The Democratic Ideal and New Colonialism
By: Sam Vaknin
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"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful concerned individuals can precipitate change in the world ... indeed, it is the only thing that ever has"
I. The Democratic Ideal and New Colonialism
Recent trends such multiculturalism, political correctness, crowdsourcing (culling knowledge from the aggregated knowledge of computer users), and diversity are perceived as antidotes, counterweights, and forms of protest against the elitism and rationalism that led to the murderous authoritarian ideologies and regimes of the 20th centuries; to climate-changing pollution; and to the nuclear arsenal. The “people” now reassert themselves by seizing control of functions hitherto reserved to the few. This backlash and technology-driven revolution are widely equated with the restoration of “true democracy”.
Yet, democracy is not the rule of the people. Democracy is government by periodically vetted representatives of the people. Democracy is not tantamount to a continuous expression of the popular will as it pertains to a range of issues. Functioning and fair democracy is representative and not participatory. Participatory "people power" is mob rule (ochlocracy), not democracy. Alas, while participatory democracy often leads to the elevation to power of demagogues and dictators, representative democracy invariably mutates into oligarchy and plutocracy. It takes a lot of money (“campaign finance”) to get elected and this fact of political survival forces politicians, up for sempiternal re-election, to collude with the rich in a venal quid-pro-quo.
Granted, "people power" is often required in order to establish democracy where it is unprecedented. Revolutions - velvet, rose, and orange - recently introduced democracy in Eastern Europe, for instance. People power - mass street demonstrations - toppled obnoxious dictatorships from Iran to the Philippines and from Peru to Indonesia.
But once the institutions of democracy are in place and more or less functional, the people can and must rest. They should let their chosen delegates do the job they were elected to do. And they must hold their emissaries responsible and accountable in fair and free ballots once every two or four or five years.
Democracy and the rule of law are bulwarks against "the tyranny of the mighty (the privileged elites)". But, they should not yield a "dictatorship of the weak".
As heads of the state in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and East Europe can attest, these vital lessons are lost on the dozens of "new democracies" the world over. Many of these presidents and prime ministers, though democratically elected (multiply, in some cases), have fallen prey to enraged and vigorous "people power" movements in their countries.
And these breaches of the democratic tradition are not the only or most egregious ones.
The West boasts of the three waves of democratization that swept across the world since 1975. Yet, in most developing countries and nations in transition, "democracy" is an empty word. Granted, the hallmarks of democracy are there: candidate lists, parties, election propaganda, a plurality of media, and voting. But its quiddity is absent. The democratic principles are institutions are being consistently hollowed out and rendered mock by election fraud, exclusionary policies, cronyism, corruption, intimidation, and collusion with Western interests, both commercial and political.
The new "democracies" are thinly-disguised and criminalized plutocracies (recall the Russian oligarchs), authoritarian regimes (Central Asia and the Caucasus), or pupeteered heterarchies (Macedonia, Bosnia, and Iraq, to mention three recent examples).
The new "democracies" suffer from many of the same ills that afflict their veteran role models: murky campaign finances; venal revolving doors between state administration and private enterprise; endemic corruption, nepotism, and cronyism; self-censoring media; socially, economically, and politically excluded minorities; and so on. But while this malaise does not threaten the foundations of the United States and France - it does imperil the stability and future of the likes of Ukraine, Serbia, and Moldova, Indonesia, Mexico, and Bolivia.
Many nations have chosen prosperity over democracy. Yes, the denizens of these realms can't speak their mind or protest or criticize or even joke lest they be arrested or worse - but, in exchange for giving up these trivial freedoms, they have food on the table, they are fully employed, they receive ample health care and proper education, they save and spend to their hearts' content.
In return for all these worldly and intangible goods (popularity of the leadership which yields political stability; prosperity; security; prestige abroad; authority at home; a renewed sense of nationalism, collective and community), the citizens of these countries forgo the right to be able to criticize the regime or change it once every four years. Many insist that they have struck a good bargain - not a Faustian one.
Worse still, the West has transformed the ideal of democracy into an ideology at the service of imposing a new colonial regime on its former colonies. Spearheaded by the United States, the white and Christian nations of the West embarked with missionary zeal on a transformation, willy-nilly, of their erstwhile charges into profitable paragons of "democracy" and "good governance".
And not for the first time. Napoleon justified his gory campaigns by claiming that they served to spread French ideals throughout a barbarous world. Kipling bemoaned the "White Man's (civilizing) burden", referring specifically to Britain's role in India. Hitler believed himself to be the last remaining barrier between the hordes of Bolshevism and the West. The Vatican concurred with him.
This self-righteousness would have been more tolerable had the West actually meant and practiced what it preached, however self-delusionally. Yet, in dozens of cases in the last 60 years alone, Western countries intervened, often by force of arms, to reverse and nullify the outcomes of perfectly legal and legitimate popular and democratic elections. They did so because of economic and geopolitical interests and they usually installed rabid dictators in place of the deposed elected functionaries.
This hypocrisy cost them dearly. Few in the poor and developing world believe that the United States or any of its allies are out to further the causes of democracy, human rights, and global peace. The nations of the West have sown cynicism and they are reaping strife and terrorism in return.
Moreover, democracy is far from what it is made out to be. Confronted with history, the myth breaks down.
For instance, it is maintained by their chief proponents that democracies are more peaceful than dictatorships. But the two most belligerent countries in the world are, by a wide margin, Israel and the United States (closely followed by the United Kingdom). As of late, China is one of the most tranquil polities.
Democracies are said to be inherently stable (or to successfully incorporate the instability inherent in politics). This, too, is a confabulation. The Weimar Republic gave birth to Adolf Hitler and Italy had almost 50 governments in as many years. The bloodiest civil wars in history erupted in Republican Spain and, seven decades earlier, in the United States. Czechoslovakia, the USSR, and Yugoslavia imploded upon becoming democratic, having survived intact for more than half a century as tyrannies.
Democracies are said to be conducive to economic growth (indeed, to be a prerequisite to such). But the fastest economic growth rates in history go to imperial Rome, Nazi Germany, Stalin's USSR, Putin's Russia, and post-Mao China.
Granted, democracy allows for the free
exchange of information and, thus, renders markets more efficient and
local-level bureaucracies less corrupt. This ought to be conducive to economic
growth. But who says that the airing of municipal grievances and the exchange
of non-political (business and economic) ideas cannot be achieved in a
Even in North Korea, only the Dear Leader is above criticism and reproach - all others: politicians, civil servants, party hacks, and army generals can become and are often the targets of grassroots criticism and purges. The ruling parties in most tyrannies are umbrella organizations that represent the pluralistic interests of numerous social and economic segments and strata. For many people, this approximation of democracy - the party as a "Big Tent" - is a more than satisfactory solution to their need to be heard.
Finally, how represented is the vox populi even in established democracies?
In a democracy, people can freely protest and make their opinions known, no doubt. Sometimes, they can even change their representatives (though the rate of turnover in the US Congress in the last two decades is lower than it was in the last 20 years of the Politburo).
But is this a sufficient incentive (or deterrent)? The members of the various elites in Western democracies are mobile - they ceaselessly and facilely hop from one lucrative sinecure to another. Lost the elections as a Senator? How about a multi-million dollar book contract, a consultant position with a firm you formerly oversaw or regulated, your own talk show on television, a cushy job in the administration?
The truth is that voters are powerless. The rich and mighty take care of their own. Malfeasance carries little risk and rarely any sanction. Western democracies are ossified bastions of self-perpetuating interest groups aided and abetted and legitimized by the ritualized spectacle that we call "elections". And don't you think the denizens of Africa and Asia and eastern Europe and the Middle East are blissfully unaware of this charade.
II. Democracy and Empire
As the United states is re-discovering in Iraq and Israel in Palestine, maintaining democratic institutions and empire-building are incompatible activities. History repeatedly shows that one cannot preserve a democratic core in conjunction with an oppressed periphery of colonial real estate.
The role of imperial power entails the suppression, subversion, or manipulation of all forms of free speech, governance, and elections. It usually involves unsavory practices such as torture, illegal confinement, assassinations, and collusion with organized crime. Empires typically degenerate into an abyss of corruption, megalomaniacal projects, deceit, paranoia, and self-directed aggression.
The annals of both Rome and Britain teach us that, as democracy grows entrenched, empires disintegrate fitfully. Rome chose to keep its empire by sacrificing its republic. Britain chose to democratize by letting go of its unwieldy holdings overseas. Both polities failed to uphold their erstwhile social institutions while they grappled with their smothering possessions.
III. Globalization - Liberalism's Disastrous Gamble
From Venezuela to Thailand, democratic regimes are being toppled by authoritarian substitutes: the military, charismatic left-wingers, or mere populists. Even in the USA, the bastion of constitutional rule, civil and human rights are being alarmingly eroded (though not without precedent in wartime).
The prominent ideologues of liberal democracy have committed a grave error by linking themselves inextricably with the doctrine of freemarketry and the emerging new order of globalization. As Thomas Friedman correctly observes in "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", both strains of thought are strongly identified with the United States of America (USA).
Thus, liberal democracy came to be perceived by the multitudes as a ruse intended to safeguard the interests of an emerging, malignantly narcissistic empire (the USA) and of rapacious multinationals. Liberal democracy came to be identified with numbing, low-brow cultural homogeneity, encroachment on privacy and the individual, and suppression of national and other idiosyncratic sentiments.
Liberal democracy came to be confused and confuted with neo-colonial exploitation, social Darwinism, and the crumbling of social compacts and long-standing treaties, both explicit and implicit. It even came to be associated with materialism and a bewildering variety of social ills: rising crime rates, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, organ trafficking, monopolistic behavior, corporate malfeasance, and other antisocial forms of conduct.
Moreover, rapacious Anglo-Saxon capitalism, ostensibly based on the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, and natural selection did not provide the panacea it promised to all ills, social and economic. Instead, prone to systemic crises, it repeatedly seemed to threaten the very architecture and fabric of the global order: market and regulatory failures forced the hand of even the most fervent laissez-faire regimes to nationalize, bailout, and implement Keynesian stimulatory measures. By comparison, the economic systems of etatist-authoritarian polities seemed to provide the private sector with a smoother trajectory of development.
This is the paradox: unbridled capitalism always leads to state intervention and ownership (as the crisis of the financial system in the USA in 2008 has proven yet again) - while state ownership and intervention seem to give rise to flourishing forms of capitalism (for instance, in China and Russia).
The backlash was, thus, inevitable.
IV. The Inversion of Colonial Roles
The traditional mercantilist roles of colonizer and colonies were inverted over the last few decades. For millennia, colonial empires consisted of a center which consumed raw materials and produced and sold finished goods to the periphery whose role was to extract minerals and cultivate commodities, edible and not.
in the wake of the Second World War (a failed German colonial experiment in the heartland of Europe) and as a result of escalating scarcity, caused by a variety of economic and geopolitical factors, the center of geopolitical-military gravity shifted to the producers and owners of mineral and agricultural wealth.
