Goebbels in America: The Microsolidarity of Identitarian Autohypnosis

19. IX 2021

Three quarters of a century after his death, Goebbels is back in vogue. After the 2020 shipwreck, Republicans are fighting for their lives. Desperate and pissed off, they are coming out as a full-blown Nazi party, taking Goebbels’ playbook as a gospel, pure and undiluted, as if no other books have ever been written. There are no more pretenses — anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny are alive and well in America today with open support for white supremacy in all its modes and hasty legislation of outdated segregationist policies. MAGA-pride events, the culturally adjusted burlesque versions of Nazi conventions, have replaced country fairs and have become magnets for angry, aggressive, and comically stupid folks. New blood is being mobilized to carry out Brown-shirt activities and half-assed attempts to model their own martyrs (Ashli Babbitt as a modern day Horst Wessel) after Nazi folk heroes.

Without a program or agenda, and armed with strategy of fully randomized focus targeting, everything is in the mix (hoping that something will stick): The Constitution, first (and second) amendment, race (critical and uncritical), education, prayer in schools, American history (and anti-history), slavery, 1619, white replacement, immigration, misogyny, abortion, climate change, wealth distribution, student loans, taxes, recounts, voter suppression, insurrection, swastikas, sedition, civil war, Republican math, Florida man, flat earth, space travel, Taliban, Hunter Biden, media, influencers, Moonies, masks, vaccines, Fauci, Ivermectin, Jews with (and without) lasers, cousins in Trinidad, and, of course, Jesus.

By its design, the new, 21st century gumbo of neo-Nazi propaganda has become the key identifier of growing masses of excluded, grotesquely ignorant folks whose anger and self-pity, caused by their precarity, trumps rationality, logic, science, and their own economic interests, safety and well-being. The high marketability of the Nazi-style response to populist rage is the new frontier for the transparently dishonest media outlets who, in search of attention, publicity, and ratings are willing to cross the boundaries of century-old social and political taboos and get on the other side in order to get ahead of the competition or just stay in the game.

A logical question emerges at this point: Why do we have to go back to these issues again? After all, these are outdated ideologies with a well-documented chronology of their inadequacy and chronic failure (social, economic, political, moral). Is fascism turning out to be the strange attractor of modernity and is its periodic recurrence unavoidable?

Despite its extreme nature and excesses, what happened in Germany in the 1930s was a logical inevitability of the Western civilization and its intellectual tradition. Evil is an intellectual need of the mind, which meditates about good. Intellectuals made evil logically necessary upon funding the idea about a better world. It is, therefore, no wonder that the origins of WWII reside in one of the most developed countries with the strongest cultural tradition in the Western world of that time.

After WWII was over, while the victors indulged in the narcissistic righteousness of its aftermath, Germany emerged richer with insights, which had remained unregistered by the allies. Through an unprecedented defeat, they [Germans] have been brought to the unwanted but valid insight that national identities and ethnic missions are in principle nothing more than violent and violence-producing collective autohypnosis. Consequently, they have developed a relationship to the missions of history that resembles that of a sober alcoholic to their former drug[1].

And while modern Germany has retreated from the manic historicity and forever abandoned the idea of being a chosen nation, the victors saw, and continue to see, WWII as just another round in a tournament for international supremacy in which one competitor (Germany) had been eliminated. They (the victors) never abandoned the dreams of their own supremacy — their individual or collective visions of the future have been nothing but projections and fantasies of their domination extending to their logical extremes[2].

America seems to have gone the furthest in that direction. Economically prosperous, but, at the same time, neck-deep in excrement, largely due to its own self-neglect and gross mismanagement of its fortunes, it remains narcissistically in love with itself (for all the wrong reasons). Paradoxically, this is especially true for those segments of the American population that have been the victims of said neglect. In the last years these folks have been in a state of a post-coital narcissistic orgy and have become a petri dish for the same collective auto-hypnotic identity politics and self-discovery that Germany went through a century ago.

By the end of the first decade of the new century, the gap that separates every disgruntled member of the excluded white sub-proletariat in America from the clutches of white supremacist rage has shrunk so much that it takes only a moment of inattention for any member of that community to falsely interpret their personal misery, deserved defeat, and bitterness as the sad faith of America, which, if we are to be honest, with such whining, pitiful and comically ignorant constituents, never really deserved anything better.

They failed in the game, which they invented, maintained, and defended at all cost, and now, they want another shot at it, but with altered rules, ones that would guarantee their advantage. This is the core of the microsolidarity and fractal belonging of the current identity politics. It is also fascism at its purest.

And as the saying goes: All comedies of history happen twice; the first time they are bloody, and the second time ridiculous. When the final receipts were written, the 1900s turned out to be a bad century for Germany. It was also a turning point for America as the leading cultural and economic global force. Now that baton has been passed, it is America’s turn. So, here we are.


[1] Peter Sloterdijk, Infinite Mobilization, Polity Press (2020)

[2] ibid.

Texas

5. IX 2021

Identity code has a generally excluding effect capable of mobilizing negative energies and social forces towards those who do not share the same origin, territory or culture. Fascism is the fundamental obsession with identity, origin and belonging. It is a knee-jerk reaction to physical and social displacement. Fascism is generally absorbent, which reflects a fear of small numbers — it likes size because identity robustness had been eroded by the defection and depletion of ranks. It absorbs everyone willing to join in and expresses hostility to outsiders.

While there are many varieties of fascism, they all have one thing in common: Misogyny resides at the origin of each and every one of them – there hasn’t been a fascist movement without it. It’s never been too difficult to mobilize enough male solidarity when it comes to organized misogyny. By questioning the external norms that relate to the position of men and women in society, man has and had nothing to gain and everything to lose: he would lose not only social and economic advantages, but something far more precious, a sense of his own superiority which bolsters his ego both in his public and private life[1].

The fundamental cohesive force of fascism always begins with a male bonding ritual of masculinization of cultural self-perception. In Italy, for example, early 20th century fascism represented the turning point from feminine self-perception to masculine assertiveness: Erasing feminine quality of its Mediterranean sensitivity – everything that makes life there pleasant and seductive — and affirming a different self-image based on acceleration and male potency (national pride, military aggressivity, industrial growth, etc). German fascism, on the other hand, was not a programmatic cultural defeminization, but rather an establishment of systematic downgrade of femininity to reproductive function as a part of the new nation-serving hierarchization. Its essence was a utilitarian placement of women as birth factories, their subordination to the interests of the National Socialist political agenda (run by men), to serve the numbers.

When seen in the context of the most recent developments, the new intensity of the American misogyny appears less of an anachronistic anomaly and more as a logical consequence of the current political struggles. The debates (and the present escalation) of the Abortion law – the topic that had been put to rest in the remainder of the world a long time ago – is resurfacing now, at this particular moment, not in the light of its renewed relevance or urgency, but as an opening act for the new chapter of fascism. It is showing here in a more convoluted way than it had 100 years ago because the social and cultural displacement of the 21st century Western man has triggered new modes of identity politics.

Modern day misogyny is the ultimate male fantasy of the Western conservatives structured around a nostalgia for the times of lower entropy, a return to the past as a site of coherence, and a relapse to the patriarchal setting when man held their “naturally deserved” upper hand and (a male) God ruled the world. Through misogyny this man articulates the desire to reclaim what he considers his “natural right” to control women and, in that way, take control of his own destiny.

Conservative man’s vision of woman is not objective, but an uneasy combination of what he wishes her to be and what he fears her to be[2]. The masculinization program and return to patriarchal values (the most coveted axiom of any right-wing politics) and assault on women’s rights and their position in society, if they are to be successful, would have to be deeper, gradual, and systematic. This means undoing the women’s emancipation. The tactical approach of conservative politics is that the masculinization program requires a proper framing and subtle maneuvering — women must not be antagonized; they are many and they vote. In their view, the most effective approach is to strike at the root of a woman’s influence.

No one has more influence on a person during their formative age than their mother. As such, she is a constant threat to both the state and to men in general. The decision of life and death has to be taken away from women. Their influence and importance in the life of their children have to be diminished, if not de facto, then, at least, symbolically. Right to life! This is ultimately the question about who has jurisdiction over the life of an individual, their mother/family or the state (ruled by men, of course). With the help of proper framing, this becomes the theme that defines the core of conservative identity politics, an issue slowly hijacked by (predominantly white) men who feel righteous and entitled, and present themselves as defenders of human life while women take a back seat.


[1] Eva Figes, Patriarchal Attitudes, Persea Books (1986)

[2] ibid.

What More Needs to Happen before Something Happens?

22. VIII 2021

Our everyday life is peppered with illegal activities – its normal functioning would be practically impossible without discretionary transgressions of the law. We jaywalk every day, regularly drive above the speed limit, and use cellphones while driving. And who hasn’t littered at some point in their life? For a long time, smoking marijuana or taking drugs have been considered rights of passage for many, while sharing you password or downloading music, movies or books is done continuously without even an afterthought. In certain states in America, non-procreative sex is still illegal and in some countries like Iran it carries a death sentence. Nevertheless, people systematically, and sometimes exclusively, engage in those practices as a matter of sexual preferences or lifestyle choices.

This aspect of casual transgression is well understood by both the citizens and the authorities. However, actions of authorities are almost never aimed at their systematic suppression. Police functioning is most effective when everyone is breaking the law. The purpose of the law and law enforcement is to make you a potential criminal and for the police to have an option to declare you an actual criminal at any given time[1].

Once this is done, once you have been declared a criminal, the court does not initiate a trial and possible sentencing, but instead pressures you to plead guilty and accept your criminality. This is more effective in the long run – once you have confessed to your criminality (in order to serve a lesser sentence or go free with a slap on the wrist), there would be no way of complaining or objecting to the consequences. In this way, you move closer to an easily governable docile subject. This is governmentality at its purest.

However, the situation is markedly different when non-individual entities are concerned. When an entire congregation or political party breaks the law systematically, this becomes a sign of possible civil disobedience and unrest, which requires urgency of intervention, especially if their followings are of negligible size. In that case, any attempt to prosecute those people can be diverted into a political struggle and, as such, become a defense against abuses of power.

Genealogy of a Political Hysteria

The seeds of the Jan-6 clown coup, and with it, the radical reshaping of the Republican party, most likely started as a consequence of the previous Oval Office occupant’s failed attempts to extort some kind of blanket immunity from prosecution by his successor. The repeated failure to successfully ensure such a package led to escalation in the negotiations and threats, most likely never intended to be realized, but, as the new President elect called his predecessor’s bluff, things went beyond the point of no return. As matter got out of hand in this game of miscalculated leverage, and assumed an unintended dimension with grave legal implications, some key figures of the previous administration became implicated and compromised.

