1. The horrible things that the capitalist system forces people to do in order to survive within it.
2. Zesty memes, videos and GIFs that critique the social, moral and ideological decay of western capitalist culture.
3. The larger trend of corporate immorality and the increasing commodification and marketing of things that should not be commodified or marketed (such as social justice movements like the Starbucks ‘race together’ or Gay Pride).
4. Mocking the general hypocrisy and irrationality of Capitalism as it accelerates the process of digging its own grave.
On the drive to work, NPR airs a story about a transgender four year old. The S&P 500 hits a new high, but your coworkers’ adult children live with them. Your social media feed reveals a nonstop war of words over any issue. Not a soul in D.C. seems to want to fix anything. Berkeley’s streets look like a deleted scene from a Mad Max film. You go to bed knowing the next day will bring the same. It’s morning in Weimerica.
We live in a degenerate age that is sold as progress. Every boundary is pushed: divorce, illegitimacy, gay marriage, transg, soon to be followed by polygamy, bestiality, etc. This is not progress, just change. This is not new, only new on our shores. We live in the United States of Weimerica.
Germans of the Weimar Republic did this all with cruder technology.
In part 1 I went through the Bundy Revolt, in which the parliamentary leaders of the right, the Party of Order in the form of the Republican Party, capitulated to the demands of terrorists. The Democrats were barely mentioned, and for good reason—like Friedrich Ebert, they offer rhetoric flourish to the same system and conditions that they, the Bundys, and the Republican Party champions. This is of no surprise and only of passing significance. The Democratic Party has always been a capitalist party content with the established systems in the United States, and even at its most heroic, was true to itself and worked to crush the union workers and farmers that they had once championed. Signing itself into irrelevance, we can safely do the same.
The so-called establishment siding with the Bundy Revolt, even while giving it winking support, was inevitable for the same reasons that the Democrats became plainly seen as a useless and hypocritical party of politely objecting to market chaos and tyranny.
In this most broad sense, the Democrats and the Republicans both consented to the Bundy Revolt for the same reason that Trump became elected; which is related (though not) the rise of reactionary Bonapartism in that the tendency of a party that actively accepts the current base of a society as the destination is going to redefine its arguments to find that conclusion each time, and this is going to continue to perpetuate.
I quoted Marx before on this very topic:
As monosyllabic on the platform as in the press. Flat as a riddle whose answer is known in advance. Whether it was a question of the right of petition or the tax on wine, freedom of the press or free trade, the clubs or the municipal charter, protection of personal liberty or regulation of the state budget, the watchword constantly recurs, the theme remains always the same, the verdict is ever ready and invariably reads: “Socialism!” Even bourgeois liberalism is declared socialistic, bourgeois enlightenment socialistic, bourgeois financial reform socialistic. It was socialistic to build a railway where a canal already existed, and it was socialistic to defend oneself with a cane when one was attacked with a rapier.
What even the Democrats had once held to be a public right had become an indulgence; what the Republicans had been lampooned for suggesting before became holy doctrine for the Democrats. And it could be no other way. In this particular case, the Progressive movement of the 19th century became dreaded socialism from which we must escape. The Bundys, willingly or not, became the latest iteration of the reactionary vanguard as each fundamental right was torn asunder to lead to find the conclusion that only the most reactionary capitalism already being practiced was the best.
The First Amendment became less, “The government won’t arrest you for expressing unpopular views,” to, “The government will escort people expressing unpopular views through your neighborhood and force you to hear them.”
The Second Amendment dropped the, “Well Regulated Militia,” which whether it should have been dropped or not, was a provision that was never applied to armed Leftists. These specific cases will be reflected upon in a later piece.
For the moment, the momentum is what is interesting as it helps to explain the past and the present.
Enter the Post-Modern Against the Modern
The activation of what Marx proposed was different in 21st century America, of course. It had to do with the advent of post-modernism.
The most prominent figure in advancing a kind of postmodern presidency probably goes back to at least Reagan. Though what we are concerned about here is the last US election developing something that the media has called, “post truth.”
A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not.
The above is a prime example that carries on until today.
This tendency, to counter actual reality with the feelings, has always been a part of politics. Obfuscation and outright “alternative facts,” by means of conspiracy theories and “fake news,” and whatnot, however, are less cynical ploy than enthusiastically embraced and advanced. Certainly, should a child have been found covered in chocolate and cookie crumbs claimed that while his, “heart and best intentions,” proved that he had not taken a cookie despite the fact that, “facts and evidence,” say otherwise, we should know the truth of the matter. However, this seems not to be embraced.
