The prosecution took a liking to its own roman. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamasov
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. – Abraham Lincoln, 1861
If we expand the scenario of personal memory to an entire society, we wind up with social memories that adhere to the plotting of the fictions we create to tie all those memories together. There are also memories in a social unconscious (described in “Dark Affinities: Liberal & Neoliberal”) comprised of what our plot cannot recognize or make sense of. In order for the prosecution to make its case, Dostoyevsky reminds us, a fiction, a roman, must be created that weaves all facts and memories into its plot. The plot can stretch from not-quite-real to lunatic, although figuring out whose narrative plot, whose memories are true and whose are not is a good description of politics. It is because we have now in the United States very fixed, ossified “true” memories, as well as equally deep and dark repositories of repressed memories, that nothing in the future will change. Both liberals and neoliberals already have a memory of what has not yet happened – the 2014 Congressional Elections – because for each, the future can happen in no other way than what they know or fear is “true.”
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When that “truth” is proven false, it has no impact because of the “true belief” that “truth will prevail in the end,” meaning of course “our truth.” Accordingly, after the elections, there will be no memory that occludes or denies our own roman of historical memory. Opposition to the way we remember is never remembered. The way all past memories continue to be “true” for us is by not admitting what unravels that entire narrative. The defense of our “true” memories on the personal level in order to preserve our personal order of things is paralleled by a political party’s preservation of its own roman of historical memory and the “truth” that such memories sustain. No “truth” story believes it is repressing anything or in any way obstructing the revelation of the “truth” of others. We are all always so “open-minded,” we repress and obstruct nothing. Yet another “true belief.”
“True” ideas and beliefs have been rewriting memories so that they are also “true” in a supportive way since Herodotus and Thucydides first left a record. Nevertheless, it is not such ideas or beliefs that weave the fabric of our affective responses. Such ideas and beliefs lack the élan vital, the visceral vividness of tableau vivant, of a cinematic memory narrative. The script is plotted in a Boolean-like way: presence and absence. Powerful presence on the screen of human memory is magnetically drawn to ideas that fit what we are seeing here. We repress what confounds or opposes our memories. We could conceivably work on such repressions in the social unconscious and the forceful aspects of our historical memory narratives if we were not all equally impeded in this by an encompassing super-narrative that profits by repressing in our social unconscious what diminishes those profits. This means that the narratives of historical memory that both liberals and neoliberals construct, and the “truths” revealed therein, are equally influenced by the narrative of historical memory Market Rule constructs. And while neoliberals high step and salute that narrative, liberals engage in a kind of schizophrenic allegiance whereby they do some sniping around the edges while at the same time leaning toward and into what makes a mockery of their dissent. In short, Market Rule pushes liberals toward the neoliberal script and the neoliberal historical memory.
There is a domain of social unconscious that we all share, the primordial memory, the place where what is old and immemorial, autochthonous, as hoary as the human cultural memory reside. And it is here that both liberals and neoliberals are joined by the fiat of human nature and not Market Rule.
“Greed is good,” the fictitious Gordon Gekko proclaims. “We’re doing God’s work,” the real-life Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs proclaims. There is only one “survivor, the fabulous Fab,” Farbrice Tourre tells the world “standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all the implications of those monstrosities!!!” So-called “Whales” making $100 million a year dwarf the lives of wage earners, but remain impressive Winners in the minds of those same people nevertheless. No event signifying astounding fame, the megalomania of wealth and power, and no amount of self-inflation or self-indulgence either indicts the neoliberal narrative or occasions uplift in the liberal one.
The “monsters of egotism” on Wall Street that the Great Recession revealed are not impressionable memories because any challenger would have to vanquish memories knotted into the American Dream in which one day “I too will have it all.” When you live within a memory of what has never happened, reason informs you that you are living within an illusion. But memories, dreamlike, fictive or implanted, do not make a case in a court of reason. A powerful roman of memories, as Freud made us aware, can stick and may not be easy to dislodge or replace. Memories are the wellsprings of our cultural memes, deeper into the allusiveness of symbol than the discursiveness of ideas.
