26 May 2015

Got to grow up sometime

The Chaos Marxist jury is still out on whether Jacques Lacan was the most original and useful psychoanalyst since Wilhelm Reich, or whether he was simply a bullshit artist who wrapped Freud's insights up in impenetrably flighty jargon to sell himself as a new guru/master; in other words, the French L. Ron Hubbard. But we are finding his central concept of The Name of the Father (which, in French, can also mean "the Name given by the Father", as well as a pun on "the NO! of the Father") very productive.

To put it in the rather quaint and patriarchal language of the Freudian Oedipal complex, the Father draws boundaries for the Son by saying NO! you've had enough snuggle-time with Mummy, it's my turn now. But when you grow up, if you're a good boy, you can have a woman of your own. In exchange for the sacrifice of undifferentiated infant bliss, the Son gets a Name of his own and a place in the Symbolic Order - aka a role to play in the Real World of Horrible Jobs - plus the promise of a replacement Mother (Wife) sometime later. Of course, where the hell does this leave women, the queer or the genderqueer; but perhaps Virginia Woolf gave us the answer to that one, in saying that since beforra dawna time women have been looking for A Room of One's Own in the symbolic order, alongside those carved out for their brothers.

Lacan argued that the Name of the Father is not only the Law of Society, but the master signifier in the Son's system of meaning, in the way he makes sense of the world and his place in it; and also (and this I think is quite debatable) that the failure to provide the NO! of the Father leads to very vague and provisional ego boundaries prone to collapse into psychosis later on.

But the Name of the Father is also, to put it in the terms of Neil Gaiman's Delirium of the Endless, "something you know that I don't that makes everything you do okay". It is privilege; it is an excuse for harmful behaviour towards self/others/nature, at the base of that claimed by all religions or cultish ideologies. It is a demand for sacrifice and obedience in return for deferred pleasure; or, alternatively, the obscene pleasure of enforcing the Law on the nonbelievers. It is the 72 virgins or the tree covered with a million leaves each showing a porn film which is the reward for the faithful martyrs in Paradise. It is the seed-faith donation of $5,000 to the IAS or your local megachurch pastor which will turn into untold riches maybe in this world, maybe the next. It is the coming classless utopia in the name of which we can lie, cheat and steal in the here and now. It is the line between us Real People / revolutionary cadre and the brute beasts / homo sacer over there who don't belong to our Symbolic Order and thus can be ruthlessly exploited, or exterminated, and our Big Nobodaddy doesn't care either way.


 Lacan is reputed to have told the 68ers "you are hysterics looking for a new Master, and you will get one". And that certainly happened; the libertarian movements of that era, born from the generation in the West who had decided that their Fathers who fought the Second World War didn't know what they were talking about and deserved no more obedience, after a few years substituted new Names at the head of their symbolic orders, for whom they were expected to sacrifice and die. Trotsky, Mao, L. Ron Hubbard, Jesus Christ (an oldie but a goodie there), Jim Jones, Aleister Crowley, Ayn Rand (women can be The Father if they act like one), Hare Krishna Hare Hare... But the most powerful new Master Signifier, and the one which overwhelmingly dominates the world today, was - as befits reification in late capitalism - not the name of a man or a woman, but of a social institution or abstraction: The Market.

The Thatcher/Reagan revolution was twofold. One part was a neoliberal "negation of the negation" of 1960s radicalism, which encouraged ex-hippies to become yuppies and fulfil their dreams of A Room Of Their Own within the globalising market system. There was plenty of money sloshing around, now that profits had been restored at the expense of the workers; why not cash in? That succeeded triumphantly.  The other part was a neoconservative rollback of 1960s radicalism, aimed at restoring Western imperialism (aka the Defence of the Free World) and Traditional Family Values as the Name of the Father in the global symbolic order. This was only half successful.

The Market as the new Name of the Father, unlike the more traditional ones, demanded no personal sacrifice in return for A Room Of One's Own; except in the sense of having to pay the mortgage on it, if you follow the metaphor. You need not accept any personal/sexual discipline, only market discipline. Hedonism was good for the economy now; savings were less important in the era of easy credit; you could have as much sex and drugs and rock'n'roll as you wanted if you were a successful yuppie (the Drug War was only on the poor/black homo sacer). The yuppies decided that "you could be a socialist and still have staff", that a Cadillac was just as good as a VW Combi van for putting Deadhead stickers on and smoking weed inside of. You could follow any bogus guru who would condone your mega-egotistical lifestyle and yet tell you that you were better than anyone else. And you would vote Republican/Conservative because Daddy Ron or Mummy Maggie (the Market in human form) would guarantee your freedom, at the expense of the Others standing in the dole queues, lying in the gutters or in pools of their own blood in foreign parts.

Eventually, of course, the yuppies grew up somewhat, left Mummy and Daddy behind and chose their cool big brothers Bill and Tony (a sax player and a former lead singer, yet!) to lead them instead, who relaxed authoritarianism on the moneyed middle classes while intensifying it on the poor, the neo-colonised and other Others (you know what I mean). Biological racism was increasingly replaced by a cultural racism directed against the working poor, welfare beneficiaries, prisoners, and unruly racial/religious Others threatening Western interests in foreign parts. Cheerleading imperialism and scapegoating refugees meant no personal sacrifice for the middle classes, even more so when fought by armies based on an economic draft among the poor rather than a social-wide draft. Financialisation means that wars can be fought on credit, and resulting inflation of the military budget can always be blamed on whoever you'd decided to blame social problems on anyway.

