The current crisis of politics is unlike anything seen before. It hasn’t been brought about by chronic scarcity, economic devastation or depression. It has been driven by an undeniable realization that exploding wealth and prosperity has repeatedly failed to underwrite a decent, or even acceptable, life for a growing majority of people amidst the unrestrained accumulation of wealth of a shrinking minority. — Read more from NOTES FROM DISGRACELAND and follow on Twitter
Civilization’s potential for barbarism is growing; the everyday bestialization of man is on the increase. (Peter Sloterdijk)
In the autumn of 1914, a human life was infinitely more worthless than in the autumn of 1913. WWI was an abyss, a near-unfathomable crisis of civilization, and one of the most important issues that needed to be addressed in its wake was precisely the worth of the human being .
This question would set the tone and meter of the political discourse to come, its echo extending beyond the remainder of the 20th century, without ever losing its relevance. It would only assume different forms and granularity as its context changed, its mutation continuously adapting to different modes of fascism and identity politics, which defined the metrics for the relative valuation of human life.
Before and during WWII, it was the value of Aryan vs. non-Aryan lives (fascism). In occupied territories in WWII, Germany had a simple algorithm, precise and unambiguous, displayed in public for everyone to know: For each German killed, they would execute 100 randomly picked locals. In the second part of the 20th century, which Immanuel Wallerstein had coined as the realization of democratic fascism  whereby 20% of the global population exploits the remaining 80%, the debate shifted to the relative worth of American vs. non-American lives. In backlash to western hegemony, the Islamic dilemma was articulated through Islamo-fascism and terrorism with the discourse defined by a different valuation of Muslim and infidel lives. With the gradual normalization of neo-fascism and white supremacy in the new century, the debate shifted (back) to white vs. non-white and natives vs. migrants.
In today’s America, this problem is currently struck around quantifying the value of Black lives. It is not an entirely new debate, but the socio-political backdrop is. The narrative behind the current ritual of white supremacists coming out and their clownish uprising rests on the belief that, contrary to the overwhelming evidence, Black lives are valued fairly, if not even overvalued. Persistent and deliberate police brutality against Black people is but a particular way of transmitting this message, and so is the normalization of white supremacy with white replacement paranoia, the glorification of slavery, voter suppression, the exorcism of critical race theory from the school curriculum, and general revisionism.
The embrace of a regressive revival of racial tensions defines the delirium of the current socio-political counterpoint. It is a moment that desperately demands collective introspection. Here, we have to be careful to avoid the trappings of conventional (Freudian) psychoanalysis defined relative to an Oedipal axis (which locates the roots of our problems in sex and family). What is currently at play requires a different perspective, defined by Deluze and Guatarri as the anti-Oedipal:
The real problem of delirium lies in the extraordinary transition from the pole of reactionary or fascist to a revolutionary pole. Statements like ‘I belong to a superior race’ appear in all paranoid deliriums. Similarly, ‘I belong to an utterly inferior race’ is a revolutionary pole of madness .
The excluded white precariat is torn between these two poles, unable to decide where they stand or belong, and where they want to be. They have managed to lose their way in the interstices of the anti-Oedipal perspective. The decades of erosive acrobatics of ideological maneuvering have made this point especially ambiguous in a way that, although neither one is correct, both appear equally plausible and seductive.
Trapped in what Wendy Brown considers the neoliberal trauma inflicted by neoliberalism’s accidental wounding of the white male supremacy , the white underclass remains transfixed between a self-pity of collective victimology and an unwavering sense of superiority and entitlement, all these emotions grossly misinterpreted, misdirected and manipulated, standing as a testament to their anachronism.
