Taking Up Space – The Real Basic Instinct

I vaguely remember Sartre writing that man’s most basic drive was “to fill holes – even the most obscene”. The rider has to be an insincerely contemptuous reference to sex, and don’t ask me what his Simone thought about this or about what woman’s basic drive might be. My takeaway is, however, that Sartre was trying to stand the conventional view on its head and suggest that it was by no means the case that all man’s penetrative and investigatory activities were a sublimation of the desire to fuck. Rather, sex itself was not actually primary but merely one example among many of an underlying hunger that one might as well term metaphysical. Perhaps we might call it a thirst for completion.

Whether or not you think this particular unifying principle works, trying to identify basic human imperatives can still be a rewarding game or perhaps more than that. I should like to add another candidate to the usual collection of the will-to-life, the will-to-power, integration, transcendence, Eros/Thanatos, and so forth.

What is it, then, that may furnish us with an unified explanation of such diversely annoying human behaviours such as: barging and shoving, standing in everyone’s way, taking as much time as possible to use public facilities, littering, overconsumption, stomping on heels, sending the whole group to ask the same question at the tourist information, ghetto-blasters, roaring, squealing and yelling and yappy dogs? Do these not seem different? No, underlying all these and many other behaviours is the desire to take up space in the world, in fact to take up too much space in it. You do not need to seize political power in order to have a disturbingly large footprint on the planet, the thing is available to everybody – at the micro level and generally with no resources. Never mind Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, a car with a powerful woofer – and/or without a muffler – can with far less effort give you 15 seconds of everybody noticing your existence.

Some of this list needs further explication. The “category of barging and shoving, standing in everyone’s way and hogging of public facilities” varies widely between cultures. Englishmen used to be brought up to be what our mothers called “considerate” about these things, while it seems that Japanese still are. Italians may shove in line in order to get something, but the worst offenders in Europe are probably the people of Bergen. These shove and barge not only when they want to be served first, but simply because, like Everest, you are there. They love, for example, to stand in shop doorways so as to prevent ingress or egress, and on a ten-foot-wide empty pavement they will walk right into you. It is surely impossible to explain this in any other way than the desire to occupy the space that ought rightly be shared with others, even indeed the space on which others are currently standing. That must make them feel good; if not, why do they not walk a separate line like everyone else? It is in the same spirit that they linger in front of ATMs, counters, and anything else after their business is done. “I am in your way, ergo sum!”

A particular technique I have observed among Mid-Westerners visiting Europe is that one person asks the tourist information office or railway ticket counter a long series of questions. Will the information then be shared? No, the next member of the partywill advance and ask exactly the same ten complicated questions. And then the third, fourth and down to the least and last member of the tour group. There can be no purpose to this other than the impact on locals and other travellers: “You all have missed your trains, ergo sum!”

Freud wrote about untidiness in terms of “anal aggression”, but the psychodynamics of potty-training and the fascination of childish poo might well be subjected to Occam’s Razor; it is ingenious, all very ingenious, but it would be conceptually simpler to attribute the messing of both one’s own nest and the public space to the drive to take up more space in the world. “My sink is full, ergo sum” and “My rubbish is on your street, ergo sum”.

The whole concept of our “footprint” was invented by the environmental movement, and an excellent one it is too. As I am endeavouring to show, it is applicable beyond one’s emission of CO2 via fossil fuels. But suppose the fundamental assumption is wrong? Suppose that the greenies were unduly generous to consider our footprint, our consumption, our waste, to be merely an unintended side-effect of our enjoyment of material goods? Suppose that it is nothing of the kind, but a fulfilment of man’s basic instinct, namely to exist, which means taking up space, which in turn means making a mess?

Any person, whether light or heavy, can walk either on the balls of her feet or on her heels. The latter creates about double the thump for the benefit of anyone nearby, let alone living beneath. So difficult is it to see any other benefit that this behaviour may well serve as shorthand for the whole syndrome of taking up more space in the world. What easier redress can be imagined for the low-status individual who might otherwise feel overlooked? “I stomp, ergo sum”.

