Religion and Capitalism, or: We are all still Christians.

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Just the one more, I think. And then I’ll leave you alone.

One

Marx: “They do not know it, but they are doing it.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLp5m9PiQQ0

A question: “Who does he think he is? Who is he preening for? Who does he think is watching him?”

An answer: You. None of that happens without you. Whether you think “Ooh, look at that hot body, I’d like him to ejaculate in or around me,” or “God, what a piece of shit he must be,” your gaze is built into the ad. Now: is that really him, or is he imaging it? Or, to put it another way: is that his body, or his Soul?

In order for capitalism to function, sez Marx, it needs commodity fetishism. You know, do you yanks, that a dollar is just a piece of paper. It has, perhaps, some small function in an exchange. But you need to fetishize it in order for it to function. That is how capitalism grows: fetishizing capital.

Commodity fetishism, to work, requires a Soul and an Other. You have the dollar, but all these amazing things aren’t happening – no, you need a Soul for that. The Soul is the Truth, what is Really Happening. And the Other is who is watching that happen. I’ll say one thing about that ad: you did feel a little empowered, didn’t you? Like he didn’t know you were watching him, but at the same time he was acting FOR you. This is the perverse position – you gaze is aligned with the Other. And you inherit some of the qualities of the Other’s position when this happens.

Culture exists, partially, in order to process commodities through this dialectic between the Soul and the Other. It’s a tamagotchi, but what is it Really? What does it mean to you? How do you feel about it? Quick, throw it away, here’s a gameboy. How do you feel about it? What does it mean? You don’t see it for what it really is, but what it represents. This is quite natural, it is symbol.But culture comes from religion. Because the current iteration of capitalism is profoundly religious. Allow me to explain.

Two

But first: the brilliance of Christianity is its constant deferral. “Do this, do what you want, follow some rules, but in the end, you will be judged. But not yet. That will come later.” Do not act too much now, do not do anything drastic – your purpose is not to rule the world, but to keep it, to look after it. It is not your desire, but God’s, that is important. Anyway, you simply Do Not Know – in the end, it will all be made clear, and there will be fires and pillars of salt and all kinds of awesome shit.

We see the outcome of this in doomsday cults: they try to usher in that apocalypse, that true revelation. They feel so abstracted from the don’t-act-too-much element, (for a reason I’ll come to later), so unable to exist and be fulfilled by accepting that constantly deferred ending as a justification for the passivity – so unable to exist without Truth right now – that they find themselves edging towards the catastrophizing pole of Christianity.

You see, as I see it, Christianity has two poles. The first pole of inaction, the following of the rules, the endless debates and the quietude. The first pole is made possible by the second pole, the catastrophizing pole where the Truth will be revealed, where the world of Spirit will finally show up the world of the flesh as a lie. These two poles must co-exist, and have done in all the religions I know of – there is always an End Times which justifies the current time. “Do what you want, follow the rules, sin a little – the Truth about all of this will come later on.”

Capitalism goes well with the first pole. This is a world of appearances, but look, you know, deep down – it is not the Truth. But you know the Truth, and so you can exist in the world of appearances, enjoy it, but remain detached from it. Imagine a group of people in army fatigues waiting for a great battle, polishing and cleaning and dissasembling and reassembling their weapons, checking their backpacks, yawning, re-iterating their great strategy, doing pushups and situps – but the battle never comes. They eat, they shit, they talk, they play cards, they do their duties – but the key moment that necessitates this is always in the future, mandating the present. This is culture.

This is why nothing feels all that real – especially wars. Sure, there’s trouble, chaos, but we are not really at That point yet – the explosion hasn’t happened, the big revealing of Truth, so it’s just a fight, a spat, a stupid moment, the Truth about it hasn’t come out yet. We don’t act like there’s a war because there isn’t one for us.

Three

http://partialobjects.com/2011/05/luxury-advertising-banned-in-china-then-redefine-luxury-as-high-art/

The thing is, all of this occurs on many levels. The capitalism needs the religion, but the religion needs the capitalism. We need to believe

that what we are doing has some externally guaranteed reality beyond the immediate world, but at the same time that reality needs to be guaranteed and made possible by the frivoloties and drudgeries of life.(As an aside, it is exactly this putting-down of things as frivolities that is the key – the Master-Slave, in a weird kind of way. We subsume the real world entirely to a secondary world of spirit and Truth. The answer to this, I claim, would be to elevate the real world to the Master.)

But people who buy into the Soul, into what they Truly Are, so completely that they utterly destroy for themselves the drudgery that mandates it, end up in a terrible trap. And this is what I said I’d come to about doomsday cults: guilty about their distance from the Truth, unsure of whether they are desired, unfulfilled and unable to find a place in the gap between relgion and capitalism, they focus entirely on the Soul. And that’s where we see their slip into the catastrophizing pole without the passive pole. They do something terrible – shootings, suicides, whatever. They will become what they Truly Are by skipping straight to the catastrophe.

If the soldiers in their bunker preparing for war do not actually get one, at some point one of them will go mad and kill the others and them himself, because that is the only other option.

Four

What is it about the Soul-other dialectic that causes this? It’s Master-Slave, just like I’m always banging on about. Religion is the Revenge of the Father – the Master will come along and I will be shown to be what I truly am, all along. Because I need that, or I am this, here, nothing. The revenge will be that I will be unmasked. That’s where the guilt comes from – that you haven’t been unmasked yet. And the anxiety comes from the fact that you will be at some point. But for the moment, you’re in the waiting room, thinking about fucking the nurses.

It’s Norman Bates all over again, with his mother. He waits and waits, until one day he loses his mind and wants to change his reality, the reality his mother built for him – the reality he built for himself through hsi mother – he wants that catastrophizing element. She berates him and assaults him, but she will not tell him what is truly wrong, she will not actually definitively punish him. Once he is revealed to be what he Truly Is, he can be free of the anxiety and guilt. Revelations is religion’s Psychotic Phase. The point at which Truth and Reality merge into a void.

Five

So what am I saying? That the Religious kind of thing is actually just the result of this idea of the Other, of legality and accountability before a King. God is the King of Kings. And the Religious response to this, the obsessive re-iteration of the desire of the Other on the plane of an external soul-world, has two poles: the first pole, constant deferral, wherein our ability to live in the world with a sense of meaning is justified always by the promise of the Truth being revealed (a Religion without an End Times is inherently fucked. All religions have End Times.) And then there’s the Second Pole – the actual moment itself, the moment of Revelation. It is this second pole that allows for the first pole, for the passivity and the quiet enjoyment of the split between the two realities, the Real and the Truth.

We can use this to examine Stalinism: Stalinism is Religion without the second pole. Stalinism is the obsessive re-iteration of the desire of the Other and our response to it (the Other being History here). “We are not quite there – kill some more, change this, change that, we need this, then we will be true Communists.” But there is no actual point at which it will end – we all know it goes on forever.

It’s similar, in a way, to Nazism, except that Nazism only had the second pole – the violent revelation of Truth. In Stalinism, there is no-one to come along and reveal the Truth and, by the promise of doing so, allow us to get on with things – no inevitable catastrophe to mandate our passivity, and as such every action is infused with an incredible anxiety. In Nazism, the Truth will be revealed, constantly, through War and killing. After that, what? – when there’s no more Jews, what then? Another enemy?

If they’d won, they would have immediately fell apart.

It is through the gap between the two poles of religion that capitalism with its commodity-fetishistic framework and its existential guarantee arises. “Do what you want now, you will be judged later. – but you will not be judged now. And you know what that means – secretly, I am telling you, – he probably won’t come, but make allowance that he might.” This is how we lie without guilt. But the people who buy into it, because they have to, feel that guilt – and that’s where the radical, psychotic pole comes to the fore.

Six

The difference between Truth and Reality. Hint: What they are saying is reality. What we are saying afterward is trying to construct the Truth.

“What I am telling you is, there is a Truth and you are not responsible for it.” And that’s why we get people hovering without conscience over a city, firing 50mm rounds into people they have only cursorily identified as being ideologically opposed to them. There is a Truth, and it will be worked out later, and reality will have little to do with it. Strange, that’s what the children of narcissists learn.

Quick, here’s an international catastrophe. Quick, here’s Wikileaks. Quick, here’s a gun.


