Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Peter Sloterdijk 2010, Rage and Time.

Rage and Time, written by Peter Sloterdijk (2010), is an interesting contribution to the discussion concerning the critical importance of rage in human history. The emotion of rage is analyzed as a psychopolitical force that has had a great impact on Western civilization since Troy and Achilles (Illiad). Sloterdijk suggests in this book that our age is doomed because of our inability to understand and address our rage. This pessimistic view is seen throughout the book. It almost seems that everything is wrong with our society and nothing can be done about it.

According to Sloterdijk, philosophers must, as Nietzsche, dare to think dangerously, and in so doing he says that we need to re-think our modern conceptions of society, self and justice in terms of rage. The strength in this book is in my opinion the rich cultural-historical approach that is given. The book will be a necessary foundation for further analytic and empirical research into the complex connection between shame, rage, humiliation, anger and violence. It seems to that most studies of violence (such as Smelser 2007) do not focus on the crucial role of such emotions as a causal factor. But several recent empirical studies suggest that those who actually commit violent acts, have social-emotional histories of intense humiliation (Strozier, et al 2010, pp. 143-147. See also Stern 2003; Hemick, 2004; Jones 2008).  Dennis Smith (2006) has outlined how most military, political, and/or economic power leads to humiliation of the subdued groups, and how humiliation can lead to endless rounds of revenge. The present policies of the richer and more powerful nations are manufacturing violence. Individuals and groups are usually able to avoid conflict through negotiation, unless there is an intense history of humiliation and the subsequent desire for counter-humiliation and revenge. Humiliation and revenge were particularly transparent in the origin of World War I, where there was no attempt to hold meetings for negotiation before the war began, and in the subsequent rise of Hitler to power (Scheff 1994).

Rage and Time can be used to address the complex relationships between the political and the affective dimensions of our social existence. Sloterdijk offers few if any practical solutions, but his theoretical analysis is still very useful for future empirical studies. My disappointments in reading the book have to do with his disrespectful “name-calling” which was unexpected. Being one of contemporary philosophy\s most productive and influential thinkers, Sloterdijk should be more respectful towards other great thinkers than to call Jean Paul Sartre “a master in the sublime art of not being willing to learn”, or to describe Martin Heidegger as a “thoughtful tourist in Troy saying that fighting is also thanking.”  Such descriptions are nothing more than whimsy and platitude. I also disagree with his reduction of the Islamic movement to a univocal economic agency. Such a simplification is not only wrong in my view, but also very dangerous. God is not only “the king of rage” nor are religions only an instrument of rage or a “metaphysical rage bank”. I also dislike his tendentious description of Lenin and Mao as “the most successful entrepreneurs of rage”. Apart from this, I believe that Sloterdijk has much to give in this book for further both theoretical analysis and empirical investigation.
Kaare Torgny Pettersen

Helmick, R. G. (2004). Negotiating Outside the Law: Why Camp David Failed. London:
               Pluto Press.
Jones, James W. (2008). Blood that Cries Out from the Earth. Oxford: Oxford University
Scheff, Thomas. (1994).  Bloody Revenge: Emotion, Nationalism and War. Westview Press
Sloterdijk, Peter (2010). Rage and Time. A Psychopolitical Investigation. New York:
               Columbia University Press.
Smelser, Neil (2007). The Faces of Terrorism: Social and Psychological Dimensions
               Princeton, Princeton University Press.
Smith, Dennis. (2006). Globalization: The Hidden Agenda. Cambridge: Polity.
Stern, Jessica. (2003). Terror in the Name of God. New York: Ecco Press.
Strozier, Charles, David Terman, and James Jones. (2010). The Fundamentalist Mindset.
               Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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