(Continued from On Cults (1/2); as previously noted, this dialogue was previously hosted elsewhere and is appearing on QL for archival purposes. -ed.)
What does the Left want? As someone previously indoctrinated in the cult, I must say it isn’t a question which is asked very often, which perhaps is revealing…
If we’re proposing that the Left is a cult, the first question is what do cults want in general?
True. I used the word in a throwaway way here, but basically to imply that a) the Left’s machinations are not obvious when you’re inside it b) it requires devotion c) there are leaders and acolytes, though the leaders are less explicit about their leadership than in other groups because of their rhetorical commitments to ‘equality’,’horizontalism’ etc. d) it perpetuates itself through recruitment and penalization for leaving (denunciation as a ‘fascist’, ‘abuser’ etc.).
You could say a cult is a strategico-organic entity. On an evolutionary timescale, they either survive, or they die, but different cults, and different kinds of cults, have different life-cycles; some are more sustainable than others, some more viral, some more lethal.
I also was raised in a kind of cult, and I noticed that the average cultist has a strong desire to be controlled. The more the cult told them what to do, the more it inspired their devotion and adulation. What I find strange about leftists is they seem to enjoy being controlled under the banner of freedom. The cultists I grew up with knew exactly who was in charge, but the leftist believes that no one is.
A cult must offer its membership something, or control them sufficiently to avoid total dispersal; thus it makes sense for cults to establish and maintain dependencies, both materially and psychologically, through a form of “robust action” in which a set of rules induce roles, which induce interests, which induce strategic exchanges, which lock in patterns of collective action that depend on the rules. Whether these rules are explicit or implicit represents an important distinction, but one can perceive how unwritten rules induce greater anxiety, and may be more enabling of tyranny. If you can’t know when you’ve transgressed you’re potentially already guilty. Kafka treats this theme exhaustively.
Robust action, in my opinion, cuts across the cult/non-cult distinction. You can have cults with a leader (particularly a charismatic prophet/guru/confidence man) or a central faction that are “robust” in the sociological sense, but you can also have cults that are heavily institutionalized and led by a Presbyterian/rabbinical process of interminable consensus-building, veto-points, etc.
It may be easiest to grasp the original definition of “robust action” from the negative point of view: non-robust action is that situation from The Jungle Book where the vultures keep saying “What do you want to do?” “I dunno, what do yew want to do?” And they never get anywhere, because they can all keep talking to each other forever. You can see this as a problem with forming stable coalitions (any time a coalition emerges in favor of A, someone else can make an offer to detach a few members to get a majority in favor of B), or, alternately, as a problem with the potlatch – everyone has private goals, and everyone wants to win the goodwill of their neighbors by doing favors for them, or appearing to, so there is a strategic incentive to delay saying what you want to do until the other guy says what he wants to do first. In a non-robust situation, frankly stating exactly what you want everybody to do is, because undisguisedly selfish, a great sacrifice.
The term “cult” today is typically considered pejorative, but this is a departure from the original meaning. The Greek world was abundant with cults, not all of which were harmful, and some of which appear plainly benevolent, for example the cult of Ascelpius, which was devoted to medicine. A cult in the classical sense is simply a socio-religious organization. Cicero in fact defined religio as cultus deorum, “the cultivation of the gods.” The Greek term, λατρεία, means worship or service. The question from this perspective would be: “What does the Left serve?”, and secondarily, “How does it serve it?”
One may identify across the cultic phylum an efflorescent variety of material, symbolic or ideological structures, political, psychological, memetic and libidinal structures. In any given cult, some structures are more visible and obvious than others; one could speak of manifest and latent structures.
The previous dialogue examined a variation of this question from a socio-evolutionary perspective applied to psychoanalysis, conceived of as an incipient cult-structure which was ultimately absorbed into Leftism through the Frankfurt School and cultural studies departments. With regards to the Left, speaking schematically, key material structures include significant parts of the education system, and the culture industry, Federal, or public sector employment, a doctrinal commitment to equality, and a social justice catechism conceived as an activist imperative. Justice must be “won” in the teeth of an unjust, oppressive world. A sense of oppression is critical, and it puts the Left close to gnosticism (which was Eric Voeglin’s analysis).
Sovereignty, or power within a cult is either unsecured or secured, locked or unlocked. It’s the difference between a monarch and a tyrant. If you murder the king, you don’t become the King automatically, but if you murder the Tyrant, you may indeed become the new ruler, at least until the next killer appears. Of course this “kill and replace” logic forms the heart of Frazer’s classic text on cults and myths The Golden Bough.
The difference in the stability and robustness of a tyranny and monarchy comes down to the fact that the tyrant, or the dictator, is insecure in his power, justifiably paranoid, and therefore far more oppressive. Because the tyrant must eliminate his enemies, or potential enemies, insecure power is motivated to attack competency. If your competent rival can replace you, in principle, you better eliminate them, and replace them with someone who can’t, in other words, someone controllable, through their incompetence, or their corruption, in line with the strategy of libido dominandi. How much of the Leftist elite is today animated by this principle?
Leftist politics is characterized by ressentiment in the exact way Nietzsche diagnosed (i.e. the claim that we are ‘good’ because the other is evil, the ‘seas of Nazis’ around every corner, the ‘racists’, ‘fascists’, ‘transphobes’, ‘whorephobes’ and so on that are apparently everywhere and especially in the dark hearts of others.
The structural instability of the Left coalition requires an external enemy to render it coherent. This is clearest in the United States, where “anti-white” ideology functions as what Steven Sailer describes as the “KKKrazy glue” holding together a “coalition of the margins” that otherwise does not share any interests or sympathy. Simply put, the interests of a LGBT+ computer programmer at Google and a black woman on welfare in Atlanta are far from being the same, except to the extent that both can be folded into a raiding party. Girard analyzes this figure mimetically in the form of the scapegoat, but economics and mimetics are not entirely distinct. The essence of Leftist politics in the United States is that it is directed at people who have something to take, to expropriate.
