|Prerequisites for understanding Dayton and El Paso, August 4, 2019, and Marianna, Florida, January 7, 2019|
Are we entering a postmodern dark age, and are the debt-ceiling crisis and recent cognitive assessments moments in the unfolding of such a postmodern dark age? The Enlightenment presupposition of the rational individual in a market economy--of the Cartesian self as the ontological foundation of society--can no longer be seriously entertained. (Neither can neoliberalism's two other main shibboleths--that markets are magic and institutions don't matter.)
What passes for progressivism these days can only be seen as pathetic last gasps of a once vital cultural historical force.
One will never understand what is happening now in the United States unless one is prepared to consider the question of "fascism." Of course, serious people, respectable people, shun this word, viewing it as an epithet, not a concept. Yet Robert O. Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) provides us with a characterization--a conceptualization--that points directly to the current right wing of the GOP:
The word fascism is not to be thrown around casually. Neither is it to be avoided out of squeamishness, fear, or a simple mindless subservience to conventional taboos.
a few moments in the recent politics of ressentiment, of projection and displacement, of rage and revenge, moments that are remarked upon in the media but yet go uncomprehended. I have already pointed to the immediate context for Jindal's characterization of the GOP as the stupid party, the two comments by Tod "legitimate rape" Akin, and Richard, "rape is God's will" Mourdock. As will be seen in the next several panels below, this sado-sexual discursive practice is the essence of the GOP's public presence.
Unconceptualized is the primary character of the GOP Right: its sado-sexual discursive practice.
To hurt the other is the source of a perverse joy that the GOP base gets out of the theater of ressentiment that politics provides. And even when it appears not to be, the sexual obsessiveness of the GOP is present as the inner logic that drive their performances, that generates their rhetoric. (Dan T. Carter)
The right's sado-sexual obsession recurs, as Nietzsche said, eternally.
A striking illustration of the cognitive limitations of liberals is that they fail to note the obvious--that is, they fail to conceptualize the generic character of this stream of sado-sexual performances. The excerpt at the right from a study of Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment makes this clear. Jamieson and Cappella just don't get it: The vulgarity and sadism of Limbaugh's rhetoric is the main event in this theater of ressentiment, while the "issues" are merely the occasion for the expression of emotionally appealing sexual inuendo and sadism. This is the stuff of Nietzsche's ressentiment.
The Crudeness and vulgarity that perplex Jamieson and Cappella are the aesthetic principles of the right's appeal.
Sometimes the phantasy of the marauding other breaks through its politically coded, euphemistic representations.
And sometimes the phantasy is actually enacted, as in the hunting down of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and the uprising of white support for the perpetrator in his hour of need. Not all whites, of course, but the severely and the really white. (For this distinction see Intel Finalists.)
Inflicting pain on the other is the cultural eigenvector of right-wing politics, and thus sadism is the core value of the values voters. (See three incidents: encounters in the raw--not yet available
The question of Imus's r*c*sm--is he or isn't he?--misses the point: Imus is a removable singularity: the entire account of his remarks can be constructed without reference to Imus's presence or to his pychological dispositions.
Imus’s remark was, whatever its relation to his own psychic processes, part of a major media production, a show, a systematic deployment of specific rhetorical elements as part of the organization of markets and the circulation of symbols, and oh yes, vast flows of money. As controlling interests of MSNBC and CBS and as major advertisers, the modern corporation is thoroughly entangled with the question of Imus. This is meant not to cast aspersions or to suggest guilt. It is to suggest that that which is called racism is so pervasive, so much a part of the very fabric of socio-cultural space-time, that the very unfolding of being in modern society is inflected by it.
A concept of Demonization is required to cover the common characteristics of the rhetorical moves of "racially insensitive" shock jocks. Such a concept must deal with the rage and sexual obsessiveness, the sadism and virtual pornography, of the semiotic productions of these shock jocks. These are the primal forces, the dark energy, of politics.
A further requirement is a concept of the theater of ressentiment, on the one hand, and a concept of cogntive regime, on the other. One must imagine the immediate setting of the listener--at work, in his car, etc--the gross material features of his stage; one can imagine--in the map to the right--millions of points of light, each one representing an affective outburst, e.g., a listener lighting up in response to Imus's remarks. All this in the larger context of the prevailing symbols, icons, and demons of the current manifestation of ressentiment.
Demonization, cog reg, theater of resentiment are concrete expressions of resentiment, Nietzsche's fundamental concept of the psycholgical/ontological consequences of power, of "man's aimal spirit turned against himself."
The term r*c*sm itself is usually hurled as an accusation of personal culpability rather than deployed as a sociological and historical concept. Its deployment in media discourse demonstrates the cunning of history: it conceals more than it reveals about the very phenomena it directs our attention to. It is a symptom of the power of that which limits r*c*sm’s referent to mere deviance from bourgeois democratic norms. Avoidance of analysis of the symbolic content of racist rhetoric, imagery, and theater shifts the focus away from r*c*sm as such, focusing instead on the racee as victim, on the one hand, and on individual culpability as the only ontological-analytical issues permitted, on the other.
