MEMENTO

Synopsis from IMDB:

Leonard Shelby has short term memory loss resulting from an injury he sustained which was associated with the murder of his wife. He remembers his life prior to the incident, such as being an insurance claims investigator. He has learned to cope with his memory loss through dealing with a man named Sammy Jankis, a person he investigated professionally who also had short term memory issues. Some of these coping mechanism are to have a system of where to place things, talk to people face-to-face if possible rather than on the telephone as to be able to gauge their true intention, take Polaroids and write copious notes, the most important of those which he tattoos on his body so that they become permanent. Leonard’s current mission is to find and kill his wife’s murderer, who he believes is a man named John G., a name which is tattooed on his body. Over the course of a day, Leonard is assisted in this mission by a few people seemingly independent of each other, including a man named Teddy and a woman named Natalie. However, each time he meets them, he has no idea who they are, why they are helping him and if indeed they are working toward the same goal as him.

WRITING THE SCRIPT

The medical condition experienced by Leonard in this film is a real condition called Anterograde Amnesia, the inability to form new memories after damage to the hippocampus. When he was an insurance investigator Leonard prided himself on being able to ‘read’ people, that is, to decipher their hidden intentions through body language. With this medical condition he is transformed into the object of his own study. The body tattoos are the foundational text of his identity, consisting of guidelines, warnings, and numbered facts. He is effectively in a state of arrested development, able to remember everything up to the time of the accident but unable to make new memories, and is consequently immersed into the flux of events for which he can find only contingent explanations since any long-term perspective has been annulled.

Memento is sometimes classed as an existentialist film but it is far closer to the depiction of the self in postmodern theory. The prevailing notion within this theory is that history and identity is a narrative we continually revise and invoke like Leonard’s file; a collation of data in which we attempt to read the meaning of our situation, to contextualise and gain perspective on ourselves. The pivotal events are written on our individual and/or collective consciousness but the accretion and erasure of details renders us helpless and involved in a continual reinterpretation and rewriting of a story with no author but ourselves to authorise its narrative.

In this sense the character may be considered a fictional representation of the post-modern anthropology. Within academic discourse the textual metaphor of the palimpsest ( a manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely scraped off or erased and often legible) is often used to describe the unstable and indeterminate status of identity within the radically changing social spheres: an impermanent surface-phenomena prone to decay and open to variant interpretations, far removed from the timeless principles which were the concern of ancient philosophy and medieval theology.

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The police file which Leonard carries with him is his palimpsest of identity. It is filled with redactions and revisions, marginal notes, summary conclusions, and missing pages. Of uncertain provenance and subject to interpretation and reinterpretation it offers nothing but a temporary anchor in the overwhelming tide of events which he cannot predict and to which he can only react. In this condition he becomes instrumental, manipulated as a murderous tool for unscrupulous characters such as Teddy and Natalie. From a postmodern perspective Leonard is creating meaning for his life by invoking the core value of revenge and the search for his wife’s killer as the ground of his being. His acts only have significance because he himself creates the context for their meaning and value but this awareness is necessarily held at bay:

I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions still have meaning, even if I can’t remember them. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, the world’s still there. Do I believe the world’s still there? Is it still out there?… Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I’m no different.

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CLEAR THE STAGE!

The self of existentialist theory is likewise located in a meaningless void, and is thus compelled to create a new self and a new value system as an ‘authentic’ foundation. These ideas were popularised by Camus and Sartre and were reflected in the French genre of the film noir which Memento references. These ideas could also only find purchase in a world of urban anonymity and instrumentality, consequential upon the sundering of any integral order embodied in the traditional communities of the pre-industrial age. The existential stance is dependent upon a ground cleared of all metaphysical reminders by the radical scepticism of modern philosophers such as Hume and Kant and culminating in Nietzsche and Heidegger. From this ground zero of  the Western philosophical tradition emerged the doctrines of revolutionary ideologies, intent upon remaking the world in their own image, initiating with a messianic fervour the advent of a nihilistic epoch:

Generally speaking, this advent is reflected in the above mentioned ideologies of progress and evolution, which have distorted with a scientific irresponsibility any superior vision of history, promoted the definitive abandonment of traditional truths, and created the most specious alibis for the justification and glorification of modern man. The myth of evolutionism is nothing else but the profession of faith of the upstart. If in recent times the West no longer believes in a transcendent origin but rather in an origin from below – in the notion that civilisation arises out of barbarism, religion from superstition, man from animal, thought from matter, and every spiritual form from the sublimation or transposition of the stuff that originates in the instinct, libido, and complexes of the collective unconscious and so on – we can see in all this not so much the result of a deviated quest, but rather, and above all, an alibi, or something that a civilisation created by both lower and higher beings and the revolution of the serfs and pariahs against the aristocratic society necessarily had to believe in and wish to be true. There is not a dimension in which, in one form or another, the evolutionary myth has not succeeded in infiltrating with destructive consequences; the results have been the overthrow of every value, the suppression of all sense of truth, the elaboration and connecting together (as in an unbreakable magic circle) of the world inhabited by a deconsecrated and deluded mankind. In agreement with historicism, so-called post-Hegelian Idealism came to identify the essence of the Absolute Spirit with its becoming and self-creation. This spirit was no longer conceived as a Being that is, that dominates, and that possesses itself; the self-made man has almost become the new metaphysical model (Julius Evola: Revolt From the Modern World)

Evola’s statement above would be dismissed by postmodernists as a ‘grand narrative’ inhabited by the ghost of metaphysical delusions. The curious aspect of the postmodern anthropology is that it is underpinned by an insistence on freedom, freedom from all overarching narratives, all authoritarian and hierarchical structures which marginalise the complex and indeterminate elements which evade its conceptual grasp. At the same time it is involved in a displacement and interrogation of the philosophical concept of a sovereign subject. The question arises: who or what is there then to be freed, from what and for what?

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

This is an example of the current postmodern consensus about identity:

In the everyday world, the modern idea of individuality was replaced long ago. People have more than one way of being, and they have relationships and connections with one another. They are also made up of many, often conflicting, parts. As they move in and out of different contexts, cultures, and sets of ideas (and/or between the different parts of themselves), they think differently, and behave differently in relation to others. They know that there are different rules of conduct in different contexts, that they are constructed—and can construct themselves—differently in these different contexts, and that they perform better in some contexts than in others. The postmodern person is thus a hybrid. They have, not one core, permanent self, but many selves. Their self—and their identity—are not fixed, but continually in process, as the boundaries between themselves and others, and between the different parts of themselves are negotiated.(shiftingthinking.org)

This anthropology is perhaps merely a reflection of the global, industrialised, urban environment of modernity which has, to a considerable degree, refashioned the citizen into an alienated and instrumental fragment subsumed within a mechanistic, utilitarian system. If the theorists delineate the human identity from within such a realm it should not surprise us that it recalls the symptoms of a patient diagnosed with a form of identity disorder. But should we not also inquire into the identity of the doctors who deliver such a drastic diagnosis?

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BEHIND THE SCENES

Since much of postmodern theory developed as a response to the failed student revolution of May 1968 in Paris, it is possible (in some degree) to situate  the pessimism and hostility which pervades it in the thwarted desires of the Marxist revolutionaries turning from the overthrow of the real world and unleashing their destructive intellectual energy on the very concept of a real world through a type of cultural warfare within the education system. It might even be considered as an act of vandalism by the intellectual vanguard against their own philosophical heritage. This revenge motive is echoed in the story of Memento, as is the displacement of identity. The arrested development of an embittered mind unable to move on from a traumatic event and obsessively dwelling on it could so disconnect a person from life that the reality outside of their thoughts diminishes to an almost spectral quality. On a more basic level the cloistered academic mentality having little contact with the vicissitudes of life may come to believe that reality is a mental and social construct.

Marxists now became culture and literary critics. These theorists invested their energy in multiculturalism, with branches such as feminist studies, queer studies, and African-American studies. The inclusion of voices often left out of the traditional academic canon certainly enriched the university. But multiculturalism, rather than leading to a critique of structures and systems that consciously excluded and impoverished the poor and the marginal, became an end in itself. Stripped of a radical idiom, robbed of a utopian hope, liberals and leftists retreat in the name of progress to celebrate diversity. With few ideas on how a future should be shaped, they embrace all ideas. Pluralism becomes a catch-all, the alpha and omega of political thinking. Dressed up as multiculturalism, it has become the opium of disillusioned intellectuals, the ideology of an era without an ideology. (Chris Hedges: Death of the Liberal Class)

WHOSE IDENTITY POLITICS?

Leonard is involved in an endless reconfiguration and revising of his identity based on dubious facts and set adrift in a continuously shifting and unpredictable environment. This is a recurrent motif in postmodern theory: a human subject with an uncertain historical ‘narrative’ and an indeterminate identity cast adrift amid contested social contexts and impelled to create their own reality since the notion of a transcendent reality is redundant. Postmodern thought influenced and continues to articulate the flourishing field of identity politics, whose fragmentations and divisions preclude any possibility of a unified consensus and will result in smaller and smaller subdivisions clamouring for recognition and priority. Nevertheless the fluid postmodern self,  hybrid or not, is still the very real object of political will and the vicious and cynical manipulation of Leonard by Natalie is an example of the type of political will potentially empowered by the postmodern conception of the self.

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You know what? I think I’m gonna use you. I’m telling you now because I’ll enjoy it so much more if I know that you could stop me if you weren’t such a fucking freak! You sad, sad freak. I can say whatever the fuck I want, and you won’t remember. We’ll still be best friends. Or maybe even lovers. You know what one of the reasons for short term memory loss is? Venereal disease. Maybe your cunt of a fucking wife sucked one too many diseased cocks and turned you into a fucking retard.

MEMORY TRICKS

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The construction of the movie is itself enmeshed within the philosophical and political context of postmodernity. It merges an objective linear narrative (black and white flashbacks and exposition) with the disjointed and subjective immersion within Leonard’s perspective (colour film and a reverse episodic structure). The black and white sequences reference the film noir genre while the colour sequences present the unreliable and disorientating nature of subjectivity. The black and white thread is largely of Leonard explaining the strategy of his coping mechanisms:

I’m disciplined and organised. I use habit and routine to make my life possible.

The scenes in colour represent the action as it occurs where the context is as absent for the viewer (at first) as it is for Leonard. The potential for disorientation is suggested within part of the linear black and white exposition:

with my condition you don’t know anything… you feel angry, guilty, you don’t know why. You could do something terrible and not have the faintest idea ten minutes later.

In the final sequences of the movie there is a confusion of this distinction to emphasise the chaos encroaching on Leonard’s constructed reality. The notion that we project meaning onto an essential chaos and that a cross-contamination of reality and fantasy is an ever-present threat are some of the issues being explored in this movie. It is somewhat as if the existential hero of the past, the film noir detective who stoically and in full consciousness creates a world of values to inhabit within the void (represented by a corrupt environment), finds even that construction dissolving under his feet and his heroic resolve undermined by a radical scepticism turned on itself.

SNAPSHOTS

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The polaroid snapshots which develop before our eyes are symbols of this projection of the will onto the flux of reality. Just as the memory freezes the fluctuations of time and transforms it into distinct segments, re-presents it to the mind, re-plays it and constructs a cohesive narrative from the pieces, so too Leonard re-members his wife from fragments, moments, which cohere and re-create her existence in a diminished form. Leonard’s own provisional identity is drastically undermined when Teddy informs him that the story of Sammy Jankis (who suffered from the same medical condition) is in fact Leonard’s own story, distorted and rewritten to project his own screenplay onto events.  Teddy also suggests that Leonard removed pages from his own police file:

…to create a puzzle you can never solve… I’m the one that has to live with what you’ve done. I’m the one who has to put it all together. You just wander around playing detective. You’re living a dream, kid. A dead wife to pine for and a sense of purpose to your life. A romantic quest which you wouldn’t end even if I wasn’t in the picture.

 FORGETTING TO REMEMBER

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In a moment of lucidity and reflection on his condition Leonard asks the question:

I lie here not knowing how long I’ve been alone. So how can I heal? How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?

This is a moment when the film becomes a cinematic memento-mori. In antiquity the practise of remembering that one will die was considered a salutary activity. The ability to focus on what matters and disregard what is trivial was crucial to building character and perspective through detachment and self-control. Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, advised his students

Keep death and exile before your eyes each day, along with everything that seems terrible. By doing so, you will never have a base thought nor will you have excessive desire.

There are traditions across many other cultures from the Samurai to the Sufi which prescribe such practise and reflection. The modern, or postmodern, West has largely disengaged itself from the roots of such traditions in the intoxicating pursuit of progress. Global connectedness is shrinking our consciousness of time and space; instantaneous communications and international travel networks create the illusion of unity and development. Unless we make a conscious effort to detach ourselves we are easily caught up in the information overload which promotes a short attention span and a consequent superficiality of understanding. The disorientation of modern life can cause us to lose our footing on reality and, like Leonard Shelby, lose our grasp on the important matters and forget the reason for our being here. The rare moments of stillness and solitude are regarded as mere dead zones, blank spaces where morbid introspection threatens to dismantle the counterfeit identity built on a culture of self-interest and hedonism.

