GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

June 26, 2015

What kind of government?

Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:43 am

The King v. Burwell decision affirming the constitutional and legal rectitude of the federal government’s application of Obamacare provides official confirmation of what some of us have known for a while: we no longer live in a constitutional republic, or under popular government, or in accord with the rule of law. The contempt for common sense and the demands of serious legal reasoning in John Robert’s majority opinion speaks volumes: Congress was trying to do a good thing, the executive branch and federal bureaucracy tried to do that good thing in a goodly way, and so let’s get rid of any language in the actual law that gets in the way of providing the goodies. According to the logic of this decision, it’s impossible to see why Congress would have to do anything more than pass laws that say things like “make America safer,” or “overcome racial divisions,” with the executive and bureaucracy then free to “interpret” these mandates in the “spirit” in which they were intended. If you object to a particular use of power to advance these good intentions, the Supreme Court can simply direct your attention to the good intentions specified in the law—can’t you read—what part of “make America safer” don’t you understand?!

For a while now, Congress has been passing not so much laws as grants of power to unaccountable federal bureaucracies. Charles Murray, in a recent essay in The New Criterion and, presumably, his new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, explains very clearly and irrefutably how deeply rooted and longstanding this development is, and why it’s impossible to reverse or even slow it within the normal political channels. This is really the original meaning of “bureaucracy”—rule by anonymous “bureaus.” What we can add to this analysis is the natural convergence between the bureaucracy and the victimocracy. De Tocqueville already noted, in his prevision of the administration state, the relation between that kind of “soft tyranny” and the centrality of meeting “needs” (as opposed to protecting property) to governance. Once the job of government is to meet needs, it tilts toward the needier. Even more, since most of the bureaucracies rely either on a clientele or an activist constituency, enhancing the power of that clientele or constituency enhances the power of the bureaucracy. The neediest, the clients, the activists=the victim base. The growing role that civil rights law is playing in this development further detaches the state apparatuses from anything resembling popular governance or legislative intent or accountability, essentially identifying “the people” with the victims of “the people”—in a case that got less attention (Texas Dept of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.) the Court ruled that racism is completely separate from racist deeds or intentions: “racism” is what the government uses to micro-manage communities as it sees fit. That regulators also get “captured” by the industries they regulate, and those industries in turn use the regulatory apparatus to build monopolies for themselves binds the big business community to the victimocracy and bureaucracy alike.

Bureaucracy works through inertia, gradually accumulating power by finding new “problems” that only it can “solve,” but victimocracy works as an accelerant, which simply means an Argus-like attentiveness to previously unseen problems. It makes sense that the bureaucracy would eventually realize that it need not depend upon its own tiny militia of investigators, but could, rather, draw upon a vast army of victimocrats to widen the scope of its power. The role of the media is to turn all the new problems turned up by the victimocrats into moral panics that must be addressed yesterday, because that’s who we are as a people. There’s no way of stopping or slowing this process within the system, and there is no evident way of getting outside of the system. Murray’s proposal for mass civil disobedience that would overload the system is intriguing, but that assumes the government won’t simply start killing dissenters or rounding them up into concentration camps. A very problematic assumption, since there is no political ethic intrinsic to either bureaucracy or victimocracy that would interfere with such solutions. Both forms of government are remorseless and voracious, driven only by political appetites.

I, of course, have nothing in particular to propose by way of resistance. In a way, the destruction of liberal, popular government is liberating, though, because as long as you feel yourself to be part of a democracy you feel bound by the rhetoric of democracy—a rhetoric of conciliation, compromise, and appeasement, which gets even worse the more popular government becomes a pretense. If we are confronted by the equivalent of a political eating machine and nothing more, well, we need to be careful about what kind of bait we might be throwing out, even inadvertently, and we don’t want to simulate the movements or coloration of the beast’s favored prey, but we can carve out a space where we can start to develop a more truthful, which is to say less democratic, kind of language. Here’s a thought experiment: how would an intelligent alien, who just looked at the interactions between state and society in the US, without any familiarity with liberal democratic pieties, describe things? Keeping that thought experiment in mind might help us to a new political language, one to be advanced between the lines. I remember, a few years ago, thinking that, regardless of the virtue, courage and ingenuity shown by Soviet and East bloc dissidents, their example had lost its relevance with the fall of European Communism—that their revolutionary politics was sui generis. I was completely wrong: the notion, in particular, of “living in truth” in a world not just of lies, but lies that deliberately insult one’s intelligence and therefore one’s dignity, might very well become the most important political concept in the near future.

June 25, 2015

Toward a Unified Field Theory of the Left

Filed under: GA — adam @ 3:59 pm

I’ve tried this before, and perhaps will have to again, but this is worth doing, even if it takes a few drafts.

Most definitions of the Left focus on their obsession with equality, and that’s certainly a good place to start. The drive for equality is endless, allowing the Left to remain in constant motion: there are always some respects in which people are treated equally and others in which they’re not. It is impossible to treat people equally in one way without treating them unequally in other ways. Equality, despite the common disclaimer, does mean “the same”—citizens are equal, that is to say, the same, insofar as they can all vote. But this sameness now foregrounds differences: citizens with money have more influence beyond their single vote, some citizens are more knowledgeable than others, some find it easier to get to the polls than others, they are equal politically but unequal economically, etc. If sameness/equality is what we want, it makes sense to treat differences as suspect, and that, indeed, becomes the most economical approach to leftism, as we have seen in the current sex wars, where the furious attempt to make one of the more obvious and permanent differences among individuals, that of sex, irrelevant, has no end in sight. We will not have sexual equality until all differences, or at least any difference from which one might draw and invidious distinction in any area of human existence whatsoever, between men and women, and between hetero- and homo-sex are eliminated. As I suggested in my previous post, since this can never be accomplished, the inevitable result is continual violence against reality that just re-surfaces the differences in new ways. It would be easy enough to show that the same holds for racial and economic equality. But it makes for permanent employment for activists.

