Tag Archives: #populism

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.

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.

The Wound That Never Heals: Lacan Meets Trump

22. XI 2020

There is an essential difference between natural laws and those governing social contexts like history or politics. The former have to be respected while the latter can be temporarily suspended and sometimes completely ignored. Denying gravity cannot be a long-lasting practice and could have dire consequences, but disobeying historical laws can often be done with impunity. During the epochs of paradigmatic social transitions there have been a number of instances when underlying political regimes would continue to function on borrowed time, even though everybody was aware that their time was over. Napoleon had to be defeated twice to get the point, the first time in 1813, in the battle of Leipzig, and the second time at Waterloo[1]. It is only through his repeated defeat that it became clear that his passing expressed a deeper historical necessity and not just an accident of history. In a similar way, although communism was effectively over even before the downfall of the Berlin wall, it continued to live on and is still alive and well, albeit in different forms, across parts of Eastern Europe and Asia. It will take another round of defeats before its self-destructiveness causes its final disappearance.

The last four years have felt like an attempt to subvert this hierarchy, through systematic efforts to downgrade the natural laws: Ignore mathematics, physics, biology, epidemiology, and common sense in general, and replace them with speech acts and palpable falsehoods. And although we knew all too well that this ridiculous effort could not last forever and would inevitably self-destruct, we were continuously surprised by how far it went on. Our perception of this project had been repeatedly revised as the boundaries of its validity continued to stretch, until they were finally torn apart. And, while this was not surprising, it is astonishing that the whole insane thing managed to survive for four years. How was this allowed to happen and how did we get to where we are now in 2020?

Comedy like sodomy is an unnatural act: Between partial objects and human omelets

There is an archetypal scene from a Looney Tunes cartoon that plays upon the contingency of the existing rules and which relies for its comical effect precisely on the confusion of the two levels of interpretation of the laws of physics. In each episode, the cunning, insidious and constantly hungry Coyote repeatedly attempts to catch and subsequently eat the Road Runner, a fast-running ground bird, but is never successful. In his pursuit he always goes one step too far – just when he thinks he has caught up with the bird, Wiley Coyote finds himself floating in the air above the precipice, and he falls only after he looks down and becomes aware that he has no support beneath his feet, as if he has momentarily forgotten the laws of gravity its body must obey, and has to be reminded of them.

This is humor at its purest. The laws of physics have been downgraded to the level of historical laws and temporarily suspended: Gravity is initially ignored and its inevitability faced only when the subject is forced to acknowledge it. If there is an ideological interpretation to be extracted from this cartoon, it is that self-deception is reinforcing. The magic stops when we stop believing. Looking down is a mistake.

This is the maneuver that permeates almost every cartoon: What would the world look like if nature were governed by the same types of laws as history and politics? This question has acquired a different perspective and significance in the last four years. By now we know the actual answer: If the laws of nature are downgraded and become optional, the world turns into a cartoonish nightmare. The core of Trumpism is a stupid man’s version of postmodernism: Science, facts, and truth is just another story we are telling ourselves about ourselves, a narrative whose apparent supremacy over other alternatives (like myths or arts or, as in Trump’s case, outright confabulations) is, according to Foucault, only grounded in the historically contingent Western “regime of truth”. Trump’s disrespect for facts and science is precisely what gives him and his presidency a cartoonish character.

However, this superficial comedic dimension is only setting the terrain to zoom in on the bigger theme of the Road Runner (and Trump’s presidency): Why does the Coyote keep chasing the Road Runner, repeatedly, episode after episode? This is the point where cartoon merges with real life.

The most surprising aspect of Trump and his presidency is really how predictably unpredictable he had become after a very short time. Without a single exception, he was always on the wrong side of every argument; every opportunity he had, he would invariably use to say things that made the least sense. There was no accountability, no corrective mechanism of learning, like if I make a mistake once, I will try to not repeat again, I will do things differently in order to change the outcome etc. However, Trump’s compulsion to repeat the same thing over and over again, his ability to survive — his obscene political immortality despite repeated and persistent efforts at self-sabotage — is the signature of the death drive. As if failure was a drug he was addicted to, and the more he failed, the harder he tried. His every effort at self-destruction was “rewarded” with a failure, and the lower he sank, the more self-destructive he became.

Over the course of the last four years, Trump has abandoned the body of conventional politics and has become like a weird organ, which is magically autonomized, surviving without a body. He has morphed into, what in Lacanian lingo is called, a Partial object as indivisible, indestructible, and immortal – more precisely, undead: Not the sublime spiritual immortality, but the obscene immortality of the “living dead” which, after every annihilation, re-composes itself and clumsily goes on. He does not exist, he insists. He is an entity of pure semblance, and a multiplicity of appearances, which seem to envelop a central void.[2]

You only die twice: The wound that does not heal

Trump’s presidency inscribes itself into politics in the guise of a wound that deprives the political body of the capacity to die: Only when this wound is healed, the body can die in peace. And for America, this wound carries the same traumatic overtones as it does for Wagner’s character Amfortas in his last opera Parsifal: The ultimate horror is the horrible and obscene eternal life of the undead. The wound is the object that penetrates the wounded person as a parasite. [3]

And four years later, when things have turned out as predicted, Trump has run over the precipice and is refusing to look down, because he knows it’s over. The sociopolitical balance sheet, which has grown in the last four years, in sync with other balance sheets of this era, consists now of 70 million of Trump’s orphan rubes (equal to the entire population of Germany) who will soon feel again unwanted, undesired, cheated, unable to integrate, and angry. What is now recognized as Trump’s America, is the undead partial object, the indestructible remainder, cut off from the living social body, caught and fossilized inside the gap of irreconcilable cultural differences. It represents the site where the Lacanian traumatic Real resides: The Thing we have been refusing to acknowledge about ourselves, the terrible truth we have to learn how to live with.

