GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

May 31, 2016


Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:00 am

I would like to roll some of my recent reflections on the victimary, the alt-right and related matters into this very fruitful way of thinking about the victimary from Eric Gans’s latest Chronicle:

“PC” suggests political orthodoxy, but it is more useful to understand its root basis in ethical terms, which alone can explain its power even in conservative circles. The fundamental ethical posture of PC is the fiction that, as in the originary event, all humanity is present at every conversation, so that any utterance that can be suspected of predicating something unfavorable, whether factual or not, of a category of people, particularly an ascriptive category, is to be avoided out of consideration for that group’s claim on universal human status. If all political discussion be considered the equivalent of such a universal conversation, then any reference to disparities in competence, however “objective,” violates the moral model in which all humans participate symmetrically, as in the originary event, in the exchange of signs. Any suggestion of unequal competence is not merely impolite but immoral, the equivalent of denying someone the vote because he or she is less intelligent or well-educated than others. The enforcement of originary equality, on the back burner throughout the long history of hierarchical society although affirmed in principle by Christian doctrine, was brought to the fore in reaction to the racialism of the Axis in WWII and particularly to the Holocaust. We should not forget that the expansion of the political/voting class in Western countries to include Jews, the members of nonwhite races, persons without property, and finally, women, took place over several generations and ended in most places less than a century ago.

The notion that the fundamental fiction of “PC” is that all of humanity is present at each conversation is, I think, not only exactly right but a way of thinking about the victimary that is originary, down to earth and commonsensical, and generative. Let’s work through the above the discussion step by step.

…so that any utterance that can be suspected of predicating something unfavorable, whether factual or not, of a category of people, particularly an ascriptive category, is to be avoided out of consideration for that group’s claim on universal human status.

The so that makes some very specific assumptions about conversation. First, that a conversation can only be sustained among those who make maximal assumptions regarding each other’s shared humanity. Only the most favorable assumptions about all the others can guarantee this shared humanity: if I consider some others stupider than me (or, for that matter, smarter), or crueler (or more compassionate), etc., that would somehow preclude continuing the conversation. (What counts as a favorable assumption? What seems favorable to me privileges my own scale of values while disprivileging that of the other.) This would have to be true of any difference, though, wouldn’t it, since no difference can be declared absolutely non-ascriptive, once and for all, and any noticing of a difference can be considered derogatory (considering the other more creative and imaginative, for example, can be exoticizing condescension). In that case, though, what is there left to talk about in this universal conversation?

If all political discussion be considered the equivalent of such a universal conversation, then any reference to disparities in competence, however “objective,” violates the moral model in which all humans participate symmetrically, as in the originary event, in the exchange of signs. Any suggestion of unequal competence is not merely impolite but immoral, the equivalent of denying someone the vote because he or she is less intelligent or well-educated than others.

To the assumptions about conversation we can add some regarding morality. In what kind of conversation could I not offer to someone (and would that person absolutely refuse to listen to) comments regarding their performance in the company softball game, or suggestions regarding how to improve the paper they are working on, or, between lovers or spouses, how requests might be made in a more considerate way, etc.? All such comments can be taken to reflect adversely on disparities in competence in some area—any comment about competence can be taken to reflect some disparity, insofar as how could one comment on another’s competence without implicitly asserting a greater competence in, at least, observation? Couldn’t we go even further and say that any conversation, insofar as each participant says something that isn’t exactly the same as what the other participant(s) would say, implies the capacity to proffer some insight the other has not arrived at on his own? In that case, what counts here as “symmetrical,” and therefore “moral,” is representing each person to him or herself exactly as that person would like to see him or herself represented. The only moral conversation would then be reciprocal effusive flattery. But in the originary event all participants are reminding each other that each is on the verge of making a dangerous situation far more so—that leads to a very different (and far more demanding) kind of morality than the one Gans finds, correctly, to govern “PC” exchanges. The insinuation that the retraction of voting rights would follow close behind any invidious distinction is, indeed, the method of the SJWs, but we can see the slight of hand exercised here, insofar as there is no reason to assume that those questioning others’ competence are ending the conversation—to the contrary, on the assumption Gans’s example provides, that is simply their side of the conversation. In some cases assertions of incompetence might involve exclusion—say, when firing someone—but in other cases it might be tied to pedagogical intent or moral exhortation (“you can do better!”).

The enforcement of originary equality, on the back burner throughout the long history of hierarchical society although affirmed in principle by Christian doctrine, was brought to the fore in reaction to the racialism of the Axis in WWII and particularly to the Holocaust. We should not forget that the expansion of the political/voting class in Western countries to include Jews, the members of nonwhite races, persons without property, and finally, women, took place over several generations and ended in most places less than a century ago.

Let’s keep the trope or fiction of conversation in mind here: what has happened is that many others have joined the conversation recently. Whether they were actively trying to interrupt, or were invited in, or, as it turns out, were already part of the conversation without being taken note of, makes a difference but can be set aside for now. I think that the most fundamental moral component of this fiction is the fact of finding others on a scene to the surprise of the veteran or founding members of that scene. Everyone has experienced these kinds of shocks or embarrassments: you are talking about someone, and all of a sudden realize that person is standing right there; you are a part of an informal cohort or cadre, and some new person joins and you realize they don’t know the slang, the anecdotes, the jokes that operate as currency within the group—either they must be instructed (often a tedious or impossible task) or the lingo of the group must be revamped (at great risk to the cohesion of the group) or the newcomer is simply ridiculed and expelled, on no grounds other than the tautological one of not “belonging,” and hence immorally.

In this way the fiction of a universal conversation is directly relevant and highly revealing of contemporary humanity, especially when we consider the vastly expanded means of communication now available, which, in fact, makes this something more than a fiction—someone in Nigeria really can see someone in China’s retweet of a comment made by some Mexican about Nigerians. There does seem to be a moral conclusion we can draw from this observation: don’t say anything about someone that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to them. This imperative clearly distinguishes our condition from that of early 20th century Westerners (for example), who certainly weren’t thinking that the objects of their conversations might also be participants as they explored the intellectual and moral implications of relative skull sizes of the different races. But people are starting to say those same things once again today, aren’t they? Well, yes, but let’s add a corollary to the imperative just adduced: when speaking, explicitly or implicitly, to someone, you should be prepared to hear from them and respond accordingly. This simply derives from the reality that you will hear from them and many, including your own supporters, will expect to hear what you have to say in response.

This brings us back to our respective models of conversation. On one extreme, we have the extremely stilted, heavily choreographed and strictly policed model of “PC” conversation, the ethical basis of which (or the interpretation or exploitation of the ethical basis of which) Gans has very accurately explicated. On the other extreme, we have an increasingly universal conversation (circulating through Nigeria, China, Mexico, and so on) in which everyone is addressed by or overhears everyone else, but which fact is taken to be a cause to “up one’s game” and be prepared to engage one and all. I have not yet seen anyone on the alt-right refuse a conversation with others, whether on the Left or what they would consider the faux-right; VDare, for example, publishes both anti-Semites and Jews (their one “speech rule,” apparently, is that you can’t express absolute despair regarding the possibility of “patriotic immigration reform”). There is no evidence that people who consider blacks on average less intelligent and more violent than whites are unwilling to address what blacks, including critical and antagonistic ones, have to say. And when they are, well, then, the universal conversation will see to their self-marginalization, won’t it? Certainly for now it is in the interest of the alt-righters to take on all comers, and that seems to be their practice. It is the “establishment” types who seem obsessed with narrowing the conversation and issuing entry permits to acceptable interlocutors—and that is what reduces the civility and level of conversation, and makes us less intelligent (it’s possible to imagine, for example, the elementary logical procedure of examining hypotheticals going extinct, insofar as it’s very hard to construct hypotheticals without assumptions about others’ likely behavior).