This is all true, and it explains a lot, but still seems to me to remain within “Newtonian physics”—it takes a homogeneous social space, in which individuals circulate and collide, for granted. Things, including people, can only be the same in relation to some common measure, and someone we imagine applying that measure. The source of the measure in question is that of the modern notion of “rights,” which makes all individuals equal in relation to the government. (Victimary thinking is, ultimately, only an intensification of this longstanding process.) So, it is the state, the heir to the ancient empires, which first reduced all members of the governed population to equidistant margins from the imperial center; or, more precisely, citizens erected such a state to encode and enforce their own resentment of it. The only way to remain immune to leftism is to bind equality of treatment up with shared obligations within forms of cooperation serving specific purposes (which provide the measure in those spaces)—business, schools, trade associations, spaces of inquiry, neighborhood associations, and so on—within a pluralist frame in which no form of cooperation has authority over any other. In other words, a society with endlessly proliferating, non-hierarchical centers—garlic to the vampirism of the left. The state is a necessary precondition for the left, then—it is only possible to imagine endlessly reducing the entire population to sameness once a sovereign bureaucracy cataloguing and accounting for everyone is in place. The imaginary of the Left is intrinsically bureaucratic, constantly on the hunt for unclassifiable differences and anomalies. Even so, for the Left, bureaucracy is always a sign of failure: once the oppressive differences have been abolished, people should spontaneously arrange themselves symmetrically in relation to the center—the abolition of the state still haunts the state soaked imaginary of the Left. Bureaucracy is always called into being when those differences have resisted elimination, or when new, and even more egregious, differences emerge out of the wreckage of the first attempt at differencide. Leftists start off as enemies of the state (historically, the absolutist monarch), which simply means they model themselves on the state that has reduced them to equidistant peripheries as well as on their resistance to that state.

But, still, why do those people comprising the Left want these unachievable, even insane, things? You can never get a straight answer to this question—if you pose the question, what would be a “good society,” you just get a list of hate objects, which are preventing us from doing all kinds of unspecified things, in response. The most coherent answer was probably Marx’s—the equalization of all individuals corresponds to the development of the productive forces, which in turn benefits virtually everyone. But the coherent answer is obviously false, and therefore ultimately incoherent—technological developments generate more differences, differences in human abilities, human desires, and available modes of representation. Eric Voegelin sees modernity as a whole as a post, even anti-Christian gnostic faith: in the terms I have been using here, that would entail a belief that the existing social world, in all of its details, is a product of an evil imperial center that has made us all equal in destitution, material and spiritual; behind that evil existing world is another world, governed by a good imperial center, in which those who see and cleanse themselves of the evil world participate. This explains a lot, as well, especially if we identify modernity with Leftism, in which case the seemingly irresistible progress of the Left would simply follow from the unmoored, post-Christian civilization set in motion by the Reformation and then Enlightenment. The decisive dividing line is the separation of rights from embedded obligations in all the modern republics, real and aspired to. But, still, why the fatal deviation?

By “modernity” I would mean the forgetting of the civilizing process within civilization (postmodernity would be the remembering of the forgetting, but a deeper forgetting of the civilizing process itself). The common association of modernity with the emergence of the market provides us with a good example of this forgetting. Impersonal exchanges carried out through money can take place between communities or within communities—presumably the former developed first, and pre-existed by millennia the latter. Traders moving between communities would always be vulnerable to raiders; exchange could only take root within communities under the sovereignty of some empire, which treats property owners as equal in relation to itself. The same is true of the modern market, which emerges under the protection of, first, the monarchical state and, then, the republics that emerged precisely to protect the newly formed markets. In other words, not “the,” but a particular kind of market emerged—one on which, for one thing, the participants could pretend to disembeddedness relative to the surrounding communities, a pretense which took the form, for example, of the state eliminating and/or replacing forms of property and exchange that didn’t suit the “modern” model. When we speak of “the” market, we evince forgetting of the process that produced this network of markets. Indeed, the development of “the” market might be an index of forgetting, just as it is an index of a more advanced, more tumultuous, deeper and internally vulnerable form of civilization.

Eric Gans, meanwhile, sees the difference between Right and Left in terms of the tension between firstness and reciprocity. The right supports the process of innovation and differentiation while the left tries to ensure that the results can be made compatible with the moral model of reciprocity. This analysis implies the permanence of the Left/Right distinction, and supports the assumption that the Left will always be at an advantage, since innovations and differentiations are difficult to create and even more difficult to control, while finding failures of reciprocity is like shooting fish in a barrel, since any innovation can only spread more or less gradually, exacerbating old asymmetries and creating new ones. But once you have inscribed the Left within the originary configuration, you can only hope to appease it, rather than abolish it; and the only way one can really hope to appease it is by addressing its most reasonable and realistic claims. This entails treating leftist complaints as if they are ultimately about the distribution of goods and resources, with perhaps a bit of recognition of formerly excluded identities. But this can never succeed if the Left’s most reasonable and realistic demands are really distractions from its real concerns—hooks for new recruits and camouflage for political warfare.

It is not necessary to ascribe originariness to the Left/Right configuration. The right exists only because of the left—the left is what set “modernity” in motion; the right has always been reactive. There are other possible relations between founders and inheritors, donors and recipients, creators and disseminators. The relation between Judaism and Christianity is certainly not analogous to the relation between Right and Left. Nor is the relation between the founders of disciplines and those who labor in the spaces they have founded. Or between inventors, producers and consumers. The Left/Right configuration is parochial and contingent. There is no originary reason for the existence of a large numbers of people who will never stop denouncing existing institutions until all individuals, in all respects and all areas of their lives, can be subjected to a common measure—which is to say, never. Reciprocity is built into firstness (the donor presupposes a recipient), and resentment (always conjoined with gratitude) is built into reciprocity, and the moral model is always active, but never on the left—it is in our daily interactions within institutions that we work on evening out the discrepancies between our shared projects and the way those projects are marred by desires and resentments they have been supposed to have transcended.

If a male scientist continually remarks on a subordinate female colleague’s appearance, or takes advantage of relations of physical proximity to grope her, the problem is really less one of male-female inequality than of a failure to adhere to the norms of the discipline. Scientists can only work together if they are all, while in the lab, absorbed in their shared attention to the work. The relation of subordination, which has a purely functional meaning within the workplace, is being mapped onto a male-female dynamic imagined to be in place elsewhere—it may not even be a relation of inequality, strictly speaking; rather, it might just be the convention whereby men pursue women, who are presumed to be deferring the advances of men for the sake of testing and selecting possible mates. Whether that form of male-female interaction (which does distribute power between the sexes and does not sanction sexual assault) should be reformed in some way cannot be a problem for the pair in the laboratory—their business is simply to keep it out where it doesn’t belong, whether in a crude or more refined form. Indeed, the very importation of that male-female dynamic to this inappropriate space, a transgression in itself, encourages the transgressor to adopt its cruder forms. The only real answer here is for scientists to act as scientists should—and that will take care of other issues, such as women being treated fairly when it comes to pay and promotions (and it might facilitate more acceptable forms of the romantic attachments that will inevitably form when men and women share the same workplace—there is an eros to shared devotion to some transcendent object). There will, indeed, be times, where the mapping of various male-female dynamics over the personnel in the labs is so powerful that the real qualities of the women scientists are obscured, and attention must therefore be paid to that mapping. In such cases, the disparity between disciplinary norms and imported conventions may need to be “performed.” But this is still just another way of getting at the problem of scientists adhering to the disciplinary norms they have tacitly committed to.