Over the past decades, the core of American politics was the idea that social division was an effective way to govern, that only a divided nation could continue to legitimize the current system, which thrives in the interregnum of perpetual metastability. The last four years represent an accelerated terminal phase of that project taken to the next level.

As the 45th President is on his way out, the political wound created by his presidency will possibly begin to heal allowing the entire political body associated with his following to dissolve. If it happens, it will be the happy ending of a tragedy, as George Will put it, the format America loves the most. It will replace what until very recently looked like a dark comedy without an end.


[1] Slavoj Zizek, How to read Lacan, W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (2007)

[2] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, Routledge (2004)

[3] Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology, Duke University Press, 1993.  p.176-82

Turmoil and Tinfoil

17. XI 2020

Woke up this morning, decided to kill my ego, it ain’t ever done me no good, no how. (Sturgill Simpson, opening verse of Just Let Go)

Triple negatives exist only in country music and in statistics. While their deployment in everyday language is considered excessive and, outside of the bible belt, rejected as stylistically undesirable, musical lyrics sometime require them for rhythm or rhyme. In statistics, on the other hand, triple negatives play a specific role and are encountered regularly. They are there to prevent us from overstating a statistically significant result as certainty.

Statistical inference is based on drawing probabilistic conclusions based on the analysis of a finite sample of data. The sample that we work with is our universe, but although it can be representative, it never contains all information. Because of that, there is always residual skepticism that we didn’t see it all and have not taken everything into account. As a consequence, based on statistical analysis, it is unacceptable to say that something is true, but instead we have to settle for a slightly weaker statement that something is not false. In statistics, one cannot simply accept, but can only fail to reject. And that can be done only with a certain confidence level without which the statistical results are incomplete.

When testing a hypothesis in a statistical context, statements like “This will happen with certainty” have no place; the strongest statement one can make is “This will happen almost surely”. For example, if all air in a room is evacuated and we release a small amount in one corner, after some time the air molecules will be evenly distributed throughout the entire room. Their distribution will stay uniform almost surely. This does not mean that the air molecules cannot find themselves all in one corner again – there is nothing in physical laws that prohibits that — it is just that probability of that happening is extraordinarily small.

Results of current Presidential elections, as they are an outcome of statistical measurements and inferences, thus, need to be expressed accurately. First the outcome needs to be framed properly. Although the bottom line is that after Jan-20-2021, there will be a new president in the White House, if one is to be precise, Democrats didn’t win – Trump failed in not losing.

And to be perfectly clear, despite all his maneuvers and PR stunts, Trump doesn’t really believe that he won – he just fails to reject that he didn’t lose. Of course, the subtlety of this difference completely eludes him. In his overdramatized “revolt”, which is really a money raising scam, he is being less delusional and more ignorant and confused.

While the claim of victory represents a statement of certainty and, as such, can be easily invalidated, the failure to reject is incomplete without giving the confidence interval about that statement and, in its incompleteness, it is deprived of its probabilistic context.  The official results of the Elections reject the fact that Trump did not lose with probability greater than 99.999%; Trump’s failure to accept the results is the complement of that – it has a probability, which is less than 1/1000th percent.

The consequence of the underlying incompleteness is that in the eyes of Trump’s innumerate followers, it opens an ill-conceived possibility of hope. The reality of the failure to reject is a very low confidence statement, one that has an infinitesimal probability of realization, at best less than a fraction of a 1/1000th of a percent[1].

While this is a probability that has no value for any practical purposes, when put in the context of the general Republican narrative of the last four years, the core of which had been based largely on conspiracy theories, with roughly the same order of magnitude probability of realization, it could have equal merit as everything else they have stood for. After all, more than 40% of Trump supporters are evangelical Christians who believe in the magic of thoughts and prayers and reality of miracles, which have even a lower probability of realization than Trump’s chance of successfully contesting the Election’s outcome.


[1] On Friday, 6-Nov, one day before the Elections would be called by the media, it was down to three states that remained to be counted: AZ, PA, and GA. Trump had to win all three in order to win. The probabilities of Trump’s victory in each state, which were at the time still called by different outlets were as follows: PA 8%, AZ 23%, and GA 12.4%. The probability of winning all three states (= product of the three probabilities) is 0.2%. Since then, with more votes counted, increased margins, dismissed disputes and further verification, the probabilities for Trump’s victory in each of the three states have declined precipitously and the joint probability of winning all three, which he would still need if his “arguments” are to hold, has dropped by several orders of magnitude.

Declownification of sovereignty

1.XI 2020

When the number of those who have failed the rationality test is so large that they begin to present a significant political body whose voice can be heard in the ballot box, rationality will already exhaust itself. At that point, the excluded will seek to abandon reason and, with the help of nostalgia and identity politics, elect a new Prince. And this Prince will be unlike any other before him. He will govern with unwisdom and will have the courage to wear his unreason unabashedly as an ultimate virtue. He will create a new order of things, define new reality, and construct the world of unreason with rules that only he and his constituents understand.

