Monthly Archives: June 2016

Resentment, Good and Bad: Some Reflections on Eric Gans’s Latest Chronicle, “The Triumph of Resentment”

What should we do about resentment? Is there some non-resentful position from which we can ask that question? Interestingly, there may be: among the hundred or so flowers blooming on the right these days, one of them, represented by the blog Reactionary Futures and building upon the “Unqualified Reservations” of Mencius Moldbug, argues, very cogently, for a new kind of absolutism. The idea is that power divided ultimately leads to chaos: a single, undisputed locus of sovereignty is the only basis for social order. The models for this proposed order seem to be absolute monarchies and corporate CEOs. How to get there, and how to sustain it seem to me unanswered questions (the only answer I’ve seen so far seems to be “virtuous elites and rulers”), but this argument (predicated, how accurately I have not determined, on the thinking of Thomas Carlyle and Bernard De Jouvenel) takes into account (explicitly) Rene Girard’s understanding of the unlimited, envious, rivalrous desire constitutive of the human. If all resentment is resentment at another’s centrality, the way to eliminate resentment, or, at least reduce it to manageable proportions, would be to establish a single, uncontested, efficient center that no one could resent effectively. There is certainly enough historical evidence to suggest that human beings have demonstrated a preference for this kind of solution.

If, that is, we think about resentment in quantitative terms, in which case the point is to reduce it as much as possible. Gans often speaks about resentment in these terms, and he does so in this Chronicle as well, and if there is a basis for doing so, and we can, in fact, identify a non-resentful position from which such “measurements” can be made, it is certainly worthwhile keeping quantitative resentment talk around. But there are other ways to speak about resentment, also present in Gans’s Chronicle: to “restore a general suspicion of resentment” is not quite the same as “reducing” it, because it implies that some resentments can be cleared of suspicion, and it’s also possible that “suspicion of resentment” is nothing more than “resentment of resentment,” which would lead us to choose between more and less legitimate resentments. This is difficult because resentment precedes and, in “sublimated” form, is the basis of “legitimation,” “justification,” and so on. So, the transcendence of resentment would be a transcendent resentment, which does seem a fairly accurate description of the Old Testament God. Similar ambiguity seems to attach to the “control” of resentment (rather than just of “violence”), which seems to suggest the establishing of constraints and means of channeling resentment, rather than simply minimizing it. From a “qualitative” perspective, constraining resentment might, in some senses, involve generating more of it, or at least exhibiting some forms of it more overtly.

If we are to distinguish between more and less acceptable forms of resentment (a qualitative approach which might, if we want to be optimistic, be preparatory to a “quantitative” approach), I would suggest that the thing for our transcendentalizing resentment to target is what we could call “unrestricted, unqualified resentment.” If one resents a lack of reciprocity in general, one’s resentment cannot be addressed, and will always escalate, because it will always be possible to identify some way in which social relations could be more reciprocal, and advances in reciprocity will provide models for otherwise undetectable failings. Resentments on behalf of some historically established mode of discipline, on the other hand—on behalf of monarchy, or monogamy, or church, or property—are intrinsically limited, since resentment of breaches of the institutional norms will subside with the re-secured stability of the institution (at which point the leaders of the institution will themselves rein in resentment on its behalf). In this case one resents attempts to set up new centers at the expense of established ones (to presuppose the very norms that the new center proceeds to undermine), and resenting one center on behalf of another prevents the unlimited destruction implied in an attack on all centers from a presumed centerlessness. It even leaves open the possibility that the new center will turn out to have had a point.

