“Riding the Rift” – Reflections on time and democracy in the Arab revolutions

A revolution runs out ahead of time. The ethos on the ground in Tahrir Square accelerated beyond any particular “zone of time” and entered into a sort of free time. Free time is neither linear nor always returning the same, nor is it strictly cyclical. It is constantly in a process of becoming. Nietzsche’s dwarf says all that is straight lies; all that is truth is crooked. Time always returns. Time is a circle.

What returns cyclically as it were is the moment. A moment which Nietzsche refers to as eternity. The prescription which Nietzsche applies to confronting the inherent rift in all time is to work on yourself, to affirm, rather than resent the rift in time – amor fati.

It is precisely in this space of the rift of the moment that politics becomes possible. For Nietzsche, time forks either intrinsically, or because human cognition and world processes fork with one another. The fabric of time seemed to have been riding the rift of time, whereby the ethos of the citizenry and that of a changing condition around them was never fully realized. If it were realized, – this time out of joint, this clear injunction of localized time – the forces which seek to slow time down would again take over.

The Arab revolutions showed the global community the capacity and ability to live in the rift, or might we say riding the rift.

The question that arises regarding the rift is an ethical one. How does one engage the rift? How do we respond to the ever-changing rate of pace? One fatal error is the desire to slow time down to face the rift. Connolly argues that we must face the high velocity speed head on, yet there are others such as Wolin who argue that pace must be slowed down in order for democratic processes to function.

The challenge for the Arab revolutions that succeeded, particularly Egypt, is centered on how to embrace a pace of life where democracy does not fall into a Fascist reproduction of machines, an embrace of interstitial time. Nationalist movements and religious fundamentalist movements tend to embrace not the rift, as does dynamic pluralistic democratic movements, but they become can be captured in a slowing down of time to avoid the inevitable rift.

One way to see the division here is between a politics of recognition, versus a politics of becoming. The logic of recognition is to embrace tradition, to recall things that have been forgotten, while the politics of becoming consists of rapid changes to solid modes of identity and the system of recognition that it often eludes explanation or dialectical advance.

Tahrir Rift

Time and Identity

An important component to the increasing pace of time is its inevitable rupture with stable identities. When pace increases it takes more and more political work to protect the assumption that the universal identities layered into us conform to a totalitarian leader. Connolly argues that it also becomes more challenging to identify with God, largely because he himself is an atheist and in the creation of his ethical framework, he sees a greater likelihood of developing a regulative ideal without a God.

The problem for Nietzsche in building a society of increased tempo is that we must forego the ordered nature of roles for society. The problem wasn’t God as such. We are no longer “material for society.” The problem is that many will seek to return society to a stone-like condition. In fact, the demand to obey strict commands may intensify. So the possibility opened up for democratic experimentalism immediately opens up the possibility of democratic fundamentalism.

Interestingly, Nietzsche associates nihilism with fundamentalism, and both with the acceleration of speed. Nihilism for Nietzsche occurs when people insist on bringing back a decayed Christian morality order that has already died.

Nietzsche resists the herd, by which he means the tendency to sink into the roles defined for oneself. Upon drawing up laws around a shared set of principles, man enters into virtuous stupidity.

You cannot attempt self-artistry until first stepping out onto the stage. Everything most noble about democracy is connected in some way or another to becoming a little more artistic in our relations with others and with diverse parts of ourselves.

Nietzche’s new nobility is divided into three parts:

1. Those work on themselves to overcome existential resentment against the lack of intrinsic meaning in life. To be noble is to be your own experiment.
2. The noble cultivate a grace and ease of conduct through practice.
3. By taking the “spiritualization of enmity” means that the noblest ones put forward their faith with the assurance that it could be the wrong one, or that it could be false.

So what Connolly seeks to achieve with his vision of democracy and time is to democratize Nietzsche’s noble ethos, which he sees as a state of pluralization. By folding into one the key values that Nietzsche privileges in the new nobility: self experimentalism, grace, and pluralism as the conditions appropriate to adaptation to democracy in a fast paced world, Connolly almost dogmatically applies a sort of democratized Nietzsche as the solution to promoting greater pluralism.

Connoly places the self’s relation to time as the central facet by which all else is adjusted. One’s sense of plurality and interdependence is sought via one’s conception of time. By positing that there is an inherent rift in time that must be realized, what’s more is he combines this with a Nietzschean art of the self-manual. The affirmation of existence that must be folded back unto life more robustly, and it is both this self-artistry and sense of time that he ties into his ethical project.

The ultimate goal then is to move beyond tolerance by embracing not already established identities, but to orient oneself towards identities in becoming. What liberal tolerance limits is the idea of the affective dimension and favors a realm of singular identities that are static and unable to confront the rift of time.

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