Aphorisms Toward A Cultural Philosophy For The Present Time, #6–Mechanisms of the State Apparatus.
An edgy essay by Otto Paans
TABLE OF CONTENTS
6. Aphorisms 62–83: Mechanisms of the State Apparatus
This is the sixth installment in the series.
Mechanisms of the State Apparatus
62. Rituals and ruins. Every State requires ruins in order to parade its own stability and endurance. Either they are remnants from other, opposing States, as we can see in the example of the rivalry between Rome and Carthage; or, alternatively, it must represent a former, less perfect version of the State that has been overcome and that we can look back upon with relief, knowing that the new, more effective and benevolent powers-that-be look out for us. In both cases, the State must represent itself as the natural successor of formerly defunct or illegitimate ideas. It must, again, represent itself as the natural successor to its citizens and to itself. The Hegelian point to be made here is that the State exists in an analogous way to the subject in Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic. In the dialectic, one recognizes oneself in an “other,” and derives one’s own position in the world from this recognition. In order for this mirroring mechanism to function, one must recognize certain features or similarities of oneself in the “other.” So, too, must the State see images of itself reflected in its citizens. If the State does not receive this idealized image back from its citizens, then no coercive instrument is left unutilized in order to achieve that goal.
63. State-narcissism. The State is the ultimate narcissistic subject: it feeds on its own reflection, and derives its legitimacy from the very fact that it encounters its self-image everywhere in the faces and lives of its citizens. But this reflection exists only because the State shapes its citizens in its own image. The grounding of legitimacy is thus circular: the State justifies its “benevolence” and coercive control by pointing at the fact that its citizens require and demand it. But the State itself created the demand and convinced and/or coerced people into thinking that they could not do without it.
64. Possession-Obsession. The State is the possessive-obsessive, singular subject of domination. The Will-to-Dominate is distributed through its social institutions, and its rules and regulations, and is enacted by its civil servants. To possess and control is the very core of the Will-to-Dominate. The worst instincts of the human race are united and exaggerated in the State. Hobbes’s Leviathan was not an unrealized ideal, but an updated report on the functioning of the State since ancient times. What the State cannot possess fuels its obsession. And because there is always something that eludes the possession by the State, the obsession turns into a perpetual quest for more control, more power, and more regulation.
65. Distrust. Correspondingly, State power is predicated on its fundamental distrust of those it claims to represent. Traditional practices, the recognition of communal moral norms, deviant lifestyles that are deemed dangerous, and questioning the existing state and judicial order are all looked upon with distrust. The conviction that there are domains where the State cannot and should not control is additional fuel for the State’s obsession with control. Granted, not all traditional or communal practices are morally or ethically justified. But apart from their justification in moral or ethical terms, they accomplish an impressive feat: namely, to provide a space beyond State control. This space is first and foremost mental, and can be described in a single motto: Sapere aude!, dare to know!, dare to think for yourself!
66. New ways forward. Those who can think beyond the mechanical, constrictive thought-shapers with which we are bombarded can conceive of new possibilities and pathways in which the State either plays an extremely limited role, or otherwise no role at all. The retort that such ways are doomed to fail in the end may be true in certain cases. But ultimately, it misses the point. Many States have disappeared as well, either because they became corrupted from inside, or otherwise because they were destroyed by other States. If we were to hold these failures against the idea of the State as such then, with the same logical force as its defenders hold it against ideas about alternative ways of organizing ourselves, then the very idea of a State is not just fragile, but inherently dangerous. The work of new forms of philosophical thought have to find a way forward that is not concentrated around the dubious and unjustified premises on which State power is predicated. Moreover, the injunction to stop searching is itself unjustified and immoral.
67. Ideology. The most successful technique of propaganda is to stop people from being able, willing, competent, or creative enough to conceive a world beyond the confines of our current cognitive horizon. Usually, this technique goes by the name “ideology.” Ideology is the deformation of thinking by means of constructing thought-shapers and their associated modes of social pressure, engendered by the very same instruments that make innovative thought impossible. The mental space in which alternatives to State authority could mature is systematically disturbed, delimited, denied, and deformed.