Clearly, the whole Jan-6 thing wasn’t conceived to be anything but a threat. No one in his right mind would think that a few hundred people breaking into the Capitol would amount to keeping the losing candidate in office. Keeping the Congressmen as hostages and asking that the Election results be reversed? Or what? The mob executes them? The noose? Only a total moron (and there were plenty of them in DC on that day) could believe that this could amount to anything. All of that was intended to be nothing more than a threat to push the Republicans in Congress to vote against certification in order to drag things further so that the new administration, in order to keep things under control and finish the whole charade, finally settles for a sweeping pardon. Nothing else.

Well, that didn’t work as planned, so here we are. For those involved, the consequences have become non-trivial. The latest transformation of the Republican Party into a pseudo-criminal collective is a result of dealing with those consequences.

Since almost every Republican still sees the support of Trump’s base as a must-have on their political path, the implicated leaders have compelled others, either by dirt or by promises of endorsement, to join in and create a shift from individual to collective criminality. With that maneuver, the underlying allegations of the Republican top would be converted into a collective liability of the entire party, which would transform the defense of the idiot-coup into a political struggle.

Clearly, this cannot be, in any possible context, a sustainable platform of a political organization. It is a losing proposition in an environment where political victory is won within 1% majority. It is really a desperate attempt to diffuse the culpability of their leadership and prevent consequences to take place.

The cold civil war

The democratic process was originally conceived as a way to peacefully resolve economic disputes between people who share common values, either cultural, religious, or in terms of lifestyles or visions of the future. As such, democracy requires commonality; inequality undermines it. When, however, inequality reaches the critical point, when interests diverge so much that consensus is no longer attainable, the bonding tissue that keeps society together begins to tear and democracy becomes compromised. In the absence of commonality, disputes can no longer have peaceful resolve. Instead, the resolution occurs through negotiation or war[2].

Despite being abundantly and unambiguously clear what happened on and after Jan-6, the response has been annoyingly gradual. The effect of subsequent diversion of blame from individual to collective was to increase the already existing division and elevate the tensions, which have been accumulating over the past years. The escalation caused by the Republicans’ coming out as the white supremacist party has transformed those tensions into a cold civil war.

The legal and political disputes related to the Jan-6 events are now happening against a highly combustive social background where the underlying social tensions have already crossed the point of no return. The most acute problem, therefore, is how to avoid the cold civil war from heating up.

The current situation has become explosive — it is configured like a booby trap. And, when facing the problem of its deactivation, one does not just come in and cut the wires — one wrong move and the device will explode. Deactivation must proceed slowly and sequentially, first by figuring out who is connected with whom and only then can the cutting really begin.


[1] This argument, I believe, is due to Slavoj Zizek.

[2] Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy, Cambridge University Press (2011)

Death & Life in Utopia for the Stupid (a flashback)

19. VII 2021

The rational is always the rationality of an irrational (Fèlix Guattari)

If utopia represents the impossible [imaginary places where social relations are represented, contested, and inverted], and developed society has reached the point where (almost) everything is possible, then the problem of finding our way is no longer the problem of disappearing utopia, but the problem of vision and politics[1]. So, what is the neoliberal utopia really like? What is a logical extrapolation of the neoliberal experience and what could be the next frontier for its all-around permissiveness?

Of all the issues that have emerged in the last years, murder has been the most divisive. From police brutality, to vigilante killings, mass murders, shooting of cops or innocent bystanders and terror attacks. All these cases were really about who has the right to kill whom, and at what price. Black lives matter, terrorism, the OJ Simpson trial, the idiot coup … they have all been about the same theme: Is it ok for whites to kill blacks, for Muslims to kill Christians, for rich to kill poor, or even for the rich blacks to kill not-so-rich whites, etc.? There has always been some implicit hierarchy of rules in that space.

Issues that have played a similar divisive role in the past have been alcohol prohibition, teenage drinking, abortion (right to life), legality of drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, speed limits, etc. In many countries where these issues have been put to rest, tensions and problems associated with the issue have disappeared.

It is common sense to assume that removing an aura of taboo reduces the appeal of the vice. By legalizing something, one eliminates the challenge and reduces the abuse. For example, incidence of teenage drinking, drunken driving etc. are much lower in countries which have no minimum drinking age, and similarly in the case of car accidents vs. speed limit. In the same manner, one can argue, that the legalization of drugs could lead to lower incidence of drug abuse and a reduction in crimes associated with illegal drug trafficking. Same holds for prostitution. The upside of legalizing these activities is that society becomes less polarized – people get along better with each other – and, once divisive aspects are removed, politics becomes more constructive.

Utopia for the stupid

Stupidity does not understand context. It assumes knowledge and extrapolations of experiences to contexts where those do not belong and often cannot hold. This is the summary of neoliberalism’s essence and its destiny as an ideology premised on applying the laws of the markets to life as a whole. In the final days of the unraveling of the neoliberal reign, this has become the era of stupidity. Therefore, entertaining the counterfactual reality that reflects the future as a neoliberal utopia of permissiveness, by allowing for its virtual triumph and applying its patterns and rules to situations where they do not belong, should be done based on the same foundations of confused contexts and argued with the same logic as the ideology itself.

By analogy with the well-know cases of causal connection between bad habits and their status of social taboo, it is fair to ask the same question regarding murder. Following the logic of neoliberal reasoning, one can argue along the following lines:

First, in America, there is an insane number of murders every year. By now, we probably have more than one mass murder for each day in the year. Obviously, the fact that murder is a capital offense is no detractor for killers; the rate of killing (individual/random/mass) keeps increasing. The legitimate question to ask then is: Would the number of murders decrease if they were to become legal? Following the same line of reasoning as with drinking or drug abuse, one could argue that most likely, there would be an initial surge, but then the trend would gradually subside and a new lower equilibrium murder rate reached.

Death by shooting would gradually be accepted as a consequence of our freedoms, in the same way as death caused by traffic accidents, plane crashes, fire, or natural disasters have.

The benefits would be immediately visible. First, guns would get the status of a regular appliance, like car or TV — everyone would own (at least) one. This would be plain common sense. All debates about the second amendment would become obsolete and with them the polarizing effects would go away. There would be no justification for the existence of the gun lobby. The NRA would be rendered politically irrelevant and politics, free of its influences, would be able to focus on issues that matter. Without polarization around the second amendment, republicans and democrats could even merge into a single party.

Smart guns would become the new technological frontier. Apple would produce first iGun, synchronizable with iPhone and iWatch, and Teslas would come with special road rage software and appropriate smart guns usable in such situations.

Compulsive killing would be frowned upon. It would be deemed uncool, along the lines people treat compulsive eating and obesity. There would be awareness groups that provide counseling and talk shows where compulsive killers would be subjected to public shaming.

The US would enter its post-political phase. There would be less need for police; private protection would be the new area of economic expansion. There would be far fewer people in prisons, both private and state-run. No debates about the death penalty or life sentences? All these would free the federal budget for more constructive projects. People would be much more considerate and respectful of each other’s feelings. Conflicts would tend to be avoided. Everyone would be nice to each other (assholes would have a very low chance of survival). Generally, people would get along much better. Right?

At the end, it would be every man for himself, just as Margaret Thatcher said: There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. These thoughts represent the basic axiom of neoliberalism and its sociopathic core. It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that, when stripped of the constraints of moral judgment, the utilitarian logic of neoliberalism, if applied consistently and carried to its final consequences, inevitable leads to over-optimized dystopian world of sociopathy. A sociopath truly practices the notion of morality developed by utilitarianism. He need not necessarily lack intelligence, but on a landscape of normal human interaction, he is lost – that is what defines his affliction. For him, morality designates a behavior one adopts by way of intelligently calculating one’s interests (in the long–run, it profits us all if we try to contribute to the pleasure of the greatest number of people). A sociopath sees morality as a theory one learns and follows and not something one identifies with: [in his universe] doing evil is a mistake in calculation, not a guilty act[2].


[1] Fredric Jameson, An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army, Verso (2016)

[2] Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan, W. W. Norton & Company (2007)

Fatal Strategies and the Value of Human Life

20. VI 2021

Civilization’s potential for barbarism is growing; the everyday bestialization of man is on the increase. (Peter Sloterdijk)

In the autumn of 1914, a human life was infinitely more worthless than in the autumn of 1913. WWI was an abyss, a near-unfathomable crisis of civilization, and one of the most important issues that needed to be addressed in its wake was precisely the worth of the human being[1].

This question would set the tone and meter of the political discourse to come, its echo extending beyond the remainder of the 20th century, without ever losing its relevance. It would only assume different forms and granularity as its context changed, its mutation continuously adapting to different modes of fascism and identity politics, which defined the metrics for the relative valuation of human life.

Before and during WWII, it was the value of Arian vs. non-Arian lives (fascism). In occupied territories in WWII, Germany had a simple algorithm, precise and unambiguous, displayed in public for everyone to know: For each German killed, they would execute 100 randomly picked locals. In the second part of the 20th century, which Immanuel Wallerstein had coined as the realization of democratic fascism[2] whereby 20% of the global population exploits the remaining 80%, the debate shifted to the relative worth of American vs. non-American lives. In backlash to western hegemony, the Islamic dilemma was articulated through Islamo-fascism and terrorism with the discourse defined by a different valuation of Muslim and infidel lives. With the gradual normalization of neo-fascism and white supremacy in the new century, the debate shifted (back) to white vs. non-white and natives vs. migrants.

In today’s America, this problem is currently struck around quantifying the value of Black lives. It is not an entirely new debate, but the socio-political backdrop is. The narrative behind the current ritual of white supremacist coming out and their clownish uprising rests on the belief that, contrary to the overwhelming evidence, Black lives are valued fairly, if not even overvalued. Persistent and deliberate police brutality against Black people is but a particular way of transmitting this message, and so is the normalization of white supremacy with white replacement paranoia, the glorification of slavery, voter suppression, the exorcism of critical race theory from the school curriculum, and general revisionism.

