LAW AND VIOLENCE
April 3, 2011
Whenever one hears the phrase “we are a nation of laws” or its ominous kin, “the rule of law” one should take whatever cover the carnival affords and hide. Is it the corruption of our culture that prompts such thoughts or could it be that in submitting to law in the early stages of civilization “it was violence to which one submitted”? The implications of the question are relevant to a century of geopolitics as well as to cultural structure and dynamics with America in its early decades being an exception that now increasingly fits the rule.
The media has been informing its cliché-numbed target audience that tribalism is a major factor in events in Libya. Few customers in the electronic coliseum know what is meant by that term or are able to verify it. The media message is carried by figures of increasing implausibility that reflects cultural decay. Once the audience relied, overmuch, on fatherly figures with an aura of trustworthiness: the Walter Cronkite syndrome; then came the Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw phase and a shift to aggressive opinionated style. There now is a mixture of celebrities that blurs the line between ‘news,’ entertainment and general anesthesia. The highly managed artifice of the Oscar awards epitomizes a culture of multi-leveled fictions. The world of Malarkey, SNL, Blitzer and the View, with lots of twenty-something consultants conduce to fog and misunderstanding called “reporting” and “analysis.” It’s fair and balanced image-work with bits of truth slimed by a dazzling sludge of stats, undefined terms and numbing graphics. Not much help there. The asceticism within science is a means “to idealize the whole earth.”
A means for conceptualizing tribalism is present in one of Nietzsche’s thought-provoking discussions of philosophy and philosophers. Having considered the needs for simplicity and isolation in seeking truth, Nietzsche asserts that “the consciences of noble tribes all over the earth resisted the abandonment of vendetta and were loath to bow before the power of the law! ‘Law’ was for a long time forbidden, an outrage [and] an innovation” in primitive cultures that considered “change as the very essence of immorality and pregnant with disaster.” Since Americans not long ago were told, and not for the first time, that “change is good” and that “change you can believe in” was here, this comment on the supposed conservatism of primitive cultures is worth pondering.
Most people would agree that vendettas are bad: violent, cruel, wasteful of talent, life and energy; susceptible to chaos and manipulation. Yet what does the late stage of the West, postmodernism, bring but precisely these qualities tarted up as ‘the rule of law.’ The rage for TV shows with loud, arrogant, punitive judges of a certain gender is a correlative of law’s degeneracy witnessed by millions in court rooms and in the highly polished drama of court proceedings paraded as ‘news’ on countless channels daily. These are spectacles of punishment not far removed from the Roman coliseum or ancient human sacrifices of which Rome was a highly organized outgrowth. But in the age of humanitarian intervention perhaps it is true that law is “characterized by violence” rather than the restraint of violence; that “it was violence to which one submitted” in the robes of law, “feeling ashamed of oneself. Every progressive step, every smallest step on earth has been paid for by spiritual and physical torture” doled out by well-paid cynical sadists wearing black robes. Such are the sad reflections suggested by domestic and international events of recent decades.
The violence which pervades much of the Islamic world, at ‘popular’ if not the State level begins to look, though terrible, almost healthy against the manicured, high-gloss artifice of deceit and compassionate platitudes backed by hi-tech weaponry deployed by the West (and its eastern and southern imitators, customers or clients). When bloodlust and savagery seem genuine, a seductive call from primal depths, things have gotten bad. This call of the primeval mud has been a major force since the early modern period surfaced (c 1850) with its representations of apocalypse, its theories of degeneracy and its obsession with myth. This is noted in Spengler’s discussions of the petrifaction of Culture into Civilization, into mass skepticism responding to public insincerity and artifice. The last stage of Hellenism’s culture of aesthetics (resurgent since the Gothic period of the twelfth c) is hardening into pop cultural parodies of itself and, more seriously into fascination with the irrational: in ‘information technology’ image and machine merge in “an orgy of unbridled…Faustian technics” pervaded with “Satanism” and the “mysticism” of “the idea of the machine as a small cosmos obeying the will of man alone.” If Spengler missed something it is the degree to which entrepreneurs, finance and engineers have fused into a multi-national oligarchy that make everyone “become slaves of the machine’s devilish and occult power.” “Technical thought” and “money thought” have merged in a magic embodied in the image-distraction machine that de- forms the ‘public mind’ with such incantations as “the twitter revolution” and high-priced harlots chattering about “rebels,” “democracy” and “dictators” with whom the powers of the machine smoothly worked, for whom they scripted parts for decades. Their power is that of the ring but the shire is ruined. They promise love, as did the manipulators of pop culture at the onset of what became postmodernism, but deliver a war system of hate, fear and impoverishment.
