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January 09, 2022

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What leapt out for me was this:

Freud made clear that, for him, the United States was a nation misbegotten and only getting worse. While pious Americans espoused doctrines of exceptional national destiny and a singular, chosen relationship to divine favor, Freud felt the US was in fact a place where everyone ultimately just worshipped money.
Now it is true that those who worship money have a high profile here. And are, to some degree, celebrated. But it is far from true that everyone here worships money.

There are folks who could, easily, be making significantly more money than they are. But instead are doing something that they love doing. Some are university professors; some are aircraft mechanics. But money isn't why they do what they do.

Everyone wants "enough" -- enough to be comfortable, now and for the future. But those who pursue vast wealth above all else are, as often as not, regarded with contempt. It's one thing to get rich because you invented or provided something very useful to people around you. (Even if that something is something as dubiously useful as the joy of watching a sport played well.) But getting rich by creating complex financial products whose only use is the make money? Not exactly celebrated, in my observation.

I didn’t think the Freud talk added much to the point. Here is another piece making a similar point.

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/low-skilled-easily-replaceable-employees-must-return-to-work-immediately-otherwise-our-society-will-collapse

Not exactly celebrated, in my observation.

This conflates 'worship' with what Americans reward with money, which is a misreading, I think. I took this to be that Americans judge their worth (and the worth of others) by the metric of money. Limiting it to subprime loans or bitcoin misses the point. Think how much resistance there is to an increase in the minimum wage or how one's 'wealth' is a benchmark for success. And the US has created a system where you are basically penalized if you don't 'value' financial success in the same way. Then think of how plausible it would be to set oneself out of that system. When we think of 'worshipping', it's not the accumulation, it is making it the touchstone for everything else.

The Mcsweeney piece is just about class, the link suggests that the willingness for everyone to die at the altar of individuality perhaps starts with Freud (cf Civilization and its Discontents). That and Totem and Taboo (which most anthropologists disdain) are the only two things I have read. I remember thinking that the thesis in the former was over-egged, but that was before I saw people willing to die because they couldn't bear to be told what to do.

It’s true that it is both a race and class phenomenon. In America the two are hard to separate. The McSweeney piece was just a short, satirical take, not a deep analysis.

Anyway, I have seen a number of pieces pointing to the fact that Covid undermined much of the narrative about our wonderful prosperous economy. It is hard to take seriously the free market claim that what people are paid necessarily reflects the value of their contribution to society.

people willing to die because they couldn't bear to be told what to do.

I don't think that's actually quite it. After all, they routinely let various grifters tell them what to do (and to believe).

It may be more that they don't want to know that things that they don't know can constrain what they can safely do. So they develop a habit of refusing to believe things that are inconvenient. It isn't so much that they're willing to die for their beliefs. More that they aren't willing to accept that something they don't know/belive can kill them anyway. Even, as we have seen, when said inconvenient fact is in the process of killing them. Even as they are dying and they know it, they protest "This can't be happening!".

They or we? I think that anti-mask, anti-vaxx are the worst, but looking at numbers, it’s not that they are a tiny minority. And when you have people who say they vaxxed and that they mask yet still claim that Biden’s vaccine mandates are just a step too far, you get a better idea of how much the rot has spread.

I am not much of a Freudian, though I did twelve credit hours of work in grad school focused on its development in critical theory. But with all of the reading and research I have done on armed conflict and subjectivity I do credit the idea that we as a species have a very strong and deeply contradictory dedication to self-destruction, with our aggressive drives channeled as they are into social relations and the need to assert a sense of agency over our individual surroundings that often short-circuits our sense of the bigger picture.

Two writers that affected my understanding of this deeply are Chris Hedges (War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning), and J. Glenn Gray's chapter about the soldier's relation to death in The Warriors. They, like Freud, sense that we hunger to make narrative sense out of the senselessness and arbitrariness of death.

The passage from the Death Drive Nation article that stuck out most profoundly for me was this one:

Some subsequent interpreters of Freud (most notably Jonathan Lear) have argued that trauma nightmares are the exception that proves the rule of the pleasure principle, artifacts of a “damaged” or “shocked” psychic apparatus.7 And Freud himself seemed to tarry with this possibility, suggesting that the “compulsion to repeat” in such dreams was in fact the mind’s effort, albeit stalled out, to “master” the traumatic experience, to somehow make it pleasurable through the fact of repetition.