Delirium

The embrace of a regressive revival of racial tensions defines the delirium of the current socio-political counterpoint. It is a moment that desperately demands collective introspection. Here, we have to be careful to avoid the trappings of conventional (Freudian) psychoanalysis defined relative to an Oedipal axis (which locates the roots of our problems in sex and family). What is currently at play requires a different perspective, defined by Deluze and Guatarri as anti-Oedipal:

The real problem of delirium lies in the extraordinary transition from the pole of reactionary or fascist to a revolutionary pole. Statements like ‘I belong to a superior race’ appear in all paranoid deliriums. Similarly, ‘I belong to an utterly inferior race’ is a revolutionary pole of madness[3].

The excluded white precariat is torn between these two poles, unable to decide where they stand or belong, and where they want to be. They have managed to lose their way in the interstices of the anti-Oedipal perspective. The decades of erosive acrobatics of ideological maneuvering have made this point especially ambiguous in a way that, although neither one is correct, both appear equally plausible and seductive.

Trapped in what Wendy Brown considers the neoliberal trauma inflicted by neoliberalism’s accidental wounding of the white male supremacy[4], the white underclass remains transfixed between a self-pity of collective victimology and an unwavering sense of superiority and entitlement, all these emotions grossly misinterpreted, misdirected and manipulated, standing as a testament to their anachronism.

This ideological terrain had been already claimed and appropriated by the conservative Right, resurrected as the Right Wing populism, which has latched onto the underlying white discontent as their lifeline and the last point of rescue from their own obsolescence. In a bizarre symbiosis between the super-privileged and the super-marginalized segments of the white American population, conservative leaders have taken upon themselves the role of speaking on behalf of the poor so that the poor wouldn’t speak for themselves: We want to include you in the decision without letting you influence it. Through carefully structured narratives and divisive memes, their rhetorics are framed as a culture war, which insures that the underlying rage capital of the white precariat remains properly invested and its supply never stops growing.

Entropy

The current crisis of politics is unlike anything seen before. It hasn’t been brought about by chronic scarcity, economic devastation or depression. It has been driven by an undeniable realization that exploding wealth and prosperity has repeatedly failed to underwrite a decent, or even acceptable, life for a growing majority of people amidst the unrestrained accumulation of wealth of a shrinking minority.

Entropy cannot decline, it must rise – systems always evolve towards less orderly state. This means that order always comes at a price: Local order can happen so long as it ejects enough disorder to its surroundings that the total disorder raises. Peaceful social life means that one party, the ruling one, has already won. Interfering with that – taking over by another political faction – creates an upheaval and disruption of peace.

Exploding inequality, which comes about when extreme prosperity is financed by extreme exclusion, eventually tips the scale and leads to a buildup of latent systematic violence that does not know, and is incapable of acknowledging the existence of, any bounds. At some point, this latent violence begins to permeate every aspect of social and political life and along the way creates the state of the general exclusion principle: [Y]ou cannot calculate both the current [social] position of an individual and his or her velocity of exclusion, [e.g.] advancement of women and their virtual downgrading[5]. It is impossible to distinguish causes and effects or to isolate subject from object (are Republicans hostages of their base or is the base their victims). One can grasp either the appearance or the meaning, but not both at the same time (we cannot tell whether GOP politicians only act as morons or they are actual morons). Ultimately, we can no longer calculate the price of a human life and its statistical value at the same time[6].

Nihilism of value and the fight for human soul

How did we get here? What is the big loss and trauma humanity had experienced that has led to this nihilism of value, which the neoliberal mutation of capitalism only made intolerable?

In the past, the human being was not doomed to be merely what he is. God and Satan wrestled over him. In the past, we were important enough to have a battle fought over our soul. Today, our salvation is our own affair. Our lives are no longer marked by original sin but by the risk of failing to fulfill our ultimate potential. So we accumulate plans, ideas and programs; we constantly pass the buck and seek to outdo each other in a universal effort to perform[7].

By attempting to achieve local order in our lives we eject disorder elsewhere. And as everyone does the same thing, this creates entropy, which continues to grow unstoppably and, as much as we try to avoid it, entropy begins to seep into all pores of everyone’s life. But whom do we turn to when we fail (and an increasing fraction of American population is failing), or whom do we blame for our failure?

In the absence of transcendent powers watching over us, and in the perpetual effort to validate our existence, we are forced to become ‘fatal’ to ourselves[8]. We romanticize the past and revive its ghosts in order to create a context for the struggle about jurisdiction over the ancestral terrain, its location and boundaries, and the right to map the current reality onto it. This is the only way of bringing back the lost meaning of human life. We need to own the future in order to conquer the past, because this is the terrain on which the battle for our souls will be fought again.

In what becomes a parody of fate, a leader figure will emerge who will fill that empty place and fight for the excluded and forgotten. And when they find each other, the excluded and forgotten followers will ignore every and all of his shortcomings — no matter how flawed he might be, they will support him unconditionally. He might be the worst human being there is, but they don’t require goodness or humanity from him because he fights for their soul. Nothing else will matter anymore.


[1] Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book 6, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2019)

[2] Immanuel Wallerstein, World Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Duke University Press (2004)

[3] Felix Guattari, Chaosophy, Semiotext(e), New edition (2008)

[4] Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, Columbia University Press (2019)

[5] Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, Verso; Reprint edition (2012)

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

Bare life

29. V 2021

In Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, the party who emerges as master does not fear death. The desire for freedom, recognition, and sovereignty raises the master above concern for bare life. It is fear of dying that induces the future slave to subordinate himself to the Other. Preferring servitude to the threat of death, the slave clings to bare life. (B. C. Han)

What on the surface appears as a consolidation in the ranks of the post-Q-anon Republican Party, from Hawley’s clenched fist and Lyin’ Ted’s escapades, the psychotic trailer-park vitriol of Boebert and Taylor-Greene to the full immersion of Stefanik, the disoriented and stunningly myopic maneuver devoid of any logic and common sense, is not an ideological realignment, but the fight for bare life – a desperate attempt to secure a financial bloodline necessary for their short-term survival.

When seen in a broader context, the collective pledge of unconditional servitude to the rejected and discarded former leader represents the liminal stage in the forced transformation of the American conservatism, which has been following a well-defined and rigid pattern of ritual in its quest for structure, long lost after decades of its own cannibalization. This transformation process has reached the point where its inner contradictions have become so abundant that the party representing conservative ideology can no longer exist as a part of the democratic process.

For the Republican Party, this is the unconditional moment – a situation that requires the creation of a new set of values and standards, a new picture of the world and one’s sense of self in it. They are confronted with the restrictions and pathological narrowness of their existence, a condition that demands the Party to abandon the security of its limitedness, and enter a new realm of self-awareness. For them, there is no turning back; the whole system of values must change.

Republicans’ desperate gasp for air is an attempt to answer the existential question forced upon their party: How to respond to a confrontation with the reality of failure — an absolute failure, which one cannot fail to recognize? Answering this question requires entering terra incognita where they come to terms with their underlying incapacities, a transformation process that demands separation from the existing structure.

The power of ritual

Ritual is a social act of subjective transformation, which allows the transformed subject to see the context with different eyes and from a new perspective afforded by the experience of ritual. It usually takes place at an inflection point where the status quo approaches a dead end and functions as a mechanism that converts the obligatory into the desirable.

The essence of ritual is a play between structure and anti-structure. Irrespective of the context, it is always staged in three acts. The first act consists of separation – this is when the subject is taken out of their context. The second step is the transitional or liminal stage. During this phase, the work of the ritual takes place: The order of things is (temporarily) suspended — participants are in a structureless zone ready to accept new rules. In the final, integration, phase the subject is re-contextualized[1].

An example of this formal structure, with all three stages is the ritual of the American college experience. After a sheltered (and structured) childhood, where access and exposure to major sources of risk, like excessive time mismanagement, night clubs, drinking, drugs, etc. is restricted either legally or through parental supervision, college kids ceremonially leave their parents’ homes and move into student dorms (separation), the new communal centers where they cohabitate with their peers. Unsupervised and armed with newly acquired fake IDs, they step into the Devil’s playground (anti-structure) with access to alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and a host of new experiences, becoming exposed to the risks and temptations of the adult world. No longer kids and not yet adults, betwixt and between, they enter the liminal stage, in which all rules of either life seem to be suspended. In most cases, the American college experience has a progressive (centrifugal) liminal period, which emerges as a source of potential alternative structures waiting to be embraced after which a successful integration into adult life can take place.

In the last 4 years, conservative politics has entered the liminal stage, its existence marked by the play between structure and anti-structure. Nothing is ordinary — everything is tremendous. Semiotic excess — lies, nonsense, conspiracy theories, and propaganda — has had the main purpose of perpetuating the ritual, sustaining liminality, and suspending the rules. Palpable falsehoods became new articles of faith, new social identity drew the boundary between us and them and became the main theme of political discourse. Acceptance includes tests of authenticity, which require participants to go through initiation rites in which they burn bridges by committing deep out-of-the-money unethical acts and physical or intellectual atrocities (sometimes all three). This is an ongoing ritual within a ritual consisting of competitive symbolic self-immolation in the arena of public spectacle, which irreversibly closes the doors for their return to pre-liminal life.

If 2016 was a moment of separation, and subsequent years were liminal, in the current context of political ritual, post-liminal right wing integration is evolving towards the Weberian everydayinization of the out-of-ordinary situations.

The road to re-contextualization

For all the good that it has created, money, in its omnipresence as the ultimate metric of value, has had a deleterious effect on society, culture and politics.

Democracies today are captured and dominated by big interest groups and their money. They still formally function as democracies — we are free to speak and free to struggle — but elections are competitive and their outcomes are not known in advance; they remain constrained by the boundaries set by financial interests of the wealthiest segments of the society. This has become more pronounced as the costs of running (for political office) are getting more and more expensive, further reinforcing the power of big money. It is practically impossible for a candidate to emerge without money – he/she must either be independently wealthy or have the people with money who back them. At the end, politics has become a game of seduction where everyone is funded by someone and they have to conform with the wishes and views of their potential and actual donors. 

Money has flattened everything – it has made every drama, every villain, and every existential or ethical dilemma linear and one-dimensional. Behind every act of evil, there is always a financial position. A madman who is plotting to nuke a large American metropolis in a doomsday suspense drama is no longer a deranged psychopath, driven by madness of revenge against humanity or dreams of establishing ex-nihilo a new world order, but a rational investor who has a short position in commodities, which would be driven in the money by the underlying catastrophe of his design.