The obsession with and re-cycling of primitive mythologies that began in England and France in the late eighteenth century and increased strikingly in Western nations in the mid-nineteenth century distinguishes the great epics of Wagner and Tennyson. Created almost simultaneously, each over a period of about three decades, The Ring cycle and Idylls of the King are myths of cultural collapse melded to elemental apocalypse and dissolution of boundaries including space and time in flood and fire. In the midst of this period, New York rose to the status of World City and Americans fought a civil war. Since then the West’s meteoric rise to technological and world dominance, punctuated by intra-cultural wars have marked the death of culture in a triumph of the image. The lack of substance in everything from ‘junk food,’ to plastic, to law prompts and is part of a culture of pervasive skepticism and cynicism. Its ideological-legal-educational form often is referred to as moral relativism a misnomer since everything is relative to a constant. The term actually denotes the erosion of traditions of deference based in nature and Holy Scriptures, that is, the collapse of the West into a hi-tech law of the jungle in which the greatest beast is the one wielded by the image-masters. The politicians they own give their predatory deceits the illusion of legitimacy and the media sell an impoverished vocabulary or smog intended to make the deceit self-concealing.
When Culture is healthy, law is an essential expression of the Scripture’s principles of evidence, justice and mercy; when it decays into ‘Civilization’ law expresses the cynical hardening and pervasive deceit of a culture of terror in which “lying becomes a universal principle,” society a penal colony and law a “new science of degradation in which people are killed on their knees, confused and disgraced in their own eyes.” In a world of ‘apps’ in which tolerance means “zero-tolerance” the image-machine tattoos its code on the souls, speech and, in time, the flesh of its trained customers. This conditioning takes form in recent years in the craze for tattoos now to be seen on middle-aged middle and upper class professionals. Tattooing in education, law, politics and media accelerate. Pervasive disorientation, an essential form of trauma becomes the sign of decay shown, for example in new syndromes like ‘ADD’; in the public realm, truth seems impossible, suppressed by sound-bytes repeated endlessly like lettered water torture in which words lose all meanings but obedience. We are drowning in a cult of hypnosis, a sensation “of being captured by the incredible,” of life being displaced by dreams, of “absurdity, bewilderment” and loneliness that is the triumph of the image. At such times people seek salvation in an “idea,” like progress, democracy or diversity, “something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice too...” As the clichés and talking points nail their way into the mind or coat it with a sealant of mesmeric vagueness what is left of certainty and character becomes “a vortex and at the heart of the vortex, oblivion.”
An image of this vortex inevitably is now presented as ‘leader’ of the ‘free world.’ In a classic of postmodern triangulation, “attacked from left and right,” the narrative electus is being re-defined as a ‘moderate,’ a man for all seasons and peoples from India to Brazil, from Korea to Berlin to Chicago; on and off the jet ‘he’ ambles, a ‘good family man,’ breezily urbane and cosmopolitan: the right leader for an era of world peace and its distinctively humane wars in which war, the essence of punishment, is defined on the fly, in “real time” the phrase that connotes an illusion like “reality TV” molded by the script of the machine and superimposed on nature: you can watch the numbers clicking on the screen. One might say that only faith is left but faith tethered to an image serves the machine and has driven its hegemony. This is the end game of a Culture disappearing into the vortex, or labyrinth of civilization which rises like an adamantine Minotaur feeding on its children, like Moloch in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The designers of the new world order, like primitive shamans staking their claim to authority and fear, build “a new heaven” from the predatory lust for power in “their own hell.” Law is terror. The great fictions of the last two centuries are narratives of trauma and a despairing search for an authentic voice. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus models this in its structure and events.
