24 November 2013

Guru-yoga and the Left: Prologue

On religion and ethics

I am going to be using "religion" in the pejorative sense below, distinct from any question of personal relationship to the 8th Dynamic/Absolute Truth/God Almighty. I am using Frank Zappa's definition:

"foolish rules, of ancient date
 designed to make you feel all great
 while you fold, spindle and mutilate
 the unbelievers from the neighbouring state"

Any Marxist, materialist or humanist should be able to argue that there are  materialist, humanist ethics: "shoulds" which come from the "is" of our lived experience, rather than being arbitraries. Mr Zappa again:
"Do what you want, do what you will,
 just don't mess up your neighbour's thrill, 
 and when you pay the bill, kindly leave a little tip 
 to help the next poor sucker on his one-way trip."

We would reject the speculation of religious scholars that the reason you can tell something is holy is precisely because it is irrational. (The question of whether there is such a thing as "divine" ethics which contradict humanistic ethics is something that we should leave well alone, although Sufis discuss it.)

So Zappa's definition of religion can be put in other terms as "a code of justifications for behaviour which contradicts the plain ethics of ordinary life". As Neil Gaiman put it: "something you know which I don't know which makes everything you do okay". Excuses for being an asshole, yes yes.

Given this, a religion (excuse-for-being-an-asshole) doesn't need God. It just requires some kind of idol (the State, the Revolution, the Clearing of the Planet, the Ascension), the service of which not only excuses but demands the suspension of the everyday duty of care towards one's fellow living creatures. It is the same as Giorgio Agamben's "state of exception" - the religious authority, or King (the two were not distinct originally) is that which tells you when it is okay to act like an asshole. And it is always a living person or persons wielding this power.

The Bible says thou shalt not kill, and then gives plenty of examples of justified and approved killing. The Qur'an explicitly says that there are times when religious law does not apply. Trotskyists know that all's fair (in principle) against the class enemy - lying, cheating, stealing, torture, if necessary for the Revolution. But only a big strong man - a ganzer macher, to use the Yiddish term - can act as an interpreter/judge and actually say "yes, this crime was in the greater good and was therefore no crime". L. Ron Hubbard wrote about this in the most explicit way.

So a religion gives guidance for the "state of exception" (the return to the law of the jungle), but only the Big Man can make such a declaration in individual cases. And this is why - and this is a Chaos Marxist aphorism coming up - the more dogmatic/literalist the organisation, the more a Big Man/Dictator will be necessary to interpret and execute the dogma/scripture. Imposition of rules = escalation of power to suspend the rules.

Now, a commentor on the fantastic anti-zionist blog Jews sans frontieres made the following observation in a comment:

members of left-wing groups do follow their ganzer-machers to an astonishing degree, however much the big man's latest whim makes the group a figure of fun or revulsion.

This is true to the extent to which the members of such a group are discouraged from having "their own politics" - i.e. their own individual ways of combining theory to practice - and have to have the Big Man do their thinking for them. Or in other words, the extent that "our politics" are theoretical positions instead of guidelines for behaviour.

This is the beginning of a series exploring the Ganzer Macher model of left-wing politics, based on my personal experience. To be, as they say, continued.