Aphorisms Toward A Cultural Philosophy For The Present Time, #2: State Power.
An edgy essay by Otto Paans
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Aphorisms 12–24: State Power
3. Aphorisms 25–38: Guilt and Exculpation
4. Aphorisms 39–52: Confusion and Control
5. Aphorisms 53–61: The Myth of Order
12. How State power works. First, give people some goodies (say, money, property, social status, adult toys, etc.) and let them grow attached to them. Second, demonstrate that you can take away their prized possessions at will. Third, prescribe more and more restrictive rules that must be followed in order for the people to be able to acquire and hold onto their goodies. Carry out this process gradually, and see how people will do anything to retain their possessions. This is what happens en masse in the West nowadays.
13. Learned helplessness. Gradually make the rules more and more restrictive, so that all individual initiative is progressively undermined. Make people turn to you for even the most banal of tasks and/or ideas. Make them request permits for which they have to put in an effort; never clarify the rules completely, but instead create the appearance that everything is transparent and organized. When you refuse them, you will hear only this pathetic response: “But I did what you asked me to do!” This is learned helplessness.
14. Prolonged passivity. If people act helpless long enough, they will believe that they in fact are helpless. They do not conceptualize any other options or future pathways of action. They know, deep down, non-conceptually, that it isn’t true, but the material circumstances prove them wrong time and again, so that what’s non-conceptually known deep down never surfaces into explicit self-consciousness, and never takes shape as a “live option” or real-life possibility. In the best case scenario, free and reasoned choice — let’s call that “initiative” — remains a mere dream, a phantasy projected on the screen of despair, like the billboards advertising the mythical paradise of Brazil in Terry Gilliam’s brilliantly caustic same-named film. The oppressor knows this too well and prolongs and refines the net of initiative-killers. It weeds out individuality in favor of the herd; it enlists personal capability in the goal of the greater good of the many; it posits historical necessity and sacrifices; and above all, it depicts those not playing by the rules as Enemies of The People.
15. Service. This can be summarized in one word: service. You must be of service to your country, community, and fellow citizens; On the other hand, the oppressors provide services you cannot do without; neither are you allowed to do without them. The civil servant represents this iron neutrality, the terrifying smiling mask of good-willed malevolence. “We will give you this permit only if you…”; “we will grant you this opportunity only if you….” And everything is logged, registered, kept, surveilled, as a permanent digitally-encoded memory and record of all your thoughts, actions, initiatives. In short: it is a digital archive of your serviceability to the neoliberal democratic nation-State.
16. The phenomenal State and the noumenal State. The phenomenal State is the organizational apparatus that runs countries and continents. It consists of politicians, civil servants, rules, property, procedures and services, all maintained by tax money. It is the appearance (phenomenon) of the State-in-Itself, the noumenal State. The noumenal State is an entity that is bent on amassing power it does not intend to give back. As such, it is a malignant form of Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Live. The State-in-Itself is the Will-to-Dominate, effected by means of public displays of power (gallows erected at every crossroads) and authoritarian coercion (corpses hanging on every gallows). Whatever the State commands is right, just because (i) the State tells you it’s right — this is by virtue of its self-asserted “political authority” — and (ii) the State possesses and controls the coercive means to compel you to heed and obey! It does not do so for any other reason than such domination itself. It is not even a mechanism to survive. It is its entire being, its very mode of being in the world. Consequently, the world is what is being dominated, a substrate that is being used and exploited. Life itself is exploited by the noumenal State.
17. Self-doubt. When the mind works according to patterns that are ever more restricted and outside its control, self-doubt sets in. And that is how all dictatorships start: with a massive infliction of self-doubt in their citizens. Rumors, half-truths and whispered histories. “Do you know that if you don’t follow rule Y, then we’ll do X to you?”
18. Guilt. “What did I do wrong?,” is the question that a seemingly self-conscious citizen asks when “caught” violating the rules of the game. It is the cry of despair by someone who feels intensely insecure in the face of looming persecution. In some cases, it is merely a deceptive ploy; in dictatorships, it is the last attempt at so-called negotiation: at bringing the guilty people “to their senses,” and “to reason.” In this context, “being sensible” and “being reasonable” mean being compliant and obedient no matter how onerous and oppressive the demands that are imposed on you. –But the State is, by its very nature, unreason itself!
