Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 11 August 2019

Identity Politics and the Oceanic Feeling

Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) is a heart-cry against the alienation of mass society. Yet, as we saw in part one of this Postcard, the phrase “mass society” is only a superficial description of what in reality is advanced industrial capitalist society which – again, we saw earlier – is really an indissoluble combination of two essential defining features of capitalism – overpopulation and consumerism. Saint-Exupery masterfully and imaginatively denounces the ravages of the capitalist mode of production by highlighting its “dis-enchantment” through the “enchanted” eyes of the little prince.

To be sure, every fable – from Alice in Wonderland to (going from the classic to the jejune) Harry Potter – delights and lights our fantasy in stark contrast with the miserable petrified forest in which late capitalism has left humanity and the tarnished, polluted ecosphere with which we are left. But Saint-Exupery has the merit to conjure his “enchantment” as a direct vitriolic critique of the morass and mephitis that globalized capital has swindled upon us. – Unlike the obscenely mawkish Harry Potter tales which, if anything, are the direct adjunct of the most execrable and pernicious aspects of social life in late capitalism and again, if anything, only serve to reinforce its most deleterious consumerist ferocity.

The candid innocence of the little prince stands in stark contrast to the seemingly inescapable nightmare that life under late capitalism has become for most humans – environmental pollution, social dislocation, cultural desecration, scarcity of the most basic vital resources from clean water to clean air, persistent and pervasive social conflict and wars within and without national boundaries, penury, insecurity, planned obsolescence, precarious social life, degraded social services, mental disorder and harmful addictions. The list goes on and on. That is why The Little Prince will endure through the ages as a denunciation of the potential for human brutality and debasement, whereas Rowland’s Harry Potter is destined to go the way of the dodo.

Seemingly, there is no way out of this horror. Sensing perhaps that the “bent wood” of humanity could never be straightened, Kant formulated his third transcendental question as “What can I hope?” (in the Critique of Practical Reason) – because remember, hope was the only thing left in Pandora’s Box once all the world’s evils had escaped from it. Saint-Exupery proposes and resolves that the answer lies in our effort and ability to “apprivoiser” the world to rediscover its enchantment. The verb apprivoiser, which unfortunately has no noun form, has been variously translated as “to domesticate” or “to privatise”. Both translations, however literal, are wildly inappropriate and indeed represent an affront to the author’s meaning and intent. The meaning of apprivoiser is much closer to the English infinitives “to empathise” and to “to confide” – to share feelings (Greek, em-pathos) and emotions with the life-world so as to be able to have faith in it, to con-fide in it (Latin, con-fides). This “empathy” is a trope that runs deep in Western philosophy – from the pre-Socratics (the a-perion, un-bounded, in-finite of Parmenides and Heraclitus) to Schopenhauer (Mit-leid, leaning on Oriental religions) to recent literary variants ranging from, say, Herman Hesse to Arthur Koestler’s “oceanic feeling” in Darkness At Noon. Like religion, the oceanic feeling – the mental effort to envisage oneself at one with the world, to identify with it and to abolish all differences (cf. Heidegger’s Identity and Difference) – is a constant trope in the human contemplation of the world, especially the religious dimension.

True: all human activity is objectification and therefore separation, diversity, difference, and thence inequality – all life is exploitation, Nietzsche would charge. Yet, the aim of human activity is reconciliation, re-union, communion and finally universality as the goal or end or com-pletion (full-ending, Voll-endung, con-clusion) of human labour or living activity. The philosopher of this supreme agon is Hegel. The agon, the strife and toil of humanity is an “activity” (Latin, agere, actus) that implies a “wishing”, an auguration (the Roman augurs divined the future in hope – cf. our “inauguration”, to begin an activity with good omens and wishes), to auspicate (cf. the Latin phrase, augusto auspicio, with best wishes).

In direct contrast to the oceanic feeling comes the notion of identity. Id-entity (Latin, id, same, plus ens, being, hence “same being”). The oceanics among us wish to identify with the rest of the world. We do not indulge in identifying ourselves from the rest. Yet this is the sole aim of Identity Politics! The sole purpose of identity politics is to divide humans into separate beings, to provoke a schism in human being, a division, a separation, a chasm, not a union or a communion. This is antithetical and anathema to our Western Judaeo-Christian religion and civilization which is founded upon the fundamental equality of human beings or souls before God. The Fall occasioned by the Original Sin – on which our crucial distinctive notion of Guilt and therefore of “conscience” is based – is the separation from divine grace or banishment from the Garden of Eden. The Original Sin is the origin of difference, and thereafter of inequality and injustice. A self-estrangement that constitutes a loss of freedom – freedom intended as the ultimate identification of the Real with the Ideal in the Absolute Spirit (Hegel). It is the “reconciliation” (Versohnung, Hegel again) of fallen secular humanity with the eternally divine. Time – mundanity, secularity – is corruption. Eternity is perfect, divine.