To bring it to today, the Trump administration has been pretty open about obscuring what “fake news,” is, and instead calling any story it doesn’t like fake news. In this way, any information the public has access to is made to be as irrelevant as sites that peddle actual news stories that have no attempt at truth in them. This has been done, rather famously, with climate scientists, historians, etc.
Part of this isn’t necessarily a rightwing move in origin.
The entire construction of this kind of fake narrative is a part of postmodern thought, something a lot of rightwingers sense in their attempt to rail against a conspiracy in which leftists are running society. The issue at heart here is that actual leftists, in any real non-centralist point, are almost all modernists. To get into the ins and outs of modernism would be to get profoundly off track, though it may be relevant to point out that it accepts that change occurs, and attempts to explain the change in a logical way.
For instance, Freud rather arrogantly claimed that he was the third of the narcissistic wounds to mankind. That Copernicus proved that the Earth did not revolve around man; that Darwin proved that nature did not revolve around man; and that Freud proved that man did not revolve around man:
Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naive self-love. The first was when it realized that our earth was not the center of the universe, but only a tiny speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable; this is associated in our minds with the name of Copernicus, although Alexandrian doctrines taught something very similar. The second was when biological research robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world, implying an ineradicable animal nature in him: this transvaluation has been accomplished in our own time upon the instigation of Charles Darwin, Wallace, and their predecessors, and not without the most violent opposition from their contemporaries. But man’s craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research which is endeavoring to prove to the ‘ego’ of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the veriest scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind. We psychoanalysts were neither the first nor the only ones to propose to mankind that they should look inward; but it appears to be our lot to advocate it most insistently and to support it by empirical evidence which touches every man closely.
In the same vein, Marx and Nietzsche claimed that there was a moving history that could be measured and explained. We were, to paraphrase, Trotsky, caught upon reality’s net whether we accepted it or not.
It is clear to anyone, even to the uninitiated, that the work of our physiologist, Pavlov, is entirely along materialist lines. But what is one to say about the psychoanalytic theory of Freud? Can it be reconciled with materialism, as, for instance, Karl Radek thinks (and I also), or is it hostile to it?
This is all a long way of saying that the modernist typically attempts to take emotion out of the equation and instead study where the emotion originates.
The modernist doctrine of impersonality, most famously articulated by T.S. Eliot in his central essay of 1919, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” addresses t.he problem that personality, as a product of humanist individualism, presents for literary form. While modernist studies is currently benefiting from a much needed reconsideration of the term “impersonality,” led by critics such as Tim Dean this critical tu~n has yet to consider the explicit connections between impersonality and emotion. lt has also yet to fully trace the genealogy of impersonality outside the modernist company of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound. Similarly, scholars of modernist emotion…have tended to downplay the historical specificity of aesthetic modernism in lieu of examining more generalizable features of emotion, creating a picture of modernist emotion that does not include the more historically specific question of “impersonality.”
Yet, modernism aside, the word “impersonality” itself is suggestive of emotion, most logically, its absence. Although “impersonality” in its more general sense has been connected to objectivity and neutrality, I argue here that modernist theories of impersonality, authoritarian or otherwise, theorize emotional engagement by dismantling the duality between subject and object, inside and outside. In doing so, this modernist aestheticization of emotion disables the boundaries of the self-contained individual – or what Altieri terms the “romantic expressivist notions of identity, notions that emphasize getting in touch with some core self and locating basic values in how we make those deep aspects of the self articulate”. This distrust of psychology enables novel modes of thinking about and understanding emotion not predicated upon the individual self.
In some ways, the modernist’s logical conclusion is some kind of emotionless totalitarianism. The party has the facts and the facts must be adhered to. To go against the party would be to go against reality.
The Worst Parts of Post-Modernism Combined with the Worst Parts of Modernism
Postmodernism, on the other hand, rests more firmly on the idea that everybody has a narrative; that these individual narratives are important and equally valid, and that interpretation of facts is more important than a recording of facts.
Initially, for the rightwinger, this was a tempting target to rail against—and still can be. It is an ideology embraced by a lot of social sciences in, for instance, examining imperialism from all sides instead of simply the role of the Raj in India from the perspective of official British records. But the logical extension of postmodernism goes further.