But how is it possible for scientists to act as scientists should, for business people to act as business people should, teachers to act as teachers should, police to act as police should, and so on? Asking the question presupposes the conquests of civilization: as I have been arguing in recent posts, the result of the virtuous circle of deferral and reward (material, intellectual and spiritual). Only the suppression of barbarism (honor culture and the vendetta) and savagery (nomadic raiding of the products of incipient civilization) makes it possible to slice society up into different “functions,” each with its own purpose, its own ethics, its own rules and forms of association—in short, its own discipline. But a crucial part of civilization is the forgetting of the civilizing process—the desires and resentments that have been curbed are also placed out of sight, producing things like an “unconscious,” where fantasies of, say, killing those who have interfered with your reception of the rewards you so richly deserve, can be deposited. And yet civilization is hard, and it remains hard. It’s hard to be in a room full of attractive people and not respond to their attractiveness. It’s hard to see a counter full of food when you’re hungry and not just reach for what you want. It’s hard to have power over people and not use that power to avenge slights, or satisfy fantasies of domination. It’s hard to be berated and humiliated in front of a room full of people and not lash out, or even allow one’s facial expression to betray anger. Of course, once you are able to do these things, they are routine and no longer hard, because your commitment to something more important, to the discipline, along with long years of elementary training in sitting still, sharing with your neighbor, leaving a room in an orderly manner, etc., makes self-restraint possible—but for this to happen those “barbaric” desires and resentments must also disappear as objects of sustained attention. If you are constantly reminding yourself you can’t take a swing at the department head as he details your failure to meet production quotas, you aren’t quite “there” yet.

And there are and probably always will be lots and lots of people in any civilized order who aren’t quite “there” and never will be—that is, who will never stop mapping the savage and barbaric, in a sense “natural,” responses to physical attraction, a range of unsatisfied appetites, insult and frustration onto civilized, disciplinary spaces. They cannot stop carrying out vendettas and forming raiding parties on the representatives of civilization, even if they do so in more or less veiled and hesitant ways. Civilization can never be complete, in part because it can never rest upon its past accomplishments—there are always residues and recrudescenses of savagery and barbarism to mop up (relaxing civilizing restraints, which inevitably happens once they have become successful and therefore seem to have lost their purpose and become rote and mean, will also encourage these reversions). I suppose this is a way of saying that civilization is always on a war footing, even though war, for the civilized society, is the worst form of barbarism, which civilization only recognizes the necessity for war as a last resort, even while engaging in an endless series of internal and metaphorical wars. Even in war, though, civility, which is to say discipline, is possible.

No civilization has ever entirely freed itself from its imperial origins. The West has come the closest, which is part of the reason why the West has a Left (thousands of years of Chinese civilization doesn’t seem to have produced one). Empire is civilizing and decivilizing, and this ambivalence haunts Western civilization, in particular through its monotheistic faiths. The Left inhabits this ambivalence, finding hideous empires everywhere while fantasizing its own to eliminate the others. The Left presumes itself constitutively civilized, insofar as it obeys the hidden imperial imperative to reduce all beings to the primal condition of equality to which they are (paradoxically) progressing; the Left is in fact engaged in a constant vendetta and piratical raid on civilization, insofar as civilizing discipline is the main source of the differences that must be destroyed to usher in the reign of the center of centers. It is in this double bind that we can see not just in the Left’s obsession with equality, but its choice of targets and means of attack. To be on the Left is to be perpetually outraged that actual empires obscure the real one to which we would spontaneously adhere if it were visible. It is pointless to focus on what the Left claims to support (science, the environment, a living wage, whatever)—the only thing worth examining is what it uses these shibboleths to attack. And what it always attacks is some form of deferral and discipline that must be adopted by all for civilization to be possible (what most infuriates today’s left is the suggestion that the victimary demographics be held to the same standards of discipline as the victimizers). Those who are disciplined and display self-restraint and thereby generate a center (or what Philip Rieff calls “charisma”) are attacked for having stolen that centrality; those marked as lacking deferral and discipline are defended so as to undermine claims to centrality based on discipline. Deferral and discipline are a sham, constructed only to generate a false charisma, so meticulous rules excluding spontaneity are to be imposed on the privileged (if whites behave in a non-racist manner towards people of color [something which only under great duress will be granted], it must be either because of the successful “resistance” of the latter, encoded in various rules regarding discrimination and harassment, or because the whites in question are ritually cleansed “allies”), while the victims are encourage to behave naturally, which of course includes therapeutic expressions of resentment. The civilized spontaneously seeks to model civilized behavior for the less civilized, so the Left incites the less civilized to chastise the relatively civilized (this often involves encouraging decivilizing tendencies among those who have come later to and are therefore closer to the borders of the civilizing process, and for whom civilization is more likely to be a gift to be cherished but also more likely to be hypocritical imposition to be rejected.) So, yes, “equality” is the weapon of choice in these raids and vendettas, but the constant attack on the actual source of inequality, the deferral and discipline of civilization, an attack, which, if successful, would destroy the Left as well, is the object.

Everyone has reasons to hold a grudge against civilization, so what leads one to pursue that grudge consistently, using civilization’s own means, and become a leftist? It must be a desire to see oneself as exempt from the never-ending, grueling, always uncertain civilizing process—this desire could involve simply abandoning civilized restraints and succumbing to some form of debilitating desire, such as drugs or sex. But that hardly puts you on the left (even if there is quite a bit of crossover). What draws you to the left is the desire to be presumptively civilized and thereby distinguish yourself from those who are just fumbling around—from the heights of the presumptively civilized position, the manual laborer who is uneasy around homosexuals can be just as barbaric as the Muslim terrorist. The presumptively civilized often come by their civilized behavior easily, which is why the demands placed on others to adopt it seems a scam—this is why so many leftists come from the wealthier classes, families with a couple of generations of professionals, and other forms of “privilege.” But, ultimately, it is a revelatory event that brings one to the Left: one sees the barbarism concealed behind the civilized forms (the boss or teacher as bully, the police as gangster, etc.), which is indeed always there to be seen and which guarantees both one’s presumptive civility and demonstrates the fraudulence of the established civilized forms. For such a revelation to take, though, there must be others with whom to share it, and a quasi-discipline to give it form. The unsolvable metaphysical complications of “equality” provide the basis of such a quasi-discipline.

The Left is obedience to the imperative to expose the products of discipline as stolen centrality. It’s not e=mc2, but maybe it will help.

