Volatility

July 14, 2016

On Bastille Day: The Idea Vs. “The Leader”

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The core problem of our politics today is the chasm between those for whom an idea and goal are primary vs. those who, above all else, seek a Leader.
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Although the German term Fuhrer, literally “Leader”, has long had a more narrow association for most people, the term generically means any leader in whose leadership one invests a mystical significance prior to any substantive content which could be found in the actions of this Leader. Fuhrerprinzip, “Leadership Principle”, means that the most important thing is to find such a Leader. This is primary over ideas, values, principles, goals. All these, however loudly advocated by the Leader-seeker, are really secondary to simply finding a Leader who provides a simulation of cherishing these ideas and seeking these goals. Actual belief and actual fighting are secondary at best, and never necessary.
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When people who do hold ideas and fight for goals misunderstand this, we make an error. To give a typical example from today’s headlines, when someone who truly wants to abolish corporate globalization and austerity points out to a Bernie Sanders supporter that Sanders is a fraud and has always been, this is usually irrelevant since the average “Feel the Bern” type doesn’t really care about these ideas or goals but only wants to exalt the Leader who mystically embodies the simulation of these.
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This explains what one finds when one goes to the official Sanders campaign website, as I did a few months ago, to find out exactly what he was promising to do if he became president as far as nullifying the TPP. I wasn’t surprised to find that he was promising nothing whatsoever, but instead was expressing only what amounted to a personal opinion that he didn’t like such globalization pacts. This is inexplicable if we were theorizing that Sanders and his supporters were real anti-globalizers, but easily explained if we go with the theory that Sanders was never any such thing but only a Leader-figure embodying a vague anti-TPP notion, and his followers only Leader-seekers whose secondary ideas included such vague notions. Otherwise why wouldn’t his supporters have demanded a clear commitment to action? But in fact 99% of Sanders supporters neither know nor care exactly what he was promising about this or anything else. This is typical of Leader-seekers in general – they’re usually amazingly ignorant of what their Leader has actually done or promises to do. The 2008 Obama cultists provided perhaps the ultimate example of the syndrome. This is proof that any action is of minimal importance to Leader-seekers, compared to a foggy but strongly felt emotional bond with the Leader.
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Then we may be confused when we see how Sanders followers always seemed oblivious to the fact that right from the start Sanders gave an unconditional pledge of loyalty to support the standard right-wing, pro-corporate, war-mongering, police statist Democrat Party program. Of course this was always objectively obvious since Sanders said so and since that’s what the Democrat Party indelibly is. It seems bizarre that many of them now act as if Sanders’s warm, unconditional embrace of Hillary Clinton is some kind of betrayal, when he always promised to do exactly that. Most bizarre of all, some of them still act as if they haven’t heard any of this, and still insist on seeing him as some kind of constructive figure.
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All this is confusing if we make the mistake of thinking these people really care about the ideas and goals Sanders claimed to care about. But it all becomes clear when we understand that they never really cared about those things, but cared only about finding a Leader to take them through at least part of the presidential campaign and give them the mystical feeling that something good was happening, regardless of the reality. That’s the Leader’s job.
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(Meanwhile a different group of Leader-seekers is doing the exact same thing with Donald Trump, and a significant portion of Clinton’s support also comes from such seekers, no doubt soon to be joined by most of the former Sanders seekers. But Clinton is also supported by the liberals who consciously embrace the status quo, while Sanders could not have had any such supporters. The Green Party may have some supporters who truly embrace reform goals and would fight for these, although the desire of at least some among the Greens to make Sanders their candidate indicates that Leader-seeking is rampant among them as well. Of course all Leader-seekers of any stripe implicitly ratify the status quo.)
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This also explains the common pathology of people’s inability to break free of the instant-gratification mode. To embrace a new idea and make it real requires long, hard work. But seeking a Leader can and does give instant gratification as soon as the seeker achieves this cathexis. In this case there’s no point criticizing the desire for instant gratification since, while such a desire is toxic for movement-building, it fits perfectly well with Leader-seeking. Whichever comes first, the infantile impatience or the Leader-need, the two reinforce one another.
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It also explains the persistence of the religious cult of electoralism and voting. Again, while the cult of voting (as opposed to viewing elections in a purely tactical way) is toxic for any new idea, it fits Leader-seeking like a glove since the potential for finding new Leaders to vote for is infinite. As long as votism gratifies you, even if followed each time by disillusionment, you’ll always be able to get high again. (“Feel the Bern” does indeed sound like drug lingo.)
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Leader-seeking props up superficial belief in everything from the Democrat Party to electoralism and capitalism as such, since ideas involving these will always be secondary to exalting the Leader of the Month upon whom the Leader-seekers can project such ideas. The likes of Obama, Clinton, Warren, Sanders don’t really deceive anyone, indeed they deliver fully, at least for a time, exactly what the seekers crave. Paradoxically, as long as the Leader can deliver the instant gratification of Leadership as such, the seekers will have literally infinite patience as far as waiting for the reforms and revolutions allegedly promised by these Leaders and the parties they represent.
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It’s true that for some of the Leader-seekers the secondary ideas and goals are important enough that the Leader figure eventually disappoints them to the point that they renounce him. But they seldom generalize from this disillusionment to a rejection of the Leadership Principle as such. Instead they drop the particular disappointing Leader and seek a new one.
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All this is why it’s fruitless to make the call to build a movement based on a new idea and goal, if the audience is an atomized collection of Leader-seekers. Probably the easiest litmus test for distinguishing an establishment-figure Leader who has grouped a Leader-seeking rabble under him, as opposed to what could be the rudiment of an anti-system movement, is whether the people involved are building an extralegal organization completely outside any existing institution, or whether their “campaign” is completely ensconced within existing establishment channels such as the Democrat or Republican Party. Applying that test from day one, I could always easily peg Sanders and Trump as frauds, and their respective followings as superficial Leader-seekers.
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What follows from this.
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1. Our ability to build a movement based on a new idea and necessary goals is a function of how many people are ardent to work and fight based on the primacy of the idea without reference to our immediate ability to incarnate these in the form of a Leader figure, let alone one who’s running for president.
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Those who superficially share some ideas and goals but who really seek a Leader simulating these comprise a different group, and it’s a deadly error to confound the two based on such superficial similarities. The true fighters for the idea first must clearly identify one another and begin by organizing themselves on that basis.
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2. Then, the core movement will be in a position to make the appropriate strategic/proselytizing appeals to the broader mass of sympathizers, including the Leader-seekers, and to form any appropriate tactical alliances.
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But the current preliminary confusion between these two radically different commitments, one to an idea and the other to Leaders who fraudulently simulate such ideas, has to end.
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Of course, a truly organic movement based on a new idea will give rise to its own indigenous leadership. But these will be a very different kind of leader supported by a different kind of constituency. They will be appendages of the true idea, the idea’s servants, rather than con artists fraudulently simulating a pseudo-idea. They will append from the organic body of the movement constituency rather than artificially collect under them and cheaply be exalted by a mass of Leader-seeking atoms.
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I write this out of the conviction that existing institutions and ideology are irredeemably rotten, evil, and unworkable. We’re far beyond the point where reform was possible, and long into the time where the desire for reform is nothing but procrastination at best, in a time where we no longer have time to waste. Leader-seeking in any form, but most of all in its “progressive” form, is therefore reactionary in the most profoundly practical sense. In order for the necessary new ideas and goals, affirmative and negative, to have any chance to start building and tearing down in time before much vaster historical forces, the forces of global economic and environmental collapse and the total global wars which a thrashing, dying corporate system will force upon humanity, take complete control of events, we who assert the primacy of these ideas must separate from those who only pay lip service even as they serially latch onto scammers from the system. We must clearly identify, separate, and organize on this completely new basis while letting the dead bury the dead.
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3 Comments