However, when this broke down further to its logical extreme, it became a complete mess:
While Vattimo takes post-modernity as a new turn in modernity, it entails the dissolution of the category of the new in the historical sense, which means the end of universal history. “While the notion of historicity has become ever more problematic for theory,” he says, “at the same time for historiography and its own methodological self-awareness the idea of history as a unitary process is rapidly dissolving” (Vattimo 1988 , 6). This does not mean historical change ceases to occur, but that its unitary development is no longer conceivable, so only local histories are possible. The de-historicization of experience has been accelerated by technology, especially television, says Vattimo, so that “everything tends to flatten out at the level of contemporaneity and simultaneity” (Vattimo 1988 , 10). As a result, we no longer experience a strong sense of teleology in worldly events, but, instead, we are confronted with a manifold of differences and partial teleologies that can only be judged aesthetically. The truth of postmodern experience is therefore best realized in art and rhetoric.
This is to say, there was no reliable history at all in the world of the postmodernist. In the example of the Raj, it is no longer simply the imperialism experienced by the Indians in addition to the official British version, but the imperialism experienced by each and every individual at each and every moment. And then the experience experienced by every individual after the Raj. And by every individual as their mood and experience changes. Which then begs the question as to why have historiography, when every individual has feelings to interpret the past with. Why have an agreed upon sense of things that occurred, when you can just live in the moment and see how you feel?
The modernity that post-modernism attempted to fix, however, persisted because, at some level, it was verifiable and accurate. This was true at least for the centre and the left that continue to use a kind of modernism much to the chagrin of the right.
However the right strips out part of the postmodern precept that everyone’s feelings matter by insisting that only the unverifiable feelings of the individual matters.
One may favorably be a postmodernist and accept all sides, relying on phrases like, “Nothing totally wrong with that…However in my view…” But is this not the brace that is left holding up the contradictions? One can sense that there is, “nothing totally wrong,” with presented information; but like a nervous tick or reflex, most conservatives cannot help themselves from erasing it with a personal (and completely unverified) view of the world as being more accurate than presented information with citations.
The rejection of historical realism (i.e., the past was real and objective) constitutes a crucial theme in the philosophy of postmodernism Another major theme of postmodern approach to history is the elimination of the boundaries and hierarchical distinctions between elite culture and academic culture (Cohen, 1999: 126) by means of dehierarchization, deconstruction, demystification, and dereferentialization (Berkhofer, 1995).
Postmodernism symbolizes the death of centers, displays incredulity toward metanarratives, and is characterized by a social formation in which the maps and status of knowledge are being de-centered, re-drawn, and re-described (Lyotard, 1984, 1997; Jenkins, 1991). Zagorin (1999) succinctly outlines the premises of postmodernism in relation to history:
In the most general sense, postmodernism stands for the proposition that western society in recent decades has undergone an epochal shift from the modern to a post- modem era said to be characterized by the final repudiation of the Enlightenment’s legacy of belief in reason and progress and by a pervasive incredulity toward all metanarratives imputing a direction and meaning to history, in particular the notion that human history is a process of universal emancipation. In place of grand narratives of this kind, so it is held, have come a multiplicity of discourses and language games, a questioning of the nature of knowledge together with a dissolution of the idea of truth, and problems of legitimacy in many fields (p.5).
As if this claptrap isn’t bad enough, it’s a historiographical document not put into Chicago formatting.
Above I quoted Reagan’s particular reality not coinciding with facts, and his feelings trumping the facts. It is of course these feelings—that create the entire post-modernist movement in its relation to facts. The spin that Reagan, and subsequent politicians, have added is an expectation that you do not use postmodernism in a way that would facilitate an equality. Your inability to admit that you find facts useless, even if you give tacit support of them as a curiosity, reflects in a single foot being kept in the worst tendencies of modernism.
This is to say, the worst tendencies of modernism remains totalitarianism. One could apply this to the Americans during the Cold War, Stalinist Russia, Victorian Britain, Nazi Germany, etc, etc. The official truth, as interpreted by the Enlightened seekers of truth, was to be covered and approved at all costs because it was accepting orthodox reality.
The postmodernists would deconstruct this view (of, say, McCarthy or Stalin) as being a singular one of many; and the many were all equal to each other in truth. Someone that insisted that the world was flat, or that blacks should be genocided, were all equally as correct as anybody else’s experience that opposed such statements. That was, in essence, their experience based upon their views, and there was no right or wrong.
Arguing About Aesthetic and Emotion Under the Guise of Fact
The modern rightwinger has embraced the postmodern deconstruction of knowledge and fact, but has not shed the modernist perchance for totalitarianism. The modernist could point to knowledge as commonly understood (even if flawed) before dismissing someone or something. The postmodernist could not dismiss anything.
