GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

December 25, 2006

Frère Jacques: a Chronicle about Derrida and GA

Filed under: GA — ericgans @ 5:31 am

Thanks to the previous post, I don’t have to provide a link to Chronicle 339, “Originary Demography.” Now Chronicle 340 is available at Entitled “Frère Jacques,” it elaborates on the anthropological content of a recently published text by Jacques Derrida that touches on the question of minimal faith.

-eric gans

December 20, 2006

For a Jew-Crusader Alliance

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:33 am

In his just published Chronicle, “Originary Demography” (, Eric Gans concludes that the aging, demographically suicidal cultures of Western Europe

can renew themselves rather than (as Steyn predicts) breaking down in ethno-religious strife and/or giving way by mid-century to a second Muslim conquest: demographic recovery through the revival of European Christianity. This is not to say that “Islam is the enemy.” But Islam, for better or for worse, remains deeply connected to traditional society. That is the secret of its higher birthrate, as well as of what modern eyes see as oppression of women and tolerance of barbarous forms of violence. The only way to reconcile European Muslims with modernity is by demonstrating to them that European market society is indeed a viable human project–as a society that disdains to reproduce itself is not.

I couldn’t agree more–nor, I suspect, could Pope Benedict.  I would like, in fact, to piggyback on Gans’ suggestion by proposing what seems to me the only (albeit radical) political platform likely to promote such a course reversal on the part of the Europeans.  First, though, I will issue a minor dissent regarding Gans’ immediately proferred answers to possible objections: 

One need not be entirely pessimistic in this regard. Emerging generations cannot fail to see the bankruptcy of the postwar social-insurance state, both as a demographic entity and as a spiritual one. Nor need this renewed Christianity take the form of fundamentalist literalism. The anthropological understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition that derives from the work of René Girard gives religious faith an ever-clearer unity with fundamental anthropology. Convergence of faith and self-knowledge would make the choice between secularization and fanaticism increasingly irrelevant. The future of European Christianity may well look surprisingly like Generative Anthropology.

First of all, emerging generations certainly can fail to see the bankruptcy of the present social order, certainly in the numbers required by the kind of revival this turnaround would depend upon; in fact, if they could just see it, why would a revival of Christianity be necessary? Why not just invent the spiritual beliefs which correspond more directly to the current need if one recognizes that need so clearly?  And, if only a small (even if significant) minority recognizes the need, they may very well emigrate, leaving the more desperate, violent and nihilistic behind.  My second point is related:  if we genuinely want a revival of Christinaity, we can’t pretend to desire it in forms we find preferable.  Such a revival will have to be an event, it cannot be a calculated social policy, and as an event, or revelation, it will be enthusiastic and evangelical, and there is nothing we can or should do about that.  (Would we oppose the revival if it indeed began to take shape in some “fundamnetalist, literalist” form?  The question of how we Generative Anthropologists might participate and seek to help shape developments is another question.) 

One more, not so much objection, as observation, which will then bring me to my larger argument:  Gans’ argument for a renewed, demographically relevant Europe leaves unaddressed the question with which he opens, the political consequences of White Guilt:

The impact of World War II that dominates the postwar era to this day is embodied in its twin revelations about human violence, epitomized by Auschwitz and Hiroshima: we can no longer use violence to settle ultimate questions of power, and we can no longer tolerate the legally enforced dominance of one group, however defined, over another. The reluctance to accord privilege has led us to the threshold of gay marriage; the fear of all-out violence ties our hands on every battlefield. The most salient fact of American history in the sixty years since Nagasaki is that the United States has not won a definitive military victory: not in Korea, surely not in Vietnam; not in the first Gulf War, where we forbore to defeat Saddam as we had defeated Hitler, nor in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that persist in the aftermath of conventional military victories. Sixty years after we defeated Nazi Germany, a majority of Americans are convinced that we are incapable of securing the metropolitan area of Baghdad.

Would the re-Christianization of Europe help us to secure Baghdad (or, more precisely, help us to realize that there is no way that we can’t secure Baghdad, if we decide to do it)?  My answer is that it certainly would, and therein lies the enormous power of Gans’ argument here.  A Christian revival would be the antidote to White Guilt, probably the only one available to us; in fact one could trace the emergence of White Guilt to the demise of the post-sacrificial order signified by Jesus on the Cross, which demise allowed the sacrificial function to be “distributed” to the “Other” of the West, with disastrous consequences. 