In this kingdom of unreason, power will derive from a way of using language rather than from a system of ideas. But this, like any other detachment from reality, cannot be anything but short-lived. The Prince will sit in his big car, get on a highway and drive against the traffic. His car will have only one pedal: Gas. Like his constituents, he believes that everyone else is driving in the wrong direction. Many drivers will move to the shoulder to avoid the collision, but, as he continues to accelerate, there’ll be a slow-moving trailer truck that won’t be able to maneuver fast enough.

Dialogue

30. IX 2020

The pinnacle of human evolution, the ultimate manifestation of civility, is the human ability to engage in a dialogue, to listen to & respond to the others. The structuralist deconstruction of mental illness consists of unwind of the evolutionary process. Mental illness is evolution in reverse. During it’s course, unwinding starts from the top by shutting down the ability to engage in a dialogue — the cacophony caused by the “voices” takes over; one is in constant dissensus with oneself, which incapacitates their ability to listen and respond. The regressive unwind proceeds step by step by shutting down other social & biological skills. Different mental illnesses differ by the terminal points at which the unwind stops.

Social changes that stem from cultural division follow closely the pattern of a mental illness. They start with political cacophony & degradation of the public discourse: There’s no more dialogue, just simultaneous monologues. The underlying social erosion is reflected in the level of destruction of democratic institutions & devastation of traditional forms of civility. Potential for barbarism is growing & bestialization of man is on the increase. The madness is set free. The society operates with a sanity deficit. Everybody is crazy & everybody has a gun.

The Uprising Decomplexified & the Madness of William Barr

30. VIII 2020

Do not ask him to be content, ask him only to be calm, to believe that he has found his place. But only the madman is really calm. (Antonin Artaud).

Bill Barr- St George2

St. George Killing the Dragon

On a superficial level the Jul-28 Congressional testimony of Bill Barr was all it hadn’t promised to be. There were no scandalous new discoveries, no big confessions, no legal ambushes or breakthroughs, just routine obfuscations, deflections, pivots, denials and falsehoods – it was really a revelation about the new mode of functioning and condition of the American justice system and bewilderment with what had happened to it. However, when placed in a proper context, this event is an important chapter of a fascinating story and a peak into the darkest side of American politics, the sinister regressive forces of its Dark Star. But, more than anything, the event is a testimony of a mad man who has come out in full light of his lunacy and delusions. To set the terrain, consider this exchange between Swalwell and Barr during the Jul-28 hearing.

Swalwell: At your confirmation hearing you were asked:Do you believe a president would lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?” And you responded with: “No that would be a crime”.

Barr: Yes, I said that.

Swalwell: … And you promised to the American people that if you saw that, you would do something about it. Is that right?

Barr: Yes, that’s right.

Swalwell: Now, Mr. Barr, are you investigating Donald Trump for commuting the prison sentence of his long-term friend and political advisor?

Barr: No.

Swalwell: Why not?

Barr: Why should I?

Here it is, right there, the logic of a madman, absence of metaphoric thinking, use of language solely in its literal meaning without its symbolic layers, the whole thinking process; the madness that distorts the space of logic and reason in full display: Parallel lines intersect multiple times, angles in a triangle do not add up to 180 degrees, circles never close, but become infinite spirals…

During the four hours of the hearing, despite being frequently interrupted, cut off or cornered into a blind alley of inconsistencies and outright lies, Barr kept his composure and remained strangely calm, never raising his voice or visibly contesting the interrogators’ aggressive questioning. For him, this looked like just another day in the office. This, one could argue, is probably the most disturbing aspect of the entire event. No one is as calm as the mad man. Throughout the hearings, his face and body language exuded peace and calm that can be found only in a truly mad man who is at peace with his visions — a man for whom any reality outside of his madness either does not exist or does not matter.

The display of the insane, warped logic is not a new element in Barr’s life. It has been with him for a long time as an essential part of his entire life. His 2019 commencement speech at Notre Dame[1] provides the necessary connective tissue between the recent Congressional testimony and his entire career. It has been transcribed into an 8-page document. It is a treasure trove of information both historical and legal, and is well worth a read. However, more than anything, the composite picture is a monument to Barr’s conflicting personality and career.

The first, coherent, part of the speech is an expose of American history with deconstruction of the constitution and the axioms used as its base. To be fair, this part is actually well presented and informative. Outside of a plain summary of facts, it has pockets of lucidity which, although initially there, begin to drift away as the speech progresses. The second, less coherent part is the “synthesis of a mad man”. There, the Constitution, and the ideas behind it, are placed in a contemporary context. Barr’s arguments during this part of the speech reveal a disturbed and delusional mind, at best, or a corrupt (and potentially criminally insane) fanatic, at worst. However, regardless of the intent, the speech retroactively sheds some light on Barr’s recent testimony and defines the context, which, despite twisted topology of his mental landscape does close the circle, and enables one to understand not only his Congressional testimony, but the entirety of his actions in the current and previous administrations as well.

America’s failed experiment

Law is a linguistic construction that changes as the common sense changes.

