Aphorisms Toward A Cultural Philosophy For The Present Time, #4–Confusion and Control.

An edgy essay by Otto Paans



1. Aphorisms 1–11: Social Dictatorship

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


Confusion and Control

39. The State as the false prophet. The State is nothing but an ordered collection of coercive authoritarian institutions, that attempts to convince free people that they should voluntarily and willingly identify themselves with the dogmas it has presented to them, in exchange for a bleak, etiolated, and false chimera of freedom. We do not need the State in order to be free agents: on the contrary, the State is the ultimate underminer of free agency. The State is fundamentally interested in the production of “citizens,” i.e., people who believe without question that God’s gift to them is the massive protection racket according to which the State will protect them from each other and from all external enemies, provided that they not only obey the State in all things, but also worship the State — or else the State will crush them. That is, the State is fundamentally interested in producing individuals with an essentially deformed subjectivity, who suffer from lifelong Stockholm Syndrome induced by uninterrupted State propaganda. Be a responsible citizen; spy on your neighbors; install CCTV cameras; patrol the neighborhood and report all suspicious activity and all dodgy-looking outsiders; Little Brother, Little Sister, and Little Non-Binary Sibling Are Watching You. Even community-based practices are usurped by the State and embedded within a power structure of command, control, divide, and conquer. The State is that false prophet from The Book of Revelation: it is the vehicle of moral and sociopolitical corruption and rot. Whatever the State touches become tainted, soiled, and impure. Even the noblest motives become vulgar desires when touched by the false prophet — even personal sacrifice becomes something an identitarian demagogue uses to bolsters his political vision. Community-spirit turns into collaboration; social bonds turn into group pressure; social orderliness turns into being coerced and controlled. The corruption of the State resides in the fact that it turns all humane and naturally sociable social relationships into instruments of command and control.

40. Confused and controlled values. In that sense, the State is perfectly epitomized by the nauseating words of Mao Tse-Tsung: we give the masses back what we received from them in a confused form. In other words: The State capitalizes on practices that it sees as “confused,” because they are rooted in communal, naturally sociable values. But communal and naturally sociable values–that is–anti-instrumental, anti-legalistic, and unforced social ideals and norms–are exactly what is beyond State control; and therefore, it is seen as a dangerous threat. So, in order to further the State’s interests, these values must, from the State’s point of view, be brought under a regime of authoritarianism, coercion, and control. In so doing, the State transforms and corrupts communal, naturally sociable values them into something unrecognizable, via a form of instrumental reason that, by using the same name as original values, pays lip service to the goals that communal and naturally sociable values strive for. The primary means of this corrupting transformation are the marketing strategies of advanced hyper-capitalism. Hence, for example, actual friendship turns into “business associates,” “co-workers,” “professional colleagues,” “clients,” or — perhaps most insidious of all, because it’s so cynically exploitative — “friending” people on Facebook.

41. Exception and rule. What makes Mao’s words so dangerous is the fact that they are sometimes true. A group of individuals may have confused wishes, and someone with expertise and insight might translate their wishes back to them, in a manner that is much more realistic and useful than they could formulate it before. But this, the ideal of facilitation, is an exception and also requires slowly unfolding, careful, unforced, open dialogue and principled negotiation in order to see whether everyone still agrees with and supports what is being proposed for collective agreement and action. But, notoriously, Mao used the notion of “translation of the wishes of the masses” as an operating principle of government for placing dictatorial control in the hands of a power elite that presented themselves as Those Who Know Best: the Leninist “party vanguard.” In such cases, you can be sure that the “translation of the wishes of the masses” is not a translation at all, but only an abstract, baseless, and tyrannical set of dogmas at best. This is the characteristic sin of classical Communism. Mao turned what is originally something organic, sociable, and good — faithful and reliable translation from one language into another — into a machine for coercive authoritarian top-down domination.

42. Fashionable resistance. The attitude of fashionable resistance — what used to be called “radical chic” — has been harnessed by corporations, States, and identitarian ideological collectives. Once one’s “resistance” is of the fashionable, marketable, palatable, and daringly-agreeable kind, it is accepted and taken up within the mainstream. Everything else is vilified. Feminism in its contemporary forms, political correctness, and boundless “activism” on behalf of whatever fashionable cause, fall into this category. They are wielded as ideological weapons to browbeat, shame, and coerce others into thinking they are morally inferior, or that they adhere to an outdated and bad moral code.

43. Self-inflicted harm: The deformed subjectivity of citizenship is aimed at self-inflicted harm. The ideal subject of citizenship thinks of themselves not as autonomous agent, but as instrument in the hands of a state; or — in the more subtle form — as a member of an identitarian minority community, the values of which have been violated by the State or by corporate influence. At the same time, these very values of “identity,” diversity,” and “inclusion” are put forward as altruistic, necessary, moral, humane, and above all, as stemming from one’s own free choice. What a lie! We are continuously shaped and formed by multiple influences, but many or even most of these influences are directly or indirectly traceable to State power, corporate capitalist power, and/or various vested and ideological self-interests. We are not strictly determined by Statist and/or capitalist social institutions, but we are indeed destructively deformed by them.

44. Institutional victory. The greatest victory of such social-institutional destructive deformation lies in the fact that its victims quietly accept their own oppressive predicament of lack, poverty, and suffering as either inevitable or their own fault. In the mid-19th century Thoreau said that most people live lives of quiet despair — and he was right. But nowadays it is even worse than that: our social institutions are engineered precisely so as to convince us that pushing back against them is either possible but pointless (“why bang my head against the wall?”) or simply humanly impossible (“I’m nothing but another brick in the wall”).

