Symbolic fiction elected Trump!

For Marx the abstract liberal subject was correlated with the commodity form:

In what conditions do individuals experience themselves as subjects of universal human rights..? in a society in which commodity exchange predominates, individuals themselves, in their daily lives, relate to themselves, as well as to the objects they encounter, as to contingent embodiments of abstract-universal notions. 

The classical Marxist gesture is to ‘uncover’ the gap between the two, universal rights are unmasked as Trump (universal rights masks the privilege of white rich men), the value of a commodities appears to be a function of the interaction of supply and demand (“I will make a new trade deal with China/Mexico) when really it is class relations (Trump is a millionaire who is going to give unprecedented tax cuts to the rich) etc…

Zizek’s departure is to suggest that this fiction – “universal rights” – has a certain efficiency independent of that which it conceals:

the “appearance” of egaliberte, precisely, is NOT a “mere appearance,” but evinces an effectivity of its own, which allows it to set in motion the process of the rearticulation of actual socio-economic relations by way of their progressive “politicization” (Why shouldn’t women also vote? Why shouldn’t conditions at the working place also be of public political concern? etc.)

Which renders his recent intervention on the Presidential Election more perplexing when he seemed to suggest that second order effects of the election of Trump, may have progressive potential. Adam Kotsko highlights Zizek’s folly best here.

But whatever one can accuse liberal multiculturalism of, one should at least admit that it is profoundly anti-“essentialist”: it is its barbarian Other which is perceived as “essentialist” and thereby “false,” i.e., fundamentalism “naturalizes” or “essentializes” historically conditioned contingent traits

Trumps election victory seems to be the victory of this ‘barbarian Other’ at the expense of liberal multiculturalism. Here, using a form of argument familiar to any readers of Zizek, is it not that the universal ‘symbolic fiction’ is not really all that independent from the particular content? The symbolic fiction, elected Trump as a staging of our collective cynicism?



Rate of immigration on both sides of the Atlantic (2/3)

Rate of immigration on both sides of the Atlantic (2/3)

In a previous post we briefly talked about race relations on each side of the Atlantic and we noted a difference in attitude with regards to indirect discrimination, which highlights a hypocrisy between a formal ‘official  equality’, and de facto inequality.  In this post, I wish to broaden the focus to other types of anti-discrimination law, before moving onto the recent change of mood music (Brexit and Trump), before moving the discussion on to a consideration of immigration rates.

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Race relations on both sides of the Atlantic (1/3)

I wish to draw a parallel between the integration of minorities into civil society after the Second Wold War on both sides of the Atlantic. In the case of the United Kingdom largely driven by a shortage of labour post-Second Wold War which opened the door to the colonies, and in the case of United Sates it was the efforts of Civil Rights movement which lead to the dismantling of the Jim Crow form of race caste system.

You have various proto-racisms in the pre-modern period, it was not until a combination of Darwinism, Eugenics, Imperialism that gave birth to Social Darwinism that racism became wedded with that of nationalism. After the Second World War nationalism became decoupled from that of race, for obvious reasons, where a common set of values, in the context of the cold war – freedom and markets, formally  determined whether you were inside the tent or outside.

The different fates of the United States and Europe after the Second World War, the former whose interior escaped large-scale destruction determined attitudes towards levels of immigration and from where.  In 1952 the United States lifted up the drawbridge as the United Kingdom lowered hers in 1948 and encouraged immigration from the Empire. As segregation broke down in the United States, and new arrivals from the West Indies in the UK, there was a whitelash from supremacists on both sides of the Atlantic.

There was a particular famous speech in the UK, ‘Rivers of Blood’ by Enoch Powell in, that referenced the situations on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaking in 1968, Birmingham, UK (from whence I originally hail):

 As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

Elsewhere in the speech he cited one of his constituents who stated fearfully: “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” …you know… and not the other way around. 1968 was a watershed moment in the UK, for a Race Relations Act came into force with some teeth, but its importance: ‘was not act but attitude’. New acts followed and in 1976 indirect discrimination became outlawed, and in 2000 an amendment extended the scope of the act to cover public bodies, including the Police.

In the UK, the focus is on the impact on the victim(s) and not the mental state of the discriminator,  this is hardcoded in statute.  In contrast, in the United States (and Canada) it is a matter of Jurisprudence and  guidance around interpreting discrimination hold’s the discriminator’s subjective motivation as central in weighing whether indirect discrimination is itself culpable or not. This provides cover for those who officially adopt a colour neutral language but whose action is such that it disadvantages minorities, aka policies around ‘law and order’, ‘war on drugs’.

Take home points from this is the contrasting attitudes towards handling race relations on both sides of the Atlantic in response to influx of those who were previously formally segregated,  particularly with respect to how to handle indirect discrimination and systematic discrimination in public institutions. So whilst formally the system is open to all races and creeds, de facto there are barriers which stop people taking advantage of this fact.