The same goes for the voice. Some people simply have no indoor voices, they yell at one another across the kitchen as if at opposite ends of a football pitch. This costs energy, of course, but seems a price they are willing to pay. In the old days one could keep people awake all night only with the expenditure of resources, whether one’s own biological energy or the money to hire musicians. The very fact that the charivari or “rough music” was meant as a social punishment shows that people have always been well aware how distressing is nocturnal din. And yet in modern times, when you can keep the neighbours awake with the minimal expenditure of a trickle of electricity – and perhaps for that very reason – a culture has developed that considers continuous listening, or rather, consumption of sound, as an absolute and inalienable right. “You are kept awake, ergo sum”.

If people no longer understand, even theoretically, the desire of others for quiet, as surely even past roisterers did, this need be no great mystery. All we need to do is consider unbroken noise as their existential necessity, without which they do not feel that they take up any space in the world. That is to say, they fear that they do not exist. Thanks to the invention of the earbud, the existentially uncertain can now supply themselves with external validation every minute of the day without even coming into conflict with such dinosaurs as do not wish to be their auditory vassals. But external peace is no real objection, as, within their own subjectivity, their noise fills the world utterly, and accordingly so do they.

When considering roisterers and the extra space they take up in the world, we should ask ourselves whether the noise they make is the effect or the cause of what they call “having fun”. We assume that fun would be fun even if no one could hear them. It might be better to assimilate this thing called fun to the sound of the tree falling in a deserted forest. “Fun” is apparently something that cannot be had quietly, because then one would be missing out on the taking up of space in the world. And that would be no fun. Failing to identify this motivation leads us to miscategorise great swathes of human behaviour under the rubric of “humour”, whereas it is nothing of the kind. True amusement does not need to deafen the house, so something else must be going on here, meeting no definition of humour, wit, irony or anything similar.

People “having fun” do not roar, boom, squeal and giggle because anything really funny is being said. The phenomenon is akin to the way alcohol gives permission for the childish or unpleasant behaviour in which people want to indulge. The quite fictional presence of something claimed to be humour functions as a permission for roaring, booming, squealing and giggling, which is what people want to do, because it means that they take up more space in the world than someone contemplating nature or reading a book. And there is a Stadium Effect in operation: each actually quite humourless person needs to roar, boom, squeal and giggle louder than the previous player in order to be considered to have this thing called “humour” that authorises the noise. “I make a racket as if amused, ergo sum – and ergo, too, I am a better person than you sobersides.”

Finally, my universal theory might explain why some people keep horrendously yappy little dogs as opposed to a calmer kind. Instead of treating the noise as an accidental side-effect of a breed chosen for some other reason, let us assume that the hysterical aggression whenever they see another dog on a lead, or sometimes whenever they see anything at all, is the whole object of the exercise. “My dog yaps to wake the neighbourhood, ergo sum”.

Posted on February 24, 2018 at 14:07 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

On Rereading The Heike Monogatari

The people of this medieval Japanese epic are all Buddhists of a sort, just as the protagonists of the conemporary Western European epics are all Christians of a sort. Their Buddhism is, it is true, syncretised with the Shintō deities, but State Shintō is still seven centuries in the future. The two dominant Buddhist schools are Tendai, with the players performing pious exercises or more likely commissioning them from others, in precisely the same way as monastic observance in Christendom; and Pure Land, a characteristic Japanese approach that seems to resemble Luther’s salvation by faith alone.

What I did not find in the Heike Monogatari was what we have associated with the Japanese from the first Jesuit missionaries to James Clavell: a complete lack of the fear of death. There is, to be sure, a lot of suicide. Samurai men kill themselves by the sword, though the ritual of seppuku lies in the future; noble women drown themselves. But willing death is not at all the same thing as willing cessation of being. On the contrary, everybody in the epic reckons on coming back, quite possibly to be reunited with their loved ones in future existences. Some warriors even make death sound like a canny career move, such as the one who says, “If, as seems likely, I am named as a ringleader and imprisoned, banished or beheaded, I will consider it an honour in this life and something to remember in the next.” He makes his execution sound like a stop on the tourist trail.

