“…two principles of coherence: a proclaimed coherence, of scientific appearance, which asserts itself by proliferating outward signs of scientificity, and a hidden coherence, mythic in its principles.”
“So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. “
New Republic, ‘Dont Send Your Kids to Ivy League Schools’.
“No erotic activity can be associated with cruelty.”
Everything today is measured in instrumental terms, in the authority of technological expertise. The professional ownership class, mostly white, now operates from a subjective perspective that is essentially risk management. Your life is viewed much the way a stock portfolio is. Cost/loss evaluations are done in real time while considering each daily decision. Now this week, I continued to think about education in light of the pogrom in Gaza by Israeli fascists, the strange Russophobic propaganda surrounding the even stranger shooting down of a Malaysian Air commercial jet, and the continuing reality of mass incarceration (and for a number of people I know well, this is an acute reality).
“There are virtually no bars in the facility; the cell doors are made of perforated sheets of stainless steel with slots for food trays. Nor are there guards with keys on their belts walking the tiers. Insteand guards are locked away in glass enclosed control booths and communicate with prisoners through a speaker system.”
-John Irwin writing about Pelican Bay, super-max prison.
The society that even ten years ago would channel sadists and the maladjusted into the Army, or failing that, into penal guard or security work, now seems to have a surplus. They find work in private security, and often just work in unrelated fields.The natural born sadist is going to be happiest, though, in an authority role without restraints…i.e. the prison. Although domestic police are running a close second in terms of impunity.
“The morally reprehensible killing of children in Afghanistan, Gaza and Iraq is part of a larger problem, one that haunts the late modern period, which is the rise of neoliberal totalitarianism by which I mean an economic and cultural system that is sutured in its allegiance to money, profit, power, inequality, greed, militarism, the punishing state and self-interests. The new global capital societies such as the United States have replaced the social contract with a defense contract. Zombie politics now rules as the living dead function as parasites on their respective societies, engulfing them with the fog of war, corruption and death. How else would one explain bringing Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Bill Kristol back to life on the mainstream airwaves? Like George Romero’s zombies, Cheney and his ilk proliferate like a lethal virus out of control.”
So at the top are elite Universities, who have shaped themselves to best adhere to the values of the new totalitarian state. A level of fear runs through what is supposed to be an exercise in learning, in thinking, in moral growth. At the bottom the state has created a carceral system more extensive than any in history, quite possibly. And administering these houses for the surplus poor are the very most damaged psyches in search of a uniform and authority over someone, anyone. Fear again. The tensions, the contours of all this are drawn in fear and anxiety. But fear and anxiety breed a sado masochistic personality, a character armouring that reduces emotion as a too high risk factor, compassion as inefficient. The mythologies of the West today are almost entirely about domination. The fascist value system starts to seem a very effective way to reduce risk. The insecurity of the white fading affluent class is expressed, increasingly, in a search for ANYONE to punish, to stigmatize, to rebuke and control. Honduran children at the border, black teenagers, latino teens, the poor, the homeless, and ungrateful wives or girlfriends.
The highest level of support came from those with post graduate degrees. I’ve no idea of how tuition cost equates to support for Israeli aggression, but I’d bet it followed logically. At the educational bottom end of the population I am sure you find a high percentage of anti-semites. They probably hate Israel in the same way they think Jews are a worldwide conspiracy connected the Federal Reserve as described by the Aryan Nation or Ku Klux Klan.
What are the dots being connected between what Deresiewicz describes in the Ivy League, and the acceptance of the Gaza pogrom? Post graduate business departments have waiting lists, as do law schools, while classics departments are empty. Risk, this is a story about risk. What Randy Martin called “the financialization of daily life”; the reliance on calculations modelled on economic theory, that human relations are micro managed as one might manage transaction costs and arbitrage. The reading of geo-politics is tinged with career risk aversion, where one cannot afford to make enemies with Israel. There is also the identification with power, and with that arrogance (called confidence) that the racism expresses.
Martin sees the grammar of finance (securitization, derivatives, leverage, etc.) as metaphors for a psychological geography: risk management on Wall Street becomes the securitization of self. Ideas about ‘inflation’ are projected outward. These mental reflexes are shaped by a cognitive mapping that sees developing countries as both risks, and as potential assets to be leveraged. The de-territorialized labour force is not just the result of a logic of maximum exploitation, and of control of risk for ownership, but a psychic configuration of the world. The world, though, becomes homogenized, generalized, bundled in a sense. Military solutions are financial solutions, too. Its nothing personal, really. So support for Israel is just good economic policy, or the perception of it anyway. And in a sense, the surplus domestic population (in the U.S. in particular of course) is a source of value, as social property in a sense for the financialized Capitalist ruling class. The prison boom is doing several things at once. It is making use of the surplus population, and it is valorizing the belief system of elite superiority (the poor are just hopelessly poor, they cant help it), as well as salving the sado masochistic psychological profile of the affluent classes overall. The Palestinians are just like the losers in U.S. prisons.