Identity Politics goes in the opposite direction: its aim is to affirm the equal right of all different cultures to remain different, to assert their “right” to remain different – to be treated “equally” in this “right”. But this is a banal contradiction of repulsive enormity! The existence or recognition of a “right” presupposes a system of values that allows or enables such recognition. A “right” presupposes the existence of an egalitarian framework whereby different sets of values can be homologated. Yet that is precisely what Identity Politics steadfastly and violently denies! By privileging difference, identity politics destroys the very idea of id-entity (same being) – because if the aim of identity politics is to locate and elevate differences between humans and even (schizophrenically) within humans, then the end-result will be, not a universal justice, but a universal Eris, an apocalyptic cosmic conflict – a Hobbesian war of all against all!

Identity Politics can exist only on – its sole raison d’etre is – the premise that differences (separate id-entities) can be resolved - reconciled and superseded - in a higher system of “legal rights” that makes possible their egalitarian recognition and preservation. Yet, once again, this is precisely what identity politics makes impossible! – Because its supporters and promoters – we call them identitarians - are fixated on the uncritical and uncompromising individuation of differences among and within humans, on what separates humans, rather than on what unites them. Consequently, no number of declarations of “ human rights” – however “universal” or “natural” – will ever be able to find a common ground, a common foundation, a system of laws and political criteria that can do “justice” to the various identities claimed and propagated by Identity Politics!

The most astonishingly paradoxical aspect of Identity Politics is this: - that in their zeal to etch the “rights” of each identity grouping into stone, identitarian fanatics throw fuel on the fire of difference, division and conflict – by backing in every imaginable manner and unreservedly the influx of ever-more “different” groupings that lay claim to their own ethnic, religious, sexual, ideological or sectarian “differences” or “identities” in ever-growing and evermore arcane  distinctions that resemble a nuclear chain reaction. To the point where we are fast reaching a dizzying vortex of potential social conflict where every man, woman, bi-gender, transgender – whatever! – becomes an island unto itself in an endless downward schizophrenic spiral of conflictual differentiation and resentment and hatred leading finally to civil internecine fratricidal, sororicidal, hermaphroditical, and God knows what other Wars!

Not only are identitarians rampantly insane in exasperating the existing differences between (and even within!) humans: what is most alarming is that they are just as belligerently eager to introduce fresh and inventive differences amongst and even within humans that no-one hitherto thought possible or even imaginable! Seen in this light, the right-wing reaction that this cataclysmically colossal insanity invites is only too - the word comes irresistibly to mind - natural!
Among the myriad examples of the unspeakable lunacy of left-wing identity politics and globalism is this absolute pearl from (what else?) that irrepressible font of identitarian nonsense - The New York Times:

That nativist rhetoric — that immigrants are invading the homeland — has gained ever-greater traction, and political acceptance, across the West amid dislocations wrought by vast waves of migration from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. In its most extreme form, it is echoed in the online manifesto of the man accused of gunning down 22 people last weekend in El Paso.
In the nationalists’ message-making, Sweden has become a prime cautionary tale, dripping with schadenfreude. What is even more striking is how many people in Sweden — progressive, egalitarian, welcoming Sweden — seem to be warming to the nationalists’ view: that immigration has brought crime, chaos and a fraying of the cherished social safety net, not to mention a withering away of national culture and tradition.
Fueled by an immigration backlash — Sweden has accepted more refugees per capita than any other European country — right-wing populism has taken hold, reflected most prominently in the steady ascent of a political party with neo-Nazi roots, the Sweden Democrats. In elections last year, they captured nearly 18 percent of the vote.
To dig beneath the surface of what is happening in Sweden, though, is to uncover the workings of an international disinformation machine, devoted to the cultivation, provocation and amplification of far-right, anti-immigrant passions and political forces. Indeed, that machine, most influentially rooted in Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and the American far right, underscores a fundamental irony of this political moment: the globalization of nationalism.
The central target of these manipulations from abroad — and the chief instrument of the Swedish nationalists’ success — is the country’s increasingly popular, and virulently anti-immigrant, digital echo chamber.

Notice how here the writer – insanely blinded to the reality she is describing by the apocalyptic stupidity of her mind – on one hand concedes that there have been “dislocations wrought by vast waves of migration from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America”. And she also adjures that “Sweden has accepted more refugees per capita than any other European country”. But then, in her utterly mesmerizing imbecility, she goes on, first, to attribute this “natural” reaction of defence of Swedish values and heritage to some unspecified cosmic plot originating (where else?) in Putin’s Kremlin or Trump’s White House. And then, second, this blithering fool proceeds to regurgitate the identitarian and globalist mantra that the (obviously understandable) reaction by native Swedes to the insanity of the dislocation of their polity is the “ironic” by-product of “the globalization of nationalism”! Luckily it is nationalism that is going global and not the cosmic lunacy of perfect morons such as this reporter from the Times! The reporter is more interested in sound bites than in lucid reasoning: by definition, nationalism cannot be globalized because it is the antithesis of what is widely meant by “globalization”; nationalism can only “spread across the globe” if necessarily separate nationalist movements spread across individual nation-states. “Globalised nationalism” is a contradiction in terms because genuine nationalism is necessarily the antithesis of globalization as the words are currently universally understood! So, evidently, whilst “globalised nationalism” is an oxymoron, this Times reporter is just a plain moron.

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