When all are joined within the social unconscious in an attachment to “having it all,” the memories that hold are all about possession and not sharing, about being a “fabulous survivor,” a “whale” in a sea of shrimp, and not “one among equals.” In the depths here, the seven deadly sins are triumphant, and though Dante put them in the Inferno, neoliberal politics works them to canvass votes the way marketers work them to maximize profits. Liberals cannot effectively counter-market because they cannot counter the market rule that works the “worst angels of our nature” to maximize profits. Liberals repress the linkage to an economic system that replaces societal mutual “bonds of affection” with an unbounded/unbonded self-aggrandizement that expands every personal appetite, regardless of the consequences to others and to society. “Civilization,” Ayn Rand declares, “is the progress toward a society of privacy. . . Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”
The symbiotic relationship between liberal and neoliberal lies in the beneficial effect a liberal call to regulate for the good of the commonwealth has on a neoliberal call to eat up the whole world for profit. A defending alibi and apologetics is a kind of attendant rearguard to the capitalist advance, liberals providing a discourse that salves the social conscience without seriously delaying the march to greater and greater rapaciousness. The liberal benefit lies in its closer affiliation with the dominating power of market rule, an approach underwritten by what Bill Clinton called “The Third Way,” a platform of symbiotic relationship with neoliberals.
In a world of “all against all,” we desperately need a defensive narrative, a conscience healing politics. Liberals attempt to pitch their tent on higher ground than do neoliberals, in the less libertine part of the psyche, one in which defenses are erected against what neoliberal “true” memories welcome. Here we find a disciplinary order of things, a policing of basic instinct. The restraining, disciplining instinct is not an instinct at all, but an acquired aspect of the civilization process. It should lead to sustainable or steady-state economic growth rather than growth beyond the resources of the planet, but it does not. Perhaps the memories of early Puritan restrictions or patriarchal family life run head on into a personal will to power which brooks no restraints on “the individual freedom to choose,” such freedom to eat the world whole somehow confused with an existential sense of freedom. The lip service liberals pay to putting a leash on “More is Always Better” never rises to the level of confrontation with this creed because they are themselves enamored of it.
What is repressed in the social unconscious has tremendous power as a result of such repression and increases in power in a sort of psychic hydraulics in which the more confined and capped a force is, the greater the force. The more liberals need to see themselves as mutually aiding and not dominating, the more the forces of domination will be repressed and not brought into debate as a pivotal, destructive drive in our economic system that must be addressed and amended. In a society linked on an unconscious level to the individual dominating all, this failure on the liberals’ part to tackle the connection to capitalism here is tragic for all concerned.
Cyberspace, for all its many wonders, nurtures the illusions of personal design and domination within a virtual space that is now doing more to create our memories than real space, the “Great Outdoors” of the world. Cyberspace, in both what it shows and how it shows it, has created a virtual universe uniquely suited to the creation of “true” memories. “All and More, Faster than Before, Larger than Ever” are basic instinctual desires played out now in a cyberspace world in which greater memory capacity, greater speed of delivery, and more choices are desires shared by right and left. The economic system of continued expanded growth made possible by cybertech expansion means greater profits, an ever-increasing Dow Jones. Both left and right are exhilarated by a spectacular jump in the market, as if personal lives of not the Few but the Many were rewarded by this. Both left and right look upon the promising enlargement of cybertech in the same way as the promising enlargement of stock market returns. And because of this complicity, liberals have not front-loaded environmental and sustainable economy issues, leaving the door opened for neoliberals to implant “tree hugger” and yet more Big Brother memories in the American imaginary.
Liberal ideas now depend upon a narrative of memories that have less impact in our new millennium than at any time before Reagan. While Obama’s “Yes We Can!” campaign of 2008 fixed a memorable event comparable to memories from FDR’s New Deal to JFK’s New Frontier and LBJ’s Great Society and MLK’s civil rights marches – which are counter-remembered by neoliberals – no upsurge in liberal ideas have come thus far from the Obama presidency, perhaps because a “No, He Can’t!” has overwritten that earlier memory. Obama has been unable to tap into the wellsprings of an American social unconscious and tie us all into a roman of mutually shared memories, in the same fashion as we each individually plot a fiction in to picture the course of our lives in a way we can live with. In the absence of this, liberals flail defensively, in search even for a name that captures their ideas and the “true” memories of what a liberal is.