These countries have outsourced and offshored the manufacturing of semi-finished and finished products to the poorest corners of the Earth. Thus, in stark contrast to the past, nowadays, "colonies" spew out a stream of consumer goods and consume raw materials imported from their colonial masters.
Colonial relationships are no longer based on bayonets and are mostly commercial in nature. Still, it is not difficult to discern 19th century patterns in these 21st century exchanges with one of the parties dominant and supreme and the other obsequious and subservient and with the economic benefits flowing and accruing inexorably in one direction.
The unravelling of the financial system of the United States in 2007-8 only served to speed up the process as American prime assets were snatched up at bargain basement prices by Asian and Middle-Eastern powerhouses and sovereign wealth funds.
Appendix: Authoritarianism Scale
Like cancer, authoritarianism is a spectrum with clear and often ineluctable progression of egregiousness from one stage to another.
Institutions: compromised, subject to political interference and pressures, but largely still functional.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the media: intact, but self-censorship abounds, induced by amorphous, fuzzy fear and gaslighting.
Politics: dominated by one party with a nepotistic-cronyist network of patronage and loyalist, sycophantic clientele. Active opposition parties compete in semi-fair elections.
Personal freedoms: unhindered.
Private sector: rent –seeking, subject to tacit and subtle extortion by well-connected political hacks.
Rule of law: opportunistically subverted by the ruling elites and structures, but otherwise prevalent. Corruption limited to the upper echelons of state and ruling parties.
Institutions: compromised, subject to political interference and pressures, micro-managed and scripted, but still functional where no political or commercial interests are threatened.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the media: direct, coercive political intervention in editorial policy and hiring and firing decisions, rampant self-censorship, commercial co-opting of media owners and properties via governmental and state advertising budgets.
Politics: dominated by one party with a nepotistic-cronyist network of patronage and loyalist, sycophantic clientele. Opposition parties face obstacles to proper functioning, limited access to the media, and compete in semi-fair elections.
Personal freedoms: unhindered, except when political interested are at stake. Reprisals against “disloyal, treasonous” behavior include detention and even “accidents”.
Private sector: rent –seeking, subject to open extortion – sometimes via state institutions and the courts - by well-connected political hacks.
Rule of law: Constantly subverted and circumvented by the ruling elites and structures, but appearances to the contrary are scrupulously maintained. Corruption engulfs all organs of state and all members of the ruling parties.
Institutions: dysfunctional and paralyzed, subject to pervasive political interference and pressures, micro-managed and scripted, even where no political or commercial interests are threatened.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the media: direct, coercive political intervention in editorial policy and hiring and firing decisions, rampant self-censorship, commercial co-opting of media owners and properties via governmental and state advertising budgets. Media are now supervised by “politruks” whose role is to ensure adherence to the party line.
Politics: dominated by one party with a nepotistic-cronyist network of patronage and loyalist, sycophantic clientele. Opposition parties are actively obstructed, have no access to the media, and compete in mock elections (or boycott these altogether).
Personal freedoms: The conduct and opinions of individuals are extensively and massively monitored and logged, using the latest technology. Reprisals against “disloyal, treasonous” behavior include detention, workplace sanctions, and even “accidents”.
Private sector: rent –seeking, subject to takeover via state institutions and the courts by well-connected political hacks and cronies (“oligarchs”).
Rule of law: Completely subverted and circumvented by the ruling elites and structures, both substantively and procedurally. Corruption becomes a way of life for everyone.
Institutions: often replaced by impromptu or ad-hoc “institutions” under the control of the ruling class. The empty shells of previous institutions are dysfunctional and paralyzed, subject to pervasive political interference and pressures, micro-managed and scripted, even where no political or commercial interests are threatened.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the media: direct, coercive political intervention in editorial policy and hiring and firing decisions, rampant self-censorship, commercial co-opting of media owners and properties via governmental and state advertising budgets. Media are now supervised by “politruks” whose role is to ensure adherence to the party line. Many media are shuttered and access to alternative media, venues and distribution channels is restricted or abolished completely.
Politics: dominated by one party with a nepotistic-cronyist network of patronage and loyalist, sycophantic clientele. Puppet pseudo “opposition” parties are allowed to operate and compete in mock elections.
Personal freedoms: The conduct and opinions of individuals are extensively and massively monitored and logged, using the latest technology. Reprisals against “disloyal, treasonous” behavior include workplace sanctions, detention, and even “accidents” and assassinations.
Private sector: rent –seeking, subject to takeover via state institutions and the courts by the ruling parties, the state, or by well-connected political hacks and cronies (“oligarchs”).
Rule of law: Completely subverted and circumvented by the ruling elites and structures, both substantively and procedurally. Corruption becomes a way of life for everyone. Legislation is erratic, ad-hoc, retroactive, and biased in favor of the ruling elites.
Populism: An interview granted to Andrea Soler Nuñez (Catalonia, Spain)
About “populism”, its definitions and variants
1. Describe populism in four or five lines, if possible, focusing on the main traits shared for all populists. Are there any split groups, any division besides of the classic left-right classification?
A. Populism is the appeal to and elevation of an imaginary “common man” and his values, rights, and identity above equally imaginary “elites” and minorities their disparate, often contradictory, alleged interests. It is a form of “shared psychotic disorder” replete with cult-like elements, including an infallible and iconoclastic visionary leader.
2. While listing the populist movements around the globe, it is interesting – as some authors have written – the right-left division that follows geographical frontiers. While in Latin and North America predominates a left-wing populism, in most of Europe the right-wing populism is stronger. Why is it that a particular sort of populism permeates the people depending on the country? What are the circumstances that make a difference?
A. Historical background. The right has always been the favoured political option in Europe owing mainly to geography (insurmountable natural obstacles) and economic scarcity. The past 70 years since World War II are an aberration. Similarly, the left always had a popular appeal in Latin America owing to a long period of resistance to colonial occupiers and rapacious local elites. These are the default options.
3. Putting together different populisms, it is found that politics in the USA rely more on the main figure – something that happens in Latin America, too – giving the leader a great role, while in Europe, people tend to vote for the party, without paying attention to the leader that much. Are these other possible split groups – depending on the leader's influence?
A. There is no populism without a leader figure. The leader is essential as the messianic focus of grievances, hopes, and revolt against the establishment.
4. The terms “populism”/”populist” has been used to label lots of different movements, but lately it is also being used as an attack, or even as an insult, to opposing parties. Moreover, apart from the Populist Party and the narodnik – curiously, both on the left – any party refers to itself as “populist”. Why is it that “populism” has acquired a negative connotation? And, is there any misconception about it – as it is used as a pejorative term?
A. The elites are still setting the bon ton via their control of academe, the media, the political establishment and other centres of power. The use of “populist” and “populism” as a pejorative is their successful attempt to label their opponents out of the legitimate political discourse. Populism replaced the previously widely circulated term demagogy.
5. Throughout the US history - and also other countries' - populism started as left-wing movements that claimed for workers' rights, but in the XX century - although there still were left movements - it seemed to evolve to the right-wing spectrum. Can previous historic cases predict if there's a general trend to the right?
A. This statement is utterly wrong. There were always populist movements on the right. Actually, right wing populist movements are the historical rule. Left-wing movements are relatively new in historical terms: they started in the second half of the 19th century. Many populist movements in history cannot be classified as either left or right wing at all.
About the formation of “The People”
6. Ernesto Laclau sentenced that people join together forming the mass not before, but after the speech. According to him, just a speech that goes against something (articulation a series of various demands) will unite people, causing these mass movements we call populism. Do you agree with that? Can a "positive call" provoke such a big public reaction?
A. Laclau regards populism as a critical and welcome component of democracy. Admittedly, in the contemporary world, populists are more likely to form a cohesive group identity by opposition to something or someone.
7. XIX and XX century theorists who worked on Mass Behavior and Group Psychology gave identification, imitation and suggestion (among others) a great role in the creation of boundaries between the leader and the followers, and amongst the followers themselves. Is it important, regarding the construction of “the people”, the presence of these three terms? Are they enough to create something so potent as “the people” or does it take something else?
8. Many more elements are required: suspension of disbelief (Adorno), anonymity, arousal, attention deficit (required for deindividuation), shared values and beliefs (required for convergence), normative behavior and actions promulgated by leaders (emergent norms), and social identity.
About addressing “The People” and the speech
8. What does the political speech have to contain to be labelled as “populist”? Is it vital that the deliverer of the speech uses the “us/them” terms? Are there any other, subtler
ways to appeal to the people in order to “construct the mass”?
A. Fostering weness via antagonism is only one element. The leader must provide a set of norms and values; a plan of action; a unifying historical narrative; and other elements of collective identity construction and formation.
9. Comparing both the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns, or Le Pen's, the similarities come to light. They're not in the speech content, but in the way they do it, in the gestures, in the tone of voice. Is it an essential common trait of all populists - both on the left and the right, in the USA and France, the way they address “the people”?
10. Charisma is proved to be an important quality for leadership, and so happens to political populist figures. It is common that charismatic leaders pronounce different discourses, usually more personal, emotional. This might be a reason why some people link “populist speech” with “demagoguery”. Is it possible to deliver a populist speech without helping yourself with “moving”, “touching” rhetoric – even cheat (not strictly political) – resources?
A. Populist speech appeals to emotions – both positive and negative - as well as to cognitive biases. It is, therefore, not possible to effectively mobilize, energize, and motivate the masses (“mobs”, “crowds”) with unemotional speech.
11. Another thing I've found that populist leaders share – with Donald Trump as a great example – is that they are either really loved or really hated; and that they barely defend
policies in the center of the political spectrum. Do you agree with that? If so, why does this happen?
A. Populist leaders polarize society by inserting wedges between various socio-economic strata of the population and between the majority and the minorities. Inevitably, they are hated and loved passionately by various groups. Populists can – and often are – centrist. The belief that populists are either far right or far left is counterfactual.
12. A study by Bonikowski and Gidron about the populist content of American potential presidents' speeches showed the importance of the situational context in choosing to use either populist or not-populist “vocabulary” (it turned out that some politicians delivered populist discourses depending on the state, the proximity to the election day). In your opinion, what role plays the context in which is given the discourse? Is there the possibility that the same politician comes to contradict him/herself?
A. I tend to doubt this assertion. Truly populist leaders – like Adolf Hitler or Donald Trump – are unlikely to be swayed by location, audience, and circumstances (“context”). They rarely alter their style of communication or message. In fact, it is this contumacious defiance that is an integral part of their appeal and brand differentiation.
About its success
13. What do you think is the main reason why populists like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen have such an enormous support (even though they have lots of detractors)? Does
tiredness (or even boredom of ordinary politics) have something to do with their success?
14. Donald Trump has been called “demagogue” and “narcissist” several times, but the thing is, according to numerous scholars, Trump fully-fills perfectly each one of the given points of the definitions: scapegoating, lying, insulting, fear mongering, etc. How is it that with everything on the table – already in the first weeks of primary campaign – he won lots of people's confidence?
15. Some studies link the agreeableness and openness with political ideology, even some say the agreeableness is a predictor of voting for populist parties. Regarding to the electorate who voted for any populist party/leader, which is usually diverse, what do you think are the psychological traits they have in common?