The trope of “conversation,” with its suggestion of civility, face-to-face intimacy and mutuality, can be misleading, though. These conversations are not always going to be polite—but name-calling and insults, as long as it keeps going, and something new keeps happening, is as much of a conversation as an Oxford-style debate—and far more so than the bizarre ballets the victimocracy demands we all get trained in. Of course, often, new things no longer happen—but, then, the conversation dies on its own, and there’s no cause for concern. Even more literal conversations work on multiple levels, with, say, overt politeness subtly undermined through dismissive body language or barely detectable irony. All these ways of expressing solidarity and opposition can now be dismantled and rearticulated in numerous ways through various media, e.g., through mash-ups on YouTube. In a sense we’re all also talking about each other to our cohorts in full awareness that all the others are listening, thereby allowing for new layers of indirection and implication. One line of attack on the part of establishment conservatives on the alt-right has involved pointing to explicit and often obscene Nazi and racist iconography and verbal expression. I suppose it’s worth a try, but there are enough people who realize that such modes of expression are not necessarily a way of saying “kill all the Jews/blacks” but, rather, a way of saying “you’re telling me I can’t say x but I’m going to go right ahead and say y.” Prohibition and inhibition breaking obscenities are also “conversational”—they make it possible to say other, more reasonable and productive things that were arbitrarily anathematized; they rattle and demoralize the enemy, exhaust their resources and weaken their policing powers; and they serve as bait, eliciting symptomatic responses from potential allies and enemies alike. “But you’re just justifying the unjustifiable, making excuses for the abhorrent!” If you like—but from my side of the conversation, by refusing to disavow those beyond some arbitrarily defined pale, I’m demolishing the SJW’s tactic of guilt by association. In this way I believe I am expanding the kind of all-inclusive conversation in which we are all ready to speak both about and to everyone—the kind of conversation that is not only the best chance of saving civilization, but is virtually synonymous with civilization. (And, anyway, if it turns out that there are really enough people who want to kill me to create a danger, I want to know that, so I can prepare to defend myself or make other arrangements.)

The fiction of new entrants onto a conversational scene provides a helpful way of understanding the historical privileging of excluded participants in sequence. In the US, first Jews, then blacks, then the colonized, then women, then gays (it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the disabled seem to have dropped out of all these discussions and agitations—presumably, they couldn’t be shoe-horned into a “struggle for liberation” narrative). We can also, then, see how the terms of the conversation had to change in each case, and how each change provided a model for the next one. What kinds of invitations, interruptions and revelations were involved in each case? There is no doubt that we could target very specific “chunks” of discourse that were once deployed heedlessly about each of these groups that seemed crisis-inducing once taken as addressed to them. The hows and the whys of each case would be interesting to explore. The strategy that ultimately became “PC” was to treat every “about” as a “to,” and, moreover, a “to” that couldn’t sustain itself in the face of a response “from.” In the end you have no choice but to let the other (the third person, in grammatical terms) supply the rules for the “about.” The universal morality of the West was taken hostage here, precisely by accusing it of being a “straight White male” morality. This excuses the new participants from themselves responding to this morality that they presumably take to be both inadequate and the basis of a compelling indictment. For a while, through the 80s and maybe the 90s, there were feminists and postcolonial theorists aware of this paradox, and willing to take up the challenge. That all seems like ancient history now, which seems to suggest that there was, in fact, no real response. All that’s left, then, are constant interruptions of the conversation—but, since the others have long been inside the gates, what gets interrupted is the rejiggering of the terms induced by the latest pseudo-crisis. This is not only lucrative for the most shameless interrupters, but ensures that we speak about nothing other than how to narrow the discursive terrain even further. It’s all ripe for explosion, and the new interrupters can only laugh when accused of violating some universal ethical norm.

May 21, 2016

Family Resemblances

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:00 am

It’s very interesting to explore forbidden topics—not only is the field wide open, with fundamental questions barely touched on, but there is the added, “meta” topic of all the ways we talk about the forbidden topic without talking about it. Naturally, I’m talking about race again. Here’s the starting point for this reflection: explicit racial politics is noxious, but implicit racial politics is just part, if not much, of politics. Explicit racial politics is always defensive. It is the politics of a group that assumes it can only advance its interests by fighting from within and exacerbating the racial categories to which it has been confined. So, white nationalism is very unlikely in the US—most whites see themselves as “white” only in vague terms, and are reminded of it mostly when they have to fill out government mandated forms or hear themselves denounced by some minority activist—I think if you were to ask most American whites to “identify” themselves, they would choose ethnic, religious and regional terms. White nationalism will only be a problem if those government classifications and political denunciations (along with the bio-politics of demographic transformation) become so prevalent and intrusive that there is no other way of protecting a normal everyday life. The defensiveness becomes noxious insofar as the transformation of tacit categories into explicit ones inevitably turns those categories into the stake in the struggle within the “movement”—who is the real white becomes the question, as the identification of “race traitors” takes over.

Still, when leftists assert that American institutions and principles (the favoring of free enterprise, the insistence that “all men are created equal,” the expectation of minimal government interference in daily life, etc.) are really “white” institutions and principles, they have a point. We could get even more specific and say they are Anglo institutions and principles, dating back in their most explicit forms to Lockean liberal individualism but even much further back to medieval patterns of land ownership, family formation, and the relative weakness of the British monarchy. And, who knows, maybe even further back. Things go down the memory hole quickly these days, but I clearly remember lots of talk about the “Anglosphere” a decade or so ago when relations between the US, Canada, England and Australia seemed to establish these countries as a kind of spear of liberty in the war on terror. That seemed a mostly safe, if vaguely problematic, form of “identity politics,” as long as it remained on the “cultural” level—some accidents of history led to certain ideas being discovered by a particular group of people and now, presumably, those ideas can be propagated and implemented deliberately, rather than relying upon chance. I think that very few people thinking along these lines realize that this claim is a hypothesis that might be subject to disproof, revealing, perhaps, the accretion of “accidents” was really essential to the “ideas,” which can’t therefore be easily transplanted or, more disturbingly, that the ideas are products of a specific people in its entirety, including their genetic make-up. The Left, in seeking to tar foundational American institutions as “white,” could just as easily be “privileging” whiteness as a source of remarkable and unrepeatable institutions and ideas. The question for opponents of the Left has been, how to respond to this charge—the approach up until now has been to deny the charge and assert the universality of the ideas and institutions; the approach of the alt-right is to reject the whole assumption that it’s a “charge” rather than simple description in the first place. The rhetorical and political advantages of an approach that allow you to turn your opponent’s trump card into your own can’t be denied.