Postscript: After seeing JohnJ’s perfectly understandable reaction to the end of this post, I’d like to reiterate the fact that I am not speaking about the US military specifically, but all military. As for the “conscience” element – what military would function if it had a completely normal, everyday, functional conscience? I’m not arguing against the military, or trying to depict soldiers as heartless bastards, but simply trying to understand the mechanism that allows for the suspension of “normal” values during war, and their replacement with “war” values, or rules of combat. 

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About Robert

English, and a baffling cliche.

97 Responses to Religion and Capitalism, or: We are all still Christians.

  1. JohnJ says:

    And that’s why we get people hovering without conscience over a city, firing 50mm rounds into people they have only cursorily identified as being ideologically opposed to them.

    You have a lot to learn yourself before going around slandering American soldiers as mindless psychopaths. Maybe this is why we get people like you who comment about situations they know nothing about. “Oh, look at how smart I am that I see a few minutes of a much larger situation and I automatically know who the good guys and bad guys are!”

    For the record, those individuals were tracked coming from an assault on American forces. There’s no “ideological oppos[ition]” except to the extent they wanted to kill Americans.

    Those soldiers did nothing wrong, as anyone who knows anything about that situation understands. The people who sacrifice the most for this country deserve a lot more than to be used as fodder for some arrogant, know-nothing punk’s stupid blog post.

    • Robert says:

      “Those soldiers did nothing wrong”

      Neither did the Reuters journalists they shot. Did they want to kill Americans?

      “You have a lot to learn yourself before going around slandering American soldiers as mindless psychopaths.”

      I’m not slandering them. What I am saying is clearly written in the post. I would say that your assumption that I am somehow saying that they should have conscience, or that they’re somehow evil, is a misreading of my intentions. In fact, what I am saying is that that is the reality of war today – there APPEARS to be zero ideology because it is reconstructed retroactively after the event.

      They did nothing wrong? Laughing about killing people is doing nothing wrong? If you saw a video of Muslims killing American civilians and laughing about it – “Oh, they did nothing wrong, you don’t understand, those American civilians are profiting off of the rape of Muslim land and the puppet regimes they’ve set up, blah blah” – no. I don’t fucking think so. Do you?

      Before you turn all anti-intellectualist and accuse me of slandering soldiers, read what I write, try to understand it, and appreciate that I am not saying that anyone is good or evil.

      And the most important thing, I think, to end this here: did you see a conscience? I didn’t. And that’s all I said. Any inference you make from that is entirely on your side.

      • Robert says:

        “The people who sacrifice the most for this country deserve a lot more than to be used as fodder for some arrogant, know-nothing punk’s stupid blog post.”

        If you really think the reason most people join the military is because of pre-military national pride, as opposed to reasons which they learn in the military to identify as national pride, then we’re not on the same planet.

        I’m not saying soldiers are evil. I’m just telling you what I see.

        • Robert says:

          Alright, one last thing: yes. It is fashionable to slag off soldiers. And I absolutely don’t subscribe to that. One of my friends is in the RAF and I respect him very much for it, – although I respect him even more for that fact that, generally, he’s a very good person.

          Judging by your blog, you’re a very moralistic, nationalistic person. This makes my wonder why you pick some aside I make about soldiers to get angry about, as opposed to the actual theoretical implications of my post.

          On a lighter note, I do apologize if you misread my intentions, if it seemed as though I was trying to imply that soldiers are the outcome of whatever I’m talking about. There’s always been war, there’s always been soldiers, it’s a fairly noble profession and I have no intention of denigrating it.

      • JohnJ says:

        You don’t have a clue about these people. Black humor is prominent in soldiers, police, and the medical profession. It’s how people with a conscience deal with the harsh realities required by their job. Fuck you, you judgmental piece of shit.

        And that so-called Reuters journalist as every bit a participant. A Reuters ID is not a license to commit terrorism.

        • Robert says:

          Where’s the proof that the Reuters journalist was a terrorist, exactly?

          And look, I’m trying to have a discussion with you here. Stop flinging shit. I’m the only person here, and you’re not going to impress me against myself.

          • Robert says:

            From a post of yours: “Just as it’s also true that no matter how much someone may flaunt their wealth, robbery is never justified. And no matter how much someone’s religion is being insulted, there is no justification for terrorism.”

            There’s your problem. FOR YOU, there is no justification. FOR YOU. But you seem to have identified yourself as some kind of moral arbiter – whereas I’m here trying to make sense of things, trying to put together a theory, and extrapolating from it (I don’t see you accusing me of slagging off Nazis or Stalinists, just Soldiers, solely because I levied an ounce of criticism against them), whereas you seem content to apply your worldveiw to everyone and assume that, because it’s popular, it’s somehow inherently correct, as opposed to a consensus.

            No, there’s no justification for rape ,or terrorism – for us, in our society. The difference between us is that I want to understand other people, and you don’t.

          • JohnJ says:

            Where’s the proof that the Reuters journalist was a terrorist, exactly?

            Because he was palling around with these guys <as they were attacking Americans.

            You don’t know fuck about me. Stop thinking you can judge me. I promise you that I’ve actually done more to create dialogues with people who disagree with me than you will ever have done.

            I don’t give a fuck about what you think. I just hope everyone who unfortunately finds your tedious, slanderous writing has the opportunity to see that you’re willing to slander American soldiers in order to make a trivial point about some pathetic, meaningless insight you think you have about the world.

            The truth of the matter is that those soldiers had every right to act as they did. And the use of dark humor is entirely appropriate and demonstrates the presence of a conscience, not the absence of it. Medics, police, and other high-pressure professionals use it.

            You’re willing to take a maliciously edited video out of context in order to slander people who’ve done more to make this world a better place than you ever will. That’s all I need to know about you.

          • philtrum says:

            I do enjoy these categorical statements directed at people the commenter doesn’t know. “I’ve done more good in the world than you EVER will.” Really?

  2. Robert says:

    WAIT, OK. I get it now.

    “antoinebugleboy says:
    June 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm
    “From where I was sitting, dead center of a 55×70 screen, it was killing people FOR NO REASON.”

    I thought the movie made it very clear that it been tortured for decades by the military.

    JohnJ says:
    June 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm
    That’s not a reason to kill innocent people.”

    That was on the post about Super 8. Someone debating a plot point, and JohnJ literally saying that.

    I have no interest in arguing with you further, dude. No way. Not like this, not all over PB and TLPs site, not when I think we each know how the other one is and what the other one thinks.

  3. Robert says:

    “Because he was palling around with these guys <as they were attacking Americans."

    He wasn't "palling around" with them. HE'S A FUCKING JOURNALIST, YOU DOLT.

    "I just hope everyone who unfortunately finds your tedious, slanderous writing has the opportunity to see that you’re willing to slander American soldiers in order to make a trivial point about some pathetic, meaningless insight you think you have about the world."

    Look, I'm just trying to write articles that are as truthful as possible. I thought about getting rid of the part we're arguing about, but I thought it would be dishonest to. I've made my points about how I'm not trying to slander people, but you're ignoring them because you want to push home some point you have about how I've insulted the US Military, when in fact you're clearly taking this too personally. Yes, you're an Vietn- Iraq Vet.

    Except that any narrative you have about me treating you like shit even though you gave your life for me has two fundamental flaws:
    A) You signed up. On your own. Of your own accord. To do it. You were not commissioned by the people, you signed up for the military. There is no draft. You chose to go there, you did a job. You didn't perform some incredible, heroic action where you united the East and the West. You went to a desert, did some hard work, and came home. That's very respectable, but it doesn't mean that anyone who criticizes you is now a selfish bastard.
    B) I'm English.

    "And the use of dark humor is entirely appropriate and demonstrates the presence of a conscience, not the absence of it."

    Dark humour is the suppression of a conscience, not the exercising of it. It is a very complex method people use in order to get through things they probably don't want to do, as opposed to questioning and/or changing the situation they're in. I know, I've done it myself.

    Sorry, sorry. I'm done. I'm done.

  4. Robert says:

    For people who aren’t JohnJ:

    “And that’s why we get people hovering without conscience over a city, firing 50mm rounds into people they have only cursorily identified as being ideologically opposed to them. There is a Truth, and it will be worked out later, and reality will have little to do with it. Strange, that’s what the children of narcissists learn.”