A. Trump’s supporters and fans are frustrated. In 1939, a team of psychologists, led by John Dollard, hypothesized that frustration always leads to aggression. Legitimate grievances against a dysfunctional, corrupt, and compromised polity, a deceptive ethos, an American Dream turned nightmare, a broken system that no longer works for the overwhelming majority and appears to be unfixable lead Trump’s base to feel that they had been betrayed, abandoned, duped, exploited, abused, ignored, disenfranchised, and trampled upon. They are in the throes of dislocation, disorientation, and trauma. Their declining fortunes and obsolete skills render them insignificant and irrelevant, and their lives meaningless. It is hopelessness coupled with impotent helplessness.
Trump’s adulators seek to bypass the system and even to dismantle it altogether – not to reform it. This is the stuff revolutions are made of and the pronouncements of Trump’s cohorts are inadvertently copy-pasted from the texts of the French Revolution, The October Revolution (which led to Bolshevism), and even the Nazi Revolution.
Such conditions often give rise to cults, centered around a narcissistic or psychopathic leader-figurehead. In Trump’s case, the abyss between his life’s circumstances and his followers’s is unbridgeable and yet, they hope that by associating with him, however remotely, some of his glamour and magical, fairytale success will rub off on them. Voting for Trump is like winning the lottery, becoming a part of a juggernaut and of history. It is an intoxicating sensation of empowerment that Trump encourages by telling his voters that they are no longer “average”, they are now, by virtue of following him, “great” and “special”, even if only by proxy.
Trump idealizes his voters and they return the favor. In their eyes, he is the Cleanser of the Beltway’s Augean Stables. He, singlehandedly, “in 10 minutes”, will destroy the ancient regime, the old order (of which he had been a part since age 21), settle scores, “Dirty Harry” style, and, thus, make their day. It is a nihilistic mindset. Some of his followers gleefully contemplate the suspension of the Constitution and its elaborate check and balances. Others compare him to the first Roman Emperors. They wish to unburden themselves by transferring their decision-making and responsibilities onto The Chosen One.
To his acolytes – and contrary to much evidence – Trump is a “doer”, with a long list of (mostly illusory) accomplishments. He is best equipped to get things done and to prioritize. In Washington, where appearances matter far more than substance, no one is better credentialed that The Donald, they smirk. These champions of small government and Conservatism look to Trump-when-President (in other words: to the State!) to generate jobs, to insulate them from the outside world, to protect them from illegal aliens and terrorists (surely one and the same), and, in general, to nanny and cosset them all the way to the bank. The world is a hostile, psychopathic place and who best to deal with it than an even more hostile, narcissistic leader like Trump? We need a bad, big wolf to navigate through the jungle out there. This is a form of collective regression to toddlerhood with Trump in the role of the omnipotent, omniscient Father.
In abnormal psychology this is called “shared psychosis”. The members of the cult deploy a host of primitive (infantile) psychological defense mechanisms as they gradually dwindle into mere extensions and reflections of their skipper. Theirs is a malignant optimism, grounded not in reality, but in idealization: the tendency to interact not with Trump himself, but with an imaginary “Trump” that each fan tailors to suit his or her fears, hopes, wishes, and fervent fantasies.
Then there is denial: a pathological response, the repression of inconvenient truths about Trump and their relegation to the unconscious were they fester into something called “dissonance”. Dissonance breeds rage and violence and these oft accompany nihilistic and destructive political cults. Denial goes well with splitting: the demonization and denigration of opponents and adversaries, critics, and bystanders. “If you are not 100% with us, you are 1000% against us and if you are against us, you are the enemy to be sucker-punched and carried out on a stretcher.”
But by far the strongest psychological defense mechanism is fantasy. When reality becomes unbearable, fantasy, however improbable and implausible, is a welcome refuge. This is Trump’s forte: the promulgation and dissemination of fantasies customized to resonate irresistibly with the weaknesses, fears, disenchantments, and disillusionment of his hapless hoplites.
One such fantasy Trump actively encourages is that he is just acting to the crowds now. His below-the-belt obnoxiousness is just for show. In a feat of rationalization worthy of Houdini, Trump’s legions attribute his crass boorishness to “market research” and reasoned electoral calculus. Once elected, he will miraculously be transformed into a “presidential” and dignified politician who plays by the rules and is by no means buffoonish, vulgar, and offensive, they insist with a knowing wink, as though they have ever truly been in-the-know, pals with the Great Man Himself. Such intimations of arcane knowledge cater to their growing sense of self-importance. Indeed, Trump’s may well be the first post-modern narcissistic mass movement.
Such admirable thespian skills attributed to Trump (and proudly owned by him) require the inbred personality of a consummate and thoroughly psychopathic con-artist. Narcissists effect these transitions effortlessly precisely because they only have a False Self (a confabulated grandiose image that they project) whose sole aim is to garner narcissistic supply: attention and, if possible, unmitigated adulation and admiration. Faking it is second nature to the narcissist: exaggerating, lying, pretending, shapeshifting, Zelig-like. Whatever it takes.
Another fantasy is that the narcissist will never turn against his own people. Trump will mercilessly crush the coterie of corrupt power brokers in Washington – but will never ever direct the full might of his gratuitous sadism against his followers, fans, ardent supporters, and fawning admirers. History, of course, teaches otherwise. Sooner or later, the narcissist cannibalizes his own power base and treats as enemies his most rabid lackeys and toadies.
Peopled shrug and say: “but ain’t all politicians narcissists?” The answer is a resounding: no. Granted, it would be safe to assume that most politicians have narcissistic traits. But, as the great psychologist Theodore Millon observed, there is a world of difference between being possessed of a narcissistic style and being a full-fledged, malignant narcissist. The famous author Scott Peck suggested that “narcissism” may just be a modern fancy byword for “evil”. He may have had a point. But, evil should be contained, not elevated to the position of Leader of the Free World.
About the leader and the supporters
16. As happened with other mass movements – like fascism in Germany or Spain – the “common men” played an important role, but it's been pointed out by many experts that the participation of intellectuals and others – amongst “the privileged” – was crucial for their success. Is, then, populism a strategy that just appeals to emotion and has no real reasoning behind, or something more elaborated?
A. Certain disgruntled and ostracized members of the intelligentsia often join populist movements and lend them an aura of intellectual and academic respectability. The rich hop on the bandwagon whenever they can sniff a profit opportunity. The political elite invariably misjudge the public sentiment and end up usurped or coopted by the emerging populist new order.
About the “populism vs. democracy” debate
17. While some scholars claim that populism is more passionate than rational, without a democratic basis, Marine Le Pen sentenced that «If being populist is recognizing to the people the power of opinion, the right to express it and listen to it, then, yes, at the same time, it is being democratic.» Although it is not the principal definition of “populism”, I think she was not wrong when pointing out that “populist” is being used to refer to some completely logical and democratic requests. What do you think of that? Is populism “the preservation” or a threat to democracy?
A. See the article above.
18. Many are the scholars that have compared fascism and authoritarianism to populism. Some of them say they share certain aspects, others say that populism is always found within fascism, but doesn't always lead to the latter. What are the links between these terms? Is populism really determined to end up as an authoritarian regime?
A. All authoritarian regimes start off as populist movements but not all populist movements end up as totalitarian polities.
Nazism - and, by extension, fascism (though the two are by no means identical) - amounted to permanent revolutionary civil wars. In his magnum opus “The Death of Politics” (1994), John Laughland coined the apt term “subversive right”, or in his own words: “(a) mixture of Left and Right ... (that has) embraced nationalist and socialist ideas ...”
Fascist movements were founded, inter alia, on negations and on the militarization of politics. Their raison d'etre and vigor were derived from their rabid opposition to liberalism, communism, conservatism, rationalism, and individualism and from exclusionary racism. It was a symbiotic relationship - self-definition and continued survival by opposition.
Yet, all fascist movements suffered from fatal - though largely preconcerted - ideological tensions. In their drive to become broad, pluralistic, churches (a hallmark of totalitarian movements) - these secular religions often offered contradictory doctrinal fare.
I. Renewal vs. Destruction
The first axis of tension was between renewal and destruction. Fascist parties invariably presented themselves as concerned with the pursuit and realization of a utopian program based on the emergence of a "new man" (in Germany it was a mutation of Nietzsche's Superman). "New", "young", "vital", and "ideal" were pivotal keywords. Destruction was both inevitable (i.e., the removal of the old and corrupt) and desirable (i.e., cathartic, purifying, unifying, and ennobling).
Yet fascism was also nihilistic. It was bipolar: either utopia or death. Hitler instructed Speer to demolish Germany when his dream of a thousand-years Reich crumbled. This mental splitting mechanism (all bad or all good, black or white) is typical of all utopian movements. Similarly, Stalin (not a fascist) embarked on orgies of death and devastation every time he faced an obstacle.
This ever-present tension between construction, renewal, vitalism, and the adoration of nature - and destruction, annihilation, murder, and chaos - was detrimental to the longevity and cohesion of fascist fronts.
II. Individualism vs. Collectivism
A second, more all-pervasive, tension was between self-assertion and what Griffin and Payne call "self transcendence". Fascism was a cult of the Promethean will, of the super-man, above morality, and the shackles of the pernicious materialism, egalitarianism, and rationalism. It was demanded of the New Man to be willful, assertive, determined, self-motivating, a law unto himself. The New Man, in other words, was supposed to be contemptuously a-social (though not anti-social).
But here, precisely, arose the contradiction. It was society which demanded from the New Man certain traits and the selfless fulfillment of certain obligations and observance of certain duties. The New Man was supposed to transcend egotism and sacrifice himself for the greater, collective, good. In Germany, it was Hitler who embodied this intolerable inconsistency. On the one hand, he was considered to be the reification of the will of the nation and its destiny. On the other hand, he was described as self-denying, self-less, inhumanly altruistic, and a temporal saint martyred on the altar of the German nation.
This doctrinal tension manifested itself also in the economic ideology of fascist movements.
Fascism was often corporatist or syndicalist (and always collectivist). At times, it sounded suspiciously like Leninism-Stalinism. Payne has this to say:
"What fascist movements had in common was the aim of a new functional relationship for the functional and economic systems, eliminating the autonomy (or, in some proposals, the existence) of large-scale capitalism and modern industry, altering the nature of social status, and creating a new communal or reciprocal productive relationship through new priorities, ideals, and extensive governmental control and regulation. The goal of accelerated economic modernization was often espoused ..."
(Stanley G. Payne - A History of Fascism 1914-1945 - University of Wisconsin Press, 1995 - p. 10)
Still, private property was carefully preserved and property rights meticulously enforced. Ownership of assets was considered to be a mode of individualistic expression (and, thus, "self-assertion") not to be tampered with.
This second type of tension transformed many of the fascist organizations into chaotic, mismanaged, corrupt, and a-moral groups, lacking in direction and in self-discipline. They swung ferociously between the pole of malignant individualism and that of lethal collectivism.