When I was working on my dissertation and deep into trying to make sense of what cultural work subjectively oriented military shooter games did, I had a chance conversation with a friend of my neighbor who was helping her to pack for moving. He was a veteran of the Iraq War who suffered from PTSD and who was at the university studying to be a trauma counselor. When the conversation turned to shooter video games I asked him if they had ever triggered him. No, he reported, he could not take unexpected loud noises, and sitting in the theater watching war films, helpless to act and affect the action, were too much to bear, but he knew that every video game he played had a path that would allow him to execute his training successfully, survive, and achieve his mission objectives, so he found them strangely comforting.

I think many pursue self-destructive courses in the face of a pandemic just because they cannot abide the idea of not having any agency.

I don't think that trauma dreams are an effort to master the thing that traumatized you. I think that it's the psychic equivalent of an impact crater that has obliterated the substrate of personal history laid down in more gentle times. But I do believe that we have a deep seated need to force our world into sensible and controllable shapes, and our death drive is an expression of that in extremis.

Right after the passage that nous quotes, there is this

But Freud also ventured something more radical, pushing for something further, something beyond (jenseits) the pleasure principle itself: a countervailing tendency to go back and repeat no matter the psychic cost, an imperative almost inhuman in its indifference to pleasure or even life itself. He dubbed this the “death drive” and saw it as operative not just in pathological conditions that manifested on his couch, but in the most basic building blocks of biology, putting it right alongside—and over and against—the instincts for self-preservation and reproduction.

I've not had extended contact with anyone who has suffered from PTSD, but I recall that back in the good old days, trauma was usually responsible for an episode of amnesia (the MASH final episode, where Hawkeye is made to remember an event is a good example of that). However the portrayal of such trauma is now almost always flashbacks. Unfortunately, they are also subject to the stricture that they have to be resolved by the end credits, so as to keep our confidence in happy endings.

people willing to die because they couldn't bear to be told what to do.

also, because they're idiots.

frex: AOC just got herself a case of COVID from a maskless party in FL.

(which is not to say everyone who gets it is an idiot... but that AOC of all people should know the meaning of "setting a good example")

Freud made clear that, for him, the United States was a nation misbegotten and only getting worse.

Did he comment on the Austrian Empire ?

I think many pursue self-destructive courses in the face of a pandemic just because they cannot abide the idea of not having any agency.

Yeah. Much like why our ancestors attributed natural disasters to gods. Who could, however, be propitiated . . . thus giving said ancestors some agency.

But they cannot see that, with the pandemic, following a few simple steps actually gives them some agency. Perhaps people have just gotten out of the habit of buying off gods with sacrifices.

we as a species have a very strong and deeply contradictory dedication to self-destruction, with our aggressive drives channeled as they are into social relations and the need to assert a sense of agency over our individual surroundings that often short-circuits our sense of the bigger picture.

A drive towards self-destruction would seem to be evolutionarily discouraged. A drive towards aggression would be useful for survival and propagation in some circumstances; but a drive for self-destruction, not so much.

AOC is one of the few politicians I mostly like, but she was very irresponsible in Florida.

"Perhaps people have just gotten out of the habit of buying off gods with sacrifices."

The god of Democracy must be propitiated by sacrificing MAGAts.

Thanks, Covid!

'Did he comment on the Austrian Empire ?"

I see he did (or at least on its successor).
https://www.habsburger.net/en/chapter/all-my-libido-austria-hungary

This one got my attention. Emphasis from the author, not me.

From the very start, even in the first months of the year, the ubiquitous cry for a return to “normal” clearly expressed a demand to return to a status quo of working people to death and otherwise destroying their bodies as the cost of doing business. That the “new normal” meant they might have to die a little quicker was something the rest of us could apparently learn to live with. But not just that: from the dismissal of concerns over childhood infection rates to the casual, matter-of-fact indifference to the deaths of America’s elderly, to the very idea of “herd immunity,” many Americans apparently embraced a fatalism whereby even their own deaths and the deaths of those they loved were more tolerable than having to contemplate the discomfort of social reorganizations that would make life different.

Republicanism is socipathic.

The passage hsh quoted is about something that has utterly floored me over the past two years -- the indifference to other people's suffering and death, and the frantic insistence that as little recognition as possible be given to the reality of the situation. And, of course, the whistling past the graveyard aspect of it all.