June 18, 2015

Queering the Normal, Norming the Queer: Taking Thought before the Lights Go Out

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:39 pm

What is a man? What is a woman? What is marriage? It might very well be that asking these questions, much less trying to answer them, now counts as a micro-aggression in the University of California system. The recent innovations in the gender system introduced by the LGBT, or, better, queer, movement would seem to open up these questions for scrutiny; on the contrary, they lock them down and throw away the key. The lock-down is a desperate attempt to evade the incoherence of the implicit answers proposed by proponents of same-sex marriage and defenders of the transgendered. After all, if the only differences between men and woman are culturally constructed, and if those differences exist only to perpetuate inequality between the sexes, what does it mean to “become a woman” (or man), and why is that act to be celebrated—after all, doesn’t the claim that becoming a member of the opposite sex, or realizing that one has been one all along, involves a fundamental and liberating transformation, further imply that the differences between the sexes are significant, after all? Even more, doesn’t the desire to “present” as the opposite sex imply that there are reliable markers of sexual difference? Judith Butler, back when she set Queer Theory in motion with her book, Gender Trouble, back in the 80s, made the very prescient, provocative, and to a great extent true observation that sex roles are “performed,” that such performance always involves a set of normative assumptions, while any given performance also varies from and hence destabilizes those norms. In that case, the norms can be deliberately destabilized, and in this possibility Butler saw the radical potential in what, long, long ago, was known as “cross dressing” and “drag queens.” By performing “femininity” in non-normative ways, these practices destabilized gender difference by showing off the arbitrariness and, “therefore” (this presumably logical connection is never made) oppressive character of the norms keeping them in place. Much of the left laughed at Butler’s arguments, but she has certainly been vindicated.

Still, all this might be true, and we could still imagine a biological basis for gender differences. The “reformist” version of Butler’s theory would acknowledge the claims I just worked through, and still go on to say that chromosomal, hormonal, brain, genital, etc., differences between the sexes still provides a kind of center around which all these variations of gender norms revolve and constellate. Yes, there are many ways of “being a woman” and “being a man,” and there are plenty of manly women and womanly men, and we are better and freer if we accept and even rejoice in this play of differences, and those performance artists who act out and parody what have come to be seen as unnecessarily restrictive versions of these roles are doing us a service by liberating us (in a non-coercive manner) from them. But none of that would change the fact that, left to their own devices, boys and girls and men and women will cluster around certain “male” and “female” characteristics, even if we may occasionally be surprised at what they turn out to be. Perhaps boys will someday come to enjoy feeding their dolls with bottles, and girls will become obsessed with massive toy truck collisions, but this has not happened yet, even with the best, or at least most determined, of intentions of a generation of liberalized parents. I suspect, though, that even this attempt at a compromise in the ongoing gender wars would be shot down with extreme prejudice if floated on Twitter—the cultural vandals of the left are in a take no prisoner mode, which might itself be a sign of desperation—but desperate measures are sometimes successful. The problem is that even the slightest possibility that a gun-toting, barroom brawling, alpha-male harem seeking model of masculinity, on the one hand, and a cradle rocking, stay at home, cooking and cleaning, obey your husband model of femininity, on the other hand, would in the end retain even a sliver of legitimacy presents too great an obstacle to the ambitions of the queer movement. All normative identities must be put through the victimary blender, with no exceptions, because if there is one exception, there could be another, and another, and then (as deconstructing queer theorists know very well) before long you have no rule.

As I composed the caricatures of masculinity and femininity in the previous paragraph, I noted an asymmetry—the masculine model is much more of a caricature than the feminine model. This is another way of saying that a more biologically grounded masculinity is much easier to parody, mimic, deconstruct, and so on, than a similarly grounded femininity. The norms of masculinity that have become objectionable, or obsolete, are those grounded in territorialism and the honor of the Big Man—those norms, involving boasting, bluster and intimidation, when transplanted into peaceful occupations, become ridiculous (even if not completely ineffective). But a woman completely devoted to her children, family and home can’t become ridiculous because the activities involved in such devotion still need to be performed. (Mocking such women always involves measuring them according to criteria secondary to those central to their chosen role: they are stupid, prejudiced, slavish, animal-like, etc.—in other words, they are, in a circular manner, not like the professional woman mocking them.) (The complementary male role is supporting the family economically, but that role is ambivalent, and hence an easy target of ridicule, because it often requires emasculation outside of the home, such as enduring the bullying of a boss, demeaning menial tasks, etc.) Even the modes of femininity that are more easily mimicked and caricatured (especially by the transgendered), those associated with attracting a mate precisely by exaggerating the physical features distinguishing the sexes, tend to be lovingly embodied, rather than ridiculed, by their mimics, male and female alike—because the function of attracting a mate cannot become obsolete either.

So, there are many ways of being male and female, and yet the transgendered seem to zero in on a few very specific ways. The female-to-male transgendered (who have garnered almost no attention in the current storm of interest in the matter) tend, almost invariably, to be austere, vaguely intellectual, self-contained, quiet, let’s say “nerdish”—the kind of man who mostly goes unnoticed anyway. The far more common male-to-female version, meanwhile, seems to tend toward the extravagant, adopting the most stereotyped version of a “pin-up girl” femininity. Bruce Jenner wants to dress up like a starlet and have girls’ nights out—there is no talk of a deeply rooted desire to nurture small children. He doesn’t want to be fitted out with breast pumps so he can nurse infants. This is all incredibly interesting but also, I fear, falls under the category of “micro-aggression,” because if we look too closely at these decisions and transformations we can see that they ultimately confirm, even as “exceptions to the rule,” the general “clustering” view of sex traits I presented above. Male-to-female transgenders seem to want liberation from the constraints of masculinity into a fetishized femininity focused on clothes, make-up, jewelry and theatrical flourishes—that is, the most attention grabbing features of femininity. Female-to-male transgenders, meanwhile, seem to want liberation from the intense scrutiny given to a woman’s appearance into a kind of nondescript maleness that can neutralize attention to external features. None of this is “inauthentic” or dishonest: indeed, negotiating the ways others attend to you, controlling that attention as best you can and accepting all the ways you can’t control it, is one of the fundamental and most difficult problems of life—and these solutions may be the best ones for at least some of the individuals involved. But they don’t solve the problem fundamentally, since the problem can’t be solved fundamentally—indeed, by making such dramatic changes one has made oneself an object of attention in a new way (and much depends here on how much one publicizes one’s transformations—again, it seems to me that the male-to-female variant is far more interested in the drama of the transformation itself than the female-to-male variant—which is probably why we hear so much more about the former, along with the fact that entrance into the workforce already has woman taking over many “male” characteristics, so the further transformation is not as astonishing. Of course, that would also mean that there is something inherently “reactionary” about male-to-female transgenders; perhaps something inherent victimary as well, even if it is the transition that is the central victimary category here, not the femininity). Maybe I’m wrong about much, or even all of this analysis. But that would just mean that there are better analyses, that there is more worthy of notice than I have noticed, in which case these questions of gender identification are, as I began by saying, inherently open ones.