But if a Christian revival would be an enormous boost to American political power (and not just in the “realist” sense, but in the more “evangelical,” world-transforming, democratizing and liberalizing sense), shouldn’t we take the next step and proclaim that American foreign policy interests are directly tied to such a revival, with the minimal beginning of defending Christians and Christian institutions wherever they are under attack?  Christianity is reviving elsewhere–evangelical forms of Christianity (even Mormonism, I understand) are spreading in Latin America, and a continent-wide struggle between Christianity and Islam is underway in Africa. One recent commentator (I think it was Mark Steyn, but if it wasn’t, it could have been) noted that if one looks at Latin American social conditions one wonders why the Wahhabis haven’t disseminated some seed money throughout the region–if even 5% of Latin Americans were converted to Islam the balance of power there might be shifted even further away from American interests toward the emergent Left-Islamist alliance.  And, could we really expect a resurgent Christianity in Europe if Christianity goes undefended elsewhere?  We could even posit the following criteria or “metric” for victory in the GWOT:  we will have won once Christians are free to safely proselytize anywhere in what is now the “Muslim World”–whether that is because Islam has changed, or Islam, shown to be incapable of change, has been swept away, is not our problem.

Well, if we are thinking big, how about considering the next step:  since new Christians and born again Christians seem to be more sympathetic toward Jews and Israel than just about any other social group (including Jews!), doesn’t it follow that an explicit defense of a world wide Christian revival would lead us to to remove one qualification and restriction after another on our alliance with Israel?  To the point where we make what would certainly be the sound decision in purely military terms to carry out joint actions with the IDF and coordinate our strategies in what is after all a common war against shared enemies?  I, at least, have never seen, anywhere, anyone draw up, even as a thought experiment, what such coordination might look like–and the reason for that is surely that, on the face of it, the idea is so politically crazy to be unthinkable.

But, as I have argued before, we are living in abnormal times, when the unthinkable oftentimes becomes the commonplace.  A genuine Israeli-American alliance (which would meet resistance on the Israeli side as well, of course–Israelis have historically been extremely resistant to linking their wars to anyone else’s, to agree upon limitations to their freedom of action, or to place Israelis in a position where others are dying for them or they are dying for others) is “obviously” crazy because it would confirm the prevailing Arab/Muslim stereotype of a “Zionist-American” (in whatever formulation) conspiracy to subjugate them and the rest of the world.  But the post-colonial Left, in its argument for “appropriating” the stereotypes imposed upon one rather than inevitably self-defeating attempts to “disprove” them, has a very good point–the best way to disprove or dispel the stereotype is simply to implement it and show that it has none of the anticipated effects.  Drastic measures are needed in dealing with deeply rooted pathologies, and the Arab/Muslim “fantasy ideology” (to use Lee Harris’ term) which reduces the world to continually reiterated acts of heroic if hopeless “resistance” to the “Jew-Crusader” conspiracy is the most dangerous fantasy the world has seen since the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (which, of course, has been folded into this fantasy ideology).  Aside from the military conveniences such an alliance would offer (a secure, permanent base in the Middle East, for one thing), it might work as a kind of radical “transference” (in the psychoanalytic sense) for the Arab/Muslim world–in some way, we will have to intervene drastically and surgically in that world before this is all over because they will not leave us alone as long as they are gripped by this fantasy ideology, and any attempts to “ungrip” them without dramatic change simply strengthens the grip; so, why not try and disrupt their projections by working through them? 

 Scenic Politics

December 17, 2006

Post-9/11 Epistemology

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:20 am

A very thoughtful discussion of scapegoating and reality-avoidance in today’s world.

December 3, 2006

No enemies on the Left

Filed under: GA,movies — ericgans @ 6:05 am

Although not all academics are radical leftists, all radical leftists are academics, in the sense that they are accepted, and often feted, by the academy. I have long been struck by the extreme political views of many of the most successful academicians, views that, far from acting as a handicap, are a factor in their success. Nothing attracts university faculty as much as being allowed to participate vicariously in an unsparing denunciation of everything their lives really depend on; only then can they enjoy their SUVs in peace.

