Saturday, December 4, 2010

Centrism vs Rightism & Leftism --"It's a Wonderful Life"

Oregon JC:
doesn't it strike you as the least bit unseemly, engaging with this wanker. It's akin to missionary work isn't it?

I'm a little tired, so I'll be forced to keep this short.

Bear with me please --this fine, perceptive (in terms of technique) commentary of yours deserves better, but it's been a rough week.

I should probably try to say this simply, since my fatigue may obscure a thorough treatise at this hour, but here goes.

Part of the power of the centrists in this government has also been derived from their appropriation of an intermediary role between right and left, don't you see?

The centrists act to render opaque everything they touch. Their freak mediation ideology causes them to symbolize and signify everything to an even more profound degree than right and left. Splitting the baby in half requires that something new be created from that ideological act of willful, sociopathic destruction wholly out of fictional, mythological cloth. The institutions that they worship need a language to be constantly re-created and maintained in accordance with consumer capitalism's "new product/new season/new spectacle" fetishization, and this function also serves to mask devotion to unchanging elite structures. They insert themselves and their language and signifiers even in between right and left, obscuring these enemy ideologies from each other. When the left does not know the right, and the right does not know the left, in a very real way they do not know themselves. They cannot fight each other effectively. They chase phantom brigades of the other. The centrists maintain power over both, as each becomes exhausted in turn.

Centrists seek to be the unseen road beneath our vehicles, determining through control of language our ultimate national destination, as the left and right briefly, blindly wrestle the wheel from each others' control. Centrists' hegemonic mediation, their relentless focus on relationships of power, their cultivation of natural allies in the "objective", reportage-as-amoral-commodity, power-parasitic, sibling-corporatist, frame-mongering fourth estate, all serve their small "c" catholic purpose: technocratically managed, elite-directed change.

The more left and right see each other as Platonic shadows to box, the less control we have, the less self-knowledge we gain. The centrists make this possible by exploiting that ignorance for their own ends. We perpetuate it by fighting at the expense of energy spent signifying. We lack discovery, our ideology stagnates, we are alienated from ourselves.

I had a talk with my Marxist accountant the other night after P&L statements had been gone over, in which I casually mentioned that "Gentleman's Agreement (1947)" was a leftist film.

He was genuinely taken aback by this statement, because, to him, this couldn't be left as he understood it to be, because there was no mention or context of class struggle to explain the motivation of the characters.

He brought up "It's a Wonderful Life" as an example truly leftist film, because (of course) there was Potter (lord/capital) vs George Bailey (everyman/worker productivity). After I gently reminded him that the film wasn't socialist in the slightest --after all, the premise is the petty-bourgeoisie represented by George Bailey somehow identify with the proletarians with whom they endow the structure of shared capital (savings and loan), which hardly resembles Marx's predictions of classes' tendencies during struggle-- I explained how a context bereft of class conflict could be "leftist as hell" (as I put it).

I first pointed out that the film was about primarily culture, and the deliberate changing of it. It was about consciousness, and its direction and appropriation. The premises of the film are that unexamined, solidly constructed social relations tolerate traditional injustices and harms, and therefore must be examined, consciousness altered, power overthrown, and culture changed. This is revolutionary, of course.

I then asked my accountant to imagine a conservative perspective, in which things are presumed to be the way they are for good reason, that social relations, relations of production, culture, morality, religion, all are established knowns closely correlated to qualities of value --like "rice and fish go well together". .
It took how many centuries for humans to have been stable enough in their environments to move the adaptation process along to the apex of "rice and fish"? How many centuries did it take for us to have stopped chasing the caribou across Pacific ice bridges long enough to create olive oil? Or geometry? Or romantic love? Or God? Think of these characteristics not as inevitable outcomes of an upward modernist developmental line, but the hard learned lessons of millennia. Things are as they should be, because we've come this far. The great men of history have bequeathed to us, their worshipful descendants, precious gifts of common knowledge, a book of laws, social order, rice and fish.

In the conservatives' world, change --even change that seeks to alleviate known and tolerated harms and injustices-- carries a terrifying risk of unintended consequences, and an even more terrifying risk of societies losing the collective memory of the value rice and fish together. In their universe, modernity is literally destruction. The upward line of historical human development to them is a death spiral, a melted ice cube, a recipe forgotten. The dark ages are always at the end of empire, in the rightists' history.

The destruction of that established collective wisdom --in the case of "Gentleman's Agreement", the dominant culture's anti-semitism-- isn't necessarily a good thing, even if individual examples of tradition's failure are demonstrated. After all, is there really a difference between prejudice against the infidel other, and the preference for rice and fish? Each is an artifact of tradition, custom, ritual. Each is, in its own way, an inheritance. What if, in discarding one, we let go of the other? What if culture is character, and good inextricable from bad?

The film "Gentleman's Agreement" is leftist because it answers that question with "So be it. What is lost is lost. Improvements can and must be made. The status quo is intolerable. We must rebuild anew. Consciousness must be altered. Patterns must be disrupted. Culture must change. Humans can be different. It is inevitable. Look forward to a better tomorrow!"

(Did you see "Escape From New York" yet, Oregon JC? It's a profoundly right-wing film, isn't it?)

I mention this because it is from intimacy with the rightists' perspective that this perception can be derived. My Marxist accountant hadn't seen things from that other side, and had perhaps forgotten what a threat we are to the right. The context of class struggle isn't necessary for a story to be leftist, if its premise is of history as a long march to justice, in which people along the way shed their arbitrary, harmful practices, and, individual by individual, join the line moving forward toward the good goal.

Sometimes knowledge of the other is knowledge of the self. In confronting the right, we both reveal ourselves and unmask the center. The centrists' mediation of left and right must be mitigated back to its proper role, so that this perverse imbalance ends, and their domination ceases. They must not be allowed to translate our experiences of the world, and our ideologies to each other, by holding up a curtain of language between us. They must be shoved out of the way, so that we can clearly see the right. We --both populist left and populist right-- must be able to speak for ourselves and directly to each other. If we can't engage, we can't fight. If we can't fight, we can't win. If we can't win, the centrists win --but I believe that the left can win that fight, if we engage directly.

Only in this way can we on the populist left re-assert ourselves, and lift the centrists' heavy break on popular will, so that we are the masters of this nation's fate again. We will then have the democratic power to set their beloved institutions --corporate and state-- competing against each other, and maintain individual liberty, genius and conscience in their rightful place as the true heirs of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

If we're still not shooting at each other, then the debate needs to be between us, right and left, and not between the right and the centrists, the left and the centrists and then, ultimately, the centrists and the centrists. Up until the time I notice the slime left by tadpole brownshirts in the streets learning to breathe on dry land, I'll keep talking.

I'm patient.

I hope that this hasn't been too terribly tedious, Oregon JC, I'm really, really tired. Thanks for reading and (I hope seriously) considering this.

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