multitude & moloch

November 5th, 2010 | 5 comments

The evil within is worse than that without

For awhile I thought the inferences I had been drawing – of an unevenly distributed but nonetheless disastrous collapse of democratic institutions, from the precarization of labour to the corporatization of the university – were in part the afterglow of reading deep into the analyses and experiences of all-out totalitarianism. I had just completed Harrison Salisbury’s The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, which had me imagining not only the horrors of war, but the horrors of a paranoid dictatorship seemingly incapable of recognising the danger in its midst, caught instead in a ceaseless and senseless purge of its own people…

The siege of Leningrad, which killed some 1.5 million through forced starvation alone, could not only have been avoided if Stalin had acted upon the early warning signs of Germany’s treachery, but was further compounded by Stalin’s paranoia, which froze independent thought and action among his generals and armed forces, paralyzing the defence of the Soviet Union from the Nazi blitzkrieg. Besides the fact that Stalin failed to heed the many reports and indications that Nazi Germany was amassing an army ready to annihilate the Soviet Union, the Kremlin politics of Stalin and his right-hand man Police Chief Beria ensured that the many who valiantly defended Leningrad, from the upper military echelons to the lower, as well as the many who sought to memorialize its tragedy, from artists to playwrights, from officers to museum directors and staff, were purged from within while the city was laid waste from without…

For years I have been reading William L. Shirer on the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Seven years ago nearly to the month, I began conducting historical studies on the topic, writing of some of it briefly in this post and here. Much has changed. At the time the figures involved were media supercaricatures, with the terrorist-fighting superduo of Bush and Blair paired up neatly against the evil  outlaws, the mysteriously invisible Bin Laden and the poster-boy of evil, Saddam Hussein. These supercaricatures rendered cartoon-like the embodied power of the sovereign even as their power operated, like classic Roadrunner cartoons of seemingly innocuous violence, through the politics of fear. To this end Massumi and Dean’s analyses of Reagan, the actor-president, the fiction of sovereignty – as the “Last Emperor” – proved uncanny and useful.

Each supercaricature had its trading-card qualities. Bush seemed so incredibly inept, so affable and stupid, that the violence of his gesture and the menace of his speech were all the more amplified. Bin Laden, gentle and effeminate, articulate and seemingly intelligent, was all the more horrific for he had successfully used his wealth to spawn a terrorist network that would live on even if he, as the head, was decapitated. Hussein was the most pitiful of them all. Dressed in the trappings of his ornamental uniform and adorned with the dictatorial moustache, Hussein the egoist tyrant seemingly never understood what he had done to upset his friends the United States, whom had previously supported his regime in the war against Iran. When Hussein was pulled from his hiding hole like a rat from the sewers, he had become a cartoon of power, and a convenient bogeyman for the noose.

The mad, mad multitude

Now it is not the supercaricature that rules the day. Rather, it is the undefined, faceless mass, the screaming, nonsensical, overabundance of flesh that weighs among the shouting many, the madding crowd, gun-toting, SUV-driving, flag-waving patriots, mouth agape, eyes angry and yet — so vacant, so devoid of worldliness. We are indeed witnessing the clash of the uncivilizations, whether it be a crowd of clerics screaming for the stoning of a women accused of dishonour because she was raped, or the mad yelling and gun-brandishing of Tea Partiers demanding that income tax be rescinded so that they can… so they can what exactly?

Quite possibly the scenario indicates a coming of the worst incarnation of Paolo Virno’s multitude without content. A multitude whose grouping is not of networked altruism, or the labour of the common wealth, but the shared pleasures of violent affect, the mutual grouping of the intolerant, the ready crowd hungry for the sacrifice of the other. A sharing only of signs that spiral upon a nonexistent centre, whether it be “immigrants” or “the government.” A fat war against an abstract alterity, against a generalized enemy, against all that the Bush-Bin Laden Axis has spawned: generalized fear. And yet a fear that the multitude is in love with… and which they cannot do without.

The spiral-effect of signs was identified by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus when they wrote of fascism as an economy of the absent centre, of the spiral toward the missing transcendental signified — out of which arrives only the shadow of death, as the absence of a final guarantor of meaning rebounds in the complete breakdown of faith, a breakdown so vast that it tears the threads and institutions of democratic society apart. Complete cultural annihilation at the discovery of an essential absence that those steeped in the need for authoritarian assurance cannot comprehend without falling into empty nihilism.

