1.17.2005

the ends of history.

Jim said, "Y'ought to think only of the end, Doc. Out of all this struggle a good thing is going to grow. That makes it worthwhile."
"Jim, I wish I knew it. But in my little experience the end is never very different in its nature from the means. Damn it, Jim, you can only build a violent thing with violence."
"I don't believe that," Jim said. "All great things have violent beginnings."
"There aren't any beginnings," Burton said. "Nor any ends. It seems to me that man has engaged in a blind and fearful struggle out of a past he can't remember, into a future he can't forsee nor understand. And man has met and defeated every obstacle, every enemy except one. He cannot win over himself. How mankind hates itself."
-John Steinbeck. In Dubious Battle

Know this:
That Mankind (yeah, why not, let's gender this concept, shall we?) in its religious and in its political holy works seeks to kill History. The bible ends with Revelations. The philosophy of Marx ends in Utopia. The blind thrashings of neo-liberalism end with Fukiyama's End of History, and since we're beyond that, they haven't had much to go on since. Pretty confused, that lot.
Why?
It has appeared to me that Mankind (there it is again, get used to it) has had enough violence, enough Grand Adventures to fill any cosmic abbatoir. Do we not learn from history? If we have a generation still able to recall WWII, do we not have enough evidence to try and at least shy away from bloodbaths?
No.

Three things have lifted Mankind out of the mud and into the slaughterhouse of History. One is our ability to make tools. Moreso than the fine manipulation of hands is an ability to narrow our gaze on trivialities and thus produce a better flint, a better gun, and a better bomb. The progress of our weapons has raced ahead of our science of not using them. Second is the gut instinct to create groups. I've been in enough mass social convergences to understand that part of it is basic, instinctual, reptilian. To shout in a unified voice, carried by the sheer momentum of the mob! Fuck yeah, that's an interesting feeling. It's a scary feeling. Crowds are defined, always, in opposition to someone or something. There are no protests without cops. There are no audiences without football.
There are no Nazis without War.
The most important part of politics is that, the gut exhilaration of the herd. Everything else is alibis.
Which brings us to thing #3, our language. Our communication through metaphor. Our ability to thus invent the divine.
In, (ugh), Western culture, Plato started a genre of literature called 'Political Theory.' His is the first book you will read if you go to University. In it, Plato speaks through Socrates to propose a perfect city with a perfect king. Ok, let's not slack off here, gotta keep up the pace. You can spend a lifetime poring over Plato. Some people do. But how does Plato create a perfect city and the perfect king? He uses rhetoric. He argues, he debates. The Republic is a dialogue. Plato asks leading questions, proposes answers that will feed his argument, and uses faulty deductive reasoning. Finally, to mould his perfect hypothetical philosopher king, he proposes that there must be an objective truth operating behind the world, and thus, through a process of selection and grooming, we can create an individual with a perfect view of what is Truth and what is Right, and we can confidently put him (or her!) on the throne to rule us all.
And thus I introduce to you the two facets of political thought. Politics as parlour game, and Politics as faith.