However - with the exception of a brief explosion of moralism during the early AIDS crisis - "traditional family values" (aka the patriarchal nuclear family and the sexual codes thereof) have been fighting a losing battle. Partly this would be due to the newly liberated yuppies not seeing the need to make their kids go through the metaphorical castration they themselves struggled against. This wasn't necessarily great for the kids, as New Model Army sang in "A Liberal Education":
Be yourselves, please yourselves,
Express yourselves so more!
It's your right to do what you like
Because we can't really be bothered with you at all.
But it may well have made the future possible.

Partly, also, this would be due to the same socio-cultural processes which led to the original crumbling of the peasant nuclear family during the Industrial Revolution and a kind of abortive original women's/children's liberation - i.e. the need for all family members to work to survive in the crisis-ridden globalised neoliberal economy. Partly, it was because of the Pink Dollar - gays and lesbian yuppies were just as important as consumers and skilled workers as straight ones (hence the eventual triumph of same-sex marriage worldwide).

So, while neoliberalism rolled back the social gains of the working class which had built up during the era when "we were all Keynesians", and led to a rebirth of imperialism (especially in its sickening social-liberal "humanitarian" form), it preserved and actually promoted a market-libertarian form of feminism, gay rights and multiculturalism, not attempting to prevent changes in family structure and child-rearing which would have been seen as breathtakingly radical even in the 1960s. The "Millennials", as the generation brought up in neoliberalism, might be spoiled and egotistical/ individualistic, but they don't see any reason why women shouldn't work/have reproductive autonomy, why gays and lesbians shouldn't get married, or even (increasingly) why gender boundaries should be policed at all. This may be the Achilles' heel in the neoliberal utopia.

There's a joke that the real front-runner for the US Republican presidential nomination, if people were to answer honestly, would be Zombie Ronald Reagan. This is very similar to the way that Zombie Kim Il-Sung is still President of north Korea. Like Moses or Obi-Wan Kenobi, the authoritarian Father is more powerful dead than alive. But the Republican base (unlike the British Conservatives, who've been smarted in adapting to social liberalism) are growing old and dieing off. They may run the state legislatures but I doubt they'll elect another President any time soon. As a broad rule, the younger generation just don't need the Name of a human Father any more. Can these pure children of neoliberalism both realise and suppress neoliberalism's utopian promise?


A revolutionary counterhegemony will also come with a new, revolutionary symbolic order - a new way for people to belong, to participate, to be in community. Can we build a symbolic order without a Name of the New Adopted Father? Can we hope for something better than having a Mao or Lenin up there on the wall where the Holy Icon or Granddad's portrait used to be? Certainly there is no going back. Nostalgia is simply nostalgia for having a human authoritarian leader to fight against, and may well lead into a bloodthirsty yearning for killing authoritarians elsewhere (war on Da'esh, anyone?)

Well, I think I mentioned last year sometime that Anonymous might be the first forerunner of that. Refusing to have "a forename, a hind-name and an address", while accepting the techno-commercialism of modern globalism, they opt out of the Symbolic Order altogether. Why opt for a Room Of Your Own in the Father's house when you've built your own space-age yurt on a vacant lot across the street? Of course, this certainly doesn't mean to say that the defiantly racist/misogynist/queer-baiting social norms of various Anon formations are utopic. But they show that it is possible to opt out of the Father's Symbolic Order without the kind of mass psychosis which American Lacanian analyst Bruce Fink fears.

The global egalitarian/libertarian economic mode of production of the future communist utopia will surely come with a global egalitarian/libertarian symbolic order; in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all", that is, there will be a symbolic place for everyone, no matter physical status or social occupation, as well as a physical Room of One's Own. It will mean the end of homo sacer, the sovereign or the despised outcast who is exempt/excluded from the Community or its Law. In future communism, you will no longer need to be real, or have a face, or a gender for that matter. Perhaps the only Law in the future will be the Golden Rule of antiquity, most memorably recently rephrased by nerd-culture hero Wil Wheaton: don't be a dick. Which in itself would be a telling blow against phallocentrism.


It is said that the best way to understand Scientology as L. Ron Hubbard's own attempt to find a way out of his own private psychic nightmare while keeping his narcissistic ego intact. Similarly, Chaos Marxism is clearly my (Doloras') attempt to awake from the nightmare of my personal history.

Brought up with an absent father and a mother with very insecure boundaries, my only ever "place" while I was growing up was being the smartest kid in the class, something I did quite easily. I didn't like the social exclusion that this engendered, but a place in the symbolic order as the Golden Child who would one day redeem humanity (DON'T LAUGH) wasn't nothing. Later on, my mother attempted to bring various stepfathers into my life, who did their best to crush my infantile dreams of omnipotence, but never offered me a place in the Symbolic Order in which I could live in a million years. That could not even begin to start happening until I realised that a heterosexual lifestyle could not be mine, at the age of 25.

But until very recently, I was still yearning for an authority figure who would give me the keys to my future kingdom. Which meant - in my professional, emotional and political life - offering myself up as a servant to some exploitative or authoritarian authority figure who claimed to know "the way out". They were all lying or bullshitting, every one of them. And they didn't understand why I should have been so resentful - they never actually promised anything, did they? And I suppose, at this distance, they were right.

Finally I learned that only I can build a Room Of My Own in community with others who have accepted responsibility for fulfilling their own drives, for not being a dick despite how much easier life becomes if you do act dickishly. Paradoxically, a responsible egotism requires a humility which comes from "spirituality" - not necessarily any supernatural belief, but a belief in something which is more important than your own wants or needs. As the Russian soldier in the 1987 Doctor Who serial "The Curse of Fenris" demonstrated, this can be The Revolution; but only in the sense of a real commitment to a true utopia, a new social and symbolic order without the Freudian castration complex or bowing to any God made in the image of Man, where we can all live.