Coexisting with reincarnation in the Heike Monogatari is a belief in Hell, the realm of the dead under Enma its royal employer of torturers. No character in the epic ever explains how these two concepts fit together and who gets which afterlife. In the same way, nobody is explicit about how return in another life goes with the paradise to which you will be conducted by the Amida Buddha if you sincerely recite the nembutsu. Perhaps the audience understood all this perfectly well, or perhaps the audience was itself muddled on the subject. At any rate, those in the epic who talk about the Pure Land are clearly yearning for it in precisely the same manner and degree as medieval Christians yearn for Heaven. However else we might describe the mentality of the death-defying samurai and their womenfolk in the Heike Monogatari, it is by no means a readiness for extinction. A conquest of the animal will-to-live it is not.

Posted on February 17, 2018 at 16:35 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Design Fault

On The Truly Hidden

When mystics go on (and on, and on) about the Oneness of things, or about how everything is a unity, Hugo tends to go switch-off. It seems as much a meaningless babble as the invocations of Red Indian spirit guides by Victorian con-women wearing turbans and lots of bling.

One fine day, however, the Arabic expression Ahadiyyat al-‘ayn, or “Uniqueness of Essence”, suddenly seemed to make sense. This was because most of our knowledge is gained from comparing things and noting their similarities. Essence or Being as such, if we dare use such a simple noun for “the totality of what exists”, by definition cannot be compared with things that are like it. As Popper said of History, something there is only one of cannot support inductive generalisations. Is it really too much of a stretch to say the same of the Everything-That-Is? If we may be said to know Being, therefore, it cannot be the same sort of knowledge as when we know individual things within Being. Perhaps Hegel or Heidegger said it better, I do not know, but that was at any rate how Hugo saw it that one fine day.

Schopenhauer said something in the same general area when he cautioned that all the original forces of Nature are a qualitas occulta. As Hume had already realised, we cannot observe causation, only the repetitiousness of something happening after another thing and in close proximity. From which Kant decided that causation was a product of our own minds. All this talk of “forces” is therefore as much bullshit as that spouted by the table-tapper; we know that stuff happens, but the “forces” are as fictitious as her Big Chief who has nothing better to do all eternity than tell the paying public that their dear departeds send their regards.

In the same way, we cannot easily expound why some things are so, even when they seem intuitively obvious.This is because, says Schopenhauer, the principle of sufficient reason, in its four forms (cause, logical consequence, existence and motivation) is absolutely inexplicable. For it is the principle of explanation itself. If we call on a person to explain something, we ought to have a concept of what “explanation” actually means, and not demand that he tell us while explaining the first thing.

And yet, “Everyone knows without further help what the world is, for he himself is the subject of knowing of which the world is representation.” What philosophy does, says Schopenhauer, is merely to reproduce our concrete knowledge of the world in the abstract. Well, then, so the Everything-That-Is is after all knowable, we know it in the direct and undeniable manner that a fox knows what the hen is. But when the mystics make a meal of this knowledge, claiming to have something exclusive, they never say that theirs is the fox’s knowledge of the hens, nor yet its rephrasing in terms of philosophical abstracts. Rather, they seem to be claiming it as a third thing entirely, about which they can naturally tell us nothing more without a paid subscription.

Posted on December 28, 2017 at 15:34 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

Sorry, Ma, You’re Not Moral

Immanuel Kant taught that an action is only a “moral” action if it goes counter to our inclinations. I have always assumed that by this he meant, not that it is a downright bad action, but merely that it does not fall into the category of moral actions, those that are performed because they are right. Funnily enough, in Matthew 5:47 Jesus of Nazareth is recorded in much the same vein: “And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?” If it comes easily, they both seem to be saying, then no brownie points!

Now, mothers tend to lay claim to lots of brownie points as reward for their parenting. But at the same time they also speak about their mother-love as instinctual. Well, they can’t have it both ways: if maternal love really is instinct and nothing but instinct, then they cannot claim ethical merit for possessing and following it. “Do not even the publicans so?”

Given that a mother should be perfectly capable of recognising that she is just following her nature, which is an ethically-neutral thing to do, what is going on with the cult of the brownie points? The answer lies, as usual, in the human drive for undeserved self-esteem. She wants a double whammy, to be praised on two mutually exclusive grounds at the same time: once for doing what is right, in the strenuous Kantian sense, and again for harbouring maternal love, which makes her a good person.