68. Subjective deformation. This is why every new form of (political) thought must begin with a new (political) metaphysics. The State has built up a veritable theology to support its own existence — often compliantly and even joyfully aided by religious institutions — to implant ill-justified ideas in the very texture of society. And growing up in that texture means to be deformed form the very start. In that sense, the State robs us from our subjectivity in its original, creative sense, only to restore it in a form that is not natural, but that mirrors the image of the State. In exchange, we enjoy so-called services, rights, and protections, and are equipped with a paltry national identity that is supposed to make up for that which has been taken away by cunning, force, and deceit.
69. Activated subjectivity. Any form of oppression works from the basis of the subjective deformation. But activated subjectivity emerges only through oppression. Material wealth and lack of purpose creates a mere bourgeoisie. But purpose and the existential realization of one’s predicament breeds relevant philosophy. Do not confuse this with so-called “class consciousness” that is the mere practical realization that one is exploited. But exploitation is just the tip of the State-induced iceberg of injuries.
70. Erosion of political accountability. All oppression starts with the State’s testing and experimenting with the degree to which it can get away with violating its own rules without losing popular support. Once this is achieved, political accountability is gradually eroded until all that is left of the “checks and balances” is an empty husk. And in an even further evolved phase, State power does not even the effort to hide its intentions. It presents itself as a brutal force to be reckoned with, as it realizes that any real alternative can easily be controlled. But all this starts with a gradual erosion of political accountability at the hands of the State itself.
71. Hysteria. Every state operates on a corrosive, controlled, and prolonged form of collective hysteria that can be kindled at will. Politicians are mere conduits for amplifying emotions that can be turned on and off. All this playing on the emotions turns on emphasizing but a single thought, suggestively presented over and over again: it could be you! You, dear citizen, could be the next victim of the terrorist attack! You could be the next victim of this new disease! You could be the one responsible for the discomfort of someone else! And, correspondingly — if you fall ill by exercising too little, you keep someone else who really needs it out of the hospital! When you do not report this or that activity, you could contribute to the deterioration of your neighborhood! When you do not have a job, you do not have a function in society! The State as the manipulator that has use only for hysterical subjects filled with self-doubt.
72. Temptation. If you comply, we leave you alone: look, you could enjoy all those things if only you would obey! The pain will stop! It’s the story of Jesus and the Devil in the desert — if only you would bend the knee, all this is yours all over again. Because we took it first away from you! Rights are reduced to mere commodities to be taken away at will by the political elite that jointly represent the State-impulse.
73. State-impulse. Every form of organization that exceeds a certain scale develops the State-impulse. This is the inevitable tendency to amass and accumulate coercive power, monitoring, and control by maximizing the efficacy of hierarchical and organizational principles onto their subjects. The first step of this process is subjection.
74. Subjection. The first manifestation of the State-impulse is to claim that some people naturally are its subjects. This claiming gesture has everything to do with ownership. Once one is proclaimed subject of a given State, this organization uses its labor and feeds off his efforts. It claims forcibly a part of his property. By what right? I am certainly not the first one to raise this question, but it has never been answered satisfactorily. To exercise subjection on people is to condition them to accept their subservient role and give up on thinking about alternative ways of life and organization; let alone thinking about the nature and meaning of his existence in the midst of this sordid state of affairs!
75. Anonymity. The State-impulse plays on two forms of anonymity simultaneously. Once an organization grows beyond a certain scale, the consequences of its acts become just abstractions for those carrying them out or commanding them. When this process continues over time, we end up with a political elite that has no idea of the “situation on the ground.” Lives, deaths, poverty and suffering–those are just events they encounter on carefully planned visits, and that they forget once they return to their hotels and fancy dinners. For them, the mass of world population live lives of anonymity, in circumstances that will always be mere figures or numbers to them. In turn, the scale of the State enables it to present itself as anonymous: rows of black cars advancing through the streets; masked SWAT teams, the members of which present armed anonymity; secret agents who could be your neighbor; and State surveillance through CCTV systems present the largest anonymous gaze that permeates contemporary society. Other examples: classified information; the security personnel that hinder democratic access; and entire city streets blocked off because “those in power” have arrived, thereby claiming the public space in the name of the power elite who must remain anonymous.