Sensing the degeneracy of Civilization, its “burning evening sky” and its aesthetics of the Cosmopolis, primeval idol worship elaborated by the mad genius of digital technology, the medium of manipulation, Nietzsche looked back to primitive times when “suffering counted as a virtue, cruelty as a virtue, dissembling as a virtue, revenge as a virtue, slander of reason as a virtue” and, in so doing, helps us see the natural convergence of the West and “the rebels” of the current ‘revolution.’ More generally he helps us see the otherwise puzzling covert alliance of Western elites with the jihadist ‘foes’ they fund and offer apologetics. The world system, now perfected as the ultimate war system joins all forces in the dialectic in a dance of deceit that cruelly degrades reason while superficially constructing rationales for behaving in the most libidinous and lawless ways: law and lawlessness join as they do in the character of Claggart “whose reason was a lawyer to his will” and “an implement for effecting the irrational.” The superficial ‘rationality’ of modern governance is “wanton atrocity” a “cynical disdain of innocence” which “partakes of the insane.” Given the corruption of language, perception and thought, indeed, the managerial efforts to make these essential qualities negate themselves the ultra-progressive and civilized reveals its kinship to primitive savagery which sees “knowledge as a danger, peace as danger, pity as a danger” endlessly extolled and in fact negated and “madness as divine.” For the rational assurances and pseudo-explanations of our humanitarian managers of human inventory are as insane as Claggart and filled with his envy of the human, genuine and good. Envy of goodness is the monster in the machine of the global oligarchy that cannot abide the simplicity of peace or simple happiness. That, thus cannot abide the model of life presented in the books of Moses or even a fragment of the nation that liberated by the Creator through him. Envy of the savage’s apparent freedom and pride is the monster that drives the manifold lies of our ‘concerned’ and compassionate rulers whose corrupt hearts put every word in quotation marks; who make language, thought and humanity undo themselves for they use them purely for magic and control, “to capture the eyes and steal the minds” of humans who have been dissolved into a “populace” upon which the political-educational-therapeutic-financial-entertainment systems practice their artistry. Thus, as Nietzsche posited of the era of tribalism “work [is seen] as a disgrace” because successful actors manipulate or serve the system of deceit and routine “madness” posing as reality takes the place of divine service including joy in working one’s own land. Hi-tech paganism is a change, a regression “pregnant with disaster.” It is an inversion of culture and humanity. The struggle in the postmodern era is between conservatism and regression whose forms are presented as ‘progress,’ “the new science of degradation” that writes its imagery and unreadable laws into human lives. It is the end stage Penal Colony Kafka foresaw but did not live to satirize. Hi Tech social sciences like “convergence” are mechanisms for control and de-humanization which show that “progress” is “bringing the end nearer and that its invocation is “the lascivious voice of death urging us to hasten to it.” Similarly, if being ‘progressive’ is a postmodern cliché it is “because death already is speaking to us from nearby.” The deformation of the human into a programmable object, a masterwork of control facilitating sadism is the last stage of culture’s petrifaction, of the triumph of imagery over life being led by the vulgar, pagan penchant for tattoos. DNA-based tattoos, called Dattoos promise a convergence of man and machine in the near future. This is an epitome of hi-tech regression serving the purposes of the masters of the image machine, the media of the petrifact’s war of terror. The fusion of god-beast and man, for example, the Minotaur, has been the essence of ancient myth for millennia. It is the nightmare version of mindless “grace” described in Kleist’s “Essay on the Marionette Theatre” positing that “grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness. That is, in the puppet or the god,” the castes into which society is being divided. This model, embodied in the Minotaur fuses cannibalism with coition, a return to primal chaos as identity and identical (the clone) collapse into the primordial id, “the final chapter in the history of the world,” the State that follows and negates history.
“You being to liquidate a people…by taking away its memory. You destroy its books, its culture and its history. And then others write other books for it give another culture to it, invent another history for it. The people slowly begins to forget what it is and what it was.” This method was tried in Communist nations and has reigned in America for almost four decades; it is the essence of postmodernism, the aesthetic of regression in the guise or dazzle of sophistication: sensation displaces thought; ‘concern’ and its mandates displace compassion; image displaces articulation. The fiction of “the non-people,” the only dictatorship that must not be overthrown, displaces the people of the Book; “the past is erased and the erasure forgotten: the lie becomes truth.”