Gans’s list of the effects of resentment includes a diverse group: “It was resentment that made Eve give Adam the apple, resentment that made Achilles conduct a sit-down strike against Agamemnon, resentment that motivated the Jews to leave Egypt, that got Jesus crucified…” It’s certainly interesting to see the Exodus on the list, even though, when you come to think of it, it was an extremely risky decision and judgment of the results, even to this day, may remain mixed. Also, from the Moldbugian approach, the rejection of the fairly well perfected God-Emperor system of ancient Egypt might very well be the beginning of all the problems we face today. (Also some of the non-problems, though, at least from a non-Moldbugian perspective.) Achilles’s resentment at his superior value going unrecognized by the military/political hierarchy of the Greeks leads to a new form of reciprocity, the mutual respect of enemies, in his agreeing to return Hector’s body to Priam. (Although, admittedly, it’s not clear what this does for his relations with Agamemnon.) And the need for the divinized imperial system to suppress (resent?) anthropological insights into its limitations and sources of power beyond its ken seems to legitimate the necessarily risky efforts needed to preserve those insights and activate those sources of power. The resentments of the alt-right seem to me similarly limited and productive, insofar as they, like Achilles, resent on behalf of values required but undervalued by the resented institutions themselves, on the one hand, and on behalf of truths placed in danger by their victimary opponents, on the other (there is no claim made by the victimocrats which the alt-rightists have any reason to fear addressing thoroughly and publicly. As Gans’s reference to the rejection of causality by today’s victimary activists makes clear, the same is not true for the other side). The “parrhesia” I have associated with the alt-right may be seen as very resentful (how do we assess the resentment of the cynic Diogenes who, when Alexander the Great asked him what he, Alexander, could do for him, requested that Alexander get out of his sun?), but it resents the decadent suppression of anthropological truths that themselves generate resentment (like Gans’s proposal all those years ago)—and we might see that as initiating a virtuous circle of transcendentalizing resentments.

The Marginal Anthropomorph

The consequences, for political thinking, of my centralization of deferral, discipline and civilization in originary thinking, are clear, at least in outline: what is politically legitimate and necessary is the leadership, through charisma, of the most disciplined individuals (in economic terms: those with the longest time preference), who will therefore seek each other out, recognize one another, and model modes of deferral for the less disciplined. The most basic forms of “rule” bear out these assumptions: when a group is confronted with some threat or emergency requiring expeditious and unified action, any chance of success depends upon the most capable (those who resist panic and the tendency to find some scapegoat within the group) taking charge, setting an example, and being deferred to in all critical decisions. The earliest forms of “government” must surely have taken this form, of those who were coolest under pressure and able to see past the apparently dire immediate circumstance being deferred to. Otherwise, why would such forms have come into existence in the first place? All governments are set up so as to maximize the possibility of iterating this originary form of leadership, and to the extent that governments fail to elevate such figures, it is because of some design flaw and/or decadence. To this day, there is a tacit agreement that genuine legitimacy resides in the leader’s ability to handle the “3AM phone call,” to recall a Hillary Clinton ad from 2008—someone can wield power without such legitimacy, but such power will always be obeyed grudgingly, more out of fear or resignation than devotion—and even in such cases, there must enough people who see that power as legitimate, because, after all, there would have to be some loyalists ready to instill fear in the others. Ultimately, we could imagine ways of quantifying, provisionally, such relations—John Adams once posited as the relevant political question, how many votes does a particular man’s vote carry with it?

Using this conception as a guide to political thinking in the present (where all political thinking has to take place) is not that simple. Without perpetual, self-evidently and unanimously recognized threats and emergencies occurring on a daily basis in such a way as to provide regular tests, how can we recognize the more disciplined? As we all know, the guy who seems to have to all together might collapse under pressure, while some loser might rise to the occasion. It also strikes me as a potential contradiction that I agree with those who find Donald Trump, a seemingly supremely undisciplined man (at least in some arenas), as the most likely champion of American and Western civilization today. At the very least, the indispensability of Trump’s tit-for-tat semi-barbarism needs to be accounted for; or what seems indiscipline must be shown to be something else. Otherwise, the argument for legitimacy through disciplinary charisma risks becoming a more theoretical sounding label slapped on one’s political preferences of the moment.

