GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

November 6, 2008

More on the Election from an Originary Thinker

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:35 am

One conclusion from the election results that conservatives seem to find comforting is that it still appears as if the U.S. is a “center-right” country.  The proof of this lies in polling revealing significantly higher numbers of self-identified “conservatives” over self-identified “liberals,” as well as polling revealing majority support for traditionally “conservative” issues like lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, traditional marriage, a judiciary that applies the law rather than creating it, and so on; and, in the need for a leftist like Obama to present himself as a centrist, changing his position on government wiretapping, the death penalty, and other issues. Isn’t there another way of explaining these polling results and candidates behavior, one which doesn’t require us to ignore the fact that voeters  have just elected the most lefist President, two years after electing the most leftist Congress, ever?  Couldn’t it be that people like describing themselves in those traditional conservative categories, but also don’t want to be targeted and categorized as racist/sexit/homphobic/anti-environment by the all pervasive victimary disocurse–even by themselves?  More generally, that people want to be part of the euphoria promised by the transcendence that follows a successful scapegoating campaign,” and the vagueness of the “ideas” behind the campiagn allows them to deposit whatever content they want into it?  One result of election exit polling was, apparently, that McCain’s “negative campaigning,” which mostly involved reminding people of what a basic media vetting would have made common knowledge, turned off a substantial majority of voters–what could that mean other than that those voters knew that there was a truth concealed by the cult of deification surrounding Obama and simply did not want their attention drawn in that direction? 

What this would mean is that voters want to believe utterly irreconciliable things.  Or that, like Freud’s pleasure principle, there are no contradictions in the contemporary shared consciousness of the American public:  there are simply affirmations.  There is probably not anything too new about this.  Who is a fiscal conservative when it comes to seeing their own prescription drug benefit cut?  But there may be a difference between maintaining such fantasies on the margin along with a core relationship to reality and severing all reliable ties to (at least political) reality.  To use the old definition of a neo-conservative, a “liberal who as been mugged by reality,” the criterion for such a “core” relationship to reality might be that there is something you could be mugged by.  What if the typical Obama supporter (voter?) is unmuggable?  If my previous post is right, and the Obama cultic phenomenon is simply the converse of the unprecedented scapegoating directed towards Bush, then it would make sense to expect a basic detachment from reality to be part of the phenomenon. 

I suppose it’s common enough for political losers to levy such insults at the winners as being “detached from reality.”  Still, you, reading this, can let me know:  if you listen to what leftists say they want to do these days in foreign policy, or the economy, or health care, or anything else–well, there will be the conventional gesture toward some think-tank derived “plan,” but the core rationale behind what they want to do and why, is it ever anything that couldn’t be mapped out in terms of “unlike Bush, I want…”?  The whole argument for more “multilateralism” in foreign policy, or for “repairing our alliances,” not to mention Obama’s signature promise to meet with all our enemies without preconditions are all pure negations of the attitudes polemically attributed to Bush.  No one can tell you what they mean by any of these things:  what would come of meeting our enemies, what, exactly, we would like and could reasonable expect our allies to do that they aren’t doing now… I am sure that such queries will be met with blank stares, followed by a relapse into the scripted diatribe.

My previous post suggested that a sustained confrontation with reality, now that the Left has no choice but to govern, is sure to burst this bubble, and such bursting will take the form of the disintegration of the Left into infighting, making a coherent simulated reality impossible.  There is, of course, a more pessimistic possibility–that forces within the Left will succeed in punishing and expelling its “dissidents” and imposing such a reality, now within the world’s superpower.  In this case we will see efforts to, first modify, but then perhaps assault, important elements of the Constitutional order.  This would force a large minority of Americans into open rebellion–roughly speaking, the 30% or so who still give Bush favorable approval ratings, thereby producing a new class of enemies/scapegoats.  Where, then, would the rest of Americans stand?  How much of this process would be “processed” as a reality one is being mugged by and how much, if jobs are supplied, massive government intervention stabilizes for a short while the financial system and Obama’s stock as savior increases, would be processed according to the script frantically being produced? 

