Author Topic: The Interregnum, Part 3  (Read 7542 times)

Cain

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The Interregnum, Part 3
« on: October 24, 2009, 08:08:32 pm »
Down but not yet out



I still think that a take-no-prisoners assault on the corrupt, compromised Bush conservatives is completely justified. Those people should sit silently in the back of the room with paper bags over their heads for at least five years.
- John Emerson

I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus -- living fossils -- so we will never forget what these people stood for.
- Rush Limbaugh

Those are easy words: unquenchable, nihilism, destruction. They are, however, precisely accurate. [...] Don’t be fooled. Creative impulses in the Movement can only result in destruction ultimately because its boundaries of secure identity require the absolute elimination of any perceived threat. So-called creative utopian constructs or proposals offered on the horizon require first a wasteland devoid of others. Simply put: it really is war without end.
- The Stiftung Leo Strauss

Even out of power, the radical right or, if you prefer, Movement Conservatism (aka "The Movement") is still the defining force in American politics.  Everything moves around the key players in it, be it response to their AgitProp, reflexively seeking "bipartisan consensus" on legislation or, in the realm of political strategy, seeking to "open a dialogue" with the Movement, an idea so incredibly naive it makes me spit blood every time I see it.

What drives the Movement?  I believe we know the agenda now, clearly enough.  The last eight years should give you a clue: the President as Emperor, the National Security State as Empire, the world as the prize.  A backlash against Enlightenment principles, drinking deeply from German anti-democratic thinkers like Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss.  A love of Britain, when it ruled a quarter of the world and Victoria was still Queen.  Macho politics, simplistic invocations and understandings of the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Churchill.  War abroad as the key to not only wealth and hegemony, but winning the war at home, crushing dissent and transforming society into something much more cruel.

None of this is new, really.  We can read Andrew Bacevich, Anne Norton, Chalmers Johnson, Chris Hedges and the rest a hundred times over, analysing the key details of what The Movement wants, which particular factions key players hold alleigance to, and so on and so forth.  Knowing the above is enough, because once you do know it, that the Movement is not playing for standard, liberal-democratic goals by standard, liberal democratic methods is clear enough.

But what interests me is the "why" behind those reasons.  Not the political goals, which aren't so heavily hidden, at least for anyone with experience of how the US government works and some historical understanding of the world.  But the psychology, or sociology, of The Movement, the driving forces behind those aims.

It can be dangerous to psychoanalyze one's enemies.  On the one hand, it can seem like one is trying to make excuses for them, because one is trying to understand them (this is a criticism frequently aimed at those who undertake Terrorism Studies with a mind to anything more than repeating "terrorism is bad kids, don't try it at home" ad nauseum).  And on the other hand, no doubt thanks to years of Hannibal Speeches and internet psychologists, it can seem to be an attempt to paint the opposition as crazy, though some would no doubt point out the Movement needs little help appearing crazy at the moment, as it denounces the Boy Prince for his secret Kenyan, Muslim past and claims he is preparing death panels for old people.

Nevertheless, I am willing to give it a go.  Who knows, I may stumble upon something useful, that someone else can build on and improve.  And political psychology is an important art, especially when so much politics is driven by a few people in key positions.

The first thing I think it is important to note is the worship of power for its own sake in such circles.  This isn't exactly novel in politics, of course, power is always a goal and the Democrats are almost as guilty of seeking it as Republicans (though sometimes, their weak attempts do make you wonder...).  But in Movement circles, while power is valued for its instrumental effects, it is also coveted for its own sake, above and beyond any material goals that may arise.  The way the Movement, when in power, took delight in snubbing every institution it could, from Constitutional rule, to the UN, to the defeated Democrats, to NATO, to Russia and China, are symptomatic of this.