To develop this mode of political thinking, I will return to my discussions of Eric Gans’s analysis, in The End of Culture, of the second most important originary event in human history: the emergence of the Big Man. Gans counters Girard’s theory of myth: rather than a distorted recollection of the originary lynching, myth, for Gans, is an “explanation” of ritual; ritual, meanwhile, is a re-enactment of the originary event, a re-enactment continually modified with the sedimentation of subsequent crises requiring the iteration of ritual on new terms. Myth creates motivations or intentions for the figures on the ritual scene (“backstories,” in Hollywoodese); it is a declarative overlaying of the imperative-ostensive form of ritual. Myths are, therefore, attempts at originary thinking that are simultaneously (as all originary thinking must be) projections forward, as intentions dimly glanced at in one’s surroundings provide the materials for de-sedimenting the unrecoverable scenes and ritual re-enactments constitutive of the inevitable idiosyncrasy of ritual.

This understanding of myth is not obviously related to the emergence of the Big Man, but the increasingly complexity of intentions attributed to figures on the ritual scene (which, of course, can include animals and the elements) lays the groundwork for making sense of the Big Man’s “usurpation” of the center. Mythical versions of the Big Man will attribute ever more powerful intentions to that central figure, for a while, at least, at the expense of everyone else, who are relegated to some form of servitude. First of all, he gives all; but in that case he must have a right to all. He is the center of gift circulation, so he must be omniscient as well: he must know what everyone needs and deserves, and how to produce and provide it. He must, therefore, also be aware of resentments directed his away, and of attempts to bring those resentments to fruition in various plots. He has eyes and ears everywhere, and so on. What this amounts to, in effect, is a continual process of humanization (which, clearly, was not accomplished at one blow on the originary scene—hominization, just like biological evolution, continues), or, more precisely, anthropomorphization: just as in that despised literary trope, the Big Man doesn’t really have those intentions until they are attributed to him—he must grow into them, and in turn project corresponding intentions onto his subjects. The intellectual and moral overturning of tributary tyranny (by both metaphysics and monotheism) derives from this anthropomorphized world, ever richer in intentions, actual and possible. The more fully “intentionalized” our world, the more human we are—but there are always tacit practices and habits yet to be “intentionalized” or anthropomorphized. (For that matter, there is certainly backsliding as well—intentions that had been fleshed out explicitly are “de-activated” and return to their tacit state.)

The sequence and structure—event/ritual/myth—doesn’t change, even under post-ritual, post-mythical conditions. We still all the time, every day, on many levels, instigate crises due to mimetic rivalry; we create practices and habits that defer the worst possible outcome of those rivalries; and we come up with stories, rationalizations if you like, for how we arrived at those habits and practices. In fact, what we call “rationalizations” are just attempts to (as Girard does, in Gans’s account) conflate event and practice/habit, to insist that the way we do things is just, circularly, the way things are done—to conflate our resentments with self-evident justice. But in order to rationalize, you need to draw upon “canonical” intentions—in other words, your rationalization will be effective to the extent that you can purport to demonstrate that you (or one on whose behalf you rationalize) only did what anyone would have done. Rationalization is the mode of thought of consumer satisfaction: I deserve what everyone else deserves because no one in my situation could have done any better than I did. So, here we can mark the difference between consumer satisfaction and the proto-Big Man’s producer’s desire: the latter invents/discovers a non-canonical intention, or anthropomorphizes in a new way. What the producer defers is the desire, compulsion even, to reinforce and seek shelter in the most “authorized” intentions—once you defer the incredibly powerful desire to disperse responsibility for your acts you need to find a way to enhance your responsibility for your acts and the only way to do that is by broadcasting your actions as exemplary, thereby in fact creating new forms of intentionality.