Would “Anglo” nationalism be less frightening than the “white” variety? Probably, because of the differing historical resonances (the KKK didn’t identify itself as “Anglo”) as well as the fact that “Anglos” would, I assume, be perhaps a plurality but certainly a minority of the American population—so, Anglo nationalism would be less threatening than the “dictatorship of the majority” we are enjoined to fear, and far more difficult to even imagine. It’s not all that different, though, if we consider that, if Anglos share a transmittable culture and even (more controversial, of course) a heritable set of character traits, it’s likely that the closest “relatives” of the Anglos, first of all the other Germanic peoples, and then other Western Europeans, would share a bit more with the Anglos than more distant peoples and would therefore be better equipped to conform to Anglo institutions. This is no doubt questionable as well: one thing that biological investigations (that, say, tie—so far—a few genes to specific traits, or establish degrees of consanguinity between peoples) can’t tell us is which differences are meaningful, and how meaningful they are. In my ongoing explorations into corners of the internet I was previously unaware of (the vast caverns of the alt-right and Dark Enlightenment), I have seen arguments, for example, to the effect that Germans and Scandinavians who immigrated to the US in the 19th century brought customs and dispositions (too much respect for authority in the case of the Germans, too much power for women in the case of the Swedes) to this country at odds with and corrosive of its foundational Anglo culture. Perhaps people who are more different, and would therefore have to more radically transform themselves, will ultimately fit in better. If such radical transformation is possible, or possible without various deleterious side effects.

The insistence on conformity to existing institution, ideas and habits is already, then, racial politics, of the tacit kind. The resistance to such conformity is also racial politics, of a somewhat more explicit kind—one complains about the WASPs and belittles the supposedly superior dispositions one is required to adopt (what the WASP sees as proper, a sense of fair play, and respect for the individual is really unimaginative hypocrisy, etc.). The resentment at what appears ingratitude is likely to get yet a bit more explicit. And so on. As long as all this remains on the cultural and interpersonal level, and institutions are not forced to include (and, by now, include “proportionally”) members of groups with whom such reciprocal resentments are exchanged, all this remains on simmer. When it becomes political, and the cultural becomes politicized, and the personal becomes political, it heads toward the boiling point. The anti-whiteness left is playing with fire, but it’s easy to understand why most mainstream conservatives sound as if they should be starting each discussion with “some of my best friends are…”—they themselves have no idea how to either direct or put out that fire. They just don’t want to get burned.

The anti-whiteness left feels free to play the pyromaniac because they feel sure that there will never, in fact, be the backlash to their activities that they are always ringing the alarm over. This means that they assume that whites are, in fact, more civilized than they themselves are—even in response to significant property damage and physical assault all whites will do is pack it up and go home. This envious contempt for civilization includes the whites among the anti-whiteness left, who de-civilize themselves in order to be good whites—still, the very fact that significant portions of the white population decamp to anti-civilizational forces is a sign of a higher level of civilization, since only civilization contains such ambivalence over the justness of one’s institutions and the limits of one’s more tribal loyalties. White privilege is simply civilization, that is, and so is the attempt to repudiate it. What I am doing here, by the way, is modeling the way in which I think defenders of civilization should answer the anti-whites: just keep flipping their own words, showing how their denunciations of whiteness are really implicit confessions of failure in their own civilizing process. No positive claim ever needs to be made—you just turn their discourse inside out, like a glove. And this is in fact easy when habits like punctuality, politeness, application and objectivity are among those most energetically denounced as “white.”

This is why the argument I made a while back, in my “Unified Field Theory of the Left,” that the left is fundamentally anti-civilization (determined to discredit the internal relation between deferral and discipline, on one side, and wealth and power, both individual and communal, on the other) is so important. One can not only “decode” all of leftist discourse with this mind (why, for example, due they attack one form of “inequality” but not another?), but one can treat the left fairly and enter into dialogue with less crazed leftists along these lines. There is always much that is arbitrary and unnecessary in the restrictions imposed by civilization, and sometimes one set of impositions in fact interferes with efforts to create higher forms of discipline. It’s very hard to tell which elements of civilization are arbitrary or outdated and harmful—very often it’s not the most obvious and irritating ones—but it’s a very worthy topic of discussion. We should always be open to controlled experimentation. There are very good grounds for contending that the extreme marginalization of homosexuality that persisted well into the 20th century is such an outdated and harmful element, even if one understands the likely significance of that marginalization in the process of constructing the family forms required for the expansion of civilization. I also think there are very good grounds for arguing that things are not nearly that simple, and that we are moving much too fast, but the point is it should be possible to argue—that it is not is itself a marker of indiscipline and a de-civilizing trajectory. (Doesn’t the virulence with which LGBT activists suppress even the slightest expression of disapproval of homosexuality provide some evidence of patterns of concerted behavior that might reveal more than current ideological divides? Could such patterns be part of the reason for “homophobia” in the first place? Just more mischievous lines of questioning for engagements with SJWs.)

Racial politics, sexual politics and migratory politics are all forms of bio-politics, which seems to be the only kind we have these days. One thing my peregrinations throughout the white-o-sphere (“albasphere”?) has enabled me to notice is how common it has become for whites, and especially Christians and conservatives, to tout their bi-racial families and adoptions of Third World children. As the famous Seinfeld episode had it, “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Still, it’s hard to deny that there’s a bit of trolling going on here—part of the point of publicizing and boasting about these non-traditional families seems to be, not only to inoculate oneself against anti-whiteism, but to draw out the “bad whites,” who will make “snide” (or worse) comments, allowing one to distinguish oneself from them in a great ostentatious burst of self-righteousness. They are daring you to notice something that you “shouldn’t” notice. But what are the consequences of training yourself to not notice? What other blindnesses would one be inadvertently cultivating? What are the consequences of noticing but training yourself not to say anything? What else will you deduce you must keep silent about, and what kind of distinctions will emerge between those with whom you can speak freely and those you must deceive because they, contemptibly, are too weak to ask some obvious questions?

The most interesting HBD (Human Bio-Diversity, remember?) concept I have come across so far is the “hajnal line” from St. Petersburg to Italy, dividing Europe in two according to patterns of marriage. To keep it real simple (for myself, first of all), to the West of the hajnal line there is much more out-marriage (non-consanguinous) than there is to the East. On a cultural level, it is easy to see how this would lead to the extension of trust outside of the extended family (beyond, say, second cousins) thereby promoting what we see as the values of “objectivity,” “altruism,” and “individualism.” We also cannot help but notice that the most successfully modernized countries are on that side of the line. The question is whether there is a genetic component to this divergence—that is, do descendants of those who fell out on the “right” side of the Hanjal line have a genetic predisposition to those values? (Causing, or as a result of, the divergence in family forms?) Should we be asking these questions? Should I be interested in the Hanjal line? Should I be harangued, harassed, and chased from the public sphere if I am? Once again, I am modeling forms of dialogue: in response to vague and sulfurous alarm ringing, the anti-whiteist should be asked: do you deny the existence of a field of inquiry here? How would you like to see those pursuing these lines of inquiry punished? And why? No doubt you will encounter many enthusiastic inquisitors—the point of such asymmetrical rhetorical strategies is not to persuade (although it may do that on occasion) but to confuse the antagonist, defuse the antagonism, and compel the SJWs to openly avow (or disavow) their totalitarian ends and methods.