Michael A Hoffman expands on this love of snubbing in his book, Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare.  In it, he claims that perpetrators of certain vile acts revel in the macabre revelation of their deeds, precisely because it proves their immunity and invincibility.  By doing the deed, and then revelling in the action, they show how powerful they truly are.  This is, of course, the logic of terrorist groups, who claim for their attacks to tie bloody deeds both to their political agenda, and to their mystique of invulnerability.  In the end, the only thing that defeated the Movement was an economic crash, on top of two disasterous wars and the destruction of American city.  If the crash had been postponed for six months, if McCain's handlers had been a little more savvy, its entirely possible the Movement would still be in power now, and quite likely rubbing everyone's faces in the fact they caused these deeds and still control the fate of the nation.  Either way, their show of power precisely relates to how much they can challenge religious, ethical and international norms without punishment.

Now, there is nothing wrong with loving power per se.  The Realists in the GOP (and to a lesser extent, Democrats) are very comfortable with power, and ran a useful, if not entirely successful mini-insurgency in Republican ranks throughout the Bush years,  Realists tend to respect power however, and like many of the old-school conservatives, before that term was co-opted by racists, militarists, baby Jebus freaks and conspiracy theorists, are suspicious of large scale uses of power to effect change in society.  In short, they actually live up to the name conservative, due to their caution and belief in the limits of effective power.

On the other hand, the Movement is messianic.  Most obviously, in the case of the Theocons, who want to put God back into government, but also the Neocons and other emerging strands, such as the Birthers (Birchers?).  What is meant by messianism is this: they believe that, ultimately, deep down, they are the only good guys in a world mired in evil, corruption and decay.  That evil exists to be destroyed, not negotiated with.  And that anyone who opposes them is therefore on the side of evil.

This relates to the idea that, for them, politics is existensial warfare.  When the Democrats win, it not only signals a loss of power, but also means they, the Democrats, are recklessly endangering the nation - because only the Movement has the moral clarity and foresight to prevent the tragedies that will no doubt befall America.  Relativism.  Decaying standards.  Socialism.  Shariah law.  Terrorism.  Never mind these threats may not be real, or are hyped beyond all belief, the point is, no matter what the threat actually is, only they have the means to deal with it.

Bush, Cheney and other big advocates of the "extraordinary measures" also play an interesting role in how they help their followers deal with the repurcussions of their actions.  A short explanation: pretty much everyone has some dark and evil drives.  The desire to punish and humiliate enemies (beyond what is normally required), love of domination, wanting to inspire fear in others, the thrill of violence and death.  With very few exceptions, all of us have desires like this, what makes us good people is that we resist them as much as possible, or channel those impulses to better ends.  Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, John Bolton and their media cheerleaders, however, act in precisely the opposite role.  If Jesus came to forgive us of our sins, they came not only to excuse sins, but to encourage more.

Owning one's evil acts can be difficult, especially for someone with a Messianic outlook.  And this is where the ringleaders of the Movement play a vital role.  They offer the excuses, say they will do the "dirty work" and will attempt to justify their actions, on the behalf of everyone else.  Torture and murder as acts of altruism.  The thing is though, it works.  By claiming that responsibility for the advocation or carrying out of such deeds belongs with the Other, they are no longer responsible.  They no longer have to worry about the consequences of their actions, because they are in the hands of a higher power, who "knows better" and so can go to even greater depths, unburdened by the presence of figures who will explain away their actions.

This was very much the case when it came to Stalin, too.  When Stalin was denounced, by Khrushchev at the Twentieth Party Congress, the effects on several major Stalinist advocates and doers of various dirty deeds under "Brilliant Genius of Humanity" (yes this was a title Stalin used) was incredible.  Several committed suicide.  Why?  Because their ability to use Stalin as the Other in whom they could place their trust had been broken down by Khrushchev, they had to take responsibility for their own acts.  And so, they killed themselves, rather than live with the horror of what they had done.

There is no such hope that leading lights of the Movement will do the same, though.  In fact, if you understand the above, the 180 degree turn from champions of autocracy to valiant freedom fighters makes perfect sense.  How better to disavow one's own role, even if it was only minor, in the crimes of the Bush years than to present oneself as opposed to all forms of tyranny?  Even minor prodding of this fiction can cause an explosive response, which tells you everything you need to know about why it is so badly needed.