The GOP’s current political ritual of collective lobotomy is not the result of a regressive uprising of autocratic mad villains, but a consequence of the flattening of politics by money. Their apparent suicidal tactics are in reality just posturing meant to serve as a surrogate for commitment. The ritualized loyalty oath to their rejected and defenestrated ex-leader is nothing else but a money-raising scheme. It is a plea of an increasingly marginalized ideology, deemed futureless, running out of the willing oligarchic support, transitioning from an actual political party to a suicide pact which embraces the TV-evangelist business model centered on monetizing on peoples’ misery and stripping the gullible bottom of disenfranchised rubes of their last penny.

This is the current American conservative utopia and the path to their re-contextualization. Republicans are fighting for their bare life. Beyond concerns for their short-term survival, their only vision of the future is a society as an atonal pseudo-totalitarian operetta without a key or meter, the kingdom of arbitrariness where words have no fixed meaning and actions no consequences, a fool’s paradise in which Ivy-league cohabitates happily with trailer-trash and everyone is allowed to dwell in his/her own stupidity.


[1] This breakdown of the structure and the concept of liminality were first introduced by Arnold von Gennep in 1909, Rites of Passage, University of Chicago Press (1961)

Skumring

25 IV 2021

The way out of a room is not through the door. Just don’t want out. And you’re free. (Charles Manson)

Le Théâtre du Grand Guignol

In 1897, the French playwright and police employee, Oscar Metenier, bought a theater at the end of the impasse Chaptal, a cul-de-sac in Paris’ Pigalle district, in which to produce his controversial naturalist plays. The smallest theater in Paris, it was also the most atypical. Two large angels hung above the orchestra and the theater’s neogothic wood paneling; and the boxes, with their iron railings, looked like confessionals (the building had, in fact, once been a chapel)[1].

Under the influence of their main writer, Andre de Lorde, who collaborated on several plays with his therapist and experimental psychologist, insanity became the main theme of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. This was happening at a time when insanity was just beginning to be scientifically studied and individual cases catalogued.

While fear of ‘the other’ appeared in countless variations, what carried the Grand-Guignol to its highest level were the boundaries and thresholds it crossed: Loss of consciousness, loss of control, panic — themes with which the theater’s audience could easily identify[2]. They reacted with terrified faces, but never once choosing to leave.

Revenge as entertainment

The theatre produced plays about a class of people who were not considered appropriate subjects in other venues: prostitutes, criminals, street urchins and others at the lower end of Paris social echelon. This was also the original target audience. Horror plays often alternated with comedies, a lineup referred to as hot and cold showers. The actors often broke the fourth wall and directly addressed the audience in order to make them an accomplice to an act of violence, to highlight moments of realization, and to remind them that this act is happening very close to them, thus heightening the horror of being a witness[3].

The repertoire consisted of many different unrelated stories, but the common theme of revenge appeared in almost all of them. These are some examples of Grand Guignol horror shows[4]:

Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous: Two hags in an insane asylum use scissors to blind a pretty, young fellow inmate out of jealousy.

Le Laboratoire des Hallucinations: When a doctor finds his wife’s lover in his operating room, he performs a graphic brain surgery, rendering the adulterer a hallucinating semi-zombie. Now insane, the lover/patient hammers a chisel into the doctor’s brain.

Le Baiser dans la Nuit: A young woman visits the man whose face she horribly disfigured with acid, and he obtains his revenge.

Revenge was an emotion generally frowned upon by the proper bourgeoisie of the time, considered unseemly and unworthy of their status. Although it was associated with lower social strata, the initial target audience, revenge gradually became the guilty pleasure of selected members of the elite who frequented the Grand Guignol plays.

Unlike other forms of aggression that require no provocation, revenge is an action provoked by a wrong. While punishment looks to improve the transgressor’s behavior or to deter future bad behavior, revenge seeks to have the transgressor suffer.

Revenge has deep social roots. The threat of revenge could have actually helped our ancestors to build stable social bonds by promising swift retribution if rules or boundaries were transgressed. Those who are vengeful were much less likely to be victimized or attacked.

Revenge carries strong hierarchical overtones. Not everyone is entitled to exact revenge. Right to revenge is a privilege that comes with status. Elaborate medieval spectacles of punishment and execution always contained a certain portion of retribution, which was not correctional and was incommensurate with the gravity of the offense. Even if there are no individual victims, breaking the law demands retribution because it is an attack on sovereign personally, since the law represents his will. This is the zero-point penalty. The ritual made the body of the condemned man the place where the vengeance of the sovereign was applied, the anchoring point for manifestation of power, an opportunity of offering the dissymmetry of forces. In punishment there must always be a portion that belongs to the prince – it constitutes the most important penal liquidation of the crime[5].

When put in a proper social context, revenge can find a strong resonance with certain segments of society, especially those who believe to have been wronged or excluded in one way or another. Revenge is the other side of victimhood. It defines the early contours of dialogues with the past and conquests of traumas, and reflects a quest for stability by folks who have been victims of various injustices. Since the past is fundamentally unjust, the call for revenge alludes to some form of dispensation of justice and implies entitlement and privilege with a promise of a chance of healing. This quest for justice and its collective resonance is often perceived as an aura of enlightenment by any political movement based on revenge.

Something is rotten in the state of status quo

These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up. (Charles Manson)

In the years following World War II Grand Guignol audiences gradually waned as the actual reality of the two wars and their aftermath eclipsed the theater’s fictional horrors[6]. By the time the Theater closed its doors in 1962, Charles Manson was 28, serving time in the McNeal Island US Penitentiary in Washington State. After a short release from there, he found his way back to the Terminal Island Correctional Institute in San Pedro, CA where he had already done time in the 1950s. As his release from Terminal Island was approaching in early 1967, Manson had already spent more than half of the 32 years of his life in prisons and other correctional institutions. Telling the authorities that prison had become his home, he requested permission to stay.

After being discharged in 1967, Manson began attracting a group of followers, mostly young women, from around California, later known as the Manson Family. The Family developed into a doomsday cult when he became fixated on the idea of an imminent apocalyptic race war between America’s Blacks and the larger white population. A white supremacist at heart, Manson’s acid fantasy revolved around Helter Skelter, a quasi-apocalyptic scenario whereby Black people would rise up and kill all whites, except, of course, Manson and his “Family”. And, to add to that another layer of the ridiculous, not being intelligent enough to survive on their own, the Blacks would need a white man to lead them, and would, of all people, chose Manson as their “master”.

In early August 1969, Manson encouraged his followers to trigger Helter Skelter by committing murders in Los Angeles and making it appear to be racially motivated. Their rampage ended the 60s, which marked not only their calendar ending, but also the end of an era of rebellion against conformism and the status quo. It closed a chapter in American history and wrapped up a decade of social uprising.

It is not so much what Manson did, although he did it in a way that couldn’t be ignored, but how he did it, the resonance he struck and reverberations his acts triggered. As if wondering what everyone was surprised about, Manson’s parting message, I am what you made me, was the unsettlingreminder of circular causality between the complacency of middle-class America and the inherent violence necessary for maintaining that lifestyle, its long echo refuses to go away even after five decades.

Manson was an outcast denied the comfort of American middle class complacency. He created his own surrogate reality through speech acts and pushed it to his followers. He exploited the Stepford wife model to repurpose the helpless, dissatisfied, and disillusioned young middle-class women bored with the status quo, into his willing robot killers. It was a civilizational relapse, a slap in the face to both the conformism of the 50s as well as all the liberation movements of the 60s that opposed it. Despite the backdrop of hippy rhetoric, free love, independence and emancipation, “his women” had been willingly downgraded back to obedient, docile subjects of suburban housewives of the 50s, only this time, with a mission. He had found the keys to the portal that unlocked the toxic social ferment whose existence had to be denied at all costs by the system.

The emergence of Manson and his cult was an autoimmune reaction of the system, the blowback that couldn’t be processed or digested. It appeared at the peak of ideological obsession with the status quo. Manson was a social malady that couldn’t be fought. He did not want anything from the rest of the society; he didn’t need anything that society could deny him. Yet, he exposed the Achilles’s heel of the system. His only agenda and the driving force, was revenge against the system, against women, pop culture, Blacks, Hollywood, and the entertainment industry, spiked with a dash of white supremacy and the entitlement that fills the void created by the absence of other values.

All of the cult’s participants in the murders received death sentences. This included Manson himself, although he personally did not do the killing and was not present at the site when they occurred. The sentence was subsequently commuted to life as California abolished the death penalty.

Wendy Brown

My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system. … I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you. … You want to kill me? Ha! I am already dead – have been all my life. I’ve spent twenty-three years in tombs that you have built. (Charles Manson, 1978)

Manson was one of the first superstars of the nascent society of spectacle. Fascination with him and his cult started shortly after their arrest, and hasn’t really stopped even during his time in prison. Manson had numerous marriage proposals and was, at the age of 79 (two years before his death), engaged to marry a 26-year-old Illinois woman. Tex Watson, the only male member of the killer squad, who, like the rest of the surviving members, remains incarcerated to this day, got married and had four kids. Susan Atkins was married twice (her second husband was a Harvard-graduate lawyer, 15 years here junior). Manson and his followers have all been repeatedly denied parole, anywhere between 17 and 23 times and those who have survived, will most definitely never leave the confines of a prison.

50 years later, doomsday cults are back in vogue again and we learned that the same modes of collective mobilization, on a much larger scale, could be achieved without the persuasive powers of psychedelics. In 2016, Grand Guignol has been shut for over 50 years and Manson, behind bars for 45 years, has become an almost forgotten chapter of America history. However, his paradigmatic significance as a vindictive narcissist cult leader was anything but dead. The spirit of Manson’s Grandguinelesque version of macabre horror was very much alive, only hibernating, ready to be deployed again.

Ressentiment and the modes of rebellion

At the center of all forms of uprising and public revolt resides Ressentiment /rə,säntə’män/,  a psychological state arising from suppressed feelings of envy and hatred that cannot be acted upon, frequently resulting in some form of self-abasement[7]. There are three shades of revolt that govern different modes of response to Ressentiment. They differ by the intensity of revenge involved.

Absence of revenge: Judeo-Christian morality was born as a response of the weak, those who suffered in a value system affirming strength, power, and action. The weak were resentful not of their own weakness, but of the strong, whom they blamed for their suffering. As a result, they invented a new value system in which strength would be reproached as evil and weakness forted as good[8].

