The Rebirth Of The American Subject

With time, America has become a country with vanishingly few paths out of poverty (or even out of the working class) and after several centuries of the American dream, the direct lineage from the early settlers and risk-takers — the committed aficionados of luck — found themselves at the bottom of the social ladder which gave birth to the culture of victimhood.Read more from NOTES FROM DISGRACELAND and follow on Twitter

30. XII 2022

We are not alcoholics because we drink; we drink because we are alcoholics (S. Basar)

Prologue: The touchdown

America rose from the Atlantic like an auxiliary universe in which God’s experiment with mankind could be started from scratch — a land in which arriving, seeing and taking seemed to become synonymous. While, in the feudalized and territorialized old Europe every strip of arable land had had an owner for thousand years, and every forest path, cobblestone or bridge was subject to age-old rights of way and restrictive privileges in favor of some princely exploiter, America offered countless arrivals the exciting contrasting experience of a virtually lordless land that, in its immeasurability, wanted only to be occupied and cultivated so as to belong to the occupier and cultivator. A world in which the settlers arrive before the land registers — a paradise for new beginners and strong takers [1].

Introspection: Risk-taking and chance nobility

Since its inception, America stood as a symbol of impunity in the unilateral penetration of unexplored areas [2] and a new frontier that embodies the spirit of globalization and risk-taking. It was the land of escapism and new beginnings with no baggage of history and tradition, and few rules; an unstructured community of risk-takers where everyone had the same initial conditions. What in normal circumstances would be characterized as looters were in fact pioneers and early settlers. The armed land-taker, a farmer under God, acted under rules more suitable to the definition of crime rather than noble participation in the exploration of the world.

America lacked its hereditary and institutional nobilities. But, as luck was the only metric of distinction, it defined one of its own, the nobility of chance: Individuals who had become rich, famous and favored in their sleep, and who never quite understood what had carried them upwards [3].

On the clean slate of new beginnings, everything was subject to change, an anomaly that went against the grain of the mores of the stability-obsessed Middle Ages. Until the late 20th century, America retained its status as a site of pure potentiality. It had no past, only future and was whatever it imagined itself to be, that unique place where anyone who wants to do something new can do something new and where the code of optimism constituted the true national language [4]. But the most unique (and the most troubling) aspect of American subjectivity, which defines the essence of its antisocial core, was the Chosennessthe American password for the disinhibition [5] of action and appearance on the world stage.

This motif has created a stage where exception to the moral law could be taken. In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment this argument is summarized in Raskolnikov’s statement to the prosecutor:

In short, I argued that all people — not only the great, but even those who deviate only marginally from the common rut, that’s to say who are only marginally capable of saying something new, are bounded, by their very nature, to be criminals — to a greater or lesser degree, of course. Otherwise they would find it hard to get out of the rut, and it goes without saying that, again because of their nature, they could not possible agree to remain in it.

Belonging to the chosen people empowers one to commit crimes as a way of performing his duty of removing the obstacles to the new posed by the ordinary people, the destruction of the existing reality in the name of one that is better.

This is the logic that had defined the spirit of the New Continent from its discovery. In his letter to Doña Juana de Torres, Christopher Columbus wrote:

Our Lord made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth, of which he spoke in the Book of Revelation by St. John, after having spoken of it by the mouth of Isaiah.

Self-deception: The great accounting fraud

Some memories have to be buried and forgotten because they contradict the optimism of the big picture and some other will be used to build the official version of the “good history.” And so the history began.

Things could never fully add up in the land of new beginnings. Luck is a zero sum game — it has both winners and losers. This (simple) fact collided with the puritanical code — there are no losers, only people who wallow in self-pity — and its existence had to be kept out of the public sight and political discourse. By deliberately manufacturing a mythical image of America and its past, the power of the past can be used to transform those that are governed and shape their subjectivity.

The great American accounting fraud — hiding the losers in the gambling hall of pursuit of happiness [6] — has been an ideological maneuver intended as depression concealment, which covers the abyss beneath every failed fortune-seeker. But the accumulated deficit of luck grew so big that it could no longer remain hidden and its burden became unbearable in the early 21st century. Its resurfacing defined the wounded subject of postmodernity.

