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.

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