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 contradiction 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)

3 thoughts on “Bare life

  1. Pingback: Link 6/1/2021 | naked capitalism

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