Šefik Šeki Tatlić
THE VICE OF A DEMOCRATIC MAN
The view of an average subjectivity in the First (Western) World towards neo-liberal capitalism, besides all the lamentations about “stupid Western consumerism,” is not as affirmative as it might seem. The concept of “the evil that threatens capitalism,” as it can be perceived in popular culture, is usually completely different than the image of the politically correct perception of evil – represented by terrorists, communists, etc. Hence, in post 9/11 TV shows (such as West Wing) the enemies are not the terrorists, but elements within the power structure that obstruct the “heroes” in engaging with the enemy.
Therefore such concept of evil usually does not insist on the evil lurking from outside of the system. On the contrary, sleazy lawyers, greedy capitalists, mad generals, etc., (i.e. secret power centers from within) are more common villains than terrorists or communists in the western cultural imaginary. Though such view does not serve as a critique of neo-liberal capitalism – but on the contrary, it serves as a tool of its rationalization. On one level, the neo-liberal destruction of the social (through privatization and deregulation) in the name of market fundamentalism is being justified by “secret power groups” that “could not be controlled.” On the other, the construction of “the secret evil” serves as construction eo ipso, as an ideological rationalization of the ultimate lack of any meaning behind the market fundamentalism. Hence, by criticizing this “secret evil,” by being particularly critical of the neo-liberal system, emancipated subjectivity only rationalizes its universal truth.
As Paolo Virno remarks, paraphrasing, “…informality in communication, competitive interaction typical for a business meeting, noisy variations that could start some TV program, generally anything that could become formalized in a dysfunctional way (...) is today, in the post-Fordist era, a typical mark of complete social production.”1
The emancipated subjectivity in capitalism is therefore not programmed/enslaved, but de-programmed, de-formalized in a dysfunctional way – not to endorse the minimum of the democratic norm, but to criticize precisely that norm. When the constitution says “everybody is equal,” capitalism does not have to change the constitution; it just has to make sure that nobody believes in the constitution – a minimum of meaning. And what better way is there to conceal a lack of meaning but to “kill” it, and present the act of killing as the meaning.
Killing of the Meaning
In the cartoon show “South Park,” there is an episode in which a TV network announces the appearance of an animated prophet Mohammed on another cartoon show. As a result, Islamic extremists respond with the threat of a terror attack against Americans if the prophet appears on the show. Overall panic overwhelms the (American) town of South Park, and the citizens summon an analyst from Washington to teach them how to deal with the terrorist threat. At a meeting in city hall, the analyst tells the citizens that during the airing of the show they should bury their heads in the soil in order not to see the Mohammed – which should allegedly appease the terrorists so as not to harm them (!). But one of the citizens gets up and gives a dramatic speech about hard gained freedoms (of speech) they fought for, saying that now is the time they should stand up for what they believe in! However, the majority of citizens gets disgusted with the idea of defending the freedom, and opts for the heads in the soil option.
The Democratic norm or societal consensus on some value (freedom of speech) gets rejected/neglected by that same society if the same norm shows up as an obstacle to obscene enjoyment. What is being defended is not the higher purpose of freedom, but rather it is the freedom to be obscene that is defended. Therefore, neo-liberal capitalist ritual is a ritual of the destruction of a barrier to the “anything goes” mantra. It is the ritual that constructs the purpose behind the obscene banality of the needs of a “democratic man,” who gives purpose to neo-liberal capitalism by turning the obscene banality into sacredness.
“Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”2
Jean Baudrillard, writing about the Beaubourg building (popular name for Pompidou center in Paris which consists of a mass of pipes, metallic joints, and random structural connections) says; “Within a museal scenario that only serves to keep up the humanist fiction of culture, it is a veritable fashioning of the death of culture that takes place, and it is a veritable cultural mourning for which the masses are joyously gathered.”3 Beaubourg, by representing the bowels of the system turned upside down, presents the very truth of social relations and social production in neo-liberal capitalism; the embellishment of the essential nothingness. Culture in neo-liberal capitalism therefore might be seen as a cadaver exposed as a work of art, a cultural object that stands as compensation for the lack of politics that should, after all, construct meaning. What else does the archetypical explosion of police car in an action movie, a YouTube suicide, or the morbid fascination with televised pictures of genocide represent, but enjoyment of the death of society as a death to any barrier of a vice of democratic man.
“The misunderstanding is therefore complete when one denounces Beaubourg as a cultural mystification of the masses. The masses, themselves, rush there to enjoy this execution, dismemberment, this operational prostitution of a culture finally truly liquidated, including all counterculture that is nothing but its apotheosis”4
That makes the meaning that supports capitalism nothing else but an illusion which is as omni-present as the method of its fake discovering.