In fact, the Movement's identity is generally quite weak, as well.  How they react to opposition, to criticism and to defiance smacks of a fundamental ontological insecurity.  This needs more attention paid to it, however.  I'm not entirely sure why this would be the case, only that the conclusion seems sound.  It could be the mish-mash of different interests, and the conflicts this invariably causes (supressed only by hatred for others who share even less of their aims), is the root cause.  Or it could be the desire for counterrevolution, and the death of the Enlightenment project, in a world which has mostly embraced these ideals, and whom they must pay lip service to.  Or perhaps it is as their roles before becoming converts to the Movement's cause, and their actions since, not living up to the messianic rhetoric and imagery that they deploy.

One area they do excel in is the creation and dissemination of propaganda, the use of media to advance their cause.  This expertise with rhetoric, with fluid language and twists of logic towards an always pre-determined answer, suggests quite a similarity with the Sophist movement of classical Athens, a movement many of the classically experienced Movement members pretend to be against, much in the same way they pretend to be against the enemies of liberal democracy.  This in and of itself, the need for deception, the fascination with secrecy and lies, is worth an article on its own, but merely to note it, and to say that the near pathological interest in the topic suggests it is of great importance.

Anyway, media.  Because the Movement exists apart from the GOP, it requires a base of power outside of party politics, and to make its presence easily known.  Public theatre, of a dark-sided avant-garde style (the Stiftung Leo Strauss explicity compares the Movement to the Italian Futurists, an artistic avant-garde movement that was the precursor of Italian fascism) is necessary, to remind the public of its presence and power.  Anger and irrationality must be allowed to boil to the surface, for manipulation as well as drawing attention and drama their way.  Somewhat narcissistic, but in an age of media self-narcissism, it works perfectly.   It also means that the mouthpieces of their enemies (ie; the Democrats) spend so much time dissecting, analyzing and rebutting Movement memes, that they rarely ever have the time to push their own agenda, even while they are in power.

This reliance on propaganda is also a major weakness though.  Because once the reality cannot even remotely align with propaganda, the enterprise starts to fall apart, as a ruling power.  Because they favour appearance over empirical consideration, and political reliability over competence, they will always drop the ball, eventually.

There is much more I could probably add here.  But hopefully, this provides an insight into the mentality that consumes the Movement.  To defeat your enemies, you must first understand them.  And there is no doubt left, after the last 8 years, that these people are almost everyone's enemies.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2009, 01:23:00 pm by Cain »

The Johnny

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2009, 09:23:09 pm »
...power is a zero-sum game, which means anything done to weaken an enemy strengthens yourself. 

I think this is one of the most important ideas.

Just as an example: theres some very shady reforms going on at my school, and due to indifference or the thought that whatever we do doesnt make any difference, no student commented on the Social Sciences Congress... I myself did participate with a 15 page nitpicking analysis, and i think i did at least make some ripples... the director of the psy doctorate and the director of social sciences department heard and liked my propositions... theres also some students organizing a radical opposition (kind of retardedly and with other shady purposes too...) but the good in all of this is that i helped rise the level of buzz/activity and i didnt just sit there with my arms crossed.

And none should either, given the time and resources to be able to do so.


<<My image in some places, is of a monster of some kind who wants to pull a string and manipulate people. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are manipulated; I just want them to be manipulated more effectively.>>

-B.F. Skinner

Cain

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2009, 01:26:14 pm »
...power is a zero-sum game, which means anything done to weaken an enemy strengthens yourself. 

I think this is one of the most important ideas.

Just as an example: theres some very shady reforms going on at my school, and due to indifference or the thought that whatever we do doesnt make any difference, no student commented on the Social Sciences Congress... I myself did participate with a 15 page nitpicking analysis, and i think i did at least make some ripples... the director of the psy doctorate and the director of social sciences department heard and liked my propositions... theres also some students organizing a radical opposition (kind of retardedly and with other shady purposes too...) but the good in all of this is that i helped rise the level of buzz/activity and i didnt just sit there with my arms crossed.

And none should either, given the time and resources to be able to do so.




Death by a thousand cuts is my preferred method.  The first cut shows that they can be hurt, the ones that follow work to establish a different power dynamic.