The industrial and technological juggernaut of the last two centuries has also refashioned our awareness of time and space into quantifiable sections, regardless of the qualitative nature of the human relation to these factors. The anonymous motel rooms and the urban landscapes that Leonard finds himself in and the disorientating feeling that he has just woken up can be seen as an analogy to the new citizen fabricated by ideological forces to inhabit the new monoculture of the global marketplace. Yet for all the postmodern insistence on its malleability, and all the distortions induced upon it by modernity, human nature still corresponds remarkably well to the models set forth in antiquity. Even Leonard is still aware of his moral freedom to choose truth or lies:

I’m not a killer. I’m just someone who wanted to make things right. Can’t I just let myself forget what you’ve told me? Can’t I just let myself forget what you’ve made me do. You think I just want another puzzle to solve? Another John G. to look for? You’re John G. So you can be my John G… Will I lie to myself to be happy? In your case Teddy… yes I will.

ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE 

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The texts of postmodern theorists are often replete with astonishingly complex and playful linguistic performances (e.g. Luce Irigaray: Speculum of the Other Woman and Jacques Derrida: Plato’s Pharmacy) and it might be wiser to regard their philosophical writings as unintentional artistic self-portraits rather than serious advances in understanding. These texts can cast a seductive spell on the reader through the ingenuity of their word play and the intellectual challenge to grasp the threads of meaning woven into its structure to be introduced to philosophy through the texts of postmodern theory. Is analogous to experiencing the bewilderment of leornard shelbys daily existence. It seems to be an impasse in the tradition of philosophy a kind of labyrinth filled with distorted echoes of earlier philosophical terminologies but incoherently applied and without a discernable objective. It seems to be a mentality stubbornly insisting on the horizontal plane of socio political and historical analysis within a tradition of thought which was always, it seems to me, primarily concerned with the vertical plane. Despite this the texts are suffused with an atmosphere. Redolent of millenarian sects deploying opaque neologisms like incantations prophecies of revolutionary transformations through conceptual dismantling exegesis and linguistic mystique the etymological excavations of the textual field to unearth a buried wisdom the advent of a new epistemology and a new humanity etc. Yet in the sphere of reality they have only enabled the more bizarre distortions of identity politics and the repressive effects of political correctness. In Memento there is a fundamental dishonesty at work in Leonards mind. He knows he is lying to himself and his condition makes it easier to forget this. This applies to the impression one takes away from postmodern theory and their conception of human identity…….edit

 

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MEMENTO

THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY

Synopsis from IMDB:

In a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for a past rebellion, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors while the citizens of Panem are required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives.

‘REAL OR NOT REAL?’

Suzanne Collins has described the origin of The Hunger Games trilogy as a result of the immersion of consciousness in the simulated reality of television:

I was channel surfing between reality TV programming and actual war coverage when Katniss’s story came to me….I’m sitting there flipping around and on one channel there’s a group of young people competing for, I don’t know, money maybe? And on the next, there’s a group of young people fighting an actual war. And I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way, and I thought of this story.

The persistent struggle to distinguish between the real and the fake is a constant theme in the trilogy: the simulated flames of her costume; the play-acting of the romantic relationship between her and Peeta; the maintenance of a celebrity image under constant scrutiny; the manipulated environment of the arena; the propaganda shoots for the rebellion. Part of the appeal of Katniss is her ability to convey the authenticity of real passion within a world of jaded sensation and cynical hypocrisy (the Greek word hypokrites designated an actor). Her revolt against the injustice and the pretence of the social structure draws its resonance from a moral dimension atrophied in the decadence of the Capitol and the grinding poverty of the districts.

The hunger for justice and the thirst for freedom are the metaphors of revolutionary rhetoric. The ‘bread and circuses’ (panem et circenses) was a metonymy used by Juvenal (circa 100 A.D) to satirise the abdication of political involvement and the indulgence in entertainment and spectacle by the Roman citizens. There are obvious parallels within the movie to this period and our own present day situation. The Games and the contestants are embedded within a corporate sponsorship network akin to the Hollywood movie industry. The Capitol is a place of excess and indulgence which legislates mandatory viewing of the Games by all of Panem since they embody its value-system much like the contemporary elevation of celebrity :

The status of celebrity offers the promise of being showered with ‘all good things’ that capitalism has to offer. The grotesque display of celebrity lives (and deaths) is the contemporary form of the cult of personality; those ‘famous for being famous’ hold out the spectacular promise of the complete erosion of an autonomously lived life in return for an apotheosis as an image. The ideological function of celebrity (and lottery systems) is clear – like a modern ‘wheel of fortune’ the message is ‘all is luck; some are rich, some are poor, that is the way the world is…it could be you! (Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle)

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‘The Reaping’ is the yearly selection of contestants by a lottery and the justification of the system is broadcast to the citizens through images of warfare and a voice-over by President Snow:

War, terrible war. Widows, orphans, a motherless child. This was the uprising that rocked our land. Thirteen districts rebelled against the country that fed them, loved them, protected them. Brother turned on brother until nothing remained. And then came the peace, hard fought, sorely won. A people rose up from the ashes and a new era was born. But freedom has a cost. When the traitors were defeated, we swore as a nation we would never know this treason again. And so it was decreed that, each year, the various districts of Panem would offer up, in tribute, one young man and woman to fight to the death in a pageant of honour, courage and sacrifice. The lone victor, bathed in riches, would serve as a reminder of our generosity and our forgiveness. This is how we remember our past. This is how we safeguard our future.

 

THE GAMES OF THE RULERS

In The German Ideology Marx wrote:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.

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Within the world of the movie there is a ruling technocratic class of image manipulators and Gamemakers who produce the circus spectacle and the surveillance technology which holds the masses in thrall to the regime. The strategy of divide and conquer is employed in the strict separation of each district to prevent the unity required to challenge the hegemony of the Capitol.

The ruling intellectual force of Panem would seem to be a determination not to repeat the carnage of the past civil war and to maintain the status quo through technological power. The materialistic determinism of Marxist intellectuals brought into being a similar totalitarian system premised on the overthrow of the Tsarist system and the institution of a classless society. As Mikhail Bakunin prophesied in 1873:

The leaders of the Communist party, namely Mr Marx and his followers, will proceed to liberate humanity in their own way. They will concentrate the reins of government in a strong hand. They will establish a single state bank, concentrating in its hands all commercial, industrial, agricultural, and even scientific production, and then divide the masses into two armies – industrial and agricultural – under the direct command of state engineers, who will constitute a new privileged scientific and political class

Within the closed system of Panem Katniss comes to embody a dissident undercurrent of revolt. Within the media system the movie represents an incorporation and neutralisation of dissent by the prevailing orthodoxy of liberal democratic values. The cinema audience is given the usual signposts of authoritarian rule with the iconography of fascist stadiums and banners, a militarised police force and autocratic tyranny. The rebels are depicted as advocating an open democratic system in opposition to the authoritarian dictatorship of President Snow. The irony is that the technology employed by the regime is reflective of the current media system within North America, the region within which the story is set.

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The self-awareness of the movie as ideological weaponry is reflected in the ‘propos’ which Katniss and the rebels shoot to unite the districts in the struggle against the Capitol. The use of the mockingjay symbol in the ‘propos’ within the movie was mirrored by the use of the same symbol and four note musical signature as a marketing tool for the movie. This sophisticated blurring of fiction and reality of which Suzanne Collins spoke is part of the incorporation of dissent performed by the liberal democratic political system. When Katniss begins to defy the Panem system by her actions within the Games the following dialogue occurs between President Snow and the Head Gamemaker:

President Snow: Seneca…. why do you think we have a winner?

Seneca Crane: [frowns] What do you mean?

President Snow: I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up twenty-four of them at random and execute them all at once? Be a lot faster.

[Seneca just stares, confused]

President Snow: Hope.

Seneca Crane: Hope?

President Snow: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as its contained.

Seneca Crane: So…?

President Snow: So, contain it.

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FREEDOM FIGHTERS

The movie, like the Games, is a container of dissent, since it posits the regime of Panem as essentially suffering from an absence of democracy and freedom. The rebels are fighting for the universal values which North America has taken possession of through its monopolisation of the concept of freedom within the political system of liberalism. Any alternative system can be depicted as against freedom and therefore a legitimate enemy of all freedom-loving peoples. The concept of freedom has a profound resonance but its meaning remains intentionally vague and ill-defined since it serves only as an expedient, useful in mobilising passions for ideological purposes. Liberalism is a political system that sanctions its activity by invoking the numen of freedom, i.e. a secular interpretation of the traditionally spiritual concept of Enlightenment:

Originally the term referred to a suprarational, spiritual illumination; slowly but inexorably it became synonymous with rationalism, with the theory of ‘natural light’ and with anti-tradition… The light of mere human reason replaces the illumination, giving rise to the havoc brought about by ‘free enquiry’ and secular criticism. The supernatural is banned and confused with nature. Freedom and equality are illegitimately claimed by the individual who is ‘conscious of his dignity’ (though he is not conscious of being enslaved to his empirical self) and who now arises against any form of authority, vainly setting himself up as his own ultimate reason for being. I say ‘vainly’ because in the inexorable unfolding of the various phases of modernity, individualism has been only a short-lived mirage and a misleading intoxication; the collective and irrational element in the age of the masses and of technology has rapidly overcome the emancipated ‘individual’ who is without roots and without tradition. (Julius Evola: The Mystery of the Grail)

Given the debased nature of the concept it functions largely as a means to an end for material and political power which consciously manipulates the remnants of its original meaning still present in the hearts and minds of the collective. There are intimations of this toward the end of the trilogy when Gale and Coin decide that the means (killing civilians) justify the ends (overthrowing President Snow).

Katniss becomes an icon of the revolution within the story and in the marketing strategy for the movie she is presented as an embodiment of progressive feminist and egalitarian tendencies (girl-power) incorporated into the liberal aesthetic of the mainstream movie industry.

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The glossy imagery and the stylised representation of advertising is employed here along with the talents of real-world fashion designers. The financing budget and merchandising spin-offs of a spectacular blockbuster movie such as The Hunger Games is the mirror of Panem’s attempt to employ Katniss and Peeta as a symbol of their goodwill during the Victory tour. Exploiting the current fascination with ‘reality television’ and the shallow narcissism of a media-saturated consciousness, the spark of revolution is transformed into a revolving and reconfiguration of the kaleidoscope, startling and seductive but without consequence.

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THE COLISEUM OF FANTASY

There is a striking absence of religion in this fictional world. There is no sign of any form of prayer or worship either in the Capitol or the Districts. Despite this the dramatic moments in the narrative are invested with religious iconography and choral music. Katniss at the end of Catching Fire is lifted out of the arena in a scene evoking the iconography of a Pietà.  A moral universe is also implicit in the outrage against the injustice and enslavement Katniss observes around her and the notions of sacrifice and honour invoked by the Capitol.

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Western movies draw heavily on the reservoir of the Christian heritage even as they function in alliance with the liberal system intent upon dismantling traditional structures and values in favour of a system conducive to materialistic and humanist ends. Religious archetypes and iconography are employed to evoke and displace emotions onto secular values since these values in themselves are counterfeit replacements.

This counterfeit quality pervades our own culture due to its increasing immersion within artificial, technological domains and a disconnection from the reality around us. A closed system of mechanical influences which inevitably shape our perception as well as numbing the awareness of its effects. The technocratic ideology emerging insists that the domain reflects our own creative ingenuity and any objection raised is merely the reactionary Luddite mentality of those unable to adapt. The movie imagines the possible abuses of such advanced technology in the hands of a totalitarian regime. If we approach the issue from a philosophical angle there is a contemporary resonance to the movie far beyond a rather clichéd democratic/fascist schematic.

Technology, allied with a human-centred ideology, has the potential to become a solipsistic hall of mirrors within which all connection with anything other than the ideological is lost. Reflections, doubles, shadows, echoes, holograms and ‘propos’ would constitute the virtual ground of being and identity. The ‘real’ is placed in quotes, becomes a trope, a figure of speech, part of the imaginary theatre. The eclectic post-modern storehouse of historical images and sounds, symbols and iconography is recycled as spectacle to elicit a thrill or create a mood or drive a narrative as in a movie. We already see intimations of this in the pantomime of political campaigns, the theatre of televised debates and parliaments, and the rhetorical platitudes of our establishment representatives impotently rebounding within the disconnected echo-chamber they inhabit. The sophistry of the political class is matched by the esoterica of the financial systems and the blind dogma of exponential growth and social progress.

One of the major pillars of liberalism is the credo of individual liberty which finds its political reflection in the economic credo of self-interest and free trade. The libertarian supporter of individual freedom will find that he has no grounds upon which to oppose the social injustice of an economic system since the ruling class are simply following the same principle of liberty he demands for himself, albeit on a larger scale. In a materialistic epoch, such as our own is, the result will be a society composed of ‘free’ individuals who, more or less successfully, sell their skills in the marketplace, exploit other individuals in their selfish pursuits and form alliances only as temporary expedients to be annulled when no longer useful. Just as in the Arena where the Tributes enact the evolutionary and economic paradigm of the survival of the fittest.

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We learn from Finnick that the sponsors of the victorious Tributes are essentially purchasing sexual slaves and it is made clear that the bait of sexual freedom, or license, functions as another form of political control. The echo chamber of the Panem establishment is replicated in the smaller, disconnected and atomised citizens of the Capitol: individuals absorbed within their own personal bubble of self-fulfilment and consumption. The sentimental and vacuous nature of these citizens is an example of the human consciousness rebooted and reconfigured in accord with the dictates of a technocratic ideology not too far removed from the enshrinement of desire and individuality through which liberalism maintains its rule. A darker version of this transformation exists in the ‘mutts’ of the Capitol.