It is useful in trying to neutralize the ideological backdrop to discussions, taking place in western societies, on the subject of Israel, to be reminded of basic intentions of the Zionist project from its inception. Remember, whatever progressive elements existed, they were still highly nationalist and essentially racist. Arabs did not participate. The dream of *Greater Isreal* remains a core value for the Israeli state today.
There is something else at work in the strong identification of white Westerners with the state of Israel. One thing is that Israeli society can express the racism, the hatred and bigotry toward Arabs, Africans, Muslims, without the same fear of condemnation as an American. Israelis are the ventriloquist’s dummy for white educated and affluent hatred. The white citizen of the U.S. is every bit as racist, and may even be anti semitic, but will still strongly support Israel, and sort of suspend awareness that Israel is a *Jewish* state. The Israeli arrogance, the open superiority and indifference to the opinion of others is admired, is processed as a sign of strength, or vitality and personal authority. The fact that Israel is the recipient of billions in aid is rarely mentioned. There is a cognitive cut-off about the US-Israeli relationship. I suspect in fact there is a lingering subtextual contempt for Israelis as well, even among the most ardent supporters. Admired but resented. Admired and indentified with, strongly, as a surrogate voice to express their own bigotry. But also resented because underneath all this PR a good many people know Israelis consider them scum, treif (טרײף), and it is exactly in this grotesque sado-masochistic dynamic which most Americans experience as familiar, that this relationship plays out. The Bataille quote at the top is a reminder that sado-masochistic eroticism requires a recognition of who it is creating the pain. The fascist, says Bataille, rightly, is to exclude, reject, and obliterate the other. The Nazi, wrote Jean Amery, was focused on a murderous self realization. The fascist is destroying life, not sustaining it. There is no joy in Israeli destruction, even though many of the settlers and the Army engage in highly choreographed displays of mock pleasure at the death of Arabs. But like the US citizen and his or her identification with Israel, there is the residue of hatred and resentment as well. So it is with Israelis themselves; whose swaggering belligerence disguises an emotionally reptilian core-self. And I am again reminded of Klaus Theweleit and his study of the German friekorps. There the violence was an act of protecting boundaries of self from contamination by women. Here the violence is directed at contamination by people who they see as vermin. As once the Nazi’s saw Jews as vermin. Untermensch.
Reich saw Capitalism itself as both cause and effect of emotional un-health. But what seems to occur in societies as they trend toward the more authoritarian is a dynamic of paternalistic power and sexually charged grovelling before that punishing father. But this dynamic is short circuited when it reaches its apex; for the fascist is the killer of libidinal release. Self realization through murder. For the U.S. this is the logical end point for the Gunfighter Nation (Slotkin) and for regeneration through violence. Except the instrumental class thinking stops even that dynamic so that what one is left with is a series of substitute gratifications based on the bureaucracies of power and state violence. An execution this week in Arizona, by lethal injection, lasted for an agonizing hour and a half. The bureaucracy of instrumental rational murder. The very thing that executions once counted on, in Girardian terms; the sacrificial victim, even that is erased by a hyper rational junk science of barbarity. A small room of witnesses sat impassive watching 90 minutes of agony, much as they watch their favorite cop show on TV, and impassive as those crew cut snake eyed soldiers in air conditioned cubicles in Nevada who move their joy sticks around and direct Hellfire missiles to obliterate distant faceless *enemies*.
“Repression is a historical phenomenon. The effective subjugation of the instincts to repressive controls is imposed not by nature but by man. The primal father, as the archetype of domination, initiates the chain reaction of enslavement, rebellion, and reinforced domination which marks the history of civilization. But ever since the first, prehistoric restoration of domination following the first rebellion, repression from without has been supported by repression from within: the unfree individual introjects his masters and their commands into his own mental apparatus.”