But wait a moment; there are also such things as bad, neglectful mothers. Our loving mother therefore deserves a certain number of brownie points for not being one. The question provoked in my mind, then – and of course I have no knowledge of what it is like to be a mother – is whether she has overcome inner obstacles to be a good mother. Was she just following her nature, or rising above it? It would follow from the Kantian approach that the most moral woman would be the one who would like to abuse her child but doesn’t. If that is too peculiar for us, then we ought to be Aristotelians instead.

Posted on December 14, 2017 at 16:21 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · One Comment
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, My Son, The Doctor

Which Once You Took For Exercise Of Virtue

What Eliot describes in Little Gidding as “the rending pain of re-enactment” becomes linearly worse with age. Firstly because, as the short-term memory goes, the long-term memory notoriously improves, and secondly because for each new day, “the shame of motives late revealed and the awareness of things ill done” acquires new material to feed on. To believe that you will one day become old and wise enough not to commit acts, the shame of which will subsequently keep you awake at night, is simply an illusion.

Velle non discitur; your basic character does not change, and if you are a dork who does not know how to model social interactions at twenty, or a selfish jerk who does not care how he hurts others, you will in all probability be exactly the same at seventy, or even worse. In the words of the concise Jewish expression, “Wherever you go, your tuchas goes with you.” If the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your seventy-first year is in fact smaller than the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your twenty-first year, this will be solely because you have fewer social interactions to make a mess of, many of your former victims being either already alienated or dead as mackerel.

There are only two remedies for this gift reserved for old age: firstly, to believe that seniority is virtuous by definition and that everything you now do is therefore right and proper, a self-conceit that can leak backwards in time until you come to believe that you were a moral paragon in your youth as well; aging does not give people a better character, merely the conceited delusion of having a better character. This delusion is embraced by perhaps the majority of middle-aged people. The second remedy is death. Unfortunately these remedies tend to occur in that order; whereas it would be so much better if we all died before combining all our other vices with senile self-satisfaction.

Sour old braggarts insist that they are superior in wisdom to young people. Well, they are simply wrong. If human beings are very, very complex algorithms, then the typical old person is a highly simplified and limited algorithm; its behaviour now consists of little else than the same dozen lines of dialogue, or rather monologue, mostly intended to insult, irritate or at least bore the surroundings. I am astonished to find novels containing intelligent, scientifically literate and tolerant parents and other old people, because I never met any myself. I know I would have remembered meeting someone over 50 who was not devoted to ignorance, superstition and bigotry.

The reason why algorithm-based artificial intelligence has never worked is because people were trying to build a computer that acted like a young, healthy, rational human being. They ought instead have built a machine that passed the Turing Test by emulating the average querulous pensioner on the bus, weary, whiny and hung-up on trivia. You could probably use a computer from the Eighties, programmed in Basic.

Posted on October 18, 2017 at 21:27 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: PARENTAL STATUS TECHNOLOGY, O Tempora! O Mores!

The Smoke And The Small Screen

The other day I was looking down on the city from the lower slopes of our ruling mountain, in exquisite weather. After a night’s rain the air was about the clearest I had ever seen it. There was no sign of any pollution. This reminded me of the old nickname for London, “The Smoke”, and how people used to use that name as a compliment. For lack of belching smokestacks could mean only the absence of economic activity. Would a time-traveller from the 1800s, therefore, think that we were languishing in a great depression, or whatever they called it then?

I remembered also the way futuristic illustrations used to take dense vehicular traffic, such as the Tōkyō freeways featured at the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, as a metonym for life itself, cf. my essay, “Gosh, Wow, Aircars!” That being so, with the roads below me very far from jam-packed, I wondered whether some other time-traveller, this time from the 1950s, would pronounce this city “dead”.

If we are right to consider the lack of smokestacks and the lack of cars six abreast to be good things, rather than symptoms of poverty and backwardness, the third question I posed to myself on the hillside that day was what new mistake we might be making to follow those made in the eighteenth century and the Fifties. What might we be confusing with Life itself? The candidate that came immediately to mind was the smartphone. I hoped that, just as we now prefer clean air to reeking chimneys, humanity might one day learn to prefer the real world around it to the flickering screen.