MUTTS

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Katniss describes the ‘Muttations’ deployed as biological weapons against the contestants. These are genetically-engineered creatures which appear toward the end when only three contestants remain:

Muttations.No question about it. I’ve never seen these mutts, but they’re no natural-born animals. They resemble huge wolves, but what wolf lands and then balances easily on its hind legs? What wolf waves the rest of the pack forward with its front paw as though it had a wrist?… The green eyes glowering at me are unlike any dog or wolf, any canine  I’ve ever seen. They are unmistakably human. And that revelation has barely registered when I notice the collar with the number 1 inlaid with jewels and the whole horrible thing hits me. The blond hair, the green eyes, the number… it’s Glimmer. My head snaps from side to side as I examine the pack, taking in the various sizes and colors. The small one with the red coat and amber eyes . . . Foxface! And there, the ashen hair and hazel eyes of the boy from District 9 who died as we struggled for the backpack! And worst of all, the smallest mutt, with dark glossy fur, huge brown eyes and a collar that reads 11 in woven straw. Teeth bared in hatred. Rue . .

The terrifying aspect of this genetic reconstruction of the dead contestants (omitted from the movie version) is an extreme form of the social engineering which modernity engages in. The creation of technological prosthetics and sadistic monstrosities is the result of a profound disconnection from the traditional understanding of existence as embodied in the institutions of the past. The loss of a living connection with a metaphysical realm imprisons the culture solely within the material and temporal realms. The totalitarian system of Panem is the logical outcome of a mentality wedded to empirical reality and its own scientific will-to-power; a system within which the totality of all aspects of existence, even the rebellious aspect, are to be eventually incorporated into the state ideology. The masses are, in the final analysis, material to be ordered and employed in the most efficacious manner by a technocratic elite. Without the concept of transcendence in some form the culture becomes a closed circle, with the individual ego and its transient desires at the centre. The questions of truth, law, and freedom have no meaning if they are merely instrumental to the will and desire of a more powerful individual or group. Even the descent toward the sub-human may appear as an ascent toward a trans-human utopia to a mentality detached from and dismissive of its traditional framework.

A useful symbol of this struggle between modernity and tradition is the mockingjay bird which the rebellion appropriates. Within the film it is a symbol of the rebellion but within the book (Catching Fire) it can be understood to have an additional dimension involving the survival of traditional ideas even within the technocratic framework of modernity:

The jabberjays were muttations, genetically enhanced male birds created by the Capitol as weapons to spy on rebels in the districts. They could remember and repeat long passages of human speech, so they were sent into rebel areas to capture our words and return them to the Capitol. The rebels caught on and turned them against the Capitol by sending them home loaded with lies. When this was discovered the jabberjays were left to die. In a few years, they became extinct in the wild, but not before they had mated with female mockingbirds, creating an entirely new species…A mockingbird is just a songbird. A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist. They hadn’t counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adapt to the wild, to pass on its genetic code, to thrive in a new form. They hadn’t anticipated its will to live.

The jabberjays are a mutated form of life which nevertheless retains its instinctual imperative which is then transmitted into a new form. Likewise the counterfeit aspect of modernity, which appears so often to be a mocking parody and a mutation of the traditional understandings and valuations of existence, retains the imprint of the originals. The instinct for discerning between the fake and the authentic is a recurring theme in the trilogy and is reflected in the contemporary fascination with dystopias. That fascination is a reaction to the failed utopian promises of the various modern ideologies and the continuing search for authentic existence. Modernity is haunted by the spectre of the real, as the phantom limb haunts the amputee. In the same year that Bakunin was predicting the totalitarian state of the communist revolutionaries, Friedrich Nietzsche was describing the epistemological impasse of the period which will dethrone truth to the status of a debased currency :

A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphism – in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. (On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense 1873)

 

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DOGVILLE

 Synopsis from IMDB:

Late one night, a beautiful and well-dressed young woman, Grace, arrives in the mountainous old mining town of Dogville as a fugitive; following the sound of gunshots in the distance which have been heard by Tom, the self-appointed moral spokesman for the town, the town agree to hide Grace, and in return she freely helps the locals. However, when the Sheriff from a neighbouring town posts a Missing notice, advertising a reward for revealing her whereabouts, the townsfolk require a better deal from Grace, in return for their silence; and when the Sheriff returns some weeks later with a Wanted poster, even though the citizens know her to be innocent of the false charges against her, the town’s sense of goodness takes a sinister turn and the price of Grace’s freedom becomes a workload and treatment akin to that of a slave. But Grace has a deadly secret that the townsfolk will eventually encounter.

 

 

AMERICA: A RUNAWAY PROPOSITION

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Lars Von Trier’s Dogville is considered to be a polemical anti-American movie. The montage of images of the dispossessed underclass appended to the closing credits is seen as unequivocally positioning the movie as a critique of America, but since America dominates the cultural and political sphere of the West an anti-American stance inevitably involves a larger critique of modernity. While the movie draws upon the European stage tradition of Brecht and Shaw the characters are not mere ciphers in a didactic exposition because there is no alternative ideology being expounded beyond an unflinching examination of secular liberal concepts. The schematic chalked out arena where the action is staged dispenses with the naturalistic context available to film but retains the use of camera close-ups to place the focus on the personal interactions. The minimal references to the historical context of the era and the town’s isolation from the city render it much more a character study than a social critique. The characters are nevertheless imbued with an ideology that, like Grace herself, is a fugitive from its origin. America is a colony of Europe and founded itself upon the Puritan and the Enlightenment inheritance, both of which originated within European culture. Having no heritage beyond this to draw upon it became the social experiment that Lincoln described in the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Any critique of this abstract proposition can only take its stance in the older tradition of Europe, the heritage of Church and Monarchy from which the colony sought independence. The movie progressively strips away the propositions of this ideology through the treatment of Grace and the final destructive consequences of the attempt to escape our bonds to the past.

The narration by the English actor John Hurt has a laconic detached tone of irony and cynicism as well as a certain condescension, if not outright mockery, from the perspective of European tradition toward an ideology as insubstantial as the chalk outlines of the stage. The movie takes place in the period just before America’s ongoing ‘Crusade for Democracy’ as described by Yockey:

In the 20th century, when the Rationalist type of ideology had been discarded by the advancing Western Civilization, the American universalizing of ideology turned into a messianic mission: the idea that America must save the world. The vehicle of the salvation is to be a materialistic religion with “democracy” taking the place of God, “Constitution” the place of the Church, “principles of government” the place of dogmas, and the idea of economic freedom the place of God’s Grace. The technique of salvation is to embrace the dollar, or failing that, to submit to American high-explosives and bayonets.( Francis Parker Yockey: Imperium)

The written Constitution of America was a legal document intending to preserve individual liberty and prevent the abuse of power by instituting a series of checks and balances and a separation of powers. As such it was a symbol of the rational and materialistic conception of life attempting a reconfiguration of the traditional European form of power relations. Yet it was ultimately unable to prevent the rise of corporate power which operates under the unassailable rights of ‘free trade’ and far exceeds the tyranny of any monarchical power.

Anti-Americanism in Europe is a rejection of that messianic project, especially the moral posturing which sanctions its economic imperialism. In a twist of fate the colony of America has become a colonising power over the cultural discourse of Europe through the predominance of its entertainment industry which propagates the ideology of liberal democracy. Dogville and its violent finale raises the question of whether such a situation ‘can long endure.’

TOM: PIMP FOR THE PLUTOCRACY

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Tom has positioned himself as the moral conscience of the town in the absence of a Church Minister and regularly uses the empty church to preach his secular gospel of humanism. He dreams of ‘articles and novels and great gatherings that would listen in silence to Tom after the publication of yet another volume that scourged and purged the human soul‘. He attempts to use Grace as an ‘edifying illustration’ of his claim that the townsfolk ‘have a problem with acceptance.’ As a humanist he lives in the world of abstractions and ideals, an alienated rationalism which is unable to engage with reality  without first filtering it through a prism of ideology. Grace is necessarily reduced to a cipher to be manipulated within his social experiment, his own miniature ‘proposition nation.’

She functions as a proxy for Tom’s ideals in the same way that ethnic and sexual minorities are exploited as political capital under the cloak of human rights and equality. The secular ecumenicism of liberalism wilfully ignores the disruptive real-world effects of its policies and prefers to engage in moral preening and rhetorical evasion. The ‘problem with acceptance’ of which Tom accuses the town is the excuse for his attempt at social engineering which ultimately leads to their complete destruction. The covert motives of self-aggrandisement and manipulation are dissimulated in the cliches and platitudes of humanitarian rhetoric. When he approaches a revelation about his own desire to use Grace physically, like the other menfolk, and doubts begin to emerge about the integrity of his idealistic pose, it proves unbearable and he advocates her expulsion and return rather than his own exposure. So invested is he in his self-image that the expulsion is rationalised as being ‘for the good of the community,’ the same community which he denounced as illiberal.

The liberal rationalists of the American colony attempted to shape society according to an ideal image derived from an ethics and an aesthetic of the Greco-Roman heritage which could replace the Church and Monarchy of Europe. The Puritan heritage of the colony is more firmly grounded in an awareness of the negative pole of human nature which the rationalists cannot incorporate:

The type of mind which believes in the essential “goodness” of human nature attained to Liberalism. But there is another political anthropology, one which recognizes that man is disharmonious, problematical, dual, dangerous. This is the general wisdom of mankind, and is reflected by the number of guards, fences, safes, locks, jails and policemen. (Ibid.)

Between these two anthropologies a paradoxical hybrid is emerging of the puritanical liberal. The refusal to confront the baseness of human nature leads to the irony of liberal governments instituting hate-speech laws and state surveillance in order to prop up a failing ideology. The unshakeable faith in human nature is demonstrated by the fervent persecution of the secular sins of racism and sexism and intolerance. The impotence of the liberal class before the exertion of actual power is symbolised by the initial refusal of Tom to acknowledge the rape of Grace by Chuck. This weakness is connected to his devotion to the idealised over the real. In much the same way corporate power in America has being allowed to pursue its own self-interest as long as it gives lip-service to the feel-good rhetoric of liberalism:

The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance. It was a skilful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by Calvin Klein and Benetton – for progressive politics and genuine change. The goal of a branded Obama, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. This is why Obama was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008, beating Apple and Zappos. ( Chris Hedges: Death of the Liberal Class )

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GRACE: THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

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If Tom lives in an unreal idealised future then Grace lives in an all too real past from which she seeks to escape. She is in thrall to an idealised ‘storyville’ America from the pages of Tom Sawyer; a place far removed from her life among the criminal underworld. She shares with Tom the ability to subsume the real complexity of human nature under the political mythology of the ‘good simple folk’ as employed by President Roosevelt in his fireside chats on public radio of which we hear a brief clip. The alliance of these two idealists is a project which aims at manifesting an alternative dynamic in human relations, an open and accepting embrace of the ‘stranger.’

Grace, with Tom’s help, is positioning herself as the archetypal refugee, the immigrant, the vulnerable outsider seeking shelter. As such she becomes a pawn in Tom’s ideological project of liberalism but Grace herself is far from innocent and her game is infinitely more subtle. Her own motives are rooted in a quasi-ascetic renunciation of her power, an attempt to find a path in humility to counter the ‘arrogance’ of her birthright. She refuses Tom’s offer of food because, as she explains, she stole the dog’s bone and ‘Now I have to punish myself. I was raised to be arrogant, so I had to teach myself these things.’

There is a brief honeymoon period in Dogville where Grace is accepted and begins to feel part of the community but the intrusion of an outside authority in the form of a Marshall is the encroaching reality which their project has to negotiate with. She is made to work harder to retain her protected status, her increased vulnerability as an outlaw whom the town is harbouring distorts the dynamic and we come eventually to the sixth chapter: ‘In which Dogville bares its teeth.’

In an ironic echo of her own self-abnegation the first exploitation of her vulnerable status is by the schoolboy who demands to be spanked or he will tell his mother, who doesn’t believe in physical punishment, that Grace hit him. The psychological and emotional manipulation of an adult by a child shatters the sentimental image of childhood innocence so pervasive in the liberal mythology and projected onto the infantilised recipients of their humanitarian concern. The negative qualities of the human which the liberal mentality has spurned internally, just as Grace attempts to spurn her former life, return externally in the form of a provocation. The threat of exposure renders her vulnerable to blackmail and abuse in the movie but her ongoing submission is impelled by her own refusal to face facts, to see the ‘dog’ in Dogville, so to speak. There is likewise a fundamental dishonesty operating within the liberal ideology where the disturbing reality of human nature is held at bay by a false anthropology propagated ceaselessly through all the channels of communication. As her father expresses it :

A deprived childhood and a homicide really isn’t necessarily a homicide, right? The only thing you can blame is circumstances. Rapists and murderers may be the victims according to you, but I, I call them dogs. And if they’re lapping up their own vomit, the only way to stop them is with a lashDoes every human being need to be accountable for their action? Of course they do. But you don’t even give them that chance. And that is extremely arrogant.