III. Utopianism vs. Struggle
Fascism was constantly in the making, eternally half-baked, subject to violent permutations, mutations, and transformations. Fascist movements were "processual" and, thus, in permanent revolution (rather, since fascism was based on the negation of other social forces, in permanent civil war). It was a utopian movement in search of a utopia. Many of the elements of a utopia were there - but hopelessly mangled and mingled and without any coherent blueprint.
In the absence of a rational vision and an orderly plan of action - fascist movements resorted to irrationality, the supernatural, the magical, and to their brand of a secular religion. They emphasized the way -rather than the destination, the struggle - rather than the attainment, the battle - rather than the victory, the effort - rather than the outcome, or, in short - the Promethean and the Thanatean rather than the Vestal, the kitschy rather than the truly aesthetic.
IV. Organic vs. Decadent
Fascism emphasized rigid social structures - supposedly the ineluctable reflections of biological strictures. As opposed to politics and culture - where fascism was revolutionary and utopian - socially, fascism was reactionary, regressive, and defensive. It was pro-family. One's obligations, functions, and rights were the results of one's "place in society". But fascism was also male chauvinistic, adolescent, latently homosexual ("the cult of virility", the worship of the military), somewhat pornographic (the adoration of the naked body, of "nature", and of the young), and misogynistic. In its horror of its own repressed androgynous "perversions" (i.e., the very decadence it claimed to be eradicating), it employed numerous defense mechanisms (e.g., reaction formation and projective identification). It was gender dysphoric and personality disordered.
V. Elitism vs. Populism
All fascist movements were founded on the equivalent of the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip. The leader - infallible, indestructible, invincible, omnipotent, omniscient, sacrificial - was a creative genius who embodied as well as interpreted the nation's quiddity and fate. His privileged and unerring access to the soul of the fascist movement, to history's grand designs, and to the moral and aesthetic principles underlying it all - made him indispensable and worthy of blind and automatic obedience.
This strongly conflicted with the unmitigated, all-inclusive, all-pervasive, and missionary populism of fascism. Fascism was not egalitarian (see section above). It believed in a fuzzily role-based and class-based system. It was misogynistic, against the old, often against the "other" (ethnic or racial minorities). But, with these exceptions, it embraced one and all and was rather meritocratic. Admittedly, mobility within the fascist parties was either the result of actual achievements and merit or the outcome of nepotism and cronyism - still, fascism was far more egalitarian than most other political movements.
This populist strand did not sit well with the overweening existence of a Duce or a Fuhrer. Tensions erupted now and then but, overall, the Fuhrerprinzip held well.
Fascism's undoing cannot be attributed to either of these inherent contradictions, though they made it brittle and clunky. To understand the downfall of this meteoric latecomer - we must look elsewhere, to the 17th and 18th century.
The Renaissance as a reactionary idea of progress
The Renaissance ("rebirth" c. 1348-1648) evolved around a modernist and, therefore, reactionary idea of progress. This statement is not as nonsensical as it sounds. As Roger Griffin observed in his essay "Springtime for Hitler" (The New Humanist, Volume 122 Issue 4 July/August 2007):
"(Modernism is the) drive to formulate a new social order capable of redeeming humanity from the growing chaos and crisis resulting from modernity’s devastation of traditional securities ... Modernity ... by threatening the cohesion of traditional culture and its capacity to absorb change, triggers an instinctive self-defensive reflex to repair it by reasserting “eternal” values and truths that transcend the ephemerality of individual existence ... From this perspective modernism is a radical reaction against modernity."
Adolf Hitler put it more succinctly:
"The new age of today is at work on a new human
type. Men and women are to be healthier, stronger: there is a new feeling of
life, a new joy in life.”
Hence the twin Nazi projects of eugenic euthanasia and continent-wide mass genocide - both components of a Herculean program of social-anthropological engineering. The Nazis sought to perfect humanity by ridding it of inferior and deleterious specimen and by restoring a glorious, "clean", albeit self-consciously idealized past.
Similarly, Renaissance thinkers were concerned with the improvement of the individual (and consequently, of human society) by reverting to classic (Greek and Roman) works and values. The Renaissance comprised a series of grassroots modernist movements that, put together, constituted a reaction to elitist, hermetic, and scholastic Medieval modernity with its modest technological advances.
This Medieval strain of modernity was perceived by Renaissance contemporaries to have been nescient "Dark (or Middle) Ages", though whether the Renaissance indeed improved upon the High and late Middle Ages was disputed by the likes of Johan Huizinga, Charles H. Haskins, and James Franklin. The Renaissance idea of progress was, therefore, not linear, but cyclical: Mankind’s hard-earned accomplishments are easily squandered and have to be regained repeatedly throughout history. Indeed, the literacy rate, an important indicator of progress, had fluctuated throughout the period (from the 15th to the 18th centuries).
In stark contrast to Medieval Man, the Renaissance Man was a narcissistic, albeit gifted and multi-talented amateur, in pursuit of worldly fame and rewards - a throwback to earlier times (Ancient Greece, Republican Rome). Thus, the Renaissance was both reactionary and modernist, looking forward by looking back, committed to a utopian "new human type" by regressing and harking back to the past's "ideal humanity".
But, contrary to the observations of Jakob Burckhardt in his masterpiece, "The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy" (1860, 1878), it was the Renaissance that gave birth to the aesthetics of totalitarianism, to the personality cult, to the obsession with "men of action", to the cultivation of verbal propaganda and indoctrination (rhetoric) as means of influencing both the masses and decision-makers, and to the pernicious idea of human perfectibility.
Many Renaissance thinkers considered the state to be similar to a constantly-belabored massive work of art, whose affairs are best managed by a "Prince" and not by God (see the writings of Machiavelli and his contemporary, Jean Bodin or even Leonardo Bruni). This authoritarian cast of mind did not prevent the vast majority of Renaissance philosophers from vociferously and incongruously upholding the Republican ideal and the individual's public duty to take part in the political life of the collective.
But the contradiction between authoritarianism and republicanism was only apparent. Renaissance tyrants relied on the support of the urban populace and an emerging civil service to counterbalance a fractious and perfidious aristocracy and the waning influence of the Church. This led to the emergence, in the 20th century, of ochlocracies, polities based on a mob led by a bureaucracy with an anti-clerical, anti-elitist (populist) Fuehrer or a Duce or Secretary General on top.
The colonialist ideas of Lebensraum and White supremacy - forms of racist and geopolitical narcissism - also have their roots in the Renaissance. Exploratory sea voyages gave rise to more virulent forms of nascent nationalism and to mercantilism, the economic exploitation of native lands. With a few notable exceptions, these were perceived by contemporaries to be progressive developments.
Industrialization, Modernization, and Progress
As the Renaissance and humanism petered out, the industrial-scientific revolution and the emergence of Capitalism transpired in a deprived and backward part of the known world: in northwestern Europe. As ancient or older civilizations - the Arabs, the Chinese, the Italian principalities, the Mediterranean, and the Spaniards - stagnated, the barbarians of France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands forged ahead with an unprecedented bout of innovation and wealth formation and accumulation.
This rupture in world history, this discontinuity of civilizations yielded ideational dyads of futuristic modernity and reactionary counter-modernity. Both poles - the modern and the reactionary - deploy the same emerging technologies but to disparate ends. Both make use of the same ideas but draw vastly different conclusions. Together, these antagonists constitute modern society.
Consider the concept of the "Will of the People". The Modernizers derived from it the construct of constitutional, parliamentary, representative democracy. In the hands of the Reactionaries it mutated into an ochlocratic "Revolt of the Masses".
"National Self-determination", another modern (liberal) concept, gave rise to the nation-state. In the hands of Hitler and Milosevic, it acquired a malignant, volkisch form and led to genocide or ethnic cleansing.
The Reactionaries rejected various aspects of the Industrial Revolution. The Communists abhorred its exploitative and iniquitous economic model; the Nazis - albeit a quintessential urban phenomenon - aspired to reverse its social costs by re-emphasizing the family, tradition, nature, and agriculture; Communists, Nazis, and Fascists dispensed with its commitment to individualism. They all sought "rebirth" in regression and in emulating and adopting those pernicious aspects and elements of the Renaissance that we have reviewed above.
Exclusionary Ideas of Progress - Reactionary Counter-Modernity
Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Religious Fundamentalism are as utopian as the classical Idea of Progress, which is most strongly reified by Western science and liberal democracy. All four illiberal ideologies firmly espouse a linear view of history: Man progresses by accumulating knowledge and wealth and by constructing ever-improving polities. Similarly, the classical, all-encompassing, idea of progress is perceived to be a "Law of Nature" with human jurisprudence and institutions as both its manifestations and descriptions. Thus, all ideas of progress are pseudo-scientific.
Still, there are some important distinctions between Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and Religious Fundamentalism, on the one hand, and Western liberalism, on the other hand:
All four totalitarian ideologies regard individual tragedies and sacrifices as the inevitable lubricant of the inexorable March Forward of the species. Yet, they redefine "humanity" (who is human) to exclude large groups of people. Communism embraces the Working Class (Proletariat) but not the Bourgeoisie, Nazism promotes one Volk but denigrates and annihilates others, Fascism bows to the Collective but viciously persecutes dissidents, Religious Fundamentalism posits a chasm between believers and infidels.
In these four intolerant ideologies, the exclusion of certain reviled groups of people is both a prerequisite for the operation of the "Natural Law of Progress" and an integral part of its motion forward. The moral and spiritual obligation of "real" Man to future generations is to "unburden" the Law, to make it possible for it to operate smoothly and in optimal conditions, with all hindrances (read: undesirables) removed (read: murdered).
All four ideologies subvert modernity (in other words, Progress itself) by using its products (technology) to exclude and kill "outsiders", all in the name of servicing "real" humanity and bettering its lot.
But liberal democracy has been intermittently guilty of the same sin. The same deranged logic extends to the construction and maintenance of nuclear weapons by countries like the USA, the UK, France, and Israel: they are intended to protect "good" humanity against "bad" people (e.g., Communists during the Cold war, Arabs, or failed states such as Iran). Even global warming is a symptom of such exclusionary thinking: the rich feel that they have the right to tax the "lesser" poor by polluting our common planet and by disproportionately exhausting its resources.
The fact is that, at least since the 1920s, the very existence of Mankind is being recurrently threatened by exclusionary ideas of progress. Even Colonialism, which predated modern ideologies, was inclusive and sought to "improve" the Natives" and "bring them to the White Man's level" by assimilating or incorporating them in the culture and society of the colonial power. This was the celebrated (and then decried) "White Man's Burden". That we no longer accept our common fate and the need to collaborate to improve our lot is nothing short of suicidal.
Nazism as the culmination of European History
Hitler and Nazism are often portrayed as an apocalyptic and seismic break with European history. Yet the truth is that they were the culmination and reification of European (and American) history in the 19th century. Europe's (and the United States') annals of colonialism have prepared it for the range of phenomena associated with the Nazi regime - from industrial murder to racial theories, from slave labour to the forcible annexation of territory.
Germany was a colonial power no different to murderous Belgium or Britain or the United States. What set it apart is that it directed its colonial attentions at the heartland of Europe - rather than at Africa or Asia or Latin and Central America. Both World Wars were colonial wars fought on European soil.
