Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The President's People


- You're not one of those publishing how disturbed they are about the mystery of our new president's character. One of them* speculates on the new president's
'doubleness, this randomness, the sheer cascade of horseshit and affronts, of dog whistles and non-sequiturs.' 
The article continues:
At best, the incoherence can be interpreted as evidence he’s a gormless, love-hungry 70-year-old child, a sort of feral president, an evil Chauncey Gardiner, as much the dupe in his own confidence scheme as he is its perpetrator, and utterly at the mercy of whichever voice just whispered in his ear. The other possibility, that he’s a totally Machiavellian sophisticate, a knowing possessor of the variety of ‘voice’ genius Jung ascribed to Hitler, is probably worse, and probably less probable.'*
- No, I'm not disturbed. The new president is an image-maker who changes his image in accord with what he guesses will bring him more of what he wants.
- What does he want?
- What everyone who lives by producing images wants: power. Sometimes power is to be gained by holding to one image, being a pillar of the community; sometimes more power is to be gained from changing the image, adapting to circumstances. The pillar of the community creates an image of strong character, someone who in this moment does what he said he would do in the moment before. The producer of changeable images, whose action of the present has no connection with actions of the past, reveals the desire for power that is hiding behind the images and is responsible for their shifting. The election of our new president shows that large numbers of Americans don't care about bad character. About ninety percent of Democrats voted Democratic, about ninety percent of Republicans voted Republican. Those party-unaffiliated who thought the rich were robbing the poor too much voted Democratic, those party-unaffiliated who thought the poor were robbing the rich too much voted Republican. The bad character of the new president had little bearing of the voting.
- What do you make of that?
- Only people who themselves have bad character can be unaware of the danger of putting power in the hands of someone with bad character.
- But behind the image of pillar of the community isn't there likely to be the same reality of bad character? Our present president puts on the pillar of the community act. But consider his re-activation of the Bill of Rights destroying Patriot act, his persecution of those who risk their lives to reveal government corruption, his intensification of unconstitutional surveillance of the American people, his personally authorized assassinations, and all the rest of it.
- It could have been the case the voting was a tantrum of destruction, a protest against the falseness of all candidates. The evidence shows otherwise: the rich voted for our new president, the poor against. Rich and poor both say, when asked, they believe the new President will do what he promises. The rise in the stock market since his election shows investors think the same.
- Then the rich elected a rich guy they think will make them richer and are not concerned about his bad character. Which you say shows the bad character of the rich who voted for him. So the election does not reveal racism, sexism, fear of foreigners of the American people, nor does it reveal their wised up disgust with the images politicians produce, but rather a disinterest in politics both in form and substance, a disinterest in whether politicians have character or not, a disinterest concerning whether the country becomes more racist, sexist, xenophobic. The election reveals that in this nation of more than 320 million people, around a quarter of those who could vote, a quarter wealthier than the other three quarters, have bad character. That's a lot of people.
- It is. The bad character of the people is a political fact. Behind their smaller scale shows of being pillars of the community like our president on his way out or defiantly inconsistent like our president on his way in, they seek to satisfy their desire for power. When economics block this expression of power it breaks out in racism, sexism, hatred of strangers. People with good character have the wherewithal to resist these prejudices becoming expressed in political violence. People with bad character don't.

Further Reading:
What Is Patriotism?
Eve In The Garden Of Eden
* Jonathan Lethem, in the London Review Of Books


- I've been looking into things since we last talked. I found an article* by an academic in Berlin who reached the same conclusion we did: the main significance of the election was that so many people could put into office a man with such obvious bad character. You said that only people with bad character could want a man with bad character to lead their country, and I think you were right. I want to know whether you agree with me about how we got to where we are.
- I'm listening.
- Twenty-seven percent of the electorate, something around twenty percent of American adults, voted for this, let's call him, president of the immoral. And do you know what?
- What?
- At the end of World War II over a quarter of Americans were self employed. Now it is around seven percent and rapidly falling.** See what I'm getting at?
- The number of independent people the country has lost in the last fifty years is matched neatly by the number of people without character who voted for this president without character.
- Yes. It's as if those who would have been independent have instead become depraved. But that can't be.
- Why not?
- Because even after World War II seventy-five percent of Americans were employees and it is ridiculous to say they were depraved.
- Then what do we say?
- We say the existence of a substantial number of Americans who were in ideals and in reality independent, this was a support and an encouragement to other Americans that they might achieve similar independence. With now the number of self employed shrunken to a small and rapidly declining fraction of the population, both the existence of independent people and the encouragement they provided is gone, and we get about the same number of people who previously were exceptionally independent now being exceptionally without character.