Moderate revenge: The French revolution and Communist uprising in Russia were bloody, but revenge was nominally blended with an emancipatory program and agenda. However, with time, revenge took over and prevented the evolution of the rebellion into anything other than self-destruction. These examples suggest that revenge is ultimately lethal even in small doses.

Excessive revenge: When ressentiment is born of dethronement, from lost entitlement, rather than from weakness, there is no new value system. Suffering and humiliation, ressentiment unsublimated, become permanent politics of revenge. In the present version of right-wing uprising, this is manifested through concentrated attacking those blamed for dethroned white maleness – feminists, multiculturalists, globalists, who both unseat and disdain them. There are high levels of affect instead of a developed moral system[9].

Unlike Black rage, which has been articulated through the Judeo-Christian mode, 21st century white rage represents collective vindictive narcissism. It is a reaction of the historically dominant as they feel that dominance ebbing.  

Vindictive Narcissism

Exclusion leads to resentment and accumulations of grievances, which brews into revenge. Outsourcing those grievances to the cult and its leader defines the collective and the sense of identity and belonging. Cults are predicated on convincing their members that everyone has been lying to them. Followers are enticed by the illusion of new truths and territories. With the help of psychedelics or flattering rhetoric and identity politics, and with some persuasive power, cult leaders create their own reality through speech acts and push those visions to their followers.

At the core of each cult resides revenge as the common link. It is through revenge that cult leaders resonate with their members. The people most hell-bent on revenge are both low in forgiveness and high in narcissistic traits. Both the narcissist’s inflated social confidence and the narcissist’s sense of entitlement could produce a desire to retaliate against wrong-doers and could reduce constraints on acting on this desire[10].

In his book The Narcissist You Know, Joseph Burgo actually identifies The Vindictive Narcissist as a distinct psychological type/category. Narcissist’s vengefulness stems from his unconscious shame and his need to defend himself against that shame being revealed, leaving him thin-skinned and vulnerable to anything that looks vaguely like an attack. When he feels attacked, he reacts without restraint and limits[11].

Success is a relative category. A businessman whose career starts with a $400mn handout from his father and follows up with seven bankruptcies is not really an example of success. While being objectively rich, someone with such initial conditions and that roster of  failures is a colossal loser, pretty much by any metric[12]. Getting into the White House only to finish his one-term presidency as, what is unanimously considered, the worst president in the American history (by a wide margin) is also not something one could be proud of. That knowledge and awareness must hurt.

For Trump, everything has always been about revenge – he is the epitome of a vindictive narcissist. That is his curse, but, at this political moment, also his magic, his secret sauce, and the point of resonance with his base. Exacting revenge has become the sole purpose and philosophy of both the leader and his following. It is the backbone of their shared social identity.

Having a leader who harbors feelings of revenge, not necessarily rooted in the same way as his followers, creates a special emotional bond and resonance between the two[13].

Trump’s transgressions and acts of revenge, no matter how petty or pointless, have had an orgasmic effect on his base. They became an articulation of their revenge against the wound of nothingness and a symbolic act of destruction of the imagined agent of that wound. The policies he proposed were irrelevant as long as he opposed those that were in place, which they hold responsible for their precarity. His abuses of power are vital to this desire. He has the power they lack – they live their revenge through him.  

Politics as a suicide cult

No sense makes sense (Charles Manson)

Revenge as a way of creating change is socially toxic. It carries the seeds of self-sabotage. It is non-convertible and sterile, unable to transform itself into a creative force. The vindictive cult followers are trapped in the quicksand of fermented rage and resentment. They are asphyxiated by their leader, but, at the same time, as a group, they cannot survive without the virtual supplement that he provides. The residual of the Republican Party, “Trump’s Family”, is a bunch of bewildered and desperate shipwreck survivors, Manson’s girls without Manson in search of their raison d’être.

Fascination with chaos and ex-nihilo creation reveals a common pattern across different cases of vindictive narcissist cults. Through a concerted creation of chaos, doomsday cult leaders effectively voice their plea for a second chance, albeit without any alternative plans. Their entire lives were spent on the edge of precipice, narrowly escaping catastrophe. They believe that, due to their higher tolerance to chaos, they would fair better than the others after the great reset.

Manson’s ridiculous acid fantasy of revenge, Helter Skelter — the racial war in which the Blacks would win, but unable to rule themselves, would elect none other than him — is just the other side of his impotence in finding his place in the social universe. As an outcast, he saw himself in the same position as African Americans, the other systemically excluded social group. However, the little white racist in him couldn’t avoid seeing himself as their superior and “natural” leader. When put together with his choreography of the gruesome spectacle of the 1969 Hollywood murders, this dimwitted fantasy underscores the Grandguinolesque dialectics of comedy and horror.

These modes of collective self-hypnosis are the site where all revenge-based cults converge — Fascism, Bolshevism, Jacobin revolution, terrorism, Trump’s and Manson’s included. Their logic and dynamics translate seamlessly to contemporary Right-Wing populism, just on a larger scale. The spectacle of the last presidency, as a form where the comedy of ridiculous narratives, clownish self-sabotage, and outright stupidity are blended with irresponsible criminal incompetence and the gruesome horror of their consequences, is the Grand Guignol Theater of the new century.

According to Wendy Brown, the current predicament is a result of the unintended consequences of the neoliberal project. The accidental wounding of the white male supremacy has yielded an apocalyptic politics, which in its final mutation has evolved into a suicide cult. If white men cannot own the planet, there won’t be any planet. This, at the end is the apocalyptic mode of white revolt and its politics that is willing to destroy the world rather than endure a future without white male rule[14].

This degeneration of the Right-Wing political movement (into a suicide cult) has an unmistakable Helter Skelter vibe. The crescendo of deliberately open and grotesquely excessive violence against the American Blacks could serve no other purpose except to act as a trigger of a racially intonated civil conflict, out of which the white supremacist cult hopes to emerge on top as a representative of the outnumbered, but ultimately, in their eyes, superior race in what they are experiencing as a reenactment of the Manson’s acid fantasy.


[1] http://www.grandguignol.com

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage (1979)

[6] Charles Nonon, theater’s final director, summarized it best: “We could never equal Buchenwald. Before the war, everyone felt that what was happening onstage was impossible. Now we know that these things, and worse, are possible in reality.”

[7] Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, Columbia University Press (2019)

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] Joseph Burgo, The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me Age, Touchstone (2015)

[11] ibid.

[12] To put things in perspective, at the time of this handout, the S&P was around $100, and now it is at $4000, and if one had done nothing but left those $400mn as a passive stock market investment, that would have amounted to around $16bn today. Instead, the recipient of that handout today is struggling to remain solvent for the eight time.

[13] Wendy Brown, ibid.

[14] ibid.

Idiocy and the Art of Getting Lost

24. II 2021

Sanity is a small box; insanity is everything. (Charles Manson)

Two erotic modes of modernity

The real genius of Kafka was to eroticize bureaucracy, a non-erotic entity which in the early 20th century had already acquired a divine dimension representative of another order beyond earthly reality[1]. A century after Kafka, Sarah Palin rose from virtual anonymity to become an unlikely icon of eroticized stupidity, another force of the new order. She impassioned America and brought a new Eros to politics. In a series of carefully coordinated public appearances she struck resonance with a large body of the American population (mostly white middle aged men) and emerged as the Franz Kafka of right-wing populism. Embraced by the conservative elites who quickly recognized the political value of the ridiculous, she became, practically overnight, the new face of the Republican Party.

Sarah entered the scene as an emblematic representative of de-complexified post-femininity and a self-declared champion of the American underclass. She stood as a reminder that you can be ignorant, stupid, and, at the same time, aggressive and still occupy a high public office. She embodied “post-feminist” femininity without a complex, uniting the features of mother, primary-school teacher (with her glasses and hair in a bun), public person, and, implicitly, sex object, proudly displaying the “first dude” as a phallic toy (and don’t forget the “drill, baby, drill!”). The message was that she “has it all” — and that, to add insult to injury, it was a Republican woman who had realized this Left-liberal dream[2].

Sarah Palin’s figure resides on the end point of continuum of eroticization of the non-erotic that spans one century from Kafka’s castrating power of bureaucracy to Palin’s castrating power of stupidity. But she didn’t come out of nowhere. For decades, stupidity had been cultivated as a precious commodity, its value well recognized and used in politics, business and media. After considerable efforts have been invested in its rise and widespread acceptance, the harvest time came in 2016. And what a harvest it’s been. In the last four years, the circle has finally closed: Kafka’s world of eroticized bureaucracy gradually gave way to the eroticized stupidity of Sarah Palin, and finished with a fully bureaucratized stupidity of Trump’s GOP.

Creative potential of stupidity

You can’t get lost in one dimension — you go either left or right. On a plane, that is easier, but it comes with no penalty. Penalty comes with gravity and the third dimension.

Until recently, ignorance and stupidity were allowed only transient intrusions into public life. There was always a certain stigma attached to stupidity — people used to be embarrassed to display it. Sarah Palin changed that forever. Stupidity is here to stay; it is now being promoted as a virtue and has acquired an elaborate cultural cross-dressing aimed at anesthetizing the public to its omnipresence and, at the same time, encouraging stupidity to come out in its full glory.

The last four years ushered in a new age when stupidity infiltrated every pore of public life. Stupidity has become ubiquitous and unavoidable, assumed many forms and developed a level of granularity it hadn’t had before. Every segment of society has been touched by it. From those unemployed and socially dislocated, to political lobbyists, conservative think tanks, Congressmen, Senators, ministers, lawyers, media personalities, epidemiologists, cabinet members, economic advisors, and the First Family, stupidity always managed to have its voice heard. In its everyday acceptance, stupidity now demands a new framework — it requires to be properly identified, stratified, nuanced, and contextualized. Not everything is equally “stupid” – there are shades, depths and texture to it.

The space of intelligence is not a one-dimensional spectrum consisting of intelligent, stupid and everything in between. Intelligence, wisdom, ignorance, stupidity, or idiocy are not just points on a line, but destinations, paths, and directions on a multi-dimensional landscape.

The word intelligence comes from inter-legere, which means choosing-between. It is not entirely free as it is caught in a between. Intelligence has no access to outside because it makes a choice between options in a system. Therefore, intelligence does not really exercise free choice: it can only select among the offerings the system affords[3].

Intelligence follows the logic of the system; it inhabits the “horizontal plane”. It is conditional: A given system defines its own intelligence. (Having a PhD degree in abstract algebra has little value for survival in a prison.)