I ask you, where do people argue politics? Who argues politics? Why?
Some of us argue about practicalities, such as how to create a system in our household where food and chores are distributed equally. Or how to best take down a system that we feel is malevolent. We are not arguing politics. We are not using its language. Politics is something you debate at dinner parties. We might meet someone, an opponent, and we might want to impress everyone with our insight and wit. Thus we talk politics. Not to win, just to compete. Politics is a game. We don't use debates to discredit policies. We do it to compete. We do it to define ourselves in opposition. Thus, the civil skirmishes over issues, the two mobs rushing at each other with different coloured flags, soccer hooligans kicking the shit out of each other over the names of their ghetto; what's important is not the name of the ghetto or the colour of the flag. What's important is the blood. Those guests at the dinner party just have more to lose than us rabble outside. So they do it in a civilised manner. They lose face instead of teeth. Hurts 'em just as much.
So are bibles and manifestos merely props for incidents of street warfare? Not really. They are also wonderful pieces of literature. Fuck, there's been plenty of manifestos and bibles. The ones that endure have to display a certain amount of craft. There is a feeling you get, reading a book like this, when the author lays it all out, and it seems to click- yes! You are privy to an important revelation about the world around you. You have imposed a sliver of meaning on what was once incoherent. Yes! This is a feeling of holiness, of enlightening ecstacy. Yes! You feel like you gotta share this feeling with the world. There is hope because there is meaning! You quote that book to your friends, and they shrug, because there is no objective meaning, and there is no holiness, it's all in your head. So you seek out like-minded people and you go to the meetings and you ponder how you might organize to enlighten the masses. This is a pattern I see in those circles of both evangelical christendom and vanguardist marxism. Hell, I've read books and gotten that sugar-rush of 'Eureka!' There are traces of it everywhere. On the bus to what became a massive anti-globalization protest, and someone read the response of a neo-liberal suit to his opponents: 'free trade benefits everyone.' Shit, I thought. It's worse than I thought. These people aren't evil, they're MANIACS. I'm not going to get into a debate (haha) about the nature of trade. The point is, when you find someone who can say a phrase like that, without irony or a whole string of equivocations and provisions, then man, you have found yourself a True Believer and my advice to you is to run away or punch him in the mouth.
There are many political texts, a lot of religious texts, but not all of them end with the killing of history. But here's the thing: the most succesful political and religious texts do. Or put it this way: why is it that of all the permutations of Judeo-Christianity, it's the Rapture-focussed cults that catch on in America today? I think it comes down to means and ends. If you have a text that promises to make current violence meaningless because it will lead to a net elimination of violence in the future, it absolves the blood on your hands. Let's take a look at what politics offers the firm believer: the ecstacy of enlightenment as an individual, membership in a group, the visceral thrill of competitive violence, and finally, the absolution of guilt through the certainty of rapture. That's quite a package. All of this, and the political believer doesn't have to face questions about agriculture or livestock. The political believer is not responsible for the slaughterhouse of History because History is merely a bad dream from which we will soon awaken.
This is absurd. Can you imagine how bored our children will be in utopia? If we are living in a Fukiyaman End of History right now, where there are no great causes to pursue and no great tests to overcome and nothing to do but earn and spend and consume, then what kind of curse is utopia? This is why I could never buy into the concept of heaven. If my grandparents are there now, what do they do all day? Watch soap operas feed the ducks? Heaven is inhumane.
There will be blood in our children's lifetime. So be it. If there is an appetite for destruction in the heart of Man (whoop!), then better it be fed in drops rather than a cycle of binge and purge. Most importantly, the structures efficient enough to create armies and bombs should not be allowed to go on. There is slaughter because there are armies. There are armies because there is politics. The goal of politics is to kill history. If nothing else, the goal of anarchism must be to kill politics before this end can be accomplished.

5 Comments:

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

jesus, eric? quoting steinbeck? have you ever read "The Catcher in the Rye"? what a mess of contrived rambling, perfectely manufactured characters that are lifeless and more stilted in their actions and dialogue than any teenangst robot could ever be.

mind you, i wouldn't mind commanding an army of teenangst robots, especially the models with stereos built into their chests

....anyway, READ BETTER BOOKS (ie, "A Lesson Before Dying" by Gaines)

krystalline

 
At 10:42 PM, Blogger eric said...

krystalline-
(grin) i think you're thinking of j.d. salinger.

 
At 1:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH SNAP!

-inky

 
At 2:03 AM, Blogger eric said...

HA HA u haev make amistake on teh Internets!!!!!!!!!!



...is funny.

 
At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dammit, i read way too much that all the stories and authors blur together. the worst feeling in the world: getting really excited about reading a book, picking it up, and then realizing forty pages in that YOU'VE ALREADY READ THIS ONE.... god, i hate that.

anyway, Grapes of Wrath was a much more lucid story, marginally better written and has far more grit than Catcher in the Rye (just because you say 'Fuck' in a book doesn't make you hardcore ...jesus, it's like those poets that say the word cock fifty times in their poetry to make themselves seem sexually subversive.)

krystalline

 

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