Exclusion of the Norm
Giorgio Agamben says that sovereign power produces bare life (holy man, the one who can be killed and cannot be sacrificed) as a basic political element – but it also excludes this life from its norm. As he says, what is excluded is not entirely without relation to the norm; on the contrary, the norm stays connected with the exception in the form of suspension.5 The norm is applied to the exception not by being applied, but by being moved away from the exception6.
When genocide happens, “victims are the members of another, possibly violent culture,” when Wall Street CEO’s ignite a global crisis “everyone” has to start saving; the norm is being dislocated, not applied. Xenophobia here turns out to be not a phobia of its object, the stranger, but rather it turns out that the system is phobic of itself – or more precisely, of confrontation with its own sadistic meaningless.
As Agamben says, when confronted with an excess, the system interiorizes what is beyond it through a ban, and in that way it “puts itself as exterior to itself.”7 As an example, Barack Obama, after the election victory got interiorized by some positions in which we find out that Obama in fact is not a black man (?!?). As an example, the president of the Croatian Helsinki Committee Ivo Banac “enlightened” the public saying that Barack Obama is not really an African American. He said that (Obama’s) “father is African, but his mother is Caucasian, while Obama’s academic knowledge certainly tells that he had much more possibilities in life unlike the majority of African Americans in the US.”8 This position says that Obama’s victory does not represent the appliance of the minimum of the democratic norm (racial equality), but upholds the obscenity that supports a non-appliance of the norm.
When bare life (black man, immigrant from the Third world, the poor, ghetto dweller, Palestinian) is being interiorized (emancipated in the First World), that means that that subjectivity is not being initialized to accept the minimum of the norm (equality, freedom, brotherhood), it is being initiated to criticize exactly that minimum of the norm. By accepting the monopoly over the concept of equality, in which it means to become, as Rancière would say, equal only in front of the market9, solidarity is perceived as an obstacle to “private success in life” and freedom is perceived as the freedom to join the necrophilic enthusiasm in perverting every notion of meaning besides the one that says that there is no other meaning but the one dictated by the regime.
On the other side, the only choice emancipated subjectivity (bios) has is the right to choose among the representations of the oligarch who will continue to “grant freedoms.” But the monopoly over the definition of freedom, in that case, also remains in the hands of the oligarch that is represented through unrestrained power of the market. The “curser,” emancipated subjectivity, the one who has the freedom to reject a product, will see that choice as an ultimate confirmation of its freedom.
That is what lurks beside the deregulation – in the social and economic sense, as well in the sense that when subjectivity itself is being de-regulated to such a measure, its only meaning becomes the drive to garble it. Sacredness of bare life (Homo Sacer – Holy Man) therefore comes out of “being outside” of the necrophilic culture. It is sacred because it has not yet become a part of the utterly unsacred ritual of garbling of sense.
Marina Gržinić stated, “neoliberal necrocapitalism is continually being produced and reproduced, not only economically and politically, but obviously institutionally. All these processes have an effect that is totally and straightforwardly completely socially “dysfunctional.” Capitalism justifies its own systemic and political dysfunction; a state of exception by producing a dysfunctional society whose perception of the essential meaninglessness of such a system has been converted into the adoration of the very death of meaning at all. The same logic applies in the case of “Big Brother” or in the case of Guantanamo Bay.
Emancipated subjectivity is therefore programmed not to believe in any aspect of the norm that could endanger an institutional perversion of the norm; such subjectivity is de-regulated from the society that should make sure that the norm regarding the issue of human dignity functions. Dominant sentiment of emancipated subjectivity, therefore, is not the complying one, but the critical one – but critical only of the potential of society to protect the sacredness of human dignity. That is the only purpose emancipated subjectivity has. The syntagma “meaningless killing” comes out of this predisposition; it is not just “meaningless killing,” it is killing of meaning – by discrediting those who remind emancipated subjectivities of the possibility that the essence of the norm should actually be put into function. This is what happened in Nazi Europe, where the ultimate external element, the Jew, was completely externalized from being, and it happens today, when bare life is internalized into “culture” by being emancipated only in order to legitimize the obscenity of the neo-liberal order.
As Rancière says, the right to associate, to gather and manifest, allows the organization of democratic life, political life to be separated from the sphere of the State. As he claims further, “to allow” is obviously a contradictory term; these freedoms are not the gift of the oligarch.10 But Bare life that accepts that these freedoms ARE the gift of the oligarch, turns into bios with a necro-culture life style. Bare life or Bios that take these freedoms for granted become an alien-up-to-obscenity; the one who takes or demands to be given to.
1 Cf. Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, Semiotext[e], New York 2004.
2 Ludwig Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of “The Essence of Christianity,” in Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Situationst International online at http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/ and http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/1.htm)
3 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, University of Michigan Press, 1995. p. 46
5 Cf. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer. Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita, Giulio Einaudi, Torino 1995.
8 www.index.hr - http://www.index.hr/vijesti/clanak.aspx?id=408335
9 Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie, Fabrique, Paris 2005.