The Counter-Inquisition

Power operates top-down, but down below we can give power centers ready to be activated. Liberalism has infiltrated all institutions, but it can never completely conquer them because liberalism is intrinsically parasitic: it needs a center to be de-centered. Counter-infiltration therefore involves holding the center, even if the center is just basic competence, which we now know is equivalent to whiteness. I call victimary moral panics the “Inquisition,” with apologies to the real thing, because they function essentially as human rights show trials. The discourse is prosecutorial, with the charges constructed out of what would be the “pre-crime” of earlier, successfully prosecuted offenses (what is now “racist” is whatever perception or assumption might have led you to say or do whatever was “racist” last week). So, accusations with follow-up questions presupposing the legitimacy of the accusation. “When did you stop beating your wife” become “when did you stop the silent, implicit abuse of not believing all women everywhere”? The crimes are all necessarily made up, as terms like “racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” etc., function in exactly the same way, and have exactly as much conceptual content, as “counter-revolutionary” did in the USSR. They are simply ways of identifying enemies of the people.

It is very tempting to try and turn the inquisition around, to start asking “leading” questions and make the same accusations that can be so damaging when directed toward you. This works as well as calling your KGB interrogator the “real counter-revolutionary.” If our starting point is liberal discourse, then the goal is to surface the political imaginary and boundless resentments, and the way to do that is to keep restating what that discourse wants everyone to do. In this way you infiltrate their discourse, and occupy the center under attack. What the liberal discourse always wants you to do is engage in symbolic (so far, mostly) lynching and real and symbolic vandalism. Against whom? Against whomever power is gathering against: where is there a vulnerable enemy, where is there some sinecure that could be turned to use, some institution where control could be more firmly secured, some new rabble that can be recruited? So, first of all you read off all these elements of the attack from the discourse itself. It’s a work of constant, patient translation. I think just about anyone who might be reading this knows all this.

The liberal method is to impose an egalitarian grid on all differences and present this as a self-evident indictment. It then becomes in their interest to inflate those differences. This means that if the grid is removed, they are providing evidence for a case very different than the one they thought they were making. The counter-inquisition helps them to make that case. If racism drives its victims to extremes of crime and violence, doesn’t that tell us something about the limited self-control those victims are capable of and make some form of separation seem requisite? If women can’t co-exist with men in public spaces without constantly falling victim to all manner of sexual assault, shouldn’t rigorous regulation of sexual relations, to the point of not allowing unmarried individuals of different sexes to be alone, be put in place? No, the answer will be, we just need to stop white privilege and toxic masculinity. But where is the boundary between white privilege and plain old whiteness, between toxic masculinity and the new and improved non-toxic alternative? Not only is drawing a line here impossible because of the basic incoherence of the categories, but it’s undesirable because it would inhibit further movement, which is to say, it would block the flow of power, undermining the very purpose of these categories in the first place. If the inquisitor stays with you up until this point, there is nothing left to do other than lay out the fundamental imperatives of power. A rough description of the good white and the good male might be offered up, and that will be their way of telling you exactly what they mean to do to you. But things can be kept interesting here—if the white is good in this way, can we imagine some other ways this goodness might lead him to end up less good? Is this way of being good applicable in all situations? We can game out a few possibilities. Will the detoxified male ever end up making any babies? Running any businesses? Building anything? Protecting anyone? The end game here is to elicit a description of the mode of rule that will keep all this in place—when and where could we expect to see deviations, and what kind of interventions will be carried out? How would signs of white privilege or toxic masculinity in the 3 year-old be identified, and how would they be extirpated?

