In The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin convincingly argues that a large part of what drives reactionaries is the desire to silence and repress (or, in academese: deny voice to) others, who they call or consider inferiors. This partly from a strong belief that their putative inferiors have no right to speak (or to be heard), partly from a fear that loss of personal status if the latter are heard or successfully organize themselves; and partly from a conviction that society can only function properly when everyone 'knows their place'. I found Robin's explanation intuitive and thought-provoking, and it led me to wonder what the analogous desire and world-view were of those who the media refer to as 'the (center-)left' (called liberals in the US, liberal or social democrats elsewhere), given that I knew that the overwhelming majority of in no way subscribe to the ("radical") egalitarianism, inclusiveness and solidarity that I take as central to leftism.
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 previously, the society we live in today strongly encourages us to reason meritocratically, and to embrace notions such as that your moral value depends on whether and how highly others value you. In extreme cases, this can include dismissing people and their needs wholesale (such as when we categorize the other as our property, or as a pest or monster). Now as I see it, Marshall Rosenberg, Walter Wink, and Walter Kaufmann have made compelling cases that both this way of thinking, and the accompanying conviction that it's okay to employ violence to "put people in their place," or to realize a desired outcome, have to be actively taught, as they aren't very intuitive; and that even though most people alive today think this way, in our better moments we will still strive to embody egalitarianism and respect for all life -- which also happens to be the only stance that is consistent with the notion that equal needs merit equal consideration (as the alternative will always mean at least some people are being treated as means). And there is quite compelling archaeological and anthropological evidence suggesting that hierarchical organizational forms are a relatively recent development, after a long period in which humans organized themselves along fairly egalitarian (if violent) lines.