The only politics that can transcend the explicit racial one would be a digital civilizational politics. Digital civilization is predicated upon a social order governed by algorithms, which necessarily creates a simulcral reality: what happens is always a particular possibility out of the many continually generated by all the actuarial, marketing, testing and other modeling constitutive of all modern institutions—in a sense, then, whatever happens has “always already” happened. So, a digital civilizational politics first of all wants to allow the algorithms to create order, by letting inquiries into reality guide (and, increasingly, minimize) interventions in reality. Resentments are blunted, disarmed and turned inward to the precise extent that this is accomplished. What happens always exceeds the simulacral, though, insofar as even when the most probable event is the one that occurs, it comes bearing various anomalies that subvert the model that prepared our attention to greet it. The singular deviation from a model is what we notice, and virality is based on this articulation, creating what we could see as a skewed iconicity: the viral phenomenon is the misfitting label on an extremely predictable but ultimately utterly unpredictable conjunction of institutionalized habits and desires. To take a randomly selected example from today’s news, “voting pleas in obituaries go viral”—conventional final requests, for example, that mourners give to some charity in lieu of sending flowers, are both extended into new terrain (pleading with one’s survivors and anyone reading the obituary not to vote for Trump or Clinton) and (deliberately or not) satirized, gently, by being swallowed up in the kind of earthly battles and obsessions that the more eternal perspective provided by commemoration should presumably transcend. It’s like putting a political bumper sticker on a headstone.

So, if all viral phenomena are a bit like campaign bumper stickers on headstones, the discipline required of members of a digital civilization could be likened to finding and placing another sign to complement the bumper sticker on the headstone—that is, to maintain the headstone as an object of commemoration, without erasing its defacement and enhancement (desperately trying to scrub off all evidence of the bumper sticker; placing the opposing sticker on top of it) but, rather, by balancing that defacement/enhancement with another that redirects attention to the headstone as the repository of the dueling and dialoging signs. That means slowing down the virality (without trying, futilely, to resist it) by embedding it in a dense network of signs. Similarly, to try to respond to a racialized politics with anti-racist outrage simply accelerates the virality of the racialized meme; while simply going with the flow of that meme will itself produce splits between less and more radicalized stances (which itself replicates the racist-antiracist binary). Better to redirect the meme to the forgotten tacit racial dimension of politics by placing the polarized difference in a field of less polarized differences.

This would move us away from incommensurable identities toward Wittgenstein’s notion of “family resemblances,” which he saw as providing a better understanding than those provided by a typical dictionary definition or the use of synonyms of the ways words are used and take on meanings. We can gather more and more of those of European descent into the category of “white”; but many of those who might fit that category also overlap with other categories. There will be general identitarian gravitational pulls, which will be pointless to resist, but other affinities will always counter the more “viral” ones at any given moment. We will notice more and more group differences, for good and for bad, and we will become less and less afraid of noticing them; but we will also become more interested in exceptions, in surprising counter-trends, and in situating ourselves across intersecting categories. We already see individuals pile a series of cultural and ethnic categories upon themselves—one is half black, quarter Asian, quarter white, gay, male, from the Midwest, etc.—but now this is done in order to bolster one’s victimary credentials, including mitigating one’s inclusion within “victimizing” groups. As we become more digitally civilized, such articulations will counter the predictabilities associated with all of the categories, including the victimary ones. The point will be to accept the stereotype (label, bumper sticker) others spontaneously place on you, while working within that stereotype to retrofit it interoperatively with all the other inescapable labels. This is where postcolonial theorists like Homi Bhabha could never go because they could never leave the victimary reservation, but it follows up on and incorporates into originary thinking his notion of “mimickry.”

May 17, 2016


Filed under: GA — adam @ 11:50 am

From status to contract, from tribe or family to individual, from established hierarchies and dependencies to unrestricted movement—that’s the trajectory of modernity. The logic of this transformation whittles away at all inherited norms and virtues—loyalty, honor, courage, faith—leaving all value distilled to a single one: consent. To do something to someone without their consent is evil; to prevent someone from doing what they want to do is evil. Relationships are valid insofar as they are founded on mutual consent, and wrongs within a relationship involve acting in ways not originally consented to by all involved. You can easily develop a theory of historical progress based on consent, as reliance on consent forces individuals to develop their own judgments based on the consequences of their actions thereby making consent increasingly well informed, and contemporary libertarians have developed a sophisticated theory of ethics predicated upon the “no harm” principle—i.e., that everyone has a right to do anything that does not involve the initiation of physical force upon another’s person or property—i.e., complete freedom, limited only by the consent of others (with the same freedom) where required..

We are in the process of learning, though, that nothing can be more insane than a social order founded on consent. Ground zero here is, of course, contemporary sexual relations. More and more states are now passing “affirmative consent” laws, replacing the original anti-“rape culture” epithet “no means no” with “yes means yes.” “No means no” has its problems (what if the man persists after the first “no” and the woman does not repeat the objection, etc.), but it can be negotiated reasonably—one can analyze an encounter and determine the extent of resistance and coercion. “Yes means yes,” though, is crazy—bound up with unsolvable metaphysical paradoxes, each with enormous potential for manipulation and harm. The absurdity of “yes means yes” is widely recognized, as how could it not be?—and, yet, this doesn’t seem to deter its advocates in the slightest. Indeed, this punitive and vengeful empowerment of a protected victim group and, needless to say, their political and ideological proxies, seems rather explicitly to be part of the point.

Regardless of the maliciousness of contemporary radicalizations of “consent,” that radicalization is inherent in the concept of “consent” unmoored from any other moral or ethical terms. In the first instance, arguments in favor of consent are arguments in favor of specific freedoms from specific restrictions: first of all, regarding the disposal or property and choice in sexual partners. Two people want to engage in an exchange prohibited under current guild or religious law; two people wish to get married regardless of the interests of their respective families. In such cases, the existence of consent is not in question, because if they weren’t already consenting they would not be pushing to have the restrictions lifted. Consent has an immaculate birth, and can stand as a pristine alternative to the complicated and corrupt machinations of established institutions ruling through force in accord with dynastic and more shameful material considerations. Even a couple of centuries of exposure of the implications of this romantic notion of consent doesn’t seem to have damaged its prestige—perhaps because of a belief that we are learning from these exposures and will not continue to allow our desires to lead us into the same disasters; perhaps because no alternative post-consent norm is thinkable; perhaps because there are always more “arbitrary” restrictions for the new generation of lovers to rebel against, even if just the institutionalization and rationalization of the results of the previous generation’s rebellion.

“Yes means yes” really brings us to the limits of this development, though. Not only the encounter itself, but every “move” in the encounter needs to be assented to explicitly. Can I touch you here? Can I stroke you here? Can I kiss you here? Etc. Leave aside intuitive revolt against this attempt to bureaucratize romantic encounters—in truth, just about anything can be erotized. The problem here is that there is no way of measuring the consent given against the action then taken—not only is there always something in the action that could not have been anticipated or included in the consent (what if while partner A is touching partner B in location X but at the same time moving somewhat on the bed so as to facilitate said touching—was that movement consented to?) but language can never be made “particulate” enough to ensure continued agreement on the relation between sign and referent. It is a parodic nightmare of empiricism, of the idea that all of reality must be grasped, down to the tiniest details (but there are always details within details, ad infinitum).