What this would mean is that it will be impossible to police the way people speak (and therefore think) about the transgendered—since the questions are open by their nature, lashing out at those who, for example, insist on using the masculine pronoun when referring to Bruce Jenner (as far as I know, he has not yet legally changed his name, although it is perhaps a micro-aggression to note that), will simply drive the questions underground, leading them to be asked and answered in coded forms. In fact, it is very likely that we are going to see a revival of the method of writing that Leo Strauss called “writing between the lines,” and claimed characterized all philosophical writing up until the modern era. One would, for example, write an essay excoriating the retrograde refuseniks who continue to hold their ground on matters of sexual morality, and one would make a point of lampooning and attacking each and every repugnant element of their beliefs; along the way, one would give details about those beliefs that are normally not provided, one would almost unnoticeably lower the tone of one’s diatribe at strategic points, one would find ways of showing the weakness of one’s own stated or presumed beliefs, perhaps by deploring disagreements among the “transies” that highlight the incoherence of the thinking as a whole, and so on—all in order to preserve your livelihood (or even, possibly at some point down the road, avoid civil or criminal charges) while communicating with those fellow dissidents out there who know how to decode. It might be a very good discipline to recover and master. Perhaps modern openness (the principles implicit in our freedoms of speech, religion and association) was really a temporary phenomenon, more limited than we realize, and one that relied on common hopes and enemies that are no longer widely shared. Maybe the need to carve out a space of thinking against both the “people” and the “elites” is the more permanent civilized condition. And maybe it will encourage other subversive lines of thinking regarding sacrosanct categories like “democracy” and “equality.”

So, what is marriage? Part of the purpose of eliminating all relevant differences between men and women (either by eliminating the difference or declaring them irrelevant) is to quell any disquieting questions about the new definition of marriage. Which is what, exactly? The question is posed in all seriousness. Marriage used to be union between a man and a woman, implicitly (there wouldn’t have been any need to spell it out) for the purpose of grounding the link between sexuality and procreation in the shared and publicly recognized responsibility of the parties involved. So, if that understanding is now the equivalent of the Nuremberg Laws, what is the new understanding? As far as I know, a new one has not been forthcoming. In a rare highly civil conversation I recently had with an individual supportive of same sex marriage and well versed in GA and its critique of victimary politics, the following was proposed (I hope I will be representing this person’s view accurately): aside from the link between sex and procreation, marriage serves to take people off of the sexual marketplace, and explicitly signal that they are off, so as to reduce the tempestuous of that marketplace, thereby reducing the incidences of disease, licentiousness and potentially dangerous jealousy that follow from an “unregulated” sexual marketplace. This seems to me the best rationale for same sex marriage that I have seen, and the only one that I can think of that is not grounded in resentment towards the “benefits” married couples receive or the implicit condemnation of non-normative sexual practices still intrinsic to the traditional understanding of marriage. But it is problematic. The most obvious problem, one I pointed out in the conversation, is that this argument has not, in fact, been advanced by those pushing for the legal and political enforcement of same sex marriage, and for a very good reason: in leaving the firm legalistic ground of “equal rights” and wandering off into the realms of psychology and anthropology, one is left with an argument that can be accepted, rejected, or contested; and, furthermore, that can be tested over time and found wanting; or weighed against other consequences of undermining traditional marriage. In other words, it would slow the momentum of the queer movement and make it dependent upon the vagaries of civil discussion, which sometimes doesn’t go your way.

But the problems with the proposed rationale go even deeper. If marriage does indeed serve the proposed purpose, it already does so for something like 98% of the population. Are the disturbances to the social order from the sexual proclivities of that other 2% so unsettling as to require that they, as well, be incorporated? If the answer is “no,” then the argument depends upon the 98% being more concerned than we can expect them to be for the sexual morality of the other 2%. But if the answer is “yes,” that in turn raises disturbing questions, and requires us to make some distinctions. There are male homosexuals, and female. Do I really need to ask where the sexual “turbulence” comes from? Lesbians have, for a very long time, managed to arrange for relationships akin to marriage, living together for decades as “spinsters” in a manner that, to the rest of the world, seemed sisterly and unobjectionable, carving out a space of privacy and freedom while respecting the opinion of their neighbors. Such relationships have no doubt been formed among respectable “confirmed bachelors” as well, but the norm for male homosexual habits is very different. Same sex marriage, according to the rationale we are considering, is meant to solve the problem of male homosexual promiscuity. But it could only do so if the traditional understanding of marriage as monogamous and lifelong were to remain intact. Not only has this traditional understanding of marriage been steadily eroded through the sexual revolution, but it stands to reason that if we can revise the terms of marriage in one respect, we could do so in others. Indeed, why should gays conform to the terms of marriage, rather than marriage being reformed to fit the preferences of gays? In other words, same sex marriage is at least as likely to make promiscuity acceptable within marriage more generally as it is to reduce the promiscuity of male homosexuals.

So, same sex marriage does not, in fact, propose a new understanding of marriage even while it eviscerates the traditional understanding. It is easy to see how individuals wishing to form relationships would find same sex marriage beneficial, but under conditions of civil discourse it would also be recognized that the problems same sex marriage would solve could be approached and solved, or at least minimized, in other ways. So, the only rationale is the resentful one of destroying an institution and a moral tradition that excludes and demeans one. What is at stake in same sex marriage is the so far undiscussed (and, if its proponents have their way, it will remain undiscussed until it is too late, which is to say when it has become undiscussable) demand that all social discourse recognize same sex attraction as equally normal as opposite sex attraction. The feelings of a tiny minority must not simply be tolerated, respected or accommodated, but explicitly and on every occasion upon which the question arises, validated. If a parent is disappointed upon learning that his/her child is attracted to members of the same sex, that feeling must be ruthlessly uprooted, and certainly never expressed, except, perhaps, in a therapeutic setting entered into for the sake of uprooting it. Any suggestion that it is better that children be raised in a home with a mother and father must be extirpated—indeed, we must speak of “spouses” and “parents” exclusively, and not “husbands and wives,” “ mothers and fathers.” What has been taken to be the “normal” way of “acquiring” children must be given no “privileges” over any other way of “acquiring” them, which means that there is no longer to be a presumed relation of parentage between the “natural” mother and father and the child. Since marriage is no longer a natural relationship merely sponsored and regulated by the government but, rather, is a government created relationship, the relationship between parents and children is likewise to be presumed to be legitimate only upon the sufferance of the government. Of course, the state can already remove children deemed to be mistreated from the home of their parents, but the presumption remains in favor of the parents. No longer. There will be no obstacle to looking at any household, examining the options, and asking, “what is in the best interest of the children”? Is it in the best interest of, say, a sexually confused 12 year old to remain in the care of a male and female parent who not only cannot model the kind of relationship best suited (according to expert advice) to that child’s sexuality but are still evil enough to believe that gender has a basis in nature? Rather than in the home of an enlightened and welcoming gay couple who are even better able to support the child economically? Such questions will answer themselves, and our imaginations are currently far too limited to imagine what other questions will emerge.

