As we wait with bated breath for the results of the US presidential election, Simon Critchley offers us a new term for our anxiety – Brexistential dread. The full article can be read on The New York Times website:
LONDON — During these last days of the seemingly endless election campaign, we are all living with enormous and ever-rising levels of anxiety. The days pass in a fever of worry, with waves of nausea that subside only to return and rob us of our breath. Many people are having difficulty sleeping. Many others wake up in fright, their bodies drenched with the sweat of Trump terrors. What will America look like after Tuesday? What will the world look like?
We track the news cycle obsessively, compulsively, trying to find clues that might allow us to know what we cannot know and will not know until Wednesday. We may not know even then. Will Trump accept defeat? What if the election is contested for weeks, months? What if there is civil disorder, with blood in the streets? The waiting is agony.
We constantly press the refresh button on The Upshot or whatever lifeline we are clinging to. Foreigners like me try to figure out the possible meaning of those endless sports analogies about field goals. We stare at the screen, look away out of the window and try and focus on something else, and then stare back at the screen again. We pick up handfuls of factoids from the chaos of data that assails us, clutching at the tiny shards of hope glitter on the surface of our media bubble. But then we reject them as hopeless and think to ourselves: “He can’t really win, can he?” Can he?
The mood of nausea at the world, a disgust at the entirety of existence, is familiar to those of us who cut our teeth reading existentialist fiction. Novels like Sartre’s 1938 “Nausea” captured a feeling of disgust with the world and disgust with ourselves for going along with a world so seemingly blissfully happy with itself for so long. For Sartre, the dreadful had already happened, with the rise of National Socialism in the early 1930s, and it was a question of learning to face up to our fate. This is the mood that I want to bring into focus by exploring the concept of Brexistentialism.
For I must admit that I’ve become a Brexistentialist of late, thinking back to that evening on June 23 when I watched the entirety — eight hours or more — of the BBC’s live coverage of the referendum on whether Britain would leave the European Union or choose to remain.
Simon Critchley gave a lecture in defence of suicide at Durham Castle last 3 December. ‘I have a very simple idea,’ he said, ‘to write a philosophical defence of the right to suicide in the attempt to get us all to think more clearly, more soberly and less hypocritically about the perennial question: should I live or die? The legal frameworks that define suicide are still hostage to a Christian metaphysics that declares that life is a gift of God and therefore to take your own life is a sin. In killing oneself, it is claimed that one is assuming a power over one’s existence that only God should have. In the contemporary world, the state has taken the place of God and suicide is either deemed illegal or regarded as a kind of moral embarrassment. We think it is wrong without knowing why.’
Watch the lecture in full here.
Simon Critchley makes the case for negotiating with ISIS for the release of hostages in the New York Review of Books:
The recent revelations about payments made by European governments to secure the release of hostages held by ISIS raise a fascinating set of issues and an apparent moral dilemma. In a couple of extended, detailed, and carefully researched articles published by The New York Times, Rukmini Callimachi documents the extent of the complicity between various European nations and international terrorist organizations. It is estimated that al-Qaeda and its direct affiliates have made $125 million from kidnappings since 2008, including $66 million in the last year alone, which may account for about half of the operating budget of these groups.
The case of ISIS is even more extreme. Emerging out of the chaos of the Syrian civil war, the group that has come to be known as ISIL or ISIS, or the more ontological IS, gradually captured and gathered together twenty-three foreign hostages from twelve countries, the majority of them Europeans. (This is not counting the forty-six Turks and three Iraqis taken during the fall of Mosul in June this year.) They were initially held in a prison under the Children’s Hospital of Aleppo and subsequently transferred to a building outside an oil installation in Raqqa in eastern Syria, the current capital of ISIS.
Notably, the two American and two British hostages—James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, and Alan Henning—who were horrifically beheaded between mid-August and early October of this year were in this group, as was a Russian captive, Sergey Gorbunov, who was shot dead last spring, after it became clear the Russian government had little interest in his case.
So where are all the rest, who mostly came from continental Europe? For the most part, safely back home because their governments negotiated with ISIS for their release. Details are murky, but it would appear that, from among the twenty-three, almost 6 million euros was paid for the release of three Spanish aid workers, followed by a reported $18 million for four French journalists, and substantial payments for an Italian aid worker, and a Danish photojournalist, who was released after the family apparently raised the money for the ransom. (It should also be noted that, according to press reports, the forty-six Turkish hostages and the three Iraqis may have been released in a prison swap for 180 Islamic militants—including two British jihadists, Shabazz Suleman and Hisham Folkard, being held by Turkish authorities. President Erdogan of Turkey denied that any ransom had been paid, but was rather cagey about the details of the negotiations.)