The central theme of Barr’s speech was the Framers’ belief that religion is indispensable to sustaining our system of free government. After all, he is talking to the graduates of Notre Dame. However, that aspect alone doesn’t explain what he is about to unload, not even approximately. So, let’s go back in time to November of last year, to the beginning of Barr’s speech[2]:

It has been over 230 years since that small group of colonial lawyers crafted a magnificent charter of freedom – the United States Constitution – which provides for limited government, while leaving “the People” broadly at liberty to pursue our lives both as individuals and through free associations.

According to Barr’s self-congratulatory appraisal, this quantum leap in liberty has been the mainspring of unprecedented human progress, not only for Americans, but for people around the world. This is the legacy of the 20th century when the ideas of the founding fathers paid off in spades.

But, Barr continues, in the 21st century, and in the long run, the question is whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.

Unsurprisingly, in his view, this dilemma is real and acute due to the increasing rate of secularization and general departure from core Christian values, which Barr sees as sine qua non of the American society and social organization.

By and large, Barr continues, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition. These practical statesmen understood that individuals, while having the potential for great good, also had the capacity for great evil.

The dilemma of the founding fathers is the realization that no society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity. Ironically, this is exactly the opposite of how America has behaved since the end of WWII (or even longer) – all tenets of social cohesion have been thoroughly dismantled in a programmatic and astonishingly systematic way. Abandoning the mechanisms of individual restraint, any moral boundaries, and submitting them to the most vulgar-materialistic ideal of unconditional profit of the most powerful is the core of the American ideology and its modern culture. It is here where Barr begins to drift and lose touch with reality. With every attempt to make contact with contemporary America, the sparse islands of lucidity begin to drift apart and seeds of madness inhabit the space between them. But he was not yet done with the past:

If you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, Barr goes on, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny. So, unless there is some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.

This is exactly where we are now (especially in the last four years) for precisely those reasons. This realization somehow is completely missed or ignored by Barr. And, as if that was not happening here and now or in the country where he sits at the helm of the Justice Department, but in anther galaxy, Barr goes on by quoting Edmund Burke: “Men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put chains upon their appetites….”

Sensing that this perhaps might be to close to home and too much hypocrisy even for devout Catholics, he quickly teleports himself back to the safety of the 18th century and concludes with:

The Founders decided to take a gamble. They called it a great experiment. They would leave “the People” broad liberty, limit the coercive power of the government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the American people. This is really what was meant by “self-government.” It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.

All this is pretty good and non-controversial when one talks about 18th century America, but is irrelevant and grossly inadequate for its 21st century.

Barr finally comes out and drives it home with the punch line: In Framers’ view, free government is only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

In the grand conclusion, Barr engages in a little flattery to the audience, makes them feel a little special, in order to neutralize the aftertaste of all the BS with some more 18th century wisdom from John Adams (just in case some of them took a nap and missed his key point) which, despite being more than two centuries old, Barr sees as a foundation of the contemporary state and legal system: Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

And for those who have missed the main point of his expose so far and where he is going with it, he flexes the argument further with yet another phrasing from Adams.

The American tenet was not that: Free government is inevitable, only that it is possible, and that its possibility can be realized only when the people as a whole are inwardly governed by the recognized imperatives of the universal moral order.

The Founding generation was Christians. In their 18th century, they believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man, which is not that odd for that time. However, for Barr, as if nothing had happened since then – in his head, it is still 1787. He believes in the same thing as his ancestors did 250 years ago. Literally! It goes without saying that “man” for him means a white male Catholic bigot of that epoch.

This is the same warped logic as the one revealed in Barr’s exchange with Eric Swallwel displayed in full swing. By now, the islands of lucidity have moved so far apart, that they can no longer be seen in the sea of madness. And this is when the really insane second part of his commencement speech goes in overdrive. In that part, roughly half of the text, Barr argues that all the misfortunes and social decay are a result of the secularization of society. Violence, poverty, moral degradation, drug use, all this Barr sees not as a consequence of poverty, exclusion, disenfranchisement and neoliberal policies, but the lack of moral backbone. In his view, it is a correlate of the fact that the people of this country stopped praying and no longer believe in Immaculate Conception or creationism, but in facts and science (this is probably where his affinity for Trump comes from).

Ironically, the reality of these developments is exactly the opposite of Barr’s account. Family decay, homelessness, divorce rate are not consequences of secularism, but exactly of removing any ethic barriers to turbo capitalism. These stylized facts and the statistics that support them are singular for America, its politics and its functioning.

At the same time as he was talking about moral personal conduct and its importance of social stability and the functioning of the Constitution, Barr was acting as the consigliere of the most unethical and criminally incompetent president in the entire American history, whose behavior and conduct he has been supporting and defending unconditionally, the president who exercises no restraint and emphatically denies accountability and responsibility for anything and everything that a president by definition is responsible for – the most radical departure from the self-governing individual stipulated by the founding fathers.

This comes hardly as a surprise to anyone who knows Barr’s history. In his book, The Imperial Presidency, which appeared in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Arthur Schlesinger enumerated the (bad) habits of potential autocrats: The all purpose invocation of national security, the insistence on executive secrecy, the withholding of information from Congress, the refusal to spend funds appropriated by Congress, the attempted intimidation of the press, the use of the White House as a base for espionage and sabotage directed against political opposition. While Schlesinger’s points were, in the context of that time, highlighted as pathologies, they in fact became defining axioms of both the current administration as well as Barr’s vision of how unlimited executive power should be implemented in the 21st century.