One feels that with the death of Pinter, there are only a scattered few cultural voices (Peter Handke is one) that have a direct public voice of resistance. The phenomenon Marcuse describes, the historical fact of repression, and the cycle of rebellion and re-domination is expressed, often, in illusive ways. Barbara Ess makes photographs with a pin hole camera. They are strange unsettling images, monochromatic and unclear. They demand a search at the most essential level. The subversion of technological expertise is part of the experience, but it is also the sense that something uncontrollable has taken over and will not yield to analysis. They remind me a bit of Trevor Paglin, in the sense that what is being photographed is impossible to photograph, and also averse to the gaze of the spectator. Something else, something foreign, alien, and perhaps hostile to the lens is in the act of being found out. That is maybe the single most indelible quality, that whatever one makes of each image, a secret has been revealed.
Tel Aviv University is offering a year’s free tuition to students who have taken part in the recent assault on Gaza. I began this post with the topic of higher education. In the U.S. in particular, of course. There are countless articles and journalism on the crimes of Israel, on this horrific vicious attack on Gaza, and on the decades long illegal settlements and the violations of international law. But what I want to understand, maybe because, finally, what I most write about is art, is how the culture of Western societies has come to this end game of nihilistic violence.
The role of education in the West today is certainly germane. Historic amnesia is a crucial issue, but perhaps specifically it is the forgetting of the history of colonialism. Of white Euro and North American Imperialism. It simply does not register in those Ivy League schools, as a general statement. Colonialism is not a good topic for the career minded. The culture industry spews out an endless idiotic infantile stream of product; corporate manufactured and featuring one or another of the well paid court eunuchs. Risk averse, instrumentally logical, and focused on securitization of self. That murderous self realization that Amery described, banal and emotionally cut off, was also what Reich described, and Adorno and Horkheimer. The clerks for Empire. What has changed, on one level, is a aggrandized image for those clerks. Advertising makes insurance salesmen heroic, makes obedience and conformity heroic. Duty means doing what you are told. Professionalism often means nothing more than doing what you are told. The reality is drastically different of course. And this cognitive dissonance is causing psychological eruptions of instability. ‘Going postal’ is now a part of the lexicon. Its been internalized as the cost of doing business. You might lose your shit. Kill someone. But hey, its a tough world out there.
The narrowing of vision, the closing off of listening, the infantilizing of emotion. These are the characteristics of the citizen of the U.S. The image I continue to return to, though, is this bureaucrat, the guys with spread sheets, figuring out annual savings for cutting bathroom tissue size. The non creative anal retentive closet sadists of Empire. Those who ordered the veterinary cocktail used in those cheap plastic tubes with the Wal mart plungers at the Arizona death house the other night. Science is under late capitalism is under attack. Genuine serious science exists, but it is often so dependent economically on a variety of nefarious funding sources, that this compromise effects the results.
The propaganda machine that is the U.S. government has created certain mythologies; foremost among them is Israel. But there are many other examples, the Contra *freedom fighters* (any socialist or even socialist leaning government is called Stalinist and totalitarian), and crazy insane cultish leaders of black Africa, the backwardness of Muslims, the *strongman, caudillo* South American leaders, etc. It is important at this point to understand the Zionist project, and how it fits into this propaganda. Zionism, the *eratz Israel* project was from the start a militarized state. The surrounding Arab states were angry, and Israel created an image as the plucky underdog, while at the same time creating a mini Sparta with military training and values at its center. The goal of expansion was always there. The early settlements were described as defensive outposts. But the goal of taking over the land of Samaria and Judea (Biblical lands belonging to Jews, according to Zionists anyway) was the actual understood goal. Throughout the 70s and 80s the settlements grew, on Palestinian land, at a rate of about 9%. As far back as 1968, the radical ultra nationalism found expression outside Israel as well, when Meir Kahane founded the Jewish Defense League in NYC, later accused of various acts of domestic terror. Kahane immigrated to Israel and became a leading voice for expelling Arabs from the Biblical land of the Jews. Again, this was government policy, a planned dispossession of Arabs and a confiscating and occupation of their land. The 19th century Zionist project was based (as were many others in Europe) as a deeply nationalistic and ethnically pure, linguistically uniform, and religiously hegemonic ideology. It was never really democratic and while that was the way it was marketed (much like the plucky underdog image) the fact is that there were no Arabs involved in shaping policy, no Arabs on kibutzes, and no Arabs in any influential economic position. One of the more fascinating paradoxes (if thats what it is) is that early Zionists feared assimilation far more than hostile Arab neighbours. In this sense, the principle of Zionism was defensive, hostile to socialist ideology because the appeal of socialism to educated and middle class Jews was siphoning off potential members from its pool of adherents.