    What I’m saying is that, yes, war has always been this way. Here’s my take on why. No-one’s being slandered. I’m not saying it’s particularly US soldiers, particularly now – it just seemed like a good bit of footage, and very revealing. I look forward to fielding comments from SOMEONE WHO ISN’T INSANE.

  5. Comus says:

    A good solid post. I think this harrowing debate in the comments section only works to bring your point home. You couldn’t invent this shit.

    The problem is it is not just capitalism or religion, not only stalinism and nazism. It is everything always, there’s always a spectral image, always a parallax viewpoint. You can not hold several viewpoints simultaneously, but have to, if you are the sort of person that tries to understand things from anothers’ perspective, hop between the two, and make the judgements from the discrepancies. It is at best a House of Mirrors, distorted and unreliable.

    The post hoc ideology has to be created in order to eliminate the cognitive dissonance.The notions: I’m a good person – Good person doesn’t kill people – I kill people – I’m a good person, needs an extra point which validates the killing, be it via self defence the End Time or the Cause. Facing the futility, the hypocricy of it would be too much, it would shatter the self. I suspect therein lies the theoretical link between dissociative symptoms and PTSD, the trauma tries to change your fundamental beliefs and you fight back to maintain status quo. You try to control it, but it resists symbolization. You have to move out of yourself to see yourself. Be the Other. Minimize the mirrors. Enter psychosis or integrate.

    • philtrum says:

      Just out of curiosity, what about this debate is particularly “harrowing”?

      I am not trying to pick an argument, honestly. Is it just that, being a Canadian, I’m not feeling the resonance of this argument over American patriotism? I know patriotism is more highly valued in the U.S. than in some other countries (Canadians don’t discuss it much, in my experience), but is it really very painful to be accused of being “anti-American” or unpatriotic?

      • Comus says:

        What I find harrowing (and more to the point, found) is not the debate patriotism, anti-americanism and whatnot. It is about misunderstanding the point, focusing on the wrong thing, slinging ad hominems.

        Sure, it’s a great popcorn consumption amplifier, but still rather playgroundish.

  6. JohnJ says:

    Being a journalist is not a license to engage in terrorism. When’s the last time you criticized a terrorist for killing a journalist? Never, I’m sure.

    In your world, a soldier is supposed to refuse to take action against an aggressor if there’s a possibility that someone given an ID by Reuters is in the area. The question you should be asking is why Reuters gave this guy who we now know to be a terrorist an ID. But according to you, a Reuters ID is a license to shoot and kill American soldiers.

    I feel sorry for your so-called RAF “friend”. I have friends from across the ideological spectrum, but I would never befriend someone who wants Americans to die to save the lives of people who hate America. I’m glad I know which side you’re on. Obviously you’re the kind of person who can’t understand what it means to voluntarily take the responsibility of risking your life to fight for your family, of marking yourself with a uniform so that your enemies target you and not the innocent. You don’t even understand that there are people who actually do choose that because you don’t understand how anyone could feel that way.

    You think soldiers are psychos because that’s the only way you could ever do that. That’s the kind of person you are.

    • Robert says:

      Literally baffling. Completely baffling, the things you are saying to me.

      “You think soldiers are psychos because that’s the only way you could ever do that. That’s the kind of person you are.” – actually the only thing I agree with, in the sense that, yes, I think that the only way I could kill people was with a severe change in my mindset.

      But no, I don’t want Americans to die, old buddy. I don’t want anyone to die. You’ve just invented that in your head.

    • Comus says:

      “It is impossible to see reality instead of looking throught the eyes of the Party”

      -Orwell, G. (1948). 1984.

      You have been seen. Move along.

    • philtrum says:

      I would never befriend someone who wants Americans to die to save the lives of people who hate America.

      That statement is so utterly drenched in ideology that it’s nearly impossible to argue with it.

      “wants Americans to die” — as opposed to any other goal; wanting American soldiers to hold their fire, or change their practices, or not be in certain areas of the world at all = wanting them to die. It’s a conversation kill switch.

      “to save the lives of people who hate America” — and so what if they hate America?

      No, back up. I am not saying “so what if they try to kill Americans” because you didn’t say “people who try to kill Americans”. You wrote about a feeling, about hating America. Having that feeling or attitude, hating America, means your life is worth less than any individual American’s? If you live your life peacefully, aside from the odd curse flung at the American soldiers occupying your town (or hell, if you are nice to the soldiers) but you sin in your heart by “hating America” (whatever “America” means in this context), you deserve to die more than other people do?

      This is exactly what Robert was writing about, I believe. Shame he’s “done”, as you’re illustrating his point beautifully.

      • Robert says:

        I’m done with this line of posts. Trust me, there’s a lot more to come.

        And thanks – seriously. I was really, really nervous – torn to bits, in fact – thinking that a mis-wording of a paragraph in my article would end in me being pilloried. It’s good to see a pretty reasonable spectrum of debate.

        • philtrum says:

          Heh, any time.

          And it’s true, this has nothing to do with American soldiers in particular. You can find examples of that kind of behaviour in pretty much any war or occupation in history.

          • Robert says:

            Absolutely. That’s the an-ethical underside that allows a war to function while still having an ethical quality.

          • philtrum says:

            while still having an ethical quality

            Or not, as the case may be…

  7. HP says:

    Dark humor or no, you’ve got no way of watching an edited gun video on Youtube and figuring out whether those guys have a conscience, so “hovering without a conscience” immediately invalidates your entire point (20mm, by the way).

    As has been pointed out many times before, starting the very day that (cleverly edited) video was posted, they fired in self-defense on terrorists who a) were just coming from an attack on Americans, and b) were pretty clearly armed and ready to attack them. Nobody could know, let alone give a shit, what ID the one individual might or might not have been carrying.

    • Robert says:

      20mm, huh? Man, those things rip right through shit.

      I reiterate: this is not about US soldiers, or what happened that day. It is about the mindset, it is exactly about the fact that there were orders, they were acted upon, and dark humour was used in order to repress any overactive conscience that might have jeopardized the capacity of the soldiers to act effectively.

      I am not talking about them, or the video. Get that out of your head. I’m just trying to talk about the abstraction, and the retroactive reconstruction of “truth” – FYI, it is exactly the “these guys are evil, look at them” thing that is, in my viewpoint, as illegitimate as anything else. There was a reality, that’s it.

      By saying there’s no conscience there, I’m not saying they’re inherently evil at all, or even being evil at that moment. Simply that the function of the conscience has been suppressed. And that, I find interesting, so I wrote some articles and posted them to a website.

      • Robert says:

        Also: “they fired in self-defense on terrorists who a) were just coming from an attack on Americans, and b) were pretty clearly armed and ready to attack them.”

        No, they didn’t fire in self-defense from a helicopter hovering out of range. They were given orders to fire. THEY didn’t do shit. That’s my point. They didn’t take initiative go out and find someone to kill, they registered the existence of the people, made their comments about them, the information was relayed back and forth, they shot.

        I don’t know why everyone’s so eager to interpret a pretty obvious observation as an attack on the people in the helicopter. I think I’ve cleared this up by now. I added a postscript, fer chrissake. This article is not about the military, that’ll be a different one. This one is about religion and capitalism, and no-one’s made a single fucking point about that element. You know, 95% of the article.

        • HP says:

          You’re right – I forgot briefly the circumstances in that video. They did not fire directly in self defense (were not first fired upon), but “intent to kill you or loved ones/others in your unit” is generally included in that definition.

          • Robert says:

            Look, I do understand what you’re saying. And this has all gotten way out of hand, – I am kind of agreeing with you. Yes, that’s how it works, absolutely – that’s the reality of the situation. And it wouldn’t function any other way. But why? Hence, articles.

  8. Pastabagel says:

    Let’s try to cool it a bit, guys. FWIW, I read the last paragraph of this post as a comment about abstraction, i.e. the soldiers in the helicopters may not know the truth about the people below, they can only follow orders. But in following orders they irreversibly affect reality. It’s a role with tremendous pressure and a tremendous emotional burden that stems directly from their abstraction from the truth. Someone orders you to shoot and you shoot, you don’t question the order, you don’t go get a second opinion from a higher ranking officer. I know that I couldn’t handle that pressure.