So, the marginal anthropomorph is, first of all, the “producer” who self-exemplifies and allows to be attributed to himself a “human” quality that didn’t exist before, much less reside “in” that producer. But he is not the only emergent anthropomorph. Let’s return to the notion of a “universal conversation” put forth in Gans’s recent Chronicle, and my own discussion of it a couple of posts back. Now, we can’t take this notion of a universal conversation (in a post-colonial, wired, world) literally, if it’s supposed to mean that we are all actually talking to each other simultaneously. Conversations are, as they always have been, limited in scope: anyone who’s spent a bit of time on blog comment sections will attest that there is always a threshold past which additional voices can no longer be included within the conversation (one person can’t really respond to more than 5 or 6 genuinely diverse interlocutors), which, if it continues, splits into several separate conversations. However, we can take this notion absolutely literally if we take it to mean that anyone could eavesdrop on, and interrupt, any other conversation. Indeed, that vague, menacing, sense of always being overheard (which gets projected, somewhat mythically, onto super-competent and malevolent state security agencies) by those who could at any moment enter the conversation and reset the norms so as to discredit and, in effect, eliminate oneself is the quintessential “PC” experience.

Now, in order to engage with each other on the marketplace, we have to anthropomorphize each other, that is, attribute to one another the intentions constitutive of a successful exchange. Much of modern economics is a quasi-mythical explanation of the practices and habits of life in the marketplace, supplementing the intentions that would make sense of it all. For that matter, liberal politics is itself little more than a similar, and far more desperate attempt to anthropomorphize, as if the intentions “evident” in market exchange (respecting the autonomy of the other, weighing options, assessing actual and possible resources, etc.) could be projected onto the process of selecting individuals to staff the government and of engaging in discourse over laws and their enforcement. But not all exchanges are successful—indeed, some are bitterly regretted in retrospect—and more or less mythical intentions and narratives are constructed to account for those as well. The more humanity we are capable of attributing to others, the more inhumanity we are capable of attributing. The end of history is a chimera because these two capacities must always progress alongside each other. Without engaging in moral equivalence, or concealing my own interest in the matter (as if I could), it is easy to see the escalating SJW-alt-right battleground as taking shape along these lines, with each side constructing mythical social orders defined precisely by their categorical exclusion of the inhuman other.

Aside from the self-exemplifying desiring producer himself, then, the marginal anthropomorph is the figure whom you interrupt and address (or to whose interruption and address you respond) within the universal conversation and to whom you attribute a possible intention that would defer the escalation within the battlespace. This doesn’t involve signaling your virtue to the other side by taking on your own “extremists.” It doesn’t involve purges, or searches for “common ground.” It merely involves opening some reality closed off by the escalation, and asking someone else, even a hypothetical interlocutor, what they would do with it. Even something like “OK, after you’ve killed them all, then what?” Any course of action which we can attribute (always somewhat mythically) to a “we” breaks down into a (charismatic) relation between the more and less disciplined among “us”: asking what these different parts or levels of the “we” are doing when the “we” acts implicitly invites the interlocutor to adopt the imaginary standpoint of the more disciplined, and that at least makes conversation possible, even if it’s the conversation of opposing generals laying the ground rules for a battle the following day that will leave only one army in existence. It would be a conversation between those have invented and crossed a threshold in the ongoing hominization process; between marginal anthropomorphs.

And what about Trump? Suffice it to say that his tit-for-tat approach is exposing tacit practices and habits that will need to be “intentionalized,” and thereby creating the conditions for extensive anthropomorphization.

