Liberation In Desperation: Cultural Bias And Material Conditions

For as long as I have been poor, I have been told that things aren’t really that bad, because I have always had a place to live, food to eat and there are always welfare services available. Things are not that bad hides an unpleasant truth in it though: my life remains physically sustainable but mentally and socially degrading.

For years I did not speak up about this condition, because there is a strong cultural bias towards not revealing poverty to others. For a neoliberal society, this cultural bias has several benefits: poor people withdraw from society as they cannot afford to take part in the rituals of society. The welfare state, under neoliberal conditions, uses social benefits as a vehicle of guilt, telling you that you are not allowed to criticise the state because you are receiving benefits. This despite the benefits not being on an adequate level to actually take part in society.

The neoliberal politicians both on the left and right keep emphasizing personal responsibility, which, again, is another vehicle for guilt and withdrawal. You are on all levels being told that your poverty and degradation is your personal responsibility. If you are unable to find work, you are told you are not looking hard enough, despite the fact that there are no jobs.

Yet we know that this is not true. Poverty is inherited. Wealth is inherited. Social status is inherited. Social networks are inherited. Most likely, if you are poor, it is because society is built in a manner that makes you poor.

What you will learn, in time is that your material conditions will never improve. There simply isn’t anything you can do to improve your own position, if the material conditions do not exist that make improvement possible. Luck and chance affect the conditions of your live far more than anything you can do yourself.

Forget about self-improvement and finding happiness within yourself. We are not here for that, because there is nothing beyond the material condition for us. Yet more neoliberal ideological propaganda, made so you would look inward and revel in your own guilt.

There is a deep desperation in understanding that you have no agency, that those things that you thought had been promised are forever out of your reach. If you are poor, you will never have a home or a family. You can never provide for your children and they will grow up as poor as you, facing an ever more uncertain future. You cannot even find companionship in a pet, because you cannot afford a pet. Your social life will be limited for those brief moments when you have the means to go outside.

But precisely in that moment when you realize that all you do is hopeless mechanical actions to improve a situation you cannot affect at all, you can be liberated. But that liberation hurts. It is not about making success possible for yourself, it is about making success possible for every, because success without universal success is merely privilege extended.

That is the core of radical equality, going beyond your personal desperation.


Liberation In Desperation: Cultural Bias And Material Conditions

Terrorism And The Frustrated Subject

Preface: I have zero interests in doing ethical condemnations of the acts of individuals, because on rather fundamental level, individuals act in ways that they see no true alternative to. I am far more interested in understanding the whys of human actions. With that in mind, let’s move forward. 

Let me open with an old Finnish joke (I do feel like I am writing a Žižek pastiche, yes). When faced with an issue of any sort, you can always say “They did not have this problem in the Soviet Union.”

The joke, in itself, hides a truth that should be obvious. The Western citizen, or subject, desires in many cases a state that would be capable of action. The cause to take action against differs, it may be political corruption, it may be unemployment or lack of self-determination.

The state exists in many regards in a state of inaction, unless it comes to carrying out the neoliberal (or in recent history, a social democratic) agenda. This creates a fundamental rift between the state and its citizens, who frequently do desire action in ways and for causes that are unpalatable to the state. As an example, there is now a call of action against the racist actions and racist attitudes of the Finnish police, and while the police leadership has been outspoken about condemning racism, action is lacking. When a known racist is put in charge of investigating racism within his own organization, we see this as a false action and fundamentally lacking in meaning.

But what is to be done? Nothing. The individual has no power to influence the machinery and the structures of the state, which water down any calls of action into vague promises of change. This process is so obvious, that anyone who hasn’t accepted the ideology of the state, knows without doubt that any investigation will be pointless and no change will ever happen.

In the neoliberal West, individualism reigns supreme, so there are no serious attempts at organizing against injustice, either perceived injustices (in the case of ISIS-related terrorist actions) or objective injustices. The individual, the subject, realizes that they have become objects for a machinery of state that absolutely has no regard for them. The atomization of society brings along with it not a willingness to resist, but a death drive. When there is nothing that you can do to affect the present conditions, the idea of lashing out, even suicidally, becomes a lot stronger.

