The Liberal Psyche: Session One
Take a load off Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny
And and and you can put the load right on me
—The Band, “The Weight”
I consider the present political situation as a psychomachia, a drama in which what any of the dramatis personae say or any of the bi-partisan accords they enact do no more than mask the “Unthought” that conceals the hidden heart of the matter. You cannot interpret and thus reach understanding with the Unthought because both interpretation and a hoped for understanding pursue with thought what has not the shape of thought, what has not yet been brought to a representation that we can think about. The redundancies and circularities, the stalemates and gridlocks, the routine fall back threats and doom scenarios of present political debate remain incurable because we think the battle is being waged on the battlefield we see and not the one we don’t.
For any truth story or reality narrative to hold sway on the stage of our psychomachia, it must consume resident imaginings at center stage while at the same time create, sustain and defend them. To overcome the present offspring of this interplay is to interrupt it on a foundational imaginative level.
I am here retracing a path that marketers have already taken. It is axiomatic in capitalism to open new geographical frontiers to expand profit making but the enabling theorem here has to do with the colonizing of the individual psychic frontier. In other words, notions of zero sum competitiveness, of creative destruction, and of what John Quiggin in Zombie Economics lists as the “Great Moderation,” “Efficient Markets,” “Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium,” “Trickle-Down Economics,” and “Privatization” have become accepted “truth stories,” a mask of rationality, within a consciousness already adapted and shaped to recognize them as such. The relationship between this mask of adopted rationality and realism and an imaginary devoid of rationality or realism is symbiotic in that the former cannot hold if it has not correctly exploited the imaginary, and the latter, the imaginary, can abide by this reality construct only if it allows an unrevealing, nonflammable release of its repressed charge.
The intensity of the hold we have on what we know can never be more reliable than our own contingent narratives. However, we are now divided into two camps, both deeply and seriously believing that what they say reveals what actually may be. This lack of a sense of the absurdness of our supposed “rationalities” compels a consideration of psychic valences and forces as themselves compelling what are presented as argument and ideology. Perhaps this is why the recent Republican primary debates had a theater of the absurd quality, a drama unfolding that seems to mock, as does a circus, a carnival and a bad dream, all pretenses of order and meaning.
The Liberal character in our psychomachia has no presence, by which I mean that the Liberal cannot bring to presence the hidden, ruling passion of her being because that passion has already been thrown on the dust pile by the protagonist in our American cultural imaginary: the Right-wing psyche. At the same time that Republicans began a campaign to dismantle what Nietzsche called a Slave Morality, which was in the Republican view, a Liberal Morality, all Losers were set up for a moral rebuke. What both Liberals and the economically disenfranchised were rebuked for amounted to this: Liberals sought to impose the standards of the Losers upon the Winners, while the Losers were “haters” of the strength and independence of the Winners. One cannot have a passion for losing, for putting aside self-interest, for turning the other cheek. Meekness may inherit the earth, perhaps enough to be buried in, but Audacity inherits a tax-free estate. The denial, abnegation, restraint of the Liberal’s ruling passion can do no more than place the Liberal in a passive, defensive posture, a Christian fed to the lions while Right-wing Gladiators spill blood to win.
Liberalism, like Christianity, provides texts of our compassion, our enlightened self-interest, our rising above a Machiavellian pursuit of ends regardless of what means are taken. Nietzsche called this a necessary alibi, a front, a brief that salves our conscience, a useful vocabulary that hides much. Liberals thus become “useful idiots” in a Master Morality regime, giving needed cover to a mass psyche protective of its humanity, its compassion, its generosity, its exceptionalism in moral concerns and philanthropy, its tears shed over the awful conditions in Africa.
Our “American Dream” in its cold starkness—“I’m Going to Get Mine, You Get Yours”—is ornamented by Liberal concerns for the poor, for the environment, for the old and sick, for the inner cities, for the unemployed, for egalitarianism, for social justice, for diplomacy and not preemptive attacks, for tarred sea gulls and netted dolphins. And so on. Liberals on the stage of this psychomachia are like corporate and celebrity publicists, Ciceronian orators, the ones who spin us away from greed and degeneracy toward humanitarian philanthropy. One can give a passing nod to a displacement of self in the face of the needs of others, a sense that we are our brother’s keeper and they are ours, but its representation within our present psychomachia is attached to a fading reality. It reeks of loss, defeat, negation and naivete at the very moment when our terrorist paranoia places us in a survival game.
