On Jehu’s recent post on Michael Brown Verdict

 

Jehu of has a great little post After Ferguson: Labor, competition and the long ugly history of American white working class racist mob violence on the recent case of Michael Brown.As expected, a mostly white Grand Jury declined to indict the murderer of Michael Brown, who was gunned down without provocation on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.”

As I began thinking through his reading I was struck by its Orthodox approach in placing it squarely within Marxist ideological frames which to me at least didn’t go far enough to address the underlying societal and cultural normative controls that actually underpin the economic. I assayed a response:

Hey, Jehu: My only problem is that you do not go far enough… you provide the standard Orthodox position which is just the nib of the iceberg. As an example, you say here:

There is no accident at all in the history of the class struggle in the US: white labor has from the first used black labor as sacrificial pawns to absorb the impact of capitalist development. The white worker has done this knowing full well the consequence of his action for the black worker and with no guilt.”

Point of Order: The pitting of white against black is moiety. Old as society itself. More and more I have come to see your reading as too simplistic, and one that falls into the Master’s pit: a reading that allows the true culprit to escape the net of illusions. The darker truth is that the capitalist regime seeks to contain the white through its enforced civil war and diversionary complicity in promoting this sort of internecine conflict among ethnic groups and populace. The order of Law appears to govern individual behaviors from the outside, even though it is itself a consequence of the synergistic coordination of these same individual behaviors (Hegel’s ‘identity of opposites’). Since these behaviors represent disorder , the emergent order contains them, in the two meanings of the word. In this case order does not, as Dumont supposed, contain disorder while at the same time being its contrary. Instead disorder steps outside of itself, as it were, so that it stands in a relation of exteriority to itself, and in this way creates an ordered, self-regulating system. What we’re truly seeing in this is the old saw that “in times of market panic, mass psychology becomes the ruling force” (Dupuy, Jean-Pierre)

As Serres said of Rousseau: “. General will is rare and perhaps only theoretical. General hatred is frequent and is part of the practical world. . . . Not only does he see the formation of a social pact from the outside, not only does he notice the formation of a general will, but he also observes, through the darkness , that it is formed only through animosity, that it is formed only because he is its victim. . . . Union is produced through expulsion. And he is the one who is expelled.”

The victim (Afro-Americans) is therefore an emissary victim, a scapegoat, whose expulsion from the community provides it with the external point of support it needs in order to put an end to the economic and social crisis. The financial masters have manipulated neoliberal media as a narrative according to which good must contain evil while at the same time being its contrary. In this sense you’ve been duped into aligning perfectly with the Master’s narrative wish to have Afro-Americans buy into the myth of ‘white supremacy’ in this abstract Game of Thrones, allowing the civil war of race victimage to emerge to create a new order that contains both victim and its illusionary power. Why are you doing this? Why have you allowed your Marxist vision to put on the blinkers of Orthodoxy, while disallowing the normative praxis underlying the whole religious and secular vision of American capitalism? You’re battling ghosts and allowing the myth to continue…

As René Girard later observed, “we may say that there is, inversely, hardly any form of violence that cannot be described in terms of sacrifice— as Greek tragedy clearly reveals. . . . Sacrifice and murder would not lend themselves to this game of reciprocal substitution if they were not in some way related.” Yet, if we interpellate Hubert’s and Mauss’s essay on sacrifice, we see that this confusion between the sacrificer, the victim, and the divinity constitutes the very essence of sacrifice. In the Fergeson case we are seeing played out the oldest of narratives of scapegoat mythology under the guise of a diversionary tactic and hierarchical play of opposites. A parody system that keeps the civil war going and allows us to promote violence among ourselves while the real enemy (our financial elite mask themselves, promoting worker civil war under racism). Violence is therefore capable of externalizing itself, of transcending itself in symbolic and institutional forms— the rites, myths, and systems of prohibitions and obligations that both control and incubate violence, containing it through this legalistic charade and gambit that allows the bitter hatred of Afro-American workers to continue against the great white whale (Melville) of ‘white supremacy’.

The rhetorical benefit of combining two apparently incompatible narratives— on the one hand, the Marxist discourse of capitalist exploitation, on the other, the victimary discourse of racial persecution— is clear: the outcast and poor of the present day can be represented as the remote victims of inexpiable crimes committed in the past by a slaveholding society. Whether this strategy is well calculated to promote the cause of racial democracy is rather less obvious, however.

The fundamental philosophical error of theories of justice (and particularly of Rawls’s theory) is to believe that there exists a solution to the problem of justice, and that this solution also disposes of the challenge posed by disruptive passions. The mistake, in other words— the sin, in fact— is to believe that a society that is just, and that knows itself to be just, is a society that has succeeded in abolishing resentment. For it is in precisely such a society, one that makes a point of advertising its own fairness, that those who find themselves in an inferior position cannot help but feel resentful. The fatal conceit, as Hayek might well have said, is to suppose that the Saint George of moral geometry has slain the dragon of envy. It is fatal because it distracts our attention from what can and must be done here and now. Resentment will never be wholly eliminated .1

What the Master discourse through its media pundits and narratives is doing is trying to contain its own evil through diversions: allowing the bitterness of racial relations to emerge in this moral vacuum as scapegoat mythology, which in the end will play into the hands of the Law which will use the full force of military and civil violence to contain what appears to be civil war among ethnic groups. This is what is actually happening: capitalism wants civil war among the races to create a new order, to impose a new tyranny upon the masses. To be radical in our time is to oppose their manipulation, not to sponsor it.

To be fair Jehu for the most part has it all correct:

I want to be clear that I do not recount these facts with any sense of anger or outrage. I say it because clearly some naive souls on the radical Left have no idea what manner of horrific phenomenon we are dealing with here. Racism is a persistent attribute of ‘white’ workers and requires vigorous direct material efforts if any progress is to be made in uniting the working class and putting an end to wage slavery. This much is understood by a large majority of radical activists today.

And he adds the correct conclusion as I see it:

What is missing in their thinking is a recognition that labor itself, not racist attitudes, determines and continuously reconstitutes the violent racist behavior of ‘white’ workers.

Yet, in conclusion he brings back his main thrust of the abolishment of wage labor and the creation of disposable time for all involved:

This means our aim must be to abolish wage labor itself and this cannot be put off to the distant future. Whatever the extent to which this can be realized now, our effort must begin immediately with the conversion of every possible hour of superfluous labor time into free, disposable time for all, which alone can break the monopoly hold white workers enjoy over employment. This effort alone can challenge and break the pretensions of the white workers that they can insulate themselves from the impact of capitalistic development by shifting the burden of this development onto the backs of their African-American counterparts. The battle against the long American history of white racist mob violence begins, and must, of necessity, begin, with a drastic and unrelenting reduction of hours of labor!

As Zizek recently stated the violence of capitalism is no longer attributable to concrete individuals with their “evil” intentions, but is purely “objective”, systemic, anonymous— quite literally a conceptual violence, the violence of a Concept whose self-deployment rules and regulates social reality.2 As he states in Less Than Nothing:

The most radical critical analysis of the “mystery of sacrifice” as a fundamental ideological category is in fact provided by Jean-Pierre Dupuy. Although the “official” topic of Dupuy’s The Mark of the Sacred is the link between sacrifice and the sacred, its true focus is the ultimate mystery of the so-called human or social sciences, that of the origins of what Lacan calls the “big Other,” what Hegel called “externalization” (Entäusserung), what Marx called “alienation,” and— why not?— what Friedrich von Hayek called “self-transcendence”: how, out of the interaction of individuals, can the appearance of an “objective order” arrive which cannot be reduced to that interaction, but is experienced by the individuals involved as a substantial agency which determines their lives?

The sacred sacrifice to the gods is the same as an act of murder— what makes it sacred is the fact that it limits or contains violence, including murder, in ordinary life. In those moments when the sacred falls into crisis, this distinction disintegrates: there is no sacred exception, a sacrifice is perceived as a simple murder— but this also means that there is nothing, no external limit, to contain our ordinary violence.

Violence threatens to explode not when there is too much contingency in the social space, but when one tries to eliminate this contingency.

The true opposite of egotistical self-love is not altruism, a concern for the common Good, but envy or ressentiment, which makes me act against my own interests: evil enters in when I prefer the misfortune of my neighbor to my own fortune, so that I am ready to suffer myself just to make sure that my neighbor will suffer more. This excess of envy lies at the basis of Rousseau’s well-known, but nonetheless not fully exploited, distinction between egotism, amour-de-soi (that love of the self which is natural), and amour-propre, the perverted preference of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it:

The primitive passions, which all directly tend towards our happiness, make us deal only with objects which relate to them, and whose principle is only amour-de-soi, are all in their essence lovable and tender; however, when, diverted from their objects by obstacles, they are more occupied with the obstacle they try to get rid of, than with the object they try to reach, they change their nature and become irascible and hateful. This is how amour-de-soi, which is a noble and absolute feeling, becomes amour-propre, that is to say, a relative feeling by means of which one compares oneself, a feeling which demands preferences, whose enjoyment is purely negative and which does not strive to find satisfaction in our own well-being, but only in the misfortune of others. (Zizek: quote Rousseau, idib.)

Consequently, the way to overcome the tension between secular individualism and the fundamentalism of capitalism is not to find a proper balance between the two, but to abolish or overcome the source of the problem, the antagonism at the very heart of the capitalist individualist project. Beyond resentment and its politics of racism and class divisions promoting internecine conflict which substantializes hierarchy, reifying its deliberate domination between law and crime we need to accept the antinomies at the heart of our society instead of hierarchizing them and falling prey to the Master’s narrative. It’s time to pull the plug on racism and its alignment with radicalism, time to stop the illusions of some Big Other who controls our destiny by whatever name (i.e., white supremacy, sacrifice, scapegoating … etc.).

My only qualm is that Jehu in promoting this conflict through his Orthodox Marxist position, thinking he is being radical, is in fact doing the opposite: he is providing the capitalist hierarchy the power to impose its own mark of the sacred (Dupuy) on the whole narrative. The point is the powers want to contain this as a secular form of the oldest ritual dramas of Western Civilization: ritual sacrifice and scapegoating. Siding with the mystique of ‘white supremacy’ as the enemy he falls back into the capitalist secular religious trap. Let us not buy into it. Break the cycle. Do not allow the Master’s to have their gambit enacted. Resist such failed mythologies of hate and resentment. Otherwise there will be no real change,  just a reorganization of domination which makes things even worse than before, but one that highlights the re-emergence of a gangster-like patriarchal-tribal order which, one can argue, is the result of white rule which kept the blacks in a state of apartheid, preventing their inclusion in modern society.(Zizek, ibid.)

1. Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2013-10-30). The Mark of the Sacred (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Kindle Locations 3520-3529). Stanford University Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 31). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: On Hegel’s Identity of Opposites

The same goes for crime and the law, for the passage from crime as the distortion (negation) of the law to crime as sustaining the law itself, that is, to the idea of the law itself as universalized crime. One should note that, in this notion of the negation of negation, the encompassing unity of the two opposed terms is the “lowest,” “transgressive,” one: it is not crime which is a moment of law’s self-mediation (or theft which is a moment of property’s self-mediation); the opposition of crime and law is inherent to crime, law is a subspecies of crime, crime’s self-relating negation (in the same way that property is theft’s self-relating negation).

A Habermasian “normative” approach imposes itself here immediately: how can we talk about crime if we do not have a prior notion of a legal order violated by the criminal transgression? In other words, is not the notion of law as universalized/ self-negated crime ultimately self-destructive ? But this is precisely what a properly dialectical approach rejects: what is before transgression is just a neutral state of things, neither good nor bad (neither property nor theft, neither law nor crime); the balance of this state is then violated, and the positive norm (law, property) arises as a secondary move, an attempt to counteract and contain the transgression. In Martin Cruz Smith’s novel Havana Bay, set in Cuba , a visiting American gets caught up in a high nomenklatura plot against Fidel Castro, but then discovers that the plot was organized by Castro himself. 30 Castro is well aware of the growing discontent with his rule even in the top circle of functionaries around him, so every couple of years his most trusted agent starts to organize a plot to overthrow him in order to entrap the discontented functionaries; just before the plot is supposed to be enacted, they are all arrested and liquidated. Why does Castro do this? He knows that the discontent will eventually culminate in a plot to depose him, so he organizes the plot himself to flush out potential plotters and eliminate them. What if we imagine God doing something similar? In order to prevent a rebellion against His rule by His creatures, He Himself— masked as the Devil— sets a rebellion in motion so that He can control it and crush it. But is this mode of the “coincidence of the opposites” radical enough? No, for a very precise reason: because Castro-God functions as the unity of himself (his regime) and his opposite (his political opponents), basically playing a game with himself. One has to imagine the same process under the domination of the opposite pole, as in the kind of paranoiac scenario often used in popular literature and films. For example: when the internet becomes infected by a series of dangerous viruses, a big digital company saves the day by creating the ultimate anti-virus program. The twist, however, is that this same company had manufactured the dangerous viruses in the first place— and the program designed to fight them is itself the virus that enables the company to control the entire network. Here we have a more accurate narrative version of the Hegelian identity of opposites.

V for Vendetta deploys a political version of this same identity. The film takes place in the near future when Britain is ruled by a totalitarian party called Norsefire; the film’s main protagonists are a masked vigilante known as “V” and Adam Sutler, the country’s leader. Although V for Vendetta was praised (by none other than Toni Negri, among others) and, even more so, criticized for its “radical”— pro-terrorist, even— stance, it does not have the courage of its convictions: in particular, it shrinks from drawing the consequences of the parallels between V and Sutler. 31 The Norsefire party , we learn, is the instigator of the terrorism it is fighting against—but what about the further identity of Sutler and V? We never see either of their faces in the flesh (except the scared Sutler at the very end, when he is about to die): we see Sutler only on TV screens, and V is a specialist in manipulating the screen. Furthermore , V’s dead body is placed on a train with explosives, in a kind of Viking funeral strangely evoking the name of the ruling party: Norsefire. So when Evey— the young girl (played by Natalie Portman) who joins V— is imprisoned and tortured by V in order to learn to overcome her fear and be free, does this not parallel what Sutler does to the entire British population, terrorizing them so that they rebel? Since the model for V is Guy Fawkes (he wears a Guy mask), it is all the more strange that the film refuses to draw the obvious Chestertonian lesson of its own plot: that of the ultimate identity of V and Sutler. (There is a brief hint in this direction in the middle of the film, but it remains unexploited.) In other words, the missing scene in the film is the one in which, when Evey removes the mask from the dying V, we see Sutler’s face. How would we have to read this identity? Not in the sense of a totalitarian power manipulating its own opposition, playing a game with itself by creating its enemy and then destroying it, but in the opposite sense: in the unity of Sutler and V, V is the universal encompassing moment that contains both itself and Sutler as its two moments. Applying this logic to God himself, we are compelled to endorse the most radical reading of the Book of Job proposed in the 1930s by the Norwegian theologian Peter Wessel Zapffe, who accentuated Job’s “boundless perplexity” when God himself finally appears to him.

Expecting a sacred and pure God whose intellect is infinitely superior to ours, Job finds himself confronted with a world ruler of grotesque primitiveness, a cosmic cave-dweller, a braggart and blusterer, almost agreeable in his total ignorance of spiritual culture …

What is new for Job is not God’s greatness in quantifiable terms; that he knew fully in advance … what is new is the qualitative baseness. In other words, God— the God of the Real— is like the Lady in courtly love, He is das Ding, a capricious cruel master who simply has no sense of universal justice . God-the-Father thus quite literally does not know what He is doing, and Christ is the one who does know, but is reduced to an impotent compassionate observer, addressing his father with “Father, can’t you see I’m burning?”— burning together with all the victims of the father’s rage. Only by falling into His own creation and wandering around in it as an impassive observer can God perceive the horror of His creation and the fact that He, the highest Law-giver, is Himself the supreme Criminal. Since God-the-Demiurge is not so much evil as a stupid brute lacking all moral sensitivity, we should forgive Him because He does not know what He is doing. In the standard onto-theological vision, only the demiurge elevated above reality sees the entire picture, while the particular agents caught up in their struggles have only partial misleading insights. At the core of Christianity, we find a different vision— the demiurge is a brute, unaware of the horror he has created, and only when he enters his own creation and experiences it from within, as its inhabitant, can he see the nightmare he has fathered.

Slavoj  Zizek, (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 269-271).