Sunday, July 02, 2006

Spelunking the Leftist Psyche

In an earlier post (titled The Paradox of the 60s—Part Two), I promised the reader:

“In a later post, we shall spelunk one of the deeper caves of darkness in the depths of the Neo-Gnostic psyche, and shed our miner’s light on one major twisted root of Western anti-Americanism: a literal, existential, ontological self-hatred.”

The reader will immediately note that I have conflated ‘Neo-Gnostic’ and ‘Leftist’. The explanation is simple: the former is the larger category of which the latter is one (albeit the most dominant in our era) member. Because Leftism is by far the most dominant type of Neo-Gnosticism in the modern West, it therefore is the most dominant source of anti-Americanism. (We do find anti-Americanismand the Neo-Gnosticism that is its ideological matrixin some forms of the ultra-Right; but the sociopolitical power and influence there is minimal compared with that of Leftism.)

A second point worth noting: I referred, in my quote at the top, to the ‘self-hatred’ of Western anti-Americanism. A reader might wonder: shouldn’t that be limited to American anti-Americanism, to be logically consistent with the ‘self-’ part of the ‘self-hatred’? My response is no, for the following reasons: insofar as America is part of the West, and insofar as America is not merely a part, but has been, since the end of World War II, the very vanguard and torchbearer of the modern West, then the antipathy to her on the part of any Westerner becomes a self-hatred. And furthermore, the antipathy inherent in anti-Americanism is inextricable from, and historically related to, the antipathy inherent in the larger penumbra of anti-Westernism. (There are complications to this latter phenomenon: a Frenchman, or a Brit, or a German, or an Italian, etc., may express simultaneously an anti-American attitude and a proudly nationalistic attitude; but if one examines such a person’s political philosophy more closely, one will invariably find a Leftist world-view that is decidedly founded on an antipathy toward traditional Western values in general, values of which his particular nation, and Europe more broadly, used to champion but now, as a result of the process of the increasing dominance of PC multiculturalism, tends to deconstruct and to denigrate. This anti-American European then thinks he can have his cake and eat it too, without realizing the deeper self-contradiction obscured by his exteriorization of America as the scapegoat of his suppressed self-hatred. Others may, in recent history, attempt to further fine-tune this obfuscation by fine-tuning the scapegoat that conceals the deeper underground of their antipathy, either by deceiving themselves or by trying to deceive others, when they would say, “It’s not the American people I have a problem with, it’s just Bush!” Bushbashing has become a convenient—if patently puerile—shortcut to avoid critical thinking about complications and distinctions, not to mention a convenient way to mask broader prejudices.)

Now, to get to that “deeper cave of darkness in the depths of the Leftist psyche,” and more specifically to that “one major twisted root of Western anti-Americanism: a literal, existential, ontological self-hatred.”

The phenomenon of self-hatred can be examined on different levels. At its baldest, most elemental and most self-contradictory level, it would be a self who hates itself. This intensely paradoxical psycho-logic cannot be sustained: it forces itself to the dilemmatic bifurcation into either self-annihilation, or schizophrenia (the latter defined as a psychological compartmentalization that keeps the mutually destructive halves of the dilemma sufficiently separated from each other to enable the whole of which they are halves to continue functioning). In terms of political expression, the former results in the philosophically worthless postures of suicide, at its most extreme, or just short of that, an attempt at complete personal dissolution (which manifests as the raving lunatic on the street corner or the incoherent melange of a Bukowski or worse yet of a Hunter S. Thompson or a William S. Burroughs); while the latter is far more common, and results in the equally worthless philodoxy that characterizes the self-contradictory perplexities of the Neo-Gnostic psyche in general.

An important principle must be invoked at this juncture: ironically enough, it is a principle that is rather dear to the Neo-Gnostic: it is the inextricability of the self and the culture around the self. This is not to say the self is totally submerged into the culture that surrounds it. Once again, we notice a paradoxical structure: there is a paradox, and a tension, between the self and culture. We raise this for the obvious reason: there is another level to self-hatred, and that level is when it is expressed through a person’s hatred of his own culture.

Now, a culture is sufficiently complex, and the paradoxical tension between self and culture is sufficiently complex, to enable an individual member of a culture to find and express a critical distance from his own culture. However, any critical distance an individual member may feel and intellectualize about his own culture always remains itself paradoxical, and the individual member if he is properly educated will be aware of this. What this paradox means in relation to this critical distance is that the distance, and the criticism, is, as it were, bound by a limiting elasticity, whereby it can only go so far before it snaps and breaks. As long as the paradoxical tension of the practice of critical distance is maintained, the elasticity of it will find at least one expression in a simultaneous, and paradoxical, posture of constructive criticism. This elasticity of critical distance—which never snaps or breaks into Revolt and Revolutionary Transfiguration of the Cosmos and the consequent Violence Against Others Who Refuse to Join the Revolution to Immanentize the Eschaton—is, precisely, the very essence of what Progress means. Progress is the paradoxical process of a thing changing in order to get better—paradoxical because it stays the same while it changes: i.e., it remains in self-identity even while it betters itself through a dynamism of change.

The Leftist who wants change only in radical terms is revolted by precisely this maintenance of self-identity which we noted in the previous formula. He is revolted by it because he has located all significant evil in that self. That self can remain externalized from the Leftist’s self only insofar as the Leftist makes the artificial distinction between his own self and the culture from which his self was born and by which his self was nourished. Once the Leftist makes the connection, however, between his self and the ontological and nutritive cultural matrix without which his self would not exist, he is forced into the dilemma between

a) a literal self-hatred that cannot avoiding targeting the individual self (since the self is not extricable from its tensional relationship to its culture)

b) a radical and often traumatic change of mind and heart that will lead to a conversion from Leftism and an abandonment of the magic of the ‘Revolution’.