However impressive the potency of neoliberal “true” memories, neoliberal ideas have an extremely limited scope in an ailing democracy, precisely because they are ideas that will create and preserve a plutocracy and not a democracy. These are ideas that appeal to about 20 percent of the population and thus, one would assume, ideas that cannot win any election in which the 80 percent show up. Directing those who have neither the capability nor the education to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” in a complex globalized techno-capitalist society to just “start a business,” or directing those who cannot find work, to “just find work” smacks of Scrooge’s response “Are there no prisons?” Neoliberal ideas cannot do the job that politically must be done, and that is to convince those not served by plutocratic ideas that those ideas do in fact serve them.
Fabricating a “true” weave of historical memories that seems to serve the Many although it does not, has been, since Reagan, a neoliberal accomplishment. What neoliberals have sought is a roman of memory, not a deep historical memory because such may bring up what neoliberalism itself needs to repress. The way neoliberals fulfill this need is by raiding what liberals repress and allowing the power of that to do its work. It is ingenious and absolutely algorithmic and axiomatic in terms of the one idea of market rule. Neoliberals draw upon what liberals want to position themselves above, but cannot because this is a place human nature cannot easily position itself above. Lincoln tied “the better angels of our nature” to a “swelling of the mystic chords of memory,” knowing that those chords had been severed in the Civil War and could only be rejoined if we moved away from our worst instincts. Unfortunately, the axiomatic path to convincing a majority to take on the interests of a minority is an appeal not to “the better angels of our nature” but to the bottom, where bigotry, racism, greed, selfishness and their ilk dwell.
So we see that Reagan implanted a “true” memory of “The Welfare Queen” and turned any compassionate memories of the poor and a useful “safety net” into “tough love,” a chapter in the roman of “creative destruction.” Memories of “The Working Class Hero” devolved into a demonization of the working class as “Losers,” an unfortunate element of society whom neoliberals abuse and liberals have been afraid to appeal to lest the market rule credentials they ape be damaged. A country whose historical memory includes slaves demeaned as property and not humans remains vulnerable, like a malaria sufferer, to that virus of Master/Slave, now dressed as Winner/Loser. The replay of planes flying into the World Trade Towers is a memory that keeps terrorist fears alive. But it is the fear and hatred of the Alien Other that is tapped here. The Tea Party’s photoshopping themselves into the American Revolution gave them Constitutional credentials. The pitch they touch, however, is nothing more than the same jingoism and intolerance from white elitism that plagues US society, here, with the Tea Party brought into the political arena as a platform. The film Waiting for Superman, in 2010, forged a memory of public education and malevolent unions, appealing yet again to the Ubermensch of individual sovereignty that demeans all that is public and collective. And, most recently, the fertile “true” memory of “Obamacare” and a socialist America, imbibes both racism as well as the whole repertoire of antisocialism that unregulated Wild West globalized capitalism fears. This “Obamacare” memory makes the 2014 Congressional Elections memorable before they happen.
The neoliberal will seize upon domination – and, instead of extracting it from its cultural memory roman – will put it forward boldly and without apology as if domination was a civilized impulse and not what it is: a dark force from the Abyss. If the total American social unconscious was not more bound to domination than interdependence, more tied to winning all than sharing all, the neoliberal invitation to recognize dominance would have no takers. Thus, a “true” memory of American dominance and superiority rivals a “true” memory of American Judaic-Christianized sharing, temperance, generosity and altruism. I say “rivals” and not “overwhelms” because a now long overdue recognizable plutocratic politics has made it difficult for the dominated to align themselves with the dominators. The real material conditions “on the ground” of too many Americans are making it increasingly difficult for this majority to continue to identify with an economic system and a politics that is hurting them. This is an ongoing, “real time” slowly emerging recognition, one that may lead liberals to recognize the repressed role of domination in their “true” memories.
