Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Amateur Applications of Anti-Oedipal Thinking

After a long and difficult journey, I finished Anti-Oedipus the other day. I might, might write a kind of book review of it in a while, but I thought it worth throwing a few thoughts out there (partly because I'm desperately trying to blog more often) following reading an essay of Nick Land's: 'Making It With Death: Remarks on Thanatos and Desiring Production', about Deleuze & Guattari. I decided to have a crack at it as I made the obvious mistake before of trying to read an essay about Deleuze & (to a lesser extent) Guattari without having actually read any Deleuze & Guattari. And, although it will require some closer reading at some point, the most potent remarks came towards the end, in which Land looks at the shift in emphasis in DeleuzoGuattarian thought away from the absolute, raw deterritorialisation of Anti-Oedipus in its follow-up: A Thousand Plateaus. In a word, Deleuze & Guattari fear that ripping up all the strata of moralising repression may result in the release of the sheer suicidal horror that is Nazism (which is contrasted with, one might say, in borrowing D & G's terminology [which is borrowed from Marx in this case, I believe] the relative Asiatic coolness of the Fascist State). Speaking purely for myself, I would certainly sympathise with that line of thinking, but at present that is neither here nor there.

This is perhaps all a little difficult to follow. From what I understand, the fear grows in D & G's hearts and minds that the call for a radical, radical freedom of identity and discovery that decoding and deterritorialisation issues forth, one that would rid of us what Nietzsche calls 'moralic acid', has the awful potential of becoming the shrieking nightmare of civilisation. That is, there is nothing to restrain the decoded flows from recombining into the racialist, paranoiac-reactionary mechanisms of an Nth Reich. This tendency, this possibility of pushing deterritorialisation too far, is something that needs to be routed, and justifies the rigorous policing of thought.

Some further background for all this.

I have a piece vaguely planned, the working title of which is 'Is Nietzsche's Hammer Left-Handed?' Emphasis on 'working title' there. Anyway, it will be a probably quite superficial discussion about the loss of vitality in the Left, but it's a hell of a long way away as I want to actually try and put some real effort into it. But the thought that accompanies it is, essentially, that there is a puritanical streak in a lot of Leftist thinking, the example par excellence being Social Justice, that strikes me as being not-at-all-dissimilar to the anti-life that Nietzsche diagnosis in Christianity (not a position I entirely agree with, though he certainly latched onto something of enormous importance which I don't believe Christianity has ever made a wholly successful rebuttal to). It is possessed of an obsession with moral purity, in contrast with the evil false-morality of its opponents on the right, typically as exemplified in the nebulous notion of 'privilege'. 'Privilege' implies preference, bias, difference, hierarchy, as opposed to equality and fairness. As has been well-documented, this often includes fanatical attempts at self-policing, at attempts at expunging all trace of 'privilege' from its ranks, including from the souls of its constituent members.

From the above mentioned essay of the good Mr Land's, I present the following observations:

'[Leftist m]orality has become the complacent whisper of a triumphant priest: you'd better keep the lid pressed down on desire, because what you really want is genocide. Once this is accepted there is no limit to the resurrection of prescriptive neoarchaisms that come creeping back as a bulwark against the jack-booted unconscious: liberal humanism, watered-down paganism, and even stinking relics of Judaeo-Christian moralism. Anything is welcome, as long as it hates desire and shores up the cop in everyone's head.' [Fanged Noumena, Urbanomic, 2014, p. 280]


'Trying not to be a Nazi approximates one to Nazism far more radically than any irresponsible impatience in destratification.' [p. 285]


'...Nazism is morality itself, heir to Europe's respectable history: that of witch-burnings, inquisitions, and pogroms. To want to be in the right is the common substratum of morality and genocidal reaction...' [Ibid.]

That is, if I've read this correctly: the Left's obsession with ideologico-spiritual-moral purity is of course NOT identifiable with the Nazi obsession with racial purity, but its attempts at policing itself and expunging all tendency that can be classed as a manifestation of 'privilege' is a suicidal tendency, one that will transform the liberating, revolutionary potential of the Left into nothing more than a paranoiac-reactionary mechanism that will do nothing but replace one system of domination and control with another. The pseudo-Christian theology of Original Sin that SJ seems to deploy against itself, as well as vicious processes of public-shaming and condemnation, all stink of these resurrected 'prescriptive neoarchaisms.' Love and equality and fairness are all very well for us, but as for them...

It is, of course, lazy and inaccurate reasoning to compare the Left with the Nazis, but that is not the point Land is making (if he is, well, it's not the point that I'm making). It should be clear from the fact that Land identifies his 'Nazis' (who are, of course, not the historical Nazis, or at least not entirely) with the 'moralic acid' that the DeulezoGuattarian revolutionary motion is attempting to rid itself of, that the Left's attempts at purifying itself are and will be futile. Its desire to rid itself of impurity (preference, hierarchy, control) makes it little different from what it combats. To paraphrase Nietzsche, it has become what it is battling. Attempting to purge 'Nazi' elements makes nothing but 'Nazis'.

This is an old, old song that I'm singing. It's not an original insight (Land called this in the 90s), but it's one that's worth making. D & G make several passing remarks at how, when one attempts to determine where the Russian Revolution or psychoanalysis went 'bad,' that is, became about control and not liberation, one always ends up going back further and further and further... When did the Left end up like this? When did it become about making us all more afraid, more poor, less happy, less free?

