This is in part a response to commenters here, though the assumptions informing what I said there are elaborated upon in the following post.

On further reflection, I think the argument in these two posts is flawed, and those flaws come from a reactionary chain of reasoning. They take some not-bad impulses, and instead of analyzing them, use them as the basis for far-reaching generalizations. They’re blog posts, in other words, but it seemed a good idea to make a few points about how they went wrong.

The impulses are these: it is really easy and thus really common for anyone left of Karl Rove to have a knee-jerk loathing of the American populist right, i.e. the Tea Party. It is really easy to feel superior by bashing them in public relying on the same condescending assumptions that have been reserved for any large group of people the speaker doesn’t like since time immemorial: they don’t accept institutionally approved forms of knowledge, they’re the brainwashed tools of elites, they’re full of irrational hatreds and prejudices, they don’t know how good they have it, they’re greedy little vermin who just want more, more, more. It’s really easy to let these insults take the place of analysis, or even of considering them as people  — that’s what they’re there for, after all. So the first impulse is to, at the very least, reach out to the target of all this vitriol, if only to understand exactly why they should be excommunicated. Why is the enemy of my enemy not my friend?

The second impulse has to do with ‘the spectacle.’ The best theories of how whatever this is works are dinosaurs. The most sophisticated are mostly instrumental — how to collect more accurate market data, neurological responses to visual and other stimuli, vaguely Freudian rules of thumb about who likes what, the politics of content regulation, intellectual property, etc. If they tell you anything useful, they don’t tell you how to gain power (‘cultural influence’) without strengthening the institutions and conventions that make the media what it is, i.e. they have no room for serious criticism. The Marxist theories tend to treat the spectacle (aka the media, aka Big Media) as a Borg-like mass, or an inchoate alternate universe full of vague opportunities for ‘revolution.’ Opposition to the great powers tend to concentrate into boycotts (the spectacle can’t help, only hurt, its misinformation should be resisted by facts and community organizing) or appropriation (insert made-up ‘hacking’ jargon here), both usually poorly thought out.

But mostly it is the uncanny effect of being compelled (via social pressures of all kinds) to make one set of arguments in one direction: anti-elitist, pro-populist critiques of dominant institutions against liberals who, it is increasingly obvious, are too invested in them to enact even modest reforms, and a contradictory set of arguments in the opposite direction: basically Enlightenment-type debunking of irrational bad faith skepticism against a right that’s continually rewarded for not thinking.

And the problem with following these impulses is that the ‘objective situation’ of commodity culture is one of universal ignorance — no matter how distorted or superficial media images get, how misleading their implications, or how interested their uses, if they’re useful they can’t help but matter. Racism, for example, has to be denounced in whatever form, no matter how impossible it seems for anyone to accept its legitimacy. If you’re lucky, you might have time to sneak in a comment about how anti-racism of some low-cost kind can be instrumentalized to distract White People from worse racism, but only if you’re lucky. It’s very eaThere is a very real fog of war in play that can only be passed through with intense, disciplined effort. It’s no good to refute a lazy generalization about the Tea Party with another lazy generalization that cheaply points out the hypocrisy of the first. In war, everyone is a hypocrite. And it can be easy, on a minor little blog — that cheapest of soapboxes — to forget the facts of war.


8 Responses to “Self-Criticism”

  1. The Tea Party ‘movement’ strikes me as a faction fight within the Republicans. the TPers I know are CHRISTIANS. I capitalize it, because their faith constitutes their sole interest.
    They feel their power as the plurality of the Republican voting base. They want they agenda enacted.
    The traditional and neoliberal parts of the party, I’m sure dislike being targeted by the anti-elite rhetoric, but they understand that the continued success of their electoral alliance depends on the near complete non-intersection of their interests. The Christians, for all their populist anger, pose no legislative danger to the most concentrated capitals. they will be happy to ban abortion, clean up tv and will dissipate their rage on prro, black women.
    The Tea Party success demonstrates the vlue of electronic communication with paid staff generating propaganda materials for a motivated base. The left lacks the paid staff and the motivated base. We can’t match the resources of the billionaire and millionaire backers or of the higly centralized and concentrated media capitals.

  2. the private media is really the key as you say chuckie. interesting post at LT about the Pope – it’s of course correct but what this shows too is the degree of media/spectacle dominance and that the left really is just bested, just controlled. There is at present no weapon for counterattack. The left is put in a position of fearing to be utilised in a right wing status quo-legitimising imperialist ongoing media function if criticising a crazed islamophobic white supremacist Pope for complicity in child torture. The same left who is afraid to be denounced as negationists for granting the presumption of innocence to Rwandan defendants in bogus pseudo-international courts. The ground has been pulled out from under our feet basically – we are offered a choice of handholds by the enemy. The Straussian noble lie is generalized so that the left applauds its capital-appointed intellectuals for the good intentions behind their revisionism and convenient fables of abstractions. It’s recent- but the new media landscape has really completed this situation where all the territory is controlled by capital and we have to manoeuvre on this ground without ever staking out ground and always subordinate. This current media looks open and democratic in lots of ways but we can’t actually instrumentalize it, the control of the spectacle is finally total and hard to see. Our condition is an imposed cynicism – so we might soften the expression of our fear and loathing of the Tea Party just to manipulate somebody else (a phantom) or to avoid being used by the mainstream liberal capital’s legitimization (for a phantom audience). Same with the Pope. Debord was right about this division in the spectacle of those who can deploy it and those who can’t, and what’s necessary to take up a role in it. And as you say, AmStranger there is no way out of this – boycott seems impossible, “hacking” pointless. But I would suggest this means boycott really is needed.

  3. boycott only as preliminary to seizure

  4. Quantity of Butchness Says:

    Does this have anything to do with what you’re talking about? How much of the spectacle is Facebook? god, this is drear and depressing.

  5. Perhaps I have underestimated the seriousness of the faction fight. In addition to ‘Video Chris’ O’Donnell and her apriation to celebrity running for the U.S. Senate here in the spiritiual center of global capital we also have a serious Tea Partier, a real estate developer, running for our single seat in the House. Yesterday, in a candidates’ forum, he denounced the ‘cap and trade’ approach to control of carbon emissions as ‘redistribution of wealth to large corporations.’ I suppose I should poke around to see exactly what professional machine is preparing their material.

  6. Interesting post and comments. Rare to see such direct confrontation with the difficulty of the Left’s position in contemporary political economy. What to do indeed.

  7. Hi! I’ve been following your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the excellent work!

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