Grace becomes an economic slave, the property of the town which has democratically voted to double her workload and tacitly agreed to her gradual degradation. The implication that she is enduring the lesser evil of the towns punishment rather than the full force of the law results in the rationalisation that she should be grateful to them. Grace capitulates because she wants to believe in the liberal anthropology which depicts a world other than her father’s brutal and stark realism. Her forgiveness of her abusers is a self-serving manoeuvre as it holds at bay the realisation that she is guilty of hiding from her true nature and projecting onto the townsfolk a liberal mythology. She is a fugitive from the truth and a criminal in hiding from herself, in denial of her place in the gangster world. The vision of humanity which Chuck discloses to her is the reality she knows but refuses to accept:

This town is rotten from the inside out……people are the same all over, greedy as animals. A small town is just a bit less successful; feed them enough and they’ll eat till their bellies burst.

The ‘fooling act’, as Chuck calls it, is the idealistic mirage of progressive liberalism which renders the subject impervious to the obvious and susceptible to the malevolent.

THE SHACKLES OF LIBERALISM

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It was not Grace’s pride that kept her going during the days when fall came and the trees were losing their leaves, but more of a trance-like state that descends on animals whose lives are threatened – a state in which the body reacts mechanically in a low tough gear, without too much painful reflection. Like a patient passively letting his disease hold sway.

The level to which she is reduced is an indictment of the liberal project of Tom who has proven impotent to resist the encroachment of the baser aspects of human nature because he cannot incorporate those aspects within his anthropology. The shackles of liberalism are forged from the desire to evade reality:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute newgovernment, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness

The ideal of America is founded on this legal rhetoric which sprang from the salons of the Enlightenment and contains the wishful-thinking of eighteenth century rationalists. The reality of America is the rapid submergence of this ’emancipated’ people within the technology of mass media and industrial development, severed from the roots and traditions of Europe and defenceless against the emergence of a corporate plutocracy and a militarised ideology. The Declaration of Independence enshrines the same faith in human nature which Grace attempts to cling onto until the realisation that such faith renders her complicit with her tormentors who do not hesitate to take advantage of her in their own pursuit of happiness:

How could she ever hate them for what was at bottom merely their weakness? She would probably have done things like those that had befallen her if she had lived in one of these houses. To measure them by her own yardstick as her father put it. Would she not, in all honesty, have done the same as Chuck and Vera and Ben and Mrs Henson and Tom and all these people in their houses? Grace paused and while she did the clouds scattered and let the moonlight through and Dogville underwent another of those little changes of light. It was as if the light, previously so merciful and faint, finally refused to cover up for the town any longer…. The light now penetrated every unevenness and flaw in the buildings and in the people. And all of a sudden she knew the answer to her question all too well. If she had acted like them she could not have defended a single one of her actions and could not have condemned them harshly enough. It was as if her sorrow and pain finally assumed their rightful place. No. What they had done was not good enough. And if one had the power to put it right it was one’s duty to do so – for the sake of other towns, for the sake of humanity. And not least for the sake of the human being that was Grace herself.

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The gangsters of her father’s world are not fooled by the rhetoric of liberalism because their concern is with exploiting the baseness of human nature for profit. They remain as a cohesive outside group rooted in a basic reality and retaining the instincts for survival which become attenuated in the groups subjected to an ideological distortion of that basic reality. The clarity of her father’s perception is in stark contrast to the equivocations of Grace and recall an older tradition of political thought still rooted in a realistic view of human nature and its relation to power.

Carl Schmitt, from whom Yockey borrows considerably, defined the political as comprising of the distinction friend/enemy, just as aesthetics distinguishes between beautiful/ugly, morality between good/evil, economics between profitable/unprofitable:

The political enemy need not be morally evil or aesthetically ugly; he need not appear as an economic competitor, and it may even be advantageous to engage with him in business transactions. But he is, nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These conflicts can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgement of a disinterested and therefore neutral party. Only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent’s way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one’s form of existence. (Carl Schmitt: The Concept of the Political)

Such thinking is far removed from the political theorists of our day. It remains embedded in the concrete particularities of the situation and resists the temptation to promulgate a universal rule. It remains alive to the importance of ethnic and cultural boundaries which are so often subsumed under the specious word ‘humanity.’ It is under just such a word that Tom and Grace sought to provide an edifying illustration to the townsfolk and it is under the same word that Grace justified the towns destruction:

The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism. Here one is reminded of a somewhat modified expression of Proudhon’s: whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat. To confiscate the word humanity, to invoke and monopolise such a term probably has certain incalculable effects, such as denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity. (Ibid.)

SHOT

POLITICAL GANGSTERS

The actor James Caan plays Grace’s father. Known for his role in the classic movie The Godfather (1972) his appearance evokes the mythology of the gangster in American culture and it is worth examining its relation to the dominant discourse of liberalism.

Ruthless to anyone threatening their position but operating within established codes of conduct which prize group loyalty, the Mafia is a type of family business, a dynasty of power which is exclusive, ethnocentric and territorial. Classical liberalism on the other hand invokes the opposite values of inclusiveness, egalitarianism and universalism:

Classical liberalism has four principle features, or perspectives, which give it a recognisable identity: it is individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against any collectivity; egalitarian, in that it confers on all human beings the same basic moral status; universalist, affirming the moral unity of the species; and meliorist, in that it asserts the open-ended improvability, by use of critical reason, of human life. (John Gray: Liberalism)

The attempt to invest these largely intellectual and philosophical values with the antithetical real-world power and authority embedded within the ancient feudal and clerical traditions of the European heritage results in the compromised messianic liberalism of the American empire which promulgates the gospel of unfettered capitalism and globalisation. This is the Faustian pact of liberalism and corporate power which has rendered liberalism synonymous with oligarchy:

The liberal class once ensured that restive citizens could settle for moderate reforms. The corporate state, by shutting down reform mechanisms, has created a closed system defined by polarization, gridlock, and political theatre. It has removed the veneer of virtue and goodness provided by the liberal class. The collapse of past constitutional states, whether in Weimar Germany or the former Yugoslavia, was also presaged by the death of the liberal class which created a power vacuum filled by speculators, war profiteers, gangsters, and killers, often led by charismatic demagogues. It opens the door to totalitarian movements that rise to prominence by ridiculing and taunting the liberal class and the values it claims to champion. The promises of these totalitarian movements are fantastic and unrealistic, but their critiques of the liberal class are grounded in truth.(Chris Hedges: Death of the Liberal Class)

Dogville can be read as an examination of the liberal propensity for self-deception and its co-opting of minority groups as a tool of its universalising ideology. The broader critique sketched out here is that the discourse of liberalism has itself been co-opted by the political enemy as defined by Carl Schmitt in The Concept of the Political.

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VIDEODROME

Synopsis from IMDB:

Sleazy lowlife cable TV operator Max Renn discovers a snuff broadcast called “Videodrome.” But it is more than a TV show–it’s an experiment that uses regular TV transmissions to permanently alter the viewer’s perceptions by giving them brain damage. Max is caught in the middle of the forces that created “Videodrome” and the forces that want to control it, his body itself turning into the ultimate weapon to fight this global conspiracy

The opening line of the film is:

Civic TV, the one you take to bed with you

This line encapsulates the media’s tone of permissive intimacy and its pervasive presence in the lives of the public. The station is modelled on the cable TV companies that developed in Canada during the 1980’s. They operated under the conflicting motives of profit and civic service. In the free market ‘libertarian’ model the desires of the customer ideally drive the product with the operative assumption that man is a rational creature making informed choices. This political anthropology derives from the nineteenth century and has always excluded the reality that, if unchecked, the baser instincts will prevail, resulting in the dumbed-down, sensationalist and pornographic programming such as Max Renn deals in. Even today the shallow rhetoric of ‘supply and demand’ and ‘catharsis’ is regularly employed by the media apologists  to rationalise the capitulation to the free market ideology and disavow its destructive social and psychological effects.

One aspect of the problematic nature of our daily interaction with the media (newspapers, TV, radio, cinema, advertising, brand names etc.) derives from the overwhelming exposure to artificial domains offering an endless stream of impressions, provoking reaction or inducing passivity, which have the cumulative effect of embedding us in an environment of instrumentality. In The Consumer Society Jean Baudrillard writes:

Just as the wolf-child became a wolf by living among wolves, so we too are slowly becoming functional. We live by object time: by this I mean that we live at the pace of objects, live to the rhythm of their ceaseless succession. Today, it is we who watch them as they are born, grow to maturity and die, whereas in all previous civilisations it was timeless objects, instruments or monuments which outlived the generations of human beings.

This is a striking observation when we consider the effect on human identity. The Gothic cathedrals of the West, for example, were built over generations and existed as the central focus for a community in terms of activity and identity. The built-in obsolescence of our environs will translate into an identity regarded as equally temporary, functional, and disposable.

What marks our era as unique amongst others is the recent emergence of a sophisticated technological means of representation which threatens to substitute itself in the mind of the populace for reality. The vicarious existence within an alternate reality is the problematic area explored in the film. Its self-reflective nature raises questions about reality and representation which are not new but which, in our era of media saturation, are ever more relevant. We are witnesses to the magnification on a global scale of the issues disputed by philosophers such as sophistry, ontology and epistemology among others. The media conglomerates constitute a socio-economic power with an influence far beyond the scope of anything conceived by political theorists of the past. The exact nature of the media is yet to be articulated because it is at present the predominant frame within which the terms and parameters of political and cultural discourse are determined.

THE REVOLUTION HAS BEEN TELEVISED

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The character of Brian O’Blivion, a media analyst, outlines his thesis:

The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena, the videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore whatever appears on the television screen  emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality and reality is less than television.

The videodrome project is his brainchild in a literal sense:

I had a brain tumour. And I had visions. I believe the visions caused the tumour, and not the reverse. I could feel the visions coalesce and become flesh, uncontrollable flesh. But when they removed the tumour it was called videodrome… I think massive doses of the videodrome signal will ultimately create a new outgrowth of the human brain, which will produce and control hallucination to the point that it will change human reality. After all there is nothing real outside our perception of reality, is there?

The Professor believes the signal can function as an enhancement of perception and the stimulus for the evolution of a new organ in the ‘technological animal‘. His philosophy is a benign trans-humanism which evangelises through the ‘Cathode Ray Mission’, a charity organisation which employs the signal on down and outs ‘to patch them back in to the world’s mixing board‘. Professor O’Blivion is modelled on Professor Marshall McLuhan and there are similarities in his vision to McLuhan’s idea of a ‘global village’. But an additional and significant influence is the counterculture figure of Professor Timothy Leary who advocated the use of LSD as a tool for raising consciousness.

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If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.                                            (William Blake The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Just as LSD originated from within the military before it entered the counterculture of the sixties, so too the Videodrome project is partly financed by a faction whose intentions are not benign. Barry Convex is the sales representative who approaches Max once his curiosity has been aroused by an apparent ‘pirate’ transmission of the signal featuring scenes of violence stripped of all political and social context. Max is keen to find the next big thing, a breakthrough concept, of which videodrome may be a forerunner and he wants in on it. Spectacular Optical is the company which Barry Convex represents and who describes it thus:

We make inexpensive glasses for the Third World and missile guidance systems for NATO. We also make videodrome, Max. As you know, when its ready for the marketplace, things will never be the same again. It can be a giant hallucination machine and much, much more

This is an oblique reference to the alliance of military power and humanitarian aid which constitutes an ideological extension of power. The media is deeply embedded within the structure of power and  plays a vital role in the ‘battle for the mind.’

BEHOLD THE MAN

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The helmet used to record and analyse Max’s hallucinations is a creative  foreshadowing of Google Glass which is in development but encountering problems relating to the social effects of the technology. As Nora Dunne writes in Digitalethics.org:

CNET senior editor Scott Stein explained how it felt wearing Glass on a train in New Jersey. “People stared, but cautiously. I didn’t want to look at them. I didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. But there’s no way for a camera conspicuously hovering on your glasses to not generate some level of social discomfort, no matter how elegantly designed.”

The device’s camera and video capabilities are so subtle that privacy concerns are inevitable. While it’s possible to take photos and record audio or video on the sly with a smartphone, it’s even easier with Glass, so much so that many businesses, from bars to hospitals, banned the product before it was even released. (Google Glass: Flawed Technology or Flawed Ethics?)

Data mining, digitization of archives, targeted advertising, the human-computer symbiosis appearing on the horizon, virtual reality and so forth, are developments  raising ethical issues which are difficult to address in a liberal orthodoxy which embraces the free market ideology. The media often presents itself as a tool for enlightenment, education and the dispensing of civic virtues. The avowed aim of promoting truth, equality and inclusiveness, conflicts with the market driven aims of competition for audience share, exclusive rights, and monopolisation. There is an increasingly blurred line between public and private capital and the employment of the media to promote financial and/or State interests creates a situation where the ‘Corporate State Media’, a subject of much dystopian fiction, is in a very real sense implicit in the background of information technology.

SOCIAL MEDIA

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The transmission of a signal in videodrome is analogous to the transmission of a worldview, an ideology. The media has become a 24 hour cycle of alternate reality, an artificial environment which is isolated from, but also parasitical upon, reality. The stylised representation of the real, the eclectic mix of multiple genres and the sheer volume of images and sounds is more or less the ‘hallucination machine‘ of Spectacular Optical. There is still a need for the real to exist as the base upon which the fantasies and distortions operate but when the mercantile imperative is dominant there occurs the commodification of cultural heritage and the monetisation of moral and spiritual values. The bankrupt Western legacy is handed over to the marketplace of the media in a clearance sale, to be cashed in for the generation of profit. When what appears on the screen is inserted into a mercantile network it ceases to be a representation of the culture and becomes an advert, a form of product placement, for the liberal orthodoxy. There is always a sense of debasement associated with the television medium due to the commercial element inherent in the medium and the subsequent incentive to appeal to the largest demographic. The material and spiritual crossover occurring within the medium of  ‘The Shopping Channel’ and ‘God TV’ is indicative of a subversive  intertwining of antagonistic principles inherent within the egalitarian ethos of  liberalism.

