April 17, 2005



'Suppose you're a second-rate ham actor like Tony Blair, touring the country with a new show called "I Think We're A Clone Now". In it, you produce a wooden ventriloquist's dummy, carved to look a little bit like you. It wears the same banal suit with the same red silk tie, has a demonic grin carved into its face, empty staring blue eyes, with one slightly larger than the other.'

Somehow, don't ask me how, Lenin's Tomb has slipped under my radar until now. But it won't surprise anyone to hear me loudly seconding this:

'I confess. I give myself up to you and the secular authorities. I am a fanatic, a freak, a wild-eyed messianist, one of Thomas Carlyle's Apostles of Liberty, a worshipper at the Temple of Bronstein, whapping my own bible marked 'Manifesto', worshipping my pantheon of saints and vilifying the devils who tempt the people with 'reform' this and 'tax break' that. The only deal I will accept is total salvation. Precisely, it is the form of religion, not the various mythos, that should be appropriated by the rationalist left. Revolutionary messianism, fanaticism, is the only way to disrupt one's embedment in a system whose hegemony is so thoroughly entrenched. The total identification with a greater collective like class is the only way to break with the narcissism that capitalism as both consumption and production engenders.'

Yes, yes, yes....

As I've remarked before, most of the great rationalist philosophers - Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant - were religious. It's no surprise, therefore, that Zizek, Zupancic, Copjec Negri and Badiou have returned to rationalist sources to produce a counter-capitalist ethics. Rationalist religion forces a disconnection from the commonsense world of pathological interestedness; contemporary 'realism', by contrast, takes it as read that this is all there is. Religion provides a horizon beyond that of the oed-I-pod, and, at its most powerful, in Spinoza's monontheism, it can elaborate the seeming paradox that pursuing your own interests CAN ONLY be achieved by suspending your animal pathologies.

blairmask3.jpg blairmask4.jpg

Even in mainstream kapitalist parliamentarianism, the question of whether ethics could ever be founded upon the pursuit of personal interests was once the source of ideological disputation. Now it's all about administration and ideological conflict has effectively been extirpated from kapitalist parliamentarian 'debate' (to make ideology itself function all the better, of course), the once shocking notion that pursuing one's own interests is ethical, indeed is the only way to behave ethically, has now been normalised. (A telling element of guilt is perhaps evident in the now customary appeal to 'you AND your family', as if pursuing the interests of 'your family' was somehow more noble, or indeed different from, pursuing your own interests.) The assumption is the familiar Adam Smith fairy story that all will benefit if everyone pursues their own interests. Once, the Smithian idea that good would spontaneously emerge as an ephiphenomal side-effect of an aggregation of individual interestedness, used to be opposed to the concept of a collective Good, but that possibility has disappeared - or been disappeared - from popular political ontology.

Now, in fact, it is considered wrong not to pursue your own interests. In political struggles at work, for instance, my 'sin' seems to consist in my negligecting to protect my own interests (defined of course in purely economic-careerist terms) adequately. Cynical subordination to central government stupidity and to managerialist vacuousness can be defended on no other grounds except personal pragmatism, of course. The familiar Zizekian ideological capture kicks in: 'Don't believe in it (education reduced to a propaganda tool in Blair's re-election strategy, Stalinist quotas for educational achievement, etc etc), just do it.'

That's why what I have called innocynicism is the alternative to rationalist enthusiasm (perhaps 'enthusiasm' is a better term than 'fanaticism', for all sorts of reasons). It's never a case of religion versus secularism, but religion versus hidden religious commitments. Always ask: who is their god? For secularists it's usually the big Other or Oedipus, or both.


This post, also on Lenin's Tomb - in which TB is brilliantly and briskly rushed through Baudrillard's three orders of simulacra - is one of the best analyses of innocynicism I've seen. The glorious Private Eye television review disection of the Pope death referred to by I.T. rightly draws attention to the media's suspension of the habitual hyper-sceptical mode they employ when faced with even the most modest of claims by politicians in favour of supine, slack-jawed piety when confronted with the ludicrous superstitious blather of the Papists. But Blair seems to embody both these stances always, and at one and the same time. Total cynicism, total pietism. The second service Blair has done us is to expose the identity of these two positions.

The first, naturally, was to completely and definitively undermine any residual faith in Kapitalist parliamentarianism.

Posted by mark at April 17, 2005 03:48 PM | TrackBack