The Politics of Unreason and the Boogey-Man of “Cultural Marxism”
I’ve trawled through the internet for many a day since the Oslo bombing and the Utøya Island massacre, hoping to discover some signs of intelligent life in the internet universe.
Some commentaries came very close. Some were very good and some were very bad. Many were mediocre and quite a few were tasteless and insensate. Many were even deranged. Just as many were sly and devious– the work of artful dodgers, sophists and artificers, attempting to obscure their hidden sympathies for Breivik’s barbarism while decorously maintaining the façade of outraged moral scruple.
Perhaps I am trying to cut too large a swathe in attempting to address all the aspects of Breivik’s atrocity and (far more importantly) our responses to it. Our collective responses to catastrophic events define us, and I’m not confident that our present responses are at all adequate.
From my own experience as a one-time farmer, I happen to understand what that phrase “cutting too large a swathe” means. It means that the combine that follows the swather to pick up the swathe can’t effectively do it. The swathe is simply too big for the combine to efficiently thresh out the grain and separate the proverbial “wheat from the chaff”. It plugs up. It breaks down. So, “cutting too large a swathe” is a metaphor for the mind and its incapacity to comprehend, digest, and understand.
I’ve been wading, betimes, through the vile swamp of Anders Breivik’s “manifesto,” which pretends to provide an ostensible rationale for doing what he did. Basically, he conceived of himself as a reconstituted and re-sanctified Christian Knight Templar (by no authority but his own self) theatrically engaged in a Holy War — a Crusade — against a Questing Beast, the Hydra of “cultural Marxism”. And in this drama we are all to serve his inflated thespian egoism and conceit as being his privileged audience. It may seem narcissistic and childish (and it is), but Hitler also projected himself in much the same way. Narcissists and idolators, always delusional paranoiacs, seem to feel that the eyes of the gods (or God) are, or should be, uniquely focussed upon them and their acts at all times.
I deliberately chose this name “Hydra” as the real and proper meaning of Breivik’s delusion about “cultural Marxism.” In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a many-headed monster. Cut off one head, and another or even more heads sprouted in its place. (Greek myths are full of that mood of futility). The reactionary right’s use of the phrase “cultural Marxism” is mythological in much the same way, as it is meant to summarise in a single slogan or symbol, a conflation of manifold and plural existential threats — none of which are even necessarily related to one another — but which are often concatenated and linked in the reactionary mind merely by a forward slash — Marxist/liberal/socialist/feminist/Muslim/homosexual/environmentalist/politically correct/etc, all tidily coerced into being associated with one other, whether they like it or not, through one simplistic slogan.
This device and trope, as it were, allows the simple minded to slice off one of the heads of the Hydra (say, “Jew”) and insert in its stead (or further concatenate) a perceived new existential threat, like “Muslim” or “Arab” while keeping the formula “cultural Marxism” (or “socialistic multiculturalism”) intact forever. The plug-and-play threat is, of course, delusional paranoia. But that is the very nature of the reactionary mentality.
I have read even nationally syndicated conservative columnists in Canada (reputable to some, it seems) use this exact phrase as Breivik employs it in his manifesto. “Cultural Marxism” (or, equivalently, “socialistic multiculturalism”) now begins to stand for everything and everything that is not-me-or-mine, and which doesn’t reflect myself and my self-interest.
Anyway you look it, the phrase “cultural Marxism” (or “socialistic multiculturalism”) is the same many-headed Hydra, and it belongs to mythological and magical thinking, not to reason. It conflates what are, as perceived by reactionary conservatives, many different existential threats conveniently into one threat — Islam, Marxism, Liberalism, Feminism, Environmentalism, etc. In fact, anything that is “not me”. That is not only extremely narcissistic thinking, it is also the essence of a totalitarian delusion.
Here’s what happens:
The reactionary, by equating everything that is “not me” as belonging to a conspiratorial existential threat, paints himself into a corner with his paranoia. The nature of xenophobia is usually described as “fear of the stranger” (Greek “xeno” meaning “stranger”. The contrary to the strange or the stranger being the familiar or “family”). What is not-like-me or mine, and therefore unfamiliar and not-family, becomes an object of anxiety.
This is a primitive and fear-filled response to the unfamiliar and unknown. The mind of the reactionary, however, by compiling the perceived multiplicity of existential threats and compounding them into one existential threat, backs itself into a corner, which is the place of anxiety or Angst. It is not an accident at all that the words for “anxiety,” “Angst,” “anger,” are connected with the meaning “angle”. Acute anxiety or Angst has the same significance as “acute angle” — a constricting or narrowing into a corner, which feeling of constriction or narrowing tends to induce or incite panic and paranoia.
By conflating or confusing (ie, “melting together”) so many perceived different existential threats into one grey-goo threat of “cultural Marxism,” the reactionary mind also inflates those different threats into one overwhelming threat — the Hydra. His mind backs itself into what Nietzsche called a mere “nook-and-corner” perspectivist mentality or consciousness — that is, the angular, which arouses and provokes anxiety and anger.
As Nietzsche once put it (in one of many similar passages) “every person is a prison, also a nook and corner.” What Nietzsche means by that is that we suffer from a kind of claustrophobic narcissism and also from a narrow perspectivising. “Fundamentally, we experience only ourselves,” he also wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (and was completely misunderstood). For Nietzsche, we only experience the claustrophobia of our own ego and of our own minds as being like prisons for the spirit that wants to be free, and as narrow-minded nook-and-corner perspectives, having become trapped in the tautological and circular mentating only of our own inner self-referential monologue. We tell ourselves who we are and what our world is like when we go to bed at night, and we tell ourselves who we are and what our world is like when we awake in the morning. And sometimes that narrative monologue we daily conduct with ourselves is very ill-informed, and makes ill.
A good deal of this inner narrative and discourse is not even ours to begin with, and does not belong to who we truly are. It is induced by an ubiquitous propaganda and by “perception managers” who have a vital interest and power stake in keeping us under their spell and in their thrall by provoking the mind into fear, anxiety, and delusion.
That is the subject for another post: the aims of propaganda, or what is today called “perception management,” and its role in the destruction of the civilisation of the dialogue. For in many ways, this is also the story of the Murdoch Media empire and the telephone hacking scandal in Britain (and possibly in North America). Although not taken with the seriousness it deserves in the North American media (perhaps deliberately so) the scandal is perhaps the most serious attack on democratic institutions and the civilisation of the dialogue since the early 20th century fascist attack on democracy.
So, we should examine the history and the present role of propaganda and perception management since the First World War in its attempt to deliberately confound and obstruct reason, and deliberately or inadvertently bring about the post-Enlightenment self-destruction of the civilisation of the dialogue that they all so hypocritically champion rhetorically, but undermine practically.
For today, many people who think they are truly “individuals” in their own minds are little more than piano keys being played by an “invisible hand” of which they are not even remotely aware.