The Sheep-Flaying Age

I do not know whether university students are still being taught the high-minded fictions of Politics 101, in which institutions are created to serve the common good, and whether the reason why reality cannot be spoken is because it is just too depressing.

For the truth about the human race is fully known to all psychopaths, while the rest of us still believe in the tooth fairy. We are a predatory species, and we predate on ourselves as well as on everything else. Most of us are food, end of story.

The “nation” is therefore a PR fiction covering a predation territory. Rulers are those who have staked a claim to a range and are prepared to fight others for the exclusive right to consume its resources, namely us. From this it follows that “globalisation” is actually predation gone global, with a functional rather than geographical definition of territory.

Most politics and most public employment is a sub-type of this predation, in that the lions cut the jackals in on a share of the booty in return for support against other lions. The output of the system, the behaviour of the so-called government or nation, is the resultant vector of the individual interests of these sub-predators. Wars and suchlike are partly about access to resources and partly the sum of individual diplomats’ career interests.

The most ludicrous part of the whole tooth-fairy story is the suggestion that rule by the top predators is a contingent outcome and that something else is possible. No, our choices are limited to: relatively benevolent plutocracy, in-between plutocracy and malignant plutocracy. An older age put this in terms of shearing the sheep contra flaying them. We are now entering a second age of sheep-skinning within a hundred years.

Revitalising The Economy

It is not particularly fresh news that religious institutions are first and foremost business institutions, engaged in the movement of money from some pockets into other pockets. We understand how all kinds of religious building function as tangible fixed assets for the purpose of generating a revenue stream, while for their part the customers, whether magnate or commoner, make pious donations as admission price or high-yield investment. To this end, the fixed assets known as churches, monasteries and shrines are bought and sold just like mills, bridges or customs posts, or else or divided into shares that are bought and sold likewise. Not exactly into thousandths of the capital, but the principle is the same.

We also understand how the question of how to run the collectively-owned businesses that we call medieval monasteries spawned a vast management literature, and how successful models were exported and copied, while models thought to be dysfunctional were forcibly reorganised or suppressed. Creative destruction, as Schumpeter would call it. Above all, those individuals thought to embody managerial prowess were headhunted from one location to the next. Such monks would have perfectly understood the modern invocation of “benchmarking”. It has also been suggested that a particular organisation within the Christian church, the Cistercians, were the pioneers of what would later be called factory production, standardisation and the multinational.

So far, so good. But that is all the more reason to take the final step. For, until the great age of the chartered town and its self-governing burgesses, the theologians and devotional writers were practically alone in thinking about how best to organise profitable corporate entities. We might therefore do well to enquire what would happen if, every time a twelfth- or eleventh-century writer talked about “the Church of God”, the “kingdom of heaven” and so forth, we were to replace this expression with our modern cant, “the Economy”.

If, we may often suspect, that modern hypostasis or abstraction, “the Economy” is really the name given by a particular class of people to their own extorted riches, well, the same may be true of the kind of people who spoke in proprietorial terms of “the Church of God”. If the substitution works, that does not prove that the twelfth-century writers consciously had producing and consuming, buying and selling in the forefront of their minds when talking about the Church. But it might nevertheless indicate that we have been missing something important.

The Norman Anonymous, to take just one example, would then be writing that, “The king ought, therefore, not to be excluded from the governance of the economy, that is, the Christian people, because the kingdom would then be separated from the economy and destroyed.” For the relationship between the secular and the ecclesiastic power was a perennial issue, and is perhaps not so very different from what we nowadays call “the role of the state in the economy”. We may have been in error in taking the rhetoric for a greater reality than it actually is, and vainly assuming that when they spoke of the body of Christ and so on, they were talking about something “spiritual”. If, in those days, most of the economy was in the hands of the collective owner caste that wore the cowl as their business dress, then what they might really have been talking about is the right to run the enterprise as they saw fit, free of interference by those claiming to represent the people in some different sense. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?
We might even find that the programme we call Gregorian, calling for the absolute autonomy of the clerics, might – if translated in the spirit of “follow the money” – sound like something not entirely unlike Ayn Rand.