A character in the film tells Max to stay away from Videodrome:

 Because it has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy and that is what   makes it dangerous.

Barry Convex explains to Max why Videodrome is so compelling:

It’s the effect of exposure to violence on the nervous system. It opens receptors in the brain and they allow the signal to sink in.

This is no different from the pleasure principle operating in the media surrounding us. The subtle conditioning operates below the level of conscious awareness and invokes the residual power of myth and cultural iconography along with a myriad of psychological techniques:

 The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society… In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.        (Edward Bernays Propaganda 1928)                                                                                                     

Bernay’s vision is one that derives from the conception of human beings as complex, mechanistic entities which can and must be controlled and directed by a technocratic elite. This shallow and reductive conception is inherent in the general pragmatism of the American heritage: a heritage built partly on the Enlightenment ideals of rational order and mechanistic functionality but partly on the Puritanism of the Pilgrim Fathers. Science and its instrument of technology becomes the authoritative center, replacing traditions and religions and charting the course toward the future harmony:

Liberalism freed men from superstitions like belief in God. Yet, once there was no God, once the moral law had been discredited as equally superstitious, then social control becomes a necessity because the object of self-control, the passions, now had nothing to give them direction or keep them under control. Just as social chaos was the natural result of liberalism’s philosophy so social control was the natural result of its politics: the one flowed inexorably from the other. (E Michael Jones: Libido Dominandi)

Barry Convex and Harlan, who exposed Max to the signal, represent the Puritan heritage of America struggling with the Enlightenment heritage. They intend to use Max’s Channel 83 as a conduit for the signal to reshape society to their own ends:

North America is getting soft, patron, and the rest of the world is getting tough, very, very tough. We’re entering savage new times and we’re going to have to be pure and direct and strong if we’re going to survive them. Now, you and this cesspool you call a television station, and your people who wallow around in it, and your viewers who watch you do it, you’re rotting us away from the inside. We intend to stop that rot. We’re going to start with Channel 83. We’ll use it for our first transmission of Videodrome. I have a hunch it’s going to be very popular… for a while.

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Spectacular Optical intend to control his hallucinations and render him subject to their will, symbolised by his physical absorption of the video cassette. He becomes an updated version of The Manchurian Candidate and is directed to kill his his partners at the TV station. In the Director’s Commentary Cronenberg talks of a moral majority creating an opposing ‘immoral minority’ in order to mobilise and control the society politically. The reverse scenario is in fact far more prevalent. The rhetorical creation of a mythical right-wing minority lurking in the shadows is continually operative in the structure of liberal politics. Liberalism disavows its own will-to-power even as it uses the state to marginalise and exile ideas which threaten to impede the progressive advance. The cordon sanitaire it has placed around dissenting conceptions has resulted in the severe disconnection between the orthodoxy of media and politics and the historical context from which it emerged. This schism between traditional values and progressive ideologies carries with it the dread of a ‘populist backlash’ or a ‘resurgent nationalism’ or indeed a ‘moral majority,’ in other words a counter-revolution. Liberalism is essentially a revolutionary movement, inherently transgressive of the moral and natural law. The diffusion of erotic imagery throughout the media, just like Videodrome, has a philosophy behind it:

Self-control, especially modesty, chastity and fidelity in the sexual area is regarded as ‘repression,’ an emotional disorder from which the public and school-children need to be ‘liberated.’ One of the principal tools proposed to bring about this ‘liberation’ is exposure to transgressive imagery which invites the participant to suspend or bypass the form of rational self-control proposed by Judeo-Christian and philosophical traditional moral knowledge and virtues  (Joseph McCarroll :Transgressive Imagery)

 Once the citizen has been ‘liberated’ from self-control and responsibility they can be handed over as a ‘client’ to the small army of psychologists, behavioural therapists, social services, marriage guidance counselers, lifestyle coaches and agony aunts. The citizen is thrown into the vortex of an inverted moral framework to be reprogrammed in line with the will of the liberators.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY

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Max’s girlfriend is television ‘agony aunt’ Niki Brand. Her name is a punning reference to the sado-masochistic element connected with the Videodrome signal. Nick as in ‘cut’ and Brand as in ‘burning’. The media industry relies on seduction and excitement, the viewer is held in a state of emotional stimulation through game shows, sports, movies and even news reports. With the choices available the consumer can fashion their own virtual reality responsive to their desires and dreams. The darker side of the fantasy world is the reality that the desires of the individual deliver them over to the manipulation of advertisers and social engineers who prey upon the primal forces of sexuality and desire. When desire is unleashed within a person severed from the traditional taboos and restraints of the past the unrestrained appetite becomes complicit in a form of destructive bondage, addiction, to that which serves it. This is the moral aspect which the liberal ideology refuses to countenance even as the cabaret begins to resemble an abattoir.

Denial of this state of impoverishment and servitude is assisted by the anesthetic effect of the technological wonder-world. The media complex creates a shadow reality sustained by the real but transforming it into a hallucinatory mechanism functioning as a prosthetic consciousness. The growth of the internet is acting as a solvent of the Western legacy; uploading the knowledge of millenia and reproducing it as an interconnected but disembodied, virtual presence. This spectral aspect of modernity bears within it a consciousness of the growing disconnection from the real, which continues to be elsewhere and otherwise.

The Postmodern Empire of the liberal west has been the most unstable and destructive of them all. Nations that have survived totalitarianism, genocide and dictatorship begin to buckle only when exposed to liberalism. Liberalism is a solvent because it is based on nominalism: the ontology of death. The moment no universal objects or meanings exist, not only is the created order without purpose, but this also means that the elite get to decide what meanings exist at all. When language is detached from objects, and, at the same time, if language creates reality, then those who create language create reality. Postmodern liberalism is created by major media who chaperone all communication and socially acceptable language. Over time, in conditions of unchallenged nihilism, these corporate elites decide what is real and what is not. (Matthew Raphael Johnson: Nominalism, Psychology and the Underground Man:The Revolt against the Mass)

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THE NEW FLESH

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. ..And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  (The Gospel of St John)

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Cronenberg’s visual language is distinctive by its obsessive depiction of flesh in various forms of mutation, infection and destruction. The psychological is intertwined viscerally with the physical realm just as in Videodrome the technological is merging with the organic. The horror/sci-fi genres are also merged in this film which draws upon the Christian concept of incarnation and the scientific conception of cybernetics. Max is re-programmed by Brian O’Blivion’s daughter, Bianca, to become a weapon against Spectacular Optical with the words ‘I am the video world made flesh.’ This echo of the incarnation of the Word (Logos) in Christ is a secular reframing of the metaphysical transfiguration of  humanity as understood within Christian doctrine. The liberal ideology of the West attempts to harness the technological developments of modernity to its own form of messianic thought: the secular eschatology of egalitarianism.

In the text of St John above we witness the interplay and relation of opposing principles the reverberation of light and shadow as in a thunderstorm. The turbulent chiaroscuro of the religious vision is manifested here in the words and syntax to evoke the mystical dimension of existence. If the Logos can be conceived, in a strictly secular analogy, as a kind of supra-technology, a metaphysical order which in-forms the incarnated flesh, then the viewers  in-formed by and embedded within the medium of technolgical media are undergoing a transformation with no moral language to orientate themselves in relation to this new environment. The disconcerting nature of flesh in Cronenberg’s films derives from the implicit fear of a corrosion of identity, the dissolution of the metaphysical ground of being and immersion within the flux of matter.

Unfortunately media analysts are more often than not apostles of cybernetic salvation and complicit in the installation of ideological software which attempts to invert the Logos hard-wired into the Western consciousness. It is often overlooked that  Marshall McLuhan’s critique of the media was grounded in his Catholicism, his connection to the spiritual dimension, which provides a level of immunity to the allure of a technological paradise  :

It is not brains or intelligence that is needed to cope with the problems which Plato and Aristotle and all of their successors to the present have failed to confront. What is needed is a readiness to undervalue the world altogether. This is only possible for a Christian… All technologies and all cultures, ancient and modern, are part of our immediate expanse. There is hope in this diversity since it creates vast new possibilities of detachment and amusement at human gullibility and self-deception. There is no harm in reminding ourselves from time to time that the “Prince of this World” is a great P.R. man, a great salesman of new hardware and software, a great electric engineer, and a great master of the media. It is his master stroke to be not only environmental but invisible for the environmental is invincibly persuasive when ignored.
(Marshall McLuhanThe Medium and the Light)

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LAND OF THE BLIND

‘Before the revolution: Man oppressed Man. Now it’s the other way around’

A political drama about terrorism, revolution, and the power of memory. In an unnamed place and time, an idealistic soldier named Joe strikes up an illicit friendship with a political prisoner named Thorne, who eventually recruits him into a bloody coup d’etat. But in the post-revolutionary world, what Thorne asks of Joe leads the two men into bitter conflict, spiraling downward into madness until Joe’s co-conspirators conclude that they must erase him from history.
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As part of the re-education process the revolutionary regime employs a syllogism which has to be acknowledged as truthful by the prisoner wishing to be released:

Stale bread is better then nothing, nothing is better then a big juicy steak, therefore stale bread is better then a big juicy steak.

A is better than B:  B is better than C: therefore A is better than C. The statement only makes sense when reality is reduced to a term within the functioning of a syllogistic operation. This abstraction of reality is part of the intellectual sophistry of political discourse. The re-education programme utilises the tools of rationality in a coercive manner to implement and sanction the will-to-power of the regime. This aggressive use of reason as an instrument of the will is highlighted in the following dialogue:

Doctor: So are you going to do yourself a favour and sign the loyalty oath?

Jo: No.

Doctor: I’m a man of science Jo, never mind all this revolutionary mumbo-jumbo; I was hired to employ the scientific method.My job right now is to uncover the root of this conspiracy based on the evidence.

Jo: You have evidence?

Doctor: No, that’s how I know there’s a conspiracy.

Jo: What?

Doctor: If there wasn’t a conspiracy there would be evidence, that’s how effective the conspiracy is.

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As Martin Luther wrote :  Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has. It never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

Reason is servile to the will, rationalizing and justifying any behaviour, accommodating itself, like the Doctor, to the  will-to-power of whichever regime, or whichever appetite, is dominant. The Age of Reason was also the Age of Revolutions, a decisive break with the prevailing orthodoxy of the medieval period which had maintained a balance between the conflicting demands of reason and faith through a political and economic order which underscored the fallen nature of man as a central concept in that structure of relations. The elevation of an autonomous Reason enabled the dismantling of traditional structure and the institution of a new,  radical concept of man as perfectible. The acceptance that ‘stale bread is better than a big juicy steak‘ is simply a submission to the dominant discourse (or will) no matter how absurd or contradictory it is.

THE PROTOTYPE OF REVOLUTION 

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The idea of Revolution today is dominated by the imagery and rhetoric of the French Revolution of  1789. While the slogans of the Revolution invoked the ideals of Freedom, Equality and Universal Brotherhood, it was the brutal instrument of the Reign of Terror which installed the foundation for the ideological institutions which emerged from it, such as the political polarity of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’, the rise of Nationalism and the concept of individual liberty. Even today politicians continue to promote those ideals and slogans while effacing the violence and bloodshed which attended its birth. We are still living in the aftermath of the transvaluation of values brought about through the Enlightenment project and the turning point of the French Revolution. The centuries leading up to the convulsion of 1789 were marked by a series of conflicts undermining the spiritual cohesion of the West. The schism of the Protestant Reformation and the growing tensions between the aristocratic and merchant classes indicated the strengthened influence of a materialistic principle over the concept of an order based on metaphysical principles. The ideals of the French Revolution have become enshrined within the consciousness of the West and continue to sanction the violent dismantling of its own spiritual patrimony under the battle cry of ‘equality’ and ‘freedom’. There is, nevertheless, a certain self-deception, a blindness, at work within the proponents of these ideals:

Anacharsis Cloots organized a deputation of ‘representatives of the human race’ which presented its respects to the Revolutionary Terror in France. There were pig-tailed Chinamen, black Ethiopians, Turks, Jews, Greeks, Tartars, Mongols, Indians, and bearded Chaldeans. Actually however, they were Parisians in disguise. This parade had thus at the very beginning of Rationalism a double symbolic significance. First, it symbolised the idea of the West that it now wished to embrace all ‘humanity’, and secondly, the fact that these were disguised Westerners showed the exact amount of success that this intellectualising enthusiasm would have. (Imperium: F. P. Yockey)

SELLING THE REVOLUTION

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Today the word ‘Revolution’ has been embraced by the informal alliance of global capital and academic institutions which, along with an unprecedented and pervasive media network, constitute the modern orthodoxy. Revolutionary rhetoric has been incorporated and commodified within the materialistic paradigm simply because it was already an aspect of the same basic materialistic conception. Enlightenment ideals which enshrined Reason as the ruling principle also enshrined the human will-to-power which only uses reason as a means to rationalise its desires. Liberal Democracy is heir to  the revolutionary movements; it continues to undermine and erode identity through  parliamentarianism, the incremental dilution and dissolution of sovereignty and authority as once embodied in the Monarchy and the Church. The Revolution overthrows the established model of authority and supplants it with an idiosyncratic model fashioned according to the theoretical calculations of intellectuals and divested of any spiritual substance.