76. Abstraction. All anonymity must lead to procedure and abstraction. The natural feeling of right is mediated by jurisprudence, protocol and the customs of the judicial elite. What is called “justice” has in this situation nothing to do whatsoever with what is morally right. So, it occurs that corporations can transfer money to all kinds of taxpayer’s havens around the globe, but stay within acceptable, judicial limits, while a beggar who steals a loaf of bread is locked up. And this is called justice. But this situation, where the rights of people are trampled while the perpetrators stay well within the limits of the system can only be set up by people for whom all suffering is an abstraction–and all justice is adherence to protocol.
77. Distraction. All forms of moralism are either grounded in narcissism or cynical despair. Moralism appears as a stick to beat others with and claim control; or it appears to mask the growing uncertainty of people about the degree of control they experience over their lives. Both forms of moralism play directly into the hands of the State. In both cases, ideological moralism unleashes horizontal violence against one’s neighbor.
78. Moralism/perfectionism. Current identitarian multiculturalist moralism is a form of perfectionism. Those who claim that they are in favor of a “diverse, equal, and inclusive” world are in favor of a world that is remarkably without difference and therefore without life. Perfect worlds are by definition dead worlds. All perfectionism views strife and antagonism as a residue — the results of differences that are shaped by history. Consequently, they claim to be able to see the next step of history and claim that it is necessary to overcome the enslaving manacles of the past. But this is just thinly veiled Marxist ideology of a bad sort. Usually, Marxists claim to critique ideology; in this case, they are the ideology, and as is often the case with such belief systems, it is nauseatingly bourgeois.
79. On strife. Striving, competing, and differing are not residues of the past (although they sometimes might be); and nor are they specifically symptoms of capitalism. Instead, to strive and to compete and to differ is “human, all-too-human.” And so are the capacities for altruism, mutual aid, and solidarity, as Kropotkin pointed out. But capitalism exploits and magnifies the egoistic and mutually antagonistic mechanisms and turns them into the conditions for living as such; or it weaponizes these mechanisms; or, alternatively, it uses them as cornerstones for the constitution of societies.
80. Uniformity. The abolition of differences according to the ideological mantra of “diversity, equality, and inclusion” results in militant egalitarianism, conformism, political correctness, and more generally in the degradation of cultural expression. Once militant egalitarianism emerges, it immediately takes on two forms: benevolent paternalism, and coercive moralism. If those two tactics don’t work, political correctness is used as weapon and as a control mechanism. And in the next step, every factor that makes true human solidarity possible is incorporated in sterile and anonymous State structures or the regulations of corporations.
81. Zoning. Such State or corporation spaces are zones in which the human being is required to behave according to codes to which he did not consent, and that vary over time, depending on the interest of those owning the space. Be a good citizen, act as if you are free; be a good employee and take the course on best practices, presentation techniques, or skillful negotiation; be a good person and pay taxes to the State, so that it can hand out food stamps to those from whom it extorts taxes. The human being is partitioned, segmented, exercised, trained, and in general treated like a lion in a circus. He is expected to perform social rites and confess allegiance to what those in power deem politically correct, conducive to his behavior, his usefulness, and in the general interest of those controlling the tightly bordered space in which he moves.
82. Representative roles. Everyone is regarded as representing some dogma, organization, interest group, anonymous mass, or freedom as such. We are required or forced to represent the downtrodden, the oppressed, freedom, this or that company, those who might be insulted or offended, those who do not have so much food as we do, the enlightened generation etc. Social performance and corporate success have taken social life over to the degree that people lose what they truly are. This performance is played out in the moral domain: this is not a time of amorality, but of morality as social performance, while certain forms of immorality are allowed to persist.
83. Law and order. The image of “law and order” is used an excuse for a double crackdown: on the one hand, to show prospective enemies of the State that any form of resistance will be violently repressed; and on the other hand, to show compliant citizens that they are well protected — but also that, should they change their minds and disobey, they will be violently dealt with as well. And the legal system provides all the justification and coercive means to make disobedience and resistance illegal, and to prosecute those who question or oppose State power. The laws of the State, together with the State’s possession and control of the means of coercion, serve in this case to define what is legal, but as always, the law cannot define what is moral, precisely because what is moral, in the sense of expressing sufficient respect for universal human dignity, is inherently inconsistent with coercive authoritarianism, which is the essence of the State and its laws.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 622
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 3 January 2022
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