The non-racist appeal of Donald Trump is underwritten by the criminal justice system

In the run-up to the election, there was a narrative that Trump’s appeal was confined to a narrow base of the Tea Party, which was opposed to the broad-base of the Clinton support.  In the aftermath of the result, a tension between Bill Clinton and the campaign chief came to light, with Bill arguing to push to target the white, uneducated vote but which were written off by the campaign manager as a waste of time. This coupled with Hilary’s ‘deplorables’ comment draws into focus the limits of Clinton’s base. Trump, whilst losing the popular vote,  was successful in reaching out beyond his supposed base in order to secure the Presidency. What explains his success in reaching beyond his supposed base of white supremacists?

Two dominate explanations have appeared to explain his success, on the one hand, he tapped into the economic anxieties, on the other, he tapped into the rich vein of racism. Mehdi Hasan draws attention to a tendency amongst some commentators to explain away racist incidents as a displaced representative of economic anxieties. In this, they share the mistake of classical Marxists, who see racism as epiphenomena – its the economy stoopid! To the extent that explanations which fail to account for racism as an independent variable, Mehdi is right to criticize.

The so-called ‘soft racism’, those individuals who on the surface tolerate minorities but harbour resentment towards them was a key to his support. On this point, I agree with Zizek, who argues that one of the many striking things about the election was a change in what is and is not acceptable to say in public discourse. There was a certain segment of the American population who, vicariously, approves some of the things that he says but who have the option to be able to maintain face by condemning  some of the more directly abusive, white supremacist supporters. Zizek draws attention to the fact that political identification probably occurs in this scenario. Trump by giving voice to my repressed views overcomes a sense of alienation that I might otherwise have harboured against a billionaire candidate who lives on another planet. Conversely, the sense of alienation that some feel towards Hillary and other champion’s of diversity stems from the fact that they feel ‘oppressed’, by having to repress thoughts and feelings which conflict with political correctness.

Trump as a ‘radical law and order’ candidate represents an intensification of an electoral strategy which has pedigree on the side of both parties. One of the major boons won in the Civil Rights movement was the social stigma attached to racism. Reagan manufactured consent by outsourcing racism to the criminal justice system, with the result as we all know of the explosion of incarceration levels of young black men. In so doing they took them out of labor and voting pools. Bill Clinton continued this trend, introducing mandatory minimum sentences, continuing to encourage the war on drugs by providing additional funding for police who prioritize   drug crime etc… when Bill argued with Hillary’s campaign manager about targeting white votes in key battleground states, let us be in no doubt what this would mean in practice.

The fact that Trump attracted more minority voters than Mitt Romey, I think suggests that his anti-establishment appeal is more than that of racism alone. Minorities are more likely to be a victim of crime and are also susceptible to law and order message, albeit in a different sense. Appeals to Nationalism potentially broaden his appeal, albeit in an ambiguous way. For there is a deliberate courting of those who link nationality with that of race, this is done in a way that is more extreme than what has happened in recent history. Where previously coded messages, ‘law and order’, were aimed at so-called ‘soft racism’, now they are also aimed at more explicitly the ‘hard racism’ of overtly white supremacists.

The best analysis I have read which attempts to take on board racism as an independent variable along with that of economic factors is by Adam Kotsko. Trump voters…

“They are contesting the way that specifically economic benefits are parcelled out on racial and national grounds… Trump supporters do not want the state to preserve the level playing field within its own economy and be open to international competition from without. They want the state to directly pick economic winners and losers on racial and national grounds.”


“Under neoliberalism, national and sub-national groupings are very explicitly placed in competition with each other. Free trade produces a “level playing field” so that cheap Chinese labor can compete directly with expensive American labor, for instance. Within each country, a formal colorblindness prevents reserving jobs for particular racial groups, at least de jure if not always de facto, leading to a similar “level playing field.”

In conclusion, the argument that I am making shares superficial  similarities with those who claim that ‘economic anxieties’ underpin Trump’s appeal, in the sense that I also try to consider economic factors. Where I differ is that I view race relations as being baked in with that of economic factors when trying to explain the form of consent that is manufactured in an election. Colourblindness started off as a way to weasel around the Constitutions protections against discrimination After the Civil Rights movement colourblindess was the result of the stigma attached to racism. Whilst white nationalists have become more visible as the result of the campaign and Trump’s subsequent election, I claim that their prominence can be attributed to their  effective use of new media, more than the breadth of their support. Relatively marginal parts of Trump’s coalition are magnified given how close the election was. I claim that the bulk of his support consist of ‘colour indifferent’, those who do not think of themselves as racist but are vulnerable to coded messages surrounding law and order. That is not to say that with a new permissive environment that composition of his base of support can change.


Early Lacan: ego psychology as méconnaissance

Early Lacan: ego psychology as méconnaissance

Freud posted the ego as a kind of mediator between the external world and the instincts of the individual. Ego psychology which began with Adler (but got second wind in postwar United States) posited an area in the ego free from conflict of the drives. The ego ceases to be a piggy in the middle between competing demands from the reality and the pleasure principle, between the external demands and the internal demands of the drives. 