Matthew Miller, a former director of the justice department’s public affairs, said: Bill Barr has gone off the deep end like the entire Republican Party. Also he’s had his brain pickled by years of Fox News. He has all Trump’s bad intentions but with little of Trump’s incompetence.

The uprising decomplexified

All of man’s problems derive from the fact that we do not know what we are, and cannot agree on what to become. (E. O. Wilson)

The central theme in William Barr’s story, however, is not the reality of today’s America, but the historical moment of Barr’s introspection of his new awakening and how he envisions his place and role in the grand scheme of things. He sees himself as a medieval knight straddling the millennium with America at the crossroads of history, not so much as a US Attorney General or Trump’s enabler, but a Christian martyr, a timeless defender of the Christian value system, something like a modern-day Joan of Arc. He believes in the grand victory of his cause, if not physical, then at least “moral” (whichever way that concept is distorted in his head). In his mind, Barr is a tenure-track saint who will inevitably be canonized by the Church and his name permanently engraved in the Pantheon of Christianity.

In Barr’s view, the American Experiment has been failing. And, it is not the capitalist inner contradictions, wealth disparity, widespread poverty and disenfranchisement of an ever-growing segment of the population, but moral erosion inflicted by spreading of secularization as the main source of all contemporary evils.

When stripped of all the veneer of old-time verbiage and symbolism, here is where the core of the problem resides according to Barr’s vision of America. White American males have always been in charge. They made the rules and they called the shots in the workplace, in the home and at the ballot box. They’ve owned the world for so long and have been getting increasingly uncomfortable as their grip on power had been eroding. Now the unthinkable is happening: They are faced with becoming the minority. For the first time more minority babies were born than white babies; a black president had served two terms, his Secretary of State was a woman; the most educated segment of society are black women, and every other daytime talk show or news anchor is gay.

And all these folks now believe they are entitled to and moreover, demand, the same rights and opportunities as the white men. Suddenly this country is way off the main path; the whole system needs to be restored and some reset buttons need to be pushed. Restoring order means the resolute masculinization of society starting by arming men with weapons – the more lethal, the more masculine they are – establishing male supremacy values (this has worked since the Stone Age, and it should continue to work in the 21st century as well), and establishing a fear of god — this helps the male cause because god is a dude (white, of course). This is where he meets Trump and his base – where the parallel trajectories of the insanities of conservative privilege and white underclass intersect.

Pushing those reset buttons is the task Barr sees himself entrusted to accomplish. Sure, he will have to break some eggs along the way, make some concessions, commit series of illegal acts, perjuries, possibly get disbarred, impeached and almost certainly ostracized by the entire legal community, and permanently stain his entire career. But what is all that in comparison with enormity of the task he has endowed himself with? After all, his father, Donald Barr, small-time self-styled autocrat as the headmaster of Dalton School some forty years ago, who among other things, gave Jeffrey Epstein his first job, disgraced himself, in an almost identical way as his son is doing it now, by committing a series of petty, unethical, and professionally unacceptable acts in the name of a higher order only he envisioned at the time. William Barr today is just paying homage to his father, closing the gap between the two of them, by repeating, in a higher-stakes version of that game, the same mistakes in order to justify them.

Here is the major cognitive parallax and dichotomy of Barr’s worldview in the context of American political history. If we follow his line of thought, which is basically the same dogmatic and unconditional interpretation of the Constitution as is the fundamentalist Christian reading of the bible, we see the madness of his universe where circles never close and parallel lines inevitably intersect. First, in the 18th century, you draft the Constitution whereby oppression is internalized by giving people constrained freedom so you can reduce the power of the state. The constraint (religion, moral tropes,…) becomes the regulator and an instrument of self-governing. Then, in the 20th century, you design ideology, which obliterates all of these constraints, so you have a government of the people that are not held accountable to anything else but their personal interests. And things go predictably wrong. And when the toxicity of that maneuver, together with resulting social configuration, is in an advanced stage and, after decades of ideological program of systematic symbolic annihilation, you drag the idea of religion through the mud making mockery of its basic premises with TV evangelism, you decide to go back to the 18th century in order to restore its already outdated and bankrupt role. What can be a more ridiculous and ill-conceived project than this? Only a true lunatic could think that this could be a meaningful proposition.

Barr is not a principled constitutionalist, or a principled Catholic or, for that matter, anything else that adheres to principles. With his blatant hypocrisy and ethical bankruptcy, he never let consistency and principles stay in the way of conservative ideas of segmented social organization and elevation of their privilege. Use of warped logic at any time to betray the oath of office if the opportunity arises or whenever reality doesn’t fit his reduced vision of the world has been the signature of his modus operandi. This position of extreme “flexibility” has earned him millions in terms of consulting fees, position on the board of directors for Opus Dei operated Catholic Information Center in DC, and other lucrative corporate and political engagements. His support for unchecked executive power, which has been wavering depending on the party that controlled the White House, reflects something far more troubling: An opportunistic and unprincipled bigotry full of personal and ethical conflicts.