Beyond even these intrinsic impossibilities (although also included in them) is the fact that agreements always need to be assessed post facto, and in subsequent reflections upon any event, elements and conditions of the event that were not evident at the time become so. Perfect consent can never, in fact, be ascertained. What kind of pressure did one party bring upon the other—moral pressure (he paid for dinner), emotional blackmail (if you want us to keep going out…), environmental pressure (he brought me to a party where everyone was drinking and making out), and so on. Introduce into that the new bureaucratic and financial incentives created by the law itself to discover new forms of “sexual assault,” and sexual intercourse becomes as impossible as under the most extreme Puritanical regime—and, at least, the Puritans allow for mostly unhindered marital sex, while the standard of “consent” can ultimately maintain no coherent distinction between the marital and non-marital. People, we can assume, will continue to have sex but only insofar as they set aside, i.e., rebel against, the entire regime of “consensuality”—genuine consent will involve overthrowing the entire apparatus of consent. No doubt sci-fi thrillers of young lovers escaping the totalitarian consensual sexual regime are in the making—but this new romanticism will be liable to the possibility of bringing that entire regime down upon an even momentarily disappointing lover.

Many have already noticed the irony of this post-sexual liberation tendency to install a sexual regime that resembles nothing so much as the most clichéd caricature of “Victorian morality.” (Referring to the “legs” of a table was “triggering” for Victorian maidens.) It thereby helps us to understand where such regimes come from—there must be some mighty compulsion to bring the sexual rebels this long way around back to the very thing they were rebelling against. At root is what cannot be discussed openly—the complementary relations between men and women and the asymmetry of the sexual relation. At least the Puritans and Victorians were well aware of such things. Since we refuse to be, we can expect all kinds of further haphazardly generated excrescences upon personal interactions, no doubt with the aid of social media—apps for registering consent in advance, filming of encounters, release forms required by universities, rules about parties and other social events, perhaps new kinds of sex segregation, and who knows what else.

The alternative to the political theory of consent, then, is a political anthropology of competing imperatives (and not just in the sexual realm). The hypergamic female imperative; the polygamic male imperative; the female imperative to have her children protected; the male imperative to know that he is protecting his own children. And implicit anthropology, that now needs to be made explicit, has through trial and error arrived at monogamy as the best sexual regime for negotiating these imperatives. It was, in fact, through monogamy that the passage from obligation and coercion to consent in sexual matters was navigated—from the “fake” marriages of familial alliances to the “real” marriages based on the mutual love of the partners. There is already, of course, an entire therapeutic industry devoted to helping individuals maintain and improve their marriages; there is some, but not much, discussion of the relation between monogamy as an institution and the whole panoply of rights and entitlements that now frame our interactions. Even conservative politicians hardly ever ask anymore, when reviewing a policy proposal, whether it will strengthen or weaken the institution of marriage. The institution itself must be consented to, and can no longer be taken for granted. The imperatives all go underground, and scandalize us when they rear their untutored heads.

We can’t imagine an entire social order recovering or “rehearing” (reheeding) those imperatives. The scenario I sketched incidentally before, of “new romantics” who must pledge not so much undying love as to refrain from reporting the other to the sex police, provides us with a model for reflection. The discipline of these young lovers, who must learn how to mediate their own desires and resentment unaided by institutions that would love nothing more than to entangle them in its own legal, bureaucratic and therapeutic snares, would then have to be institutionalized, in ad hoc, local, secessionist forms, in communities committed (consenting) to the eternal institution of marriage, subordinating all rights to the preservation of that institution. Given the asymmetry of the sex regime, this would depend upon highly virtuous young women, although perhaps less so as the sex police come to impinge more and more upon the normal desires of normal people, and women come to regret the damage calling upon them to settle their scores has done to them and their own prospects. Such secessionist communities would have to reorder “consent” all along the line, openly and systematically embedding it in institutions that, paradoxically, both precede and are consented to by the participating parties. Refusing to allow oneself to be grinded up in the gears of the sex police machinery would require choosing other friends, those would respect one’s choice and, above all, not report you. It would require establishing alternative media so that arguments in favor of one’s secession (“sexcession”?) can be made publicly. No doubt a new legal and political subculture will be needed to protect the sexcessionists from the intrusions of an increasingly totalitarian order which can brook no concessions to outmoded norms of tacit mutual respect.

To consent is to put forth a sign matching another sign already put forth. The “proof” that the signs match each other can only be in future signs iterating the original ones. That’s why an email sent the morning after a sexual encounter can be used as evidence that the encounter was consensual. The signs given by the consenting parties become public, and thereby institutionalized, as norms inevitably emerge. Radicalized consent seeks to undermine the validity of those future signs because its advocates can sense the limitations on consent once a succession of signs solidifies into something like an institution. The left, in other words, as always, wants to keep all its options open: as long as consent can be questioned, accusations of domination and violence can be made. As always, the left provides those of us who would like to be in the social and cultural reconstruction business with a template to work against. It is precisely in these relations between practices and discourses, events and events that reflect upon the previous event, that the intimations of institutionalized consent can be found. You are responsible for your actions on the night of the encounter just as and because you are responsible for your actions when you send that email the next day just as and because you are responsible for your actions when you tell a story to the campus police that contradicts what you wrote in the email, etc. In the end, you mark yourself as either someone who wants the institution to do your dirty work (provide formal warrants for your resentments) or someone who defers the siren call of the resentment enforcement mechanisms because you want to sustain a space of consent that leaves open the possibility of desirable modes of personal and social interaction. We are at the point, though, where such deferrals cannot rely upon commonsense—to resist the siren one must be a bit of an anthropologist, at least in the sense of being able to inspect one’s resentments (and resist those seeking to inflame and manipulate them). It’s not easy to be an anthropologist of your own life—one might discover all kinds of motivations, or “revealed preferences” that contradict one’s “declared preferences.” One must have faith that the process of revelation (reading the “declared” in relation to the “revealed”), i.e., of a kind of living in truth, will generate the norms that make future successions of signs possible. But once mastered, such acts of deferral create new realities, including new kinds of romance and new kinds of community. It is very interesting that the most dangerous temptation, at least for women, the one most likely to cause you to lose your soul, is to surrender your ability to consent in the name of a utopia of absolute consent.

May 11, 2016

Proper Politics

Filed under: GA — adam @ 11:39 am

The reason why there is such a thing as politics, which we might define as “consequential disagreements” (that is, disagreements whose settlement is imposed on all parties), is uncertainty about property. There must be some certainty about property for there to be politics, which means that politics is only possible at a certain level of civilization; but there is not complete certainty, which means that politics indicates a still “civilizing” community. Property simply means recognized physical control over things that only one person could control, starting with one’s body. A completely ritual order, which sets rules concerning the use of all things, bodies included, has no property, even if it must have, here and there, elements of property (in shared tasks each person must have some specialized delegation, implying relative control over objects; the food one is placing in one’s mouth, the space one takes up, etc.).

There is uncertainty over property because the various property owners must acknowledge one another’s property—if I don’t accept where you have drawn your property line, or don’t think you should be allowed to do things I don’t approve of in your home, then I don’t acknowledge your property; or, at least, I only do so within limits; hence the uncertainty. The greater consensus there is within the community regarding the terms under which each acknowledges the property rights of the other, the less uncertainty and the less politics, because what, then, would there be to consequentially disagree about?