    One of the reasons I have chosen not to weigh in on this controversy is because I really don’t like how it can’t help but make civilians morally judge soldiers. The video does not show command and control, it does not show CIA, it does not show the State Department, DoD or the White House. It shows guys from every side good, bad, and wrong-place-wrong-time put in a situation whose moral and ethical dimensions are beyond the scope of what most of us could contemplate facing in a lifetime.

    It amounts to a distraction from asking the people at the top the very simple and direct questions that they’ve failed to answer for 8 years. Why are we there? What are we trying to accomplish? How can you know when you’re done?

    I do think it’s okay, especially for the military but also for the rest of us, to start demanding more clarity and less equivocation from the civilian leadership in Washington. The responsibility for whatever happened on that video rests squarely with the people who decided to put soldiers in Iraq and keep them there seemingly indefinitely without a clearly stated objective or purpose.

    • Robert says:

      “Let’s try to cool it a bit, guys. FWIW, I read the last paragraph of this post as a comment about abstraction, i.e. the soldiers in the helicopters may not know the truth about the people below, they can only follow orders. But in following orders they irreversibly affect reality. It’s a role with tremendous pressure and a tremendous emotional burden that stems directly from their abstraction from the truth. Someone orders you to shoot and you shoot, you don’t question the order, you don’t go get a second opinion from a higher ranking officer. I know that I couldn’t handle that pressure.”

      That’s what I was trying to get at. I didn’t really intend at all to paint soldiers as somehow uniquely insane or evil. I tried to get this across to JohnJ but I’m not sure he really wants to hear it. And no, I don’t think I could either.

      • qubitman says:

        We’ve crossed a very bad line here. Getting back on track:

        From what I understand, your argument is that Capitalism is powered by people looking forward to a point not now. The fetishization of this through money is what allows people to perform the tasks necessary to keep capitalism running. Do I have it right so far?

        From what I can tell you claim the observation is this: people’s imaginations are captured and controlled by expectations of the future. Is that it?

        • Robert says:

          In short, yes. I would say that it’s by always keeping the future in the present as a guarantee of the present that we maintain the whole system.

          Not so much expectations, no. I doubt many people truly, consciously expect an End Times. – but it’s the ideological promise. It’s the thing about Belief in Marx – they don’t know it, but they believe it.

  9. HP says:

    There’s a few problems with your stated objective.

    The first is that in your demonstration of “constructing Truth”, you’ve clearly outlined how and why propaganda is made and used – your “Truth” is objectively quite different from the demonstrated reality of the situation.

    The second is that by saying they have no conscience, you are in fact inherently implying their evil (not misspelled).

    Finally, people are picking apart your final paragraph and not commenting on the rest of the article because the rest of the article is somewhat rambling and difficult to follow, while your final paragraph is more clear and far more (unnecessarily) controversial. It it really is such an aside, and you don’t intend to paint any such pictures of these people, then just remove it. It’s the internet. “Honesty” in a post doesn’t matter and won’t be picked up.

    • Robert says:

      I’m only implying their evil if I’m read via an ideology that places conscience as the mediator between good and evil. I think things are more complicated than that.

      And I think the honesty is important. I’m not here to snake around trying to win, I’m here to present an argument. I added a postscipt and I hope people will read the comments instead of rushing to the nearest machete – there’s little else I can do.

  10. thecobrasnose says:

    Sorry, Robert. I enjoyed your last post and looked forward to this one, but you don’t seem to realize how or why your final paragraph burns some readers (with or without the postscript “fer chrissake”–a nice bit of blasphemy there). You have judged the soldiers to be “without conscious” firing at “people they have only cursorily identified as being ideologically opposed to them.” Please read that again imagining you are one of those soldiers, and try to imagine the soldiers do have consciousness and good reason to believe their human targets are genuinely dangerous. Further, try to imagine that the soldiers are educated (rather than brainwashed) as to why they are there (which actually is possible, contra Pastabagel), and that they have patriotic intent that predated boot camp. Is this possible, or do I automatically join the ranks of the “INSANE”?

    And truly, maybe I am just too dim (or INSANE) to entirely follow your post and subsequent comments. But are all soldiers’ (American or other) actions mal-informed and what “children of narcissists learn”? As daughter and granddaughter of veterans (whom I venerate), am I automatically so infected by narcissism as to be incapable of empathizing with The Other? This is a serious inquiry, though frankly tainted with hurt at reading your post and comments.

    What is this “Vietn- Iraq Vet” business directed at JohnJ? Please, what is your point regarding the Vietnam conflict that emboldens you to use it so snidely in reference to an opponent? I understand there are passionate differences in regard to that conflict (and the current one(s)), and that we would likely have opposing views. Can you honestly imagine that there is reason and good intent behind the views that differ from yours–especially on such grave topics? Or not?

    • Robert says:

      “Vietn- Iraq Vet”

      That was in terrible taste, and I apologise. My only excuse is that I was caught up in an argument.

      “As daughter and granddaughter of veterans (whom I venerate), am I automatically so infected by narcissism as to be incapable of empathizing with The Other? This is a serious inquiry, though frankly tainted with hurt at reading your post and comments.”

      Read some of the responses. I didn’t really phrase myself well, and got into all kinds of trouble because of it. I don’t offhand dismiss soldiers as being unethical or evil, I simply see it as being that the suspension of conscience is a necessary – in fact, probably crucial – part of warfare, and I want to examine how these very intense, real actions are integrated into the social discourse via ideology.

      And I’m sorry if i hurt you. Seriously. This is a website for analysis, not one for petty gripes, and I didn’t mean to make it seem as though I was airing one of mine.

      (One thing I will say – I DO think it to be unfair to soldiers that they have to come home after a conflict to a world so desperate to understand them. – either through dismissive comments about them being murderers, or clearly ideological nationalist/populist recasting of them as glorious heroes as opposed to people who did a difficult and ethically awkward job which cost them a lot in the doing. I’m not trying to shit on soldiers, I’m just trying to examine that. I would say that trying overmuch to understand is kind of dangerous, because we muddy the waters with our own views.)

      “Can you honestly imagine that there is reason and good intent behind the views that differ from yours–especially on such grave topics? Or not?”

      Of course. Again, I got caught up in an argument and got a little stupid. I completely agree that there’s perfectly good reasons for disagreeing with me, and I’d love to hear them – I don’t put things up on this website for nothing, I do want to hear arguments against.

      And as for good intent – assuredly. I’ve known a bunch of military people, and they’ve all been pleasant, egalitarian people with, as far as I can tell, no hidden agendas. I respect the military very much in its discipline, and I think there’s a lot to learn from it – but I don’t think that that respect means that I shouldn’t try to examine it.

  11. HP says:

    By the way: A lot of militaries, and most certainly ours, function perfectly fine with quite normal consciences in their members. We don’t need a “separate set of wartime values and morals”.

    The problem is that you cannot imagine a conscience which would let one kill another person – for, apparently, any reason at all…to include the recent killing of one’s friends.

    There are plenty of people – I would venture to guess actually the majority of the world – who have consciences, which function just fine, who see that there is evil that needs to be struck down, people that you need to kill before they kill you or your friends, and causes which are worth fighting and killing and/or dying for.

    Among them are all of the people featured in that Apache gun video from Wikileaks. The people on both ends of that exchange actually exhibit quite the opposite of narcissism: not preoccupied with self or image, but willing to put everything on the line for something (not their own life or self preservation) which they believe in. All of those people were willing to kill for it at the risk of dying for it…the Apache crew just got the surviving end of the deal that day.

    And sometimes, the only ideology you need know about is “they’re trying to kill me and/or my friends”…and that’s usually a pretty clear one to see.

    • Arno says:

      The writeup is a little hard to parse, but I think a large part of what Robert was trying to point out revolves around the soldiers not taking the initiative to open fire, but instead suppressing their own judgement in favor of the orders they received from command.