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 16:37 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Spiritual Business

Tit For Tat And “The Good War”

It is often said that the shock of 911 was that the USA was for the first time vulnerable on its own soil to enemy action. This overlooks the little detail of the Soviet ability to exterminate every life-form on the continent, perhaps because this was both too abstract and too horrific to think about. Perhaps Moscow should long ago have launched a missile at Washington packed with party favours, just to make the point.

The conclusion drawn from this first actual demonstration of American heartland vulnerability has been, of course, that this Must Never Happen Again. So much attention has been paid to the prevention measures, to whether they will work and at what price in terms of civil liberties and global hatred, that nobody has stopped to point out the moral peculiarity of a demand for invulnerability.

For it is part of the human condition that no individuals, groups or nations are, have ever been, or ever will be, invulnerable to attack. As Hobbes famously wrote, “For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himselfe.” The implied lesson here, that the strong and aggressive is likely to provoke a coalition of the weak and fearful to defend against him, is equally applicable to the life of nations. Let us imagine the consequences of an individual’s waking up one day and discovering that he was a superman who could in no way be harmed or restrained; the rest of us would not greatly enjoy the prospect of whim or conscience being all that stood between us and destruction or enslavement. Why should it be any different for a country? The invulnerable man or nation would not be a part of the moral order in which the rest of us live, in which our actions have consequences, and unpleasant actions have unpleasant consequences. For the invulnerable man or nation is unlikely ever to comprehend that the best way not to get attacked involves both a degree of strength, but also not giving intolerable offence.

Now, there is a name for the condition in which an entity fails to understand that it cannot do unto others without others doing back unto it – infantilism. The small child hits the other children, and when he is hit back runs screaming to Mommy; he does not yet understand that the bad thing that has happened to him is not only the same sort of bad thing that he had been handing out, but also its direct and inevitable consequence. If Mommy is sensible she will explain the link, and by dint of repetition of both the explanation and the experience he will eventually “get it”; but if Mommy is a moron and instead goes storming off to the day-care manager, he won’t. Then we get another narcissistic psychopath.

It may well be natural for human beings to contemplate only the wrongs done to them and never the wrongs they have done to others, even when the latter came first; but it is by no means desirable. Individuals must be brought to understand the connection between what they do and what happens to them; we call this a good upbringing. Nations must also be brought to understand the connection between what they do and what happens to them; we call this a good war.

It is said that Tit-for-Tat retaliation teaches small children both reciprocity and empathy; the mirroring of the action enables the perpetrator to understand what it feels like to be the victim, and even if he never makes that leap, he will learn about reactions and consequences. Children have a natural sense of justice and will therefore come to understand the limits of acceptable aggression – unless deluded adults intervene in the process to prevent the children themselves teaching one another the requisite lessons. Of course, this learning will initially be resisted, via the anti-Kantian reasoning typical of Libertarians and small children (but I repeat myself), namely, “But it doesn’t apply to me”; the well-adjusted members of society are the ones who have had this notion hammered out of them in the playground.

Might this socialisation process also apply to whole nations? The Germans once had a taste for military glory, imperial adventures and genocide, but through Tit-for-Tat were thoroughly cured. The Japanese likewise. Or does American moral infantilism go much deeper than German and Japanese militarism? After all, for almost all of its history the island nation minded its own business and wanted nothing more than to be left alone, so that the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was ultimately an answer to Commodore Perry. The Germans were long known as a nation of philosophers, musicians and clock-makers, and their period of insanity from Bismarck to Hitler lasted less than a century. It is now more than a hundred years since the Americans inaugurated their overseas empire by slaughtering three million Filipinos who wanted freedom; before that was the Indian genocide and chattel slavery, all the way back to the colonial period. The Americans, therefore, have never really had a period of inoffensiveness, because no one ever helped to socialise them.

