GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

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.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress