The trajectory of sociopathic society is toward destruction. It promotes destruction of other nations, of its own citizens, of the natural environment, and, ultimately, societal self-destruction.
-Charles Derber, Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States
Robert W. McChesney in the preface to Noam Chomsky’s Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order admits that neoliberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time— it refers to the policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit. Associated initially with Reagan and Thatcher, for the past two decades neoliberalism has been the dominant global political economic trend adopted by political parties of the center and much of the traditional left as well as the right. These parties and the policies they enact represent the immediate interests of extremely wealthy investors and less than one thousand large corporations.2 When people refer to the global establishment, this is what they mean.
One reason I’ve spent time and effort reading pulp fiction: proletariat, science fiction, noir, low-life, apocalyptic narratives, YA novels, dystopian, etc. is that the underlying mythos and ideological aspects that seem to slide away from us in more intellectual and high and late – modernist or post-modernist texts is what Richard Slotkin ages ago in his three-volume cycle on the myth of violence and manifest destiny, frontier and domination, etc. once stipulated this way (The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890:)
“At the core of the Myth is the belief that economic, moral, and spiritual progress are achieved by the heroic foray of civilized society into the virgin wilderness, and by the conquest and subjugation of wild nature and savage mankind. According to this Myth, the meaning and direction of American history-perhaps of Western history as a whole is found in the metaphoric representation of history as an extended Indian war. In its original form, this Myth fleshed out the metaphor with the imagery and personalities of agrarian development; it equated the value of the wilderness with land, identified the savage opposition as Indian, and envisioned as heroes men who embodied the virtues and the liabilities of entrepreneurial individualists. (Page 546).”
When I read of Elon Musk and of others spouting frontier talk of space and Mars, Moon, or Asteroids … the wilderness of Space Exploration, the taming of the Solar System, etc. I remember this work… Even all the gun violence and NRA etc. seem to devolve into this old habitual form within the American psyche as a sociopathic reminder of our roots in violence, domination, and manifest destiny ideology that justified slavery, takeover of the Indian nations, etc. Many now just turn a blind eye to the terrible deeds of our Anglo-Saxon, French, Irish, German … Continental heritage …
Even now as our California entrepreneurs develop technical know-how to expand into the cosmos we should be reminded of the old mythologies of the Western Expansion of Manifest Destiny. Back then it was talk of opening a “virgin land” while now we speak of a “resource Frontier”; a realm of vast resources available for planet earth, etc. All this while spawning a myth of darkening prospects for earth’s populations: depletion of resources, climate change, viral outbreaks, war, dwindling water, food, seeds, etc. It’s as if the ideological campaign supports both a positive and a negative trope, a mythology of escape and exit; and, one of pessimism and despair on the home world, etc. We love our media-dreams, our cinematic utopia-dystopias, our apocalyptic and survivalist crazies, our decadent Hollywood Reality-TV, our elaborate rituals of Country music, Rock-n-Roll, the Hip-Hop, or Ecstasy culture clubs. Our leaders turn into cartoon jokes, our society frames itself as an ideological war between the Left and Right which keeps the narrative going, the war among the people, the masses, who love a good fight against the bad guys: the Wall-Street, Bankers, elite Oligarchy, etc.; all the sponsored infowars, the conspiracy advocates that keep things stirred up by CIA, NSA, disinformation nexus… We seem to riddle ourselves with trivia games of culture and oblivion trying to forget our actual lives of humdrum servitude.
We’ve known for ages that the consumerist imperative is unsustainable and both socially and environmentally destructive.1 Yet, it is still one of the key drivers of media, advertising, and the governmental and corporate initiatives to keep a healthy economy going: buy, buy, buy… new cars, gadgets, homes… the great obsolescence of things. Our lives are built around impermanence and trash. The bleak landscapes and unremitting poverty of many of our nation’s cities is due not to the pressure of class warfare as much as it is to corporate abandonment. Detroit is probably one of the great cities that typifies the downturn and ruination of many cities due to globalism. With the breakup of the old industrialist systems and export of industry to third world nations we’ve seen the decline of many American cities into both political and social turmoil: the persistence of housing and workplace discrimination, poverty, and racial tensions, crime and drugs.
Thomas J. Sugrue The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit tells us that Detroit, like many Rustbelt cities, is plagued by joblessness, concentrated poverty, physical decay, and racial isolation. Since 1950, Detroit has lost nearly a million people and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Vast areas of the city, once teeming with life, now stand abandoned. Factories that once provided tens of thousands of jobs now stand as hollow shells, windows broken, mute testimony to a lost industrial pas t. Whole rows of small shops and stores are boarded up or burned out . Over ten thousand houses are uninhabited; over sixty thousand lots lie empty, marring almost every city neighborhood. Whole sections of the city are eerily apocalyptic. Over a third of the city’s residents live beneath the poverty line, many concentrated in neighborhoods where a majority of their neighbors are· also poor. A vis it to the city’s welfare offices , hospitals, and jails provides abundant evidence of the terrible costs of the city’s persistent unemployment and poverty.3
But it’s not just the older industrial cities, we see this in small town U.S.A. as well. It’s as if America is becoming a great ghost town ridden wasteland, a place of ruin and decay. Oh, sure there are the gems and hives of the dense hyper-cities: New York City, San Francisco, L.A., Miami, Atlanta, Austin, Seattle, etc. where people are forced between the elite rich who own the vast high-rise monopolies, and the workers who live on the fringe in rentier infested subhuman realms, marginalized at the periphery. Yet, many try to white-wash this, try to downplay it, try to hide it, sweep it under the rug or just plain silence it in media, press, and governmental outlays. As Charlie Leduff recently said of Detroit:
General Motors and Chrysler continue to make cars thanks in large part to the American taxpayer, who bailed them out (and are stilled owed billions of dollars), and their creditors, who took it in the shorts and received almost nothing for their investment. Ford too is profitable again. And for the first time ever, more cars were sold in China than in the United States. American Axle moved much of the remainder of its Detroit jobs out of state and country. The stock moved up. Detroit, I am sure, will continue to be. Just as Rome does. What it will be and who will be here, I cannot say. The unnecessary human beings will have to find some other place to go and something else to do. The Great Remigration south, maybe.4
This sense of “unnecessary human beings” of humanity itself being abandoned, expulsed, disposable is become more and more prevalent across the planet, not just here in the U.S.. As Saskia Sassen reports we are confronting a formidable problem in our global political economy: the emergence of new logics of expulsion. The past two decades have seen a sharp growth in the number of people, enterprises, and places expelled from the core social and economic orders of our time. This tipping into radical expulsion was enabled by elementary decisions in some cases, but in others by some of our most advanced economic and technical achievements. The notion of expulsions takes us beyond the more familiar idea of growing inequality as a way of capturing the pathologies of today’s global capitalism. Further, it brings to the fore the fact that forms of knowledge and intelligence we respect and admire are often at the origin of long transaction chains that can end in simple expulsions.5 As Kevin Bales in Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy says it point blank
Slavery is a booming business and the number of slaves is increasing. People get rich by using slaves. And when they’ve finished with their slaves, they just throw these people away. This is the new slavery, which focuses on big profits and cheap lives. It is not about owning people in the traditional sense of the old slavery, but about controlling them completely. People become completely disposable tools for making money.6
This is our world. Henry A Giroux and Brad Evans will tell us that disposability or the notion of intolerable violence and suffering in the twenty-first century would be recast by the very regimes that claimed to defeat ideological fascism. “We are not in any way suggesting a uniform history here.”7 The spectacle of violence is neither a universal nor a transcendental force haunting social relations. It emerges in different forms under distinct social formations, and signals in different ways how cultural politics works necessarily as a pedagogical force. The spectacle of violence takes on a kind of doubling, both in the production of subjects willing to serve the political and economic power represented by the spectacle and increasingly in the production of political and economic power willing to serve the spectacle itself. In this instance, the spectacle of violence exceeds its own pedagogical aims by bypassing even the minimalist democratic gesture of gaining consent from the subjects whose interests are supposed to be served by state power.(ibid., p. 7)
This notion of the “production of subjects” of those willing to serve this system of violence and corruption as being part of a globalist system of pedagogy and enslavement, ideology and disenfranchisement, incorporation and transformation that has tranmorgaphied the older external authoritarian fascists systems into more subtle or inverted forms of democratic tyranny that since the end of the Cold War have turned inward rather than extrinsically. As Sheldin S. Wolin in Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism reports the new imaginary, too, depicted a foe global, without contours or boundaries, shrouded in secrecy. And like the Cold War imaginary, not only would the new form seek imperial dominion; it would turn inwards, applying totalitarian practices, such as sanctioning torture, holding individuals for years without charging them or allowing access to due process, transporting suspects to unknown locations, and conducting warrantless searches into private communications. The system of inverted totalitarianism being formed is not the result of a premeditated plot. It has no Mein Kampf as an inspiration. It is, instead, a set of effects produced by actions or practices undertaken in ignorance of their lasting consequences. This is the achievement of a nation that gave pragmatism, the philosophy of consequences, to the world.8
What we’ve seen is American consumerist society slowly made obsolete as a profitable system in a globalist market, and now what we’re seeing is a system where absolute profits over people is the imperial mandate of the rich and powerful nations and transnational corporations across the globe. If Hobbes’s Leviathan has any pertinence today it is that this global behemoth is eating the planet alive, humans have become a commodity within a system of production: knowledge-workers are the engine of this new world of automation that is abandoning the pretense of a goods and services economy for a hyperaccelerating finance based system of immaterial goods and trading that no longer needs humans for its profitability. Rather this is a realm of pure and absolute Capital devoid of any pretense to human or natural subsistence and affordance. We are slowly being disposed of through various avenues of toxic infestation, viral apocalypse, war, civil and racial strife, migrant and refugee systems of civil-war all brought to bare in widening the gap between various ethnic and social sectors across the globe based on race, religion, and ethnicity. The elite promote strife across the planet in hopes we may doom ourselves. Like some Orwellian tripartite system of bloodletting the world of strife is being internalized toward each nation in hopes of ridding and expulsing the “unnecessary people,” the disposable people, the masses and unwanted, untrainable, the sacrificial. Isn’t this it, a secular Sacrifice? A ritualized immersion in the oldest form of bloodletting known to humanity?
As René Girard said humanity results from sacrifice; we are thus the children of religion. What I call after Freud the founding murder, in other words, the immolation of a sacrificial victim that is both guilty of disorder and able to restore order, is constantly re-enacted in the rituals at the origin of our institutions. Since the dawn of humanity, millions of innocent victims have been killed in this way in order to enable their fellow humans to live together, or at least not to destroy one another. This is the implacable logic of the sacred, which myths dissimulate less and less as humans become increasingly self-aware.9 This sense that we are to do the work of sacrificing ourselves at our own expense, that the underlying initiative of the elites is simple strategy of stirring the pot of ethnic, racial, and economic hatred, allowing the uneducated and poverty stricken to murder and kill off each other and the those around them in a blood bath of sacrifice. While the rich and powerful assume safety nets, create city-states of neoliberal surveillance capitalism to protect themselves against the new barbarism.
It’s not that this is being done consciously, but that as part of the world of late capitalism this is the truth of its self-evolving perimeters, the logic of violence and economic pressure that is working within and through the very logics of capital to bring about this strange and twisted system of violence already well marked out by the notions of Manifest Destiny in previous eras. There is no grand conspiracy in place, not secret organization behind the scenes; that is all bunk, disinformation. No, the logics of capital are pragmatic and non-dialectical, demarcated within the history of our actual systems across the globe. The logics of profit. Girard makes an interesting observation about the notion of gift:
This is why a present is always poisoned (the German word Gift means “poison” but also “present”) because it does not presuppose monetary neutrality. It brings two people into play, and there is always the potential that they will come to blows. In a way, a gift is always an object that we try to dispose of by exchanging it for something that our neighbor also wants to get rid of. Here we are touching on the ambivalence of the sacred. What makes our life intolerable is expelled, less to poison the life of the other than to make our own tolerable. We get rid of what poisons us like a “hot potato” that is tossed from hand to hand. This is the primitive law of exchange, and it is highly regulated. For conjugal peace we must choose partners born in families far from our own domestic conflicts. (ibid. p. 60)
This is where the age old logics of scapegoating, etc. come into play. Again Girard: “The fetters put in place by the founding murder but unshackled by the Passion, are now liberating planet-wide violence, and we cannot refasten the bindings because we now know that scapegoats are innocent. The Passion unveiled the sacrificial origin of humanity once and for all. It dismantled the sacred and revealed its violence.” (ibid.)
This is the slaughter of the innocents… we have entered the age of sacrificial violence. But should we allow it to happen? Should we become victims of our own tendencies to violence? Charles Derber says no, as he states it:
The situation reminds me of the film Pleasantville, where everyone is living in a 1950s world of living death, without any color in their conformist, doomed universe (filmed in grainy black and white). But a few people, including a time traveler from the future, rise up against this dead world and start to break the lifeless, authoritarian rules. They begin to see and paint colors— orange and red and, yes, green— and then they themselves begin to turn from pale white to the vibrant flesh color of truly living beings. All of Pleasantville eventually blossoms into radiant color.(ibid.)
Isn’t that it? Isn’t it time to break free of the Symbolic Order imposed on us? To dismantle the world of fake symbols and propaganda? To destroy the very underpinnings of this myth of neoliberal manifest destiny once and for all? Thing about revolt and revolution is that we need not turn it into a violent bloodletting – which is exactly what the neoliberal system is hoping for, so that it can alleviate and remove the disposable among us; no, the revolution can be in just remaking ourselves, remaking our lives, developing local and global systems of support, depending on crossing the barriers that divide us – whether of ethnic, religious, or economic… our leaders have abandoned us to our own devices and hope we will destroy ourselves in the process. We must not give in to such inept designs.
As Andrew Culp in his recent Dark Deleuze suggests, the Neoliberals philosophically have developed a system of world-wide connectivity, which is about “world-building. The goal of connectivity is to make everyone and everything part of a single world.”10 The notion of homogenization of the world market has been going on for two or more centuries, but now with the advent of global logistics and just-in-time supply-side demand the actual ability to do it has finally equaled the technics and technological program. In his book Andrew seeks redress this by teasing out those various concepts and abstract engines a critical apparatus that might help bring about the “death of the World” by which he does not mean the physical annihilation of the earth so much as the destruction of our false Image of a certain kind of Thought that has captured Deleuze’s conceptuality, hijacking it into capitalist modes of affirmation and joy that have twisted and corrupted the very power of his war machines. Instead Andrew seeks to critique “connectivity and positivity, a theory of contraries, the exercise of intolerance, and the conspiracy of communism” (66).
In fact, what seeks is to promote not the Deleuzian bandwagon of joy and positivity, connectionism has built, one based on notions of “rhizomes, assemblages, networks, material systems, or dispositifs” (67). For Andrew this World of the Light, the Deleuzean world of Joy has worked in apposition to Deleuze’s intent, and instead has been easily hijacked by the Neoliberal’s modes of productivism, accumulation, and reproduction. Against this he proposes to attack what he terms the “greatest crime” – that of the joyousness of tolerance. Following Wendy Brown he sees this regulatory ethic of political correctness as part of the “grammar of empire,” a discourse of ethnic, racial, and sexual regulation, and as “an international discourse of Western imperialism on the other” (67).
Ultimately this new intolerance is not about becoming “obstinate,” rather it is about finding “new ways to end our suffocating perpetual present” (69). We have been cut off in an eternal present without future for some time now: what some term “presentism”: the notion of using or abusing past to validate ones own political beliefs. We heard this from the Neoliberals starting with the demise of Socialism in the old regimes of Soviet Russia and Maoist China. The notion of the End of History, no other alternative to capitalism, etc. This notion that we are now living in a totalistic or global civilization where there is no escape, no exit, etc. It’s against this false presentism that Andrew offers “escape,” saying:
“Escape need not be dreary, even if they are negative. Escape is never more exciting than when it spills out into the streets, where trust in appearances, trust in words, trust in each other, and trust in this world all disintegrate in a mobile zone of indiscernibility. It is in these moments of opacity, insufficiency, and breakdown that darkness most threatens the ties that bind us to this world. (70)”
Ultimately we must “all live double lives” (69): “The struggle is to keep one’s cover identity from taking over.” By which he means one’s life with one foot in the old world of neoliberal fakery and compromise, and the other foot moving into the flight path of escape, crafting “new weapons while withdrawing from the demands of the world” (69). I put is this way: We must build a new world out of the ruins of the old, dismantle the empire of the neoliberal symbolic order from within, and dissolve its profit making system of toxic waste and disposability, violence and sacrifice; and, in its place construct, day by day, a world worthy of trust, respect, and care. A world where the natural and artificial, abstract and material labors of life promote sustenance, courage, and exacting tribute to the earth and animals we share this realm of life with.
- Chomsky, Noam. Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Kindle Locations 28-32). Seven Stories Press. Kindle Edition.
- Derber, Charles. Sociopathic Society: A People’s Sociology of the United States (Kindle Location 477). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
- Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton University Press, 2014)
- Charlie Leduff. Detroit: An American Autopsy (Kindle Locations 3215-3220). Penguin Press HC, The. Kindle Edition.
- Sassen, Saskia. Expulsions (Kindle Locations 39-44). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (p. 4). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
- Giroux, Henry A.; Evans, Brad. Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 84-91). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Wolin, Sheldon S.. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Kindle Locations 1102-1107). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Girard, René. Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoit Chantre (Studies in Violence, Mimesis, & Culture) . Michigan State University Press. Kindle Edition.
- Read Dark Deleuze: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/dark-deleuze