19. The unreason of oppression. To negotiate “in good faith” is to attempt to deal with insensible, unreasonable oppressors as if they were truly sensible and truly reasonable. But they’re not: if they were, they wouldn’t be able to sustain their domination. Every dictatorship revolves around a core of unfeeling unreason that is loudly activated at a whim or covertly built into the State apparatus that dictatorship creates. The dictator or dictatorial regime keeps its citizens in a state of perpetual guilt, imbalance, and unease: let’s call this collective anxiety. This way, they cannot find their footing, they forget their dignity, they’re pushed back onto their heels, and they cannot recover their footing to strike back.
20. Imbalance. Oppressors know that they must keep the collective anxiety of their victims forever in place. The victim must not discover any rhyme or reason. Only “good” (that is: compliant, obedient, fashionably bourgeois) actions are rewarded; but sometimes even they are punished. The trick is to make everyone feel they can become a victim arbitrarily and at any moment.
21. States as dictatorships and large-scale protection rackets. A neoliberal democratic nation-State is just a dictatorship combined with a large-scale protection racket, but papered over with polite manners. It extorts money from you, while assuring you that the money will be well-spent, and you are contributing to the good case, of course! And in some cases, it actually is well-spent, and such projects are used to convince you that the State has good intentions after all. But this does not justify the coercion and authoritarianism with which it was acquired. If we follow this line of logic, it is right to kill someone arbitrarily in order to harvest his organs in order to save five others, if and only if you ask politely first and explain the public benefits. This very mechanism of extraction is inherent in all State structures. They force people to work for them, threaten them punishment if they refuse, and then “justify” this by claiming that the State benevolently protects them from criminals, foreign invaders, etc., etc. “It’s for your own good!” Actually, it’s the ultimate protection racket and the ultimate instance of Stockholm syndrome: you must be “protected” only by those who enslave you!
22. Corporations as dictatorships. The same logic applies to multinational corporations. They own enormous assets; they dictate laws for their employees, as binding as any State law, and they reward psychopathic behavior to such a degree that they cannot but become psychopathic social institutions themselves. That is, they knowingly act with blatant disregard for any moral, social, or material consequences apart from short-term gain and endless market-exploitation, new markets, and even greater profits. Now that the Earth is falling apart because we’ve exploited it to death, let’s escape into outer space and find new markets and even bigger profits!
23. Obsessive subjects. The collective anxiety of citizens leads to increasingly frantic attempts to fulfill all the rules at all times, no matter how minute, detailed, or absurd. “If we give in this time, maybe they leave us alone!” This is the voice of despair. This is also the birth and development of the obsessive subject: frantically turning in ever-smaller and quicker circles, epicycles of existential despair, mental suffering, and vicious self-centeredness. The oppressors know that living according to the rules is an impossibility — indeed, they design the system in such a way to make sure that it is: then they will conduct surprise raids and checks. Not even the most terrified citizen can fulfill the obligations put on them. By singling out individuals who have “transgressed” — this week’s Enemy of The People will be publicly humiliated and then publicly executed by means of a very special mixture of digital toxins: death by 45.7M Tweets/re-Tweets and Facebook posts/re-posts, for your online viewing pleasure. Thusthe oppressor shows that it “can happen to anyone,” and that no one can exists outside coercive authoritarian State-space.
24. Survival. And so, acting freely and in accordance with one’s dignity is reduced to merely surviving. If only I can stay within the rules this time! If I give in a little more, then they may be well-disposed towards me! The everyday, immediate confrontation between the oppressed and oppressors characterizes our mode of life itself, in which everything is drawn into the vortex of the great conflict between those who are coercing and those who are issuing authoritarian commands; between those who are denying freedom to others, and those who are yearning for it. If every so-called free act is geared towards mere survival, this isn’t genuine freedom, it’s just triage. It comes down to staying alive just a little longer, not because our actual lives are really worth it, but only because the idea of our own death is unbearable to us.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 590
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 13 September 2021
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