But the formulation in that paragraph, and the whole focus on self-destruction and the human obsession with death (and no, i have not read lj's original link carefully, i've only skimmed it), gives me a new way to think about what's going on.

It's like receiving a serious wound, and fearing the reality of it so much that you just wrap a pretty cloth over it instead of having it treated properly -- thus ensuring the very thing you're trying to avoid facing.

This goes a long way toward explaining the mindset represented by someone dropping in for a moment to tell us, contrary to our own reports of our state of mind, that we're all as selfish and indifferent to other people as they are, and apparently as almost half our compatriots are. I.e., that no one is ever motivated by concern for the bigger picture, or for strangers.

Of course, the latter also may explain (circularly) the selfishness of people who are pleased to ignore the fact of a contagious disease. They're sure I'm not going to do a damned thing for the sake of their welfare, so why should they do anything for the sake of mine?

A drive towards aggression would be useful for survival and propagation in some circumstances; but a drive for self-destruction, not so much.

wj, is nothing ever complicated or nuanced for you? :-)

Just for one thing, I think you're ignoring the time scale on which evolution works. The jury is still out, so to speak, on whether the human species will survive our drive for self-destruction.

*****

Also want to mention, in the context of the post, the book Blood Rites, by Barbara Ehrenreigh. Read it too long ago to remember much about it, except that it was about this topic and I learned a lot from reading it.

Republicanism is soci[o]pathic.

It would be a bit more accurate to say that Trumpism is sociopathic. There are, after all, still some Republicans who are not.

wj, is nothing ever complicated or nuanced for you? :-)

Just for one thing, I think you're ignoring the time scale on which evolution works. The jury is still out, so to speak, on whether the human species will survive our drive for self-destruction.

All too often, I sometimes feel. ;-)

On the time scale on which evolution works, self-destruction has had plenty of time to do so. Homo sapiens have been around for a fair length of time, after all. Unless one wants to argue that self-destruction is something which has arisen among us (relatively) recently.

A drive towards self-destruction would seem to be evolutionarily discouraged.

A drive towards ignoring input that signals danger coupled with strong aggression and dominance would only be evolutionarily discouraged if the consequences were immediate enough to take the individual out of the breeding pool before it was passed on. It would also not be a detriment so long as there were other traits and environmental factors that counterbalanced the danger of the trait.

Evolution doesn't care, it's just a blind process.

And if the death drive is individual, there is no guarantee that it does not create collective advantages that create early benefits before becoming unsustainable.

The "self-destruction" descriptor is not an purpose or telos, it's just a descriptor of the effect of the willful heedlessness.

I understand the randomness. On the other hand, even if other characteristics are favorable, they would have to be somehow tied to self-destruction for it to remain.

Also, "self-destruction", as the term was used, seemed to me to explicitly say that a tendency to do things that would cause you to die was favored exactly because it would do so. The fact that some other collection of traits (aggression, fearlessness, etc.) might result in similar outcomes would only matter if those traits were linked. If they are not, then their individual merits might outweigh the occasional negatives of the collection which sometimes occurred.

Janie asked: "wj, is nothing ever complicated or nuanced for you? :-)"

wj: "There are, after all, still some Republicans who are not."

I concur with the smiley icon, but actually, wj IS more nuanced and complicated than, for example, I am.

No matter how powerfully the Trump/conservative malignant juggernaut gathers force, laying waste to ANY moderation in the conservative movement and the Republican Party, wj persists in the quixotic hope that, by golly, if you look at things on a more granular level, there are still pockets, points of light in there that might somehow salvage what was once referred to as rational conservatism in America.

However, and I wish I could find the a clip from late in the movie "Little Big Man", in which the very ironically named nihilist, but oddly, ever hopeful and cheerfully determined snakeoil salesman, Mr Merriweather (Martin Balsam burning a hole in the screen), after a lifetime of losing eyes, ears, appendages of all sorts, and being tarred and feathered, hobbles by little big Jack Crabb in a driving rainstorm on a muddy western street and the latter calls out: "I see they been whittling ya down pretty good there, Mr Merriweather!"

That reminds me of wj (and me, but with a diffderent emphasis) not the nihilism or the snakeoil, of course, but the steadfastly and valiently hopeful one against all the odds and AS the odds worsen weekly as the evidence for sanity and any possible reclamation of conservatism runs thru our fingers.

I'd say wj's gettin' whittled down purty good, from the looks of it.

