Just the one more, I think. And then I’ll leave you alone.
Marx: “They do not know it, but they are doing it.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.