This ideological terrain had been already claimed and appropriated by the conservative Right, resurrected as Right Wing populism, which has latched onto the underlying white discontent as their lifeline and the last point of rescue from their own obsolescence. In a bizarre symbiosis between the super-privileged and the super-marginalized segments of the white American population, conservative leaders have taken upon themselves the role of speaking on behalf of the poor so that the poor wouldn’t speak for themselves: We want to include you in the decision without letting you influence it. Through carefully structured narratives and divisive memes, their rhetorics are framed as a culture war, which ensures that the underlying rage capital of the white precariat remains properly invested and its supply never stops growing.
The current crisis of politics is unlike anything seen before. It hasn’t been brought about by chronic scarcity, economic devastation or depression. It has been driven by an undeniable realization that exploding wealth and prosperity has repeatedly failed to underwrite a decent, or even acceptable, life for a growing majority of people amidst the unrestrained accumulation of wealth of a shrinking minority.
Entropy cannot decline, it must rise – systems always evolve towards less orderly state. This means that order always comes at a price: Local order can happen so long as it ejects enough disorder to its surroundings that the total disorder rises. Peaceful social life means that one party, the ruling one, has already won. Interfering with that – taking over by another political faction – creates an upheaval and disruption of peace.
Exploding inequality, which comes about when extreme prosperity is financed by extreme exclusion, eventually tips the scale and leads to a buildup of latent systematic violence that does not know, and is incapable of acknowledging the existence of, any bounds. At some point, this latent violence begins to permeate every aspect of social and political life and along the way creates the state of the general exclusion principle: [Y]ou cannot calculate both the current [social] position of an individual and his or her velocity of exclusion, [e.g.] advancement of women and their virtual downgrading . It is impossible to distinguish causes and effects or to isolate subject from object (are Republicans hostages of their base or is the base their victims). One can grasp either the appearance or the meaning, but not both at the same time (we cannot tell whether GOP politicians only act as morons or they are actual morons). Ultimately, we can no longer calculate the price of a human life and its statistical value at the same time .
Nihilism of value and the fight for human soul
How did we get here? What is the big loss and trauma humanity had experienced that has led to this nihilism of value, which the neoliberal mutation of capitalism only made intolerable?
In the past, the human being was not doomed to be merely what he is. God and Satan wrestled over him. In the past, we were important enough to have a battle fought over our soul. Today, our salvation is our own affair. Our lives are no longer marked by original sin but by the risk of failing to fulfill our ultimate potential. So we accumulate plans, ideas and programs; we constantly pass the buck and seek to outdo each other in a universal effort to perform .
By attempting to achieve local order in our lives we eject disorder elsewhere. And as everyone does the same thing, this creates entropy, which continues to grow unstoppably and, as much as we try to avoid it, entropy begins to seep into all pores of everyone’s life. But whom do we turn to when we fail (and an increasing fraction of American population is failing), or whom do we blame for our failure?
In the absence of transcendent powers watching over us, and in the perpetual effort to validate our existence, we are forced to become ‘fatal’ to ourselves . We romanticize the past and revive its ghosts in order to create a context for the struggle about jurisdiction over the ancestral terrain, its location and boundaries, and the right to map the current reality onto it. This is the only way of bringing back the lost meaning of human life. We need to own the future in order to conquer the past, because this is the terrain on which the battle for our souls will be fought again.
In what becomes a parody of fate, a leader figure will emerge who will fill that empty place and fight for the excluded and forgotten. And when they find each other, the excluded and forgotten followers will ignore every and all of his shortcomings — no matter how flawed he might be, they will support him unconditionally. He might be the worst human being there is, but they don’t require goodness or humanity from him because he fights for their soul. Nothing else will matter anymore.
 Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle Book 6, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2019)
 Immanuel Wallerstein, World Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Duke University Press (2004)
 Felix Guattari, Chaosophy, Semiotext(e), New edition (2008)
 Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West, Columbia University Press (2019)
 Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange, Verso; Reprint edition (2012)
12 thoughts on “Fatal Strategies And The Value Of Human Life”
Nicely written. Not sure why but your article brought to mind Kafka’s parable ‘Before the Law’……….People have foresworn history…..social media has become the message…..mastery of which will dictate the future I’m afraid….which was exploited so well by you know who.