In contrast, idiosyncratic takes leave of the prevailing system — it abandons the plane of intelligence and operates along the “vertical” dimension perpendicular to it. The reign of intelligence is slavery to the existing order of things. The idiosyncratic means overcoming the intelligence; it is a rebellious act of removing the shackles of intelligence and emancipation from its confines.

Idiots reside on the idiosyncratic axis. Theirs is a missionary role: They traverse between different intelligence planes of the systems of knowledge.

In his Treatise on idiocy, Clément Rosset[4] points out that unlike intelligence, which is thought to be attentive, nimble and alert, stupidity is understood as sluggish, anesthetic, and mummified. However, there is nothing as attentive, nimble, and alert as stupidity. Boundless openness and receptiveness is its main distinctive feature.

Ignorance means not understanding the rules and options of the plane of intelligence. Ignorance is a poverty of experience: It closes doors and refuses to recognize the existing paths to knowledge.

Stupidity, in contrast, is opened to anything; everything is an object of notice[5]. It confuses different contexts and assumes knowledge and extrapolations of previous experiences to contexts where those do not belong and often cannot hold.

Ignorance is static — it means being stuck. Stupidity is dynamic — it implies being ill equipped, fearless, and lost.

When ignorance is set in motion, it morphs into stupidity. Stupidity is ignorance on the move. It is revealed by getting out of the cocoon and exploring unknown territory, applying knowledge and experience to the context where it doesn’t apply. Stupidity is open to conspiracy – it represents an assault on probability: It doesn’t recognize the impossibility of the improbable, but takes the unlikely as probable. This susceptibility to the improbable is not a sign of open-mindedness or critical thinking, but a trademark of stupidity.

Wisdom, on the other hand, means understanding the domain and boundaries of your knowledge and experience and avoiding terrain where those do not hold. It is the ability of not losing your way.

I followed the road less travelled and now I don’t know where I am

Illegal immigrants caught voting should be stripped of their citizenship (Ben Carson)

Stupids and idiots are fellow travellers. Idiots have perfected a way of looking clever to stupid people. They seduce and confuse; stupids are their victims. By creating bridges between different layers of knowledge idiots open gateways to new territories, new rules, and new experiences. But, in that process, they create entropy and increase the possibility of getting lost. With idiots’ help, stupidity finds the shortest path to self-destruction.

The encouragement of idiocy never ends well. Kafka’s bureaucracy, at its peak when it used to decide who existed and what the truths were, gave birth to another order and, with it, created fertile ground for the rise of idiot leaders, which, by the mid-century, produced totalitarian regimes of various kind and wars which shaped the entire century.

The post-Reagan war on bureaucracy, under the banner starve-the-beast/drain-the-swamp, was nothing else but a political maneuver of replacing the old bureaucratic machine of self-indulgent inefficiency with a new one – stupidity. Its core followers were, at the same time, its main victims.

Like the early 20th century bureaucracy, stupidity of the 21st century has become inefficient institutional machinery caught in its own circular self-pleasure and delight. The true aim of the technology of stupidity, its commodification and proliferation, is no longer to pursue an ideological goal, to solve problems of governing increasingly fragmented society, but to repeatedly re-create or even magnify the underlying problems and reproduce the reasons for its own existence and growth. Stupidity confronts us now with a new form of addiction in terms of paralyzing surplus-enjoyment[6]: The enjoyment generated not by fulfilling its official goal (e.g. mobilizing populist votes), but by self-reproducing cycle of its own movement.

Idiot: The man of the future

The old idiot wanted truth, but the new idiot wants to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari)

In Lars von Trier’s movie, The Idiots, a group of perfectly intelligent young people decides to express their reaction to society’s cult of aimless, non-creative and irresponsible conformism by living together in a commune of “idiots”. Their main activity consists of going out into the world of “normal” people and pretending to be mentally disabled. They create chaos and anarchy with a ritualized practice of enacting spastic tantrums of agitated mental derangement in public spaces, fast food restaurants, coffee houses, or movie theaters. These actions generally stop normal flow of things and generate discomfort by drawing attention to the perpetrators. They disrupt, shock, and anger the spectators caught in these situations. The turning point in the movie takes place on the occasion when the commune members, during their public display of voluntary idiocy, encounters a group of mentally disabled adults on a daily field trip from their nursing homes.

Following that encounter, one of the members goes involuntarily into a spastic tantrums and her act is noticed by the rest of the commune members as more genuine and is recognized as the letting of her inner idiot out, a novelty the others haven’t had the ability to do.

And as if reality has caught up with the movie more than twenty years after its release, there is an undeniable vibe of déjà vu in the current ritualistic practice of the American right-wing politics that strikes resonance with von Trier’s Idiot commune. Republican senators no longer engage in politics in terms of serving the needs of their constituents. Their main preoccupation has become the self-indulgent surrender to stupidity. Like von Trier’s Idiots, they function through enacted episodes of spastic tantrums and idiosyncratic stupidity in public, Congress or in Senate. And there seems to be a real competition among them to outdo each other – whose outburst would be more both more shocking and, at the same time, more convincing and genuine.

What does it mean to be stupid and what does it mean to pretend to be stupid? Who are these politicians who have had elite education and credential, but act like ignorant folks, and can the two meet? While enacted political stupidity is about role-playing, at some point, it raises the question: Is the individual a persona, a mask or his stupidity is real? These are questions about identity, authenticity, and character as well as about politics as a medium and as tool.

In addition to being an act of protest, the practice of deliberate and ceremonial display of political idiocy has become a ritual, which highlights the inner idiot in a man. This is the situation when role-playing becomes indistinguishable from the real thing and when going overboard with idiocy is a way of getting rid of one’s false self and becoming a different person, one who can, by stepping out of the confines of intelligence, foster change.

Stupidity as a political tool is a new chapter in the history of civilization. The stupidity project is production of human bodies without human reason and the idiot as the man of the future. The release of idiocy is a way of displaying the hollowness of conventional behavior and a method of provoking consensus and status quo. It stands as an ideological critique of the existing social condition and frames stupidity as a rebellion against the tyranny of intelligence and a tool that is used to prevent reality’s intrusion on the entire stupidity project.

This brings us closer to answering the nagging question that just won’t go away: Why are madness and stupidity embraced as a tool of political alchemy? The answer is surprisingly simple: Because stupidity is efficient.

There is something cathartic about absolute surrender to the singularity of bottomless spastic tantrum of mentally unstable rage, with total disregard for consequences, whether it is in a fast food restaurant or on the floor of the US Senate. It is a true idiosyncratic event, the missionary task of idiots, which creates a situation of unconditional attention and maximum unpredictability, like stepping into a black hole and exiting on the “other side” to a new universe with no possibility of return.

Black holes are objects of absolute coherence. Information that is absorbed by the black hole does not disappear, but its apparent loss and increase in entropy is converted into an expansion of the black hole’s event horizon.  As the event horizon extends after each spastic event, a larger fraction of the universe becomes captured inside the region from which return is impossible, and the growth of stupidity, like that of entropy, never stops.


[1] Slavoj Zizek, The Courage of Hopelessness: A Year of Acting Dangerously, Melville House (2018)

[2] Jacques-Alain Miller, Sarah Palin: Operation “Castration”, lacan.com (2010)

[3] B. C. Han, Psychopolitics, Verso (2017)

[4] Clément Rosset, Le Réel. Traité de l’idiotie, Paris: Minuit (1977)

[5] ibid.

[6] We encounter this surplus enjoyment in everyday life: We often engage in shopping, not only because we enjoy the object we would acquire, but because we enjoy the act of shopping itself.

Adventures in Rage Kapitalism

29. XII 2020

Between 1996 and 1997, during the de-Sovietization of Eastern Europe, Albania was convulsed by the dramatic rise and collapse of several huge financial pyramid schemes. At the peak, the nominal value of the pyramid schemes’ liabilities amounted to almost half of the country’s GDP. About two thirds of the Albanian population invested in them.

Last summer, ten years after my first reading, I took a second shot at Peter Sloterdijk’s, Rage and Time[1]. While the first take was illuminating, the second round was nothing short of transformational — a pure bliss and an altogether new experience. The framework, which it laid down a decade ago, when put in the current context, has acquired visionary relevance. The book has aged marvelously. Like the best wine, it developed complexity and nuance, which I failed to detect originally.

Rage and Time was published in its original version in Germany in 2006 and appeared in the English translation four years later, in 2010. It was written while the economy in the developed world was booming and neoliberal hegemony remained uncontested, before any hint of the global financial crisis was on the horizon. As such, the book had been deprived of the new landscape of rage and the most interesting decade of its evolution. Nevertheless, it became a true testimony of the future. Solterdijk’s work laid a precise fundamental groundwork for what was to come soon after its publication. Post-2008 developments flow seamlessly as a natural extrapolation of the ideas expressed in the book, making it practically effortless to imagine what would have been the content of additional chapters had the book been written in 2020. This period is possibly the most explicit celebration of the book’s framework and a stunning “out of sample” confirmation of its main theses.

Sloterdijk’s argument begins with the observation that political parties and movements define a non-monetary banking system where they function like rage banks and operate as collection points of affects; they facilitate transactions with the rage of others in the same way monetary banks operate with the money of their customers. They provide a liaison between rage capacities and a desire for dignity. Their contract is based on a promise to their clients to disburse a return in the form of increased self-respect and a more powerful grasp of the future, provided the clients refrain from independent utilization of their rage. By doing this, they relieve their clients of the difficulty of having to take their own initiative, while nevertheless promising thymotic gains[2].

With these transmission mechanisms of rage in place, political developments in America and Europe nowadays can be interpreted as conceptually the same phenomenon that took place in financial systems of emerging post-socialist Europe some 25 years ago.

At the core of these developments reside continuous attempts to manage the crisis of legitimation of a system that has run its course with pyramid schemes of rage: Populist movements, which have emerged as a consequence of this crisis, have enticed people to deposit every last molecule of their grievances in rage banks run by the current Right Wing political parties. Their game plan is to appropriate those deposits and declare bankruptcy, in pretty much the same ways as regular banks did in 1990s Albania.  And who’s better suited for this job than a certified conman with an uncontested record of fraud and serial bankruptcies?