I was reminded of this the other day when I watched a partial reconstruction of a lost film by Eisenstein entitled Bezhin Meadow, “very loosely” based on a Turgenev story. The film’s plot is far indeed from Turgenev’s characteristic pre-revolutionary father-son conflict. The father, who incidentally has beaten his wife to death, is designated explicitly as a kulak. With a few other reactionaries he attempts to stop collectivization by burning grain and the kolkhoz gasoline supply. He and his friends are imprisoned, but only their evil can supply an appropriate conclusion to the film, so they escape and commit other crimes including martyring the heroic son, whereupon (the shots are a bit obscure) the good guys crush them under Soviet tractors. Meanwhile, these good people have made a “clubhouse” out of the local church. This is no mere act of secularization. The only thing we see them do there is desecrate its religious symbols; one burly peasant plays Samson in bringing down an altar. Resentment and violence against the church; resentment and violence against the “kulaks”–the new Soviet utopia is defined entirely by hatred. Yet shots abound of smiling youngsters, and the blond hero of the film, who could have stepped right out of a Hitlerjugend recruitment poster, displays some of the most sickening grins in cinema history.

Now for the jacket blurb:

BEZHIN MEADOW would have been Eisenstein’s most beautiful and lyrical film — had it been permitted to see the light of day. In one of cinema’s great tragedies, Eisenstein’s film was banned by Stalinist officials in 1937 and copies of the film were subsequently destroyed in a fire caused by German bombing in World War II. Only individual still images and film frames survived from the original footage. These, along with Eisenstein’s script and production records, guided Soviet researchers who painstakingly produced this 30-minute reconstruction of Eisenstein’s original conception.
Based very loosely on a pastoral tale by Turgenev, BEZHIN MEADOW is set in a Russian village during the Soviet collectivization programs of the 1930s. Eisenstein chose to dramatize that conflicted process by centering his story on a peasant boy who supports the collective and who dies at the hands of his counterrevolutionary father. This tale of martyrdom inspired the most lyrical work of Eisenstein’s entire career. The haunting still images which comprise this reconstruction are meticulously reproduced in this edition and do full justice to Eisenstein’s renowned visual style.

Since Khrushchev’s revelations back in 1956, good leftists no longer number Stalin among their heroes. Thus instead of condemning Eisenstein for this tasteless apology for mass slaughter, our commentator makes him a martyr to “Stalinist officials” who banned the film. My guess is that Stalin did it because even he couldn’t take that grinning kid.

Needless to say, a similar Nazi film, with the “kulaks” replaced by Jews (Jew Süss is a work of sublime delicacy next to Bezhin Meadow), would not have come in for similar praise. Leni Riefenstahl, whose films celebrate Hitler but not Nazi violence, was tainted; Eisenstein, whose films are dominated by images of resentful violence, is a “lyrical” genius hampered by Stalinist persecution.

What accounts for this? Why do campuses invite Noam Chomsky but not David Duke or even Pat Buchanan? It is a bit too easy to point to the difference between an ideology that is “essentially” exclusionary (“Germany for the Aryans/Germans”) and one that excludes others only “contingently” (“The kulaks cannot be permitted to thwart the will of the Soviet people”). What this difference really shows is how little all the righteous indignation against Nazism corresponds to any true moral awakening. This moral posturing is the foundation of the victimary world-view that we call “postmodernism”; we need to condemn the Nazis in order to inoculate ourselves against the Western sin of firstness. What really determines the status of our political pariahs is the resentment of the Others in the rest of the world. Now that the Middle East has revived Nazi antisemitism, the latter is becoming once again respectable, but it is still a long way from acquiring the continued viability of communist slogans and icons. Che Guevara posters are found all over the world; I doubt if there is much of a market for Himmlers. The crimes of the Left are no less vicious than those of the Right, but we cannot condemn them without arousing what we fear most, the resentment of the Others at home and abroad.

Postmodernism is a commemoration of Auschwitz for the wrong reasons, a cult of victims that ignores who they were and why they were killed. That is why it so enjoys squeezing tears out of the Holocaust but finds crushing “kulaks” under the treads of tractors “beautiful” and “lyrical.”

Real moral progress is very slow, and it may very well be that it does not occur at all. Systems of exchange improve, but those who inhabit them are never more than a catastrophe away from Hobbes’ state of nature. We rely ever more on the system and ever less on ourselves to defer the violence of our resentment. Let’s hope we never have to find out what would happen if the system failed us.

-eric gans

December 2, 2006

Where we are

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:07 pm

 A masterly summary of the divide from VDH:

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