Friday, August 12, 2016

Ninety-one

I went to bed last night still thinking about À la recherche du temps perdu (or rather what Phillips mistook to be its message) and the election. There’s no way to avoid thinking about the election, because the media talk about it constantly in order to avoid talking about the problems that will still be with us when the election’s over. When I awoke this morning, I didn’t remember what I’d dreamt. Instead I remembered a television show I’d seen years ago.

It was called On Leaders and Leadership. The leaders who appeared on this show, and imparted their wisdom to the audience, were always businessmen. Scientists, artists and and poets apparently have nothing to teach us.

The show was hosted by a rouged and pomaded homme d’un certain âge who squirmed and simpered with delight, as the Baron de Charlus might have done, to be in the company of such powerful men (although the baron preferred his men younger and rougher).

Marcel’s a snob, as most people are; but it’s not businessmen who fascinate him, as they do most people now. He’s obsessed with the landed aristocracy, who reign but do not rule; they employ servants (aka politicians) to do that for them. Marcel assumes that, free to do as they please, aristocrats pursue culture and the arts, as he would if he were free to do as he pleased.

He becomes fascinated first by the beautiful Duchess de Guermantes, and then by the Baron de Charlus, her brother-in-law. The baron cultivates a reputation as a ‘ladies man’, which is accepted at face value by ordinary people who don’t know him personally; but his homosexuality is an open secret among the aristocracy.

In the last volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, the baron’s secret is revealed as the secret of his entire class. Just as the baron’s reputation hides his homosexuality, so does the aristocracy’s hide their decadence.  

The word ‘decadence’ became attached to the aristocracy during the Gothic age. At first it referred to a multitude of perversions, but in the Modern age it became virtually a synonym for homosexuality. But homosexuality was never the secret of the decadent aristocracy only. As bourgeois capitalism became decadent, it become our secret, too.   

Every society consists of two groups: the rulers and the ruled (The aristocracy, who reign but do not rule, aren’t members of society in that they don’t consider themselves, nor are they considered by others, to be bound by society’s laws). Who rules and who is ruled is determined by combat (war and/or the civil war called revolution); but once it’s been determined, pundits attempt to preserve the peace (and the power of the rulers who are their patrons) by teaching everyone that the current social order isn’t just a temporary truce in the endless competition between groups; it’s the natural order and/or ordained by god, therefore rebelling against it would be both unnatural and blasphemous.

Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum  is the motto of every ruling class, but only fools believe it. The ruled suspend their disbelief in this myth only as long as the advantages of belonging to a society, even an unjust one, outweigh the disadvantages.

The ruled don’t rebel when they lose faith in their rulers, because they never have any. But they don’t have faith in themselves, either. They submit to being ruled unjustly by others because they know themselves too well to believe they’d do better. Only when their rulers are so incompetent that they threaten the survival of the society do the ruled rebel.

When they do rebel, it’s not because they believe all men are equal, though they often use that argument as a rhetorical weapon in their battle against their rulers. The ruled believe, as do their rulers, that some are more fit to rule than others. It’s their rulers’ incompetence that causes the ruled to believe that, if they couldn't do better, they certainly couldn’t do worse.

The last volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu  takes place during the Great War.

Those who live through one usually imagine a war is a turning point not only in their own lives but their society’s; but war doesn’t change things as much as most people imagine, or in the way they imagine.

War, and the constant threat of death, makes the hitherto cautious Baron de Charlus reckless. He starts wearing make-up, and develops effeminate mannerisms.

During a blackout, Marcel discovers the baron in a lower-class male brothel. When he mocks anti-German war propaganda (the baron is loyal to the aristocracy, which is international, not to France), he’s overheard and a hostile crowd gathers. 

Marcel also discovers the Duchess de Guermantes has been supplanted as queen of Paris’ haut monde by Mme Verdurin.

Before the war the duchess, the baron and Marcel mocked the bourgeois Verdurins as vulgar Philistines. But as he gets to know them better, Marcel realizes the Guermantes are just as vulgar as the Verdurins. They differ only in that the Guermantes have had generations in which to cultivate the elegant manners that hide their vulgarity.  

When he discovers the widowed Mme Verdurin has married the widowed Prince de Guermantes, and is now a Guermantes herself, Marcel realizes that mutatis mutandis.

During a war, and the civil war called revolution, members of the ruling and the ruled classes (and even the aristocracy) change places; but the division of society into rulers and ruled classes doesn’t change. War therefore confirms this is the natural order sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.

Societies are founded and perpetuated by violence. Their laws specify when violence is forbidden and when it’s allowed, even necessary, to use violence to maintain the social order.