Famously, the Rote Armee Fraktion was to a significant degree motivated by the realization that the West German government was absolutely dominated by former Nazis on all levels, and post-denazification, there was no real interest in justice.  Baader and Meinhof did, entirely correctly, realize that there was no chance of change within the system in itself, so they rejected peaceful means in favor of violent means.

Note that it does not matter at all that there was no true right-wing conspiracy to make things in West Germany the way there were: the entire situation was happenstance and how a western capitalist state conducts itself. The important thing is how the individual perceives the state to act. And in the case of Baader and Meinhof, they rejected the actions of the state and took to arms, with well-known consequences.

We can also look at the conflict in Northern Ireland, that in the 1960s was characterized by a peaceful civil rights movement by the Catholic population, but quickly became a sectarian conflict, primarily due to Unionist provocations leading to a new rise of the Irish Republican Army.

In both of these cases, we can point towards a process of frustration of the subject. An environment which both empowers the individual, yet completely ignores the individual whenever the individual makes demands that do not interest the state, creates nothing but frustration. If your demands are well represented among the machinery of the state, there are no reasons to feel frustration.

The legitimacy of the desire has little to no effect on the process of frustration. We are still struggling to understand the radicalization among the population in Western countries, that recently have led to actions such as the bombing in Manchester, the attack on London Bridge, the truck attack in Stockholm and so on, yet we can almost certainly say that the individuals who carried out their attacks have had their personal ideology rejected by both the state and the mainstream of popular opinion. Yet, these people are willing to die in actions that only serve as an extended suicide. This is significant in itself.

Terrorism towards a revolutionary goal seems to exist even when the revolutionary goal is impossible, as in the case of the RAF.  It is also possible that behind the actions, there is a larger political ideology and a goal that is in it self a rational goal. The Islamic State encourages terrorism, because terrorism drives a wedge between the Muslim population in the West and the general population. This almost nihilistic and distinctly realpolitik goal is however not what results in people being willing to die. Those processes only happen on individual levels and those processes are the process of frustration and de-subjectivization.

Thus, we can rather safely say that the modern state, in its belief in itself and in the impossibility of change, is the incubator of terrorism.



Terrorism And The Frustrated Subject

The Sublime, State Institutions And The Systemic Crisis

As a follow up to my earlier post about the Sublime and the state, I decided to continue my analysis along the same lines, through examining the crisis that certain Finnish state institutions are facing. Unfortunately, the links I am giving as sources are mostly Finnish press and a Finnish-language blog post, but I will give sufficient details on them for non-Finnish speakers to be able to follow my argument.

The nature of the Sublime in state institutions cannot be discussed without discussing trust, because trust in institutions is a manifestation of the Sublime, which makes those institutions greater than their de jure existence. In societies where the lack of trust in state institutions is significant, these institutions struggle with applying force since they cannot count on the cooperation of the population. Max Weber considers the most significant aspect of the state in that the state claims and holds a monopoly on the use of physical force. However, for this claim to be valid, the state has to be legitimized in the minds of the population.

Thus, we should, according to those in power, accept the use of force against us if we do not follow what the authorities say to us. So, we should accept that at a protest, the police can use violence against us if we resist lawful orders to disperse or resist the actions of the police in any other sense. We also should accept, that if we fail to obey the directives set by the unemployment office, we should lose our unemployment benefits and thus our income. We should also accept the use of force against refugees, when asylum is not granted and refugees are returned to their country of origin by force.

These are the things taken for granted by those in power. However, those in power tend to develop a form of hubris, where the simple act of resistance become inconceivable and even cannot be discussed. When a state loses legitimacy, the population can and will resist the state, where we come to a point as happened in Libya and Syria, where the only method left is the application of violence against the population.

Naturally history shows that application of force is far harder when the population is non-compliant, as shown in this television program about South Armagh where the police can only act when surrounded by armed troops and even then, British authority was only exercised on a very symbolical level. When actual force is necessary, the Clausewitzian element of friction becomes very apparent. Things that are easy when the population cooperates, become very hard once the population does no longer cooperate at all.