The only point of adducing such speculations would be to lay down markers which might identify one or another tendency in advance; or to construct practices and arguments that could intervene effectively before it is too late.  I believe that if we have to rely upon the sense of limits, restraint, morality or respect for the American constitutional order on the part of the left, we are finished.  If the American “middle” is not essentially intact, there will be no countervailing cultural and political forces.  What we need to look for is signs of resistance to extreme policies, and the response on the part of the ruling Left to that resistance; and then the response to that response.  Last year, Congress and the President tried to force through an extremely unpopular immigration reform bill–regardless of what one thinks of the bill, the fact that massive resistance forced an almost unanimous governing class to back down was a very healthy sign.  If that kind of thing happens in response to, say (everyone can make their own list here), massive new welfare spending, or the kind of disarmament policies Obama is on record as favoring, or the abandonment of an ally in crisis… then that will be a sign that everything should be alright.  If such massive resistance is ignored, with the leaders of the movement scapegoated and incumbent politicians paying no or little price (because of overwhelming advantages in funding and media coverage)–then things will not be alright.  That would be a sign of reality lost, of the rise of the unmuggables.

I persist in believing that the founding event of our era is 9/11 and that the era is therefore defined by whether we reject, decisively and deliberately, victimary blackmail.  9/11 was a tocsin call for the intensification of what I consider a Global Intifada–an increasingly tight alliance between the transnational progressives on the one hand and the imperial victimary forces spearheaded by totalitarian Islam, on the other hand.  The transnational progressives work to create a reality solely defined by international laws and norms, while the terrorist victimary forces carve out a regime of lawlessness enabled by the transnational progressive neutralization of any terms available for thinking self-defense.  To put it another, transnational progressiveness insists upon a transactional approach to the victimary:  it promises, gives hope that, a sufficiently high ransom will eliminate the system of blackmail once and for all.  While the victimary/terrorist forces shrewdly realize that this provides a blank check to keep raising the ransom. 

The trope of blackmail is a very apt one, because isn’t the reality produced by extortion one of utter irreality, a situation in which one swings back and forth between hope and despair based upon intrinsically ambiguous and easily manipulated indicators; a situation in which one vacillates wildly between blaming and consoling one’s fellow victims; a situation in which someone much weaker than yourself holds your fate in his hands; a situation in which one is compelled constantly to make intricate calculations without having any reason to believe that the “data” they based upon are real?  A situation, in other words, in which one is reduced to the condition of a child, reduced to blathering “Yes we can!” and other inanities?  How in the world does one exit such a condition?

White Guilt has a staying power well beyond what I anticipated when I first started analyzing it, following Eric Gans’ seminal discussions in his Chronicles of Love & Resentment.  And I’m not sure I completely understand the source of that staying power, much less what would displace it.  As a religious cult for a highly advanced, secularizing age, White Guilt certainly testifies to the absolute need for some kind of sacred center.  So, the question is, now that White Guilt is implanted in our cultural DNA, what new revelation or series of revelations can compete?  Christianity is certainly a source of resistance, but could never conquer the “commanding heights” of the governing and cultural elites of the Western world (I still hold out hope that those elites can be decentered, since we really don’t need :commanding heights” any more, if we ever did–but asking how that might happen would throw us back into this same circle).  Perhaps we will simply have to wait and see what kinds of victims and what kind of visibility for those victims our new, essentially one-party state (encompassing all of government–excluding a sliver-sized majority in the Supreme Court–and the media, entertainment and educational systems) will produce.

November 5, 2008

One Originary Thinker’s Account of the U.S. Election

Filed under: GA — adam @ 3:54 pm

First of all, we just received a very valuable lesson in the efficacy of scapegoating:  the singleminded hatred of Bush cultivated by the Left over the past 8 years has translated directly into the deification of Barack Obama.  That singlemindedness is to be wondered at:  there were no guarantees that the robotic effort to blame every single bad thing that happened in the world on Bush, and to separate him from every single good thing that happened, would work to discredit Bush rather than the purveyors of the myth.  On the other hand, it’s not clear what else they had to work with.  Bush, in the end, turned out to be vacillating, “compassionate” conservative who simply could not bring himself to believe that his opponents were willing to disable us in front of our enemies in order to defeat him; much less that they were so desperate to defeat him because they hoped to disable us in the face of our enemies.

 At any rate, what struck me in Obama’s victory speech was how one could see almost everything he says and, indeed, his entire persona, as a precise photgraphic negative of the stereotype that has been produced of Bush.  That is why, if Bush is the source of all evil, Obama can be the source of all good, of “healing” and transcendence.  The power of Obama’s otherwise vapid oratory might be explicable on these terms:  from a time of division to a time of unity, from antagonizing the world to inspiring it, from the old (white) guard to the new inclusive order.  As a non-threatening (in Shelby Steele’s formulation) “negotiator,” Obama takes upon himself our White Guilt, all of which had been deposited in the person of George W. Bush, and cleanses us of it. 