Instead of expanding human understanding the new media has narrowed it, made history into soundbites & clicks, misquoted phrases., revising it…..more young people care what a Kardashian is wearing than the morality of the president, or the difference between a vaccine and gene therapy.
The boomer experiment died on a grassy field at Kent State, hippies became bankers or joined a commune. Change is hard, corporations have done their best work, gambling, legal drugs, entertainments to placate the masses effectively, becoming soulless the natural course. But don’t take away my white supremacy!
I fear the planet is dying. It’s like watching paint dry. A little bit of life is lost every day. In a hundred years this ‘ Fatal Strategy ‘ won’t matter.
We need a new frontier, the rats are beginning to turn on each other as the cage gets more crowded.
To the moon Alice! Maybe Mars.
There’s I think a clear Way Forward. And it is a Old as Time but popularized at certain times of her history such as the period of the enlightenment. The antidote to this movement you write about is talking sharing of thoughts person on person. I fear for all its profound wisdom that this approach you take is just contributing to the problems we face.
While I agree with many of your points, you’re reliance of on the idea that entropy is disorder is not quite right. The idea that increasing entropy implies increasing disorder is perhaps the most frequently used and promulgated wrong assumption in all of science. Entropy change measures the dispersal of energy: how much energy is spread out in a particular process, or how widely spread out it becomes. It is not increasing disorder. See this for more complete discussion. Disorder—A Cracked Crutch for Supporting Entropy Discussions by Frank L. Lambert
Entropy and our creative attempts to neutralize entropy with the invention of money and property rights have played an immense role in the ever increasing inequality of wealth. In the natural world, hoarding energy over the very long term is not possible due to entropy. Energy spreads no matter how hard you try to contain it. The money you spend to maintain your life dissipates like energy, however surplus money (wealth) is not inherently subject to entropy, but entropy can be forced on wealth via inflation and taxes which dissipate the value of any unit of money. Property with property rights is also not subject to entropy. The net result is a situation where wealth can be hoarded and protected from dissipation. Surplus wealth may even have negative entropy properties. This leads to the wealthy staying wealthy and likely getting more wealthy.
On the flip side, the working population of the developed world has been exposed to a massive increase in monetary entropy through globalization, which turned closed systems into open systems and spread the income of workers from local workers to global workers.
The compounding factor is the changing shape of the economy in which the digital economy (financial and information) is growing much faster than the physical economy of manufacturing and services. The labor intensity (real energy expended) of the physical economy leads to money spreading (entropy happening) much more broadly, than in the digital economy.
The net effect is that workers in developed economies both make less money and have less opportunity to participate in growth.
These entropy related trends create a very unstable situation for democratic capitalism. The people who live off the proceeds of their work need a way out of this problem and will glom on to anyone who can give them logical set of people to blame and a path that seems to lead to a better sharing of the wealth (at least from their local perspective). Hence, the rise of a leader/party who espouses that we should blame the elite and the foreigners, and says the solution is to put “America First”.
I’m not sure what the solution is but it probably means we need to increase the entropy of wealth so that it naturally spreads more broadly.
I enjoyed the article. Not sure why your reductionism, when you write that “we cannot tell whether GOP politicians only act as morons or they are actual morons”. This sentence makes me believe that you want to give a pass to politicians who are identified with other, non-GOP political labels. Why “GOP politicians”? Isn’t it obvious that the same could be said about plenty of non-GOP politicians?
generally that might be true. Yet this article discussed the co-optation of the lost cause of white supremacy by one political party and that is the GOP.
Furthermore, all truly moronic statements in the recent past emanated from GOP pols: “California wildfires were caused by jewish space lasers” (Greene); “the BLM should tilt the earth or moon axis to fight climate change” (Gohmert) to name just two.
This is not supposed to be a partisan statement, it’s just that there is no comparable level of absurdity on the Democratic side.