So, there is my hate filled, homo- and transphobic diatribe. One can still say what I have written here, if one stays under the radar, that is below the threshold of the continual sweeps carried out by the social media mobs. But that threshold will continue to lower, to the point where such arguments as I have made will be unintelligible (perhaps it’s naïve to think they are still intelligible) to the vast majority of citizens of Western countries. That development will mean not so much a change in public opinion as a collective insistence upon living with lies, and stamping out any hint of the truth. And the effects will reverberate—the truth in one area of discourse threatens the lies imposed elsewhere. We can already see what similar lies on questions like race and the environment look like. But one useful lesson we have learned from the Communist devastation of Eastern and Central Europe is that people remember or re-member (piece back together) the truth, even out of the pastiche of lies they are told and forced to repeat. Those of us committed to thinking will have to draw upon the reserves of civilization available to us, upon the genres of writing and artistic production, the skill of “double-talk” a rich vocabulary and discursive equipment affords us. And we will have to get very good at it, because the victimocrats are far better at sniffing out heresy than the Catholic Church ever was. That addresses the “1984” dimension of the cultural revolution. The “Brave New World” dimension will entail recovering and inventing ways of speaking about “Nature,” as a horizon that always lies beyond technological, cultural and therapeutic interventions. In the end, we would have to believe that things have their own way of being regardless of what is done to them (and even as a result of what is done to them), and that limits what we should do to them, even if we could never state in advance what those limits are. Only if we believe that about things will we also believe it about people; and realizing that desire, resentment and an originary mistakenness informs our interventions into people will help us to mind the nature of things.

June 15, 2015

Civilizational Hide and Seek

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:39 pm

The more deferral of desire leads to prestige and wealth, the more civilized the community. The result is a infinitely extendable chain of actions leading to measurable results: in the degree zero of civilization, you eat what you gather or catch, you wear what you make, you sleep where you make a bed for yourself. This immediacy of result can be individual or collective—we eat what we catch, etc. Divisions of labor are the first steps towards civilization: one group hunts, another group cooks, then all eat. The chain continues to grow: one group raises the livestock, another slaughters it, another distributes it, others cook it, etc. And we know how it ends up: with a market society, in which no one knows what anybody else is doing, how the food got on your plate, how the clothes got into the store, how the transistors got into your iphone, and so on. This process allows for larger communities and more connections between communities, both developments dependent on the suppression of violence, first of all within communities: as long as each of us is focused on no one getting a bigger piece of an item on which all have equal claim, we will all insist on being present through the entire process. Civilization implies a faith that the end result of distribution will be roughly fair, but without anyone being able to say for sure (or even being able to say for sure what “fair” means).

The continually extended chain generates two contradictory and complementary desires. The first, directly civilizing, desire, is to conceal the chain. To take an example from Norbert Elias that I have used before, if eating the food in a separate location from where it has been prepared is a civilizational advance (just as is preparing it in a different location than where it has been slaughtered), then a marker of one’s awareness of this advance would be keeping the preparation out of sight. Food preparation, and, even more, the slaughterhouse, becomes “disgusting.” There is no doubt that the civilized individual of today finds sights and smells completely unbearable that our ancestors would not have even noticed (including, for example, the myriad body odors we make sure to conceal). We can see how whole systems of manners and discourses comprised of euphemisms arise out of the civilizational hiding: in one place (say, the dinner table) you don’t do or say anything that might be a reminder of what is done in another place (the field, the workplace, the bathroom, the bedroom, etc.). Of course, this would exclude much of human life from dinner table conversation, but it does leave accounts of encounters and conversations that don’t rely on the specifics of these other settings (say, a discussion one had with a co-worker about a restaurant or movie) and, at least as important, all kinds of indirect references to the forbidden topics. The acrobatics of such indirect references, making the references in a way that distinguishes those initiated into civilization from the novice, is what makes one a “polite” and “civilized” dinner companion.” You might think this is a parody of the decadent aristocracy of the 18th century, but I think if you pay close attention to how people (at least those who are not very close friends, or people intensely engaged on a common enterprise) speak at shared meals today, you will see that the same constraints are in place.

This desire for concealment of the conditions of civilization generates the contrary desire to expose them. This counter-desire emerges from a couple of sources. First, there is the imposition of the originary moral model on the civilizational scene. Civilization is predicated upon a particularly refined model of the moral reciprocity of the originary scene, but for that very reason is destined to violate it in many respects. Somewhere in that long chain of actions that has led to the dinner being on our table is an injustice. Some underpaid farm worker picked those berries, some sweatshop worker stitched that beautiful dress, etc. That worker is “here,” but not here—it seems morally relevant, maybe even imperative, to make their presence felt. Civilizational distancing generates the appearance and certainly quite a bit of the reality of “hypocrisy”—proclaiming one’s adherence to the highest standards of moral reciprocity while relying upon practices that transduce those standards. A related imperative is to take responsibility for the results of one’s actions, a desire that motivated anti-civilizational thinkers like Thoreau, who wanted to build his own house, make his own clothes, grow his own food, simply so that he could account and be accountable for it all. Here, again, anxiety about the terms of the morality of the scene is involved: precisely as a civilized person, with an awareness of the intricate consequences of one’s actions, one wants to be able testify to those consequences.

The second, and perhaps more important desire (and infusing the moral imperatives), derives from the simple fact that what has been hidden away becomes fascinating for that very reason. Such concealment is drawn into the moral arena insofar as it is reasonable, even if wrong, to assume that things are hidden because people with an interest in doing so have hidden them, but the feeling that one is “off-center,” alienated, purposeless, anomic, precedes morality insofar as it derives from an intuition that unsettled violence lies within both the social order and the individuals it has created. In synthesizing these moral imperatives and undirected intimations of disorder, civilization creates sensationalism and sentimentalism: sensationalism being a premonition that seeing what others, presumably for no good reason, want to keep hidden, will yield some inarticulate revelation; and sentimentalism the determination to impose the narrative of the civilized individual on people living in less civilized conditions. I once saw an interview with Gayatri Spivak where she chastised global do-gooders trying to do away with child labor in the underdeveloped world by asserting that the reaction on the part of most of the child laborers themselves is “why do they want to take away my job?” Maybe Spivak was herself flouting the civilizational assumptions of her leftist academic interviewer (this used to be, at least, one of her favorite pastimes), but she had a very good point. Until very recently, children have always worked, and the very notion of childhood as a protected space of play and learning is a product of the civilized order that, it may very well be, only a period during which the productivity of entire populations is significantly increased will establish. Sentimentalizing the efforts and sufferings of people trying to get there will not do them any good. At any rate, it seems that there is a clear order here: first one sensationalizes (generates outrage) and then one sentimentalizes (persuades us that the problem has been solved and we can avert our eyes again).