You can note this change in the OWS protest, in a YouTube video of Elizabeth Warren – “Elizabeth Warren embarrasses hapless bank regulators at first hearing”- in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vow to fight against the domination of wealth in NYC, and in the impact in the US of Pope Francis’ words: “[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion . . . has never been confirmed by the facts. . . .” Such events may refresh the memory narrative of liberals by identifying and challenging the dominating dark images of oligarchs, Robber Barons and Wall St. potentates. Whether such memories accrue and lead to a renaissance in liberal ideas is something of which we now can have no memory. We cannot because we are occupied and deluged with indelible memories of “Obamacare,” memories also constructed before that drama ever took the stage. That legislation, “a major advance in the history of social justice to provide access to health care for thirty-one million people,” writes David Remnick, in “Going the Distance,” in The New Yorker, has become, through neoliberal reach, yet another memory of Big Government domination.
The phenomenal growth of egoism, narcissism and solipsism and the attendant collapse of what is public, as in “the public good,” social, as in “society that does exist,” pace Thatcher, collective (as in “the common good”) is yet another visitation from the lower depths of the social unconscious, from what civilization intends to move away from. Here also liberals join with neoliberals in celebrating what is private and personal, thus making possible the current idea that personal determinations regarding politics are all that matter and can go on heedless of the local, state and national staging. The extreme degree to which the view of a self-empowerment achieved solely by personal choice has caught hold can only be accounted for by recognizing that here once again liberals join with neoliberals, regardless of what posturing they do on behalf of collective, not personal, politics.
Alongside domination and narcissism, we see a growing incivility in American society, a paranoiac fear of the strange and foreign, now linked with the memory of 9/11, and a war not on poverty but a war on the impoverished, a war it seems clear the impoverished have lost without a fight, and all that remains is waiting for the “creatively destroyed” to disappear. It is not surprising then that a liberal attitude toward immigrants, which should rest on positive memories of the immigrant impact upon this country, is not able to counter the growing hostility toward foreigners as well as toward the racial and ethnic poor. Once again, that paranoiac fear of the Terrorist Other is shared by both liberals and neoliberals. And the harsh incivility shown to the poor is not restricted to wealthy and successful neoliberals and liberals alone, but rather is displayed by all those who since 9/11 have retrogressed to the primitive’s fear of the outsider, of the stranger, of an alien difference. Gated communities and gentrification not only represent the fear and loathing here, but also sustain it.
Hypocrisy develops on the part of liberals because they engage in a pretense of there being nothing in politics to deter us from humane, rational and compassionate goals but the irrationalities of an opposing party. Obama’s pragmatism is constrained within this humane, rational and compassionate universe and continues to be frustrated by an opposing irrationality. That irrationality, however, is itself pragmatic in its acknowledgement of the driving forces of our less than better angels. There is rationality to this acknowledgement, one that serves the focused goal of market rule. Liberal pretensions of being on higher ground, though only words assert this, are contrasted with the magnetic appeal of our darker instincts that neoliberalism invokes and evokes in every electoral season. Memories in which greed, power, ambitions, personal will and antagonism are fulfilled attract in subliminal ways. Calls, on the other hand, to mutual aid and interdependence, a social morality, and an egalitarian democracy or a sustainable economy are not so magnetically attracting, if at all. They cannot be so because we have no memories of such: They never existed or they were obliterated by less regulatory and prohibitive memories. Thatcher was right in a way: Society does not exist in the darker reaches of the social unconscious.
What sort of opposition results when liberals accept their own dark affiliations within the lower depths of human nature? What results then is rather like an analysand confronting what he could not face and thereby freeing himself from the power of the repressed. On the political stage, it means that neoliberals could no longer attract the 80 percent with the fires of liberal repressions. Recognition on the part of liberals of what I have elsewhere called “dark affinities” would lead to the sort of outcome you would reasonably expect with an 80 percent vs. 20 percent political divide. I am not suggesting that liberals make use of their dark affiliations in the same way that neoliberals do. Confrontation does not mean exploiting the worst in human nature to defend a plutocracy creating economics. It does not mean that because we all share these dark affinities we must enlist them to promote the narrow goals of market rule. What liberals have done is back away from attacking the fundamental principles of market rule because they themselves are too deeply tied to those principles as well as to the allure of those dark instincts to which neoliberals openly appeal.