The ascent of Reason to the status of Sovereign ruler entails a disconnect from reality: the isolated mind is deracinated from its context within a culture and becomes the res cogitans of Cartesian physics set against the res extensa of corporeal substance over which it assumes a privileged status. This subjectivity informs the epistemological theories which attempt to universalise a culturally specific set of notions. The reality of an organic complex within which reason is merely one function among others is displaced in the scientific method which aims at ‘objectivity.’ The ‘blank slate’ epistemology of Hume leads directly to the dominion of financial and ideological coercion over the citizen of the rationally ordered society and the inhabitants of the colonised regions. The resulting identity, uprooted from its cultural and religious framework, is an impoverished identity which has no recourse but to turn to the marketplace and the media which will supply an off-the-shelf substitute identity composed of brand names and propaganda slogans. The ideologues will overwrite the intricately woven ethnic, linguistic, and religious heritage that once gave a commonality to a people:

Without the data that folklore provides, that body of tradition that marks the ethnos as unique, ‘man’, as a concept is merely a set of individuals, an abstract body of disconnected men held together solely by force and manipulation; this is the very life blood of the state and the continued reason for its unchecked growth. The reason why ethnicity is absolutely indispensable to any healthy sense of self, or of any healthy social life, is because any other social grouping, from universities to chess clubs, from labour unions to churches, can only function through a continuous appeal to those commonalities that ethnicity provides. Without the linguistic, traditional and historical bonds that ethnicity is identical with, men cannot even communicate with fellow citizens, as the universe of shared meaning has broken down; debate makes no sense if words are defined according to whatever elites have come to rule him. As civil society breaks down due to the dissolution of the ethnos, the state, as well as powerful corporate interests, comes to dominate completely, defining the very nature of the civil arrangement. Money and political power become the only goods worth fighting for. This is the reality of the modern West and is the direct result of ethnic connections breaking down in favour of the abstraction of the “nation state”, or, even worse, the so-called “free market.” 

Work, economics and production are social and cultural ideas. In this way are they also qualitative and normative. The application of rationality to the things of nature eventually results in determining ways of life in terms of wants, aesthetic sensibilities, and the development of skills. Skills and abilities develop naturally from primitive to more advanced forms, with their normative structure also so developing. Such developments also form a major part of the traditional culture of a specific people and are a part of the medievalist guild-centered notion of production, marked by a total interpenetration of culture and work. Modern economics holds both culture and tradition in contempt. Mass production understands only efficiency and market share. Traditionalists hold that the individual is a composite of individual and social, manifesting all elements of cultural life and irreducible to any specific part of it. Modern economics views the individual as an isolated creature whose happiness lies in the ability to maintain or increase his present consumptive patterns, and the ability to draw from it consistently

Nation and State: An Extended Definition and Analysis (Matthew Raphael Johnson)

THE REVOLUTIONARY CELL

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There are echoes and allusions to numerous revolutionary movements within the film from The Terror to the Iranian Revolution and the hunger strikes of the IRA internees. The general pattern implied is the overthrowing of one tyrannical regime only to see it replaced by another; the revolutionary slogans of today becoming the hollow establishment cant of tomorrow. This dynamic reveals the problem with the idea of revolution. What occurs is a reconfiguration of society which amounts to little more than changing the furniture in a prison cell. The relations of power and subservience continue in an altered form because the moral and spiritual change, which is often promised in revolutionary rhetoric, cannot occur within a system which seeks to reshape  material reality in its own image, in accord with it’s own desire and will, rather than conform its desire and will to an intrinsic order manifest in reality (Logos). The hapless citizen of the regime is at the mercy of the reconfigured network of power which attempts to realise the promises of transformation through propaganda and coercion. The Procrustean bed of ideology produces both the doctrinaire automatons of the regime and the counter-revolutionary radicals who resist the conditioning, thus setting the stage for another revolution.

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Procrustean bed: a plan or scheme to produce uniformity or conformity by arbitrary or violent methods. Procrustes was a bandit from Greek mythology who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed

Year Zero, purges and show-trials of revolutionary politics are the building blocks for an alternative order. The renaming of streets and cities is the symbolic abolition of historical linkages and the substitution of a humanistic cult devoid of reverence for Logos. Progress is a deeper immersion into the material realm of quantification and atomisation. Severed from the living roots of tradition the diminished consciousness perceives only the impersonal, mechanistic universe of matter and force. The equilibrium of the organism is violently disrupted; the elements which were synthesised in its creation begin to seperate and dissolve; latent forces of decay begin to predominate and erupt to the surface in shocks and upheavals; ideologies and philosophies emerge to rationalise the decline: Utilitarianism; Pragmatism; Behaviourism; Egalitarianism, etc. Modernity is the negation of Tradition and the creation of the realm of artifice: the technocratic sepulchre.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

(W B Yeats: The Second Coming) 

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 POWER TO THE PEOPLE

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Enlightenment concepts, manifested firstly in the French Revolution, continue to pervade the post-colonial period where humanitarian intervention involves the ideological capitulation of the beneficiaries and their insertion within the paradigm of an abstract and universalised ‘humanity’ as defined and directed by the West. The ‘gun and gospel’ of colonial expansion involved the infantilisation, exploitation or demonization of other cultures as a prelude to their reshaping in the image of the West. In the instances of Africa and the Middle East this distortion of identity is presented as ‘liberation’ and framed within a sentimentalised  and simplistic narrative which essentially recapitulates the colonial concept of ‘the white man’s burden’ in the manipulative imagery of famine and genocide victims. The unquestioned assumption of the ideological and economic evangelists of the United Nations and other internationalist bodies is that the epitome of civilization and culture is the current Western model. Revolution is seen as a commodity which can be exported as long as it results in the constitution of a secular order amenable to the West. The destructive power of revolution is employed to hasten the dissolution and overthrow of cultures or ‘regimes’ which retain concepts of reality which are not predominantly materialistic, progressive, and egalitarian. Hence the prevalence of Western-backed ‘colour’ revolutions in countries targeted for ‘regime-change’.  This is the eschatology of Liberalism in action.

The Age of Reason was born in bloodshed, and will pass out of vogue in more bloodshed. With its doctrine against war, politics, and violence, it presided over the greatest wars and revolutions in 5000 years, and it ushered in the Age of Absolute Politics. With its gospel of the Brotherhood of Man, it carried on the largest-scale starvation, humiliation, torture and extermination in history against populations within the Western Civilisation after the first two World Wars. By outlawing political thinking, and turning war into a moral-struggle instead of a power-struggle it flung the chivalry and honour of a millennium into the dust. When reason stripped territory from a conquered foe after a war it called it ‘disannexation’. The document consolidating  the new position was called a ‘Treaty’ even though it was dictated in the middle of a starvation-blockade. The defeated political enemy had to admit in the ‘Treaty’ that he was ‘guilty’ of the war, that he is morally unfit to have colonies, that his soldiers alone committed ‘war crimes’. But no matter how heavy the moral disguise, how consistent the ideological vocabulary, it is only politics, and the Age of Absolute Politics reverts once again to the type of political thinking which starts from facts, recognizes power and the will-to-power of men and higher organisms as facts, and finds any attempt to describe politics in terms of morals as grotesque as it would be to describe chemistry in terms of theology. (Imperium F. P. Yockey)

This ‘Age of Absolute Politics’ is Yockey’s belief that the West was on course to enter a period of Realpolitik shorn of the need for ideological dressing. There seems to be little sign of this seventy years on. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire the hegemony of Capitalism seemed assured. The ‘end of history’ was proclaimed and the hallucination of a unipolar world emerged on the horizon. The combination of the universalising tendency within Enlightenment thought and technocratic supremacy culminated in the remarkable spectacle of a global power blind to the problematic nature of  imposing its orthodoxy upon the cultures incorporated into its domain. The strategic alliance of the West with Islamic fundamentalism during the Soviet-Afghan war was the fatal embrace of two mutually opposed ideologies which both employed the tactics of terror. This incorporation of fundamentalist religious cultures within the equally fundamentalist secular dogma of market forces and laissez-faire Capitalism, through alliances or conquests, involves the intertwining of conflicting spiritual and materialistic value systems.

The more the system is extended into one globally connected network the more vulnerable it becomes at any single point. The technocratic artificiality of the Western hegemony is fundamentally disconnected from the traditional structures and values of the past  and the citizen of this realm is implicated in a perversion and a negation of the principle of reality. The sphere of manipulative imagery and rhetorical sophistry has been erected upon the bedrock of a people and a culture and harbours within itself a nostalgia for the abandoned homeland. Reflected in the historical grievance of exploited and destroyed peoples there is the memory of our own destruction and dislocation. In the depths of this mirror the West glimpses an encroaching critique, a flickering image of itself as ultimately nihilistic.

Such doubts are heresy to the orthodox and yet they are the shadow of its own arrogant assumptions. The mocking, anarchic shadow which attends its every step, snaps at its heels, looms menacingly before it, or stalks it from behind is the rebuke to its apotheosis of Reason. Thinking it had banished the darkness of metaphysical superstitions in the light of Reason it now confronts the emergence of an antagonistic Other which cannot be reduced  to the abstraction of universal human rights or seduced by the mechanics of enlightened self interest. The intelligence networks attempted to utilise a remnant of that same exiled metaphysics which has now escaped their control and disperses itself throughout the Liberal Imperium.

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THE TERROR

Thorne: I didn’t come to violence casually, you know. But you get to a point where you have no choice but to take up arms against your oppressors.

Joe: True, but under Maximilian’s rule we don’t kill innocent bystanders

Thorne: Nobody standing by is innocent.

The French Revolution is echoed by numerous, smaller revolutionary movements within the West and referred to in the film. Examples such as the Paris protests of May 1968, the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany, the Black Panthers in America, and the IRA in Ireland. However, these movements were radical variants of Western political thought and thus functioned as ideological theatre within a secular paradigm. With the entry of fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups the traditional metaphysical universe of Good and Evil which the West had renounced returns and the political discourse is invaded by the medieval rhetoric of martyrdom, asceticism, and moral absolutes. The very same roots of Christendom which were severed so abruptly by the French Revolution and its violent assertion of secular values are now entangled with a culture not yet enthralled by, and perhaps immune to, the materialistic spirit and the sorcery of the image:

The collapse of the towers of the World Trade Center is unimaginable, but that is not enough to make it a real event. A surplus of violence is not enough to open up reality. For reality is a principle, and this principle is lost. Real and fictional are inextricable, and the fascination of the attack is first and foremost the fascination by the image. It is therefore a case where the real is added to the image as a terror bonus, as yet another thrill. It is not only terrifying, it is even real. It is not the violence of the real that is first there, with the added thrill of the image: rather the image is there first, with the added thrill of the real: something like a prize fiction, a fiction beyond fiction. Ballard (after Borges) was thus speaking of reinventing the real as the ultimate and most redoubtable fiction. The terrorist violence is not then reality backfiring, no more than it is history backfiring. This terrorist violence is not ‘real’. It is worse in a way, it is symbolic. Violence in itself can be perfectly banal and innocuous. Only symbolic violence generates singularity. In this singular event, in this disaster movie of Manhattan, the two elements that fascinate twentieth century masses are joined: the white magic of movies and the black magic of terrorism.                  (Jean Baudrillard: The Spirit of Terrorism)

 

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GATTACA

Synopsis from the IMDB

In the not-too-distant future, a less-than-perfect man wants to travel to the stars. Society has categorized Vincent Freeman as less than suitable given his genetic make-up and he has become one of the underclass of humans that are only useful for menial jobs. To move ahead, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a car accident. With professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing. Just when he is finally scheduled for a space mission, his program director is killed and the police begin an investigation, jeopardizing his secret

The film takes place in a future society where a caste system has developed based on the possession of natural or scientifically enhanced genes. Eugenics, in the sense of selective breeding, already occurs within the world of animal husbandry but is highly controversial when attempts are made to apply the technique to the human domain.

One of the objections raised is the danger of placing control over populations into the hands of a scientific and technocratic elite and the possibility of an attempt to reduce the diversity of human nature to a universal standard congenial to the ruling class. Another, more frequent, objection is the danger of the rise of a society divided between a superior genetic inheritance and/or enhancement and a class of untermenschen recalling the spectre of National Socialist racial theory.

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The founder of this science of eugenics was Francis Galton, who sought to demonstrate white British dominance over the colonies using biometrics. It is often overlooked that eugenics was broadly supported around the beginning of the 20th century across the political spectrum, from Churchill to Marie Stopes to William Beveridge. From an evolutionary perspective one might argue that science itself is a part of evolution and therefore its application to human beings accords with nature. In the present cultural and political atmosphere controversial theories regarding inherited intelligence and behaviour have led to the ostracization of  James Watson who, along with Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA.

Alongside the increasing control of modern science over natural forces there has developed a dissenting perspective which upholds a residual belief in the power of the human spirit to overcome the boundaries imposed by biological determinism and materialistic limitations. Gattaca is part of this dissent. The triumph of Vincent (derived from the latin ‘vincere’ meaning ‘to conquer’) is the moral heart of the film and a parallel is drawn between racism and ‘genoism’, a future variant on discrimination and exclusion.