Which is highly unfortunate for America.

Here's Mr Merriweather declaiming his world view early in the movie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7YeRBXEUTY

More, regarding Mr. Merriweather.

http://toobworld.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-legend-of-allardyce-t-meriweather.html

Jack Crabb : Mr. Merriweather, you don't know when you're licked!

Mr. Merriweather : Licked? I'm not licked. I'm tarred and feathered, that's all.

That last chipper statement is delivered by the latter as he is carried by trussed upside down on a pole headed outta town.

"whistling by the graveyard"

It's worse than that. These sociopaths, in the midst of a murderous national psychosis are loading their living kids and the grandparents into the hearse for a little joyride, delivering them to the graveyards, throwing them in the hole and jumping in after them, with subhuman ghouls Tucker Carlson and the leading lights of republicanism running the backhoe throwing the dirt over their murdered victims.

AOC might as well be a conservative for all the unmasked hugging and social intimacy she displayed at that party.

Maybe the problem is that she is an American.

We're all thoroughly buggered.

And since I've referenced Little Big Man, here's the go-to clip reviewing the tidal wave of savage violence coming to the monumentally dumb malignant feedom-loving conservative fuckers killing my country.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWGAdzn5_KU

They can't be reasoned with. Whatever the proposition is, they will turn on its head to resemble their preposterous and murderous calculus.

They will kill us. True, if the Nazis has loaded THEMSELVES on to the trains for the trip east to vacationland, the world might have avoided lots of evil. But see, soon in the going, the Nazis would have come to their mass-murdering antisenses and said, "Wait a second, why are we gassing ourselves? Shouldn't we be gassing the Others?"

Conservative American vermin will too.

Ya might as well open your mouth in a shitstorm.

Nothing can mask what's coming.

No matter how powerfully the Trump/conservative malignant juggernaut gathers force, laying waste to ANY moderation in the conservative movement and the Republican Party, wj persists in the quixotic hope that, by golly, if you look at things on a more granular level, there are still pockets, points of light in there that might somehow salvage what was once referred to as rational conservatism in America.
...
I'd say wj's gettin' whittled down purty good, from the looks of it.

Which is highly unfortunate for America.

Pretty much right. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that salvaging (I use the term advisedly) the Republican Party is vastly unlikely. Somewhere between microscopic and nano-scale odds. There remain pockets of sanity, and those are critical, especially in the short term. I think it's important not to lose track of that -- if only to keep from driving them out of the public sphere, and ceding the non-liberal areas to the crazies.

Unfortunately, I don't see much prospect for a new conservative, or even moderate, party arising. And the country needs two viable parties to function well. If only so, when people hit the "throw the rascals out" point, there's an option besides the nut cases. I really, really wish I saw a good path forward. Since I don't, it's damage control for the nonce.

wj persists in the quixotic hope that, by golly, if you look at things on a more granular level, there are still pockets, points of light in there that might somehow salvage what was once referred to as rational conservatism in America.

poor ol Jen Rubin is still pleading for the sane Republicans to rise up, just as she's been doing since winter 2016.

Many people wonder whether democracy can survive without two pro-democracy parties. The answer is no. The alternative to the Democratic Party cannot be today’s lawless, deluded, anti-democratic GOP. It must be the party whose banner was once carried by the pro-democracy Republicans mentioned above.

The contrast between those former GOP officials and the current crop of spineless MAGA followers might inspire the latter to buck up. More importantly, it might serve as inspiration for Americans of all political stripes to get on the bandwagon for democracy, to push back against lies and authoritarian tactics. And it could help the media to keep democracy front and center in the news. Plenty of good things might come of this.

So who’s game?

ain't. gonna. happen.

firstly, there are like 20 of them. and actual Republicanism has no use for their politically incorrect anachronisms.

That last chipper statement is delivered by the latter as he is carried by trussed upside down on a pole headed outta town.

C'mon! Surely the obvious comparison is this (and you must have been waiting for someone to post it):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmInkxbvlCs

Freud's "death drive" is a typical example of his nostrums that can be applied to all sorts of things without really providing much insight. But a kind of drive is certainly involved in the way that people on the extreme right follow their leaders to their own detriment. There are evidently tribal instincts which cause people to copy what others in their group do, to blindly follow their leaders and to sacrifice their own lives for the objectives of the group. Republican politicians have deliberately cultivated these instincts with racism and religion to the point where they live in a fantasy world. How such instincts work in humans as opposed to say, social insects, is a tricky problem but it is very obvious that some such drives overcome both rationality and self-interest under some conditions.