The apprentice of sainthood meets The Apprentice

Much like Catholic Church, Trump in its long career as a “businessman” (with seven bankruptcies under his belt) and later as politician has never been on the right side of any argument. The two are the leading competitors when it comes to the worst historical record in that respect. Church has been around longer and their negative track record is overwhelming, but they have had also some, albeit not many, good moments unlike Trump who has had none. This parallel had to be one of the strongest points of subliminal attraction for Barr as a Catholic. Trump, in this context, is seen by Barr as a pilot who will take him and us to that promised land of coherence, the place that does not exist outside of Barr’s head.

Barr volunteered for the AG job after recognizing in Trump a potential catalyst that would open the gate to his sainthood, something that was not there during his first mandate with Bush, the father. His current project of reinstalling the regressive medieval dystopia is such that no one in their right mind would ever, even half-jokingly, consider it. Barr recognized in Trump an epic fool (he got that part right), compromised so thoroughly that he would agree to any game, including Barr’s insane dream, in exchange for shallow flattery and his consigliere services — legal (or pseudo-legal) protection that would cover his misdeeds and keep him out of jail or international tribunal courts. Barr seized on that opportunity as his last chance to accomplish his otherworldly mission of putting this country back on its “right” course, according to the designs of 18th century minds, and earn himself sainthood.

When he talks about victory, the one where winners get to write the history, the history that will ex-post exonerate his actions, he is not thinking about Trump’s reelection, but of a moral victory of which he is certain of. And that certainty is what justifies all present action and instills his current calm.

The Lafayette Park photo-op, and the surge of violence that preceded it, was purely Barr’s creation and choreography; the whole thing has his fingerprints all over the place. In 1992, when rioting erupted following the acquittal of four policemen who were videotaped beating Rodney King, it was Barr, then the AG for Bush, the father, who deployed two thousand federal agents on military planes to stop the unrest. The “walk in the park” charade was a rehearsal for – a proxy reenactment of — the triumphant march of the righteous Christian martyr coming to the wreckage of a church, picking up the holy book from the rubble and raising it in a menacing way. Trump was only a puppet, Barr was the puppet master, observing from the outside, but feeling from the inside. As Trump raised the bible, Barr was already savoring the image of himself on large oil canvases hanging in the atriums of future government buildings on a white horse with a spear as St. George killing the Dragon.

What a tacky symbolism of a juvenile mind, and a sick wet dream of a disturbed and repressed former altar boy! Is this the best the American white privilege and elite education system could produce?

The figure of William Barr is a monument to the cultural debasement of America that will remain as a permanent stain in its history. Other societies have outgrown their medieval constraints and baggage. Why is America stubbornly clinging to outdated dogmas and bigotry that have been colliding daily with its contemporary realities? After all, as Slavoj ZIzek pointed out, Europe’s most precious legacy is atheism. This is what makes modern Europe unique. It is the first and only civilization in which atheism is a fully legitimate option, not an obstacle to any public post. This is the most emphatically a European legacy worth fighting for. For America, however, that option has expired, which could very well be the last developed country to modernize itself. At this historical point, America remains trapped in the vortex of its own unresolved past which continues to suffocate it, without offering any venue of escape.

The story of William Barr is a reminder of the irreconcilable contradiction between what America has always been and what it wants to be. This is a uniquely American problem that shows time and again how complicated and toxic the baggage of its own unresolved past has been and how difficult and painful it will be to deal with it in any constructive way.

Postscript: The younger brother

But we shouldn’t leave important things out. Bill’s younger brother, Stephen Barr, who looks and speaks like him, is a scientist. He has had a career in theoretical elementary particle physics with a long list of respectable papers in refereed journals that meet the highest standards of quality and rigor of research that would bring you a tenured academic position. And although his research has not produced earth-shattering results, and University of Delaware is not a Princeton or an MIT, by the standards of accuracy and intellectual integrity of the environment where his older brother operates, Stephen Barr has always been light years ahead.

Stephen’s focus has been in the field of grand unified theories and cosmology, which tackles the foundations of the structure of our universe. However, recently he has taken the emeritus status and has been devoting his time to lecturing about the interplay between science and religion, the old theme about the long-standing conflict between the two.

In his post-physics role, he has emerged as a propagandist and apologist for Catholicism, his arguments relying on dubious interpretations and obscure “documents”. He has interpreted this well-understood and non-controversial topic not so much as historical tension between religion and science per se, but as a historical misunderstanding and, in his opinion, deliberate and malicious, misinterpretation by militant secularists and atheists.

Interestingly, and not coincidentally, Stephen is also on a mission — his deliberate falsification of history and reality runs in parallel with his older brother’s political actions.

According to Stephen’s narrative, science and the Catholic Church had never had material disagreements and were always on the same side. Rather, he sees what has been a well-documented and well-established record of destructive antagonism, and the war in which the Church had been dealt an unrecoverable defeat, as a kind of second-hand-smoking effect driven by predominantly radical Protestantism and scientific materialism, two rabid fringes of both sides, a distinction that probably alludes to the materialistic approach to physics as an aberrant approach to reality (with clear allusion to Marxism, intended to give it an ideological dimension and make it even more abhorrent to typical American conservatives). Stephen’s post-academic coming out demonstrates the same obsessive logic of messianic delusion his older brother reveals in his exchange with Swalwell.

