27 November 2009

Thinking about perfection will only screw you up

I think now I understand what Christians mean when they talk about being "humble before God". Essentially, it's giving up on dreams of perfectibility and potential omnipotence - it's internalising the bitter axiom that you will never, ever be good enough, but that doesn't excuse you from the continual struggle to get better. This kind of humility is essential for all wannabe teachers and leaders (although I'm not sure what an atheist equivalent would be - "humble before the vast universe"? "humble before the inexpressible benevolence of the creative impulse"?) - the knowledge that, just because you're the smartest or least fucked-up person in the room, that doesn't mean you're not still dumb and/or fucked up in some ways. No matter how enlightened you are, you will never have the right to throw your weight around like you speak for the Absolute.

You can see how this is necessary in radical politics as well as spirituality. A sure sign of a cult is a leadership which does not have this kind of humility - a leadership which sees their ideas as The Truth (rather than a better-or-worse approximation thereunto), and therefore claims throwing-weight-around rights, and interprets opposition and dissent as ipso facto invalid due to ignorance or even malice. We're supposed to be scientific Marxists, right? So for Uncle Charlie's sake let's start acting like science - where everything we believe is a hypothesis about reality which is continually open to challenge via the test of practice. No infallible programmes, not now, not never - programme fetishism is the Trotskyist equivalent of mediaeval scholasticism (aka "everything we need to know can be looked up in the Classics").

Several seekers after Truths spiritual or political need to internalise the opposite end of this axiom - that they will never but never find a Perfect Master or Uniquely Correct Leadership. You get people out there who will refuse to commit to any cause which isn't run by perfect saintly geniuses who never do anything wrong and don't have any weird personal quirks. Which great leader throughout history hasn't been some kind of weirdo? Karl Marx had an unpleasant personality and picked pointless fights. Lenin, Trotsky, and rumour has it Martin Luther King couldn't keep their hands off of teh ladeez. Hugo Chávez doesn't get enough exercise and has unpleasant habits picked up from being a military commander. Robert Fripp could be described as passive-aggressive and nitpicky. So freakin' what. You have to serve someone, as Bob Dylan put it - or, to put it another way, you have to make a commitment to something to make any change in the World-As-Is. You can always change commitments later, but the ability to make a commitment and stick to it (even if it's a mistaken commitment, as long as you learn from that mistake) is sign one that you are capable of acting as a channel for something better.

So, if you want to be a Chaos Marxist - and I'm not sure anyone does, including me - the first step is find a political party and a spiritual/psychotherapeutic group and make a commitment to them. I find that so difficult myself, of course. Part of the problem is that I hate anyone being critical of me, opposed to me or even disinterested in me, and all of those come with the territory of any serious commitment. For example, handing out leaflets on the street is terrifying because of the voice in my head which tells me that people despise me for doing this and I'd be better to run and hide. It doesn't help that radical political circles in most countries have been trained in a kind of sub-Leninist "hate speech" approach to opponent organisations. But... the question is, do I want to be able to make a difference, or do I want to protect my fragile ego? To ask the question is to answer it.

7 comments:

  1. I really really dig your blog. What you say about Christianity's lessons (in humility) coincides nicely with a lot of thoughts/worries I've been having recently about the (ir)remediability of the Christian Right, and how American Christians would deal with Revolution. One big question I have about Chaos Marxism, especially (what I perceive as) its strict ideological collectivism, is whether it's necessary to BELIEVE in it to form an effective practice. There's a great article on libcom called The Right to Be Greedy: Theses on the Practical Necessity of Demanding Everything, which is a great read that clarified for me individualism/collectivism.

    ReplyDelete
  2. oops just noticed i called the libcom thing great twice. my b.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Without having read the LibCom article yet, I can safely say that I would recommend you not to believe in anything, let alone Chaos Marxism. This praxis doesn't hand down dogmas or instructions, but hypotheses and experiments designed to test those hypotheses. I would suggest, actually, do it but don't believe in it, and if it still works then we have something real.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I also see a thread of CM in this piece by Slavoj Zizek (if you aren't too turned off by his sensationally faux-iconoclastic ego/celebrity): http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n16/slavoj-zizek/lenin-shot-at-finland-station

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, I've got a real soft spot for Slavoj. How can you not like a guy who was offered a role in the Slovenian government and turned it down because they wouldn't give him the secret police?

    ReplyDelete
  6. My disclaimer was fucked up, I was trying to position myself so you couldn't shoot me down, but I too harbor a soft spot. I'd never heard that about the government position, though.

    ReplyDelete