With time, America has become a country with vanishingly few paths out of poverty (or even out of the working class) and after several centuries of the American dream, the direct lineage from the early settlers and risk-takers — the committed aficionados of luck — found themselves at the bottom of the social ladder which gave birth to the culture of victimhood.

The accidentally wounded white American male subject, an ousted member of dominant and privileged majority, has become collateral damage of capitalism’s global triumph. Beaten in just about any game that matters, even the ones they invented, they have joined the ranks of excess population on the way to irreversible social displacement and marginalization.

The emergence of the American wounded subject in the new century was immersed in nostalgia for the times of new beginnings, a demand for another chance to those who found themselves lost in the game of luck, competition and meritocracy.

At the center of their uprising resides Ressentiment, a psychological state arising from suppressed feelings of envy and hatred that cannot be acted upon, a dormant emotional sediment caused by the loss of privileged position. Not sufficient to mobilize political action, it remains inactive and intoxicating.

This condition resulted in armies of disillusioned individuals who have committed themselves to chemical escape from American reality.

Intermission: The rebirth of the subject

Subjects are distinguished by their capacity to act — formation of a subject requires diffusing the inhibitory mechanisms in order to eliminate the regression of endless doubt instrumental for converting “theory” into actions. The easiest way to create disinhibiting mechanisms is to subject oneself to the command of a higher authority.

The modern right-wing populist uprising is modeled on the Jesuit mode of subjectivity, which consists of absolute surrender to supreme authority (the pope), cultural manifestations of the ability to suffer and conversion of suffering into passion.

Contemporary victims of neoliberal capitalism retroactively see their newly found world in support of interpreting their history as a repressed memory of systematic abuse. Their version of American reality is a hysterical reaction to failure with subjectivity defined by their coming out, no longer needing to hide and admitting to the abuse [7].

Their impassioned rage is mobilized through flood or arbitrariness with an aim of manufacturing reality from improbable possibilities through a populist cacophony of God, victimhood, entitlement, male privilege, ressentiment and sovereign citizenry. The underlying discontent is contextualized through conspiracy theories and fusion paranoia. What used to be the terrain of fringe movements has become so deeply ingrained in the mainstream politics that the paranoid style has become the cohering idea of a broad coalition plurality that draws adherents from every point on the political spectrum.

With their recent leader out of the picture, defenestrated, embarrassed and discredited, the march of victimhood of angry citizens not only did not slow down, but it continued with new intensity and higher granularity. They offer impassioned conversion of their suffering and, like modern-day Jesuits, stand as passive followers offering their unconditional obedience to the highest bidder, a prospective new “pope,” who would elevate their victimhood, pledge their votes and monetize their rage capital.

Epilogue: Reverse flows from the netherworld

2022 confirmed what previous years already outlined. In the last 12 months, the number of mass shootings in America exceeded 600 again, only marginally lower than the previous year’s record 692, and two times as high as in 2015 when the identitarian orgy got a new dose of legitimacy. These killings have become the micro representation of the rebellion of unreason that illustrate the final phase of transformation of the game of competition into a competition of cruelty.

For the chosen, failure and mediocrity is forbidden. But when the number of those who fell through the cracks grows so big that they become a community of like minds unified by shared victimhood and their new sense of belonging, the power of collective self-pity becomes a force of its own. The community is generally inclusive, which reflects a fear of small numbers — it likes size because it reinforces cohesion and identity robustness. It absorbs everyone willing to join in but expresses hostility to outsiders — burning bridges reinforces commitment to the identity.

The stealth approach of stochastic terror is the beginning of an uprising from the inside — a blowback of the American dream, its nightmare version — an autoimmune reaction of the system driven by the extrapolated logic that human life is worthless if it stands in the way of the pursuit of happiness.