Moreover, Nazi Germany innovated by applying prevailing racial theories (usually reserved to non-whites) to the white race itself. It started with the Jews - a non-controversial proposition - but then expanded them to include "east European" whites, such as the Poles and the Russians.
Germany was not alone in its malignant nationalism. The far right in France was as pernicious. Nazism - and Fascism - were world ideologies, adopted enthusiastically in places as diverse as Iraq, Egypt, Norway, Latin America, and Britain. At the end of the 1930's, liberal capitalism, communism, and fascism (and its mutations) were locked in mortal battle of ideologies. Hitler's mistake was to delusionally believe in the affinity between capitalism and Nazism - an affinity enhanced, to his mind, by Germany's corporatism and by the existence of a common enemy: global communism.
Colonialism always had discernible religious overtones and often collaborated with missionary religion. "The White Man's burden" of civilizing the "savages" was widely perceived as ordained by God. The church was the extension of the colonial power's army and trading companies.
Introduction to Reactionary Ideas of Progress
By definition, most reactionary ideas of progress hark back to an often illusory past, either distant or recent. There, in the mists of time, the proponents of these social movements search for answers and remedies to the perceived ills of their present. These contemporary deficiencies and faults are presented as the inevitable outcomes of decadent modernity. By using a romanticized past cast as ideal, perfect, and unblemished to heal a dystopian and corrupt present, these thinkers, artists, and activists seek to bring about a utopian and revitalized future.
Other reactionary ideas of progress are romantic and merely abandon the tenets and axioms of the prevailing centralized culture in favor of a more or less anarchic mélange of unstructured, post-structural, or deconstructed ideas and interactions, relying on some emergent but ever-fluid underlying social "order" as an organizing principle.
Recent Reactionary Ideas of Progress - Post-modernity
Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard (and, to some extent, Michel Foucault) posited post-modernity as both the culmination and the negation of modernity. While modernity encouraged linear change in an asymptotic and teleological pursuit of progress, post-modernity abets change for change's sake, abandoning the very ideal of progress and castigating it as tautological, subjective, and obsolete.
Inevitably, post-modernity clashes with meta-narratives of progress, such as Marxism, positivism, and structuralism. Jurgen Habermas and Timothy Bewes described post-modernity as "anti-Enlightenment". They accused post-modernity of abandoning the universalist and liberalizing tools of rationality and critical theory in favor of self-deceptive pessimism which may well lead to totalitarianism.
Some post-modernist thinkers - such as David Harvey and Alasdair MacIntyre - regarded "late capitalism" or consumerism as dystopian and asocial, if not outright antisocial. Such a view of the recent past tied in well with prior concepts such as anomie, alienation, and atomization. Society was disintegrating while individuals accumulated assets, consumer goods, and capital. Post-modernity is an escape route from "Fordism" and an exit strategy from the horrors of the Brave, New World of mass production and mass consumption.
But paradoxically, as Michel Maffesoli noted, by its very success, post-modernity is sawing off the branch it is perched on and may ultimately lead to a decline in individualism and a rise of neo-tribalism in a decentralized world, inundated with a pluralistic menu of mass and niche media. Others (Esther Dyson, Henry Jenkins) suggest a convergence and confluence of the various facets of "digitality" (digital existence), likely to produce a global "participatory culture".
Still, in a perverse way, post-modernity is obsessed with an idea of progress of its own, albeit a reactionary one. Heterodox post-modern thinkers and scholars like Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck, Castells, Zygmunt Bauman and even Jacques Derrida regard post-modernity as merely the second, "late", progressive (albeit "liquid", chaotic, and ambivalent) phase of the agenda of modernity.
Recent Reactionary Populist Ideas of Progress: Environmentalism and Deurbanization
Exurbanization and "back to nature", "small is beautiful", ersatz-preindustrial arts-and-crafts movements dominated the last two decades of the twentieth century as well as the beginning of the twenty-first. These trends constituted "primitive", Jean-Jacques Rousseau-like reactions to the emergence of megalopolises and what the Greek architect and city planner Constantinos Apostolos Doxiadis called "ecumenopolis" (world or global city).
A similar, though much-perverted celebration of the natural can be found in the architecture and plastic arts of the Third Reich. As Roger Griffin observed in his essay "Springtime for Hitler" (The New Humanist, Volume 122 Issue 4 July/August 2007):
"Albert Speer’s titanic building projects ... the “clean” lines of the stripped neoclassicism of civic buildings had connotations of social hygiene, just as the nude paintings and statues that adorned them implicitly celebrated the physical health of a national community conceived not only in racial but in eugenic terms."
The concept of "nature" is a romantic invention. It was spun by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century as a confabulated utopian contrast to the dystopia of urbanization and materialism. The traces of this dewy-eyed conception of the "savage" and his unmolested, unadulterated surroundings can be found in the more malignant forms of fundamentalist environmentalism.
At the other extreme are religious literalists who regard Man as the crown of creation with complete dominion over nature and the right to exploit its resources unreservedly. Similar, veiled, sentiments can be found among scientists. The Anthropic Principle, for instance, promoted by many outstanding physicists, claims that the nature of the Universe is preordained to accommodate sentient beings - namely, us humans.
Industrialists, politicians and economists have only recently begun paying lip service to sustainable development and to the environmental costs of their policies. Thus, in a way, they bridge the abyss - at least verbally - between these two diametrically opposed forms of fundamentalism. Still, essential dissimilarities between the schools notwithstanding, the dualism of Man vs. Nature is universally acknowledged.
Modern physics - notably the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics - has abandoned the classic split between (typically human) observer and (usually inanimate) observed. Environmentalists, in contrast, have embraced this discarded worldview wholeheartedly. To them, Man is the active agent operating upon a distinct reactive or passive substrate - i.e., Nature. But, though intuitively compelling, it is a false dichotomy.
Man is, by definition, a part of Nature. His tools are natural. He interacts with the other elements of Nature and modifies it - but so do all other species. Arguably, bacteria and insects exert on Nature far more influence with farther reaching consequences than Man has ever done.
Still, the "Law of the Minimum" - that there is a limit to human population growth and that this barrier is related to the biotic and abiotic variables of the environment - is undisputed. Whatever debate there is veers between two strands of this Malthusian Weltanschauung: the utilitarian (a.k.a. anthropocentric, shallow, or technocentric) and the ethical (alternatively termed biocentric, deep, or ecocentric).
First, the Utilitarians.
Economists, for instance, tend to discuss the costs and benefits of environmental policies. Activists, on the other hand, demand that Mankind consider the "rights" of other beings and of nature as a whole in determining a least harmful course of action.
Utilitarians regard nature as a set of exhaustible and scarce resources and deal with their optimal allocation from a human point of view. Yet, they usually fail to incorporate intangibles such as the beauty of a sunset or the liberating sensation of open spaces.
"Green" accounting - adjusting the national accounts to reflect environmental data - is still in its unpromising infancy. It is complicated by the fact that ecosystems do not respect man-made borders and by the stubborn refusal of many ecological variables to succumb to numbers. To complicate things further, different nations weigh environmental problems disparately.
Despite recent attempts, such as the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF), no one knows how to define and quantify elusive concepts such as "sustainable development". Even the costs of replacing or repairing depleted resources and natural assets are difficult to determine.
Efforts to capture "quality of life" considerations in the straitjacket of the formalism of distributive justice - known as human-welfare ecology or emancipatory environmentalism - backfired. These led to derisory attempts to reverse the inexorable processes of urbanization and industrialization by introducing localized, small-scale production.
Social ecologists proffer the same prescriptions but with an anarchistic twist. The hierarchical view of nature - with Man at the pinnacle - is a reflection of social relations, they suggest. Dismantle the latter - and you get rid of the former.
The Ethicists appear to be as confounded and ludicrous as their "feet on the ground" opponents.
Biocentrists view nature as possessed of an intrinsic value, regardless of its actual or potential utility. They fail to specify, however, how this, even if true, gives rise to rights and commensurate obligations. Nor was their case aided by their association with the apocalyptic or survivalist school of environmentalism which has developed proto-fascist tendencies and is gradually being scientifically debunked.
The proponents of deep ecology radicalize the ideas of social ecology ad absurdum and postulate a transcendentalist spiritual connection with the inanimate (whatever that may be). In consequence, they refuse to intervene to counter or contain natural processes, including diseases and famine.
The politicization of environmental concerns runs the gamut from political activism to eco-terrorism. The environmental movement - whether in academe, in the media, in non-governmental organizations, or in legislature - is now comprised of a web of bureaucratic interest groups.
Like all bureaucracies, environmental organizations are out to perpetuate themselves, fight heresy and accumulate political clout and the money and perks that come with it. They are no longer a disinterested and objective party. They have a stake in apocalypse. That makes them automatically suspect.
Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", was at the receiving end of such self-serving sanctimony. A statistician, he demonstrated that the doom and gloom tendered by environmental campaigners, scholars and militants are, at best, dubious and, at worst, the outcomes of deliberate manipulation.
The situation is actually improving on many fronts, showed Lomborg: known reserves of fossil fuels and most metals are rising, agricultural production per head is surging, the number of the famished is declining, biodiversity loss is slowing as do pollution and tropical deforestation. In the long run, even in pockets of environmental degradation, in the poor and developing countries, rising incomes and the attendant drop in birth rates will likely ameliorate the situation in the long run.
Yet, both camps, the optimists and the pessimists, rely on partial, irrelevant, or, worse, manipulated data. The multiple authors of "People and Ecosystems", published by the World Resources Institute, the World Bank and the United Nations conclude: "Our knowledge of ecosystems has increased dramatically, but it simply has not kept pace with our ability to alter them."
Quoted by The Economist, Daniel Esty of Yale, the leader of an environmental project sponsored by World Economic Forum, exclaimed:
"Why hasn't anyone done careful environmental measurement before? Businessmen always say, ‘what matters gets measured'. Social scientists started quantitative measurement 30 years ago, and even political science turned to hard numbers 15 years ago. Yet look at environmental policy, and the data are lousy."
Nor is this dearth of reliable and unequivocal information likely to end soon. Even the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, supported by numerous development agencies and environmental groups, is seriously under-financed. The conspiracy-minded attribute this curious void to the self-serving designs of the apocalyptic school of environmentalism. Ignorance and fear, they point out, are among the fanatic's most useful allies. They also make for good copy.
About Donald Trump’s campaign and strategies
19. Now, regarding to the USA politics. The main strategy of Donald Trump's campaign was - and still is - criticize "the elites", which he considers to be the media, big companies, the old politics. To what extent is his attitude contradictory – as he is one of the richest men in the USA, uses the media to get to millions of audience and hasn't promoted any policy that causes “real difference”? Didn't the people who voted him know about it? If they did, why did he succeed?
A. Trump is a role model, the reification and embodiment of the American Dream. The poor and uneducated people who voted for him want to be like him. The disenfranchised middle-class voters who voted for him want him to “drain the (Washington) swamp” and apply his business acumen to government and job creation. It is a win-win proposition, a twofer: a managerial President who cannot be corrupted due to his personal wealth.
