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“Do What Thou Wilt,” or Who Imagined Ted Cruz Into Existence?
Ted Cruz. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

“Do What Thou Wilt,” or Who Imagined Ted Cruz Into Existence?

Ted Cruz. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

The closer your political platform gets to allowing everyone to do as they want and at the same time pointing out and berating what’s interfering with this, the better your chances are to get elected to national office in the United States.

“In all their rule and strictest tie of their order, there was but this one clause to be observed: Do What Thou Wilt”
François Rabelais, Gargantua, 1534

“Obamacare is like a parasite that needs a host to feed on. If you want to kill the parasite, you kill the host, and in this case that means killing this planet. As long as there’s a planet Earth, the nightmare of Obamacare could always come screaming back to life.”
Ted Cruz

In François Rabelais‘ imaginary utopia, the Abby of Thelema, “there was but this one clause to be observed: ‘Do What Thou Wilt.’ ” Church dogma didn’t rule, nor would ideological principles, nor manifestos, governing theorems and axioms, natural laws and moral imperatives. What rules here is your personal will. You do things for a lark or because you like to and want to.

I suggest that the closer your political platform gets to allowing everyone to do as they want and at the same time pointing out and berating what’s interfering with this, the better your chances are to get elected to national office in the United States.

To read more articles by Joseph Natoli and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Perhaps this American aversion to being governed is rooted in the spirit of 1776 or the Frontier spirit or the dissenting spirit of émigré separatists or the competitive spirit of a no-holds-barred economic system. Whatever, as the Millennials say. The fact is that in the American cultural imaginary, everyone is fighting for complete freedom to choose what he will. An odd assortment beyond individuals’ need to be free, like information, markets, trade, souls, rock ‘n roll, Shamu, gluten, radicals. What is significant here is that for you to do as you will, you need your freedom. The two – your will and your need for freedom – would be difficult for a realistic, workable politics to oblige because your will may be uninformed, sociopathic, illegal, biased, undemocratic and maybe unconstitutional. Your will may not be the stuff able to meet rational review.

Giving you freedom then to “Do as Thou Wilt” might be, at best, a tricky bit of business, and, at worst, certainly destructive of what Locke referred to as the social contract.

Nevertheless, any politics or politician who dangles the “Do What Thou Wilt” mantra before you is touching not your rational self but the far more potent underpinning of that rationality, namely, that imaginative space in which you do not bring the world to meaning but, rather, you imaginatively reconstruct both to suit you.

You could define civilization as the result of distinguishing the difference between your own imagining of the way things are and the way things really are, between living in a world that suits what you will it to be and a world that actually is. Phenomenological psychiatrists work hard to get patients to see this distinction, although they, like postmodernists, define “what really is” as “what is normative and obliges a prevailing sense of realism.” Societies and their governments set their tent as far from imagined spaces as possible and as close as possible to the bone of what is actually the case, meaning what clearly obliges empirical or consensual validation.

Doing this – call it “doing politics” – is quite difficult, not only because human nature makes a practice of imaginatively and affectively mediating the world but because certain cultures live more deeply in what Bertrand Russell tactlessly referred to as superstitious rot and nonsense. I mean there is no rationality requirement in the human will, in human desire, in human imagination and emotion. We go far beyond a reasonable sensing of the world around us. Only when we wish to get a consensus is this a problem, otherwise, it makes us far more interesting than Watson, the supercomputer.

If you unite a deep underlying attractiveness in the United States to the mantra “Do What Thou Wilt” with the present aftermath of Wall Street wizards doing what they willed, you wind up, as we have, with some 80 percent of the population less able to do anything than previously, especially find a job. What we experienced in The Great Recession was a traumatizing clash between a cockamamie vision willed into being by the Few and the very unaccommodating reality of the Many. The catastrophic outcome then left all with a new version of “what actually is,” although the hardships and confusions of that were, by no means, shared equally.

When visionary will collides with “what actually is,” you get a psychic gridlock because regardless of how compelling the material and objective conditions surrounding us may be, our desire to ignore all that and do what we will is equally compelling.

Gridlock in Congress originates here, in this pronounced wrestling match between fantasy and reality. And because Americans are more magnetized by a desire to “Do What Thou Wilt” than Europeans, whose longer history has taken them there and back again, and because a libertarian drive has provided a quasi-rational discourse supporting the political practicality of a politics of “Do What Thou Wilt,” Americans are deep into a resulting societal and governmental quagmire. Deep shite, as the Irish would say, being there now themselves, having gone down a road where “Thou” refers to a scant few who do fabulously well while the country sinks into … The Quagmire.

The byproducts of the American fascination with total freedom to exercise the total inclinations of personal will are many, none particularly advantageous to The Many.

Lives here in the United States may not be as brutish and short as Thomas Hobbes declared, but the poor are increasing, and incivility doesn’t seem quite “brutish,” but it infects online and offline life. Social media seem to be making us less solitary, as we do not bowl alone, as Robert Putnam said, but rather do it online and avoid other bodies and the rented shoes.

The politicians who stoke the fires of this libertarian “Do What Thou Wilt” seem extremely offensive to those who abide by the ancient societal compact and the necessities of reaching some common ground. This “common ground” is as close to the “real conditions on the ground” and as far from all varieties of solipsistic rule as possible. Most offensive are the alibi discourses that attempt to camouflage the polymorphous perversity of the Id, the inclination to suck all of society into the maw of ego, the projection of selfhood into the world outside the self.

“Who is John Galt?” Ayn Rand asks. He is the gargantuan egoist who wills the world as his to eat.

Arising from the hot molten fires of Id and Libido, Ted Cruz emerges to lead the deluded toward an impossible fulfillment of their will and personal freedom, to lead The Many away from a democratic society and its institutions, away from a workable liberal democracy and deeper into self-absorbed fantasies that have no social value or concern.