Sensationalism and sentimentalism are, of course the most prominent markers of “popular culture,” and popular culture is nothing if not a mode of concealment (of the tangle of resentments and deferrals pop culture represents as battles between good and evil), bringing us full circle. Civilization is an ongoing game of hide and seek, with the same people involved in overlapping modes of exposure and concealment. Today’s campus sexual culture, at least as administratively represented, is as perfect an example as one could hope for: with the installation of “affirmative consent” (“yes means yes”) as the new criterion for determining the “legitimacy” of a sexual encounter, each physical piece of the sexual puzzle, all that would have not long ago been unspeakable in “mixed company” (where the partners touch each other, what manner of touch, in what order, etc., logically, at least, requiring the precision and detail of a porn flick or medical examination) must be explicitly stated; on the other hand, all the tacit understandings of the erotic encounter, the hints, the suggestions, the hesitations, the play—all of that must be whited out as markers of a barbaric inequality between the sexes. I think the insatiable desire for “transparency” in government is similarly complemented by a code of silence regarding the basic dispositional components of social order (could you imagine a politician today running [much less governing] on the “populist” platform of straightforwardly and unapologetically supporting law abiding citizens, with a right to be in this country, who follow moral traditions, defer gratification, work and pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits—against those who don’t fit those criteria? As recently as Ronald Reagan, that was possible—but if you listen carefully to even the most conservative politicians today, you will see that they speak a very different language, one formed so as to say as little as possible about what people actually do with their lives). We could probably establish a precise law here: for every exposure there is an equal and opposite concealment. It is the task of high culture to take us inside the civilizing process (to expose those hidden chains of action) while remembering that exposure itself is just another link in that chain, exercising its own concealments, invariably in the interest of self-exemption from the difficulties and incommensurabilities of civilization through advocacy of the moralizing simplicities of one part of it.

Civilizational hide and seek is bound up with all questions of ethics and politics. The concept of “progress” implies that we will always find more areas of barbarism and savagery hidden within civilization, that these areas must be brought into the light, which is to say sensationalized and sentimentalized so that they can be reformed on familiar terms. And “progress” is intrinsically bound up with civilization—but this also means that there is something mechanical and compulsive about our insistence on progress: rather than accept that the barbaric must civilize themselves and that the civilized can do no more than offer incentives to do so (and protect themselves and their civilization in the meantime), the civilized seem unable to refrain from remaking any instance of barbarism in their sight in their own image; which also implies they cannot refrain from seeing anything that does not conform to their own image as barbaric. (Not to digress, but the supposed “relativism” of the Left is really an absolutism towards those elements of its own society it considers “barbaric”—the Left doesn’t really care about Islam or “Muslim extremism” one way or another—it cares about exposing the barbaric belligerence and backward racism of the nearer enemy.) This is all part of the dialectic of exposure and concealment: the civilized automatically, involuntarily, recoil from the slightest barbaric blot, while also being irresistibly attracted to uncovering/projecting them so as to bury them more irretrievably. I will refrain, for now, from explaining leftist, victimary, politics in these terms, but it can very easily and extensively be done (and the emergent right-wing “counter-counter-cultural” politics found on websites like Beitbart, PJMedia and Frontpage, have also seeped themselves in sensationalism, in a tit-for-tat manner). A responsible politics of civilization, then, must resist sensationalism and sentimentalism while inevitably entering the game of hide and seek. This involves transgressing boundaries (differentiations), like, for example, between “art” and “life,” or “domestic” and “foreign” issues, but doing so in order to restore or replace those boundaries. Transgression involves exposure, bringing something that usually remains unseen into a space predicated upon its exclusion: in doing so, one obeys the imperative issuing from the moral order but also the need to refresh our ostensives (the underlying attraction of sensationalism and sentimentalism), to see new things in new ways, to replace dead signs with ones that can represent emergent resentments; restoring boundaries refrains from using the violation of moral order that has been spotted behind some wall as a battering ram to demolish other, presumably equally “hypocritical” boundaries. The restored or renewed boundary, then, must provide a way of arranging the newly revealed ostensives so as to make all those who accept that boundary more likely to detect that species of moral disorder. (But the bigger question, today, as I suggested in the previous post, is how to convince people to take up the burden of civilization in the first case. We all resent civilization because it is demanding and frustrating, and its benefits are evident only to those equipped to grasp them analytically—why not allow oneself to be overcome with those resentments and seek out those increasingly available pleasures indulgence in which disqualify you from an order in which you may not fit, and which may not even admit you?)

June 11, 2015

Originary Memory and Delight

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:32 pm

Once you begin retrieving the concept of “civilization” as a core concept of social thought you start to suspect that most of the theoretical discussions of civilization, and many of the more interesting ones, come from those opposed to civilization. (There are exceptions, of course, but outright defenders of civilization tend to not want to look too closely at how the sausage has been made, vitiating their analyses.) I have come across the work of the anti-civilization thinker John Zerzan. Zerzan defines “civilization” very broadly, it seems to me, including any social order above the most primitive, egalitarian, hunter-gatherer communities. He also gets at the heart of civilization in deferral of desire and the division of labor. He even considers the invention of language to be destructive, introducing the abstract, distancing, thought that makes the road to civilization possible, if not inevitable. Zerzan is uncompromising, and therefore clarifying in his attack on civilization, to the point of contending that its much to be desired demolition, and the emergence of a “future primitive,” is possible, and something worth working towards.

Civilization, for Zerzan, is alienation, inequality and violence. Each step along the way in the civilizing process involved new innovations imposed upon an enslaved majority by an expropriating minority. As for what kind of human existence preceded civilization, that can be summed up in terms of “presence” (the very experience metaphysics has sought out and imagined, artists have tried to recreate, and ordinary humans try to recapture through sex, drugs, and other time-suspending absorbing activities). Prior to civilization, there really was Eden: food was plentiful and easily obtainable, conflict was minimal, desire never needed to be deferred, time was non-existent, and each individual was thoroughly in the present moment at all times. Interestingly, Zerzan contends that the first use of language was probably to lie. He mobilizes copious anthropological evidence in what seem to me selective ways, but the more important question is whether, from an originary perspective, we have any reason to dispute his claims; and, following up on that question, would it make any difference to a civilizing politics which I would assume, in some minimal form, to be shared by all originary thinkers?