I'm reminded of the old joke:

The Communist Party Central Committee are having a meeting. The General Secretary stands up and says 'Comrades, when the revolution comes, there will be strawberries and cream for everyone!' All his comrades cheer, except for one who says 'But, comrade, I don't like strawberries and cream.'

'Ah,' says the General Secretary, 'that's the beauty of it. When the revolution comes, you will like strawberries and cream.'


For the sake of fairness, it should be observed that this is obviously present in Neoreaction. Putting aside the 'Darkside Deleuzianism' of the techno-commercialist current of Neoreaction, with its rampant desire to overthrow regulation of the capital flows and all that can limit the processes of the market, we find something very puritanical and controlling. A lot of Neoreaction is terrified of entryism, and disgusted at the thought of being co-opted by disaffected Cathedral loyalists (the most obvious example being the almost comical response some have at the popularity of Justine Tunney, a transwoman, who is sometimes taken as a kind of unofficial spokesperson for post-Moldbug thought). How about monarchism, neofeudalism, ethno-nationalism and traditionalist Catholicism as 'neoarchaisms' that are terrified at what has been unleashed by the deterritorialising tendencies of modernity?

Deleuze and Guattari's most important observation has already been mentioned above: when one fights, one resembles one's opponent. I'm not a Neoreactionary, but I certainly sympathise with the desire for Exit a lot these days. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

In Defence of Moderation and Reasonableness

ADDED: the link to The Federalist below contains a transphobic remark. I don't endorse this remotely, as I'm not a transphobe (and I don't mean that in a wish-washy libertarian way either, I actively endorse gender-transition as a legitimate response to one's socially determined gender identity). Just wanted to make that clear.

With the general election only a few days away now, I think it prudent to talk a little about the value of talking. A friend of mine is a Catholic, and at university we often talked about our conflicting opinions on religion, the Church, spirituality and so on. Well, I say 'talked'. Often he'd be irritatingly moderate and reasonable (title drop!) while I'd try and turn him into a kind of socially-conservative straw-man I could then try and rip apart. Try, and usually fail. Again: damn moderate, damn reasonable.

In particular, when same-sex marriage was being debated in Parliament a couple of years ago I was somewhat insistent that it probably wasn't something that we could really discuss, on grounds (call it lazy Wittgenstein-ism) that we inhabited two very different worlds and our definitions of marriage would basically just pass one another by. He, however, would have none of that, and held that there was no good reason at all to try and shut down discussion of the matter just because we came from different religions traditions (I was brought up in a mainline Protestant church and now attend an Anglo-Catholic church, somewhat ironically). And, of course, he was right and I was wrong. There was never any reason to avoid having a serious, moderate and reasonable discussion about what legal redefinition of marriage might entail, for good or ill. 

But there is a worryingly noticeable trend in politics these days that seems hostile towards discussion, towards dialogue. This often feels particularly true of the Left. Indeed, it almost feels as if the Left considers having to explain itself to be an imposition. One sometimes observes almost religious horror when the Left encounters different opinions, as if only monsters could posses them. None of this is exclusive to the Left, of course, there has been much character assassination courtesy of the right too. But I do definitely feel that the single greatest failing of the modern Left is its refusal to feel uncomfortable, its refusal to consider potential flaws in its own arguments. The title of this article from The Federalist says it all- The Paradox of Dogma: How the Left is Crippling Itself. 

Of course, the tone of both the pieces I've linked to suffers from the same problem- they both are, to a greater or lesser extent, attempts to rubbish the Left by accusing it of profound irrationality and intellectual cowardice. They are, of course, wrong to suggest that this is a universal quality of Leftism, but they are right to acknowledge that the tendency is present and, in my experience, the Left is not doing enough to combat this plea for silence rather than conversation. All attempting to avoid dialogue does is miss the opportunity to examine how water-tight one's principles are. If one's principles do not survive their encounter with an opponent in debate, how do you expect them to survive their first brush with reality?

I am picking on the Left here, though. What I am talking about is true of of the Right as well. I just tend to notice it more on the Left, probably because I'm looking out for it and, frankly, because I don't know many conservatives. It does worry me, though, that many people I know who are around my age and come from the same background as I do are Left-wing almost as a matter of course. Another friend of mine, when I was telling him once about Neoreaction, asked me how I could tolerate 'those people'...

Accepting dogmatic Left-wing principles simply because they are in opposition to conservative thought is an act of un-thinking, and nothing more. And, again, this does obviously apply to the Right as well. One wonders if this would have happened if the Right had been more willing to reflect upon its own received wisdom, rather than merely shaking its fist at modernity because it is different.


Some final, hopefully both moderate and reasonable points. 

None of the following should ever be considered synonymous with 'Left-wing', 'Right-wing', 'conservative' or 'progressive':

  • Stupid
  • Intelligent
  • Good
  • Evil
  • Always correct
  • Always incorrect
  • So obviously correct we don't need to discuss it
  • So obviously wrong we don't need to discuss it

To refuse to enter into dialogue with your opponent is rarely a sign of intellectual virtue.