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Orlov: Politics of the Unconscious

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Across the US flags are flying at half-mast in honor of the twelve people killed and 58 injured by James Holmes during the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado. Meanwhile, Norway is commemorating the 69 people shot dead by Andras Brevik at the Labor Party youth camp on Utoya Island a year ago. Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that Brevik “brought Norwegians together in defense of democracy and tolerance.” Unlike the much higher civilian death counts coming out of places such as Afghanistan, such events never fail to shock us. We are fine with intercommunal violence, and happy to call it a “war.” In fact, the ability to kill people with impunity in remote corners of the planet makes us feel stronger and safer. But intracommunal violence shocks us, because it compromises our sense of safety.

Here is a question for Minister Stoltenberg: Do appeals to (and enforcement of) tolerance make repeats of such incidents more frequent or less frequent, and, if so, why? (By the way, if your elected leader doesn’t thoughtfully respond to your thoughtful questions, then you are not living in a democracy.) In his book Violence (Macmillan, 2010) Slavoj Žižek writes: “European civilization finds it easier to tolerate different ways of life precisely on account of what its critics usually denounce as its weakness and failure, namely the alienation of social life. One of the things alienation means is that distance is woven into the very social texture of everyday life. Even if I live side by side with others, in my normal state I ignore them. […] Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that sometimes a dose of alienation is indispensable for peaceful coexistence. Sometimes alienation is not a problem but a solution.” (p. 59, my italics)
But the rest of the time alienation is a problem. Politics serves several functions. There are the technocratic functions of governance, of formulating and enacting policies and of maintaining order. And then there is the psychological function of making people feel that they belong. Among groups with a strong ethnic, religious or regional identification the sense of belonging can sometimes be internally generated and remain independent of the government, or governments. At other times the people and the government become dangerously decoupled: “I love my country but I hate its government” is something you might hear from a Russian, or an American, or a Syrian, or an Israeli…

The need to belong is always there, and, when frustrated, leads to dire consequences. To belong is to feel included among those with whom one can strongly identify: conversely, the ability to belong presupposes the ability to exclude those who do not belong. A society that is sufficiently alienated to be tolerant of institutions that are incompatible and irreconcilable (gay/interracial marriage plus Sharia law plus white supremacism equals zero) is no longer able to succeed at the essential task of excluding those who do not belong. If you are Norwegian, the country is Norway, and you are now forced to accept that people who are not the tiniest bit Norwegian belong just as much as you do, then, depending on your psychological make-up, you may or may not end up with a major psychological problem, and do your flawed yet heroic best to pass it on to the country as a whole. This is a problem faced all over Europe: an aging, shrinking native population living within an increasingly globalized, generic culture dominated by English and an influx of immigrants, migrants and refugees all add up to a deteriorating sense of belonging.

In the United States the problem is significantly worse. Here, there is no unique national language, no single ethnic, historical or cultural identity, and the nation as a whole is a synthetic entity—the result of an explicit political pact. We are expected to derive our sense of belonging from our inclusion in a set of impersonal public institutions and participation in a scripted political process. But in spite of what our handlers in politics and the media tell us, our gut sense is that these public institutions do not belong to us, and that the political process is one of manipulation rather than inclusion. Many of us know full well that we live in a kleptocracy that prioritizes international financial interests and the interests of a small, privileged rentier class above all else. More and more of us are being excluded—based on our inability to pay for a middle-class lifestyle.

Where do we belong, then? With the Republicans/Democrats? Looking at the current presidential contest, in one corner we have a wealthy Mormon aristocrat posing as a self-made man, while in the other corner we have an exotic product of the American academe posing as a man of the people and, because he randomly happens to be brown-skinned, as a champion of the children of former slaves. Both are, in fact, faithful servants of financial interests, many of them transnational or foreign. Both will maintain the power of the center at the cost of the periphery, and extend the milking, the bleeding and the fleecing of the people for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the US Congress performs a sadomasochistic folie à deux on behalf of their corporate sponsors. Only 17% of the people approve of their performance. Such a high number is perhaps explained by the fact that roughly 20% of Americans are mentally ill. (Even so, it would appear that a few percent of the mentally ill are insufficiently delusional to approve of congressional performance.) The people as a whole, sane or otherwise, may be forgiven for thinking that they don’t belong, and for acting accordingly.

Inability to maintain a psychologically healthy sense of belonging gives rise to a certain consistent syndrome, first described by Wilfred Bion in Experiences in Groups and Other Papers (New York: Basic Books 1961). When the dominant culture fails to produce a sense of belonging, the human mind regresses to a pre-verbal state, where it is ruled by innate, subconscious impulses that are common to higher social animals. Depending on one’s personality and situation, one or another of three major impulses described by Bion may come to dominate the behavior of the individual, and, in due course, the society as a whole.

When it comes to aggressive young males, the sense of disconnection produces in them a heightened sense of insecurity and anxiety which directly affects the sympathetic nervous system. This may cause an animal to behave more aggressively, or, in the case of the human animal, to gather rocks and to find and sharpen sticks, or, technology and finances allowing, to purchase semiautomatic assault weapons and lots of ammunition. This process may then progress through several stages. The end result is the spontaneous development of a warrior mentality—a cultural universal marked by a desire to prove oneself in battle, contempt for death, and a tendency toward what Emile Durkheim called “altruistic suicide.”

The pattern is the same among Homeric heroes, Mongol conquerers, Japanese samurai, European knights of the age of chivalry or Moscow’s bandits and racketeers during the violent 1990s. Meaning is created out of meaninglessness through heroic acts of violence performed in keeping with a code of honor. Inclusion in the elite group is achieved via violent rites of passage and creates group loyalty and a sense of belonging. The gun cult in the United States is a strong precursor to this development, and the sporadic shooting sprees are its individual manifestations. This may at some point progress to the point of becoming a mass phenomenon. If it does, it will annihilate the current ruling class and the process of aristocratic formation will begin anew.