      We can all think of several situations where a person might suppress their own thoughts or opinions in favor of a a “truth” that is delivered from outside. No matter what this source is (an ideology, an authority figure, a religion, etc.), the person is acting on a “truth” that isn’t necessarily congruent with reality. In fact, if I read Robert’s last few posts even close to correctly, the “truth” doesn’t even need to exist in the moment: an IOU for “truth” can serve for a while. Just watch out when you eventually try to reconcile the “truth” to reality…

    • Robert says:

      OK, I just wrote up a big thing on here and then lost internet connection and, consequently, the big thing. Here’s the gist:

      You’re right. – and I agree with you, wholesale. They’re not narcissists, they’re just doing a job and trying to get through to the end of the day. And yes, I have no doubt there’s a functioning conscience. But not in the act itself – that would have catastrophic consequences for their ability to carry out missions.

      What I am saying is, I’m interested in the way in which the cold, bare realities of war are re-integrated back into the social discourse via ideology. Where we part is that you, quite reasonably, see that their ideological stance in its entirety predcedes their actions, whereas I think that their actions are made sense of afterward through a series of very limiting ideologies.

      (Including the one I demonstrated when I used them as a way to prove a point, quite unfairly and without reasonably explaining myself. I’m part of the problem too.)

      • HP says:

        Seems just entirely overly complex to me. There’s bad people in the world, and sometimes we need to say “enough is enough” and stop them. That’s not an ideology, that’s basic ethics.

        Where you and I differ is that you insist still there must be a suspension of conscience to kill bad people, and you continue to describe it in ways such as “ethically awkward”.

        Again…most of the world has absolutely nothing against stopping bad people from doing bad things, even if it sometimes comes to killing them. Militaries function just fine – and missions happen just fine – with active consciences behind it all.

        • Robert says:

          I appreciate what you’re saying, and I’d say the difference between our view on the ethical suspension thing is probably not going to get answered one way or the other without a pretty detailed examination.

          “That’s not an ideology, that’s basic ethics.” – Ethics IS ideological. Stalinist ethics are different from Liberal ethics are different from Muslim ethics are different from Nazi ethics. There’s a wide, ideologically-informed spectrum of ethics.

          • HP says:

            Then all you’re really doing is post-moderinizing the whole thing, and saying “whatever you do, somebody in the future will judge it very differently, and that’s all that matters.”

          • Robert says:

            HP, can’t reply to your comment, so I gotta reply to mine.

            But: I kind of am, yeah. But that’s actually the opposite of what I’m saying – what I’m saying, rather, is that whatever you do, a narrative is constructed around it in order to integrate it into a sociocultural discourse.

            And I’m saying that this doesn’t necessarily have a lot of good effects – but that also this may be rooted in a very fundamental tenet of the way we have lived since religion began.

          • Robert says:

            (Oh, looks like it sort of places the comment under yours anyway. Forget the first thing.)

          • HP says:

            But that’s the very definition of postmodernism.

            The “modern” era, which goes very closely with the rise of major monotheistic religions, says that there’s a solid right and wrong, a way things are. It says that people who fight to oppress and enslave are wrong, and the right thing to do is stop them. We know that they say the opposite, but they’re wrong. How do I know? Because blowing yourself up in the middle of civilians, throwing acid on girls who dare try to go to school, and using other humans as shields is wrong. Why? Because.

            The postmodern era says we’ve moved past these ideologically constructed ideas of right and wrong…it’s just who’s telling the story. Do what you will, it doesn’t matter – they’re going to retell your story however they please in the future. Was that an intrepid reporter they cut down in the middle of the most important story ever? Or a wretched sniveling sympathizer with murderers? It doesn’t matter what he was carrying or what ID he had on him, we’ll just make up the story later, and the true story will be the one with the best PR.

            Your postmodern construction says that ideology and ethics are not just divorced from each other, they don’t even matter – we’ll just mad-lib it later. That’s a problem: It makes nihilists of us all.

            And you know what happens to nihilists: they get a bowling ball to the stomach.

          • Robert says:

            “Do what you will, it doesn’t matter – they’re going to retell your story however they please in the future. Was that an intrepid reporter they cut down in the middle of the most important story ever? Or a wretched sniveling sympathizer with murderers? It doesn’t matter what he was carrying or what ID he had on him, we’ll just make up the story later, and the true story will be the one with the best PR.

            Your postmodern construction says that ideology and ethics are not just divorced from each other, they don’t even matter – we’ll just mad-lib it later. That’s a problem: It makes nihilists of us all.”

            That’s what I’m saying, though – that that IS what’s happening. That because of the very ideology we think we’ve escaped from into a categorically, humanistically correct liberal capitalism, we’re causing ourselves some problems. At this point, I’m just trying to examine it – I’m not yet proposing any solutions.

            “The “modern” era, which goes very closely with the rise of major monotheistic religions, says that there’s a solid right and wrong, a way things are. It says that people who fight to oppress and enslave are wrong, and the right thing to do is stop them.”

            It says that other people who do those things are wrong – and it’s always reduced to Other People. Abu Ghraib wasn’t a perfectly understandable outburst of the same depersonalization and revenge that characterized the entire war, it was a few bad apples. It’s pure ideology – I think the more honest thing would be to admit that that’s what we want: revenge.

            “Right and wrong can be amazingly simple sometimes” – again, in ideology, yes. They are ideologically informed precepts. You don’t know what’s right and wrong without ideology at a personal level. It’s not something inherent, it’s not God-given, it’s not part of being human – it’s ideology.

          • philtrum says:

            Because blowing yourself up in the middle of civilians, throwing acid on girls who dare try to go to school, and using other humans as shields is wrong. Why? Because.

            I note that you still euphemistically refer to what the U.S. army is doing as “stopping them”. That’s also ideological: the violent and disturbing things we do (bombing, shooting, torturing) are described euphemistically so we don’t have to think about the things “our side” has done or how those things might look to the people we did things to. Orwell had a few choice words about this.

          • Robert says:

            “Because blowing yourself up in the middle of civilians, throwing acid on girls who dare try to go to school, and using other humans as shields is wrong. Why? Because.”

            See, if you said “because that’s what I believe, what I was taught by society and learned through my subjective experience.”

            But instead you insist on your personal ethics as being categorically correct. – as though everyone but you, throughout history, has been wrong in some way, and you’ve reached the end. You’ve won the game of Ethics.

            It’s not like that, – it’s subjective. I’m not arguing about whether or not it’s wrong, but what it means to say that it’s wrong in the first place. (of COURSE, for me, throwing acid in a girl’s face is wrong, punishing women for trying to go to school – I’m a feminist fer chrissake – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let myself put anything beyond analysis.)

        • philtrum says:

          Seems just entirely overly complex to me. There’s bad people in the world, and sometimes we need to say “enough is enough” and stop them.

          Your average violent Islamic fundamentalist would find nothing to object to in that sentence. Except that he or she would disagree about who the “bad people” are, who “we” are, and what is involved in “stopping” the “bad people”.

          You don’t get out of ideology that easily.

          • HP says:

            Of course not. But you do get out of over-complicated post-modern philosophizing that easily. Right and wrong can be amazingly simple sometimes.

          • Robert says:

            “Right and wrong can be amazingly simple sometimes.”

            No, what Comus is saying is that it’s simple because it’s ideological. – you don’t have to think about what’s right and wrong, appraise it. It’s just “simple.”

            The word, it begins with I, and ends in deology, and I’ve said it far too many times in this comments section.

          • philtrum says:

            But you do get out of over-complicated post-modern philosophizing that easily. Right and wrong can be amazingly simple sometimes.

            “We are good and they are bad” is indeed a very simple way of perceiving right and wrong.

        • Fifi says:

          “Because blowing yourself up in the middle of civilians, throwing acid on girls who dare try to go to school, and using other humans as shields is wrong. Why? Because.”

          So, is it blowing yourself up that’s wrong or blowing up civilians that’s wrong according to this world view? If it’s the latter, the killing of civilians, that’s problematic and not the suicide then – unless they’re doing some mental gymnastics to keep the cognitive dissonance at bay – the person holding this belief would logically have a problem with the US army blowing up civilians as well.

          It’s interesting that the poster don’t seem to have any personal understanding of why they hold the ethical/moral beliefs that they hold…the best they came up with was “because”.