Infiltration and deconstruction is just preliminary work. The result is shattered relations, but relations, or at least possible relations, nevertheless. The next step is to turn the curses of the center into blessings. The egalitarian grid produces a caricature of real differences, but those differences can then be shrunk down to proper size and put back into normal shape. Let’s take the current panacea of “consent” as the just response to sexual harassment and assault. “Consent” can only emerge as a concept once relations between the sexes are abstracted from their embedment within familial, community and state structures. Once sex is no longer restricted to marriage, and marriage is no longer a means to consolidate the community through the formation of alliances and the meeting of obligations, the individual, now on a “marriage market” (however tightly regulated), has a choice of partners. That’s the first “consent.” Every expansion of “consent” is therefore an expansion of the marriage market and its gradual deregulation. At a certain point the marriage market just becomes a sex market—marriage is just another relation one is free to choose or reject. The liberal story is that all this happens because people want freedom; the real story is central power using sexual choice to demolish one intermediary institution after another. It’s allies in this have been feminists, of course, but even more, “rogue males,” who, no longer fearing retribution from the families of wronged women or any communal strictures at all, embody in their persons contempt for moral restraint, stopping short only (unless they are powerful enough to feel immune) of the kind of violence that would count as assault or battery (or worse) under other conditions. Celebrity culture has been based on the freedom of rogue males, who are provided access to women who are ready to sacrifice anything to be the center of attention. As the feminist-socialist Barbara Ehrenreich noted many years ago, the real beneficiaries of the sexual revolution were the playboys.  But once the damage is done, and the tilt of the playing field revealed, it is impossible to imagine redressing any acts of violence other than through continual modifications of the terms of “consent,” new means of enforcement, i.e., new power structures, that will inevitably be more arbitrary and incoherent than the ones we started with. Consent itself, we must recognize, is nothing but an artifact of power relations; if there’s a sexual market, those with more to give in terms of money and celebrity, or even proximity to some marginal form of power, will inevitably demand more in terms of “favors.” Does this represent “consent”? We won’t know until after the fact—the case can never be closed, because the reciprocal power relations will always be shifting.

Now, it’s very helpful to have such an analysis of “consent,” but as I’ve been suggesting arguing the point this directly is a waste of time. Rather than saying that “consent” is wrong, an illusion, absurd, a mask for power, etc.–or, as a better way of not so much saying as indicating all that—“consent” should be constructed as a palimpsest underneath which we can read the forms of the structured reciprocities and hierarchies that would order sexuality in a well governed community. Every way in which women are made vulnerable under contemporary conditions (and today’s feminists are very good at laying all this out) indicates forms of institutional protection that women, on the admission of their most fervent defenders, need. All of the forms of abuse men are capable of, likewise, indicate guardrails and restraints that even anti-feminist, traditionalist men will acknowledge men need. But if women need those protections, they must also follow the rules entailed by those protections; and if men need those restraints, they must also be given the freedom of action that would give meaning to those restraints. Accountability must be made to fit power at each point along the line. We can then extrapolate the mode of sovereignty proper to the entire set-up. In the end, we can even redeem the concept of “consent,” as the transparency of the nature of the sexual bond revealed in the requisite arrangements. How could one want it otherwise?

We could conduct very similar analyses with regard to relations between national and ethnic groups. Simply listening very carefully to what the most committed black activists say about white racism will reveal to us, once we learn how to surface the written over text, the healthiest relations we can imagine between the two groups today. Simply listening to Jews pointing out instances of antisemitism will work in the same way—it is never obvious what is going to count as “mistreatment” or “prejudice,” and certainly not what the hierarchy of complaints about mistreatment or prejudice is to be, and the fact that virtually every organized Jewish group sees the safety of Jews as implicated in the continuance of open door immigration and refugee policies (and sees antisemitism as at the very least lurking behind opposition to such policies) is enormously informative. The situation is different in inter-group than sexual relations because in the former cataclysmic “solutions” are possible that are unimaginable in the latter, but the whole point is to create inevitably unequally distributed constraints that ensure things don’t get to that point. Minority complaints are to be read and reiterated as desperate pleas that the majority, normal culture be placed more securely at the center. The real resentment is against a weakened center which can no longer assure the centrality of the normative, and that’s a resentment we’re glad to redress. Perhaps we all do agree, after all.

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