The problem is, though, that most Leftists never lucidly and logically make the connection between their self and their culture. They are thus able to maintain a functionally dysfunctional self-contradiction that is a warped mirror-image of the healthy paradox between self and culture, which in turn, is the only way for the more modest and imperfect—but ultimately more pragmatically beneficial—process of constructive criticism by which Progress works.

One significant psychological reason why the Leftist fails to make that connection is out of a visceral and semi-conscious dread that recoils from the conclusion that the evils they claim to abhor about their culture are evils from which they cannot completely wash their hands: by the logic of the inextricability of self and culture, the culture’s evils (whether present or past) are morally shared by the self. The Leftist’s externalization of his own culture is, therefore, a way for the Leftist to be able to completely condemn and punish that evil without condemning and punishing himself. It is that simple adverb that is at the root of the Leftist’s pathology: ‘completely’. The Leftist is obsessed with perfection, and with avoiding imperfection. The Leftist is a purist. Since, however, life is not pure, and politics is not pure, and culture is not pure, and people are not pure, the Leftist’s life project is formidable indeed, and requires, at the very least, the maintenance of significant psychological self-deception which, in turn, requires philodoxic tactics of revisionist history, and of an extremely tendentious treatment of data in general. A major method of this psychological self-deception is, as we have explained, the articulation of a radical disjunction between self and culture.

At this point, we may mention that the healthy person who can abide his tension between self and culture is able to face the logical and moral consequences that follow from his self’s inextricable bonds with his culture: in facing his own imperfections by seeing them morally participating in his own culture’s imperfections, he then is able to react and respond maturely to any feelings of moral shame or revulsion he might have about past, or even present, evils—and in this way he will be able to set about to change his culture, in ways that he knows can never be radical insofar as that would entail being complete and perfect. This is the only pragmatic way for Progress to proceed: within limitations, steered by a level head that is aware of the limitations of imperfection, both in the culture he is trying to change, and in himself.

All these features we have discussed about the Leftist psyche pertain more broadly to Neo-Gnosticism, and to the previous historical forms of Gnosticism. They may all be boiled down to the peculiar pathos of intolerance of imperfection . It is not peculiar insofar as we all don’t like imperfection and we all can understand the grievances of someone griping about the

“...heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to...”

What is peculiar about the Leftist pathos is its zeal to sever its ties to the limitations of life and try to realize a fantasy of perfection, or, like an infantile mentality, complain excessively and mordantly about the imperfections of life in such a way that the normal, healthy responses to those imperfections, by which some rational yet modest amelioration of them may be realized, are not only ignored but attacked. The latter, the infantile mentality, is the Leftist in his neurotic stage; the former, the attempt to realize his fantasy of perfection, is the Leftist in his psychotic stage.

Ultimately, the Leftist’s intolerance of imperfection is not only a hatred of self, it is also self-defeating. And if it were only a matter of a peculiar subculture whose members only harm themselves, it would be a negligible problem in the grander scheme of things. The sad fact is that this pathology has acquired socio-political dominance in the modern West and has wreaked significant damage on various aspects of the West. And now, while we stand at the threshhold of the threat of an Islam Redivivus, the dominant Leftist pathology is crippling our ability to rationally recognize, define and fight this recently revivified ancient enemy.


El Tom said...

How can you define the leftist psyche on the terms of the right?

The things, by the way, that I dislike America for are as much for conservative reasons as anything else; namely the erosion of MY culture and traditions by american ones.

I like Cafes better than McDonalds.

Is conservatism, in the philosophical sense, to the left, therefore, of free market, liberal-democratic capitalism?

islamists hate america because tthey are right wing. they view america as a corrupt, overly liberal culture. many more moderate muslims do not however hate america, because they themselves are small l liberal, or libertarian; as long as america doesn't fuck with them, they don't care about it.

Rightist psychological traits lead to exacerbation, leftist ones to reconciliation; consider, for instance, the approach of the Israeli left and right.

We should pursue reconciliation, as it is the route to peace, and thus the collective good.

we may be obsessed with perfection, and improving our world (in the way we see)... but you never get leftists who admit to wanting to make it 'worse'.

El Tom said...

I*n the words of the Clash, I'm so bored of the USA... but what can I do?

Ex-Centrist said...

el tom, thanks for commenting.

"How can you define the leftist psyche on the terms of the right?"

You might find a partial answer in my subsequent post of today, "Leftist vs. Liberal". I don't think I am simplistically being partisan: I look back to an earlier era of the modern West (18th century on back) when in many respects what we divide as "conservative" and "liberal" today, flowed together and had a complicated inter-relationship. Nevertheless, the sociopolitcal scene has changed and deteriorated, and now there is the fact of this division, and it is my contention that today the "right" tends to have preserved more of the rationality and common sense of classical liberalism. The "left", to the degree it is in our era deficient in rationality and common sense, cannot do much pragmatically with its emotional ideals of liberal progress, and has become warped in many respects with PC multiculturalism and utopian fantasies about social engineering, etc.

"The things, by the way, that I dislike America for are as much for conservative reasons as anything else; namely the erosion of MY culture and traditions by american ones.

I like Cafes better than McDonalds."

In most places I have been throughout the USA, one usually has a choice of BOTH cafes and McDonald's. If you don't like the McDonald's, a more bohemian cafe is not far away.