20. Something more about the "Make America Great Again" campaign. The slogan has at least two things that caught my attention. First is that the same slogan was used in Regan's campaign. The second is that using "again" it evinces that – in his opinion – there was a time when the USA was "great". What do you think of using the same slogan as another candidate did decades ago? Does it mean something that the one he "copied" is specifically Reagan? What history time or greatness does he have in mind?
A. The United States is one of the last remaining land empires. That it is made the butt of opprobrium and odium is hardly surprising, or unprecedented. Empires - Rome, the British, the Ottomans - were always targeted by the disgruntled, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed and by their self-appointed delegates, the intelligentsia.
Yet, even by historical standards, America seems to be provoking blanket repulsion.
The Pew Research Center published in December 2002 a report titled "What the World Thinks in 2002". "The World", was reduced by the pollsters to 44 countries and 38,000 interviewees. Two other surveys published last year - by the German Marshall Fund and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations - largely supported Pew's findings.
The most startling and unambiguous revelation was the extent of anti-American groundswell everywhere: among America's NATO allies, in developing countries, Muslim nations and even in eastern Europe where Americans, only a decade ago, were lionized as much-adulated liberators.
Four years later, things have gotten even worse.
Between March and May 2006, Pew surveyed 16,710 people in Britain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
Only 23% of Spaniards had a positive opinion of the USA, down from 41% the year before. A similar drop was evinced in India (from 71% to 56%), Russia (from 52% o 43%), Indonesia (from 38% to 30%), and Turkey (from 23% to 12%). In Britain, America' s putative ally, support was down by one third from 2002, to 50% or so. Declines were noted in France, Germany, and Jordan, somewhat offset by marginal rises in China and Pakistan.
Two thirds of Russians and overwhelming majorities in 13 out of 15 countries regarded the conduct of the USA in Iraq as a greater threat to world peace that Iran's nuclear ambitions. The distinction formerly made between the American people and the Bush administration is also eroding. Majorities in only 7 of 14 countries had favorable views of Americans.
"People around the world embrace things American and, at the same time, decry U.S. influence on their societies. Similarly, pluralities in most of the nations surveyed complain about American unilateralism."- expounded the year 2002 Pew report.
Yet, even this "embrace of things American" is ambiguous.
Violently "independent", inanely litigious and quarrelsome, solipsistically provincial, and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites, the United States, is often perceived as trying to impose its narcissistic pseudo-culture upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold and corrupted by vacuous materialism.
Recent accounting scandals, crumbling markets, political scams, human rights violations, technological setbacks, and rising social tensions have revealed how rotten and inherently contradictory the US edifice is and how concerned are Americans with appearances rather than substance.
To religious fundamentalists, America is the Great Satan, a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah, a cesspool of immorality and spiritual decay. To many European liberals, the United states is a throwback to darker ages of religious zealotry, pernicious bigotry, virulent nationalism, and the capricious misrule of the mighty.
According to most recent surveys by Gallup, MORI, the Council for Secular Humanism, the US Census Bureau, and others - the vast majority of Americans are chauvinistic, moralizing, bible-thumping, cantankerous, and trigger-happy. About half of them believe that Satan exists - not as a metaphor, but as a real physical entity.
America has a record defense spending per head, a vertiginous rate of incarceration, among the highest numbers of legal executions and gun-related deaths. It is still engaged in atavistic debates about abortion, the role of religion, and whether to teach the theory of evolution.
According to a series of special feature articles in The Economist, America is generally well-liked in Europe, but less so than before. It is utterly detested by the Muslim street, even in "progressive" Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Everyone - Europeans and Arabs, Asians and Africans - think that "the spread of American ideas and customs is a bad thing."
Admittedly, we typically devalue most that which we have formerly idealized and idolized.
To the liberal-minded, the United States of America reified the most noble, lofty, and worthy values, ideals, and causes. It was a dream in the throes of becoming, a vision of liberty, peace, justice, prosperity, and progress. Its system, though far from flawless, was considered superior - both morally and functionally - to anything ever conceived by Man.
Such unrealistic expectations inevitably and invariably lead to disenchantment, disillusionment, bitter disappointment, seething anger, and a sense of humiliation for having been thus deluded, or, rather, self-deceived. This backlash is further exacerbated by the haughty hectoring of the ubiquitous American missionaries of the "free-market-cum-democracy" church.
Americans everywhere aggressively preach the superior virtues of their homeland. Edward K. Thompson, managing editor of "Life" (1949-1961) warned against this propensity to feign omniscience and omnipotence: "Life (the magazine) must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all, or a Peeping Tom."
Thus, America's foreign policy - i.e., its presence and actions abroad - is, by far, its foremost vulnerability.
According to the Pew study, the image of the Unites States as a benign world power slipped dramatically in the space of two years in Slovakia (down 14 percent), in Poland (-7), in the Czech Republic (-6) and even in fervently pro-Western Bulgaria (-4 percent). It rose exponentially in Ukraine (up 10 percent) and, most astoundingly, in Russia (+24 percent) - but from a very low base.
The crux may be that the USA maintains one set of sanctimonious standards at home while egregiously and nonchalantly flouting them far and wide. Hence the fervid demonstrations against its military presence in places as disparate as South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.
In January 2000, Staff Sergeant Frank J. Ronghi sexually molested, forcibly sodomized ("indecent acts with a child") and then murdered an 11-years old girl in the basement of her drab building in Kosovo, when her father went to market to do some shopping. His is by no means the most atrocious link in a long chain of brutalities inflicted by American soldiers overseas, the latest of which are taking place in Iraq. In all these cases, the perpetrators were removed from the scene to face justice - or, more often, a travesty thereof - back home.
Americans - officials, scholars, peacemakers, non-government organizations - maintain a colonial state of mind. Backward natives come cheap, their lives dispensable, their systems of governance and economies inherently inferior. The white man's burden must not be encumbered by the vagaries of primitive indigenous jurisprudence. Hence America's fierce resistance to and indefatigable obstruction of the International Criminal Court.
Opportunistic multilateralism notwithstanding, the USA still owes the poorer nations of the world close to $200 million - its arrears to the UN peacekeeping operations, usually asked to mop up after an American invasion or bombing. It not only refuses to subject its soldiers to the jurisdiction of the World Criminal Court - but also its facilities to the inspectors of the Chemical Weapons Convention, its military to the sanctions of the (anti) land mines treaty and the provisions of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, and its industry to the environmental constraints of the Kyoto Protocol, the rulings of the World Trade Organization, and the rigors of global intellectual property rights.
Despite its instinctual unilateralism, the United States is never averse to exploiting multilateral institutions to its ends. It is the only shareholder with a veto power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), by now widely considered to have degenerated into a long arm of the American administration. The United Nations Security Council, raucous protestations aside, has rubber-stamped American martial exploits from Panama to Iraq.
It seems as though America uses - and thus, perforce, abuses - the international system for its own, ever changing, ends. International law is invoked by it when convenient - ignored when importune.
In short, America is a bully. It is a law unto itself and it legislates on the fly, twisting arms and breaking bones when faced with opposition and ignoring the very edicts it promulgates at its convenience. Its soldiers and peacekeepers, its bankers and businessmen, its traders and diplomats are its long arms, an embodiment of this potent and malignant mixture of supremacy and contempt.
But why is America being singled out?
In politics and even more so in geopolitics, double standards and bullying are common. Apartheid South Africa, colonial France, mainland China, post-1967 Israel - and virtually every other polity - were at one time or another characterized by both. But while these countries usually mistreated only their own subjects - the USA does so also exterritorialy.
Even as it never ceases to hector, preach, chastise, and instruct - it does not recoil from violating its own decrees and ignoring its own teachings. It is, therefore, not the USA's intrinsic nature, nor its self-perception, or social model that I find most reprehensible - but its actions, particularly its foreign policy.
America's manifest hypocrisy, its moral talk and often immoral walk, its persistent application of double standards, irks and grates. I firmly believe that it is better to face a forthright villain than a masquerading saint. It is easy to confront a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Mao, vile and bloodied, irredeemably depraved, worthy only of annihilation. The subtleties of coping with the United States are far more demanding and far less rewarding.
This self-proclaimed champion of human rights has aided and abetted countless murderous dictatorships. This alleged sponsor of free trade is the most protectionist of rich nations. This ostensible beacon of charity contributes less than 0.1% of its GDP to foreign aid (compared to Scandinavia's 0.6%, for instance). This upright proponent of international law (under whose aegis it bombed and invaded half a dozen countries this past decade alone) is in avowed opposition to crucial pillars of the international order.
Naturally, America's enemies and critics are envious of its might and wealth. They would have probably acted the same as the United States, if they only could. But America's haughtiness and obtuse refusal to engage in soul searching and house cleaning do little to ameliorate this antagonism.
To the peoples of the poor world, America is both a colonial power and a mercantilist exploiter. To further its geopolitical and economic goals from Central Asia to the Middle East, it persists in buttressing regimes with scant regard for human rights, in cahoots with venal and sometimes homicidal indigenous politicians. And it drains the developing world of its brains, its labour, and its raw materials, giving little in return.
All powers are self-interested - but America is narcissistic. It is bent on exploiting and, having exploited, on discarding. It is a global Dr. Frankenstein, spawning mutated monsters in its wake. Its "drain and dump" policies consistently boomerang to haunt it.
Both Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega - two acknowledged monsters - were aided and abetted by the CIA and the US military. America had to invade Panama to depose the latter and to molest Iraq for the second time in order to force the removal of the former.
The Kosovo Liberation Army, an American anti-Milosevic pet, provoked a civil war in Macedonia tin 2001. Osama bin-Laden, another CIA golem, restored to the USA, on September 11, 2001 some of the materiel it so generously bestowed on him in his anti-Russian days.
Normally the outcomes of expedience, the Ugly American's alliances and allegiances shift kaleidoscopically. Pakistan and Libya were transmuted from foes to allies in the fortnight prior to the Afghan campaign. Milosevic has metamorphosed from staunch ally to rabid foe in days.
This capricious inconsistency casts in grave doubt America's sincerity - and in sharp relief its unreliability and disloyalty, its short term thinking, truncated attention span, soundbite mentality, and dangerous, "black and white", simplism.
In its heartland, America is isolationist. Its denizens erroneously believe that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is an economically self-sufficient and self-contained continent. Yet, it is not what Americans trust or wish that matters to others. It is what they do. And what they do is meddle, often unilaterally, always ignorantly, sometimes forcefully.
Elsewhere, inevitable unilateralism is mitigated by inclusive cosmopolitanism. It is exacerbated by provincialism - and American decision-makers are mostly provincials, popularly elected by provincials. As opposed to Rome, or Great Britain, America is ill-suited and ill-equipped to micromanage the world.
It is too puerile, too abrasive, too arrogant and it has a lot to learn. Its refusal to acknowledge its shortcomings, its confusion of brain with brawn (i.e., money or bombs), its legalistic-litigious character, its culture of instant gratification and one-dimensional over-simplification, its heartless lack of empathy, and bloated sense of entitlement are detrimental to world peace and stability.