This is a multitude loosely organised in cellular structure – I am speaking directly here of the Tea Party and the electorate of Rob Ford and increasingly, of Stephen Harper’s amassing underclass – and connected through empty signs that commute shared affects of anger and outrage. This is a multitude that is an echo chamber of hatred. Without a true opposition, the echo chamber of the multitude amplifies anger into levels capable of bringing down democratic governance. I will leave it up to historians of the far future to discern whether stupidity in a leader – whether as style or substance is nearly beside the point – has trickled down to stupidity in a multitude. Their relationship is undoubtedly one of cosymbiosis.

Regardless as to the libertarian or otherwise signified intentions of the angry multitude, the outburst of anger against what is the collapse (yet stunning recovery) of corporate capitalism and the failure of democratic governance is being shaped by nothing less than the same anonymous supercorporate donors who exploited and abused democratic capitalism and the investing public. The Tea Party is not taking it out on Wall Street, but on health care. The Tea Party is not demanding a maximum wage, aimed at curbing the excesses of the super rich, but demands instead the end to income tax (for corporations too). The Tea Party is not calling for war crimes trials against the Bush regime, which instituted an unjust war, drove the country into debt, and ripped up the Constitution with the introduction of the Patriot Act and the authorization of torture, but is irrationally calling Obama a Muslim traitor and openly welcoming his assassination. The Tea Party is not calling for smart regulation of the financial corporations that milked the average American consumer dry of cash, credit and property, but for the deregulation of corporate America and the entire US economy.

The Tea Party, in short, is not even smart enough, nor even self-aware enough, to support their own self-interests. The Tea Party has confused the safety valves that keep undemocratic power in check for barriers against “freedom.” The Tea Party is nothing less than the unaware yet ever-so-effective arm of the supercorporate nonstate that is now moving into a phase of organised attack against the institutions of democratic governance.

The supercorporate nonstate is on the move, and it appears to be using the angry multitude to do its dirty work — which is nothing less than to undermine democratic governance itself. Is such an entity a new form of the State? Not really; it is more or less an agglomerate of competing and disorganised interests who are nonetheless aimed in a similar direction: the destruction of the democratic sphere. We are entering a feudal, warring period on an international scale.

The hidden face of Moloch

Chris Hedges, like Salisbury a former journalist for the New York Times, contends that Obama’s symbol has waned — more or less a scapegoat for what is to come. The liberal class has imploded, and in the wasteland of what was once at least a functioning fiction of civil society and the public sphere, resides a dangerous vacuum filled only with the echoes of ringing violence and vacuous hatred, where those left standing now bear witness to the rise of an angry multitude seeking their demagogue.

Yet, and this is the particular twist of the 21C, the leader is no longer singular (though several might fulfill the role, interchangeable all, from Sarah Palin to Glenn Beck). The demagogue is faceless for it masks itself — at least for now. The mechanism of force is not ready to show its true face of power, for it is an entire system: corporate power integrated with the military-industrial complex, the economic system itself exemplified in its violence. This be Ginsberg’s Moloch.

But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist. – Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class

Check out this interview with Chris Hedges on CBC’s The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti. Hedges contends that we are now entering the “Weimarization” of the United States, ending his interview (somewhat to the shock of Tremonti) with the contention that we stand at the brink of the complete downfall of the United States of America. For Hedges, the blame lies with the “liberal class” and its supposedly representative Democratic party, which sold-out to supercorporate donors in its bid to power, from Clinton onwards. It is this selling-out, Hedges contends, that has given rise to the Tea Party. Quite simply, there are no longer liberal institutions capable nor willing to stand up to the extreme right-wing. Further, the Democratic party has sold out the lower classes to corporate interests. We stand in the long shadow of the collapse of the socialist dream…

In the United States, there is no opposition. The angry multitude which believes it is fighting corporate America by demanding “less government” through “libertarian” measures is doing nothing less than opening the door to supercorporate power by removing all public oversight and democratic governance over supercorporate entities.

Is this where we stand, and if so, who is among us, this other multitude, this multitude seeking content, this multitude on the retreat? Is this other we, now, caught in a civil war, whether we like it or not, as Tiqqun claims? Or, like in the 1930s, will this other multitude give up its hope, and turn over the reigns of power to the catastrophe that is to come, should it be granted the capability of realising its destructive, narcissistic, power?

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    5 Responses to “multitude & moloch”

    1. multitude & moloch – from Leningrad to the #TeaParty & # ChrisHedges – a multitude without content, sick with violence

    2. Shrewd, sharp posts from @fugitivephilo on "the rise of the New Dumb" & "moloch's multitude"

    3. mirmcg says:

      awesome site Tobias.!

    4. Nic says:

      Fantastic post— good to see the wheels of Fugitive philosophy turning again

    5. tV says:

      Thank you sirs & ma’ams.