Unfortunately, the quote you, er, quoted, was obliterated, because I decided to do a rewrite.  The previous version was written on too little sleep and without proper editing.  I looked at it again this morning, after getting a proper several hours, and decided it was both the weakest piece of the series, not up to my standards and quite shrill, without providing much in the way of new information.

I have taken a slightly different tack here, the one I originally intended to take, so hopefully it is not quite so bad now.

The Johnny

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2009, 07:32:21 pm »
Im not too hot even on my local politics, but, I do what i can.

But what interests me is the "why" behind those reasons...

The first thing I think it is important to note is the worship of power for its own sake in such circles... 

(Im translating back to english from a translated work towards spanish, so, keep that in mind)

"Why do we grapple onto power? What is our motive? Why do we desire power?... It's about this: the Party wants to have power, for the love of power itself. We are not interested in the well being of others... Power is not a means, but at end in itself... Power is God... Let's see, Winston, how does a man affirm his power over another man?... Making him suffer... Power lies in inflicting pain and humilliation... A world of fear, ration and  torment, a world of stomping and of being stomped, a world that day by day will turn more ruthless... In our world there shall be no more emotions other than fear, rage, triumph and self-depreciation... If you want to imagine how the future will be, imagine a boot stomping on a human face... forever." (Part 3, Chapter III, "1984")

Might just be fiction, but i consider fiction to at times describe reality better as a metaphor than with precise language (per se).

The desire to punish and humiliate enemies (beyond what is normally required), love of domination, wanting to inspire fear in others, the thrill of violence and death.  With very few exceptions, all of us have desires like this, what makes us good people is that we resist them as much as possible, or channel those impulses to better ends. 

Your argumentation/polarization here of "good" vs. "bad" seems to me weak; even do i know what you mean.

...the death of the Enlightenment project, in a world which has mostly embraced these ideals...

Flanking this general idea a bit... do you not think that the same system of opression of "20% crushing all below" has changed at any point in all the history of humanity? Do you not think that the only difference is the technological prowess? Only royalty had mirrors in the middle ages because of its technological price, and now we have the commodity of mirrors only by grace of technology... Hope im making myself clear.

Anyway, media... This reliance on propaganda is also a major weakness though.  Because once the reality cannot even remotely align with propaganda, the enterprise starts to fall apart, as a ruling power.  Because they favour appearance over empirical consideration, and political reliability over competence, they will always drop the ball, eventually.

I fear im not as optimistic. People seem to be bottomless in regards to eating shit. I wish it wasnt that way too.
<<My image in some places, is of a monster of some kind who wants to pull a string and manipulate people. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are manipulated; I just want them to be manipulated more effectively.>>

-B.F. Skinner

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2009, 07:51:23 pm »

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VfIDTsjCBg

Trapped in a box of tremendous size
It distorts my vision
It closes my eyes

Attracts filthy flies
And pollutes in the skies
It sucks up our lives
And proliferates lies...


[/Thread cowbell]

<<My image in some places, is of a monster of some kind who wants to pull a string and manipulate people. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are manipulated; I just want them to be manipulated more effectively.>>

-B.F. Skinner

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2009, 07:20:30 am »
Unfortunately, the quote you, er, quoted, was obliterated, because I decided to do a rewrite.  The previous version was written on too little sleep and without proper editing.  I looked at it again this morning, after getting a proper several hours, and decided it was both the weakest piece of the series, not up to my standards and quite shrill, without providing much in the way of new information.

arg, I had this tab open for a day or so, and was gonna quote the line about the multi ethnic community organizer winning a national popularity contest cause, well, you might call it shrill but it also made me snicker. but when I pressed the quote button I couldnt find it anymore :)

either way, I haven't read your updated version, I will do so soon, but I also enjoyed the original. great stuff, Cain!
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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2009, 02:13:04 pm »
Quote
This relates to the idea that, for them, politics is existensial warfare.


This is also a very important point.  They have literally supplanted physical survival needs with ideological ones.  Thus, the body reacts as if you were pointing a gun at them.