America is often called by others to intervene. Many initiate conflicts or prolong them with the express purpose of dragging America into the quagmire. It then is either castigated for not having responded to such calls - or reprimanded for having responded. It seems that it cannot win. Abstention and involvement alike garner it only ill-will.
But people call upon America to get involved because they know it rises to the challenge. America should make it unequivocally and unambiguously clear that - with the exception of the Americas - its sole interests rest in commerce. It should make it equally known that it will protect its citizens and defend its assets, if need be by force.
Indeed, America's - and the world's - best bet are a reversion to the Monroe and (technologically updated) Mahan doctrines. Wilson's Fourteen Points brought the USA nothing but two World Wars and a Cold War thereafter. It is time to disengage.
America the Narcissist
Even mega-states are typically founded by a small nucleus of pioneers, visionaries, and activists. The United States is a relatively recent example. The character of the collective of Founding Fathers has a profound effect on the nature of the polity that they create: nations spawned by warriors tend to be belligerent and to nurture and cherish military might throughout their history (e.g., Rome); When traders and businessman establish a country, it is likely to cultivate capitalistic values and thrive on commerce and shipping (e.g., Netherlands). The denizens of countries formed by lawyers are likely to be litigious.
The influence of the Founding Fathers does not wane with time. On the very contrary: the mold that they have forged for their successors tends to rigidify and be sanctified. It is buttressed by an appropriate ethos, code of conduct, and set of values. Subsequent and massive waves of immigrants conform with these norms and adapt themselves to local traditions, lores, and mores.
Back to the United States:
The majority of worldwide respondents to the last two global Pew enter surveys (in 2002 and 2006) regarded the United States as the greatest menace to world peace - far greater than the likes of Iraq or China. Thinkers and scholars as diverse as Christopher Lasch in "The Cultural Narcissist" and Theodore Millon in "Personality Disorders of Everyday Life" have singled out the United States as the quintessential narcissistic society.
The "American Dream" in itself is benign. It involves materialistic self-realization, the belief in the ideal of equal opportunities and equal access to the system, and in just rewards for hard work, merit, and natural gifts. It has both Protestant and Jewish roots. But the Dream has been rendered nightmarish by the confluence with America's narcissistic traits.
America's internal ethos is universally-accepted by all Americans. It incorporates the American Dream and the conviction that America stands for everything that is good and right (exceptionalism). It was hatched early in the 17th century when Puritan preachers and settlers based in the North-American colonies saw it as their duty to export their brand of righteous, egalitarian, and meritocratic creed to an England ravaged by a vicious Civil War. Consequently, as the reification of goodness, the United States is in constant battle with evil and its ever-changing demonic emissaries: from Hitler to Saddam Hussein.
There is no national consensus about America's external ethos. Some Americans are isolationists, others interventionists. Both groups are hypervigilant, paranoid, and self-righteous - but isolationists are introverted and schizoid. Theirs is a siege mentality. Interventionists are missionary. They feel omnipotent and invincible. They are extroverted and psychopathic.
Read the article Collective Narcissism
Read about Christopher Lasch HERE.
This pathology can be traced back and attributed to a confluence of historical events and processes, the equivalents of trauma and abuse in an individual's early childhood.
The United States of America started out as a series of loosely connected, remote, savage, and negligible colonial outposts. The denizens of these settlements were former victims of religious persecution, indentured servants, lapsed nobility, and other refugees. Their Declaration of Independence reads like a maudlin list of grievances coupled with desperate protestations of love and loyalty to their abuser, the King of Britain.
The inhabitants of the colonies defended against their perceived helplessness and very real inferiority with compensatory, imagined, and feigned superiority and fantasies of omnipotence. Victims frequently internalize their abusers and themselves become bullies. Hence the rough, immutable kernel of American narcissism.
The United States was (until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s) and still is, in some important respects, a pre-Enlightenment, white supremacist society. It is rife with superstition, prejudice, conspicuous religiosity, intolerance, philistinism, and lack of social solidarity. Its religiosity is overt, aggressive, virulent and ubiquitous. It is replete with an eschatology, which involves a changing cast of demonized "enemies", both political and cultural.
In fact, America's ascendance over the British Empire owes a lot to the fact that its social reforms lagged one century behind Britain's. This licence to profiteer and exploit its slaves and laborers gave the United States a competitive edge it has yet to amortize.
The Civil War was fought between 2 America's: the South, a perverted rendition of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the North, a harbinger of modern, multicultural immigrant societies. The North and the American Dream prevailed, the slaves were freed, and the Southern way of life, that of "gentlemen with leisure", was replaced by a workaholic society where everyone is a slave to money and leisure is an ever rarer commodity.
Read about American eschatology HERE
Americans' religion is a manifestation of their "Chosen People Syndrome". They are missionary, messianic, zealous, fanatical, and nauseatingly self-righteous, bigoted, and hypocritical. This is especially discernible in the double-speak and double-standard that underlies American foreign policy.
American altruism is misanthropic and compulsive. They often give merely in order to control, manipulate, and sadistically humiliate the recipients.
Read the article To Give with Grace
Narcissism is frequently comorbid with paranoia. Americans cultivate and nurture a siege mentality which leads to violent acting out and unbridled jingoism. Their persecutory delusions sit well with their adherence to social Darwinism (natural selection of the fittest, let the weaker fall by the wayside, might is right, etc.)
Consequently, the United States always finds itself in company with the least palatable regimes in the world: together with Nazi Germany it had a working eugenics program (the 1935 anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws and the Nazi sterilization law were modelled after American anti-miscegenation and sterilization statutes), together with the likes of Saudi Arabia it executes its prisoners, it was the last developed nation to abolish slavery, alone with South Africa it had instituted official apartheid in a vast swathe of its territory.
Add to this volatile mix an ethos of malignant individualism, racism both latent and overt, a trampling, "no holds barred" ambitiousness, competitiveness, frontier violence-based morality, and proud simple-mindedness - and an ominous portrait of the United States as a deeply disturbed polity emerges.
A Note on Theochlocracy
I coined the neologism “theochlocracy” to describe the noxious mixture of theocracy and ochlocracy (mob-rule). Yet, as distinct from the former, in a theochlocracy, church and state are constitutionally separated. The power is not in the hands of the clergy, but, putatively, in the hands of the people and its representatives. Theochlocracies are often also democracies. Religion – in all its faux-manifestations – is imposed on non-believers and nonconformists by mobs and by populist collectives or organizations who claim to represent “public opinion”.
These self-appointed tribunals seek to enforce mores and values they deem to be “universal” and indisputable (usually by virtue of their divine and epiphanic origins.) Such is the threat implicit in these proceedings that they often result in self-censorship and self-denial on the part of their targets and victims. Bible – or Qur’an – thumping give rise to terror and to the suppression of free speech and unmitigated self-expression. The penalties for transgressors range from ostracism to physical harm.
On the level of individuals, theochlocracy is a form of malignant narcissism.
The narcissist is prone to magical thinking. He regards himself in terms of "being chosen" or of "being destined for greatness". He believes that he has a "direct line" to God, even, perversely, that God "serves" him in certain junctions and conjunctures of his life, through divine intervention. He believes that his life is of such momentous importance, that it is micro-managed by God. The narcissist likes to play God to his human environment. In short, narcissism and religion go well together, because religion allows the narcissist to feel unique.
This is a private case of a more general phenomenon. The narcissist likes to belong to groups or to frameworks of allegiance. He derives easy and constantly available Narcissistic Supply from them. Within them and from their members he is certain to garner attention, to gain adulation, to be castigated or praised. His False Self is bound to be reflected by his colleagues, co-members, or fellows.
This is no mean feat and it cannot be guaranteed in other circumstances. Hence the narcissist's fanatic and proud emphasis of his membership. If a military man, he shows off his impressive array of medals, his impeccably pressed uniform, the status symbols of his rank. If a clergyman, he is overly devout and orthodox and places great emphasis on the proper conduct of rites, rituals and ceremonies.
The narcissist develops a reverse (benign) form of paranoia: he feels constantly watched over by senior members of his group or frame of reference, the subject of permanent (avuncular) criticism, the centre of attention. If a religious man, he calls it divine providence. This self-centred perception also caters to the narcissist's streak of grandiosity, proving that he is, indeed, worthy of such incessant and detailed attention, supervision and intervention.
From this mental junction, the way is short to entertaining the delusion that God (or the equivalent institutional authority) is an active participant in the narcissist's life in which constant intervention by Him is a key feature. God is subsumed in a larger picture, that of the narcissist's destiny and mission. God serves this cosmic plan by making it possible.
Indirectly, therefore, God is perceived by the narcissist to be at his service. Moreover, in a process of holographic appropriation, the narcissist views himself as a microcosm of his affiliation, of his group, or his frame of reference. The narcissist is likely to say that he IS the army, the nation, the people, the struggle, history, or (a part of) God.
As opposed to healthier people, the narcissist believes that he both represents and embodies his class, his people, his race, history, his God, his art – or anything else he feels a part of. This is why individual narcissists feel completely comfortable to assume roles usually reserved to groups of people or to some transcendental, divine (or other), authority.
This kind of "enlargement" or "inflation" also sits well with the narcissist's all-pervasive feelings of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. In playing God, for instance, the narcissist is completely convinced that he is merely being himself. The narcissist does not hesitate to put people's lives or fortunes at risk. He preserves his sense of infallibility in the face of mistakes and misjudgements by distorting the facts, by evoking mitigating or attenuating circumstances, by repressing memories, or by simply lying.
In the overall design of things, small setbacks and defeats matter little, says the narcissist. The narcissist is haunted by the feeling that he is possessed of a mission, of a destiny, that he is part of fate, of history. He is convinced that his uniqueness is purposeful, that he is meant to lead, to chart new ways, to innovate, to modernise, to reform, to set precedents, or to create from scratch.
Every act of the narcissist is perceived by him to be significant, every utterance of momentous consequence, every thought of revolutionary calibre. He feels part of a grand design, a world plan and the frame of affiliation, the group, of which he is a member, must be commensurately grand. Its proportions and properties must resonate with his. Its characteristics must justify his and its ideology must conform to his pre-conceived opinions and prejudices.
In short: the group must magnify the narcissist, echo and amplify his life, his views, his knowledge, and his personal history. This intertwining, this enmeshing of individual and collective, is what makes the narcissist the most devout and loyal of all its members.
The narcissist is always the most fanatical, the most extreme, the most dangerous adherent. At stake is never merely the preservation of his group – but his very own survival. As with other Narcissistic Supply Sources, once the group is no longer instrumental – the narcissist loses all interest in it, devalues it and ignores it.
In extreme cases, he might even wish to destroy it (as a punishment or revenge for its incompetence in securing his emotional needs). Narcissists switch groups and ideologies with ease (as they do partners, spouses and value systems). In this respect, narcissists are narcissists first and members of their groups only in the second place.
God is everything the narcissist ever wants to be: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, admired, much discussed, and awe inspiring. God is the narcissist's wet dream, his ultimate grandiose fantasy. But God comes handy in other ways as well.