Surrogate capitalism

The main characteristic of pyramid schemes, what distinguishes them from traditional capitalism, is that they have a finite duration and irreversible collapse. Capitalism, which has booms and busts, crashes, and recessions, recovers because it has an elastic modus of fleeing ahead that includes creative behavior; it is capable of controlling tendencies that signal collapse[3]. A pyramid scheme, on the other hand has no inner mechanisms and patterns of behavior; it is a hollow project financed only by a continuous inflow of (gullible) newcomers who are willing to pay for an opportunity to take risk against empty promises. While those at the top could pocket sizable profits, the bottom echelons lose with certainty. It is the absence of transparency and information about individuals’ places in the hierarchy of the pyramid scheme that determines its extent and duration.

The underlying mechanism and logic of cash flows of a general pyramid scheme can be understood using a simple three-level example with Captain, Crew, and Passengers. Everyone has to recruit two new members, and each member chips in with $100, which is then distributed upwards. At the end, the Captain goes with $400, the Crew breaks even, and the Passengers lose their investment, a total of $400[4].

For a pyramid scheme to continue to work, it’s expansion must not stop – once it stops, it is over, all the funds have already been distributed and no new are coming in. Because of that, the scheme is a catastrophic process of finite duration — its collapse must occur because the number of new recruits, which are essential for its financing, is required to grow exponentially and very quickly the number of newly recruitable players is exhausted — all newcomers who can be recruited are already on board.

The inevitable collapse occurs either suddenly or it needs to be brought about consciously because the number of momentarily recruitable players necessarily becomes zero after only a few rounds, which is why even with good camouflage it is hardly possible to extend a game longer than a few years.

Albanian capitalist apprenticeship as a template of American right-wing politics

There is an unmistakable similarity between the Albanian transient apprenticeship in capitalism during the 1990s and the Right Wing populist attempts to crash the American political market in the 21st century. Sloterdijk’s detailed account of conditions that led to the Albanian crash transcribes almost verbatim to present-day America once conventional money is replaced with rage as political currency.

Albania has always held a singular position in Europe. Its history is an undeserved tragedy of Albanian people who had been innocent victims of circumstances created by geopolitical forces over which they had no influence. The country epitomizes physical, political, and cultural exclusion, with a heavy stigma of isolation and backwardness, similar to today’s North Korea.

Decades of systematic and absolute isolation have caused a gradual atrophy of general exchange mechanisms necessary for normal functioning of society[5]. And the more these mechanisms became necessary and urgently needed to keep up with the rest of the world, the more intense oppression had become, leading ultimately to their total disappearance and Albanian disconnect from the rest of the world. Albania was a failed state long before that concept existed. While the only thing at their disposal was time and patience, the world moved on leaving them light years behind and practically impossible to catch up. As Albania gradually learned to live without the world and the world without Albania, after more than half a century of total disconnect, reintegration became unachievable.

The excess population in America, the growing body of excluded white underclass, shares a similar destiny as Albanian folks — both have been the victims of systematic and irreversible exclusions and both have had their own Hillbilly Elegies:Like Albanians, who remained largely prisoners of their own past, the American white underclass felt equally cut off from luck, wealth, and privilege and its distribution for too long.

Their uprisings share a similar pattern as well. Like the newly minted Albanian capitalists of the 1990s, who were fed by grandiose phrases about their past, their American counterparts felt it was their turn to take part in the satisfying injustices of the affluent world. Both fell, naturally and expectedly, into the trap of their precarity and impatience. In the same way Albanians fell for the massive pyramid scheme in the 1990s, 20 years later, the American white underclass had fallen victim to the rage pyramid scheme of Right Wing populism following the same logic of the old-fashioned misconceptions and empty promises of capitalist alchemy.

Pyramid schemes have a strange effect on our minds: When easy money is readily available, we don’t ask for rationale, we take it; everyone sees themselves as perpetrators and not the victims.

Bundling rage deposits of the American excluded underclass into old and new (stillborn) right-wing narratives did it’s magic by saturating the public discourse with low-brow paranoia of deep state, assault on the 2nd amendment, right to life, and the fear of government control, while delivering the inflated thymotic premium in the form of worthless pseudo-nationalist pride as a surrogate for the old-fashioned white (male) supremacy. Although this was not a new development, it’s tempo, set by the last four years, was.

By normalizing corruption, Trump, with a lifetime of experience in fraud and embezzlement, demonstrated how to cash in more efficiently on the rage investments of impatient, gullible, and vulnerable constituents, by pretending to rais the stakes and by deepening the commitment of the Republican base, he drained the last atom of their rage, and after harvesting and monetizing it, declared bankruptcy. In that respect, he achieved in four years more than the GOP did in the prior 40 years.

And things went predictably wrong for all depositors, as they did for Albanian “investors” 25 years ago. Rage deposits were used to deliver lower taxes for the rich, while defaulting on all other promises to bring back manufacturing, healthcare, coal industry, immigration reform, the wall, healthcare debacle… Trump emerged as Bernie Madoff of rage capitalism and the movement became the rage version of the Albanian capitalist experiment.

By now, it is clear that the scheme is over; the pyramid has collapsed. COVID was Trump’s (and the GOP’s) Stalingrad. It outlined the contours of the bursting of the rage asset bubble and the crumbling of the Right Wing pyramid scheme. The result has been a replay of the Balkan opera buffa, which, if it hadn’t had tragic consequences, involving real people and human misery, would have been extraordinarily funny: Caged children irreversibly separated from their parents, massive economic devastation together with the rise of precarity, and the criminally incompetent mishandling of the pandemic with hundreds of thousands of unnecessary victims.

When reality becomes a parody of itself

Unlike Albanian “capitalists” who, after getting financially wiped out, got over it and figured out the obvious that a pyramid scheme is just a pyramid scheme, American comrades (self-proclaimed entrepreneurs, risk takers and believers in the “free-market” supremacy) seem to be immune to the same learning process. Their social metabolism works differently. The myth that there’s a first prize for everyone is still the basic axiom of American cultural ideology. The deep-rooted belief of the underprivileged that they are not victims, just temporarily embarrassed millionaires, is still the fundamental determinant of the American social identity.

After being robbed by one pyramid scheme, they rush straight into another, as if nothing happened — same type of scam, organized often by the same person who robbed them the first time (or by his cousin); it doesn’t matter, there are always rubes to be recruited. There seems to be a culturally conditioned chronic delusion about the wealth alchemy that pushes the entire nation to aspire to become instant millionaires, which prevents them from resisting a scam, even when it is transparent and clearly defined as such[6].

The last decade stands as the final stage of the transformation of the American psyche, from Protestant ethics of hard work to compulsive risk takers and lottery winners, a residual of the gold rush mentality that has mysteriously survived centuries of reality checks. This is the something for nothing mindset that has been going since the discovery of the New Continent. It received strong reinforcement and entered an accelerated phase by the Silicon Valley paradigm. The attempts to contain the psychological fallout of that episode have defined the social tensions of the new century.

Like the biological immune system of Native Americans, who early settlers decimated with diseases, which for the newcomers were not lethal, but proved so for the natives, the contemporary American social immune system remains permanently compromised.

The holy grail of this ideological affliction is the belief in the sovereignty of luck: 1) There is a first prize for everyone and 2) Who wins is right and who loses should not complain[7]. If a person commits a crime and gets away with it, instead of condemnation, society responds with: “Good for him”. This transposes ex-ante any transgression as another failed attempt to realize what is rightfully yours, and thus blurs the boundary between right and wrong. There is no room for ethical judgment – hurting people or doing social damage, is not assessed in a broader context of ethics and general system of values, but is, at most, taken as an error in calculation.

The unwavering emotional investments in the ideology of meritocracy and, at the same time, inability to understand subtle differences between capitalism and pyramid scheme prevents them from being able to resist and defend themselves against fraud. Capitalism is prepared to put up with every form of irrationality as long as conditions for its technical rationality are preserved. And because of that, American self-declared libertarians and defenders of the “free-market” capitalist value system, as much as they believe in the power of rationality, fail it repeatedly. There is a little Albanian capitalist with a learning disability under each MAGA hat, all 74 million of them.


[1] Peter Sloterdijk, Rage and Time, Columbia University Press (2010)

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] In a four-period pyramid scheme passengers can be divided in to 1st class (4) and economy class (8). The latter lose all their money (total $800), while former break even, crew divides $200 and captains takes $600. With a more realistic branching number, where each participant has to recruit ten new members, we realize that pyramid schemes can have only a handful of levels. A twelve level pyramid scheme with this branching already exceeds the entire human population.

[5] For more than half a century, Albania was completely sealed – nothing could come in and nothing could get out. They had no political allies or sympathizers. There was no cultural exchange with the rest of the world and no flow of information. That was the vision of their political leadership, imposed on the entire population with considerable force. Albania was a poor country doomed to endure its isolation alone relying solely on its meager resources. The net result was an incredible poverty, both economic and cultural.

[6] The latest example of the post-election scam is just another data point. After realization that there are more than 70 million rubes ready to participate and invest in an already bankrupt project, the number that stunned even its creators, the new scheme started while the ballots were still being counted. Trump already raised several hundred millions after his defeat in terms of donations for “legal” costs, “Patriot League” and “Elite Club” memberships from the people who just didn’t want to see the small print informing them of a true trajectory of their donations.

[7] Ibid.

Rage Kapital

12. XII 2020

Thymos is that area of the soul where feelings of pride, indignation, and shame are located. It is the middle realm between reason and desire, the unreflective striving towards what is noble — the courage to be. (Paul Lee)

How do individual grievances become streamlined into a collective expression of dissidence, political opposition, and aggregate supply of discontent? This socio-affective landscape functions very much like a traditional banking system in which rage replaces money and becomes the main political currency. In Peter Sloterdijk’s highly original approach to the role of rage and thymos in political history, the starting point is the mapping between political systems of dissidence and financial markets. He adopts the framework of Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory[1], which allows a straightforward generalization, and extension of banking to the social and political context:

Economics defines a bank as a collection point for capital. The deposits of customers, which are fruitless monetary treasures when deposited, are transformed immediately into capital. They are invested in profit-oriented forms of business, which allows clients to partake in successful investments while protecting them whenever possible against disappointments. The banking system transforms the temporal profile of money through the transition from treasury (a mode of storage as a static configuration of accumulated presence aimed at the preservation of value) to its capital form (a dynamic mode of being, subject to constant externalization, constantly occupied with using itself, but never in full possession of itself)[2].