Tired of self-abuse, anesthetized by drugs and alcohol, disillusioned white males have taken permanent residence in a conflicting configuration between life as they wanted it and life as it has been. They have been lost in their desperate search for a savior who will restore their (perception of) lost dignity and self-respect, and reclaim, on their behalf, what they always considered rightfully theirs, the privilege of luck.

Angry and armed with guns, but feeling powerless, they are taking a short cut in externalizing their depression through a simulated ritual of frontier justice and revenge for their predicament by denying the future to the innocent the way it had been denied to them.

This is the baggage of the American dream, which reinforces the late-Shakespearian perception of humans as competition-infected, jealousy-blinded, failure-scared risk-takers, which appear on the world stage as balls with which illusory powers, malign genies, money spirits and greed demons play their games [8].

In imperial Rome, Fortuna, the goddess of luck, was primarily the protector of slaves and destitute plebeians who depended entirely on chance and the generosity of the rich. In America, she had found another constituency as a protector of the new nobility of chance and turned its back on the poor.

The nebulous reality of the American dream has become the story of divine betrayal and its latest chapter represents an uprising against the new divine order. And this meaningless rebellion will not stop until the actual victims finally begin to speak and reflect about their history in honest and clear terms. Not when they tell themselves fairy tails about themselves, but when they start connecting the dots and drawing the lines.


[1] Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital, Polity (2013)

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] The disinhibiting value of confession is another Jesuit motif of subjectivity – in its modern version, survivor transcends his trauma completely only when he can make it public as a testimony.

[8] ibid.


 

12 thoughts on “The Rebirth Of The American Subject

  1. Globalization caused the interests of our ruling class and our ruled to diverge. The ruling class aligned with their fellow elites abroad and got richer as the industrial interior was hollowed out. The ruled were left to handouts, alcohol, and illegal drugs. The callousness of our ruling class is exemplified by their permitting the indigent, the drug-addicted, and the psychiatrically troubled to roam the streets without proper, long-term treatment and criminals to rob and prey upon the poorest among us. It’s a sad situation that none of our “leaders” cares to address. The fact that many people would not be happy with this state affairs should not be surprising, and they should not bear blame for a situation they did not cause.

    1. Bjarne’s article I will save as my last meditation of the year.
      Thank you so much for the Harpers article. I grew up in a house where John Birch literature was available to me from the time I was able to read. That, thankfully, was balanced with many other things I was able to get my hands on.
      I am not comfortable with political climate we live in, but I do believe that this may very well pass as it has before. Maybe.
      Resentment. How people remember their own personal past and present tempers how they view the present and the future. Denial is a wonderful survival mechanism, but its misuse is the fuel of such movements.
      I giggled at the mention of Morse as I instantly related it to Musk.

    2. I went to OpenAI ChatGPS and entered: “Summarize the Harpers article The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. In seconds here is what was printed:

      The “Paranoid Style in American Politics” is an article written by American historian Richard Hofstadter and published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1964. In the article, Hofstadter discusses the role of paranoia and conspiracy theories in American politics. He argues that the paranoid style is characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” and has a long history in American politics, dating back to the country’s founding.

      Hofstadter contends that the paranoid style is often associated with right-wing movements, and is driven by a belief in a vast and insidious conspiracy against a particular group or ideology. He notes that this conspiracy is often seen as being led by a small, secretive group of elites who are working to subvert the values and traditions of the country.

      The article goes on to discuss various examples of the paranoid style in American politics, including the McCarthyism of the 1950s, the John Birch Society, and the militia movement of the 1990s. Hofstadter argues that the paranoid style is fueled by a sense of powerlessness and a belief that mainstream institutions are corrupt and cannot be trusted.

      Overall, the “Paranoid Style in American Politics” is a thought-provoking and insightful examination of the role of paranoia and conspiracy theories in American politics. It highlights the ways in which these beliefs can shape political discourse and action, and offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing these beliefs to go unchecked.