R*c*sm is an effect of power, a symbolic and theatrical catchment area for residual but dangerously festering rages inevitably generated at the level of culture and politics by the intersection of power and biology. (FIG. mech of defense) Racist phenomena thus arise from the deepest levels of the psyche; they are the consequences of the clash between biology and power: it is the very fact of our subjugation under regimes of power called civilizations that drives racist phenomena. Its roots are deep, not only historically, but ontologically. R*c*sm is an integral, decisive, and inescapably deep feature of modernity. It is biology's revenge, where great gobs of the repressed emerge as public discursive objects in power-laden situations. (campaign 2006 ads; and now campaign 2008 ads)
The trivial view of that which is called racism is provided by liberalism: r*c*sm=divergence between values of possessive individualism in a market economy and dynastic practices built around kinship/tribe/”race” and embodying structured expressions of sadism (militarism, death peality), and a symbolic practice isomorphic with a subset of the ego’s mechanisms of defense whose manifestation takes the form of demonization, up to and including lynchings, cruasades, ethnic cleansing
Identity-Power processes are fundamental properties of societies and are inflected through institutions; institutions are situated in cultural and historical contexts: r*c*sm cannot be a property of the individual, therefore. Nor can it be a property of an institution taken in isolation. r*c*sm is a property of society as a whole; that is, it is ontologically fundamental. It is a manifestation of a form of being that Nietzsche diagnosed as ressentiment. In topology, that which is called racism would be called a global not local property.
What is the Imus event a moment in the unfoldng of?
Watch Trump rallies closely. The audience is usually unfocused, almost bored in the haze of broken English spoken by Trump. Bored, restless, talking among themselves, cognitively not there, but waiting for the punch line, the expletive, the primitive, hate-filled denunciation: license has been given (Kallis). Then they wake up, some more slowly than others, as they catch on, and howl their delight, only to subside into a state of not being. This the pundits refer to as "energy." This is, ontologically speaking, some really primitive stuff. This is why media discourse on the real-world economic grievances of white men simultaneously get it and miss it completely. They are finally being forced to address what has been a trend obvious for decades, but not discussed in the media until the breakdown of elite control of public discourse in the primary campaigns of 2016. What they miss is the deep structure of this rage; the cognitive primitiveness of its expression; the centuries long history of ressentiment as the inner logic of ultra-nationalism and fascism and racism
Beyond sadism (the beating heart of the GOP), and related to it, are the cognitive consequences of a politics of bestiality. It is not merely that Donald Trump Talks Like a Third-Grader (Politico, August 13, 1915).
Language on the threshold of gesture and reflex. Regression to infantile narcissism (see Criminal Identities ) via processes of identification, to a politics of patrimonialism.
Trump is the apotheosis of the GOP's core performativities. In thhis sense there is nothing new. But what is new with the Trump campaign--and decisively so--is that a charismatic demagogue has literally hijacked the base of the Republican Party. The genetic ontology of ressentiment produces a subject. But that subject--the Trump enthusiasts one sees at rallies and in interviews and focus groups--has been embedded in the cultural-historical field of white supremacy (see The Imus Brouhaha and that which is called "Racism"). The containment of white rage has depended on two things. First, an economy of white affirmative action guaranteeing great masses of "white" folk sole access to those sectors of employment embedded in local government (police, fire, govt administration, utilities, transportation, building services, construction, and even manufacturing). And second, a semioitic regime of ego-reinforcing symbols (positive and negative identifications). When you add the election of Barak Obama to the economic consequences of the regime of neoliberal globalization (which includes declining wages as well as job losses) you add insult to injury, and one gets a psycho-cultural crackup of world-historic proportions. This is what Trump exploits.
Lee Atwater has shown how the discursive and symbolic elements of the Southern Strategy were generated through the construction of a theatrical arena in which hatred is expressed and sadism performed. This sado-sexual performativity is the essence of the GOP's mass appeal. Well before Trump, the evocation of evil and the channelling of rage against a scapegoat was the stock-in-trade of Republican politicians, who tapped into and gave expression to " . . . a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable . . . " (Nietzsche, Geneology of Morals, III. 14)
The rhetorical violence of Trump rallies, not ideology and policies, is what is fundamental. The Trump performances--the audience, the cultural-historical context, and Trump himself as a therapeutic object with which the audience member can identify--become intelligible when viewed through the prism of certain key concepts:
• Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment;
• psychoanalysis's concept of the mechanisms of defense;
• Wilbur Cash's concept of the proto-Dorian convention;
• the Lacan-Atwater Signifying Chain;
• and Robert Paxton's concept of redemptive violence.
On the right there are not issues, but postures, gestures, various encodings of the same sado-sexual reflex (the inner logic of racism). Rage enacted in a political-media theater of violence, sadism, and revenge. The cruelty of it all is the most important thing. The vicarious thrill, the “enthusiasm for inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation”(OED*): this is what is seen at Trump rallies. The GOP's performative cadre are specialists in herding hominids of a particular cultural-historical configuration (ressentiment). Hence the concept of semioitic regime.
The evocation of evil and the channelling of rage against a scapegoat (various forms of the other) is the stock-in-trade of Republican politicians. In this respect Trump is no different (see GOP as the Stupid Party). (see LASC)
The sado-sexual fixations that are the essense of right-wing signifying chains may dress themselves up as issues (such as abortion or Obamacare), as if they were subject to rational debate and beholden to empirical checks. But they are clearly not, and one of the indications of the intellectual bankruptcy of liberal and progressive discourse is that it is fundamentally incapable of grasping this elemental fact. "Facts" are merely props in the theater of ressentiment.
There is a simple brutishness to the rhetorical performances of the right, an inexhaustible reservoir of rage, cognitively primitive, sadistic in impulse and sexual in symbolic content (although this is often implicit--see Lacan: signifying chain). Several pages on this site contain images, videos, newspaper reports, and political ads that span the years 2009 to 2018. (Two of the videos (Father of Gun Victim and Kelly Ayotte Criticized), from June 20, 2013. are presented here. They are concrete moments in the unfolding of QHD-3, ressentiment and the mechanisms of defense.)