War unites a society’s rulers and ruled against a common external enemy, thus avoiding civil war. Each time a new generation comes of age the society must fight another war against an external enemy to teach a new generation of slaves to obey their masters even when doing so means death, and a new generation of masters to overcome whatever scruples they may have about exercising the power of life and death over others. 

Relations between rulers and ruled are always violent, whether actively or only potentially; and relations between men and women are always sexual, whether actively or only potentially. In a patriarchy, in which men rule women, violence is sexualized and sexual relations are perceived as inherently violent, aka sadomasochistic.

Men rule women for the same reason the rich rule the poor: they fear being ruled by them. Women accept their inferior place in society for the same reason the poor do: the advantages of belonging to the society outweigh the disadvantages. Men tolerate women for the same reason all masters tolerate their slaves: they're useful. But masters always prefer the company of their equals, which in a patriarchy means other men.

Most modern human societies forbid sex between men, but not because it’s unnatural, as homophobes claim. Other animals engage in homosexuality. It’s human society that’s unnatural.

It's unnatural in practicing slavery, not in practicing homosexuality. Ancient human societies tolerated sex between men as long as they belonged to different classes. It was common for masters to use both their male and female slaves sexually. Tolerance of homosexuality eventually ended, as did tolerance of slavery, but both practices continued.    

Human society, like most animal societies, is hierarchal. Competition sorts its members into winners and losers, rulers and ruled. Human society is unnatural in that the outcome of this competition is determined before it begins. Women (and poor men) are always losers, and (rich) men always winners.

When society sexualizes violence, it’s inevitable that war, the most violent of social activities, should be the most erotic. When war is an exclusively male activity, it’s inevitable that men who depend on each other for their lives should love each other. But most men can’t or won’t express their love for each other naturally any more than they express their love for women naturally. They love other men in the same way society teaches them to love women: violently and sadomasochistically.

Most people are ruled by others because they can’t or won’t rule themselves. The ruled seldom rebel, however unjust their rulers, because they know themselves too well to believe they’d do better. Rulers also know themselves too well to believe they’re capable of ruling themselves, much less others; therefore they always fear their subjects will rebel.

The more rulers fear their subjects will rebel, the more they use violence to control them. The more they use violence, the more likely their subjects are to rebel.

Every society is founded on, and perpetuated by, violence. Peace is never more than a temporary truce which lasts only until the next generation matures. But as people become better educated, they’re less willing to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in the myths that justify their society’s injustice.

The Modern age was more violent than any other not only because of modern technology, and because better educated people were less willing to tolerate injustice and incompetent rulers.

Unhappy with the social order, people at first idealized the past and tried to restore it. Eventually they learned, as Marcel does, that the past wasn’t better than the present - it was only different - whereupon they idealized the future instead, and invented the modern myth of progress. But every revolution was followed by a counter-revolution, as those disillusioned with the new order tried again to restore the old.

Revolution and counter-revolution were the two faces of the Modern age. Whether people sought to restore the past or build a better future, all agreed the present social order was unjust and must be replaced.

There are no revolutions now, in this postmodern age, because people have lost faith in themselves and their ability not only to change the world for the better, but to change it at all. Mutatis mutandis. Some still claim they want to destroy the present social order and restore the past, but they put all their effort into destroying the present order because they, like everyone else, have lost their illusions about the past.

Our postmodern age is secular not only because people no longer believe, or suspend their disbelief, in the old gods who presided over and legitimized the old order, but because they can’t bring themselves to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in new ones.

Most rulers now claim to represent the people aka the nation. Vox populi vox dei. But whichever gods they claim to serve, it's still the aristocracy they really serve. The only change is that landowning Guermantes have now been replaced by factory-owning Verdurins.

We are a predatory species, therefore our warriors used to be respected. By submitting himself to military discipline, a man conquers himself, which enables him to conquer and rule others. But there are no professional warriors now, because there are no civilians now. Workers are soldiers in an industrial army, obeying their master’s orders in the factory as well as on the battlefield; and a master is first and foremost a businessman who defeats his competitors in the market, not on the field of battle.

In modern society overt war, fought on a battlefield, is an escape, a holiday from the covert war of civilian society. In overt war men can stop pretending to be civilized and human, and become what their society teaches them they really are: animals, predators and prey.

Humans are naturally hierarchal, like all animals; but unlike other animals, their nature is malleable, not fixed by instinct. What defines them as human, and civilized, is learned. Because their destructive and self-destructive behavior is not natural, but learned, they could learn to behave differently. 

Human society is naturally hierarchcal, but not naturally unjust. That's why war is necessary. Violence preserves the unjust social order. But in the postmodern age, the violence of the battlefield is less important in preserving that unjust order than the violence of the marketplace.

