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.

Hitler as Teutonic Crusader

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.


7 responses to “The Politics of Unreason and the Boogey-Man of “Cultural Marxism””

  1. Scott says :

    Some of you might have caught Time Magazine’s article today “Anders Behring Breivik: Why He Wants You To Look At Him”. It’s not bad, and it concurs with some of the things I briefly touched on above about Breivik’s narcissism and the thespian and theatrical character of the man and his act.

    Connected with that…. Just before he died, author Kurt Vonnegut requested everyone to read Hervey Cleckley’s book The Mask of Sanity. It’s available for free download here. The link to the download is on the left-hand sidebar of this site. (The whole article on this page is worth reading and it seems to describe Breivik quite well). Interestingly, it’s described as “a project of the Quantum Future School”.

    The question it raises in my mind is, with so many either patently or slyly approving of Breivik’s manifesto (or even of his act), what does this say now about our times?

  2. amothman33 says :

    It is the old misplaced slogan of the chosen and the superior. The white and the black. The clay and the fire. it is a question of faith between those who honestly believe in the oneness of humanity and those who believe otherwise,It is a question in responsible truthfullness.

  3. Austin Davis says :

    Nice work, Scott. This was well thought out and articulated. I actually wrote a similar post on Christian fundamentalism that highlights very similar themes. It’s called “Fundamentalism: A Narrative of Isolation.” In it I make a case that people cannot, by nature, take objective perspectives. And unless people are open to foreign “not me,” narratives, their vision collapses in on their particular in-group. I give a lengthy discussion of psychology at the beginning. The post is lengthy and fundamentalism itself is only discussed for the last part, but you might enjoy it. If you want to read it, it’s my most recent post.

    What you caught that I failed to catch in my post is that multiple existential threats can be unwittingly combined into a “Hydra,” as you call it. I never really thought of it that way. But from a cultural evolution perspective, you can understand how this has manifested itself in most “primitive” cultures. Hunter/gatherers and agricultural villages and townships have always been religiously fanatic groups, often highly xenophobic. They often felt no qualms exterminating outside people groups. The problem they faced was an immense conglomerate of existential threats. These took unique forms, though. Obviously, outsider groups of people were always significant threats, but they also contended heavily with nature, whether that be predators like lions or bears or wolves, famine, pestilence, epidemic disease, or the winter cold. These natural forces were always mystical to humans because their causes and relationships were unknown, so they, quite naturally, ascribed personal traits to natural phenomena. They saw the chaos of their natural environment mirroring the chaos of their social relations. They gave names these forces and controllers of forces, and because of their incredibly wide influence on society, they were perceived as very powerful individuals. They may not have been as all-powerful as the monotheistic Yahweh of the late Jewish tradition, but they were at least as powerful as kings (on a side note, kings were often deified for this reason; kings held incredible, but invisible, power over the masses, a mystical, godlike power). But these gods and kings had to be appeased to mitigate imminent destruction, so they perceived. But regardless of the unscientific nature of their belief, the existential threats were real.

    The reason I mention these things is that I believe Breivik’s mentality is no new phenomenon. In fact, it is ancient and widespread. In the polytheistic societies of our past, all of the existential threats to human existence have been traditionally ascribed to the general concept of deities. Even kings, the most powerful people in society, were considered among those existential threats and therefore called “divine.” In hunter/gatherer societies, the equivalent was the “shaman,” the religious leader who mediated between these gods and the people. Just like Breivik combined all of his existential threats, imagined or real, into one heading, so did our ancient ancestors, and for very obvious reasons. They, like you suggest, could not mentally take on each item individually, but only collectively.

    Some books I’d recommend on the topic:

    Robert Wright: “The Evolution of God.”
    Simone Weil: “Oppression and Liberty” and “The Iliad, or A Poem of Force.”
    Ludwig Feuerbach: “The Essence of Christianity.”

    In any case, this was very enlightening. Consider yourself blogrolled. You’ve inspired me to write a “part 2” for my fundamentalism post.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the very interesting response, Austin. Yes, I definitely see that there are correspondences between what you are writing and what was posted here. I’ll pop over to your blog and take a look at your post before I venture a more lengthy response.

  4. B. Skillman says :

    The reference to the hydra is particularly creative here. Well done! Useful too.

    So is your concept of universalization of concepts in the far right. Being into “Cultural Marxism” or “Political Correctness” means never having to study, never having to think, but always believing you’re quite informed of events. If righwing Christians are stopped from doing something it’s never a dispute with supporters of the First Amendment; it can be they’ve run into “political correctness” again and its hatred of religion. And when other religions are on some equal footing with the Christian right, it’s also never because of the First Amendment and religous rights; it’s because of “Political Correctness” and how they force religion down people’s throats.

    The rightwing’s invention of both concepts could be amusing. But they’ve started to use them as excuses for terrorism and mass murder.

    • Scott says :

      Thanks. Interesting website you have there too.

      By “politics of unreason” and reference to the Hydra, I did want to emphasise the loss of the ratio that informs the word “rational” in its original sense — the ratio being proportion, measure, and is connected with the very literal meaning of the word “modern”. The conflation of so many existential threats also inflates the sense of threat, leading to panic, anxiety, paranoia — the loss of the ratio.

      Since the English riots, too, I’ve come to understand better what the reactionary right means by “cultural Marxism” — it’s code of “freedom”. Freedom is the Hydra since from it grows all these other heads, as it were. They, on the other hand, stand for “order”. So the whole oppositional logic is really between “freedom” and “order” as they frame it, and thus between liberalism and conservatism. “Cultural Marxism” (or “socialistic multiculturalism”) is just a devious ruse to divert scrutiny from what they’re really targeting and from who and what they really are.

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