Market rule’s axiomatic and not conspiratorial exploitation of whatever serves its profit-maximizing goal – and this includes politics that appeal to all that we as humans are trying to rise above – is never shown to be what it is. And all the glorious memories we have of American progress, inventiveness and innovation, development of resources, entrepreneurial victories, technological wonders, deepening prosperity, expanded power, our enviable human rights record, instantaneous communication, the freedom and information of cyberspace and so on are not engaged to show what they repress, but are allowed to comprise our “true” historical memory.
Liberals are belated in countering the “truth” of this “true” historical memory with memories that disclose market rule’s role in exploiting the worst in human nature to achieve the goals of a Monopoly game. Liberals are belated in confronting their complicity in such goals as well as recognizing that a drastic class divide has co-opted their politics. Failure here means that Winners and Losers on both sides, liberal and neoliberal, share the same “true” memories. And at this moment, they are all sharing as more “true” than any other memories, the memories of neoliberalism.
We can re-see our historical memory in terms of a clash between liberal and neoliberal memory. Reagan’s re-scripting of that memory to convert a middle class democracy into oligarchy was staged by both Carter’s weak display of liberal ideas and Reagan’s dramatic portrayal and well-etched memory of liberalism’s irrelevance in a “new morning in America.” Memories of Nixon staged “at one great furnace flamed” like Milton’s Satan, a figure from The Abyss. LBJ had no memory of Eisenhower’s warning regarding the encroaching power of market rule. Memories of Vietnam were never tied to that rule, which LBJ never challenged, but to the weaknesses of welfare liberal politics. The 50th anniversary of JFK’s death has not brought salvaging memories of liberalism, but memories that gather around JFK as a tragic figure, young lord of a forgotten Camelot.
Perhaps most indelibly the Gore-Bush 2000 presidential drama /farce/tragedy, in which memories of outstanding economic success during Clinton’s years (an $11-plus trillion debt from Bush ’41 converted to a $128 billion surplus at the end of Clinton’s presidency) could not bring a clear victory to the liberals. George W.’s eight-year reign saw the resurrection of Vietnam memories after 9/11 with the intent this time to impress an unquestioned victory on the American historical memory. By the 2004 election, it was clear that George W. was no more than a front, duped or not, for this enterprise. However, he won re-election because both liberals and neoliberals shared John Wayne-level cinematic memories of US “undefeatable” status and so joined that insane effort to overwrite the clear messages of Vietnam with spectacular memories of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. That both ventures turned out like Vietnam – and like Vietnam profited the wartime profiteers – privatization of war for profit becoming a proud American memory while torture seems not to bother greatly that memory.
Although Obama has seen himself linked to FDR’s presidency, Obama is not awash in memories of the New Deal. Like Clinton, Obama lives in persuasive memories forged by globalization, market growth, and technology, of the inevitability of these and the need for any politics to acknowledge such inevitability. The politics of both Clinton and Obama are therefore practical within this context that judges what is practical as what best supports globalization, ever-expanding markets, and ever-expanding, unquestioned technology. While Clinton’s pragmatism has always been held within the existing political context, Obama’s pragmatism has always been held within an ideal world in which any political opposition could be overcome by a shared rationality achieving practical results. Regardless of these differences, both men live in memories of themselves as “The One For Whom We’ve Been Waiting,” and both men concede to the “inevitabilities” they should be challenging.
There is much, from cutting the social safety net to repealing Glass-Steagall, that should temper any positive liberal memory of Clinton. However, he remains resilient among liberals, owing to Clinton’s sharing with those liberals much of the “true” memories of neoliberalism and Market Rule. Obama’s failures owing to his “doing politics” outside the political arena have not created useful liberal memories. Obama discovered after three years what real political game he was in and has belatedly moved toward using the open window of catastrophic wealth divide to challenge that rule. He faces, however, an historical memory already fashioned by anti-Obamacare and the Tea Party’s successful march into the American historical memory banks, as well as neoliberalism’s longtime exploitation of liberal repression to own those banks.
And so because of this long roman of memory in which liberal memories are but minor characters, we remember the 2014 Congressional elections even before they have happened because what we remember and how we remember has not yet changed.