Normality is achieved when this conflict between inner and outer is defanged, and there is good nature, harmony between the two. The unconscious is kept in its box, under wraps, and pathology occurs when it break free and invades the sovereign reign of the ego. The Marxist critique of this revisionism, is that the Analysist’s couch as the accident and emergency department of capitalism, pathology is individualised. The failure of keeping the unconscious underwraps stems from the patients weak ego, not due to the intolerable effects of capitalistic society (one should have in mind the importance of family in the reproduction of labour in capitalism).Ego psychology,  understanding of the ego as being relatively independent of the unconscious, saw it fit to introduce a new concept of the ‘self’, so as to account for the relative independence of the ego.

It is in this context that one should situate Lacan’s early contribution. Ego psychology, along with it’s notion of the relative independence of the ego, is put under the guillotine. Lacan’s cutting edge is Hegal’s dialectics. The touchstone attributed to early Lacan is his take on narcissism, the mirror stage, and for good reason as it is a tour de force of Hegelian dialectics. 

One critique of Freud’s conception of childhood development, made by those from the object relations camp, is that the infant is initially considered to be a monad, with object relations coming at a later stage of development. The object relation camp believes that object relationships start earlier in the timeline. Freud would counter argue that object relations depend on a minimum level of ego development that isn’t achieved until later stage of development. Lacan intervenes in this debate by agreeing with the critique, object relations do start at the beginning, but he also agrees with Freud in thinking that the ego is  something which is developed over time.

He squares the circle by positing that object relationships are not secondary – agreeing with Klein, but argues that object relations errs by assuming a level of ego development that goes unexplained. He therefore maintains along with Freud, the importance of primary narcissism. He marries the two positions through recourse to Hegel.

Lacan buys into primary narcissism, but dodges the critique of monadism by arguing that the unity of the infant, which is conferred by primary narcissism, is found outside of the infant in pre-Opedipal object relations. The unity of self is first discovered in an external mirror, but more broadly construed, in the care and recognition provided by the mother. Only then is this external source of unity is introjected. Primary narcissism is founded on a primary identification, in the form of an alienation (self as other).

This alienation of primary identity structures an aggression and rivalry with others, due to the form of primary identification being structured by an external dependency. Paranoia at this stage is ‘normal’, as the external dependency creates the conditions necessary for the confusion of self and other. Another consequence of this external dependency is that the relationship between self and other is not one of equivalence. The other, insofar as she founds primary narcissism, is privileged. The ego’s hidden history of external dependency means that we continue to find more perfect examples of ourselves, outside of ourself. Freud calls the examples of perfection that we find outside of ourselves as the the ideal-ego. Our failed attempts to introject this outer perfection lead to sedimentary layers of failed identifications. Lacan calls the form of these layers, ego-ideal, a concept he picks up from Freud but reworks according to dialectical geometry he inherent from Hegel. The desire to close this gap between ego-ideal and ideal- ego is what drives aggression, and Lacan, referring to it as a correlate of narcissism, calls it aggressivity.

This poor state of affairs lasts until a third point of reference intervenes, the transition to this third point of reference is underdeveloped in early Lacan. Initially this third point of reference must appear to the child as a rival, this is the Opedipus complex, and what previously was the source of primary identification, mother,  becomes the object to be competed over. This jealous confrontation is the final end of aggressivity, and is resolved when the infant comes to identify with the father. What is lacking in early Lacan is an explanation as to what necessitates this concluding confrontation. 

In terms of Lacan’s response to ego psychology, who posited the relative independence of the ego, Lacan uses Hegel to rework primary narcissism in order to highlight the relative dependency of the ego on an unconcious processes. Whereas for ego psychology pathology is a atavistic throwback, for Lacan, the succession of developmental stages retains the mark of conflict from previous stages. This is where Lacan’s Hegelian import is most evident, and his reliance on a philosophical understanding of sublimation comes at the cost of a psychoanalytical insight of the Opedipal complex. We will have to wait until middle Lacan in order to flesh out his reworking of the Opedipal complex. 

What Lacan has achieved though his recourse to Hegel is a critique of ego psychology that mistakes process for result. This is what Lacan calls méssonnaissance, the strong ego whose independence from the unconscious actually testifies to its status as an unattainable ideal-ego. 

The fall of metaphysics

The fall of metaphysics

In his 1935-6 lecture ‘Basic questions of Metaphysics’, Heidegger does not seek to replace science, or indeed even to reform it. He wants science to avoid a metaphysical pitfall. He relates a story, via Plato, of a philosopher who is so fixated at looking at the heavens, that to the amusement of the watching maids , he falls down a well. It seems as if science has well and truly overcome this risk, it focuses on the ‘here-below’. Today’s scientist would have identified the well and steered clear of it. We moderns are defined by our aversion to metaphysics.

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