Most people regard capitalism as synonymous with democracy not because in a capitalist society all men participate equally in governing, but because all must participate in the combat of the marketplace. There are no civilians in that war.  The combat of the market, more than that of the battlefield, determines who’s fit to rule and who must obey.But the combatants are far from equal.

The capitalist myth depicts every competitor in the market as having an equal chance of winning. In reality the winners and losers are decided before the combat begins. What some call capitalism, and others democracy, is a myth like any other, created to justify social injustice.

The only alternative to the modern myth of combat which some call capitalism, and others democracy, is the old myth of co-operation which some used to called religion and/or brotherly love and now call socialism and/or democracy (but not what capitalists call democracy; socialist democracy teaches people to co-operate and work together for the common good, sharing their wealth as they share the work that creates it. But all such names are only words people use to lie to themselves, pretending not to know what they know).

Capitalists condemn co-operation as unnatural; but it's a society based on competition without co-operation (and only an illusion of competition) that's unnatural.


Capitalists claim humans are not social animals, but naturally predators and prey, and any attempt to force them to live together as equals is unnatural.

Most people say they’re unhappy with modern society because it coddles the poor and the weak. It disarms predators, which gives an unfair advantage to their prey. They assume that were it not for society and its laws that favor the weak and inferior, they would be one of those successful predators whom they admire, rather than their prey.

Modern society survives, even though most of its members hate it, because capitalists teach people it’s unnatural for them to unite against their common enemy. All men must fight each other alone, as individuals, because all wealth is created by heroic individuals and rightfully belongs only to them.  Proudhon said private property is theft, but capitalists claim it's public property, the commonwealth, that's stolen from the heroes who create it by politicians, who then give it to the undeserving poor.  Everyone hates politicians and is disillusioned with democracy, the ideology in whose name they claim to govern.

Marcel becomes disillusioned with every woman he desires once he comes to know her, beginning with the duchess, then Odette, Gilberte, and finally Albertine. Eventually he realizes it’s not real women he desires, but an ideal woman, an illusion. This teaches us, says Phillips, that we’re better off not getting what we want, not learning the truth about whomever or whatever we want, or think we want. I think Proust teaches us we can’t avoid learning the truth because time destroys all illusions.      

Marcel’s heterosexuality, like Charlus’, is an illusion (created not by Marcel the novel's narrator, who is himself an illusion, but Marcel the author). What he wants isn’t a woman, real or ideal, but Saint-Loup, the ideal man.

Saint-Loup seems to be everything Marcel is not but wants to be: aristocratic, heterosexual, and a brave and noble war hero sans peur et sans reproche. Marcel the narrator adores this manliest of men, as people believed homosexuals adore heterosexuals when homosexuality was considered decadent, because he can neither have Saint-Loup nor be him (Marcel adores Albertine, a lesbian, for the same reason). Saint-Loup dies twice: first in battle, and then as an ideal, when Marcel discovers that he was, in reality, homosexual (like every decadent aristocrat).

The Great War destroyed the last of the old empires, and the Second World War destroyed the illusion that the republics which succeeded them were better. That’s why the fascists lost WW2, but won the peace. We’re all fascists now, pretending to be nostalgic for the past when in reality we’re merely disillusioned with the present and what we still call, for lack of a better name, democracy.

We live amidst the ruins of empires we mistook for civilization, on the abandoned battleground where Arnold’s ignorant armies fought, the desolate wasteland of Eliot’s poem and my dreams, unable to wake from the nightmare we call history. Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

The war of all against all now rages everywhere, on the battlefield, in the marketplace and in the bedroom. It may appear to be economic, but Freud taught us it’s really sexual. What men compete for isn’t property, but women. Or rather, women are the property for which men compete (We postmoderns talk constantly about sex for the same reason we talk constantly about elections: both enable us to avoid talking about what's really troubling us).

Women also compete for men because a woman is, in her own mind (according to Freud, who admitted he didn’t understand women), really a man, but a castrated man who seeks to replace the penis s/he thinks s/he’s lost by attaching him/herself to a real man.

Freud’s view of women as castrated men is not how women think of themselves, but of how most men (or at least men like Freud) think of them. It explains why misogyny is endemic in our society. 

Most men tolerate women as long as they stay in their (inferior) place, but they naturally prefer the company of their equals, other 'real' men (though they always fear they're not 'real' men themselves, which explains why homosexual panic and homophobia are also endemic in our society) But a man who loves another man runs the risk of being taken advantage of by him, just as he runs the risk of being taken advantage of by a woman (who is only an illusion, actually a castrated man).