So, back to the Sublime and the state institutions of Finland. Criticism leveled against the aggressive and racist deportation program of the current government has on many levels baffled those in power, who only expect compliance from a population. A population that now includes a significant plurality that feels the government does not represent them at all, and a minority that sees the government as an illegitimate oligarchy.

So far, the president and the minister of the interior have commented along the same lines: authorities must be trusted. Unfortunately, this indicates that the legitimacy of the authorities has already eroded and pleas about trusting the authorities will fall on ears that will not listen anymore. The simplest plea about how authorities follow the law and thus should be trusted will not be listened to, when people have already lost faith in those.

A frightening truth emerges from this: those in power have no grasp on why they are the ones in power, and they do not know the means to uphold their power. The president of Finland talks about how “uncontrolled immigration” must be stopped, and all that a plurality of the population sees is how he is repeating the argument of far-right racists, since no uncontrolled immigration even exists in the context we live in. Thus, trust erodes and the Sublime nature of the presidential institution disappears, and we’re faced with the truth that the head of the state is someone who is an increasingly out of touch elderly man.

Likewise, we have been exposed to a strange circular logic whenever someone comments on if the police are trustworthy and a net good for society. Someone who expresses sentiments along the lines of not trusting the police, or levels accusations against the police will almost certainly be told that they have to be wrong since the police are trusted. Again, a plea to trust an authority betrays the fundamental truth of that when an authority needs this sort of plea, the trust has already gone. Especially since even objective arguments against the police get the same reply: the police are trusted and must be trusted.

The Sublime makes all of these authorities greater than they are, yet the element is rarely understood. Right-wingers have an authoritarian way of thinking where any resistance to authority is a transgression that should be met with extreme physical force, and the right wing is in power, and it can safely be assumed that in the coming years, the government will more and more frequently use extreme physical force against protestors and those who question the legitimacy of the government.

Still, these expressions of physical force will also erode the Sublime element of the state institutions and send it into a downward spiral. This is the point where the state as a legitimate actor stops existing.





The Sublime, State Institutions And The Systemic Crisis

The systemic crisis and the Sublime

As I have discussed in previous blog posts, there is a severe ideological crisis among the neoliberal right. Since neoliberal ideology is at the root of the present systemic crisis, the whole of the state needs to be under the looking glass alongside the liberals themselves.

A state, as a system doesn’t exist only as a physical structure of politicians, parliament, officials, authorities and bureaucrats. It also is to a significant degree a construct of ideology, which is shared by all who interact with it. In a foucaultian sense, we imprison ourselves inside the construct of the state.

It is important to note that the construct of state is perceived as one that has benefits for those who join in it. In pre-modern Nordic societies the worst judicial punishment was not capital punishment, but being outlawed, put outside the context of society which in effect made you a non-person in eyes of the authorities, the state and the law. It is important to note that this pre-modern state was far less oppressive and far less involved with controlling its inhabitants (inhabitants because the concept of citizen is one that did not truly exist.) Conversely, the modern state to significant degrees is a source of necessary services and welfare for those who inhabit it. The increased role of control has been accepted by almost all since the latter half of the 19th Century, because in an European context, there existed the recognition, even among conservatives such as von Bismarck, that the state does have a need to provide for its citizens, both to ensure the continued existence of the state and the continued privilege of those in power.

It could be argued that for the first time, the European states managed to then create a state truly inbued with the Sublime, elevating the construct of state beyond a simple machinery of open violence against the population. It did much to curb revolutionary tendencies, because not even the communists of the early 20th century who revolted against burgeoise authority all across Europe, saw that the state itself should be done away with.

The element of the Sublime present now made matters far easier for those in power, since it was the first time when even revolutionary forces often found themselves at odds with the benefits of the present condition. A pre-Welfare State provides no true benefit for its population, but now the state did do so. In many ways, post-WW2 Finland is a perfect example of this, where revolutionary communism remained a fringe phenomena, since for the most part, there was no great advantage to revolt and take a leap into the unknown.