How rage becomes transactional

Political parties and movements define a non-monetary banking system where rage banks operate as collection points of affects; they facilitate transactions with the rage of others in the same way monetary banks operate with the money of their customers. They provide liaison between rage capacities and a desire for dignity. Their contract is based on a promise to their clients to disburse a return in the form of increased self-respect and a more powerful grasp of the future, provided the clients refrain from independent utilization of their rage. By doing this, they relieve their clients of the difficulty of having to take their own initiative, while nevertheless promising thymotic gains[3].

Rage banks

In the 20th century, such rage banks/political movements were (with one notable exception) invariably on the left. In the 21st century, however, rage has moved completely to the right or, more precisely, to the far right, which has taken upon itself the main rage-banking role. This has come about as a consequence of two factors: The left’s abdication of its traditional role and its compromised position after the collapse of the Soviet experiment, and the reign and subsequent decline of neoliberalism and its current legitimation crisis. These two processes have not been completely independent — their evolution has had a strong causal interplay after the new initial conditions had been set in 1968.

Neoliberalism and the disappearance of the Left

The migration of sponsorship of rage from the Left to the Right is a consequence of the spontaneous self-destruction of the neoliberal social system. Paraphrasing Zizek’s summary of this transition, the causality chain begins with neoliberalism as an ideology which disseminates market values to every segment of life. However, once one allows the market to impose its values and criteria, society has to be managed as an auxiliary to the market. The welfare state has to be dismantled and the economy deregulated. Identified with social statism, the Left finds itself without either a program, project or perspective. It is gradually absorbed (and dominated) by the center and is tolerated only when it can persuade labor movements to accept the need for liberalizing reforms. As a consequence, the main task of the Left is to convince lower classes to articulate their fury without disturbing the status quo and voting themselves into economic ruin. Hijacked by the center, the Left becomes an Uncle Tom of the labor movement. It is only the Left in name – a name that it merely continues to discredit[4].

Rage assets and rage economics

The American white underclass never forgave the Center/Left coalition, which in combination with the general trend of emancipation, allowed/enabled black people to climb the class ladder and disrupt what they (the white underclass) perceived as the “natural” hierarchy. This sowed the racist seed for what would become the culture war, in reality a class war in a displaced mode, tipping the scales from the Left to the Right, and outlining the contours of that transition.

After decades of labor’s disappointment with the faux Left and the Center, the Tea Party emerged as a genuine right-wing rage bank in the days following the peak of the global financial crisis in 2008. Conservative opinion outlets like Fox defined the cognitive coordinates of the right-wing narrative and became the epicenter of the outrage industry with Roger Ailes as the James Pierpont Morgan of rage banking.

Bundling grievances of the white underclass into rage assets has been the core of contemporary right-wing political alchemy – an analogue to the financialization of the economy. The first draft of this project was outlined in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. After the Republican party was pronounced clinically dead in the post-Nixon years, Lee Atwater drafted the blueprint of its comeback with the right-to-life issue, which mobilized emotions that united evangelicals, rural Christians and the general white underclass under the same umbrella with financial elites and the wealthy. The continued persistence and functionality of this counterintuitive ideological stunt, this unique American experience that goes against all odds of logic and economics, has never ceased to astonish.

American white underclass has deposited its grievances into rage banks which converted them into rage assets: Right-to-life and general misogyny (both representing an actual maneuver to reduce the social influence of women), 2nd amendment hysteria, small government fetish, tax affliction and the obsession with dismantling the welfare state, Deep State paranoia, Birtherism, and the production of  a wide spectrum of deniers (from Flatearthers and  anti-maskers to vaccine-, evolution-, holocaust-, climate change, and election-deniers).

The main suppliers of rage remained the white underclass, excess population, and those, generally, left behind, while Libertarian think thanks, the NRA, evangelicals, special interest groups and right-wing liminal players acted as purveyors of discontent, rage asset managers, and strategic investors in rage markets.

Disinformation and conspiracy theory centers like Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio, Breitbart, Info Wars, OAN, NewsMax, and Qanon became the centers of treasure against which rage assets have been printed and used as capital. They became the main innovators of structured rage finance and suppliers of rage volatility, rising as the shadow rage banking system while social media became platforms for day trading in rage transactions and a way to whip up emotions and create additional rage volatility. Fox and (on the local level) Sinclair remained the main nodes of this action, acting like credit unions or the Fannie Mae of rage.

Nationalism as the white collar crime of rage banking

The depth of Sloterdijk’s insight and the power of his framework become manifest when it comes to discussions of the emergence and effects of nationalism on the eve of WWI.  During the late 19th century and until the beginning of the war, capitalism as a source of economic misery and political repression was the primary origin of the supply of discontent and raw rage. In that configuration, political alliances and parties of the left became collection points of dissidence, which organized the thymos of the disadvantaged[5]

As capitalism spread through the developed world and internationalized, the anticapitalist impulse could maintain the level of its enemy only if it reached the same supranational level as the enemy in terms of organization and operation. This insight led to the internationalist pathos, which persisted for all authentic parties of the left uninterrupted until 1914[6].

All this came to a halt in August 1914 when it became clear that the collective grievances of the international proletariat had to be unwound and the underlying rage redirected toward national interests of individual warring countries. There were no longer any parties with any other mandate except for the national one. This sentiment and attitude was the obituary for transnational solidarity[7].

This was the major rage bank crisis. The rage deposits of the masses of internationally operating banking houses were now at the disposal of national political leaderships.

The emerging nationalism effectively represented a large-scale devaluation of rage assets and an embezzlement of rage banks. By withdrawing decades worth of accumulated quantities of rage and dissidence from the frontline against the capitalist order and making it available for the war between imperial nations, the leaders of the moderate workers movement committed a white-collar crime of unparalleled extent[8].

Arousing thymos of the abject: 21st century populism

Nationalism is the worship of the smell of our collective shit (Charles Simic)

In the 20th century, WWI was the catalyst of the large-scale devaluation of rage investments of the oppressed and excluded. Similarly, modern 21st century nationalism is, more than anything, an insurrection against the consolidation and internationalization of global aggregate rage. It is an ill-conceived, discoordinated struggle for the appropriation and misuse of the global underclass’s rage.

The core of the conflict of the Right Wing populism resides in the debasement and degeneration of American conservatism. The main idea behind the alignment of the two opposite ends of the social spectrum (the privileged and the excluded) with fundamentally incompatible interests under one umbrella consists of redirecting rage into cultural instead of class struggle.

As the world (and capitalism as the center of discontent production) has been getting increasingly more global, in an effort to cash in on the accumulation of global grievances and latent dissidence, populism, with largely nationalist platforms and pseudo-protectionist agenda, has felt the need to internationalize its movement.

However, while Right Wing populism was pacifying the growing white underclass and keeping the movement of the excluded small, it, at the same time, was laying the groundwork for the formation of the conditions that would unite and reaffirm the interests of the oligarchs of the world. This was its primary task. The Right Wing was simultaneously running both a revolution and a counterrevolution.

The ridiculous idea of internationalizing nationalism, which screams of self-contradiction, was meant to result in the incorporation of a world rage bank, like the International of the labor movement some 100 years ago.  

Subordinated to national interests, and as a partial compromise to their global oligarchies as ideological sponsors, anti-global grievances have been converted into nationalist rage directed against immigrants, porous borders, and disrupted class hierarchies.

Given their inherent priorities, Right-Wing populist movements, in reality, have always harbored preparations for a betrayal of rage investments without a world war – they represent the beginning of a political pyramid scheme. The inner conflict of this dual mandate reached intolerable levels in the last decade creating a sociopolitical configuration, which demanded its resolution.

The internationalization of nationalism came out naturally as an inherently racist proposal. Considering simultaneously the heterogeneity and essential exclusivity of each individual nationalism that was awakened in developed (and some developing) economies, the only axis along which the project could take place is white racism. Ultimately, globalization has forced the resolution of the irreconcilable inner contradiction of bundling the underprivileged with the ultra-wealthy in a singular way – racism.

On a purely transactional level, the idea behind the meaningless (21st century) populist project has been the appropriation of rage capital betrayed by the left, which abandoned the real grievances of the white (male) precariat created by capitalist self-destruction and further reinforced by globalization, leading to structural job destruction due to the outsourcing and scaling down of manufacturing, the transition to more efficient energy sources, etc. This betrayed discontent was transposed into racist and misogynist rage assets leading to an establishment of new organs of collective grievance.

From the outset, the Right Wing platform of the capitalization of the rage of the oppressed, excluded, and forgotten has been loaded with self-sabotage. Bankrupt at inception, it could only be conceived as a part in a pyramid scheme of rage, not sustainable, able to last only as long as new members could be recruited.

Communism abhorred nationalism as the kryptonite of its cause, the toxic substance that paralyzed their defense abilities against capitalism. However, when the tables turned and communism imploded under its own weight and the baggage of its internal malfunctioning, the very same actors, those who remained in power and in leadership positions after the system’s rebranding from a pseudo-egalitarian dystopia to a state sponsored organized crime syndicate, became rabid nationalists. They quickly realized the mobilizing potential of identity politics and its essential role in the get-rich-quickly scheme.

This was yet another realization of the general rule: When the system exhausts itself, it turns to identity politics.

Some thirty years later, capitalism in the developed world is facing the same problems and challenges. Paraphrasing Sloterdijk’s account of the post-revolution era of Bolshevik’s reign and extrapolating it to the 21st century America, the paradox of freedom and equality for all had never been exaggerated more convincingly than during the accelerated phase of the attempted takeover by Right Wing populism: The alpha dogs of that deception achieved their plan to accumulate (almost) all of the power in their hands.

In the same way Soviet Communists had done so during the early post-revolution years a century ago, current turbo-capitalism continues to argue that in order to “save” the system of values and lifestyle of millions of Americans, one had to accept that a few thousand people would have to be sacrificed. Throughout 2020, we were continuously reminded how hundreds of thousands have been sacrificed so that a few hundreds, and ultimately a few dozen, could stay in power and enjoy or even extend their privilege.


[1] Dirk Baecker, Womit handeln Banken?: Eine Untersuchung zur Risikoverarbeitung in der Wirtschaft, Suhrkamp (1991)

[2] Peter Sloterdijk, Rage and Time, Columbia University Press (2010). Although the book was published in its original, German, edition in 2006, it was difficult to shake of the feeling that the author didn’t really know what was about to happen in the subsequent decade.

[3] ibid.

[4] Slavoj Zizek, A Permanent Economic Emergency, New Left Review, 64, July/Aug 2010

[5] P. Sloterdijk, ibid..

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.