The traditional solution to uncertainty regarding property is the state—the state settles the uncertainty, in a more or less rule governed and orderly manner. The state, though emerges out of the monarchy, which itself capped perhaps the most certain property regime imaginable: the king owned either more land than everyone else, or owned everything; in the latter case there is no uncertainty, and in the former the king’s own power depends upon a high level of certainty, which protects his property above all. But the monarchy left too many without property, and when the various pre-property “elements” were sufficiently distributed among the propertyless, the system of property became too uncertain. The monarchy, in a more or less revolutionary manner, transitioned into what we now know as the state, in which the lesser propertied must acknowledge the property of others, most of whom have more, some of whom have much more, than themselves, in order for property to attain the needed degree of certainty. In modern society and democracy in particular, property is held at the pleasure of the lesser propertied.

Modern politics, then, is about what concessions must be extracted from the more propertied in order to persuade the lesser propertied to buy in. These categories don’t remain static—it is in the nature of the private property system to generate wealth, and hence more property, so that the lesser propertied often become more propertied and the more even more, sometimes much more. These changes affect the negotiations over the buy in of the less propertied. The state mediates these negotiations, and brokers compromises that erode property in various ways: employers, for example, can be forced to pay their employees specified amounts; employees, on the other hand, are forced to allow the state to extract a portion of their wages for broader social insurance purposes. This eats into the property rights of both, but facilitates reciprocal recognition of the other’s property. Political struggles then become concerned with the terms of those compromises, which keeps property uncertain, but, as long as the system works, not uncertain enough to lead any significant party to withdraw recognition.

The more certain property, the more disciplined the community—this is a maxim that implies reciprocal causality. The more certain property is, the more discipline will be a means of acquiring more of it and holding it more securely; the more disciplined members of the community become, the more they will insist on enhanced certainty. This “conservative” politics emerges in response to the leftist politics that finds it advantageous to keep unsettling property, to make the uses and distribution of property more and more open to debate and state intervention, and does so by denying the connection between discipline and property. This is an extremely reliable marker of the left: they will always want to make some use of property which is presently certain less certain, and they will do so by attacking the assumption that the certainty of use corresponds to the consensual interactions of a disciplined, civilized community. No, the left insists—some property owner, no matter how marginal, does not recognize others’ property in their current form on the fraudulent grounds of being less disciplined, and this insistence entails a more or less successful attempt to hold the entire community hostage to that one hold-out, or group of hold-outs.

The persistence of the left in leveraging the need for property recognition inevitably leads to the question, on the part of the majority of more or less contented property owners, of whose recognition we need, and why? In other words, hostage taking in the name of some minority who rejects not only the current uses of property but the very terms on which our respective uses of our own property are negotiated, must lead to questions regarding the boundaries of the community. Would it be more or less costly to simply cut the complainants loose? Since the state is predicated upon the inclusion of all present members and upon preserving the rules of future inclusion, and benefits from these ongoing negotiations, especially the intractable ones (because only the state could hold together these incompatibles, making it indispensable), the state makes such cutting loose prohibitively expensive. But this just raises the possibility of a cost-benefit analysis of the state, at least in its current form. That also raises the stakes, so such considerations only emerge if the pirateering of the left becomes intolerable. Obviously, the whole point of this discussion is to consider what happens if that is the case.

A substantial portion of the community—it need not be a majority, just enough so that the current community would no longer, in any meaningful sense, exist without it—must decide that its relation to the state must be dramatically reformed because the state no longer guarantees the needed degree of property certainty. The state, this one or some replacement, must lower the threshold for allowing complaints over the use of one’s property. Property must be made more certain. There will be disagreements—and therefore politics—amongst this portion regarding how certain is certain enough, how much short-term uncertainty is to be accepted in exchange for what probability of longer-term certainty. This portion must start to define itself as a community in terms underived from those given by the state: its members must carry on their politics “realistically,” rather than “nominally,” to reference the medieval epistemological dispute, which is to say no longer as citizens of the state but as… what, exactly?

The question is, once the process of recognition intrinsic to certainty in property can no longer be fobbed off onto legal procedures and political machinations, what means of ensuring such certainty can be invented or restored? The answer seems to me obvious: markers of trust and respect that had become secondary to or even prohibited by state enforcement of a kind of simulated trust and respect must be put in place. These will be markers of similarity in forms of discipline, which means similarity in family forms, in forms of shared decision making, in language, in manners, in criteria of “politeness,” in assumptions about rights to self-defense, and so on. The more acute the crisis the more markers will be multiplied: if you really need to trust others a lot, a couple of these markers will not be enough: you might insist on all of them. This means that those who have only a few or a couple of such markers will be excluded, and will either join with the state or splinter off into other groups—there may be attempts to retain them, simply in order to find strength in numbers, but with the kind of strength we are talking about here—sustained, civilization preserving strength—numbers become less important. The more markers are insisted upon, the more you can rely on meta-markers, i.e., markers that indicate that a particular person is highly likely to share your assumptions regarding work, property, sexual values, means of social interaction, education, and so one, and can hence be relied upon to engage with you in reciprocal recognition, ensuring the certainty, of, your property.

The conclusion is clear: as long as the left continues (and why shouldn’t they?) to double down on taking civilizational prerequisites hostage in the name of continually unsettling property so as to increase the value of its hostages and thereby further unsettle property… opposition to the left on the part of the dwindling majority will tend to take ethnic and racial forms—i.e., white solidarity. There are a lot of ways in which that could play out, prior to and following reconstruction of state/society relations, and various ways in which inclusion and exclusion in whiteness can be defined, various ways in which non-whites could ally with and/or co-exist peacefully with whites, but the basic tendency is, I think, indisputable, and we should all be prepared to develop terms of engagement with it. It may be possible to imagine resisting the left on the terms of the existing state-property configuration, but the fact that only those already transitioning to a race realist position seem at all inclined to refuse the left’s ransoms makes this more of a fantasy—indeed, the conservatives have responded to the alt-right anti-victimary race realists as leftists, i.e., by pointing and shrieking. Those who take the war against the SJWs as the primary political task, then, will find it necessary to expose, systematically, the gap between nominal citizenship (and the legal and political apparatuses defining it) and real markers of civilizational reliability. It is a primary strategy of the left to exacerbate that gap, because the formal criteria for ascertaining rights can be enforced by the state in the face of markers of reliability; the counter-strategy is to expose the resulting entitlements as deliberate repudiations of even gestures of reliability.

May 10, 2016

Coming to a Head

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:16 am

The 2016 American Presidential election is shaping up to be a remarkable, entirely unanticipated event: it is possible that we will see a direct, sustained and escalating confrontation between the victimary socio-political forces, on one side, and the alt-right, or anti-victimary forces, on the other. They may despise Hillary Clinton, but the victimocrat masses are already treating Trump, not just as your run-of-the-mill despicable Republican, but as the hugest “trigger” in history, who should not be treated as a normal politician who is allowed to make speeches, have rallies, etc., but rather as a conservative speaker invited to a college campus. Meanwhile, regardless of Trump’s own intentions, he has summoned into existence the disparate elements of what has come to be called (largely as a result of the Trump campaign, which has actually led to communication between strands of the right that were previously unaware of each other) the “alt-right.” Regardless of who wins this election, this confrontation will no doubt shape American, and perhaps Western, politics for the foreseeable future. We are going to be talking about this a lot, so we might as well get started.

