Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sterling Newberry on the Reactionary Moral Quagmire

Moral Quagmire | TPMCafe:

Here's the kernal:
"The Reactionary movement is about creating a hard boundary between inside and outside. From this flow two simple principles: what happens inside is justified by the rules, this is "morality", and any violation of the boundary justifies the use of maximum, indeed unlimited, violence, this is "clarity". . . .
"It is important to stop and feel this visualization of the world, inside a tank, a world where the game itself and the normal patterns of behavior regulate everything, without any need for state intervention. Then a protective hard shell, and outside a group of foul genocidal demons from whom those inside must be protected at all cost. It is a simple world to live in. It rationalizes certain kinds of behavior, and it gives 'freedom', stay in the tank, and you do not have any burden of thinking about consequences or outcomes beyond those that can be simply extrapolated from your own actions.

"It also justifies an almost unlimited budget for prisons and the military - because a thicker tank is always better, and the forces of evil are everywhere. This simple view of space gave the Reactionary movement its clarity, and it also created the Reactionary movement's way of solving everything. Create a tank, demand that everything inside the tank simply run, and then hammer or slaughter any threats to the tank.

"But why did this work in the United States, of all places . . . ?

"This worked because it was targetted at people who had fled from urban areas to suburbia. The Reactionary movement[s] really argued that when there was a break down of boundaries in the 1960's there was a break down of society and the economy. Suburbia good, cities bad. Quiet good, noise bad.

"It [worked] because it could be sold to consumers, who, in fact, were presented with a system which, in their day to day experience, was what the right wing said day to day experience should be about. Consumers make decisions based on the immediate and immediately visible signals they see. The Reactionary movement's view of 'inner space' corresponded with this. Threats to that are external and violent. This corresponds to the consumer's view of the world that bad events come from rapid and violent dislocations, such as a mugging or a car accident or a lay off. The Reactionary movement then argued that bad things would not happen if only the outer tank was thick enough, and the inner space was fumigated of alien influences.

"Consumers accepted this: keep out the bad guys, fumigate the people who don't "act like us", who are merely infiltrating bad guys, and all will be well. . . .

"In fact, the society that consumers lived in was the reverse - the tank which they saw as normal, omnipresent and stable, was a product of a great deal of deliberate planning, and a great deal of deliberate engineering. Prices, advertisments, goods and services were all regulated, activity was subsidized, the economy monitored constantly. There was no consumer tank, except in the minds of consumers.

"However, this [reality] created a complex and uncertain sense of political space, where as the Reactionary movement['s shell], in its various forms, presented a simple view of political space. Kill the baddies, keep them out, and all is well, is about a simple a view of political space as can be drawn.

"This worked because of the hypnotic power of nomos - the ordinary laws and customs which a community runs on. The nomos is what is normal. Morality is nothing more than the brain's way of organizing the normal patterns of behavior internally.

"Moral clarity on the right was, and is, the fundamental principle, because maintaining the simple view of political space, and the simple faith in simple rules the sole end of intellectual and rhetorical activity. Nothing else matters.

To generate a Reactionary movement, all one needed to do is create a demon, a nomos and a boundary that separated the two. Rhetoric falls out of this almost immediately, since it is all about either emphasizing the evils of the demon, the self-justifying good of the nomos, and the importance of having an absolute and simplistic boundary between the two.

"In short every Reactionary rhetoric could be reduced down to "zero tolerance" and "axiomic good". Reactionary attacks boil down then to proving that someone or something isn't pure good, and therefore must be pure evil."

". . . Reactionary movements that disagree with each other violently on actual issues [have] worked together with . . . seemless efficiency [because] The[y] were all defending an inside from an outside, and they were shoulder to shoulder with people who were emotionally like themselves. More important than agreement on dogma, as an agreement about the enemy. The enemy wasn't a particular enemy, it was a concept, a concept of a different kind of political space. While government, terrorists, gays, inner urban street toughs, activist judges might have been the nominal enemies, the real enemy was having to be present in ones own actions. The real enemy was having to look where you were going, and think about the implications of what you were doing.

Here are some additional epigrammatic tidbits (some from comments):
while the public is rejecting Bush, it has not yet rejected the reactionary nomos. Much of the public is looking to try and do the same thing the same way and get a different result.

Freedom is just another way to say, wtf:
The Reactionary system predicates, not a formally coherent set of beliefs, but a particular sense of political space. It argues that if people adopt particular a particular nomos, and rigidly separate "inside" from "outside" [with a rigid "shell"), then that is the best possible society.

While what, exactly, the inside is about is a matter of wild disagreement between reactionaries, the kind of nomos [moral political space] is not. It is one where people do not have to think about the consequences to others of their actions beyond a very limited range. [The moral order or nomos requires respect for others like yourself inside the shell, but doesn't require consideration for "evil" others outside the shell.] That's "freedom" as they define it.

I couldn't help to think about some rightwing economist, whose name I cannot remember, pondering outloud about global warming, and wondering if we should really impose costs on ourselves to prevent displacing 60 million people in Bangladesh. Even though economists are trained to think about externalities, per se, it did not seem to occur to him that there is something morally askew about the prospect of Americans enjoying their SUVs at the expense of 60 million poor Asians flooded out of practically their whole country.

The ready way in which Bush and his apologists put "terror suspects" outside the rule of law would stand as another example of how this political structuring a psychological/political space and of nomos works.

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