 

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RACE IS A FOUR LETTER WORD

This post will examine the ideas of race and spirit by comparing two conceptions of human existence. We will examine the racial view through the example of White Nationalism and the ‘anti-racist’ view through the example of Civic Nationalism. This will be somewhat simplified but it will sketch out two conceptions of mankind, or two attempts to demarcate the fundamental underpinnings of identity and purpose for human existence.

The view of society as being essentially a racial construct, the school of Comte de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Madison Grant, was a development of the nineteenth century focus upon archeology and linguistics, among other disciplines, which were closely bound up with the industrial and colonial expansion of  the period. Within the sphere of contemporary White Nationalism these ideas still exert a great influence. As recently as 2012 Jonathan Bowden articulated the concept of biological determinism in the context of a discussion of Edmund Bond’s production of King Lear:

Bond believes that violence is irrational and proceeds from bourgeois man and the context of capitalist competition. But the problem with this, as in the problem with all Marxism, is there is a complete voiding of the biological realities of life. Man, men and women, in all groups, are 80% inherited, genetic, and the socialized element, the naturalizing, normative element, where we are reared through parents, the psychology of the relationship that we have with them, where we are acculturated through education and behaviourism in a society, that’s 20%. But even that is ecology, which is a species of biology, a subject area within biology. It’s almost as if the 20% which is actually given by naturalization, that which is nurture rather than nature, to use an old fashioned formulation from the 1960’s, is actually part and parcel of nature itself. Because what sets us up and primes us to be naturalized as human beings if not nature itself? Race is culture and culture is race, essentially, put very tendentiously and very crudely, far too crudely than many intellectuals would like, or feel comfortable with But there is a degree to which everything that exists has to come out of something which existed before it. It has to have a primal root. It has to have a foundation. It has to be  ‘racinated’, to use Simone Weil’s term.

(Jonathan Bowden: Western Civilisation Bites Back)

The racial view attempts to posit the biological dimension as the root and core of identity around which Western civilisation can be reunited and integrated into a whole to counteract the social atomisation and cultural disintegration occurring today.

ONE RACE ONE WORLD

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In opposition to this fully fleshed out, scientifically categorised and biologically determined being stands the abstract and superficial facsimile of the global citizen of the democratic hegemony. This conception was born from the catastrophe of National Socialist racial theory and the ruins of the Second World War. Almost an abnegation of the human as conceived by European heritage this spectral creature has dominated the background of political and cultural discourse ever since the ideological diktat of Nuremberg sanctioned it:

This quite naked human person, who does not have a fatherland and who is indifferent to any fatherland, who does not know the laws of the city and the odour of the city, but who perceives with a very personal instinct the international voice of the universal conscience, this new man, this dehydrated man, it is he whom I do not recognise. Your universal conscience protects a hothouse plant: this theoretical product, this industrial product has no more relationship to a man than a California orange wrapped in cellophane and transported across continents has to an orange on a tree. Both are an orange: but one has the taste of the ground, and it grows and exists on its tree according to the nature of things and the other is nothing more than a  product for human consumption. It figures in statistics, it  is counted, it is exported, it is transported, it is insured and when it is destroyed, it is paid for. I am at a total loss, that is not for me a human person.

(Maurice Bardéche: Nuremberg  – The Promised Land)

EQUALITY FOR ALL

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At the core of the film is the notion of egalitarianism. This notion is today enshrined within the ethos of Liberal Democracy as the ideal toward which humanity strives. Progress is defined by the establishment of equal rights for all.  But the attendant shadow of egalitarianism is uniformity and conformism, and the end result of such thinking is a levelling process, a reduction of the unique individuated identity into a mass of undifferentiated citizens. The ideological man of Nuremberg is designed for the post-war global marketplace and the Civic Nationalist is the vestigial remnant of an almost completely eviscerated identity.

The White Nationalists talk of an ethno-state and offer dry, academic discussions of evolutionary strategy, IQ statistics, DNA percentages and other empirical proofs to refute the egalitarian premises of the Civic Nationalists who will argue in terms of values and rights applicable to all people within a sovereign nation, regardless of ethnicity. Both of these  positions occur within a secular, materialistic age and both draw upon aspects of the rational restructuring of society which began in the Enlightenment period, the ‘Age of Reason’ which was also the age of Revolutions. The outcome of this period was  the almost total undermining of the authority of the Monarchy and the Church.

The nations emerged as distinct entities only from the disintegration of the unity of Christendom and the Dynastic lines. It is this heritage which informs both the ethno-nationalist and the civic-nationalist in their pursuit of unification racially or civically. What is being attempted by both is a secular replacement for the medieval ecumene of the West as described by Francis Parker Yockey:

From its very birth-cry in the Crusades, the Western Culture had one state, with the Emperor at its head, one Church and one religion, Gothic Christianity, with an authoritarian Pope, one race, one nation, and one people, which felt itself, and was recognised by all outer forces, to be distinct and unitary. There was a universal style, Gothic, which inspired and informed all art from the crafts to the cathedrals. There was one ethical code for the Culture-bearing stratum, Western chivalry, founded on a purely Western feeling of honour. There was a universal language, Latin, and a universal law, Roman Law. Even in the very adoption of older, non-Western things, the West was unitary. It made such things into an expression of its proper soul, and it universalised them.

(Francis Parker Yockey: Imperium)

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It is here we find the origin of universalising and totalitarian ideologies. Under a variety of names and doctrines they are essentially the same negation of the spiritual, metaphysical dimension in pursuit of a profane, secular, and temporal substitute. Within the desacralized shell of the West and amid the shipwreck of traditional social structures the ideologies sprang up, drawing inspiration from scattered remnants of the vanished order and creating unstable, bastardised forms which lacked cohesion. The attempts to create unity and meaning take the shape of myth-creation, drawing upon philosophical and scientific ideas of the period and investing them with the moral and spiritual values  proper to the abandoned religious heritage. National Socialism, as one example, attempted to synthesise an array of influences from the surrounding cultural landscape: Henry Ford’s mass production, Nietzsche’s notion of the Ubermensch, the ideas of Italian Fascism, ecological and agrarian models, racial theories, economic autarky, to name just a few.

There was also a strain of Wagnerian romanticism which, together with the apotheosis of  ‘blood and soil’, led to the eventual Götterdämmerung of the German nation and the division of the European continent between Communism and Capitalism.

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We live today in a West still reacting to that regime and  intent on investing Liberal Democracy and Capitalism with a moral sanctity by a continual referencing to the excesses of National Socialism. The fact that Roosevelt termed the entry of America into the war as a ‘Crusade for Democracy’ speaks volumes:

The word ‘democracy’ has been endowed with religious force and has in fact attained to the status of a religion. It has become a numen, and cannot be the subject of critical treatment. Apostasy or heresy bring immediate response in the form of a criminal prosecution for sedition, treason, income tax evasion, or other allegations. The saints of this cult are the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the War for Independence, particularly Jefferson, despite the fact that they uniformly detested the idea of democracy and were nearly all slave-owners, and also Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt. Its prophets are journalists, propagandists, film stars, labour-leaders, and party-politicians. The fact that the word ‘democracy’ cannot be defined is the surest evidence that it has ceased to be descriptive and has become the object of a mass-faith. All other ideas and dogmas of the propaganda picture are referred to ‘democracy’ for their ultimate justification. The numen  ‘democracy’ is used also in this realm as the essence of reality. A foreign development sought to be brought about is called ‘spreading democracy’; a development sought to be hindered is ‘against democracy’ or ‘fascistic’. Fascism is the numen corresponding to evil in theology, and in fact they are directly equated in American propaganda.

(Francis Parker Yockey: Imperium)

Little has changed in the official discourse except that we are now witnessing the breakdown of the hegemonic order of the liberal post-war consensus. There is renewed interest in the idea of nationalism, provoked by the excesses of globalisation just as in the period between the two World Wars. The word ‘Fascist’ and ‘racist’ have become little more than pejoratives to be applied to any idea or group the speaker dislikes. When our political and academic class indulge in this type of intellectual laziness there is little to be hoped for from them

FROM THE IMPERIAL EAGLE TO THE VULTURE CAPITALISTS

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The appeal of nationalism rises in response to the displacement and uprooting caused by the dominant rule of finance capital. The growth of global industrialisation was envisaged as the traversal of wealth creating activity aimed at a gradual raising of living standards around the world. This project relied on a concept of the human being as nothing more than a creature of self-interest and monetary gain, a biochemical machine of conditioned reflexes to be aligned with the will of the dominant ideology of mercantilism. The populations of the globe are conceived as beneficiaries and participants in the pursuit of materialistic ends. The effects are both a destruction of the traditional under-developed communities which are brought into its domain and an alienation and abandonment of those communities which see their manufacturing based outsourced for reason of profit. This questionable progress is sanctioned by the liberal intelligentsia who are richly reimbursed for their unprincipled rhetorical support of  vulture capitalism under the ideological rubric of universal rights and equality.

Like genetic engineering this large scale social engineering project provokes a dissenting reaction and White Nationalism is just such a reaction. However it is highly problematic because it relies on the projection of nineteenth century racial classifications onto the past history of Europe. The category of ‘white’ was unknown and even unthinkable to the people of the Gothic era. Their identity was drawn outward from the clan to the religion and the country. White Nationalism attempts to create a broad identity for the displaced and disoriented peoples of the ruins of Christendom who today are subjects of the spirit of modernity as described by Julius Evola writing in 1938:

The European had first slain the hierarchy in himself by extirpating his own inner possibilities, to which corresponded the basis of the order that he would then destroy externally. If Christian mythology attributes the Fall of Man and the Rebellion of the Angels to the freedom of the will, then it comes to much the same significance. It concerns the frightening potential that dwells in man of using freedom to destroy spiritually and to banish everything that could ensure him a supra-natural value. This is a metaphysical decision: the stream that traverses history in the most varied forms of the traditional-hating, revolutionary, individualistic, and humanistic spirit, or in short, the “modern” spirit. This decision is the only positive and decisive cause in the secret of degeneration, the destruction of Tradition….(Evola Collected Works)

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White nationalism lacks depth because it  is an appendage of the degenerative process it rails against. The biological determinism at the heart of it results in an immersion in matter and a capitulation to the very forces of subversion which operate in the material realm. That a people should be reduced to such a low level of argumentation as the biological imperative to reproduce and retain its territory is the result of the sheer animalisation of man that has resulted from the deracination of the European heritage. The debasement of discourse to a question of fight or flight recalls the response of animals to a perceived danger. As with Jonathan Bowden, the ground of being is located in the biological dimension. This is a legitimate revulsion with, and reaction against, the ideological citizen of Nuremberg, but a revolt which can only articulate its dissent in the language of science and materialism as the language of spirit and moral law has been effaced from discourse.

 

The extremer views within the white ethno-nationalist rhetoric,  such as deportation, executions and sterilisations are desperate attempts to create a new order, focused on externals and effects rather than the internal rectification of a disordered being. The belief that revolutions can restore is fallacious. Revolutions overturn and destroy, they are aggressive and transgressive assaults upon order. Transformations, however, require a lifetime of diligence and patience, something traditional thought understood and which has been lost in the Darwinian and Newtonian universe of survival of the fittest, competition for resources and impersonal mechanistic laws governing the universe. The same materialistic conceptions which have led to the globalised marketplace where homeland becomes real estate also determine the attempts to shape a vision of the White Nationalist future.

Aware of the need for a foundational ideology they have attempted to construct a religion conducive to their desire. The examples of William Pierce’s ‘Cosmotheism’ and Ben Klassen’s ‘Creativity’ indicate that their desire aligns perfectly well with the impulses driving the economic imperialism which has sanctioned the ethnic and demographic displacement of the European. They both glorify the Age of Empire and colonisation while decrying the mental colonisation operating through the institutions which emerged from that impulse. The monoculture of television and the pervasiveness of materialism is the end result of the European revolt against the limitations imposed by the ecumene of Christendom. It was spiritual/metaphysical principles which gave shape to the West as a unity and not the biology of the white race. For Oswald Spengler ‘race’ denoted character and behaviour; ethos not zoology:

But in speaking of race, it is not intended in the sense in which it is the fashion among anti-Semites in Europe and America to use it today: Darwinistically, materially. Race purity is a grotesque word in view of the fact that for centuries all stocks and species have been mixed, and that warlike – that is, healthy – generations with a future before them have from time immemorial always welcomed a stranger into the family if he had “race,” to whatever race it was he belonged. Those who talk too much about race no longer have it in them. What is needed is not a pure race, but a strong one, which has a nation within it.

(Oswald Spengler: The Hour of Decision)

DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ECUMENE

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Within the extreme anti-racist view we encounter a similar radical rejection of the metaphysical domain and a remarkable activity redolent of the genetic engineering they decry. This is the linguistic realignment of the lexicon in an attempt to extirpate the metaphysics that informs our language:

The operation of clearly distinguishing between signifier and signified must pass through the difficult deconstruction of the entire history of metaphysics which imposed, and never will cease to impose upon semiological science in its entirety this fundamental quest for a “transcendental signified” and a concept independent from language; this quest not being imposed from without by something like “philosophy,” but rather by everything that links our language, our culture, our “system of thought” to the history and system of metaphysics (Derrida, Positions 1981).