Further Reading:
Business Is Business
Prostitution, Employment, Slavery
* Abhor The Event: Voting Patterns And The Rise Of Trump
** Death Of Small Business


Beginning again with a quote, this time by you:

Farabi interpreted Plato in this way: most people never get beyond the received thinking of childhood, thinking that is so which is taught to be so, seeking reward and avoiding punishment. The philosophic law-giver composes religion as the best form of received thinking, while the philosopher himself lives above the shadowy realm of religious doctrine and seeks and attains to some extent the truth. The religious community is constructed as something lower, from conclusions derived from the higher life of philosophy.

Contrast this with our idea that from within the orthodoxy of our received group thinking, confusion develops from confrontations with other doctrines, new ideas and techniques develop. The philosophical is produced from within the confused community, not merely from a confusion of ideas deliberated upon by isolated philosophers.

The philosophers who are thinking their way out of confusions developed from within the shadowy life of the religious group, when they reach new conclusions, these are necessarily practical, refer to real life lived among others. This leads to adapting the same kind of thinking to practical technology: and we know that the Arabs following the tradition expressed by Farabi of law-given orthodoxy in society failed in this application.

Philosophy as creative and protective of lower dogmatically enforced religious doctrine is a good definition of fanaticism. It involves both no loyalty to any community, no love of particular people or places or things, and an insistence on loyalty to an orthodoxy known to be partly arbitrary, and inevitably treating people for whom one has no particular love as means to the end of maintaining the partly arbitrary orthodoxy and sustaining the possibility of the philosophers' higher lives.*

You wrote that six years ago. If we say our new president's religion - he calls it his art - is making money, couldn't we describe what we should be getting ready to expect from him in office as totalitarianism? With him as the king / philosopher of money leading the 'higher life'?
- And?
- Did you expect anything like this when you wrote those words? How did we get here so quickly?
- It's hasn't been all that quickly. What has come to be called Neo-Liberalism has been in the works for centuries. Remember we talked about** Foucault's last works on the subject? Neo-Liberalism when put into practice is a sort of confidence trick, a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- How so?
- Neo-Liberalism proposes the existence of a natural law of the marketplace. When theories are the basis of action intended to produce a desired result, we call that practice the application of technology. With Neo-Liberalism those results are the opposite predicted by the theory, general economic decline rather than advance, but the technology has produced a religious result that is very advantageous to those who operate it. Like application of certain technologies that produce pollution, application of Neo-Liberalism, both its partial (never close to total) opening of free markets, and the rapid monopolization of the market that develops when government regulations of the market are removed, interfere with other human practises based on knowledge, in general those that we use to say made life good and worth living. Because of this interference by pollution with other lawful orders, species become extinct, and similarly, as we mentioned last time, self employment in the United States is becoming extinct. In the case of pollution the instability created by technology threatens the very existence of human beings practicing the technology, and calls in question the practice of that technology. But with Neo-Liberalism, instability creates conditions that tend to make it appear a proven fact that economic life, life of practicality, making money, has to be attended to before anything else, for it is a matter of survival. All other aspects of life must take second place.
- The more people who are put out of work, threatened by wars waged for profits of corporations, the more unstable people are and the more they must think how they are to get money to survive.
- Exactly. A leader arises who claims to know the natural laws of the market better than anyone, who demonstrates in word and action he subordinates to it all other human concerns like that for truth, beauty, peace, love, and beauty. The more disproven Neo-Liberalism is an effective technology, the more that it produces destruction instead of the claimed to be expected prosperity, the more attractive it is as a religion, and the more likely is it to become the tool of totalitarianism.
- Thus, our new president.

Further Reading:
More Adventures In Trumpland
* Technology & Fanaticism
** Bringing Back Stray Sheep