Friday, August 12, 2016

Ninety-one

I went to bed last night still thinking about À la recherche du temps perdu (or 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, poets and politicians 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 in our time. 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 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. It’s the secret of our entire society.   

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). Which is which 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 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 the myths of their society 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 and all its members do the ruled rebel.

When they do rebel, it’s not because they believe all men are equal, though they may use that argument as a weapon in their battle with 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 they could do better. Certainly they 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 when he gets to know them, Marcel discovers the Guermantes are just as vulgar as the Verdurins. They differ only in that the Guermantes have had generations in which to cultivate 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) may change places; but the division of society into classes doesn’t change. War therefore confirms this as 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 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 fights a war against an external enemy to teach new slaves to obey their masters even when doing so means death, and new 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; violence is therefore sexualized, and sexual relations 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 as long as the advantages of belonging to the society outweigh the disadvantages. Men tolerate women as long as they accept their inferior place in society, but they prefer the company of their equals (other men) for everything except sex.

Most 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.

Human society, like most animal societies, is hierarchal: a perpetual competition that 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 the losers, and (rich) men always the winners.

When society sexualizes violence, it’s natural that war, the most violent of activities, should be the most erotic. When war is an exclusively male activity, it’s natural 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 sadistically.

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 which justify society’s injustice.

The Modern age is more violent than any other because of modern technology, and because better educated people are less willing to tolerate incompetent rulers.

Unhappy with the social order, people idealize the past and try to restore it. Eventually they learn, as Marcel does, that the past wasn’t better than the present - it was only different - whereupon they idealize the future instead, and invent the modern myth of progress. But every revolution is followed by a counter-revolution, as those disillusioned with the new order try to restore the old.

Revolution and counter-revolution are the two faces, left and right, of the Modern age. Whether people seek to restore the past or build a better future, all agree that the present social order is unjust and must be replaced.

There are no revolutionaries now, in this postmodern age, because people have lost faith in themselves and their ability not only to change for the better, but to change 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.

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

Most modern rulers claim to represent the people aka the nation. Vox populi vox dei. But whatever gods they claim to obey, it's still the aristocracy they serve. The only change is that landowning Guermantes have now been joined by the factory owning Verderins.

Warriors used to be a respected caste. 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 that master is first and foremost a businessman: a rational and prudent homo economicus who defeats his competitors and rules his workers because he rules himself.

In modern society an overt war, fought on a battlefield, is an escape from the covert war and regimented conformity of a militarized society. In overt war men stop pretending to be civilized, 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. What defines them as human, civilized, is learned, not instinctive. Because their destructive and self-destructive behavior is not natural, but learned, they could learn to behave differently. Instead they're taught to behave like predators and prey.

Human society is naturally hierarchcal, but not naturally cruel and unjust. That's why war is necessary. Violence preserves the social order.

In the Modern age, the combat of the battlefield is less important than the combat of the market.

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

The capitalist myth depicts every competitor in the market as having an equal chance of winning. In reality the competition is always decided before it begins. The only difference is that in capitalist society war is covert, not overt. No one dies as soldiers do on the battlefield, where everyone can see them; but wounds inflicted in battles fought in the market can prove just as fatal.

What some people call capitalism, and others democracy, is a myth like any other, created to justify the injustice of society; and they believe it, or suspend their disbelief in it, because they have no other myth.

The only alternative to the modern myth of combat which some call capitalism, and others democracy, is the myth of co-operation which some call socialism, and others democracy; but not the capitalist's 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 merely words people use to lie to themselves, pretending not to know what they know).

Capitalists condemn co-operation as unnatural, but it's a human society based on the illusion of competition that's unnatural.

Capitalists claim humans are not social animals, but naturally predators and prey. It's society that's unnatural in forcing them to live together as equals.

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

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: those who exploit them. All men must fight each other alone, as individuals, because all wealth is created by heroic individuals and rightfully belongs only to those individuals.  Proudhon said private property is theft, but capitalists claim it's public property, the commonwealth, that's stolen from the heroic individuals who create it by politicians, who then give it to their inferiors.  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 narrator, who is himself an illusion, but Marcel the author). What he really wants, it seems, isn’t a woman at all, but Saint-Loup.

Saint-Loup seems to be everything Marcel is not: heterosexual, and a brave and noble war hero sans peur et sans reproche. Marcel adores this manliest of men, as people believed homosexuals adore heterosexuals when homosexuality was considered decadent and unnatural, 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 First World 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 that war, 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 battlefield where Arnold’s ignorant armies fought, the 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 continues, on the battlefield and, more importantly, in the marketplace. It may appear to be economic, but Freud taught us it’s really sexual. What men compete for isn’t property, he said, 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 economics).

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, inferior man. Powerless, s/he seeks to replace the penis s/he thinks s/he’s lost by attaching herself to a virile, powerful man.

Freud’s view of women as illusions, as merely castrated/inferior men, is representative not of how most women think of themselves, but of how most men (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, which explains why homosexual panic and homophobia are also endemic. Loving another man always runs the risk of being deceived by, and surrendering to, him).

All men must compete in battle, must prove they’re real men, in order to prevent other men from conquering and using them as real men use women and/or homosexual men; and they know this competition has been decided before it begins.

Because Freud taught people that this competition is not really economic, but sexual, economically disadvantaged men fear being defeated sexually - feminized, emasculated and sodomized - by rich and powerful men. The economic exploitation of the poor by the rich is not just sexualized, but homosexualized.

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 next president.. But with his cosmetic suntan and combed-over hair, Trump looks as unmanly as Ronald Reagan did with his rouged cheeks and dyed hair, or the host of On Leaders and Leadership. The manliness of the leader is as much an illusion as the womanliness of the female impersonator. People follow the man who they imagine will lead them where they want to go when 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 they, like most men, associate sexual with economic power.

Although a billionaire, Trump is not a member of the ruling class. He’s an outsider, a buffoonish con man whom respectable businessmen shun. That’s why his workingclass followers see him as one of them – a loser – but one who's turned himself into a winner.

But businessmen appear respectable only in the eyes of other businessmen and their sycophants.

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 never discovered, but one which everyone agrees not to call a crime in order to maintain the illusion that the social hierarchy is legitimate, The rich become rich by plundering the commonwealth; but people pretend to believe, or suspend their disbelief, in the myth that the rich become rich due to their natural superiority.

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

People define as legitimate the ruler who represents their own class’ 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. But no ruler, not even a tyrant, rules entirely by force. All use bribery and propaganda to seduce people into obeying them.

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 remove him from office. Nations rise and fall and rulers come and go, but the aristocracy endures sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.

Considering all the work it takes to woo and win 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 power for its own sake. They’re put in a position of power by others – either by 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 by the people, who cannot or will not govern themselves; and 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 seduce him into believing he and he alone is able to govern the unruly mob which threatens the social order. 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 because they can’t or won't govern themselves, and people who submit to being governed by others do so 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, but often 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. But 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, without memory. We’re 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 'realistic' novels, so of course its subject is the aristocracy. 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 emphatically unrealistic: either intellectual games for mandarins, or escapist fantasies. 

Narratives like The Divine Comedy or The Iliad were national epics that helped form their nations. There are no such unifying narratives now. People still insist on believing, or suspending their disbelief, in their nation, or their god, because they need to feel they belong to something greater than themselves; but they must do so without the help of their poets. They must rely on force and fear to do it.     

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