Now, the situation has changed significantly. The events of 1989 and 1991 imbued the neoliberal right with an amazing hubris, where they saw themselves the only natural leaders of the state, along with the rest of the world, and proclaimed the End of History. Yet, history did not end. Instead, they managed to forget the earlier lesson of Bismarck and 1848: a state that does not provide any benefit for its citizens is fundamentally an unstable state. Note: from here on, I am discussing the specifics of the Finnish situation.

The Sublime element of the ideology of the state is what keeps discord in check, for now. When tens of thousands show up for protests and those in power do not need to fear them, it is the amazing power of the Sublime at work. When protestors outnumber the total amount of policemen in the entire state, only the power of the Sublime, which keeps them from acting out their desires, protects those in power. Yet, ironically, this power is not often recognized by those in power.

And naturally, the reason for that is that those in power have a rather less developed view of the state as an entity. In a neoliberal context, there exists no analysis of what the state is in itself, it is more viewed like a tool for those privileged few who control it. This is clearly shown when those in power privatize public property for the benefit of capitalist investors and themselves. Some partake in these politics for the sake of pure ideology, since they have no grasp of any viable alternative. Some do it for simple greed.

However, there is a systemic crisis at work, one that runs deep and one that cannot be prevented. Overall, the last 20 years have seen an utter collapse of party membership figures and political power in a parliamentary system always lies in the hands of the parties. Parties as mass movements do in themselves contain an element of the Sublime, since their legitimacy lies in representing vast swathes of the population. They might have always been vehicles for cronyism and in case of the Left, a system for reaping the benefits of Finnish state capitalism, but they were seen as legitimate actors.

The shrinking parties face a crisis they have no concept of, the collapse of the parties as legitimate actors. It is not happening today and not tomorrow, but it is almost certain that it will happen. Even now, basic party functions are plagued by the fact that there are not enough volunteers to get things done on a local level.

The neoliberal legalist morals are also undermining the legitimacy of the state, which is well seen in the racist handling of the refugee crisis and the cycle of criticism and counter-criticism against state policies towards refugees. The cycle goes thusly: the critics of the government say what you are doing is wrong and you are sending people to their deaths but the reply of the counter-criticists is always the same, We are doing what is legal and authorities have to obey the law. But now, something very interesting is happening. More and more people reply to that The law is wrong and recognize that there is no chance under the present system to change the law, since all parties are in favor of racist immigration laws. Some more and some less, but all are fundamentally in favor of those. The appeals of the opposition to vote for them instead of the parties in power sound hollow, because most of the opposition is in favor of strictly controlled immigration.

And as for the authorities, the blatant hypocrisy of the police is obvious to everyone not on the side of the government. Hate crimes go uninvestigated while the police claims to take things seriously, but even for the most conventional people, there is a tipping point where they realize that the police are not achieving anything, not because they try and fail, but because they simply do not care about crimes against common citizens. And so on and so on.

The ugly truth is that for neoliberal hubris, the time is running out, one way or another. The element of the Sublime can be introduced through the nationalist far right, but as of now, it has failed here because the far right are tainted by their association with government politics.

There is a frightening tendency to ignore a systemic crisis up until the absolute tipping point, when the crisis is fully realized. Unfortunately, the neoliberal ideology doesn’t actually offer a solution for its adherents, when the ideology fails to be embraced by an increasing plurality among the population. Thus, the ideological crisis where the neoliberals reject reality itself and try to appease their own inner desires by growing ever more neoliberal. Neoliberal ideology also does not even have the capacity to ask the question of can the system fail? 

Increasing austerity kills the benefits of taking part in the system of state, since the general population sees their possibilities of getting forward in life slipping away. They ask for better health care and better schools, but all they get is more privatization and less and less for the taxes they pay. So dies the element of the Sublime and with it the structure of the state.

What happens next is anyone’s guess, but all that is certain is that within the political system there lies no answers for the crisis.

The systemic crisis and the Sublime