Once law was the basis of humanity rising from savagery, but now its very name has been disgraced as Civilization consumes Culture in Spengler’s schema; as the image possesses, displaces and negates the individual or cultural ‘body’ that worships it as a form of its ideal self. Concluding his work at the end of the first War, Spengler did not see that “the coming Caesarism” would unite with “the dictatorship of money” in the constellation of forces represented on the National Security Council, the managerial form of every advanced State, that is, those in which law and violence merge as they do in the savage ‘freedom’ of tribalism which can be sentimentalized only by a decaying Darwinian society. This is the era of lawless law and the legal fiction of the ‘corporate persona’ may be the ultimate illusion. Theories that facilitate management, Darwinism, global warming, Theosophy, displace life. We are told to ally and identify with the alien, to shout our slogans and stumble into “a miasma of deceit.” Under direction of the spinners of new narratives, the West is like “a storyteller losing the thread of his tale,” fertility and conviction leaching away from what is good, character to image, father to female ideal as in Wagner’s Valkyries. The tragedy is that in an image cult, a culture of aesthetics, the fiction dominates, possesses and displaces the genuine, its host, until life and its parasite die together in a compelling but horrible liebestod of which this essay is one of many elegies. New Rhine maidens take the ring to the depths but as the old order sinks in fire and flood the ‘new age of love’ reveals itself to be a Culture of Terror.
We live in a time suffused with imagery of terror and frantic tawdry exuberance: “dreams of ends…dreams not of how to live but how to die.” Like an old, decent magistrate, bewildered by the collapse of tradition, perhaps “all we can do is uphold the laws without allowing the memory of justice to fade,” without letting mercy degenerate into selective privileges for those who suit the image-game. Perhaps that is the answer to Nietzsche’s apocalyptic musings on progressive primitivism.
Loving sex is good too, especially with your lawful wedded, life-affirming terms before being dirtied by progressive (regressive) mores and color-of-law institutions that do them dirt. In the last days “people will have the faces of dogs…” and “sorcerers will reign.”
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We move to an epoch that mingles sentiment with brutality, fun with deceit. “Dust rather than air becomes the medium in which we live” and “the realm reels back into the beast.” In the end of days, the Galilee will be partitioned and the price of bread will soar: “the peruta will be gone from the purse,” parliaments, “houses of assembly,” everywhere “will be for harlots” and “truth will be entirely lacking.” May flowers and joy grow speedily from the ruins of the homicidal petrifact, and may I live again on this good earth.
Eugene Narrett’s recent book Culture of Terror: The Collapse of America, on Amazon.
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay,
section 26 see Basic Writings of Nietzsche (NY 1967; 2000,
translated & edited by Walter Kaufmann), 594-5
2. This essay is prompted by Nietzsche’s Essay 3, supra, sections 7-9 from 542-50 passim to 599 op cit
3. Ibid section 9, 550; in the last phrase Nietzsche quotes his own essay “the Dawn” section 18
5. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (NY 1962; 2006 abridged English edition by Arthur Helps translated by Charles Francis Atkinson), 409-413
6. Ibid 412
7. Franz Kafka, The Trial (Schocken 1925), chapter 9, “In the Cathedral”
8. J.M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (London 1980; NY 1982), 108; Kafka, see note 17
9. Marlow describing his feelings on trying to explain his experience of the darkness of the wilderness, mirrored in the darkness of London in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (NY 1988, Norton 3rd critical edition), 30 passim.
10. Heart of Darkness op cit 10
11. Coetzee op cit 47
12. Nietzsche op cit 551
13. Mary Shelley (1818; author’s corrected edition 1831); Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)
14. Nietzsche op cit 550 c.f. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, section 250
15. Herman Melville, Billy Budd (1891), chapters 11-12
16. Maimonides, The Book of the Commandments, negative commandment #32
17. During a February 15, 1945 meeting, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud told Franklin Roosevelt his people were not interested in farming or irrigation or in work generally.
18. “In the Penal Colony” in Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories (NY 1971, edited Nahum Glatzer), 140-67
19. Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter & Forgetting Part 6 section 17 (1978; NY new English translation by Aaron Asher), 246
20. Designed by Hartmut Esslinger, “using your body as hardware and [your] skin as an interface...for vital inputs of a DNA reader”
21. Heinrich von Kleist (1810); the ff quote on the end of history is the last line of von Kleist’s essay.
22. Kundera op cit Part 6 section 2, 218
23. Deuteronomy 32:21
24. George Orwell, 1984 chapter 7
25, Spengler op cit 414
26, Coetzee op cit 135, 45
27, ibid 133, 139
28, Ibid 60; Alfred Tennyson, Idylls of the King, “The Last Tournament” 125, “the Passing of Arthur” 25-6
29, Sanhedrin 97a
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