Nation/State

The alt-right presents itself as a nationalist revolt against globalism; its most direct target, meanwhile, are the SJWs, or the victimocracy. We can square these claims by replacing “globalism” with “imperialism,” and acknowledging that “victimocracy” refers not to rule by the victims but in the name of victims. Rule by whom, in that case? The empire. I am using the terms empire in the very simple way I have used it in many previous posts: the reduction of all individuals to their relation to a single center. This allows for a very flexible understanding of empire: there can be small empires (any highly centralized institution is to that extent “imperial”) and a social order can be more or less imperial (more or less ruthlessly and comprehensively extirpating all centrifugal relationships), or transitioning one way or the other. The furthest extent of imperial ratcheting would be a one world government (tendencies towards and ambitions for which obviously exist), which the singular God of the ancient Hebrews warns us against by similarly but radically differently aligning us all in relation to a universal center. The victimocracy, ruling in the name of victims, is the most efficient empire-building mechanism yet invented. The more local relationships can be defined as “oppressive,” the more the mediation of the center is required in more and more “capillaries” of the social order; to put it another way, to grasp the tautological ratchet effect, the more local relationships are shown to violate the equality of all in relation to the center the more the center intervenes to remedy the violation—and thereby lay the groundwork for new ones. The traditional method of empire, to maintain a mediatory relation between different ethnic and national groups and thereby make itself indispensable, is turned into a design principle through the victimocracy: the need to mediate doesn’t just remain a background possibility, but an everyday necessity.

The nation itself is a mini-empire, orienting all towards the state “representing” the nation. There is always a tension between nation and state—nations were brought into being through monarchies that transcended all the tribes preceding national formation, but were properly “born” through the “patriation” of or revolt against those monarchies. States will always revert to imperial strategies, against which nations will always revolt. One such strategy is the favoring of one region over others, or elevating a minority to a privileged position—that region or minority can always be sacrificed in the event of a revolt. Nations will always have regional differences and minorities, and if they don’t they will invent them—it’s hard today to understand the longstanding antagonism towards Catholics in the apparently ethnically homogeneous Great Britain (all political disabilities were not lifted, I believe, until the 19th century), but such differences and resentments are constitutive, not parasitic, and plausible reasons will always be found (the machinations of Rome, etc.). The need to expel or oppress such groups is a sign of national weakness; a stronger nation deploys its minorities, more or less deliberately, as a source of insights and creations more available to those on the margin than those at the center. These must ultimately be insights and creations suited to inhabit the national “archive.”

The anti-discrimination regime, which in turn led to the opening of borders, along with the opening of the world to trade from the 1980s on created unprecedented opportunities for imperial actors to liberate themselves from the nations they originated in. How could one blame corporations for preferring the entire world, rather than just a single country, as a source of workers and consumers? Now that resistance to these imperial projects is underway, it is helpful to consider the magnitude of that project—destroying the SJWs is a necessary, but ultimately only small part. Indeed, the problem is to take on the most immediate problem—the SJW wars—with an eye toward the larger ones. We can talk about ending free trade, negotiating tougher trade deals, instituting tariffs, devising methods for encouraging or compelling corporations to keep or increase operations here, and so on—at the very least, these would be fresh conversations—but in the end the only solution is for enough Americans to become the kind of people who wouldn’t have allowed this to happen to them in the first place.

The empire answers an imperative—order by classifying, categorizing, enumerating—and in turn issues imperatives to imagine ourselves and others and always already classifiable, categorizable and enumerated. These imperatives must be refused, and the imperatives to reverse normalizing hierarchies is only one layer of them. The simplest (and, as we will see, ultimately the only) means of resisting one imperative is to transfer allegiance to another imperative, but the most complete resistance takes declarative form. The declarative resists the imperative by informing the imperator that the object to be produced is unavailable. In this case, what is unavailable are the classifiable, categorizable and enumerated selves demanded. Making such “objects” unavailable seems rather difficult, given that data peels off us and is gathered with virtually every act we carry out: if the invention of writing and the creation of a class of scribes and bureaucrats made the early empires possible, the new information technology seems to make ever more monstrous empires not only possible but irresistible. The human is the simulacral.

