In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin shows that a large part of what drives reactionaries is the desire to silence and repress (or, in academese: deny voice to) others. This partly from a strong belief that their putative 'inferiors' have no right to speak (or to be heard), and partly from a fear that "society" (or their place in it) will be negatively affected by the latter being heard, or organizing themselves; and that the world can only function if everyone 'knows their place'. I found this explanation quite thought-provoking, and it led me to wonder what analogous desire and world-view animates those who the media refer to as 'the (center-)left' (liberals in the US, liberal or social democrats elsewhere), given that the overwhelming majority of these folks are uncomfortable subscribing to the ("radical") egalitarianism, inclusiveness and solidarity that I take as central.
Both David Harvey and Noam Chomsky have already done a lot to analyze and explain the rise of neoliberalism. Both agree that it should primarily be understood as a political project, aimed at discouraging, and keeping 'ordinary' people from participating in politics, after the events of the 1960s.* But where Harvey's account of the start of the counterrevolution only includes the conservative response, Chomsky points out that elite liberals were just as disturbed by what they termed "an excess of democracy". He notes, describing the Trilateral Commission's The Crisis of Democracy:
This is a consensus view of the liberal internationalists and the three industrial democracies. They—in their consensus—they concluded that a major problem is what they called, their words, “the institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young.” The schools, the universities, churches, they’re not doing their job. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. The young have to be returned to passivity and obedience, and then democracy will be fine. That’s the left end.
In this post, I'd like to talk about violence in general, and war in particular, how the use of violence relates to and is sold via bureaucratic (and hence meritocratic) thinking and reasoning. I hope folks will find it stimulating.
As Walter Wink has argued, nearly everyone who resorts to violence does so because on some level, we understand it as a tool that we can use to realize a certain outcome: to change either the person we inflict it on, or those around them. Yet as Marshall Rosenberg has noted, if we wish to foster lasting behavioral change, violence doesn't work. Because although people may comply, this only seems a success because of internalized misanthropy, which discourages us to care about the reason why someone chooses to behave differently -- it's only logical if you start from the assumption that people must be forced to care about others. Moreover, it's a way of thinking that reinforces the notion that violence is an acceptable tool.
For decades, we've been hearing how everyone should 'take responsibility for their actions,' and that we are each responsible for our 'success' (or lack thereof). And because these statements are rather broad and simplistic, it's served to foster a kind of reflexive denial of same in others. Today, we're still stuck in that false dichotomy, which leads us to ignore a few pretty serious questions. Namely, what to make of the fact that, especially when we are performing certain roles within institutions, we are actually encouraged not to take responsibility for our actions, and not to think about how we feel about what we do. And that seems to me a pretty important question to ask, both because of how much of our life we spend playing such roles, and because it relates to how we think and act at other times. I'd like to explore this issue here, and see where it leads us.*
As I've argued in other posts, we are raised inside structures that foster meritocratic reasoning, and encourage people to accept the idea that someone's moral value depends on whether and how others judge them, with the lives of some being worth more than others, who may count hardly at all (e.g. how we view the other animals). This logic informs our own thinking and behavior at every level from the personal to the institutional, due to how we create or change institutions to match our moral intuitions and vice versa. Marshall Rosenberg, Walter Wink, and Walter Kaufmann have in my opinion made compelling cases that meritocratic reasoning and related domination thinking do not come naturally to us, but have to be actively taught, so as to reinforce that specific human tendency. Besides their intellectual arguments, the archaeological and anthropological records also tell us that domination structures are a fairly recent development, after a long period of humans organizing themselves along egalitarian lines. Nevertheless, the past few thousand years of such oppression of the many by the few makes it abundantly clear that it's very hard to get rid of this world-view once it's taken root.