From a historical and anthropological perspective, then, the question is whether the mimetic crisis has been deferred, or are its forces merely gathering?  On the one hand, the esthetic and sacrificial coherence of singling out Bush (and other Republicans, to the precise extent they could be shown to have been contaminated by Bush), and defeating him decisively in the figure of his assigned surrogate, McCain, might have the desired cathartic effect.  The symbolic scapegoating, mediated through the terms of the liberal democratic order’s procedures for succession, would make more bloody or destructive versions unnecessary.  Here, we might have an argument over whether the liberal democratic order does do anything other than provide simulations of scapegoating events so as to protect us from actual ones.  I think it has to do quite a bit more, because scapegoating has no epistemological value–it offers no help in providing accounts of reality and preparing for future events.  And if the terms of the mimetic crisis have remained unchanged, how can the symbolic scapegoating appease the victimary gods?

It will perhaps be up to Obama whether those terms remain unchanged.  He would have to do at the least the following two things in order to emerge as more than a kind of fertility god springing from the soil manured by the sacrificed Presidency of George W. Bush.  First, he would have to stand in between the Democratic majority and one or more of their interest groups as they grab for more than their “fair” share of the spoils of victory (the sparagmos); second, he would have to take actions aimed unequivocally and unapolegetically at one or another of America’s declared enemies–only such actions would position Obama as a genuine defender of the national constitutional order, rather than the idol of those resentfully parastic upon it. 

If Obama chooses to remain at the center of the cult that has brought him to power, what might we expect:  who would be the next victims?   There don’t seem to be any immediate threats (the Left, of course, will be the first to insist upon the ease with which threats can be fabricated), precisely because the victory seems so complete:  the most powerful Republican now in power will be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, hardly a promising bogeyman.  The talk radio hosts?  They can be easily ignored, at least for a while, and anyway it would be almost too easy to simply cut them off (reinstating the “Fairness Doctrine” won’t easily produce the required sacrificial event).  More promising might be show trials for members of the Bush Administration, not excluding Bush and Cheney themselves:  that would be red meat for the base in a more than usually literal sense.   But one would run out of them fairly quickly as well.

The question won’t arise for real until Obama confronts genuine obstacles.  What might those be, and what would be the appropriate scapegoats?  One easy answer is the financial crisis, where Obama could follow the lead of both Roosevelts and seek the heads of various “malefactors of great wealth” (presumably those who don’t donate to Democrats), plus increasingly confiscatory taxes–this might be very bad economics, especially in a recession or depression, but very good politics.  Environmental extremism also points out quite a few possibilities, like producers of coal and the oil companies.  Obama need not take the lead in any of this, instead simply nodding to supporters in and out of government–by this point, quite a bit of law changing and regulation can be effected through well situated lawsuits in front of friendly judges (and many more of them will now be friendly). 

I doubt that there is anything anyone opposed to this agenda could do until it plays itself out.  I suppose a bout of scapegoating comes to an end when it has been ritualized and institutionalized:  in this case through ritual flagellations of racism, polluting technologies, expressions of “intolerance,” warmongering, and so in, in politics and throughout the culture.  Which means a lot more of what we have now, but without even the token resistance and possibility, every four years, of appealing over the heads of the elites to the populace available up until now.  (No, I don’t think the Democrats will try to cancel the 2012 elections–but they can arrange things so as to face a severely underfuned Republican will be thoroughly “profiled” and demonized from the beginning.) But when these institutions fail to successfully target all the resentment they generate, or generate new resentment through their intrinsically imprecise application, and fail to account for a wider reality unresponsive to them, we can expect the victims to turn on each other.  Undeniable failures will call for a reckoning, starting perhaps first of all with the Big Media, for whom continued idolization of Obama will become incompatible with actually reporting on what he says and does.  A whole system of taboos have been established protecting Obama from serious questions, and they are all taboos deeply rooted in both victimary politics and Bush hatred (which are really two sides of the same coin).  Someone will have to break those taboos, some “insider,” who will then be punished; more will come forward, leading to a new sub-system of victimage.  With the break-up of the cult, a renewal of a thinking of the center might be possible.  The only figures who will emerge with any credibility at that point will be those who managed to avoid all responsibility for what happens in the meantime.


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