The simulacral is also the singular, though. Let’s say I shop on Amazon.com. I buy 10 things, and then Amazon can extrapolate from those 10 purchases enough of a pattern to suggest to me 50 other things I might like. I buy 10 of those 50, and now Amazon offers me a more refined set of recommendations. Soon, I just look at what Amazon recommends to decide what I “want.” They seem to know me, in my social being, better than I know myself, after all—maybe I really do need that appliance I never heard of before. But, of course, this representation of myself is also a representation made to me, and one I can therefore distinguish myself from. The data Amazon gathers from my searches and purchases might seem trivial, but we all know by now that such data is unprotected and ultimately available to other companies, the government, perhaps potential employers, or, via the evil works of some hacker, everyone. And there’s no way of anticipating all the uses that data might be put to. The only way to counter this is to become a producer of selves, to create new patterns by involving possible observers into one’s own patterns of activities. Each one of us, in order to survive in digital civilization, will have to be able to convert those who notice and say something about us into those we notice and say things about. We could even use Amazon (not to mention Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to spy, in a speculative manner, on those who might spy on us—at any rate, we can acquire the habit of extracting data from our encounters with others. Deliberately making an imprint in the digital world not only provides one with a distributed self capable of asymmetrical cultural warfare, but is also the best way of resisting the paranoia that comes from simply imagining all the possible ways the data you are emitting can be used against you.

This kind of digital resistance has been anticipated for a long time—Glenn Reynolds wrote a book called An Army of Davids on this very theme back in 2007, and David Brin’s The Transparent Society, anticipating many of these developments, came out in 1999. But the idea never gained much traction within the libertarian frame both Reynolds (leaning right) and Brin (leaning left) assumed. Neither factored in the SJW war, or thought in terms of organized political conflict. Now, we can say that the nationalizing struggle against imperial ratcheting, the collective form the digital resistance might take is the ongoing singularization of data; in ways that are only possible in more or less informal collaboration and solidarity with others, one must make one’s “profile” “anti-fragile”—that is, not only “tough,” but built so as to transform attacks against it into weapons, viruses into antibodies. The nation is, as the Marxist linguist Voloshinov once said of the sign, “the site and stake of struggle”: the empire seeks to extract an ever more minimal, ultimately only nominal, to be delivered unto the transnational, nationality, from each; nationalizing seeks to maximize nationality by enacting, rehearsing, discovering, iterating, the transcendence and preservation of every kind of difference within the nation and between nations. Attacks on oneself as racist, sexist, transphobic, etc., then simply become means of defining the richness of the nation with the unwitting assistance of those who hate it.

We will never be able to eschew the imperial altogether, as the imperial is reproduced by differences between more and less civilized and disciplined nations (and groups within nations). The naïve nationalism of the alt-right advocates for a world of tribes/nations all leaving each other alone—if we’re all nationalists, presumably, there is no need to fear imperial ambitions. But one, weaker, rasher, nation, attacks another, is defeated, and punitive and restitutive measures are imposed as a result. The measures must be enforced, administrators must be imported into the conquered country; settlers follow (merchants, workers, first of all serving the administrators), and a class of foreign oriented natives emerges (perhaps from some persecuted minority, which can be conveniently used against the majority). Already our world of nations is a bit more complicated. Moreover, are all peoples capable of nationhood? The Arab world seems to be dissolving into tribal and sectarian groupings—maybe this is a result of the US invasion of Iraq, which, in rare bipartisan fashion, has come to be blamed for all the problems of the world; but, maybe, the only thing holding the Arab states together in the first place was the exigencies of Cold War rivalries and then American imperial oversight. What if there are simply no nations in that part of the world? Either they will be artificially imposed, as was done in the past, or we will accept the world of nations sharing the world with other, incommensurable political forms. The existence of the permanent threat of terrorists and pirates, raiders originating in uncivilized regions, complicates the ethics of nationalism as well. Even nationalists might have to tip towards the imperial to keep some shipping lanes clear. The point of nationalizing is to civilize, and the civilizing project easily becomes an imperial one (it’s safer, when possible, to turn one’s defeated enemies into civilized partners rather than letting them remain recalcitrant “natives”).

