GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

May 2, 2017


Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:59 am


Absolutism has its own version of natural selection. In his essay in the new journal The Journal of Neoabsolutism, Reactionary Future (drawing upon the poster/tweeter scientism) distinguishes between “the level of individual actors,” “the level of power institutions,” and “the political system.” The “individual actors” are, as one would imagine, “activists, academics, journalists, politicians…,” etc., and following them—their writings, their activities, their priorities, their rationalizations, etc., is a waste of time, because “these developments are a product of selection and promotion by less visible institutions.” These less visible “power institutions” single out particular activists, writers, academics, etc., for promotion, funding, and more authoritative positions within the institution. And these institutions in turn are both subordinate too and engaged in constant covert warfare aimed at influencing the state—they are all trying to influence the selection process, and having their own profiles raised within the sovereign structure, so that they are best equipped to continually replenish themselves with “individual actors.”

The truth of this, for someone who has toiled for decades at the lower rungs in the far corners of one of those systems, the university, is self-evident. Why does one particular literary theory, or trend within political science, or a new “studies” program achieve lift off and start dominating all the journals and producing a whole new constellation of “stars”? There’s always an attempt to explain such things in terms of some historical process or social need, or in terms of some immanent development of an earlier theory. It’s usually possible to construct such explanations in a plausible way, but it’s also always obvious that things could have gone in a very different direction. The answer always lies in the “selection” process, whereby power brokers employ interested “experts” to determine how to distribute their largesse. (The independent artist Richard Kostelanetz has written many excellent analyses, beginning with a “controversial” early book [1974], The End of Intelligent Writing in America, through Crimes of Culture [1992] and on, exposing the way various publishing and foundation “power institutions” prevent a liberal democratic consensus and conventional aesthetic standards from being disrupted.) It is really true that more often than not it would be more useful, in understanding a new cultural or intellectual trend, to trace networks of funding, hiring and patronage rather than trying to figure it out “on its own terms.” This kind of analysis has long been the province of the left, and it’s very good that reactionary politics is now taking a close interest in the dissemination of power and influence. What do the power institutions want? To be on the cutting edge of anarchist ontology—that is, to increase the power of the centralizing authority by further pulverizing subjects into free radicals, organizing apparently spontaneously and resistantly but actually in a highly choreographed manner against the “middle,” i.e., any functional command structure. To consolidate their own command structures by preventing competing institutions from pursuing their primary function.

So, what are we individual actors, especially those of us with tenuous or no connections to any institution, and interested in destroying rather than expanding anarchist ontologies, doing? All of us, those writing on blogs, fighting in the streets, wearing pussy hats or armor, digging up funding for an independent film or journal, we’re all auditioning for power. No one says or does anything that they don’t hope and imagine will be become official doctrine and supported practice at some point. This means we have to do two things simultaneously: one, get attention from someone right here and now (and, preferably someone who gets other people’s attention); two say the kinds of things, not necessarily that someone in power right now would say, but that someone who gets to power after more and more attention gets paid to us would say, both right now and at every point along the way to gaining power. Power institutions want to be on the cutting edge of anarchist ontology, but they also want power to be secure. Being on the cutting edge is a way of keeping control within the hands of oneself and allies, but if the competition for power could be stopped, each and every power center would settle for a clear hierarchy (Facebook, Google, Mobil, Pfizer, Harvard, Disney, etc., don’t want chaos for the sake of chaos). Liberalism auditions for those laying their bets on the continual subversion of the center, while reactionaries audition for those who would like to clarify the instructions coming from the center. To a great extent, we’re auditioning for the same people, but appealing to differing motivations, proposing different imaginaries.

Here’s a list of donors of United for Equality and Affirmative Action, a legal defense fund that supports BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), itself a supporter of the Antifa movement that represents the violent edge of leftist protest:

Now, how do all these corporations and foundations know whom they should give their money to? How, for that matter, do the Koch brothers, or the Mercers, know? They must hire the people who are holding auditions and doing the casting. How do they know whom to hire? That’s what the universities, media and think tanks are for. It’s helpful to keep in mind that these people get it wrong all the time, when they are funding terrorist groups that turn their weapons against their original supporters, when they dump hundreds of millions into a presidential “war chest” for a lemon of a candidate, and, no doubt, when they invest in this or activist group or human rights or anti-war organization—or an academic or artistic trend. Natural selection is no doubt just as profligate—in both cases, there is no shortage of resources. This further means that those of us auditioning need to outperform the competition while also generating reasonable standards for judging the respective performances, and part of this outperformance involves showing why these others can’t provide power with what it needs. We have to help with the selection process, by reducing the options to simple binaries, and then raising the threshold for entry into the competition; but first we need to lower the threshold to get the necessary attention. You very often hear people say that activists involved in local protests and counter-protests, not to mention street fighting and various seemingly esoteric partisan struggles are really letting themselves be played by power, as they are presumably distracted from the “real” issues by these secondary ones, consumed by the narcissism of small differences. No doubt that’s true, but it’s also false—anyone who wants to be useful to power needs to show they can work on various levels, that they can be sober and think in the long-term, and that they can be combative, courageous, and attention to the slightest chance for some advantage. You can’t take every bait, but you can’t let yourself be baited without consequence either. And, of course, there is always a division of labor here—I must confess, I will not be out on the streets (I’m too old and unsuited for it) but I hope some people who want to do that will find some of what I write helpful in guiding their own decision making process and that perhaps some of them will rise up to aid an emergent sovereign and one of them even become that sovereign—in which case, my profile, or that of those who come after me, will certainly be raised.

I think the best guideline for thinking through the problem of audition is one I have mentioned many times already: our discourse should take the form of a request that our instructions be made clear. What makes power unsecure is uncertainty of command: we don’t know what the sovereign would have us do. The reason for this is that those the sovereign has delegated power to (agencies both “public” and “private,” as I accept the Moldbuggian assumption that the distinction is meaningless and everything that takes place in the realm is at the pleasure of the sovereign) ignore or distort sovereign commands; but, then responsibility must be placed back on the sovereign for not making the commands clear enough and seeing to their execution according to specification. But who holds the sovereign responsible, and how? Those of us awaiting clear commands, by requesting them. We can think of this in terms of an analogy that is very common in the reactosphere: between the restrictions on discourse imposed by “political correctness” or the SJWs, on the one hand, and laws against blasphemy instituted by more traditional social orders. In effect, political correctness is just anti-blasphemy laws. But while traditional orders are specific and limited in establishing the doctrine and rituals one cannot blaspheme against, and provide a line of intellectual reasoning that allows one to determine what counts as blasphemy, the SJW dominated order is haphazard, arbitrary and ever evolving in its prohibitions and enforced affirmations. If you were to ask some diversity officer, official or unofficial (a distinction as meaningless as private vs. public), “OK, I don’t want to go wrong here, can you just give me a list of the things I can’t say, and the things I must affirm?” she would be stunned—that’s not what they think they’re doing at all. Which is precisely the problem. Or part of the problem, which is ultimately that they really couldn’t do it, because in the nature of “social justice” is that we can never allow things to settle down into a final, canonized doctrine. Anyone who tried to do so would be blaspheming against the next frontier in anarchist ontology.

Now, this approach, of requesting clear instructions which cannot be given, seems to me in many practical cases a very clever, irritating and subversive approach to subversion in power. It might show some of the directors that they’ve been casting the wrong people. It also allows for all kinds of ideas to be implanted in the minds of those who overhear, without the person making the request really being required to take any responsibility for them at all. It might be the reactionary version of the Cloward-Piven strategy. It allows for a mock and mocking servility that exposes and confounds the power structure in a way that it is impossible to ignore but very difficult to define precisely enough to punish. But beyond that, I think it’s a very good way of grounding one’s thinking in an absolutist ontology while continually refining one’s performance. Can a proposition or broader argument yield intelligible, consistent, implementable commands? If not, that seems to be an argument against the argument. But the question is not always so easily answered—doing so requires the construction of elaborate scenarios, possible chains of events, and models of organization. So, our requests for commands get further inflected by the scenarios, chains and models we embed them in, and the role we would have our interlocutor imagine us and himself to be playing in those scenarios, chains and models. This means we further formalize and nominalize our discourses and exchanges with others, who can be explicitly named as possessing a particular rank within a particular corps of our own or the other forces. All kinds of conceptual development and revelatory situational irony become possible. Our audition stands out, and we show ourselves to be ready to say and do what needs to be said and done now, and give evidence of our ability to continue to do so at every point until the commands in fact become clear.

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