Let’s start with the obvious observation that the struggle is highly asymmetrical. The victimocracy unites the high and the low, the corporate and professional elite, what the Journal of American Greatness (ultimately going back to James Burnham) calls the “administrative state” and the blogger ArchDruid calls the “investment” and “salaried” classes, on the one hand, and the (ArchDruid again) “welfare class,” to which we should add the illegal aliens and even most recent immigrants and all the political and bureaucratic interests clustered around them. Why the ruling class or oligarchy should have settled upon the victimary as their guiding ideology or, as I prefer, “imperative,” is an interesting question. On the other side is a fairly small band of banished thinkers and activists who can only be mentioned in mainstream culture (very much including the conservative media), or what Mencius Moldbug (I’ve been intensifying my explorations in the vast expanses of the non-liberal democratic rightosphere) calls the “Cathedral” along with some invidious epithet that ultimately translates into “racist.” (The entire faith of the mainstream culture, again very much including conservatism, is that “racist” will forever remain a magic word that makes all badthoughts and badthinkers go away. The most obvious strategy of the alt-right, then, is to make a mockery of this faith.) The short-term gambit of the alt-right is that they can rally a sufficient number of those in the middle (most of the wage earners and least many in the lower strata of the salaried) to resist the victimocracy in the name of normalcy. If so, the alt-right will at least get their foot in the door, i.e., become an inescapable part of the “conversation,” with a sizable audience capable of steady growth. Of course, the long-term goals of the alt-right involve much higher stakes, but no particular end game has yet come into focus (we can be sure that it will involve the destruction of the SJWs, though). The diverse array of projects and proposals is dizzying and fascinating. We’ll certainly be talking a lot about all that as well.

The alt-right, and in particular the up-and-comers among them, adhere to an ethics of “ZFG,” an initialism which, this being a family blog, I cannot clarify (but the reader is encouraged to perform a simple google search). They will gleefully and ruthlessly take what Daniel Greenfield considers the “low road” in combatting political correctness: directly turning every victimary accusation into scandal implicating the victimary utterance itself. Trump seems to find this approach congenial, taking Hillary’s “woman’s card” and throwing it back at her by accusing her of complicity after the fact in her husband’s serial sexual assaults. A deeper insight into feminism is implicit here, and whether or not Trump pursues it his alt-right shadow army no doubt will: any woman who interferes with the victimary narrative (in which feminism functions, essentially, as a kind of ladies auxiliary), must be expelled from womanhood and degraded with all means available, traditional (“slut shaming,” etc.) and progressive.

According to Austrian economics, the production and dissemination of fiat money benefits those who receive the money first, before it has been devalued; we can observe something similar within the victimary economy: after all, once we accept “racism,” “sexism,” “homo- and transphobia,” etc., as the only sins of the modern world, immense power flows to whoever is granted the informal copyrights to these terms. That power is generated and sustained by continually identifying new forms of these “isms”—if you adhere to anti-racist norms circa 2010, then, you are irredeemably racist in terms coined in 2016. Your very attempt to present your anti-racist bona fides is proof of your racism. At an earlier point in the emergence of victimary politics, the shepherds of major institutions (corporations, universities, the military, etc.) must have resisted this new, destabilizing political agenda. At some point, though, they realized they could harness it for their own purposes, as a way of waging war against the middle, atomizing them, terrorizing them, devaluing them, reducing them to replaceable parts in a global economic machine. It was probably at that point that the coinage of new terms for anathematizing the normal began to accelerate. It is much easier for the “high” to manage a world of “lows” without a middle, as a flourishing middle class is always a problem for tyrannical governments.

But there is a structure deeper than all this, and one that only the originary hypothesis enables us to elucidate. I have spoken recently of Eric Gans’s distinction, in The End of Culture, between “producer’s desire” and “consumer’s satisfaction,” and I will return now (and no doubt more in the future, as this distinction looms ever larger in my thinking) to that extraordinarly rich distinction, handled by Gans with extreme rigor and power but, as I hope to show, with a blind spot on one critical point. Let’s begin with a recent blog post with one of the luminaries of the alt-right, Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is the author of two books, which I have not read, but which belong to a new genre of self-help books from an overtly androcentric standpoint. Cernovich wants to teach us how to become better, more valued, more positive and more powerful men. Much of this involves forms of self-discipline with ancient pedigrees: learning to control one’s thoughts, emotions and untutored spontaneous reactions. He has cultivated a public persona modeled on these modes of discipline, a kind of calculated minor celebrity that allows him to be heard without trapping him in the need to shape his self-representations to cater to a mass audience.

In a recent blog post, Cernovich declares that “Your Imagination is Your Reality.” He continues:

Years ago I saw a guy on YouTube and thought, “He’s cool. I’m going to meet that guy one day.” Now Nic Gabriel is among my closest friends.
I imagined myself living off of a laptop. I didn’t know how it would happen. Last year I saw 14 or so countries. I lost count. I did ayahuasca on a farm in South Africa and swam in the Dead Sea.
I never wrote a book. I imagined myself becoming an author. Gorilla Mindset has now sold so many copies that people accuse me of lying about it, as first-time independent authors never have my level of success.
I imagined myself becoming the hottest journalist breaking the biggest stories. Then I went to Hungary to expose the media lies about “refugees.” I busted hoaxes, and then I faced down an angry mob of hundreds of people.
I imagined myself changing the culture through the power of my mind. Now I’m making films and my Twitter receives over 30 million views a month, and multiple stories have gone viral.

You imagine yourself in a situation (on a scene, we might say), and you determine what stands between you and being on that scene: what skills do you need to develop or hone, which bad habits do you need to eliminate? Then you proceed to construct the exercises and take the risks that you need to develop and hone those skills and erode those habits. In that way your imagination becomes your reality. You begin with a model—and you can see in each of Cernovich’s examples, he imagines himself doing something others have done, and you can identify very specific people and follow them, “imagine” how they did it—and you end up by becoming a model to others. We can get even more precise: you throw yourself into one crisis after another, some public, some private, some actual, some simulated, and you force yourself to devise a disposition, an equipoise, that would defer any fear or self-doubt that would cause you to succumb to that crisis.

This, I would say, is producer’s desire, and the alt-right is replete with it—just about all of the participants in the alt-right “proper” (that is, leaving aside those, like the “immigration patriots” at VDare and the “race realists” elsewhere, who have been around for awhile and are adopting the alt-right) talk like Cernovich. Don’t complain—identify what you can do to address a problem or combat an enemy and do it. Treat obstacles and limitations as levers for elevating new practices. It is a very imperative mode of being. What, then, is “producer’s desire” in terms of originary thinking? I’m going to summarize, as best I can (and, inevitably, with some of my own way of making sense of it all mixed in), Gans’s discussion from The End of Culture—approaching this in a scholarly way, with extensive quoting and commentary, seems to me far too unwieldy for a post. That will be for an essay in Anthropoetics at some point, but I’ll leave open the possibility for doing some reading together if anyone would like to respond to this post.

On the originary scene, putting forth the gesture of aborted appropriation creates the divinity informing the central object—that is producer’s desire. It is a god-making gesture. Then, the object is consumed in common, with resentful vengeance visited upon the object in the process. That is “consumer’s satisfaction.” The originary scene is iterated as ritual in the common memory of the group, “triggered,” we might say, by the imminent conflict that becomes possible whenever the conditions that generated the originary scene are reproduced. At the earliest period of human history, ritual creates a kind of ostensive ethics: everyone behaves as they are supposed to behave on the simulation of the originary scene. All members of the group participate equally in producer’s desire and consumer’s satisfaction.