Nationalizing compels us to speak openly of all these complications, whereas civilizing would have us do so more generously. For the foreseeable future, the openness (parrhesia) will be far more important than the generosity. Still, that openness can only benefit from the reminder that we hope to be more generous at some point, and will even be so now when possible. Sustaining and inhabiting these dialectics is what will make for anti-fragiity. The imperial demand is that we become increasingly fragile, and thereby dependent upon state solicitude. We make the “object” of that demand unavailable by heeding a more originary demand, to represent more of the present, denser networks of things calling for our attention.

The problem of inequality is the problem of the Big Man, the Alpha, producer’s desire. Civilization has diversified this figure (e.g., the tyrannical “genius” film director), but nothing can eliminate him—we can just commit atrocities and cause catastrophes in the attempt. The problem is not that the guy in the cubicle next to me makes 10G more—the “inequality” that causes resentment is only secondarily about distribution—it is primarily about flows of wealth and power to and from a central figure who, whatever his merits, can never completely deserve that position. Of course he can’t deserve it—the entire notion of “desert” is an expression of resentment of the BM, who is where he is simply because there need to be centers, and he, somewhat but not completely tautologically, was more central than anyone else. Demanding more of the BM—more distribution, more accountability—or seeking to disperse or depersonalize him (the rule of law, not men, etc.) merely entrenches him all the more. These attempts are the cause of empire building: Betas, “seconds,” “marketers” who come along and regularize the Alpha, first, BM, by recognizing, allocating and designating positions along the margins. Modernity is predicated upon the fantasy of having managed the BM once and for all, while our states and interstate institutions grow uncontrollably and we sprout billionaire magnates with cultural revolutionary aspirations like mushrooms (and, in fact, have done so, in somewhat less grotesque versions, for the past couple of centuries). The market economy opens up new center-margin flows, it doesn’t eliminate or even mitigate center-margin relations. The more furiously activists revile the latest incarnation of the BM the more they entrench imperial rule, contribute to the imperial ratchet. The alternative, what would be truly as reactionary as revolutionary, is to claim and spread producer’s desire as widely and wildly as possible, thereby laying the groundwork for a new “nomos,” or land/power division, among what will essentially be neo-tribal leaders. The initial gesture of producer’s desire today: turning bait for you into your baiting of the baiters, thereby creating new centers of value. What is disruptive in a consumer is inventive in a producer. Revise whatever narrative you are placed in into a narrative of the renaissance of producer’s desire: examined closely, victimary narratives of the pillaging of the oppressed by the privileged actually tell of the collapse and imminent restoration of that desperately needed “privilege.” Treat the “constructed” as evidence of the natural, and in the process you will make the natural the source of new differentiations, new center-margin flows. Take Gertrude Stein’s advice, “act so that there is no use in a center,” i.e., allow for the possibility that any object in sight might be a worthy object of attention, and you will generate, paradoxically, new centers and new uses for them.

To follow up, once again, on Eric Gans’s latest Chronicle, perhaps reality TV, especially in its more “game-like” forms, provides a model for the producer’s imagination. “Reality” is currently imposed by imperial diktats, in which one seeks to position oneself more favorably within the prevailing center-margin flows. If we treat “reality” more explicitly as a game, with each of us as contestant, along with an audience of potential contestants, we can think in terms of remaking the rules by exploiting its anomalies. We are always asked to represent ourselves in specific ways, for employees, potential mates, possible partners in enterprises, conversations, and so on—the “Alpha” approach to such demands is to include the request within the rules governing the request by representing oneself as the kind of person that the figure making the request/demand would, if it knew what it was about, would want. Establishing such frames, making explicit the rules, initiating discovery procedures aimed at providing feedback all liberates us from the scripted play of resentments and counter-resentments, which all appeal to an implicit center. In this way the rules are denaturalized in order to be renaturalized, insofar as all rules can ever do is establish tributary networks, which means they establish the terms on which one gets closer to the center of the flow. And exploiting the rules for getting closer (for becoming an actual provider) always requires some form of value outside of the rules, a form of value one can practice and make into a discipline.