sense, as Postmodern philosophy has made its own subset of jargon to the point that a well calibrated AI can effectively mimic it. Where is the promised land? Where is our Tower of Babel? Where are our flying cars (Here, apparently)?

The Forbidden Fruit of Utopia

The problem with promising Utopia, or promising that one can do it better, or that one can really, really make an autocratic government work this time, or that this ideal will be the End of History (looking at you, Fukuyama), is the implicit denial of all the other ideals. This is why fascists and communists fighting in the streets has a historical precidence, and Christians and Muslims having significant tensions between them is also something which has historical precidence [citation needed] or the racial tensions in America really being nothing new at all. The hilarious thing is that the seemingly moronic march towards a tolerance which knows no bounds is not due to any sort of big ideal, but rather happenstance; America is a multiethnic empire tired of race riots, so it'd be pretty nice if everyone could please stop killing each other over issues of culture and skin, issues which, unfortunately, run far deeper than the skin itself. And IQ, while a great predictor of (insert x factor here) with (insert y correlation here), has it's own shady history with connections to the Eugenics movement, and that understandably was a little less popular after Hitler fell out of power.

I suppose the feeling I get when looking at all this is watching a bunch of people write equally linguistically valid proofs, with the proof writers sending out agents to scribble all over the other people's proofs, and to then go out and preach to the masses that their proof is the one which will liberate them from [insert perceived threat here]. And this proof, this one right here, nevermind the other proofs which were proven to be wrong, or denounced as Heresy, which include, but are not limited to: Gnosticism, Ariainism, the projection theory of vision, alchemy, etc, etc. will set you free, because this one is the Elixir of Life.

The Elixir of Life is Never Disproven Nor Proven: Or, in Other Words, Ideological Exhaustion

For Hume, all thought could only come from experience and combinatorics. I.e. a unicorn, when thought of, would be produced by an ostensive definition of a unicorn or a description of a unicorn arrayed from objects you have experienced. This claim would be challenged to varying degrees, but perhaps the quest for something Nietzchanly new and Individual is a futile one in and of itself. Perhaps all we are doomed to do as humans is ruthlessly apply paradigm after paradigm to seemingly insurmountable problems at first, which then give way under years of pressure and dozens of minds applied to the same overspecialized topic.

Or, perhaps, there were new thoughts in history, and Einstein didn't just rip off Kant and put it into mathematical formulae, maybe there was something new in formulations of certain thoughts throughout history.

But where are they? When a world is drowning in capital, where are the categorical leaps so longed for? We do have Einsteins running around now, or at the very least, humanity does have its Terrence Taos, so why can he not produce an output along the lines of John von Neumann"? It's funny that the postulates of any self-respecting economic theory or any self-respecting political vision of Utopia centers around some positive feedback loop after the struggle is achieved. That's very nice and all, but what if, instead of the struggle and explosion, instead of the breaking of the Malthusian asymptote once again, we simply hit an asymptote too strong to overcome? What if there is no singularity?

Unfortunately, skepticism is too negative a stance (even if it is a rational skepticism) to ever take seriously. So perhaps humanity is doomed to flounder contra asymptotic problems at the expense of itself and the past qualities it had, the past qualities of futures longingly returned to in the continual presence of the now. How haunting.