          • Robert says:

            A good example of this – when the British army first went into Helmand province and began to get a grip on the area, setting up bases and doing patrols, the Taliban launched a massive attack all of a sudden. The British troops were pinned down, running out of ammunition and food, and it looked like they were going to die there. In order to save them, it was necessary to begin a systematic bombing campaign of the surrounding area in order to deter the Taliban advance and give them some time. This bombing campaign had the consequence of destroying the lives and homes of many Afghan citizens.

            Which translates directly into:

            When the Taliban first got a real grip in Helmand, doing whatever it is the Taliban do (presumably a lot of hirsute stuff), they found themselves pinned down by British forces. Unable to get themselves out, they began to retreat slightly and planted IEDs in the area, as well as launching attacks on nearby buildings. Their attacks and bombs cost the lives of many British soldiers and Afghan civilians.

            Let’s also contrast two narratives:
            A) “they launched a massive attack, out of nowhere, killing thousands of people by crashing planes into buildings. We went in there to try and make sure that didn’t happen again.”
            B) “during the first world war, we were co-erced into mounting a co-ordinated rebellion against the occupying Turkish forces by the West, with promises of sovereignty. When the War ended – with our help, in the Allies’ favour – we were left to rot, and our land was carved up. No-one gave a shit about us. Over the years, things went from bad to worse – the political powers of the West manipulated and used us without a thought to extending to us the same privileges they extend to themselves.”

            I-DE-OLOGY. – we’re not condoning, we’re understanding. Neither side is Right.

            “the best they came up with was “because”.” – yeah, that’s because the rest of that sentence is non-verbal, because they never have to actually finish it, because that’s the prevailing ideology.

  12. Robert says:

    From what I can gather, there’s two camps:
    A) a group of people who have isolated a small part of my article, blown it out of proportion, repeatedly misinterpreted it for personal reasons – despite my SEVERAL corrections of their reading – and proved perfectly my point. Yes, you venerate your veteran father, or brother, or whatever. That’s good. Except in all three of my articles on this website I was trying to explain that just because something’s popular or seems Inherently Right, that doesn’t mean we should put it beyond question. Has no-one paid any attention?
    B) the other group – people who have read the whole thing, who maybe understand that I misworded it and was being a bit sensationalist, sure, but who read it all and put everything in context. They then stood up for me, in a calm and rational way.

    That second group is the reason I’m still here.

    • Robert says:

      (Group A also seems to have forgotten that Nazism developed initially from a nationalistic desire to put the military beyond question as something that had been betrayed by subversive elements determined to drag the motherland down. – “I love my veteran father, he’s beyond question and perfect, you’re just some arrogant punk who wants to drag America down.”)

      • thecobrasnose says:

        Seriously? Seriously? Somebody, okay, I–this actually has become personal–objects to your severe characterization of people you don’t know and manifestly do not understand and you double down with Nazi parallels? You write, “just because something’s popular or seems Inherently Right, that doesn’t mean we should put it beyond question.” Does this apply only to dutiful daughters beguiled by the popularity (?!) of the Vietnam and Iraq (et al.) conflicts, or may it extend to bloggers who write them off?

        Your velvety intelligence and empathy eludes me. Hope you find more satisfaction with Group B.

        • Robert says:

          A) no, it’s not personal. It’s not about you. And you can’t make it about you. It was never, will never be, about you, because it’s an article on a fucking website.
          B) “Seriously? Seriously? Somebody, okay, I–this actually has become personal–objects to your severe characterization of people you don’t know and manifestly do not understand and you double down with Nazi parallels?”

          See, there’s my point. You’re not saying “look, let me correct you, here’s where I think your theory might be wrong” – you’re saying, “how dare you insult me! And look, you don’t even back off when I attack you, you just make another point!”

          Stop accusing me of characterization. I’m not characterizing. I was making a reductive point for a reason. If you want an article where I delineate my beliefs about the military, how it functions in society, etc, I’ll write one. If you want to sit there and take things personally and turn a website about detached theory into a website about your personal gripes, then go somewhere else.

          C) “Does this apply only to dutiful daughters beguiled by the popularity (?!) of the Vietnam and Iraq (et al.) conflicts, or may it extend to bloggers who write them off.”

          I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here at all. I’m not writing anyone off. Here’s what I wrote:

          ““What I am telling you is, there is a Truth and you are not responsible for it.” And that’s why we get people hovering without conscience over a city, firing 50mm rounds into people they have only cursorily identified as being ideologically opposed to them. There is a Truth, and it will be worked out later, and reality will have little to do with it. Strange, that’s what the children of narcissists learn.”

          Were they hovering? Yes. Were they firing? Yes. Did they know for certain that these were enemy combatants? No. – so, did they know for sure that these people were ideologically opposed to them? No. Being in a desert is not a manifesto.

          Was there a conscience? Not that I saw. Does this mean they’re bad? No. Am I saying that everyone should have overactive consciences? No. Nothing would function in this way.

          But did I see a conscience being exercised? No. I saw a military mindset, and I didn’t explicitly say that this is evil, because that’s an ideological characterisation.

          What was my point? That the reason conscience need not be exercised is that the Truth about the event is reconstructed afterwards ideologically, by you guys. “They were good, they did this or that, they’re defending us against so-and-so” – THAT was the point I was trying to make with this article.

          So either debate the theory with me, or go somewhere else. I’m not here for a slanging match. I’ve already said everything I need to say, and everything I’m going to say, and any further accusation of me characterizing the military or whatever is just your ideology.

          So, again: debate the theory, or go somewhere else.

  13. HP says:

    Interesting that you identify more with the National part of Nazism more than the Socialist part of Nazism.

    The problem is that the tone and volume of your final sensationalistic bit – built on a video that has already been shown to be false – rather overwhelms the rest of your posts, in that it’s actually a far bigger deal than you’re trying to pretend.

    Finally, it’s not that anyone is trying to put soldiers beyond reproach. It’s that knowing the facts about this particular situation (facts which were known to the people on the video at the time), those particular soldiers are not in need of reproach – they did the right thing, in the right way.

    It’s not that anybody’s misinterpreting what you said “for personal reasons”. It’s that sometimes words have meanings beyond what you intend, and sometimes we disagree with what you mean, even if you haven’t explicitly stated it.

    • Robert says:

      That, I can appreciate.

      • Robert says:

        Although, then again: “they did the right thing, in the right way.”

        There’s where I disagree. For you, they did the right thing. In the right way, for you. That’s an ideological statement, not a truth.

        Which brings me back to the rest of my article, which has been glossed over completely because, even though I’ve explained that I’m merely using what happened as an example of how, after the reality of an event, it is retroactively interpreted via an ideology (they did the right thing, they’re good people, or they’re bad, evil – as opposed to the more honest “they followed orders and enjoyed, clearly, the killing.” Which, yes, they did. Blah humour or no, it’s a stretch to imply that they were all actually really solemn and morose about it.)

        • HP says:

          …no, it’s not a stretch at all.

          If you’ve ever been in such a situation, or even known anyone who’s been in a similar situation, it’s very easy to see how things like black humor ease doing the things you’d rather not, even though you know it’s what you have to do. Sometimes you can even tell just how solemn and morose a person is, by how hard they’re trying to laugh it off.

          • Robert says:

            That’s true, yes. But it’s very clear that in that video, it’s black humour, but it’s not a morose black humour. – but then again, that’s my subjective appraisal of it. It may be more complicated that that – and I’m certain it is, that at a very fundamental, ideological level in the structure of any military there’s an institutionalized distance from the reality of one’s actions that manifests itself in black humour.

            I know a lot about black humour – my mother’s dying of cancer, she has been for years, and the only way my family has been able to cope is through trying to make ourselves laugh and see it in a different light. (This isn’t a sob story, I’m agreeing with you) – the difference is that for me, my ideological approach to what’s going on is facilitated by the black humour, that becomes a part of it. (“Oh, remember how she used to complain about this or that, even though she had much bigger problems!”)

            Whereas I think that it’s likely that the black humour in the military is distanced entirely from the ideological retroactive appraisal of what happened – hence the public reaction to the video, and my own. They don’t use black humour to try to deal with it, but rather to put off dealing with it until they’re in a safe, fairly neutral space. – it is THEN that the conscience is exercised, in that neutral space, accompanied by a mixture of prevailing social and military ideologies.

            This is what I am examining. I’m not saying things should be different or that anyone’s doing anything wrong.