Being ‘left’ is a matter of permanent vigilance – despite ‘hating the police’, the left does a much better job of policing themselves than the Stasi could have dreamed of. One observes here, with regret, the collapse of the private/public divide, so private wrong-think can turn into a witch hunt in minutes, if a confidence is shared with the wrong person. There can be no inner life, or independent thought for the Left.
One could speak of a distributed panopticon, strangely consistent with the “policeman inside” introduced by the New Left at the end of the sixties. The New Left project, of course, was ostensibly to destroy this policeman, but it now seems clear that the opposite took place. Lacan’s famous retort to the 1968 students “as hysterics you are looking for a new master. You will get one,” has never seemed so prophetic. In his terms, the project of bypassing the ego, the ego-ideal, has engineered a kind of alliance between the superego and the id, the most desperate of all conditions.
Leftism has always been an infantile culture even, and perhaps especially when its adherents have children, but in the last few years the crisis has matured. Via sterilization, prescription of lupron, and other damaging treatments, transgender politics has introduced an excellent opportunity for malignant narcissistic and Munchausen’s-by-proxy parents to acquire a lot of attention, even if it means destroying their child’s body and their future. Transgenderism is an experiment to test how far reality can be hijacked. If you can make people agree that men are women, you can make them agree to anything.
How many genders are there Winston? Probably the most important question is the nature of the conspiracy, or the political coalition which is pursuing this agenda. I don’t know if what we are looking at is a consciously directed process, or unconscious and inhuman. Gustave Le Bon writes in The Crowd about the desire to return to a condition of “primitive communism” as the original condition of all humanity before the beginning of civilization. The figure has something in common with the Freudian death drive, as well as the right-accelerationist theory of the Left as entropy, directed towards the production of chaos. The perspective finds its ultimate expression in the dictum “Cthulu swims slowly but swim’s left.” It’s interesting to consider here the connection between Conquest’s Law and the laws of thermodynamics.
The left is in a permanent state of reaction, and seems to have zero idea about what it might positively want. I think this is structural: the Left is composed out of weakness and sociopaths.
I don’t know if it is chaos, but some sort of zombie army run by priests, who today are into kink and polyamory and coke, because the super-ego injunction has shifted from ‘deny thyself’ to ‘indulge thyself’). The late Mark Fisher’s question “how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim?” is the right one for these ‘leaders of the left.’
Fisher of course analyzed this dynamic as well as anyone in his well-read text Exiting the Vampire Castle. In his analysis of a politics “united by hatred and fear, not solidarity” there’s an analogy with a crab bucket. If you put a crab in a bucket, they can find his way out, but if you put in a few, they will collectively prevent the escape of each other, by dragging them down into the bucket. This dynamic can also be modeled mimetically, in terms of an identity dependent on the recognition of the other to remain integral.
Still, Fisher never really himself succeeded in leaving the Left; what he wasn’t prepared to accept was that the door was on the right. His first book Capitalist Realism is a case study in the deadlock of Leftist psychology.
The other witness to call here is Ted Kaczynski, whose thesis on Leftism puts him close to our topic. “Leftism is not a religion in the strict sense because leftist doctrine does not postulate the existence of any supernatural being.” he writes, “But, for the leftist, leftism plays a psychological role much like that which religion plays for some people. The leftist NEEDS to believe in leftism; it plays a vital role in his psychological economy. His beliefs are not easily modified by logic or facts. He has a deep conviction that leftism is morally Right with a capital R, and that he has not only a right but a duty to impose leftist morality on everyone… The leftist seeks to satisfy his need for power through identification with a social movement and he tries to go through the power process by helping to pursue and attain the goals of the movement… Consequently the leftist is never satisfied with the goals he has already attained; his need for the power process leads him always to pursue some new goal.”
The left runs on guilt and fear, which is not news to anyone. It recruits people when they are weak, and it keeps them weak, and promotes those who promote weakness. By claiming to defend ‘victims’ of ‘trauma’ (trauma is the key word because it sounds dramatic, and can cover anything from being actually abused to someone looking at you funny…) the Left generates perpetual victims, and does not let them go. Self-abasement is also a central pathology. You cannot feel proud of anything, you must apologize perpetually, give all that you have to the cause (i.e. the person shouting loudest that they are a victim), you cannot get better, if you are physically or mentally ill or suffering from an addiction, you are not allowed to, although these things can be used against you later. The left is, furthermore, unbelievably boring and unable to have interesting discussions of any kind, not least because of all the inner and outer policing.
The contemporary Left could conceivably be described as a coalition of ugly women and weak men. The ugly women seek vectors for increasing their status, while the weak men incentivize sociopathic behavior by playing it safe, that is, avoiding or evading the issues to avoid themselves becoming targets.
On the topic of Conquest’s Second Law (that everyone is conservative about what they know best), let me suggest that far more than half of people have a conservative temperament – everyone knows their own life best – and that many of the inconsistencies in leftist thought arise from the fact that this ideology was originally articulated and invented by radicals, but once it spread to the masses it was filtered through the naturally conservative tendencies of the average person. What you end up with is the sanctification of a very idiosyncratic type of transgression. The way that a small group of radicals chose to be subversive in their own milieu became the safe, default orthodoxy of the generation that inherited their ideas. This fact that the average person “plays it safe,” mixed with ideals that were selected for their danger, has given us a nauseating social orthodoxy.
One is reminded of Heiner Mueller’s line from Hamletmachine: “I am a privileged person. My nausea is a privilege.”