      1. I then hit the “Regenerate” button and got a new summary….

        “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” is an essay by historian Richard Hofstadter, published in Harper’s Magazine in 1964. In the essay, Hofstadter examines the phenomenon of paranoid thinking in American politics, and how it has manifested itself throughout the country’s history. He argues that the paranoid style is characterized by a sense of extreme and misplaced suspicion, and a belief in conspiracies and plots against the group or individual holding these beliefs. Hofstadter notes that the paranoid style has been present in American politics since the country’s founding, and has been present on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. However, he suggests that it has become more prevalent in recent years, and has been particularly evident in the rise of the far right and the John Birch Society. Hofstadter concludes by arguing that the paranoid style is ultimately harmful to American democracy, as it leads to a polarization of the political landscape and a willingness to accept extreme and often baseless ideas.

    3. Interesting Harpers article. However, where he sees paranoia, I see, mostly, deliberate fearmongering by those who understand that a frightened populace is easier to rule, and don’t care how fast and loose that goal requires them to play with facts.

      BTW, another interesting and revealing take on the mindset and values motivating some of today’s more seemingly irrational political movements was published by historian Walter Russell Mead in 1999, and manages to both identify what was to come in the next 20 years of American political currents as if he had already seen it himself, and trace its roots back 200 years. https://web.archive.org/web/20130817202501/http://denbeste.nu/external/Mead01.html

  2. “While, in the feudalized and territorialized old Europe every strip of arable land had had an owner for thousand years, and every forest path, cobblestone or bridge was subject to age-old rights of way and restrictive privileges in favor of some princely exploiter,” – this could just as well describe our modern day housing market right down to the zoning rules just with a different timeframe.

  3. This article expresses a reality that i have come to perceive through the study of regional history initially driving my teenage challenge questions up until to this day against the dynamic static quo, and that has indeed led to hostility and missed opportunity time and again. As a kid here the mere mention of the other side of the story was quasi antisocial even in the best of exchanges. This article helps me better understand the framework of it all. I believe in entropy, and this too shall pass.

    Thanks H.

  4. Bjarne, I have very much missed your notesfromdisgraceland posts. You may not recall my comments to previous posts, but it’s a pleasure to receive again the thoughtful perspectives and the useful challenges you describe. As in previous years, I will try to be a thoughtful respondent.

    We’re only beginning to utilize the potential of this thing called the Internet. Just my opinion, but your voice is one that helps to fill gaps in perspective and provoke conversation in a potentially far-reaching public square. You have certainly encouraged me to think beyond my immediate views, and more in the light of history and possibility, which Americans (me included) tend to consider only to the extent we must, or to the extent we’re provoked.

    To your point, the abundance of the English (and French) who came to North America, once they arrived and situated on North American soil, looked askance upon Native Americans. Your note begins with a theme that sums up the hard truth illuminated in your post:

    “America rose from the Atlantic like an auxiliary universe in which God’s experiment with mankind could be started from scratch – a land in which arriving, seeing, and taking seemed to become synonymous.”

    If only America was actually a divine experiment! America presented a new reality to the colonists. The story shared by my junior high and high-school history teachers focused on the fact that many of the first English colonists were Quakers, as noted by History.com:

    “The Religious Society of Friends, also referred to as the Quaker Movement, was founded in England in the 17th century by George Fox. He and other early Quakers, or Friends, were persecuted for their beliefs, which included the idea that the presence of God exists in every person. Quaker missionaries first arrived in America in the mid-1650s. Quakers, who practice pacifism, played a key role in both the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.”

    But there is so much more to the story. Though my instructors focused more on the Quakers and largely failed to share details about earlier wars with the tribal nations. Here’s a brief list of battles between early colonists and tribal nations residing in New England at the time, as listed by Wikipedia. None of these particular wars were called out in my lessons.