All real men must compete in battle, must prove they’re real men, in order to prevent other men from using them as real men use women and/or unreal/homosexual men; and they all know this competition is an illusion, a ritual whose end is decided before it begins.

Because Freud taught people that this competition is not really economic, but sexual, unreal (poor) men fear being defeated, emasculated and sodomized (homo)sexually as well as economically by real (rich and powerful) men.

Donald Trump constantly boasts of his great wealth and equally great virility (both are, his critics claim, as spurious as the Baron de Charlus’ heterosexuality), as though these qualify him to be our president.. But with his cosmetic suntan and elaborately combed-over hair, Trump looks as unmanly as Ronald Reagan did with his rouged cheeks and dyed hair, or the simpering host of On Leaders and Leadership. The manliness of our leaders is as unconvincing an illusion as the womanliness of the female impersonator. People follow the man who claims he can lead them where they want to go, even though they know he's a charlatan, because they don't know, and don't want to know, where that is. 

Pundits claim not to understand why workingclass men support  this billonaire; but it’s obvious.

Although a billionaire, Trump is not a member of the ruling class. He’s an outsider, a buffoonish con man whom respectable businessmen shun (Of course businessmen appear respectable only in the eyes of their sycophants). His workingclass followers therefore see him as one of them – a loser – but one who's turned himself into a winner.

Everyone knows power is an illusion. Everyone knows, or thinks s/he knows, that Balzac said every great fortune is founded on a crime. What he actually said was Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu'il a été proprement fait. A crime properly committed is not one that’s remains secret, but one that becomes a secret everyone knows, a crime everyone pretends is not a crime in order to maintain the illusion that the social order is legitimate. 

His critics warn that, if elected, Trump will be a dictator; but every ruler is a dictator to his critics.

The aristocracy define as legitimate the ruler who represents their own interests, and condemn anyone else, including the ruler who puts the interests of all the people above that of any one class, as a dictator.

The ruled have a different standard for determining whether their ruler is legitimate. They consider legitimate the ruler to whom they surrender more or less willingly. The tyrant rapes them, while the legitimate ruler seduces them. No ruler, not even a tyrant, rules entirely by force. All use bribery and propaganda to seduce people into surrendering to them more or less willingly.

Every ruler rules with the consent of the people, whether overt or tacit, and uses force only when bribery and propaganda are not enough. But he must also serve the aristocracy, or they’ll have him removed him from office. Rulers come and go, but the aristocracy reigns sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.

Considering the work it takes to seduce the people, while at the same time serving the aristocracy whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the people, why would anyone want to become a ruler?

I suspect most rulers don’t actively seek power - at least not at first - and not for its own sake. They’re put in a position of power by others – either the aristocracy, who do not wish to rule, and appoint a ruler to protect their interests and keep the people in their (subservient) place – or the people, who cannot and/or will not govern themselves. Only when he finds himself unable to perform the task which they've given him does a ruler seek more power.

It’s usually one class or the other who persuade him that he and he alone can bring order out of the chaos which threatens to destroy society. He’s a fool if he believes them. He’s worse than a fool if he arrives at this conclusion on his own.

Only a fool could be persuaded that he's fit to govern others, and only a madman would persuade himself of it. People seek to govern others only when they can’t or won't govern themselves, and people submit to being governed by others for the same reason.

Namque pauci libertatum pars magna iustos dominos volunt. Most people submit to being ruled by others because they’re too aware of their own flaws to imagine they can govern themselves. But the people they choose to govern them are not only just as flawed as they are; often they're more so. 

The superior strength and wisdom that people attribute to their ruler, which they believe enables him to govern not only himself but others, and justifies them in submitting to him, is always illusory. That illusion is created and sustained by both the rulers and the ruled, each for their own reasons. It’s not each other whom they deceive, but themselves.

We postmoderns are no longer haunted by our past mistakes, because we’ve forgotten the past and become a people without a history. We’ve become as innocent as children again, pretending we don’t know what we know, just as Phillips says we should.

À la recherche du temps perdu is one of the last great 'realist' modern novels. Later novels experimented with deconstructing the realistic novel because we now know, or think we know, that what we used to call realism is an illusion. Postmodern novels are not merely unrealistic but anti-realistic, intellectual games for mandarins. 

The Divine Comedy and The Iliad were myths that helped form their nations. There are no such narratives now. People still insist on believing, or suspending their disbelief, in their nation, especially now that they no longer believe in gods, because they need to feel they belong to something better, greater, than themselves; but they must do so without the help of their artists and poets. They must use violence without a myth to justify them.     

How long can this go on? I don't want to know.