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2009, 02:11:33 am »
Really enjoyed this piece, Cain. I look forward to a pdf collection of these. Do you have a set number in mind?

I bristle a bit at the word Evil thrown around to describe people that really do think that Conservative American Hegemony will solve all the world's ills. But I can see why you frame the movement like that- presumably to support setting them up as the True Enemy.


Quote
If the crash had been postponed for six months, if McCain's handlers had been a little more savvy, its entirely possible the Movement would still be in power now, and quite likely rubbing everyone's faces in the fact they caused these deeds and still control the fate of the nation.

you think so? I do wonder how the right wing would have framed it had it been more squarely in their lap. The role of the Nefarious Other in this case might be portrayed by ... democrat congress/senate?



Quote
The Realists in the GOP (and to a lesser extent, Democrats) are very comfortable with power, and ran a useful, if not entirely successful mini-insurgency in Republican ranks throughout the Bush years,

I'm curious if you'd expand on this a little bit, about the mini-insurgency?

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2009, 02:52:07 pm »
original art for interregnum


Cain

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2009, 03:23:59 pm »
Flanking this general idea a bit... do you not think that the same system of opression of "20% crushing all below" has changed at any point in all the history of humanity? Do you not think that the only difference is the technological prowess? Only royalty had mirrors in the middle ages because of its technological price, and now we have the commodity of mirrors only by grace of technology... Hope im making myself clear.

I think I get you.  I think things are certainly better now, have been getting steadily better since the 1600s, in fact (slowly, and often easily reversed, I don't hold to a teleological view of history like, say, Francis Fukuyama, but I do think it is possible).  It's not a perfect situation and progress is always uncertain, but I'd still rather live now than, say, 700 years ago.  Occasional victories are better than none.

Cain

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2009, 03:43:02 pm »
Really enjoyed this piece, Cain. I look forward to a pdf collection of these. Do you have a set number in mind?

Five.  The next one will be on the religious right, and then there will be a summation.

Quote
I bristle a bit at the word Evil thrown around to describe people that really do think that Conservative American Hegemony will solve all the world's ills. But I can see why you frame the movement like that- presumably to support setting them up as the True Enemy.

As far as I'm concerned, torture, creating the conditions for slaughter and tyranny, as well as helping promote terrorism is evil.  You can e-prime it if you like, but that's a line I draw in the sand.  Things like Haditha and Abu Ghraib are not bugs, they're features.  It's all part of the plan to toughen up the American people so they have the stomach for good, old British style imperialism (do read the link, it is worth it).  While I don't think throwing soldiers into a guerrilla war was necessarily done on purpose, it wasn't exactly considered a big set-back, either.

Quote
you think so? I do wonder how the right wing would have framed it had it been more squarely in their lap. The role of the Nefarious Other in this case might be portrayed by ... democrat congress/senate?

Absolutely.  They've already called it the Reid/Pelosi recession, as well as blaming it on black people and gays buying houses, instead of understanding their "natural place" in the order of things.  Also the prospect of the "socialist" Obama victory, or some such.

Quote
I'm curious if you'd expand on this a little bit, about the mini-insurgency?

It was mostly bureaucratic, in the first term, in and around the Pentagon, CIA and State Department.  Neocons were put into the top positions by the President, but usually the long term staffers were more Realist in outlook.  They'd leak reports to undermine the case for Iraq, cast doubt on dodgy intelligence sources being courted by Neocon politicos, that sort of thing.  It wasn't especially effective, because they had no-one in power.  Then, Rumsfeld fell and Gates (although not considered ideologically a Realist, is a lot closer to them due to his experience at the CIA) took over and acted as a break on their influence.  Along with Condi The Incoherent Opportunist, they are probably why the second Bush administration's foreign policy was more restrained, even if the rhetoric was not.

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2009, 03:43:45 pm »
original art for interregnum

http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a95/discordman/intterregnum1.png

That's pretty cool.  And now the header for my PFLD blog, as well as the background for my laptop.

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Re: The Interregnum, Part 3
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2009, 04:19:29 pm »
Cain, I am enjoying these immensely.
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