My answer to the first question is “no.” Nothing in the originary hypothesis is affected by the anti-civilization creed. The originary hypothesis assumes an increase in the mimetic proclivities of the advanced hominid that was our immediate predecessor. This corresponds with the account given by Merlin Donald in his Origins of the Modern Mind. We assume this mode of existence was ended by the originary event, but it may very well be that it was, for the most part, Edenic. With the increase in mimetic capacity and activity must have come increased conflict, but maybe the order maintained by the alpha male was fairly benign, and violence was a rare occurrence. Moreover, the very increase in mimetic activity would have cast an entirely new light on the world, made it come alive as it never had before—the desire of everyone around you multiplying your own might have given objects a kind of halo. This transitional period (of course, calling it “transitional’ already presupposes the inevitability of its demise, but on what grounds?—perhaps pre-humans lived like this for longer than we have lived as humans) might have been one best characterized by perpetual delight.

The originary hypothesis assumes an event in which the general convergence upon the central object injected a new kind of fear into the proto-human community, but it does not assume (or at least it need not) that this fear was justified. Indeed, as I have argued previously (in the post, “The Violent Imaginary”), it is hardly likely that the struggle over the central object would have led to a melee resulting in the death of most of the population. It would certainly break up well before that happened, probably with minimal injury, reinstating the rule of the alpha (I suspect Zerzan would reject the assumption of the need for an alpha—maybe in a plentiful environment there wouldn’t be much need for one). The implication would be that the originary sign was a brilliant solution to a problem that didn’t exist. The reign of earthly delights need never have come to an end (at least by the species’ own hands). If we take this analysis one step further, and consider that the sign might very well have been discovered in an even less consequential (for the group as a whole, at least) encounter by just a couple or a few members, and then brought back to and “imposed” on the rest (something which is much more obviously true with the later emergence of big and ever bigger men, and probably with monotheism and metaphysics as well), then the correspondence between the anti-civilizational argument and the originary hypothesis is complete—and without the least harm or distortion done to either. The originary hypothesis could take on the anti-civilizational argument without modification of either that argument or itself.

No obvious implications for either ethics or the theory of history follow from this. One could argue that humanity is the result of a mistake, or a long series of mistakes, without concluding that those mistakes could be corrected, or could have been (deliberately) avoided in the first place, or that the alternative pathways our species might have taken wouldn’t have consisted of more devastating mistakes or vulnerabilities. We live and think under the authority of the sign, and can’t imagine living and thinking otherwise. But we might have the memory of earthly delight inscribed in our language (language in the broadest sense, including gesture and shared feelings—issues that Rene Harrison started to raise for us at our recent conference), even if that might be a mistaken memory as well, constituted by the resentment of the central object on the originary scene. Resentment of civilization, with the deferrals and discipline it demands, would draw heavily on this originary memory, as would the apparently inextricable utopian fantasies that resentment generates. As I argued in the first of these posts on civilization, the basic principle of civilization, that deferral yields returns in increments proportionate to the deferral, is itself an article of faith that may be often or rarely true—it is hard to imagine what the “metrics” would be by which we could settle this question. It’s easy to see why someone might want to go back rather than continue to trudge forward, seeing such “trudgery” as rather MacBethean: “I am in blood/Stepped so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as to go o’er.” We arrive at an incommensurability here: any argument I might make for “going o’er” would only be convincing for someone already steeped in the hope of receiving the bounty of civilization—some who finds returning to be less tedious will consider such hopes to be nothing more than an ideological scam, meant to keep the masses slaving away. We could say going back is unrealistic, but that is becoming the weakest of arguments—who among us could with any confidence predict the shape of the world 50 years from today? We don’t know what’s “realistic” and what’s not. Those who would like to go back think our current civilization is unsustainable—I couldn’t, in good faith, try to refute them.

There is an anarcho-primitivist politics, and it is global. It overlaps with the left, and with victimary politics, but is irreducible to it. It is probably more intransigent than the victimary, which operates exclusively on civilized terrain (and would make no sense otherwise), while also capable of doing less harm at the moment. It is probably evident from my discussion that I am far more sympathetic to anarcho-primitivism than I am to the vindictive bio-politics of the victimary (anarcho-primitivists would presumably consider me, a civilized drone trudging along, as much a victim as anyone else), even though I am well aware that the former is capable of violent outbursts—Zerzan is supportive of the Unabomber, Ted Kacynski, (he has published his manifesto, anyway). But more important to me than any of that is the possibility that a kind of aura of a pre-violent mimetic garden of earthly delights is a part of our basic constitution as sign using but also biological beings. This would be a pre-human feeling (with, probably, many shades of feeling) that is part of what makes us human. It seems to me that such a concept would illuminate a great many anthropological issues, such as our vulnerability to various addictions, what Freud called the “death drive,” what Julia Kristeva once called “jouissance,” fantasies of immersion in a thoroughly natural or thoroughly technological environment (or a natural environment thoroughly technologized), the “Question of Being,” a “cratylian” feeling about the fit of words to their meanings, the feeling of being “in” love, the Garden of Eden story (in all its variants across cultures) and perhaps much else. It may very well be that in our use of signs we are really doing nothing more than attempting to approximate and correspond to the “continuous present” (to use Gertrude Stein’s term—for which she was indebted to William James, who was in turn indebted to Charles Sanders Peirce) of delight. Our tacit knowledge of how to arrive at the equipoise between converging desires might rely upon our originary memories of delight, in a place where things shone forth, lit up by desires cascading back and forth.

This raises one more issue for originary thinking. If we can trace a resentment toward civilization back to the emergence of the sign, we can also trace it forward as a resentment renewed and sedimented with each forced march to more civilized conditions. It’s easy enough to imagine what destruction must have been wrought on small primitive communities in the construction of the ancient empires; the Bible provides us with some clues regarding what it must have taken to root out those inveterate tendencies toward “idol worship.” The wars and pacification of honor communities in the creation of the absolute monarchies of early modern Europe are also well known; nor does there seem to me any reason to believe that the modern market order was embraced by the agricultural communities swept into it. At each point along the way the vanguardist “firstness” of the pioneers of a new set of constraints required the expenditure of vast quantities of disciplinary force. Again, nothing obvious follows from all this civilizational overkill (which may, in fact, have been necessary)—I remain firmly in favor of trudging forward and resisting those who want to pull us back. But, in ways and with consequences we couldn’t wholly account for, each and every one of us “remembers” all this. Those of us committed to the civilizing process might keep this in mind instead of wondering why the civilizing project that seems to us so obvious rarely goes according to plan. Perhaps the civilizing process must find ways to indulge originary memory—maybe that will turn out to be the civilizing contribution made by hedonistic modern art.

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