I would quibble at your (apparent, to me, but perhaps a misunderstanding) depiction of the GOP as being Trump.
The GOP and the Democratic party are the American oligarchy.
Trump offended both titular sides of said oligarchy.
I would further note that the social radicalism of the Democratic party is what pushes non-adherents, as well as those ideologically divergent to start with, ever further down the path of radicalism.
The GOP in this sense hopes to capitalize on what Trump uncovered while still retaining their role as “right” or “conservative” distraction for the bulk of the American people.
Again, not that Trump is great or a good person, etc.
As you note – it doesn’t matter how flawed the subject is if said person keys in on what people ultimately care about.
I’ve been enjoying a visit from a band mate from my 70s rock band, Wolf. I am assuming that your posting name indicates that you were our #1 fan!
As per your point, the GOP was a conservative party until they adopted “the Southern Strategy.” Remember Willie Horton? Trump was the ultimate outcome.
As you hint, Trump is not old school GOP. He is a POPULIST. The GOP has just latched on for the ride. Throughout history, populism has mostly been a right wing phenomenon.
Populists are not necessarily business-friendly. Some Southern Strategy/Trump supporters in the GOP have started to wake up to that fact. I recall that one of the Koch brothers recently expressed remorse for funding the movement which ending up bringing us Trump. But the mainstream GOP only seems to care about keeping “the base” happy so they have gone all in on their messenger and savior.
Here is a the history of Trump’s political affiliations and who was serving as President of the United States of America at the times he switched parties:
1987 – registered Republican (Reagan)
1999 – Independent Party of New York (Clinton)
2001 – Democratic party ( Bush)
2009 – Republican party (Obama)
2011 – Independent (Obama)
2012 – Republican (Obama)
Last I read, he wants to establish his own party – The Patriot Party.
Agreed – Trump has historically been just another guy, part of the oligarchy.
However, I would note that he has benefited from – and clearly enjoys – being in the limelight.
Now he’s on the biggest stage in the world.
There is no going back from being POTUS and having 70M+ people vote for you to return as President.
Whatever your views on his motivations – good or bad, smart or dumb, some combination – I don’t see him giving up the stage either for personality/ego or financial reasons.
What made him so hated by the existing oligarchy is that he brought to the surface the selling out of Americans to multinational/foreign interests – through which American politicians and American government bureaucrats enriched themselves as much as the companies did.
While this isn’t the biggest problem, IMO, that we face as a nation and people, it is certainly top 5.
To me – the biggest single problem is health care.
So there are plenty of ways by which an aspiring party led by Trump could make the jump into replacing the Republicans (the Democrats are, ironically, much more entrenched due to their ideological lockstep).
Sorry, no relation although I do enjoy a number of songs from bands with the name: Wolf. To the point of occasional karaoke…
To your point: political parties evolve over time.
The question is: will the Republican party evolve or are they so hardened that a Trumpian/populist party will have the opportunity of taking over its mantle?
From my viewpoint – the Republican party today has completely lost its lede. Large sectors of the monopolistic portions of the US economy (i.e. pharma, universities, lawyers, tech etc) have migrated to the Democrats. Finance, the biggest, pays off both/all sides. Republicans represent Big Business no more. Nor are they particularly representative of either the culturally conservative or fiscally conservative – after Bush and Trump.
They also have the opportunity to take the mantle of being the party of the 90% – Trump demonstrated conclusively that people of all areas, races, etc will vote for even him if they believe said candidate will at least attempt to protect, much less further, their interests.
Whether that happens or not, much less clear. There has always been an enormous anti-populist backlash in the US – Thomas Frank has written and spoken at length on the myriad ways by which the original Populists were taken down, and said Populists were amazingly well organized both intellectually and organizationally.
The choice before us is Brazilianization – the conversion of a formerly prosperous society into the 1st world equivalent of favelas and mansions, or a clawback of progressivism in the entire population sense as FDR did.