Given that about half of the American population failed to “get” Vietnam, it is perhaps not surprising that the main explanation of 911 was “They hate our freedom”. (Waaaah!!! They hit me for no reason!!! They’re just mean!) If the Tit-for-Tat needs to be more or less proportional to work properly, then the moral infantilism of the USA would need to be educated by a retaliation that is in keeping with its own deeds. And in that context, the attacks of 911 were pinpricks. The overthrows of elected governments, the vicious military dictatorships, the drowning in blood of popular movements for national or social liberation, the unleashing of death squads on trade unionists, democrats, liberals, human-rights activists and ecologists, the torture centres, the proxy wars, the aerial bombing, the destruction of social infrastructure, the dispossession of peoples, the economic exploitation and environmental degradation, the napalm, the defoliants and the depleted uranium – in a hypothetical spirit of Tit-for-Tat, all this could be visited on the Americans themselves. A propaganda machine of equal effectiveness with the Americans’ own could then portray this to the rest of the world not only as right, proper and necessary, but also as conducive to Motherhood and Tortillas. Radicals have calculated the body-count of American policy since 1945 as around 50 million. Should the Tit-For-Tat slogan therefore be, “Tell me when we reach 50 million”?

Posted on March 9, 2017 at 19:39 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Some Modest Proposals

The Insortables

Elsewhere I have made the point that politics is not, as they told us in class, primarily about the distribution of economic satisfactions, but rather about the provision of emotional satisfactions. Especially those that might otherwise be considered shameful. The successful demagogue, therefore, gives the people permissions for their hatreds – and for worse things.

In search of a new label for the American Right one day back in the Bush years, I played with “the Troll Demographic”, “the Fuck-Yeahs” and “West Waziristan”. The second only made sense if you knew a particular movie made by certain libertarians, while the third was far too rooted in the American war with the Taliban.

Trolls, however, are global. During the Macron-Le Pen election battle, I took note of the French word Insortables. Based ultimately on the verb sortir, this suggests the English idiom about uncouthness, “You can’t take him anywhere!” In dim and distant days Norwegian took the same attitude to its Poujadist xenophobes: the word stueren, for what these were not, meant fit to enter the living room. Think German salonfähig, about whose use in debates about AfD I cannot say anything because I don’t live there.

Barack Obama was fiercely criticised for suggesting that his most determined opponents were in their social frustrations “clinging to guns and religion”, even though of course everyone knew that it was true. This indiscretion was reprised by intra-Democratic arguments about whether to brand Trump supporters as “mouth-breathers” and so forth. Well, there are no doubt Republicans who are not mouth-breathers, and it may not always be wise of us to talk that way, even when they talk like that about us.

But strictly between ourselves, we do need to look at personality types. Having these incarnated in a figure from popular culture has been a smart move since Dickens. In the days of Harold Wilson, the UK had its TV series character “Alf Garnett”. His creator, Johnny Speight, said that where he grew up, everyone talked that way, and he was astonished when he met his first educated people who could deploy facts and arguments instead of yelling the same things, louder and louder, in your face. Alf Garnett was later exported to the USA as “Archie Bunker”. Similarly, the UK’s Tony Hancock created a persona that was decades later borrowed by the Norwegians as “Marvin Fleksnes”. The latter’s TV scripts were often taken verbatim from Hancock’s radio shows, made before TV was even invented, and yet they worked perfectly well. That should tell us something.

Unlike Garnett and Bunker, Hancock and Fleksnes were not explicitly political, and yet if a public figure reminded you of them, you noticed, and that gave you a universally-known shorthand. In the age of Trump, Farage, Le Pen and the rest of them, we badly need such a common property. On the other hand, we should not forget that when the stereotypes Beavis and Butthead were launched as a satire of the MTV audience, they were embraced by the object of the satire. So there is a danger in trying to create a literary or screen character that will incarnate how we see the Red States; he will become their hero.

In the suburb of Bergen where I lived between 1996 and 2014, there was a plentiful personality type I used to call the Gargoyle. Their faces of the Gargoyles were usually contorted with rage against interlopers coming among the Master Race, and there poured, so to speak, a constant stream of dirty water from their mouths. Having no access to the media, I have not been able to popularise my private term, but I would beg leave to suggest that I am not alone in noticing the disagreeable nature of a fair proportion of any population.

The psychologists have confirmed in the laboratory that ordinary people can in fact instantly determine truths about others. Thomas Mann wrote of a minor character in The Magic Mountain, “her face expressed nothing but ill-nature and ignorance”, and it is entirely possible for a human face to do this in a way that will have all civilised beholders concurring about what she or he is so to speak “saying” with the face. When ill-nature and ignorance power political earthquakes, it ought to be possible to say so.

Posted on March 8, 2017 at 14:50 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Some Modest Proposals