The narcissist alternately idealizes and devalues figures of authority.
In the idealization phase, he strives to emulate them, he admires them, imitate them (often ludicrously), and defends them. They cannot go wrong, or be wrong. The narcissist regards them as bigger than life, infallible, perfect, whole, and brilliant. But as the narcissist's unrealistic and inflated expectations are inevitably frustrated, he begins to devalue his former idols.
Now they are "human" (to the narcissist, a derogatory term). They are small, fragile, error-prone, pusillanimous, mean, dumb, and mediocre. The narcissist goes through the same cycle in his relationship with God, the quintessential authority figure.
But often, even when disillusionment and iconoclastic despair have set in - the narcissist continues to pretend to love God and follow Him. The narcissist maintains this deception because his continued proximity to God confers on him authority. Priests, leaders of the congregation, preachers, evangelists, cultists, politicians, intellectuals - all derive authority from their allegedly privileged relationship with God.
Religious authority allows the narcissist to indulge his sadistic urges and to exercise his misogynism freely and openly. Such a narcissist is likely to taunt and torment his followers, hector and chastise them, humiliate and berate them, abuse them spiritually, or even sexually. The narcissist whose source of authority is religious is looking for obedient and unquestioning slaves upon whom to exercise his capricious and wicked mastery. The narcissist transforms even the most innocuous and pure religious sentiments into a cultish ritual and a virulent hierarchy. He preys on the gullible. His flock become his hostages.
Religious authority also secures the narcissist's Narcissistic Supply. His coreligionists, members of his congregation, his parish, his constituency, his audience - are transformed into loyal and stable Sources of Narcissistic Supply. They obey his commands, heed his admonitions, follow his creed, admire his personality, applaud his personal traits, satisfy his needs (sometimes even his carnal desires), revere and idolize him.
Moreover, being a part of a "bigger thing" is very gratifying narcissistically. Being a particle of God, being immersed in His grandeur, experiencing His power and blessings first hand, communing with him - are all Sources of unending Narcissistic Supply. The narcissist becomes God by observing His commandments, following His instructions, loving Him, obeying Him, succumbing to Him, merging with Him, communicating with Him - or even by defying him (the bigger the narcissist's enemy - the more grandiosely important the narcissist feels).
Like everything else in the narcissist's life, he mutates God into a kind of inverted narcissist. God becomes his dominant Source of Supply. He forms a personal relationship with this overwhelming and overpowering entity - in order to overwhelm and overpower others. He becomes God vicariously, by the proxy of his relationship with Him. He idealizes God, then devalues Him, then abuses Him. This is the classic narcissistic pattern and even God himself cannot escape it.
In a narcissistic culture or civilization, these warped relationships - between individuals, their God, and their institutional affiliation - are magnified. Nowhere is this more true - and is theochlocracy more evident - than in the United States of America (USA).
About the role of the media in the 2016 USA presidential elections
21. After Trump's months in power – and also during his campaign – he has been involved in many “scandals” (the Russian issue, lewd conversations about women, insults to various political opponents and journalists, the many resignations, etc), affairs that have had him in the spotlight during the later months. The media has been determining in increasing his popularity, but could his victory have been avoided if we hadn't paid so much attention to him? Would he have experienced a decrease of support without all those covers and TV minutes?
A. Possibly. But his base anyhow regards the “mainstream” media with suspicion and extreme distrust. They feed on talk radio and social media.
22. There's something about the primary and presidential debates that has been largely discussed in some newspapers: the impartiality of discussion moderators. It's been said that the (assumed) idea that the moderators have to be neutral had negative – and unexpected – results. What these journalists argue is that when a candidate is playing dirty or even insulting the opponents, the moderator should intervene; if not, the audience may think that what's being said is completely normal. Would this – or any other observation, along the same lines – have made any difference in the elections?
A. No. A blip in spurious opinion polls aside - the Presidential elections have proven to be largely irrelevant in this election cycle.
Appendix: Anarchism as a Form of Populism
"The thin and precarious crust of decency is all that separates any civilization, however impressive, from the hell of anarchy or systematic tyranny which lie in wait beneath the surface."
Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963), British writer
Politics, in all its forms, has failed. The notion that we can safely and successfully hand over the management of our daily lives and the setting of priorities to a political class or elite is thoroughly discredited. Politicians cannot be trusted, regardless of the system in which they operate. No set of constraints, checks, and balances, is proved to work and mitigate their unconscionable acts and the pernicious effects these have on our welfare and longevity.
Ideologies - from the benign to the malign and from the divine to the pedestrian - have driven the gullible human race to the verge of annihilation and back. Participatory democracies have degenerated everywhere into venal plutocracies. Socialism and its poisoned fruits - Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism - have wrought misery on a scale unprecedented even by medieval standards. Only Fascism and Nazism compare with them unfavorably. The idea of the nation-state culminated in the Yugoslav succession wars.
It is time to seriously consider a much-derided and decried alternative: anarchism.
Anarchism is often mistaken for left-wing thinking or the advocacy of anarchy. It is neither. If anything, the libertarian strain in anarchism makes it closer to the right. Anarchism is an umbrella term covering disparate social and political theories - among them classic or cooperative anarchism (postulated by William Godwin and, later, Pierre Joseph Proudhon), radical individualism (Max Stirner), religious anarchism (Leo Tolstoy), anarcho-communism (Kropotkin) and anarcho-syndicalism, educational anarchism (Paul Goodman), and communitarian anarchism (Daniel Guerin).
The narrow (and familiar) form of political anarchism springs from the belief that human communities can survive and thrive through voluntary cooperation, without a coercive central government. Politics corrupt and subvert Man's good and noble nature. Governments are instruments of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement, and the reification and embodiment of said subversion.
The logical outcome is to call for the overthrow of all political systems, as Michael Bakunin suggested. Governments should therefore be opposed by any and all means, including violent action. What should replace the state? There is little agreement among anarchists: biblical authority (Tolstoy), self-regulating co-opertaives of craftsmen (Proudhon), a federation of voluntary associations (Bakunin), trade unions (anarcho-syndicalists), ideal communism (Kropotkin).
What is common to this smorgasbord is the affirmation of freedom as the most fundamental value. Justice, equality, and welfare cannot be sustained without it. The state and its oppressive mechanisms is incompatible with it. Figures of authority and the ruling classes are bound to abuse their remit and use the instruments of government to further and enforce their own interests. The state is conceived and laws are enacted for this explicit purpose of gross and unjust exploitation. The state perpetrates violence and is the cause rather than the cure of most social ills.
Anarchists believe that human beings are perfectly capable of rational self-government. In the Utopia of anarchism, individuals choose to belong to society (or to exclude themselves from it). Rules are adopted by agreement of all the members/citizens through direct participation in voting. Similar to participatory democracy, holders of offices can be recalled by constituents.
It is important to emphasize that:
" ... (A)narchism does not preclude social organization, social order or rules, the appropriate delegation of authority, or even of certain forms of government, as long as this is distinguished from the state and as long as it is administrative and not oppressive, coercive, or bureaucratic."
(Honderich, Ted, ed. - The Oxford Companion to Philosophy - Oxford University Press, New York, 1995 - p. 31)
Anarchists are not opposed to organization, law and order, or the existence of authority. They are against the usurpation of power by individuals or by classes (groups) of individuals for personal gain through the subjugation and exploitation (however subtle and disguised) of other, less fortunate people. Every social arrangement and institution should be put to the dual acid tests of personal autonomy and freedom and moral law. If it fails either of the two it should be promptly abolished.
Anarchism is not prescriptive. Anarchists believe that the voluntary members of each and every society should decide the details of the order and functioning of their own community. Consequently, anarchism provides no coherent recipe on how to construct the ideal community. This, of course, is its Achilles' heel.
Consider crime. Anarchists of all stripes agree that people have the right to exercise self-defense by organizing voluntarily to suppress malfeasance and put away criminals. Yet, is this not the very quiddity of the oppressive state, its laws, police, prisons, and army? Are the origins of the coercive state and its justification not firmly rooted in the need to confront evil?
Some anarchists believe in changing society through violence. Are these anarcho-terrorists criminals or freedom fighters? If they are opposed by voluntary grassroots (vigilante) organizations in the best of anarchist tradition - should they fight back and thus frustrate the authentic will of the people whose welfare they claim to be seeking?
Anarchism is a chicken and egg proposition. It is predicated on people's well-developed sense of responsibility and grounded in their "natural morality". Yet, all anarchists admit that these endowments are decimated by millennia of statal repression. Life in anarchism is, therefore, aimed at restoring the very preconditions to life in anarchism. Anarchism seeks to restore its constituents' ethical constitution - without which there can be no anarchism in the first place. This self-defeating bootstrapping leads to convoluted and half-baked transitory phases between the nation-state and pure anarchism (hence anarcho-syndicalism and some forms of proto-Communism).
Primitivist and green anarchists reject technology, globalization, and capitalism as well as the state. Yet, globalization, technology, (and capitalism) are as much in opposition to the classical, hermetic nation-state as is philosophical anarchism. They are manifestly less coercive and more voluntary, too. This blanket defiance of everything modern introduces insoluble contradictions into the theory and practice of late twentieth century anarchism.
Indeed, the term anarchism has been trivialized and debauched. Animal rights activists, environmentalists, feminists, peasant revolutionaries, and techno-punk performers all claim to be anarchists with equal conviction and equal falsity.
Errico Malatesta and Voltairine de Cleyre distilled the essence of anarchism to encompass all the philosophies that oppose the state and abhor capitalism ("anarchism without adjectives"). At a deeper level, anarchism wishes to identify and rectify social asymmetries. The state, men, and the rich - are, respectively, more powerful than the individuals, women, and the poor. These are three inequalities out of many. It is the task of anarchism to fight against them.
This can be done in either of two ways:
1. By violently dismantling existing structures and institutions and replacing them with voluntary, self-regulating organizations of free individuals. The Zapatistas movement in Mexico is an attempt to do just that.
2. Or, by creating voluntary, self-regulating organizations of free individuals whose functions parallel those of established hierarchies and institutions ("dual power"). Gradually, the former will replace the latter. The evolution of certain non-government organizations follows this path.
Whichever strategy is adopted, it is essential to first identify those asymmetries that underlie all others ("primary asymmetries" vs. "secondary asymmetries"). Most anarchists point at the state and at the ownership of property as the primary asymmetries. The state is an asymmetrical transfer of power from the individual to a coercive and unjust social hyperstructure. Property represents the disproportionate accumulation of wealth by certain individuals. Crime is merely the natural reaction to these glaring injustices.
But the state and property are secondary asymmetries, not primary ones. There have been periods in human history and there have been cultures devoid of either or both. The primary asymmetry seems to be natural: some people are born more clever and stronger than others. The game is skewed in their favor not because of some sinister conspiracy but because they merit it (meritocracy is the foundation stone of capitalism), or because they can force themselves, their wishes, and their priorities and preferences on others, or because their adherents and followers believe that rewarding their leaders will maximize their own welfare (aggression and self-interest are the cornerstone of all social organizations).
It is this primary asymmetry that anarchism must address.
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