Ritual is modified with the emergence of the imperative out of the ostensive. The imperative emerges from an “inappropriate ostensive,” i.e., an ostensive sign made when the object is not available. The interlocutor fetches the object, thereby retroactively turning the ostensive sign into an imperative that can now be repeated in new situations. The imperative introduces a kind of “magic” into the community: rather than being the happening itself, the sign can now make things happen—it can make the imagination reality. The existence of the imperative creates the imagined possibility of issuing requests to the deity—Gans associates the famous cave paintings discovered in France with an imperative ritual culture: the images are meant to make the desired animal appear, to make itself available. At the same time, it becomes possible to imagine commands coming from the deity—implicit here is the assumption of a reciprocal relation between the subject and object: the more humans imagine themselves sending requests to their gods, the more they can imagine receiving commands from them.

Imperatives are also asymmetrical, unlike ostensives, which reinforce shared presence. No social hierarchy is implied by the existence of imperatives themselves—we can issue imperatives to each other in turn, and many imperatives, like requests, not to say begging, imply the inferiority of the person issuing the imperative. Nevertheless, the emergence of social hierarchies in the form of the “Big Man” (who must have had myriad precursors—every group must have the best hunter, the most powerful warrior, the most desired mate, etc.) will lead to an asymmetry in the issuance of imperatives: the Bigger Men will issue more and obey fewer. As the Big Man acquires divine status and thereby becomes a center through which imperatives circulate with the accumulation of property, more and more intentions can be attributed to him. The attribution of intentions is mediated through the development of myths, which Gans explains as the explanations of rituals: when the members of the group wonder why this figure in the ritual acts this way, the explanations become increasingly sophisticated, suffused with more complex intentions, because what is ultimately being explained are the changing relations within the group itself. In other words, imperatives are sometimes obeyed and sometimes refused, and the reasons why are always being refined.

As the polarity between the Big Man and the rest of the group intensifies, two things happen: first, more extensive, more hopeful and more frightening intentions can be attributed to the Big Man, who can do all kinds of things no one else can, which means that no one else can really know what he is capable of—he thus becomes a repository of hopes and fears, rational and irrational. Second, other, relatively bigger men can imagine themselves in the position of Big Men, and can—and no doubt often do—plot against him, no doubt often successfully. As the community becomes wealthier, these conflicts would be increasingly dangerous for the community as a whole, and resistance to the Big Man would be proscribed with ever more vigor. The desire to be a Big Man would have to be the one desire against which the community is most unanimously ranged. But this desire and its concomitant resentments must still be represented and deferred, and this is done in the form of human sacrifice: the divine becomes more human as a single human become more divine, and only this ultimate sacrifice can satisfy the god.

The anthropomorphization of the divine is, that is, paradoxically, the anthropomorphization of the human. We are all filled with the desire to usurp, not only the place of the emperor, but also of all of our fellows—we covet the other’s wife, oxen, home, etc., and we are well aware that we do. At the same time, with the rise of empires, it can be observed that empires and emperors do, in fact fall—the most apparently powerful and arrogant rulers are swallowed up by yet more powerful ones, or swept away by invasions from the surrounding, savage plains. A form of holiness that can defer increasingly rich and symmetrical desires and in a durable way becomes an urgent necessity. Judaic “narrative monotheism,” the Jewish God whose name is the declarative sentence, is invented/discovered in response to this necessity. Human sacrifice can be abolished because there is no man-god, whom we resent, envy and hope for succor from to demand it: a “portable,” invisible God, who gives a law under which we can control all of our now evident “sinful” desires replaces all that barbaric carnage.

The installation of this new mode of holiness requires that producer’s desire, even in its earliest emergence, be unanimously resented and thoroughly proscribed. There is no place for it: God provides, humans are grateful recipients. The desire to see oneself as a creator, as a God-maker, must be extirpated. Monotheism is utterly hostile to producer’s desire, and replaces it with an all-encompassing and more realistic hope for consumer’s satisfaction. We can see how the modern market system ultimately inherits this valuation, while finding a way to incorporate the rather titanic producer’s desires required to bring capitalism into being: producer’s desire can be sanctioned as long as, and only to the extent that, it serves consumer’s satisfaction. Even the most pro-capitalist libertarians, with very few exceptions, sell capitalism as a social order in which the consumer rules—even though it is patently obvious that no consumer has ever the faintest idea of the object of his satisfaction until some producer imagined and then brought it into being. Now, throughout his account, Gans consistently refers to producer’s desire as “fantasy,” “wishful thinking,” “impotent,” and so on, clearly adopting the judgment he has been analyzing, coming from monotheism and ultimately market society. “Consumerism is humanism” he declares at one point (in French, ironically contesting, I assume, Sartre’s parallel assertion regarding existentialism). So, it is on this one point that I differ from Gans: the demonization (a very literal application of the term, in this case) of producer’s desire is not warranted by an originary account of the dialectic of producer’s desire and consumer satisfaction. We need no longer accede to the desperate dogmatism of “declarative culture” on this issue; we can reintegrate the “magical” imperative into our social thinking and our social ethics.

We shouldn’t do so lightly, however—I hope that my account has made it clear that there were, and are, very compelling reasons for keeping a tight lid on producer’s desire, on insisting that it at least serve the community. The producer, though, knows what will serve the community before the community does. And the community has been usurped by a form of consumer’s desire that has eschewed all reciprocity, with either God, some authoritative representative of the community, or the producers who must, after, provide what the consumer beyond consumption demands, and has become pure and insatiable entitlement. (And, for that matter, even ordinary, non-pathological consumerism doesn’t produce the people who could defend consumerism.) The resurgence of producer’s desire is first of all a refusal to be bound by the demands of that voracious maw.

So, whatever any of us thinks of the racial or sexual thinking of various strands in the alt-right (Cernovich, while strongly androcentric, is completely uninterested in racial questions, explicitly welcoming all Americans into an American nationalism), I think we can better understand and even welcome it if we understand it as a necessary and inevitable resurgence of the long marginalized producer’s desire. The problem thereby posed to our social and political thinking is, what kind of order can place producer’s desire at the center? Just as the evolution of myth was an evolution of the ability to posit new intentions of the other co-participants in ritual, new thinking about the producer/consumer dialectic will involve retelling events from recent (and maybe not only recent) and contemporary history: identifying and eliciting producerist intentions (both civilizing and dyscivic) we were unprepared to notice before. (Incidentally, this might be a way of beginning to construct the terms of a shared history, and resisting what seems to be a devolution into increasingly incompatible conspiracy theories—a devolution that follows the same logic I posited at the onset of monotheistic thinking: that is, we are more and more capable of imagining each other capable of more and more, without any shared sense of the unthinkable. The possibilities of global forms of sympathy are, not surprisingly, conjoined with imaginings of unprecedented forms of social chaos.) What allows for the conversion of internal scenes to external ones? How can we train ourselves to create internal scenes free of the consumerist imperative, our own and others’, and that can concatenate into other producerist imaginaries? It is a form of originary thinking to imagine new centers, and then target and reshape all the intellectual habits that prevent us from training our attention on them. A good place to begin is by widening the circle of others one can treat as rivals one competes with, emulates, befriends, and from whose mistakes one learns; rather than as recalcitrants refusing to follow one down the rabbit hole of one’s own perceived entitlement. Discipline itself creates the new reality, possibilities that didn’t previously exist but will have always already existed.

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