    Beaver Wars (1609–1701) between the Iroquois and the French, who allied with the Algonquians.
    Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1610–14, 1622–32, 1644–46), including the 1622 Jamestown Massacre, between English colonists and the Powhatan Confederacy in the Colony of Virginia.
    Pequot War of 1636–38 between the Pequot tribe and colonists from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut Colony and allied tribes.
    Kieft’s War (1643–45) in the Dutch territory of New Netherland (New Jersey and New York) between colonists and the Lenape people.
    Peach Tree War (1655), the large-scale attack by the Susquehannock and allied tribes on several New Netherland settlements along the Hudson River.
    Esopus Wars (1659–63), conflicts between the Esopus tribe of Lenape Indians and colonial New Netherlanders in Ulster County, New York
    King Philip’s War (Metacom’s Rebellion) (1675–78) in New England between colonists and the local tribes including, but not limited to, the Nipmuc, Wampanoag, and Narragansett

    The Algonquin tribes had presence across much of Canada and in the Midwest. There’s a town near Chicago called Algonquin, which abuts the Fox River. It’s painful to consider the truth of this history, which doesn’t even account for the tribal nations in the western US. The sheer volume of death and destruction upon the tribes, which they no doubt returned as much as possible in defending themselves, was a tragic and sad time in American history, which to this day inspires infinite regret.

  5. Not since I attended the university in the late 1970s have I encountered the French term “ressentiment.” My major courses of study were English and Social Sciences. But the university had an amazing philosophy department where I partook in existential phenomenology classes. The instructors were all doctors of their discipline, having studied in Cologne, Louvain, Fribourg, and Vienna. At the time, ressentiment was spelled differently — exactly the same as resentment. But it had a more complex meaning that I don’t completely remember. I recall it taught me not to avoid being consumed.

    I’ve always been drawn to the themes in your writings, Bjarne. To my thinking, human beings (myself included), egocentric as we are, unconsciously assume we know and understand all that our lives require. It’s not a conscious thought. We must make this assumption because we can’t hold all of our knowledge in the conscious mind at all times.

    “Tired of self-abuse, anesthetized by drugs and alcohol, disillusioned white males have taken permanent residence in a conflicting configuration between life as they wanted it and life as it has been.”

    I live in a condo building, which is well above the ground. But its effectiveness as a shelter differs only a bit from the caves of early homo-sapiens and Neanderthals, who used fire, wore clothes, built shelters, engaged in ritual, created ornamental objects and art, etcetera. The biggest differences in my residence are that my condo pumps water to my unit, it has windows, it is temperature-controlled and dry, and I did not paint the art on my walls.

    We humans get by. Consciously or unconsciously, our perspectives are skewed. We kid ourselves, inflating the value of our individual knowledge, experience, and accomplishments. The truth is that what we actually “know” and accomplish and perceive is relatively little within the scope of our lives and awareness. We have self-awareness, an ego, and we are conscious of consciousness. But we are not far from the beasts.

    The American wounded have lived in the United States for as long as I can remember. I cannot help but think of our former president call him out as the King of the American wounded. So many people he seduced so easily and dragged with him into his cesspool domain.

    In Chicago area, where I live, we have more than our share of mindlessness and self-pitying white men. I’m just outside of Chicago, which has a history of long-standing, systematic prejudice, pushing aside non-whites in education and work. The consequences of organized disenfranchisement, which we still see today, manifests in drug wars, large proportions of armed robberies, drug deaths, and shooting deaths.

    While the history of prejudice in Chicago is deeply entrenched, freedom means that undereducated, self-serving, narrow-minded, prejudiced peoples can roam freely. Prior to the presidency of The Missing Link, those confused, misguided, mob-oriented peoples had no guiding voice and did not know the difference between conservative and radical. Many of them did not even vote. Back then I did not fear them.

    The awful difficulty I have is that change in the city where I live is painfully incremental, difficult, slow, and scarcely perceptible. All of my life I’ve expected to see positive change. But even with a black woman as mayor and a sympathetic governor, the city continues to provide less than adequate education, and experiences high levels of gun crime. The political culture across the state and within the state government has not been up to the task of fully correcting long-standing wrongs. Independent and political efforts are being made in the city and beyond the city to provide meaningful support to educational and religious institutions and to the city’s disenfranchised.

  6. Of course, the average American has neither the patience or the vocabulary to understand this. When explaining what I was doing to various bosses when I worked on Wall Street, at least half of them needed a presentation suitable for a 14 year old girl. Which doesn’t mean they were bad traders. They just had poor impulse control, like all of us…..

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