After the Rabin assassination in 1995, the Israeli government took a terminal turn to the right. The Likud and the settler movement were now fashioning a policy that escalated the expansion, and the ethnic cleansing of Gaza and eventually some sort of total enfeebling of the West Bank. There is no way out for states based on exclusion, and on religious orthodoxy and racial purity. None. It eventually reaches critical mass.
Ilan Pappe, a dissident Israeli now in England said in an interview: “Hamas was not created by Israel, but it was empowered and enhanced by Israel as a counter force to the Fatah in the 1970s. Israel has provided it space and allowed it to generate resources with the hope that it will bring down the power of the secular national movement that began to intensify in the occupied territories…The ceasefire was an Israeli-Egyptian dictate to Hamas to accept the status quo, which it, and the people of Gaza, found unbearable. It included also a suggestion of expanding the warden community of the mega prison of Gaza and including in it the PA [Palestinian Authority] police.”
During the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the U.S. fashioned *agreements* that Milosevic couldn’t accept, that nobody could accept (and Jamie Rubin, Clinton’s main flunkie at the time, even stated this as the intention). The same sort of political theatre has taken place in Israel for decades, as the main trope in *peace negotiations*. Meanwhile as the various acts of this political performance unfold, the settlements grow, the suffocation of Palestinian life intensifies, and every now and then a military incursion is implemented and another few thousand of the unwanted population are murdered.
The artwork that finds an approach, a navigational posture that avoids the decades of associations that are forever being narrowed is the work that in its negation provides some respite from the endless battering of the new hyper alienated. It’s not easy to think past the absolute barbarism of this week, however. Still, comprehension requires it.
“The ghetto, in short, operates as an ethnoracial prison; it encages a dishonored category and severely curtails the life chances ot its members…recall that the ghettos of early modern Europe were typically delimited by high walls with one or more gates which were locked at night and within which the Jews had to return before sunset after having dispatched their economic functions, on pain of severe punishment.”
-Loic Wacquant (quoting in part Louis Wirth’s The Ghetto, 1928).
Adorno wrote…“The understanding of a fleeting musical passage often depends on the intellective comprehension of its function in a whole that is not present…”
All aesthetic experience is reciprocal. In the same way the erotic libidinal release of tension in sado-masochism relies on the reciprocal relation of both participants. Those Nazi clerks, whose self realization was predicated upon the introjected domination and aggression of their masters, but which was stopped, the circuit breaker flipped, in their own emotional and psychic cul de sac are mirroring the advanced reification of the culture industry today in which the repetitive sameness of product curtails aesthetic experience, relegates this abridged experience to either shallow intellectual reflection, time coded, or simply an appreciation of style, but in either case it is a one way ticket. If Adorno (and Benjamin) were correct, that the shudder was the first aesthetic experience, and goose bumps the first aesthetic image (per Adorno) then subjectivity marked an evolution from naked anxiety, and to the start of an organizing relation to the other. Assimilation, inclusion, not domination. This assimilation is linked to the erotic in its reciprocal quality, and to philosophy. It is something Wittgenstein was drawn to, through the complexity of grammar and language. Even minor art can be convincing. And it is that quality that separates this convincing aspect that allows for radicalization in the experience. Great art simply convinces more powerfully. Today, in the U.S. there are over 2 million men and women locked up, thousands in solitary for long periods (http://solitarywatch.com/). In Gaza there is, as Pappe put it, “a mega prison” which is the site of industrial level slaughter this week. Hospitals, schools, apartments with entire families wiped out. Learning aesthetic comportment, as Adorno put it, allows for the comprehension that transcends what it wants to grasp. This is the lesson not yet learnt by many cultural critics on the left and right. Aesthetic resistance is only one form of resistance, but today in a society so saturated with media, image, and very well honed narratives, it might be more important than conventional thinking would allow. The very things that convince, that transcend categories, are the things that provide a space for deeper compassion. The radical perspective is connected to primal mimesis, and if culture is ever to provide awakening (which may or may not lead anywhere, that cannot be known) it has to submit to an aesthetic comportment, and that is the primary lesson that should be taught at those elite Universities. For without that, we as a culture will simply slide on the blood of the innocent, ever deeper, across the killing floor of Capital. For the ruling class owns and builds the machines of death. They make a profit off the blood spilled on streets across the world. The bland clerks, the talking head peddlers of disinformation, the colorless bureaucrats that turn off water to the poor in Detroit, Gaza, Haiti; these are the non-reciprocal. The reptile-self realizes through murder.