            And as for the “children of narcissists” bit – that’s kind of further to my point, – the idea is that if we teach soldiers that the after-the-fact ideological reconstructions of what they do are more important than what they actually do (ie, if it’s not the case that they’re doing a difficult and fairly cold job, with not a lot of warmth of comfort, as opposed to taking them home and foisting our ideological beliefs about how they’re either valiant heroes of evil murderers on them), – then that’s just the same as what the children of narcissists learn: that it’s not what you do or what the situation is, but how it is reconstructed afterward, that counts.

            This is the same thing that happened in Germany. After the fall of the Nazi regime, in the looming shadow of Cold War, the exact narrative of What Had Happened in Germany was hastily reconstructed, and a lot of blaming and ideology crept in – which is why you now have a Germany where the people who lived through the Nazi years refuse to talk about them, and the young are therefore more likely to appropriate Nazi beliefs as a way of rebelling.

          • Robert says:

            Man am I sorry how long that was!

          • HP says:

            “And as for the “children of narcissists” bit – that’s kind of further to my point, – the idea is that if we teach soldiers that the after-the-fact ideological reconstructions of what they do are more important than what they actually do (ie, if it’s not the case that they’re doing a difficult and fairly cold job, with not a lot of warmth of comfort, as opposed to taking them home and foisting our ideological beliefs about how they’re either valiant heroes of evil murderers on them), – then that’s just the same as what the children of narcissists learn: that it’s not what you do or what the situation is, but how it is reconstructed afterward, that counts.”

            Which is why it’s such a good thing that that’s not at all what we’re doing.

          • Robert says:

            Which is why it’s such a good thing that that’s not at all what we’re doing.

            Abu Ghraib: “it’s not about what we really want from you, but what we have to say we want from you.”

            It’s not a humanitarian war, it’s a revenge war, at its core. It may have adopted some fairly admirable intentions and gone way beyond where it had to go in order to try and stabilise the place, but it’s still a revenge war, and that’s the mindset. (As you can see clearly by the almost immediate hysterical response to saying that – “no, no, they’re trying to kill us, they were coming right for us” – they were, absolutely. And now you want revenge. No?)

            With institutions, there’s always the difference between what they really want, and what they have to say they want. That, I don’t see as being entirely necessary – rather, I see it as a product of ideology.

          • HP says:

            You miss my point entirely. Soldiers aren’t taught that after-the-fact ideological reconstruction is more important. They’re taught entirely the opposite: do what’s right, and don’t give a damn what they say about you back home – they couldn’t understand it if they tried.

          • philtrum says:

            They’re taught entirely the opposite: do what’s right, and don’t give a damn what they say about you back home – they couldn’t understand it if they tried.

            “No one understands me, no one can judge me” is a pretty narcissistic statement, methinks.

            Also, no military would work if every individual soldier consulted his own moral compass before acting. Soldiers are trained to follow orders. This isn’t “doing what’s right” unless you believe that a) following orders is right no matter what the orders are, or b) no superior officer has ever given or would ever give an order that was wrong.

          • Robert says:

            “This isn’t “doing what’s right” unless you believe that a) following orders is right no matter what the orders are, or b) no superior officer has ever given or would ever give an order that was wrong.”

            Slam fuckin’ dunk.

          • Fifi says:

            “Also, no military would work if every individual soldier consulted his own moral compass before acting. Soldiers are trained to follow orders. This isn’t “doing what’s right” unless you believe that a) following orders is right no matter what the orders are, or b) no superior officer has ever given or would ever give an order that was wrong.”

            A very good point philtrum and one that is supported by history and integral to contemporary military training. It was discovered during WW2 that many soldiers didn’t even aim at the enemy – when nobody was watching them at least. This blog post outlines it well…
            http://jmichaelphillips.blogspot.com/2011/01/business-of-killing-american-military.html

            As does this article…
            http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hope_on_the_battlefield/

        • Fifi says:

          Interesting article Robert and an interesting take on capitalism (and narcissism and nationalism). Don’t let the trolls bully you with their narcissistic outrage simply because you see things different than the official narrative about how everyone in the military are really good guys and fighting for you and me (they’re not fighting for the average person, they’re fighting over the control of oil for multinational corporations).

          However, may I suggest that it’s not looking to the future that’s essentially an issue but rather buying into a false future. What commodity culture does is sell us unreality-based futures…magical ones where we get to avoid the consequences of our actions on the environment, others and all the things that are real (they exist even if you’re not looking at them or thinking about them, unlike ideologies which need the thinker to exist). Narcissists, of course, put their ideological self image ahead of reality (no other perspectives exist) and will attack anyone who dares question the narrative they’re selling. Nationalism is just prefab narcissism for people who aren’t creative enough to construct their own narcissistic identity (the same can be said for any prefab ideology that we assume as our identity, thereby making it subjective and personal rather than treating an idea as an idea that can be discussed on its own merits).

          • Robert says:

            “However, may I suggest that it’s not looking to the future that’s essentially an issue but rather buying into a false future.”

            True dat.

    • philtrum says:

      Interesting that you identify more with the National part of Nazism more than the Socialist part of Nazism.

      Possibly because Nazi Germany was not actually socialist in any meaningful sense?

  14. W.Kasper says:

    How was that final video “shown to be false”? Who “falsified”? The Pentagon?

    John J’s comments demonstrate how patriotism is a kind of manic narcissism for people without depth. Whole nations as a distorted mirror to their own vanity.

    • HP says:

      Quite the opposite, actually.

      There was several minutes cut out of the middle of that video by Assange or one of his minions (I’m assuming he isn’t alone in the operation), which cast a distinctly different light on the entire situation. The full version is available as well, and tells a rather different story.

  15. RatB says:

    This article relates to a theory I’ve had for a while, but haven’t been able to put into words beyond the phrase “people try to live stories”. It has always seemed to me that people have a kind of need for an overarching purpose, which I think you’re calling The Truth, and that they’ll latch on to damn near anything if they think that will provide their missing motivation.

    The resulting problem, I’ve found, is that when life fails to match their self designed story-arch, people flip shit. They seem to react like they’ve been cheated, like there’s an inherent evil in the way events have played out. A secondary, more insidious problem, is that even if they successfully complete a story-arch, they kind of go crazy again once they get past the point where the author would stop writing.

    Is this the thrust of your essay? Is this a cultural phenomenon or common to all people?

    • Robert says:

      Absolutely! – “A secondary, more insidious problem, is that even if they successfully complete a story-arch, they kind of go crazy again once they get past the point where the author would stop writing.” – that’s a pretty perfect description of what I’m trying to say, yes.

      That’s the basic thrust, yeah – that this sort of fixed point at the end of the story-arc is inherent in religious logic and forms the basis for our current mode of life. But that we either never reach it, or reach it in some psychotic way.

    • Comus says:

      ..and for narcissists the story is about themselves. The ideology is them. For the non-narcissists they are for the ideology.

      In order for the world to be bearable it has to be somewhat continuous and predictable. That is why we created god, and as a proxy the pope, the emperor, what have you. After god became less plausible, we created ideologies to replace religions. Not that they are completely mutually exclusive though, you can have religion as a part of the ideology or vice versa. The thing with ideology is, that it has a more alteral foundation. The Truth is not god, the Truth is constantly crafted from the bulk of ideology to fit the conditions, yet it remains the Truth. That is why it is nearly implossible to rid oneself of it. Hitchens (Christopher) says that “religion poisons everything” which in a way is true, yet a bit harsh, but it definitely is true of ideology.

      Ideology is like a prism through which you look at things. Like a coloured contact lens. Indistuingishable from your actual eye. Or, maybe more along the lines of not really knowing you’ve been wearing a contact lens to begin with. Therefore it is nearly impossible to attack ideology. If you attack it from the outside the offensive just bounces off of the shield. Like blaming an apple tree it hasn’t got pears, because you like pears. In order to get pears, you have to cut down the tree and plant a pear tree in its place. The other possibility is for it to rot, to slowly collapse like a flan in a cupboard. This is to attack from within. And if you attack from within, your attack is always-already diluted by the thing you’re attacking.

      It’s bloody frustrating.