45. Benevolent paternalism. Our social institutions are there for you, the citizens! Yes, we pay for them, that much is true. And on occasion, they also serve us. This service often goes by the name of “securing our civil rights.” But in reality, such social institutions exert an influence that extends well beyond what we actually pay for. They are life-shapers, just as the founding myths on which the State and the state rest are thought-shapers. In return, these institutions demand our compliance, obedience — or, even more edgily formulated — an unquestioning acceptance of, and passive resignation in the face of, our own domination, mental slavery, and wage slavery. We are required to accept the State, to work under advanced capitalism, and then also to pay taxes for realizing and sustaining our own unfreedom.

46. Thought-shapers, life-shapers and the “critique of institutions and power.” Thought-shapers are cognitive patterns and structures that partially cause, form, and normatively guide our thoughts, of all kinds, in a mostly pre-reflective and uncritical way. Life-shapers are social-institutional patterns and structures that partially cause, form, and normatively guide our lives as members of or participants in social institutions, of all kinds, again in a mostly pre-reflective and uncritical way. Because language is a social institution and because all human thinking is mediated by language, then all thought-shapers are also life-shapers. Above all, in both cases, the shaping can be either for the better or for the worse. And in a world of States and advanced capitalism, it is mostly for the worse. Pointing out these truths is not a plea to revert to a Foucauldian and/or postmodern “critique of institutions and power,” an enterprise that is altogether stale, flat, and increasingly irrelevant in a world in which Foucauldians and/or postmodernists (for example, “critical race theorists”) have consistently and fully sold out to the State and advanced capitalism, by becoming card-carrying, tenured or untenured house-slaves of the professional academy. When “the struggle” of the 1960s and 70s, and the “postmodern irony” of the 1980s, moved indoors together and became twice-monthly department meetings of the tenure-track faculty and endless “collegial” mutual enmity and infighting, the game was up.

47. Rise and Fall. The rise of social media has coincided with a loss of true communality and sociability. Nowadays, we do not know what “community” and “sociability” are outside the technologies that enable it. In turn, this leads to a basic loss of the social skills and values required to build and maintain social bonds that last beyond reading or responding to the latest passing digital message or image. Every acquisition of a new technology leads to new skills, but simultaneously also to new ways of forgetting the natural sociality that it replaces and/or undermines. New technology presents the past as a less-developed and old-fashioned yesterday, but also as a blank slate, and above all as an endless blacktop asphalt highway that stretches back into the vast, dark, nether regions of pre-technological ignorance.

48. Mass-induced amnesia. The ideal subject of modernity is perilously perched between the loss of the past and the oncoming future, on a virtual point that keeps accelerating forward. New developments come at us at increasing speed, like so many trains bearing down upon us and then away from us — the “swipe” on the screen — while we’re trapped on the platform and can never actually board the train, nor are we expected to, anyway. Simultaneously, the past falls way behind us with an increasing speed, like a cathedral crumbling into the dust. The subject caught between these two developments is necessarily amnesiac. The gap left by the obliterated past is continuously filled with the new, but at such a speed that critically interpreting and understanding it becomes cognitively impossible. The past as such exists only as an image, a piece of idealized forgotten history that turns again into a virtual fragment in the virtual economy of imagery that is endlessly circulated by digital means. But perpetual amnesia means perpetual uprooting and rootlessness: it is a forced exile from one’s own cognitive heritage.

49. Traditionalism. Everything traditional is vilified nowadays: on the one hand, it is negatively associated with the fascists’ “Blut und Boden”; but on the other hand, it is also closely associated with a stubborn remnant of an authentic communal, sociable form of life that falls outside the forces of progress that are nowadays always broadly neoliberal capitalist-driven and State-sponsored. A stubborn adherence to a genuinely communal, sociable tradition in the face of all that adverse pressure, proves the point that no version of modernity can wholly obliterate the fact that people desperately need roots and a shared, organic collective memory.

50. The Power of Remembering. And that is exactly what a State cannot abide in its citizens: the autonomous memory of a sociable human community that exists outside the borders and perimeters of State surveillance, which in turn could be the very antidote to the learned helplessness that is projected on society at large from all sides. Only the rootless are inwardly exiled, and as such, they are an amorphous mass of lonely people, disorganized, and disenfranchised: the wretched of the earth. But those who remember the communal, sociable moral roots of humanity can conceptualize a different order of things, in which the State is not only not needed but even an unwelcome guest, or at worst a vile sickness, to get rid of.

51. Weaponized memory. In turn, that is also why the State weaponizes the very notion of memory, replacing tradition with a faux-traditional narrative that glorifies State power, the flag, narrow nationalism focused on border protection, and a generous helping of cheap, faux heroism. The selection of collective memories serves the same function as the propagandist evening news or newspaper. It selects fragments of history and cobbles a makeshift past together. This is a pseudo-past in which an artificial unity is projected on society as such, and in which only citizens (i.e., the good people) and the marauding nomads and savages (i.e., the bad people, who either are or should be in prison or mental health institutions, etc.) are allowed to participate.

52. Authorized sources. In academic contexts, the weaponized memory is the sum total of insights one is supposed to cite and quote; in a spirit of reverence or at the most ultra-mild critique. Anything, as long as it is not relevant. Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey! There is a reason why, when crisis looms, all research on actual or possible weapons is immediately claimed for military purposes and turned into classified information, but philosophy books never are — it says something about how relevant they are.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, 27 September 2021

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Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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