That was a well written article, and the magazine seems to be interesting as well - thanks, lj.

Freud's "death drive" is a typical example of his nostrums that can be applied to all sorts of things without really providing much insight. But a kind of drive is certainly involved

Don't want to be harshing on you, but my feeling is that if he identified something but didn't get the particulars right, that's something. I'd have to read more Freud before I'm willing to label it as a 'nostrum'.

My own thought is that the constant rush to get an opinion or an idea in is implicated in all of this. The pressure to have a hot take, to set out an answer cuts us off from the opportunities to stop and consider. Tribalism (which Freud had a few things to say on) is also in the mix, but something has happened, either beyond that tribalism or in a way that allows tribalism to reassert itself, that has us in the state we are in.

An unvaccinated coworker, from another department in the same organization, died from COVID at 54 last week. I didn't work too closely with him except on occasion, but often enough over years to become reasonably friendly. I heard about his death late last week, but found out only today the cause. I had suspected it might have been COVID only because it came out of nowhere with no apparent health problems. I also suspected he hadn't been vaccinated for a number of reasons I won't go into. He left behind an 18-year-old son and long-term girlfriend, among others. I can only guess at what sort of regret he might have felt before he died and wonder what effect his death will have on his close coworkers, some of whom I would guess are also not vaccinated. The pointlessness of it is unfathomable.

I feel so blessed that all of my family members, all of my co-workers, and pretty much everybody I know, simply wouldn't dream of being unvaccinated. No doubt it gives me an odd view of the world, in which so many people elsewhere seem determined to do the dumb thing. But it does make my personal emotional universe a nicer place.

The pointlessness of it is unfathomable.

I have the same reaction.

It’s a hell of a price to pay to make your point.

my mobile FB feed is full of gaudy wingnut t-shirt ads, for some reason. tons of gun-worshipping and "Brandon" shirts, of course. but this week, they started showing me a bunch of "Vaccinated By Jesus" and "It's not about prevention, it's about CONTROL!" designs.

i report them all as "Sexually Inappropriate" or "Scam".

i don't see any of them on my desktop FB feed any more. but i can't get rid of them on mobile.

when i eventually quit FB, this will be why.

OT, but I thought this was of interest:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/11/madison-cawthorn-trump-republican-north-carolina-voters

I don’t expect this particular effort to be successful, but I’m glad to see somebody calling this mess by its rightful name.

I mentioned a few months ago that my wife's cousin died from COVID in his early 50s. He was fully vaccinated but immunocompromised because he was a transplant recipient. I was angry about that - people exercising what they see as their freedom spreading a disease that takes all freedom from others by killing them.

This time, with my coworker, who lost his own life because he was exercising his freedom - and now has none - makes me sad in flat sort of way. It's an impenetrable blackness in my mind. There's nothing I can do with it. There's only senseless bleakness. I mean, how many damned shots does someone get in a lifetime? It's almost nothing. And he died over it.

Yes, unfathomable is the word.

I'm in the same position as wj: everyone close to me (or even that I know) is vaxed and boosted, and I no longer have co-workers. But I imagine I would be feeling pretty much exactly as you do, hsh.

Goddamit.

On the challenge to Cawthorn: may this be the first of many such challenges calling what happened by the correct name.

On the challenge to Cawthorn: may this be the first of many such challenges calling what happened by the correct name.

The challenge looks to be on pretty solid ground. As would a challenge involving any other members of Congress who were involved in organizing the assault on the Capitol. Which may be why they are so intent on keeping evidence of who was involved out of the public record.

The question becomes, who is on the (in this case North Carolina) Board of Elections? And will they be willing to do their jobs, as they should, without partisanship? The behavior of folks like the Maricopa County (AZ) Board of Supervisors gives some reason to hope, but sadly it's far from a certainty.

And in marked contrast to the death sniffers on the right in congress:

https://www.npr.org/2022/01/11/1072153873/magawa-hero-rat-dies-bomb-sniffing

I had several students down through the years write about these ordnance-sniffing rats as part of my Children in Armed Conflict research class. Magawa did more for the world than any of these Q addled opportunists.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled program. I have a few dozen student responses to The Talking Heads to read over.

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