      • Fifi says:

        “In order for the world to be bearable it has to be somewhat continuous and predictable. That is why we created god, and as a proxy the pope, the emperor, what have you. After god became less plausible, we created ideologies to replace religions. Not that they are completely mutually exclusive though, you can have religion as a part of the ideology or vice versa. The thing with ideology is, that it has a more alteral foundation. The Truth is not god, the Truth is constantly crafted from the bulk of ideology to fit the conditions, yet it remains the Truth. That is why it is nearly implossible to rid oneself of it. Hitchens (Christopher) says that “religion poisons everything” which in a way is true, yet a bit harsh, but it definitely is true of ideology.”

        I don’t know if it was a typo or intentional but “implossible” is a great made up word for the way people who react when deeply held ideological beliefs are challenged.

  16. Pingback: … i might be wrong.

  17. Ktotwf says:

    Wow. The comments here are usually of a high quality. It is shameful that a well-written, well- thought-out post like this gets “rebutted” by people who seem to have recently stepped off of a Fox News soundstage.

    It does validate Robert’s thesis, though.

  18. Milo says:

    I’m a bit late to the party as I checked this post after reading What are we Actually Trying to Prove, but I just had to say that I loved how you can make what was essentially an off-hand comment (when compared to the rest of the post) only to be bombarded by numerous comments about what people really thought was going on in a video, in a war, in the world at large… What a beautiful example of your point about truth and reality.

    I’m a soldier. When I first saw the video (an unedited version complete with more cheering and the destruction of a van with children in it), all I thought was business as usual. Guys in a chopper see some guys set up an ambush, take them out, and some reporters standing next to them get taken out in the process. The guys in the chopper have normal reactions to an abnormal situation. They cheer. They get excited. They envelope themselves in their individual story of what a soldier “is” or who the bad guys “are”. They do what they need to in order to prevent themselves from having to wrestle with the paralyzing moral ambiguities which could get themselves or one of the comrades killed. This is a normal everyday occurrence in a war zone. I know this to be true, because I have video of myself doing the same.

    Then the media gets a hold of it, and the masses at large have to struggle with those same moral ambiguities. They have to cloak what is an ordinary event in the trappings of one ideology or another. Twist it and use it to support their own story of who they are and how the world is supposed to work. The media is outraged because a reporter was killed standing next to some guys with guns but glosses over the fact that children were injured or killed. I, as a soldier, don’t fault the chopper pilots when they get a trigger happy an destroy a van the shows up later causing the injuries to those children. I tell myself, I don’t hate my pizza guy when he makes a mistake, I have to allow for soldiers to make mistakes as well.

    At first, I thought the video was a poor choice, because of its polarizing aspects. But now I think it is the perfect choice, because of the effect it has on people. It serves as a focus for individuals to take their internal conflict with a situation, and distance themselves from it. A person who sees themselves as opposed to the war, can focus on how horrible this thing that happened half a world away is, so they don’t have to think about how the way they continue to buy gas, pay taxes, and function in the economy makes them responsible as well. Those who support that war can drape themselves in patriotism so they don’t have to think about a human being half a world away who no longer has a husband, father, or brother.

    Everyone focuses on their own story. The media allows them to distance themselves, prevents them from looking carefully at their own life, their own choices. This is something other people do, not me. It allows them to follow the their chosen script day by day and worry about the reality of it later, hopefully never. Your post mentions Capitalism, how does that fit in. It’s not important that it’s impossible for everyone to achieve the American Dream at once, it’s important that everyone believes they will be one of those who gets there. Focus on how the script will lead you there, worry about the moral consequences or even the plausibility of that script later.

    That’s a lot of lead up to my point which is this. How do people go on deceiving themselves into following a mundane script over and over, but never really wanting to reach the end of it? The same way soldiers deal with the fact that they went to some far of land and left some poor kid without a father. They try really, really, hard not to think about it.

    Yes, I am aware that my post is self illustrating.

    • Milo says:

      P.S. Keep up the good work. I frequently see your blog posts as a refreshing piece of Internet dessert for my day.

    • Robert says:

      Thanks so much for that. That’s exactly what I was hoping for – a really good, well thought-out response from a soldier. (Not to denigrate the other soldiers, their responses were thought-out too, but “good” for me simply means that it doesn’t hurt :P)

      “At first, I thought the video was a poor choice, because of its polarizing aspects. But now I think it is the perfect choice, because of the effect it has on people.” – see, I automatically chose it, but I can kind of see how that logic was probably inherent in my choice. It IS probably the most contentious video, because any interpretation of it is purely ideological – nothing happens outside of the scope of what normally happens in war.

      And thanks for the “keep up the good work” – I’ve got more of ‘em coming.

      (PS: I practically shit my ears out of my arse when I saw the first comment on Religion and Capitalism, ‘cos I was certain it was going to end up like that the whole way through. But now, fuck it – I’m glad I said what I said, and didn’t take it down.)

  19. HP says:

    Alright, one last comment to answer a few things before I sign off this thread entirely…it’s gotten quite beyond me and quite tiresome.

    1. “Because” is the entire point. That single word with nothing after is exactly what I was illustrating. “Because” is how a god defines right and wrong for humans who have realized that you can otherwise never prove right and wrong, only state what you personally believe. The corollary is: When everything is subjective, there ceases to be any such thing as “right” and “wrong”, nothing trumps the narrative, and we’re all nihilists. Somehow, I don’t understand this to be better.

    2. No, soldiers aren’t taught “just follow orders”. Soldiers are taught “just follow orders, unless it’s something immoral or illegal”. Now we go back into the right and wrong – they underlie the entire construct. That’s why people got punished for Abu Ghraib.

    3. It’s not a narcissistic “only your/your narrative matters”. It’s a modernistic “doing the right thing is what matters, not what people think of it”.

    No point in furthering this miasma…enjoy patting each other on the back more.

    • Robert says:

      ” It’s not a narcissistic “only your/your narrative matters”. It’s a modernistic “doing the right thing is what matters, not what people think of it”.” – that second one is just reducing the narrative to yourself, in a web of ideology. “This is why I really am, I know what I am, it doesn’t matter what I do because I know it’s right.”

      This is all in the article, if you’d care to direct your gaze from its feet to its tits.

      ” Somehow, I don’t understand this to be better.” – not better. Just more truthful.

  20. Robert says:

    Final thing I want to add, saw this today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jun/18/war-photographers-special-report

    The following is presumably an extract, or maybe the whole of it, from an interview with a war photographer called Eric Bouvet. He was in Chechnya.

    “It was unbearable. Two crazy weeks and the most unbelievable story I ever did. I was with a Russian special commando. They were torturing, killing and raping. I saw them do it, and I couldn’t stop them. Someone of a normal constitution can’t accept that. I was working on the edge.

    This is the morning after a night that left four men dead and 10 wounded. It was heavy fighting, and I was very afraid. I discovered a dead Chechen four metres from me when I got up in the night. You see movies, you read books, you can imagine anything. But when you are in front of something, it’s not like the movies. We started out as 60 and came back 30 – one in two people injured or killed. I was lucky.

    As soon as it was light, I took pictures. This is the first thing I saw. The guy with the bandage on his head has lost his friends. He has fought all night long. I don’t feel pity, but at the same time they took me with them and did everything to protect me. Without them, I couldn’t have done the story. I was the only witness. It’s very complicated.”

    The reason the American soldiers didn’t do anything too horrible was because of the regulation. It’s pretty obvious to me that in the absence of regulation, in the absence of an ideology that acts ON people as well as THROUGH them in the explicit sense (all ideology acts ON you in the implicit sense) – as in, it acts ON you by being more than pure ideology – we get the sort of thing this guy was talking about.

    So yes, if you will, Western soldiers are better. But not necessarily because they’re better people. It is in all likelihood the weakness of the ideology itself – American nationalism isn’t a particularly strong ideology, compared to the ideologies that have grown up over thousands of years of incredible conflict and unrest in other places, especially in the East. It’s simply a matter of time.

    We don’t torture (as often as we might) because the ideology is weaker. But this has a corollary – the weaker the blanket ideology, the more likely are smaller institutional and group ideologies to pop up. Hence Abu Ghraib and so on.

    And then we get people like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynndie_England – hovering over a brown man with a leash around his neck, without conscience, as part of an institutionalised form of proof that the military ain’t all heroes and lions and glorious warriors.

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