The important distinction between the two Barr brothers, or their two professional careers, is that, unlike Bill, Stephen comes from the academic world where money is never an objective – there is simply no money to be made in theoretical physics and so it never becomes a metric of status and success. People strive for prestige, respect and influence using the currency of their intellectual integrity, rigor and consistency of thinking. Nothing else. In Bill’s universe, on the other hand, one balances between integrity and profit – higher payoffs justify ex-post intellectual and/or ethical compromises and provide the metric for making these concessions. Bill’s opportunistic maneuvering has earned him tens of millions of dollars as well as the nickname “cover-up general Barr”. With that metric in the background, Stephen’s activity presents a far more radical transgression and intellectual perjury than any violation of rules and legal precedent his older brother has committed or is about to commit.

However, when all is said and done and when politics are pushed aside, the whole saga of the Barr family, their male part, underscores one more time the importance of family as an irreducible social unit whose event horizon is so strong that it is capable of crushing any other force of nurture, no matter how superficially dominant they might appear. No matter where you go, which schools you attend, what your political affiliations are or what social status you acquire, the stuff you absorb in your formative age remains always with you. The family remains the most nurturing and the most violent, and potentially toxic, social unit. No one can fuck you up as thoroughly and as deeply as your own parents (what better example of this than the current First Family). The success of the fundamental objective of social emancipation of an individual is conditioned on one’s capacity to resist the crushing force of family influences — an ability to liberate oneself from its pastoral confines — and to carry those influences not as shackles, but merely as initial conditions and stand on his/her own as an autonomous social and political subject.

 

[1] https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-william-p-barr-delivers-remarks-law-school-and-de-nicola-center-ethics

[2] All italicized segments are quotes from the commencement speech

Kenosha

28. VIII 2020

In the next few years, social disorder in developed countries could take new dimension as demographic imbalances continue to weaken state structures further. This could be expressed through two different modes. 1) The discontent of ethnically excluded (e.g. Western Europe’s post-colonial minority populations) spreads to absorb and articulate the sentiments of other exclusions. 2) The discontent of the permanently excluded, like African Americans, provokes a reaction of the redundant natives, the white underclass, and triggers their uprising and backlash. Civil warfare, initially misdiagnosed as increase in crime, would escalate.

The scramble for protection (which has already begun) assumes new forms, as the states cannot provide it due to lack of funding and legitimation. The state’s monopoly on violence is breached and reorganized through the expansion of private protection armies, right-wing militias, and different privatized police structures. This process had already been accomplished in the post-socialist countries about 25 years ago and is likely to serve as a blueprint for a similar transformation in the western world.

Western democratic states where these transformations take place will gradually converge towards failed states. Contours of this program are already inscribed in the appointments for high public offices by the current administration. Combined with the other side-effects of globalization and the underlying social fragmentation, these developments will lead to further criminalization of societies and polarization of distribution with escalation of corruption and dismantling of the institutions of the democratic state as a natural consequence, implying further instabilities. Organized crime will blossom and reinforce its legitimacy, while developed countries will converge closer towards criminal oligarchies or other authoritarian structures.

As an economic system, capitalism (at this point) is showing an advanced decline in capacity to underwrite a stable society. What follows after such a disintegration of a system is a prolonged period of social entropy and disorder. For a significant length of time, a society would slip into less than a society – a society-lite — until it may or may not recover and again become a society in the full meaning of the term.

Out of all possible paths, this is the most radical outcome, one that is without a historical precedent and one we seem to be least prepared for. It corresponds to what Wolfgang Streeck calls the Interregnum: Disintegration of society as such, a perpetual anotherhood – pregnancy without childbirth — a trajectory where current times of trouble continue indefinitely.

The Most Fundamental Force

9. VIII 2020

Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork? (Jerzy Lec)

In a competitive environment, violence against the other is the most effective survival strategy. Murder as a (predominantly male) strategy of attaining the status position of dominant power has been adaptive. It is installed in the human brain because it worked. Violent humans are descendants of those who succeeded in evolution. They are wired in the same way as their ancestors as the dominant factors of success propagated.

From the perspective of evolution, it appears as if the secret fate of every individual is to destroy the other, not necessarily through deliberate intent to do harm, but because of the fact of their own existence, driven by some cosmic necessity for the general demise of life. This destructive impulse extends across all living organisms and binds them together. Baudrillard saw this as a true ontological principle: Existence as such is already violence.

Bacteria, viruses, parasites of all kinds, and bacilli in general, invade a living organism and exploit its hospitality until they kill it and in this way destroy the source that feeds them. With the death of their host, bacilli die as well. Their destructive drive is not intentional — they just don’t “know” better. The destruction process takes place because their existence and survival degenerates into blind excessive growth. Bacilli are blind to the higher entity to which they owe their life and nourishment. Despite superior survival abilities, adaptability, and mutation, the immanence of the fatal end simply transcends their capability to incorporate that crucial aspect of their existence into their behavior. From the first moment of its creation, every invasive microbe is on a suicide mission and the entire purpose of its existence is to execute that task. This is the ultimate irony of existence in general.

