Disingenuous Complicity

Those whose stomachs roil at such in-your-face glorification of our predatory nature, or are intelligent enough to see where it leads, are the main drivers of the two alternative attitudes. Guilt at one’s own ecological, economic, political and sexual footprints can result in defiance of, or, with increasing age, disingenuous complicity with our predatory nature. For certain ideologies may appear on the surface to be opposed to our predation, while being in reality window-dressing for, camouflage of, or more indirect forms of, predation. Such ideologies that start out looking like Defiance, are frequently unstable; they collapse and sell out to Adulation.

These embrace all critiques of consumption that are not quite what they seem, where the goal is not to cease being a predator but to derive goods such as status or moral superiority from the apparent defiance. Criticism of others’ consumption, for example, is often a excuse for hostilities, acting to justify dehumanisation and war.

The borderline between attempts to accept but moderate our predator nature on the one side, and complicity with the more devious strategies of predation on the other, is an ill-drawn, highly debatable and downright hazardous frontier.

Paradoxically enough, one mode of Disingenuous Complicity with our predatory nature is Denial. In reality this is as far removed from true Defiance as is Adulation. For, instead of taking an ethical position on Nature as she really is, Deniers sentimentalise her beyond recognition.

People like to pretend that we have little in common with the other animals. This pretence begins with denial of – or at least acute embarrassment about – bodily functions and sexuality, but it segues into the struggle for resources. In fact, the two things are intimately linked. For the whole point of the many forms of genteel refinement that distance ourselves from our animal functions is one-upmanship; it is virtually universal in human societies, for example, that whoever betrays our common animality by breaking wind, loses points, allowing others to move up in the game. The social contempt thereby provoked may have economic consequences; the farter, so to speak, becomes the prey of the non-farter.

In precisely the same way, but more portentously, some social classes have whole vocabularies for pretending that sordid economic exchange isn’t actually happening; this functions to disguise their own acquisitiveness, enabling them both to make money and at the same time to present themselves as superior because they are “above” the acquisition of pelf. For example, workers earn wages and are worthy of their hire, but a middle-class person has a salary or remuneration, while professionals charge fees and still grander persons receive considerations and emoluments. British doctors making home visits were ostentatiously left alone in the living-room to find such fees in an envelope behind the mantelpiece clock, so that they did not lose caste by being seen to handle money. At the same time, the subject that in the English language that at one time generated – and perhaps still generates – the greatest number of slang words was money, with sex and drunkenness in respectively second and third place. Both the bizarrely “posh” terms for money and the vulgar terms for money betray a very profound unease about the way in which we are obliged to live.

Another variant of Disingenuous Complicity is mendaciously to call “natural” such human behaviour as is actually Defiance; daring contrarian ideals of human benevolence are taught and advocated as if they were simply facts of life, falsely suggesting that altruism is both common and easy. Parents often cripple their children by deceiving them about the nature of the world in this way, on which see my Part “Parental Status Technology”.

Enlightenment-type talk of man’s animal nature contra his “higher faculties” may sound like Defiance but is more usually mere strategising within the framework of human predation, in this case social predation; it is a form of jockeying for hierarchical status. For example, the word “spiritual” has no discernable content other than some ineffable and thus unfalsifiable superiority claimed by the speaker. If you want something from me that I do not wish to give, I may deploy the word “spiritual” so as to give myself social kudos for denying it to you – which is a double win to me. The same applies to critiques of “materialism” (translation: “other people’s money”), which are often merely bids for brownie points that can be converted into social status.

A good predatory strategy is to camouflage yourself as something that is not a predator. As Nietzsche saw, morality may be such a strategy for controlling the behaviour of others and only of others; paying lip-service to the ideals of Defiance may actually be a device to nobble the competition. That is, we wish our competitors to be unpredatory (“all the more for us, hurrah!”), and hope that they are stupid enough to practice Virtue without noticing how carefully we are failing to imitate them. (When Gro Harlem Brundtland invented the term “sustainable development”, for instance, what she really meant was development that sustains the standard of living of Norwegians, who would thereupon fight for the planet to the last Brazilian.)

Under this head fall many techniques of rhetorical redefinition. For example, if we rename survival resources “money”, the survival resources of other people become much easier to attack, in language that appears to be anti-predatory Defiance but is actually nothing of the kind. Affecting disdain for materialism can be a strategy of economic self-advancement. For the predator can then persuade his competitor to renounce his “materialism” and donate his survival resources; three guesses to whom. In this way the most powerful form of predation may be memetic infection with ideologies that disarm the victim.

Posted on February 13, 2011 at 10:53 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Defying The Demiurge

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