July 10, 2018
July 5, 2018
February 12, 2018
Society is addicted to scapegoating. It provides easy answers and easy targets without the cumbersome business of personal responsibility.
Making oneself look like a victim is effective if one wants sympathy (whose physical manifestation is money) and it makes the scapegoat look worse if you can pull off a brilliant exegesis.
In a fundamentally ego-driven society, in which people are taught since birth that they deserve everything they want, but also that they should be kind to others, one then naturally wants to be the one to whom people are kind, but without having to sacrifice an ounce of comfort. If you can guilt people into giving you what you want, why not?
Today's egalitarianism is built on this kind of configuration. You look out for victims first, because they're the first priority. So what does everyone do? Try to play the part of the biggest victim. The people who whine the most get the most sympathy.
Soon, laws get changed, the definition of corruption widens (along with rape and violence) and pretty soon, interest groups have flooded the market of narratives with a series of special demands imposed on people who would have otherswise left them alone. No one says no to free, but if there's a mechanism to free, you can be sure it is going to be exploited at every turn possible.
Today's egalitarianism requires a villain which has been doing all the oppressing, otherwise, it is feared that no one will believe the victim. New villains are always needed to satisfy this demand. Villains are the surplus created by our secular need for charity, which is devoid of any transcendant element.
Today, there might be more people than ever identifying themselves as The Other in order to better qualify as victims, but this only leads to a destructive, resentful kind of charity.
What we need, rather, is a sense of charity in which the fundamental initial engagement with The Other is one where an almost alchemical ethical transformation signifies them as Neighbor.
A neighbor is someone close at hand. It is hard to ignore the need of the neighbor when it is so easy to meet it, and when it is more likely going to be reciprocated in some form in the future.
This may all sound like an updated yet still sentimental take on charity, but on the contrary, I would argue that it gets closer to principle. Emotional appeals are not needed for true egalitarianism and are, in fact, harmful to it, for an irrational excitation is always needed in order to move people to the point of action. Again, this is usually accomplished through identifying an endless chain of transgressors and their victims.
The type of society I envision, rather, is one where people don't spend excess energy trying to determine who deserves charity, but rather, one in which charity is a rational, automatic function of maintaining order. The abundance of energy born from this cultural turn would then shift our concerns to the opposite end of the pole: We would then begin asking ourselves how to better help those who helped us without a moment's hesitation in kind.
Historically, reactionaries were those who opposed the French Revolution. Today, 'reactionary' is thrown around to describe anyone who doesn't agree with you.
It's human nature to react. It's a basic instinct for survival. The problem arises when dogma is made out of a reaction.
Some modern movements have acknowledged the reactionary nature of their ideology, such as neoreactionaries (as one would rightly guess). However, reactionary forces don't strictly belong to some traditionalist Right, opposing the spirit of revolution. You see a similar attitude on all fronts.
For some, fighting racists isn't good enough: they exhibit the same racist attitudes toward the one group whom they feel is oppressing them. Likewise, people who have bad experiences in church growing up become militant secularists. People who get attacked by their ultra-PC peers find comfort by following a few Alt-Right blogs and pretty soon, you hear them incessantly comparing the average IQ's of different races to make some point. Men who are tired of feminists start claiming that it is actually men who are oppressed.
What do they all have in common? They've found a community, and thus, for better or worse, a new party line.
The best thing to keep these communities thriving is a scapegoat: whether it's men, women, white people, black people, Jews, Rightists, Leftists, gays, heterosexuals or an aristocracy.
It's easier to find a scapegoat if the party in question can out-victim another group. The biggest victim wins cosmic sympathy and becomes, in this secular age, something akin to an inverted God; some version of Jesus with narrative emphasis on the degree of wounds rather than the level of innocence.
Most of this provides mere psychological restitution, more than anything. Each party calls the other 'fascist;' an indication that the conversation has ended.
We know how this ends, usually. The French Revolution's Reign of Terror and The Holocaust had something in common. Both of them saw some kind of solution in wiping out entire bloodlines.