The striking parallelism between behavior of humans and microbes led to Arthur Schnitzler’s brilliant meditation[1] in which he imagined the human race as an illness of some higher organism, completely inconceivable to us, within which humanity was to be found a purpose, necessity and meaning of its existence but which it also sought to destroy, and indeed would ultimately have to destroy, the more highly developed it became, in the same way bacilli strive to annihilate the ailing human organism. Even if this were right, this configuration would be ungraspable to us. It resides in the hyperplane that is out of our cognitive reach.

Stripped of higher purposes and social context, and reduced to bare survival, violent self-destructive drive is the essence of human existence: Violence is the most fundamental force. Because of this, human life and interactions need to be heavily regulated on every level. The true (unconditional) human nature should never be allowed to take its course, not even approximately or temporarily. It should be intercepted and redirected at all costs! The 20th century alone offers plenty of examples of what happens when human nature is let loose: Two world wars, Hiroshima, countless regional conflicts, Gulags, cultural revolutions, extermination camps, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and more than 120 million killed.

Topology of violence

The irony is that violence is unavoidable: Violence must be fought with violence. Subjective violence, inherent in human nature, should be controlled by the systematic violence of the collective. This is the regulatory and regulating force of the state. When human nature becomes unconstrained, we have death, wars, and extermination; there is blood everywhere. However, when we attempt to regulate our nature, when the state takes over, violence does not disappear, it merely changes the mode of its manifestation.

Human history is chronicle of the technology of violence. According to B. C. Han, social transformation across modernity represents its most dramatic structural transformation[2]. In premodernity, violence was ubiquitous and, above all, both mundane and visible. The staging of violence was an integral, even central component of societal communication. Rulers exhibited their power through deadly violence, through blood. The theatre of brutality that was staged in public spaces also demonstrated the ruler’s power and magnificence[3].

Emancipation and enlightenment announced a major departure in the use of violence. Modernity marks the onset of its internalization. Violence continues to be wielded but not publicly staged. The theater of bloody violence, which characterized the societies of sovereignty, yields to bloodless gas chambers withdrawn from public view. Rather than staging the magnificence of power, violence in modernity conceals itself in shame[4].

Without expressly drawing attention to itself, violence has withdrawn from the city center to its outskirts. Public executions were replaced with silent annihilations or by the hidden apparatus of institutional repression.

Han sees this as the essential and most sinister aspect of modernity: Violence in modernity takes place as a mute annihilation. It shifts from visible to invisible, from direct to discreet, from the physical to the psychic, from the frontal to the viral. Its mode of operation is no longer confrontation but contamination, not open assault, but concealed infection[5].

21st Century: The return of the magnificence of power

By elevating competition and individualism to the level of ultimate universal criterion, politics, in its regressive (neoliberal) spiral of the last 50 years, ultimately became the tool of the systematic removal of inhibitory mechanisms, which allowed us to come out as we are. As a consequence, the modalities of resulting social structures developed a deep resonance with our real nature. Leading inevitably to the rise of systematic violence. This has become the core problem of capitalism, the main reason why it has emerged as an anti-social project and why ultimately it either has to self-destruct or society as such has to disintegrate.

By now, we are about to close the circle of violence. Our initial conditions were clear: We are violent creatures whose civilization starts only when an exogenous entity (sovereign or state) begins to regulate our natural impulses. However, emancipation and enlightenment, for all the intended good doings, ultimately resulted in the grand sabotage of the entire civilization project by allowing individuality and freedom to create the seeds of ideology that gradually aligned itself with true human nature and ultimately created the path for the return of violence in its primordial form.

Designing a system of social organization, which is in harmony with human nature, is not something we should aspire to. It is generally a bad idea. A very bad one, in fact. Without a considerable amount of inhibition, human nature is socially toxic. In order to become social, we have to abandon our true nature. The entire process of growing up, of becoming socially integrated – what is referred to as civility – is all about inhibiting our true impulses (e.g. toilette training, selfishness, lack of empathy, aggression, ability to engage in a dialogue,…). These inhibitory skills define us as social beings. We are born without those skills and we spend a considerable portion of our lives learning how to acquire and use them. Without them there is no society.

So, we are the real problem. Violence is inscribed in our genetic code and, sooner or later, becomes the essential component of social organization. The question is then, how close or how far are we from the grand convergence with our real selves when all barriers are removed and ideology becomes a true representation of human nature.

This dilemma has finally caught up with us in the 21st century and we are beginning to get the first installments of the full answer. There is a clear trend of resurgence of violence in postmodernity. In this process, 2020 has played a singular role, not so much because it represents an eruption of violence per se, but because it is bringing it back to civic centers and confirming the sad, but unavoidable, truth that, no matter what we do and how much progress we make as a civilization, we can never fully emancipate ourselves from violence.

Rather than concealing itself in shame, violence is staging a return of magnificence of power through the regressive unwind of modernity. The new wave of fascination with power, with the emerging breed of populist autocrats seeing themselves as sovereigns of pre-modern times, are creating conditions for the recreation of the magnificence of sovereign power through a medieval fantasy of “law & order” by reviving the spectacle of violence and feeding the lower echelons of society, the modern day plebs, the regressive nostalgia by choreographing another reality show as a reenactment of the bloody violence of yesteryear in the contemporary centers of civility.

[1] Arthur Schnitzler, Aphorismen und Betrachtungen, S. Fischer Verlag (1967)

[2] B. C. Han, Topologie der Gewalt, Matthes & Seitz Berlin; Auflage: 1. (2011)

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.