The postmodern thinkers wish to create a language purged of the old embedded binary oppositions which cling to the etymological roots. This too is a form of genetic engineering: to re-splice and reconfigure the root verbs and etymologies of language in accord with a rational notion of equality and harmony: a profoundly pernicious and subversive strand of thought, far beyond Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’. This thinking informs today’s politically correct lexicon which has become an oppressive, ironic mirror of the racist and discriminatory ideology it denounces. Some words and ideas are to be expelled, deported, amputated from the lexicon. They are placed ‘under erasure’, exiled, considered inhumane, less than human, banished to the ghettos of the unenlightened, and removed from civil discourse. In effect language has been inoculated with the vaccine of equality and protected from the contagion of authority and hierarchy.

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THE EXTENDED FAMILY

The family structure embodies the traditional and perennial values which were embedded in the agrarian ethnic communities of Christendom and still pervade the desacralized remnant of the Western nations. To some extent the incorporation of these ideas into the workings of global capital manages to legitimize its activities on a moral level in the minds of its subjects even as it subsumes the human into the grotesque category of consumer and producer. The economic imperium is resistant to ethno-nationalism and promotes ideas which serve its interests and mobilise the values of community and brotherhood against any assertion of autarky and ethnic cohesion.

In order to create this ‘global community’ it has to erase the particularities and differentiated qualities of the human and replace it with a quantified and rationally ordered simulacra conducive to the marketplace. It draws upon the European heritage of moral and spiritual values only in a superficial and rhetorical sense. Quite cynically it has allowed the emergence of identity politics which ensures there is no possibility of a consensus of opinion about the broader common good beyond the platitudes and cliches of the secular apostles of equality who serve as apologists for the incremental growth of the state. Without a shared language and a shared history and the resultant shared ethos no unique and fully participatory community can cohere and resist physical and psychological occupation.

Both the White Nationalist and the Civic Nationalist are confined within the parameters of materialistic and mechanistic thought where ethics and principles, which cannot be quantified, are gradually removed from the equation, retaining only the linguistic aspect, and are considered to be an inconvenient inheritance from the past akin to ‘wisdom’ teeth. Both conceptions are within the realm of matter and share the limitations inherent in ideologies which dispense with the spiritual patrimony of the West. Both exist within the financial fiefdoms sanctioned today by the moralistic cant of Liberal Democracy but tomorrow it could just as well be the the moralistic cant of Racial Brotherhood or of the  Nation State. They are all equally products of the ausrottung of the ecumene.

Gattaca, as a possible future, is the conception of the scientific vision which limits itself to the empirical domain. That limitation is evident too in the vague spirituality which the film offers as a dissident and opposed conception. Science has become the dominant institution in the West because it has sustained and augmented political and economic power. Due to this dominance the mechanistic approach to social problems is the orthodox procedure in all institutions while any alternative conception which attempts to apply a more or less traditional model to those problems is ignored. Nationalism is returning within the West as an understandable reaction to the technocratic and dehumanising operations of the scientific worldview which has attempted to subjugate the totality of life to its rational, utilitarian sphere of influence regardless of the spiritual and ethnic heritage of the lands which fell under its influence.

To re-ground itself in the struggle against a dehumanising globalism, the articulation of nationalism in the West must involve a critique of the epistemology which has underpinned the Enlightenment ideology. That critique is being carried out today only by the ‘Eurasianist’ movement within Russia and is defining itself in opposition to the Western model by attempting to articulate a variant vision incorporating ethnic identity and orthodox tradition within a new, multipolar conception of geopolitics. English nationalism, for instance, would do well to reach back before the beginning of Empire and reconnect to a deeper source of shared identity, of knowing and being:

The essence of Empire is corruption. Corruption, as destruction, is the antithesis of construction; it is a usurper. Empire is the perennial contagion in world history; it destroys life, but it does so through a highly complex and subtle system of control based on man’s base desires, individuality and freedom.  As intellectual work is today crucial, the nature of production has changed. If the mind is the main means of production, then the machine and the brain slowly merge. On the other hand, new technologies such as the computerization of technique, have become an indispensable aspect of the human body, and soon, these two will also merge. . . Empires are not imposed from without, but they slowly create mental dependencies that tie man into their networks. These gradually serve as our sources of information that integrate ourselves economically, legally and psychologically. This implies a total loss of identity.  (Aleksandr Dugin : Author of The Fourth Political Theory )

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AMERICAN PSYCHO

I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.

                                 

                             LASCIATE OGNI SPERANZA, VOI CH’ENTRATE                    

American Psycho is a satire on the consumer culture as typified by the ‘Yuppie’ phenomena of the nineteen-eighties. This was a decade of excess and hedonism, narcissism and ‘conspicuous consumption’, driven by self-interest and centered upon personal fulfillment. A society of mass industrial production, and overproduction, necessitates the creation of a corresponding mass consumer base to sustain and sanction it. The ideological dimension of such a society will be of a type that promotes the values of acquisition and financial power. This was exemplified by the post-war boom in America and the consequent growth of advertising and applied psychology to reshape the citizens into consumers.

CUSTOMER SERVICES

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There is an interesting analysis of this marketing strategy in its initial stage by Theodor Adorno as early as 1938:

For a while, an English brewery used for propaganda purposes a billboard that bore a deceptive likeness to a whitewashed brick wall. Properly placed the billboard was barely distinguishable from a real wall. On it, chalk white, was a careful imitation of awkward writing. The words said ‘What we want is Watneys.’ The brand of beer was presented like a political slogan. Here the wares masquerade as a slogan; the type of relationship suggested by this billboard is one in which the masses make a commodity recommended to them the object of their own action (Theodor Adorno On the fetish-character in music and the regression of listening)

By the nineteen-eighties there was a shift from the manufacturing base toward an expansion of the financial sector. The bubble of wealth which resulted brought into focus for a short period the inhabitants of Wall Street where opportunism and selling-ability were valued over loyalty and integrity.

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There was also a distinctive change in that period toward an intensified focus on image surface and appearance. For example: the advent of MTV, the proliferation of fashion and lifestyle magazines with glossy, eroticised imagery presenting commodities as objects of desire and symbols of status. None of this is new within a society but the peculiar intensity with which it was pursued and exalted in that period was suggestive of a fault line within the culture. The scene of Patrick Bateman driven to barely contained psychotic rage because of the superior quality of a colleagues business card is a satirical illustration of the prioritising of style over substance.

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This concern with surfaces implies a neglect of the inner dimension which is impoverished and starved and emerges in the shape of the homeless tramps who appear at the margins of his consciousness throughout the novel and to a lesser degree in the film. These operate as an indictment of his own detached and sterile existence which is severed from reality and inhabiting a world of images. This is a world of brand names, fashionable restaurants and apartments filled with sleek and immaculate surfaces.

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With the emphasis on surfaces arises a corresponding superficiality in the conversational exchanges which remain on a level of vacuous banality, where the empty rhetoric of a career politician filled with soundbites and platitudes can pass for humanitarian concern. This is parodied in the book by Bateman’s references to a fictional daytime TV talk show called The Patty Winters Show and in the film by this exchange:

Bateman: Come on Bryce. There a lot more important problems than Sri Lanka to worry about.        

Bryce: Like what?                                                                                                                                          

Bateman: Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. Most importantly, we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people.

Consumer culture attains dominance when the coercion of financial forces dictate the terms of the cultural discourse. The submerging of the individual into the realm of fantasy and desire is a means of control and neutralization. A person dependent upon and identified with a materialistic culture is unable to gain perspective and is continually manipulated by their own attachment to a fluctuating realm of rationalised behaviour and situational ethics. Such a person might well be considered as homo-economicus, an identity constructed out of advertising, stupefied by propagandist slogans and motivated by greed and conformity.

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I live in the American Gardens Building on W. 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman. I’m 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy I’ll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion.

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JUST SAY NO

Rene Guénon, writing in 1945, sees history as a descent from Form (or Quality) toward Matter (or Quantity) which he identifies with modern materialism and the rise of the ‘masses’. What he has to say regarding this situation sheds light on Bateman’s existential predicament:

A reduction to the quantitative can be seen as contributing to the confining of existence within the limited horizon of the profane point of view. This is sufficiently understandable after what has been said of the peculiarly quantitative character of modern industry: by continuously surrounding man with the products of that industry and never letting him see anything else, he is really compelled to shut himself up inside the narrow circle of ordinary life, as in a prison without escape. (Rene Guénon: The Reign of Quantity)

That Brett Ellis intended the work to be understood as something more than a satire on consumerism or an escapist fiction is evident from the opening references to Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Dante’s Divine Comedy (ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE) as well as the closing lines (THIS IS NOT AN EXIT) which alludes to Sartre’s play No Exit.

THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL

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Bateman spends a considerable amount of time reviewing the music of the period, critiquing Huey Lewis and the News, Genesis and Whitney Houston. These middle of the road, commercially successful artists are unable to sustain the analysis he subjects them to. Whitney Houston is the recipient of his deepest spiritual feelings, provoking derision from a soon to be killed sex partner. The shallow culture of New York in the eighties is a product of a disconnect from reality and an analysis of America’s ideological position would have to confront its subservience to Matter, in Guénon’s sense of the word.

Guénon himself called America ‘the Far West’ by which he meant that it represents the advanced stages of the cultural and human disintegration and regression occurring throughout the West. To this way of thinking the American mentality is atrophied and its ideology is a puerile and primitive expression of pragmatic, rational and quantitative values resulting in the standardisation and conformity of the marketplace as well as the seemingly opposed cult of ‘individuality’. Within a culture severed from traditional roots the ‘self-made man’ echoes the American ideals of freedom and the creation of a new world, as inscribed within the Declaration of Independence. This results in a plethora of fabricated masks simulating the real individuality which derives its authenticity from a qualitative domain not accessible to the egalitarian or mercantile mentality.

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Allen has mistaken me for this dickhead, Marcus Halberstram. It seems logical because Marcus also works at P&P, and in fact does the same exact thing I do. He also has a penchant for Valentino suits and Oliver Peoples glasses. Marcus and I even go to the same barber, although I have a slightly better haircut.

The Assertion of Independence

Within the film and the book low-key references are made to the Iran Contra affair, an event which highlighted the fault line between America as an ideal and the grubby reality of realpolitik. This dichotomy between image and reality spawns the confusion and misunderstanding which pervades the world of Bateman. When asked what he does in a  noisy nightclub he replaces the the term ‘mergers and acquisitions’ with the term ‘murders and executions’. This amusing pun also reveals the violent substratum underpinning the surface success story.

Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address to the nation:

I’ve spoken of the Shining City all my political life. …In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still‘.

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The Declaration of Independence is saturated with the thinking of Rousseau and Montesquieu. The basic idea, as in all Rationalism, is the equating of what ought to be with what will be. Rationalism begins with confusing the rational with the real, and ends by confusing the real with the rational. This arsenal of ‘truths’ about equality, inalienable and inherent rights, reflects the emancipated critical spirit, devoid of respect for facts and tradition. The idea that governments are ‘instituted’ for a utilitarian purpose, to satisfy a demand of ‘equal’ men, and that these ‘equal’ men give their ‘consent’ to a certain ‘form’ of ‘government’, and then abolish it when it no longer serves the purpose is pure Rationalistic poetry, and corresponds to no facts that have ever occurred anywhere. The source of government is the inequality of men – this is the fact. (Francis P. Yockey: Imperium)

THIS IS NOT AN EXIT

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If the definition of Ideology is the successful implantation of specific ideas into a populace to the extent that they assume the status of self-evident assumptions then Patrick Bateman is a product of the American Ideology. If the only reality is the reality accessible to the senses then we are at the mercy of those who have the financial power to control the cultural environment and set the parameters of thought. It results in a capitulation to appearances, a worship of the material realm, a repetition of the mantras of acquiescence created by the corporate and political machinery. We become enmeshed within the cycles of boom and bust economics, the election cycles of hopes raised and promises broken, the building up and tearing down of celebrities and the ever-changing trends of fashion. In this late stage we are engaged in the cannibalisation of our own culture as evidenced, within the film and music industry, by the number of revivals and remakes.

Servant of the machine, the man must become a machine himself, and thenceforth his work has nothing really human in it, for it no longer implies the putting to work of any of the qualities that really constitute human nature. The end of all this is what is called in present-day jargon ‘mass-production’, the purpose of which is only to produce  the greatest possible quantity of objects as exactly alike as possible, intended for the use of men who are supposed to be no less alike; that is indeed the triumph of quantity as was pointed out earlier, and it is by the same token the triumph of uniformity. These men who are reduced to mere numerical ‘units’ are expected to live in what can scarcely be called houses, for that would be to misuse the word, but in ‘hives’ of which the compartments will all be planned on the same model and furnished with objects made by ‘mass- production’ in such a way as to cause to disappear from the environment in which the people live every qualitative difference; it is enough to examine the projects of some contemporary architects (who themselves describe these dwellings as ‘living-machines’) to see that nothing has been exaggerated. What then has happened to the traditional art and science of the ancient builders, or to the ritual rules by which the establishment of cities and of buildings was regulated in normal civilisations? One would have to be blind to fail to see the abyss that separates the normal from the modern civilisation, and no doubt everyone will agree in recognising how great the difference is; but that which the vast majority of men now living celebrate as ‘progress’ is exactly what is now presented to the reader as a profound decadence, continuously accelerating, which is dragging humanity to the pit where pure quantity reigns. (Rene Guénon: The Reign of Quantity)

mass-society