Another subconscious impulse takes over the minds of those who feel themselves to be weak and vulnerable. Here the subconscious urge is an infantile desire to find and cling to a strong, lord-like father figure. In the United States, this impulse finds its expression in widespread adherence to organized religion with its invisible yet omnipotent leader. The illusion of serving the leader, together with the conviction that all that happens is in accordance with the leader’s inscrutable will, helps to reduce the anxiety that is born of helplessness and alienation. Rhetorical or physical attacks on those who refuse to follow one’s chosen divine leader offer a way to exclude those who do not belong, and to create a sense of solidarity, loyalty and belonging.
Lastly, there is a third subconscious impulse which has its roots in primate psychology, one that predominantly affects women: the impulse to ingratiate oneself into an imaginary group of superior individuals as a beta-female (or, in particularly sad cases, as a beta-male) in order to gain a sense of belonging. It manifests itself in the expectation of the emergence of something wonderful yet unborn, that will be the result of a successful mating between an alpha-male and an alpha-female. It finds its expression in the celebrity cult, via television programs and tabloids sold at supermarket check-out counters. Lower-class women follow with great interest the antics of the rich and famous: who is getting married, who is getting a divorce, and most importantly, who is pregnant, because, you see, one of these siliconed, Botoxed bimbos will one day give birth to our new Savior. Their sense of belonging, such as it is, comes from vicariously participating in the lives of people they consider their betters.
It is notable how smoothly the three impulses have repeatedly combined throughout history. In act one, our hero takes up arms against all who wish to oppose him and triumphs in battle; others eagerly fall in under his banner. In act two, our hero undergoes an instant and spontaneous metamorphosis from a rampaging bandit to an anointed sovereign and the people cheer and shout “Hail Cæsar!” Optionally, the bandit is deified and temples are erected in his honor at great public expense. In act three, the anointed bandit takes a bride, and women throw flowers at their feet as they walk in procession, and await with eager anticipation the arrival of their sacred progeny. In act four, the bandit dies and his degenerate, bickering progeny swiftly destroys the people’s sense of belonging. The progeny is then butchered by the next hero/bandit, and the cycle repeats.
The United States may not yet be quite at the bottom of this cycle, but notice how the three ingredients are already in place and looming large over the political landscape. The gun cult is massive and unstoppable, and we have regular shooting sprees that shock us but also inspire copycats eager to outdo the last heinous deed in death toll and shock value. Religion is a huge part of public life, and after each shooting spree Americans head to a church and pray for deliverance to an omnipotent yet invisible father figure. After the effect of the shooting spree wears off, they go right back to celebrity worship, watching the antics of the Kardashians and keeping track of which celeb is preggers with what other celeb’s baby. It seems like this whole thing going according to a plan—the whole three-car train is on rails and rolling downhill on its own.

Here is a quote from the last Batman movie: “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” I don’t; but how do you suppose anyone can stop this? It started before we were born, and it will end long after were are dead. Maybe we are supposed to just watch.

Club Orlov

7 Comments on "Orlov: Politics of the Unconscious"

  1. dsula on Tue, 24th Jul 2012 12:52 pm 

    Yep, mass immigration of an incompatible culture sure ain’t pretty. It’s hard to believe that people are so stupid to allow it.

  2. BillT on Tue, 24th Jul 2012 2:55 pm 

    Over the last 40+ years, we have AVERAGED over 20,000 murders per year in the US. We have killed hundreds of thousands in other countries in those same 40+ years. Men, women and children. Why? None of them were hurting us, and had no way to get to the US to do harm. ( 9/11 was NOT done by ‘terrorists’ unless you count the CIA in that group.) Why do we get upset when one psychopath turns his frustrations loose in a theater? Our government is run by psychopaths.

  3. Grover Lembeck on Tue, 24th Jul 2012 5:15 pm 

    Nobody was able to stop us, dsula- we had guns and smallpox vaccinations, and the natives didn’t. That’s just the way it went. Allow has nothing to do with it.
    If you’re referring to modern Europe, look at the folks in charge of the economy- the Mayans have a god for corn, the Haitians have one for fishermen, those people must have a god of cheap labor.
    And BillT, obviously, we get upset because it makes it hard to enjoy the film!

  4. pinger on Tue, 24th Jul 2012 5:42 pm 

    Very good article.

  5. DC on Tue, 24th Jul 2012 10:36 pm 

    Amerika is an asylum and the lunatics are in the charge of the madhouse.

    tea party
    faux news

  6. Arthur on Wed, 25th Jul 2012 10:50 pm 

    Russians like Orlov are not as political correct as westerners, which makes his article interesting. Today western societies suck when it comes to a sense of belonging. When I grew up the street was a real community, populated entiry by Dutch in solid families, there was no divorce. In the summer all front doors were open and children could and did walk in at random. Today all doors are closed and nobody knows his neighbour anymore.

  7. Arthur on Wed, 25th Jul 2012 10:57 pm 

    @dsula: “Yep, mass immigration of an incompatible culture sure ain’t pretty. It’s hard to believe that people are so stupid to allow it.”

    After WW2 the western elites secretly adopted an agenda of world government. But you can’t have world government if there are groups around who have strong different identities. That’s where multiculturalism comes in, as an ideology that prepares the masses for world government. Small differences in identity are allowed, except for whites, since they are the most likely to revolt. This process is going on now for more than 6 decades and probably would have prevailed, had there not been an unanticipated global event, not foreseen by the designers of the NWO: resource depletion, which will make a global superstate impossible. The NWO will follow the same route as communism once did: the route to the junkyard of history.

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