  1. Not sure if all Berners were always oblivious. Pretty difficult to completely become annulled from the establishment, even if one is aware. It is akin to asking people to become hermits, nuns and monks.
    I share the same sentiments. The trick is in being ready for change whatever that may be. It looks like a water crisis is on the way.

    Comment by Suzanne Case — July 24, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    • I believe it’s necessary. After years of feeling ambivalent about burning all bridges, seeing all the while how the same kinds of sentiments (there’s no better word for it; reason and the facts are clearly against any residual faith in coexistence) accomplish nothing but steady deterioration and increasingly common disaster for everyone but the 1%, I’ve finally broken free of it all. The whole notion of “progress” is as definitively disproven as flat earthism, and there’s no question at all about the generally reactionary trend of politics and political economy. Only a position which fully acknowledges the facts and proceeds from there can be sufficient to our great crisis.

      Of course I disagree that the only alternative is to become a hermit, which is barely possible anyway when the land itself is in shackles. I’ve written extensively about how people can build political/cultural movements against the grain of the system and start to build the necessary new socioeconomic structures while the old still persists. The rising Community Food movement is the best and most advanced example, a beacon to humanity. But as I wrote in this post, the reason almost no work like this is being done yet is that people don’t yet want to renounce the corporate system. Of course that’s abundantly clear when we look at state of the “anti-GMO movement”, where nothing worthy of the name even exists yet, at least in the West. People also don’t yet want to renounce scientism and technocracy, but this renunciation is a necessary precondition to a real movement to abolish agricultural poisons and Poisonism as such.

      Comment by Russ — July 25, 2016 @ 5:26 am

    • I agree completely that water is shaping up to be the ultimate crisis. It’s going to drive horrific wars unless we get smart and break corporate power in time.

      Comment by Russ — July 25, 2016 @ 5:27 am


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