The Liberal cannot bring to presence his psychic foundational substance – socialism -- because that matter has already been condemned, like a piece of condemned psychic property . It is a haunting absence in the Liberal psyche. The Liberal is the analysand who is anchored in what no longer exists, in an absence that the Liberal has no way to communicate because this psychomachia has made it inconceivable. In our psychic dramatis personae , the Liberal is a Jamesian Ralph Touchett , a Hawthorne Arthur Dimmesdale, a Melvillian Billy Budd --- a character of good and noble intent but incapable of or prevented from complete expression and representation of what lies within. The growing weakness of Liberals on this stage emerges also from a growing loss of what was once conceivable to themselves. Even great orators, like President Obama, cannot find the words.
The Liberal has learned to run from his dark, socialist roots in order to survive in a “Politics is the art of the possible” climate. Thus, the Liberal enters the debating arena –discourse as gladiatorial combat – without an offense and hopes not to win but only defend against Right-wing attacks. The problem becomes greater because this is a battle of words, of representations, and the Liberal is losing the capacity to represent the Liberal “reality” and thus his role in our psychomachia fades. This does not mean that absence does not continue to have impact, both on the Liberal and the Right-winger. The further the Liberal gets from bringing to presence, bringing to meaning what he stands for, the more intense is the Liberal’s own psychic drama. It’s a search for a paradise lost, for a fully realized passion that has been lost.
The psychic intensity here is great. The Right-winger cannot psychically suffer the loss of the Liberal, for that would eliminate the same need felt by the Liberal—a need to reach beyond “Politics as the art of the possible.” Once again, what has power here is a kind of Romantic idealism that somehow has place in our American cultural imaginary, a need to fulfill this brave new world “that has such people in it.” Liberals aspire not only to what they’ve lost but also to what all of humanity has lost. And though Right-wingers aspire to ever increasing returns on investment, they recognize and share with Liberals an American psychic need for a greater glorification and nobler intent. However, that need – which, for the Right-wing, serves in the end increased profits --is satisfied by cant for the Right-wing, or, tended to by Liberals who aspire “beyond profit” but deny themselves a path by acquiescing to the Right-wing’s road blocks. Liberals here play a role in our psychomachia that is taken advantage of by a Right-wing plotting of reality.
Survival for the Liberal retains the hope of bandaging the damages of a looting, crippling globalized capitalism, the hope of lessening the impact of a disastrous wealth gap, the hope of weakening the hold a market credo has on the American cultural imaginary. But “lack” is the revealing psychic code for Liberal. That “lack” returns always to the absence of any level of socialist critique that would arm the Liberal but which the Liberal cannot accept. In its place the Liberal offers an oblique often opaque labyrinth of rationales, platforms and justifications that all distill into a transference of its own “lack” to its constituency. “Lack” here disperses into variants of absence, negation, restraint, compulsion, discipline and regulation. “Less is more,” a message that runs counter to the Right-wing “More is always better,” is forever upstaged in our psychomachia. There are no populist attachments to be made on the stage of psychic detachment, especially with a struggling populace, perhaps “the 80%,” who are already deeply psychically entrenched against denying themselves anything. Winning here is always having more, regardless of the dire prophecies of liberal Cassandras.
The Liberal defense is mounted against the domineering offense of capitalism but that excessive offense has overwhelming positive psychic value while any restraint upon it has overwhelming negative psychic value. It is necessary to ignore the discourse of a U.S. increasingly absorbed by what it continues to call --against all evidence of such -- Christian values and instead observe on the deep psychic level that capitalism’s promise of ever growing personal gain grounded in a steady pursuit of self-interest magnetizes. The Liberal’s vision locating personal gain somehow in an equal sharing with others – a belief Liberals have been bullied away from -- necessitates a drawing back from one’s own self-interest. The Liberal’s vision of constraining personal choice on behalf of the public good has only negative resonance. All this that the Liberal has adopted defensively while repressing any part of a socialist offence remains mystifying and not magnetic on the stage of our psychomachia.
The Leftist role in this psychomachia, as we shall see, has lost its own voice and has been exiled not only by a Neo-liberal choir that holds the stage but abandoned by a fearful and intimidated Liberalism. But a Session Two is needed for a full examination of the Liberal Psyche.
Joseph Natoli's OCCUPYING HERE & NOW; THE NEW CLASS WARFARE is available on Amazon's Kindle.