The anger against such a destructive campaign is intense because the destruction is directed at the remaining vestiges of a middle-class democracy that was the envy of the world, a middle-class democracy that owed its success to a social and economic mobility now greatly diminished. In its place stands a small bastion of those who have been privileged by a casino global capitalism to “Do What Thou Wilt” with reckless impunity.

The shift from a “By the people, for the people” mantra to “Do What Thou Wilt” involves incommensurable domains. The first is a foundational text of lasting historical significance. The second resides in the American cultural imaginary and has the potency of a dream we cannot shake. We possess them differently, in different places, and therefore they do not clash, in the same way that a train on one track does not run into a train on another. The contradiction between “for the people” and “Do What Thou Wilt” does not reach the level of awareness that the contradictions in an oxymoron would.

Once again, the tragedy of current American politics lies in this, namely, that self-gratifying instincts and the freedom to fulfill them have erupted into the light of day as reasonable discourse while reasonable discourse itself is targeted as no more than a Freudian-like, schoolmarm superego inhibiting the desire to “Do What Thou Wilt.”

Because there is such great power attached to “Do What Thou Wilt” and it all resides safely within the American mass psyche, where a deconstructive critique cannot reach it, there is little to be gained by reciting the blindness of the libertarian discourse that taps into it. This is not to say that no one attempts to grapple with this subliminal force and decathect its power. However, because we are dealing with a personal imaginary that has grown into a cultural one, the difficulties mount. History and literature are replete with examples of the greater presence of a maniacal will infecting a whole culture than that of a Prince Myshkin-like will. From the point of view of the willful, Dostoevsky named Myshkin accurately – the Idiot. Winning is achieved by willing and wanting everything; Losing is giving up your own will for something outside your own will. The Loser does not heed Max Stirner’s mantra: “Nothing is greater to me than myself.”

Why a narcissistic, solipsistic and megalomaniacal will now presents itself as a rational and popular political discourse and has done so without general alarm, considering the unnerving examples of 20th century megalomania, may be revealed by a historical review with a different focus. Such a review attends to the breaking down of modernity’s pretensions regarding truth discovery, a whole-scale deconstruction that had not occurred previously. In the collapse of those pretensions ranging from the Enlightenment to the 20th century, uncivilized instincts were released rather like the way a deadly tribalism erupted after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. The truth was struck loose from any external, universally accepted validating reference point or rule of judgment, and so it was left at the doorstep of personal will and choice. The truth is what anyone likes it to be. And what Americans like deep down in their imaginary is “Do What Thou Wilt.”

We could dissolve our psychic and legislative gridlock if we could reason against this deeply held mantra in the American collective imaginary. Unfortunately, we desire to have the world our own way, and desire invents reasons, inventing none that quench desire itself. There seems to be great sense in getting all obstacles out of the way and letting the efficiency of the market rule our democracy for the market now stands as the purveyor of both freedom and the choices to which we tie the notion of freedom. Thus, Market Rule seems to reach an existential notion of freedom, of discovery of authentic being. Great sense seems to lie in defining true freedom as the opportunity to choose to do what you want and thus fulfill a potentiality and authenticity you would never know if the weak, who are weak because they seek escape from such freedom, were allowed to regulate your own self-design.

All this is no more than a savvy manipulation of an American mass psyche desire for individual freedom and choice. Rebuttals are attacked as authoritarian, possibly socialist because the socialist state, as it appears on the stage of the American mass psyche, is all about preventing you from doing what you will.

I end with a few reasons nevertheless:

How can a libertarian utopia of “Do What Thou Wilt” begin when all beginnings are already pre-empted by what already exists? Something is already going on that, in one way or many ways, will obstruct your total freedom to do as you will.

Consider also that you were brought up within what is already going on, and therefore what you will is not freely willed but already shaped by the will of others.

You can, as a libertarian, turn your back on transnational corporations and engage in various forms of person-to-person exchange. But eventually Sam Walton starts Wal-Mart, and your economics dissolves.

If society has instituted various discourses, practices and institutions that fetter your need for full freedom as well as an efficient market’s need for full freedom, how do you de-socialize and de-bureaucratize? And if your own mind is a product of those societal implements, how do you break down those mental barriers to the full freedom you seek?

How do you pretend that globalized techno-capitalism has not already distributed wealth and power in an outrageously inequitable way and your freedom already is subject to that distribution?

The libertarian direction is to erase the “always already” of the status quo and replace it with that utopian fantasy of “Do What Thou Wilt.” To do so, it must engage in a politics of affect, of outrage, of tacit understanding, of pre-reflective emotive appeal (“I know it in my gut,” George W. affirmed) and response to make an appeal like a drum beat that rouses to action, but not thought. There is no need here to have experience in democratic politics because there is no need to deal with what is established already. A good part of Congressional gridlock derives from legislators who define legislation as obstruction to personal freedom and personal will. Knowledge of democratic legislating processes is also an obstructive hindrance.

The aversion in the American cultural imaginary to all things social and collective has a real world as well as mass psyche validity. Because the solidarity movements of the 20th century were too often versions of a tyrannical Big Brother, it is not strange that Americans would move in their mass psyche away from such collectives and toward a personal freedom, toward “Do What Thou Wilt” politics. But as the importance of historical memory loses ground in the face of a market preference for the “NOW,” fears of what governments have wrought may dissolve and the solidarity of movements like Occupy Wall Street and the voices of an increasing number of those abused by Market Rule may rekindle the fires of social interdependence in the American cultural imaginary.

And then we may imagine Ted Cruz in such a way that he will not ever come screaming back to life.