Our next step forward, as a species, will have to happen without this enormous degree of scapegoating and its coextensive self-proclaimed victimization.
There will have to come a time when patriotism stops meaning arbitrary pride in something someone else did. We'll have to be personally responsible for who we help and harm. When that day comes, will we describe our position as 'auto-reactionary?' Perhaps we will reach such a stage of maturity that all wars and revolutions will become internalized.
Roberto Calasso said, in his Paris Review interview:
'The point is, man has a surplus of energy which he has to dispose of. That surplus is simply life. There is no life without surplus. Whatever one does with that surplus, that decides the shape of a culture, of a life, of a mind. There were certain cultures that decided they had to offer it in some way. It is not clear to whom, why, and how, but that was the idea. There are other cultures, like ours, where all this is considered entirely useless and obsolete. In the secular world, sacrifice shouldn’t have any meaning at all. At the same time, you realize that it does, because the word has remained very much in use. In discussions of the economy, analysts speak all the time of sacrifices, without realizing what is inside the word. Even in psychological terms, sacrifice is a most usual word. It is considered illegal—for instance, if one celebrated a sacrificial ritual in the middle of London or New York, he would do something illegal, he would be put in jail. Sacrifice is connected to destruction—that is an important thing and the most mysterious one. Why, in order to offer something, you must destroy it. '
This statement strikes me as very Bataillean, though with Calasso's particular flair.
Funny enough, when offering criticism of Levi-Strauss for not engaging with the subject of sacrifice in his anthropological work, Calasso was then reminded by the interviewer of Bataille, for whom sacrifice played a major role.
'Bataille is the opposite. Bataille wrote of sacrifice all his life. His best book on that was La part maudite, a very audacious work. But Bataille was not a rigorous thinker. He wrote too much and had a terrible habit—ressassement, endless repetitions. Yet in a way, he put the question at the center of everything.'
After dismissing Bataille, he goes back to the subject of sacrifice and makes yet another Bataillean statement:
'Maybe it’s simply because sacrifice brings us into dealings with the unknown. In the act of sacrifice, you establish a relation with something that you recognize as enigmatic and powerful. Our collective psyche seems to have lost touch with it, although science is providing countless motives for being overwhelmed by the unknown. The unknown itself is in our own mind as well—our mind is in its largest part totally unknown to us. Therefore, it is not only a relation to the exterior world, it is a relation to ourselves. We establish a connection with the unknown through the act of giving something and, paradoxically, the act of destroying something. That is what is behind sacrifice. What you offer and what you destroy, it is that surplus which is life itself.'
Throughout Calasso's work, however, he makes frequent mention of Rene Girard, who's work also dealt largely with sacrifice, but from a far different perspective than Bataille. While Calasso seems to claim a much greater affinity with Girard than Bataille, I tend to think he has far more actual affinity with Bataille.
For Girard, sacrifice is examined solely in a configuration of jurisprudence. This he links to religion and ancient myth, with the Judao-Christian tradition offering the first signs of the divine scapegoat's narrative innocence. It is a simple equation that Girard sees everywhere.
Calasso and Bataille, on the other hand, both set the course of their configurations onto a different path; one which doesn't trap itself in the different codings of one text against many, but which is slightly more epistemological. They concern themselves fundamentally with the impulse to destroy and its relationship to reciprocal surpluses of energy.
It is interesting that such rigorous critiques of something so morbid, so hidden deep within our past, could happen at the hands of a group of men with such a strange relationship to the secular west and the intellectual environments around them in each respective case. Calasso speaks with reverent forbidding about the unknown and the mythical gods he revisits in his texts. Georges Bataille, though an atheist, started a secret society called Acephale, which he described as intensely religious. Girard was a Catholic. Calasso, paradoxically, says that the west has always been secular, but then claims that the modern secular world is the last great myth. Girard often seems to suggest, rather, that the secular world is a crude extension of the Christian tradition--a sort of inverted Nietzscheanism. Bataille radicalized the headless destiny beyond the summit.
Girard is always trying to enclose the world. Calasso and Bataille seem to be reaching beyond it.