It is no coincidence that rightwing figures before fascism proper like Gabriele D’Annunzio were poets and political activists; or that aesthetics were so important to other interwar developments on the political right in Europe. Keep in mind, that these were in reaction to Marxism, a modernist ideology that existed well before this postmodern turn.
For Lenin, for Marx, for the left in general, there was a simple correct and incorrect tradition of scholarship based largely upon Enlightenment ideals. This was not necessarily true for the developing right.
So to tie this all into today, the failure of a lot of the assumptions and bulwarks that had initially kept American liberal ideology (in the broadest sense) contained as a series of centrist and modern institutions (the Cold War being the largest) has broken down. Just as an Italy without a Treaty of London had lost a reason for being, so too has a lot of the rhetoric for these liberal institutions–political and intellectual.
The result has been an adoption of the same postmodern rhetoric that many on the right assume they are fighting in centrism. Their experience and feelings regarding a fact become more important than the fact itself. Again, this isn’t unique to the right as it’s the same liberal discipline that is often used in humanities departments and whatnot; and it’s certainly not new in political exchanges as we see this since at least the interwar years in Europe; but it is new in this generation to have the right be so fervent about it.
I suspect that most people on the right don’t see that this is what they are doing at all. That they think of themselves as finding a unique voice when it is actually an adoption of same postmodernism that they are attempting to counter. Instead, they are having an individual or emotional reaction that they are attempting to make flesh (to borrow from the Christians) instead of examining the flesh and its place in the world (which was, after all, the root of the Gnostic issue in which the quasi-materialists won).
And the results speak well enough for themselves. The attempts to lash out and get into uncited aqusations of racial intelligence, of the individual’s experience with economic issues (like the experience with the legacy of the Raj above), an unfounded assertion that slavery was pleasant for Africans, this entire line of, “obfuscation and outright ‘alternative facts,’ by means of conspiracy theories and “fake news,” and whatnot, is effectively shut down and all that remains was a rather childish, “I know you are…But what am I?”
The right remains with the ability to dismiss everyone else, while at the same time also dismissing knowledge as is commonly understood. Leaving a reactionary to stand like Cnut attempting to stop the waves through sheer force of inner will; demanding the world act accordingly with feelings and increasingly upset that it does not.
Is it, then, any wonder that a reality show host became the hero of the modern right?
Rochelle Rives wrote:
Contemporary popular culture often sensationalizes emotions, connecting them to the self-revelatory sentimental confessions performed on daytime talk shows. Such venues predicate emotions on the presumption of intense individuality, where one’s emotions generally reveal what it means to “be oneself.” Generally, these emotions are connected to a number of specific actions or psychic processes; we are often repressing, denying, dealing with, or accepting our emotions, or attempting to liberate them from some secret inner dwelling to finally be “in touch” with them. This link between emotion and popular belief in individual uniqueness and sanctity not only explains Wyndham Lewis’s disillusionment with the act of “expression,”but also accounts for the poststructuralist suggestion that emotions are merely behavior, products of culture, socialization, and discourse.
Trump expresses a feeling instead of presenting any actual experience; and on that qualification alone became more than a leader, but a symbol (or meme) for feelings placed upon him:
One will note Trump is, here, an emperor, leading a slain lion, with Bernie Sanders behind him with Pepe the frog.
When the entire movement is based upon feelings with the rejection of fact, how can one hope to counter it? In this sense, Trump is irrelevant. Unlike Bonaparte, Trump’s supporters represent his creation. They were basket-of-deplorables started with the Southern Strategy and mostly nurtured to fruition by Mitch McConnell. Trump was merely a bolt of idiot lightning to wake a Frankenstein monster that thrived in the current atmosphere of enforced ignorance and reaction.
Trump and the City
During the Trump election, I was at a bar watching on TV. After Florida was lost, most of us knew it was over. Everyone in Portland got drunk.
I made out with a bartender, then went to another bar.
There I started to take a girl home, too drunk to do anything should I have succeeded. She left as I got in a giant and loud, conversation about slave rebellions I barely remember.
I woke up hungover in a city full of hungover people waiting for the next shoe to drop. The illusion that Hillary would have been a viable candidate was long gone, and the fog of compromise was lifted from the collective aching head of Portland; and only curses came from the dry mouths of the city. The mood was immediately tense and curt.
The left is awakening far slower than the right, which has more than surpassed any kind of actual leftist organization. But waking up from the stupor, people began to try and understand what went wrong.
The people that did vote for Trump, however, became bold. Something I will examine in Part 3.