August 15, 2005

Why I don't want to belong to a reality-based community


Somehow I missed the whole floating of the concept of 'reality-based community' last Autumn. It emerged in a response to comments by a Bush aide, reported in October 17, 2004, New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind:

"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

All of which, including the reference to Empire, sounds like it has come from the mouth of a Philip K Dick character (Dick famously wrote that the 'Roman Empire has not ended'.)

One of the many fascinating things about the aide's remarks is the reversal of the view that it is the role of political authority (particularly on the right) to impose a reality principle. Psychoanalytically, it is a confirmation that there are 'always two fathers': in addition to the stern patriarchal Father who forbids (the name/no nom/non of the Father) there is also the obscene 'Father who enjoys', he who has total access to enjoyment. I'm reminded of the phantasmatic delirium of
Cathy O'Brien's Trance-Formation of America: the True Life of a CIA Mind Control Slave
, in which the whole of the postwar American establishment, including key members of the current administration, are presented, Day Today-like, as slavering, polymorphously perverse torture-junkies. (There's a scene, in fact, in which Dick Cheney and others are depicted participating in a hunt of human beings that is curiously reminiscent of similar events in Grant Morrison's Invisibles, where Sir Miles Delacourt, the representative of Anglo-authority, leads a pack of red-jacketed toffs in a hunt of 'undesirables.) Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and The Shining, similarly, both play upon the idea of a controlling elite of sadists who impose one reality on us, while frolicing in a zone of radically unbound libido themselves.


Suddenly, the no-limits transgressivism of the Sixties has been appropriated by the master class. It as if the Sixties' situationist slogan has been adapted: no longer, 'be realistic, demand the impossible' but 'produce reality, impose the impossible'. And at a stroke, the postmodern orthodoxy whereby the media, as a certain poorly-rehashed version of Baudrillard would have it, are the producer of an illusory realm of representation, is overturned. Now, it seems, it is the media who remain in thrall to 'reality', whereas the elite are free to produce their own reality.

What is significant about the aide's declaration is not so much that he believes this to be the case (we all know that) but that he has been prepared to say it, to make esoteric white magical doctrine public property. (Which is significant, because while we know it, the big Other doesn't). But I think Adam Kotsko is right to resist identification with the 'reality-based community'. To do so is in fact to allow oneself to be subjugated to Capitalist Realism. Yes, it remains crucial that the power elite's obfuscations, dissimulations and inconsistencies be exposed. But to fight on the terrain laid down by the current Masters of Reality is already to have lost. For the Masters to concede that the current mode of 'reality' is only one possible version is to also to accept that new realities not governed by them are possible. And Adam is correct, we should put our efforts into producing those realities, not confine ourselves to reforming the current version.

UPDATE: Pas au-dela's thoughts on the 'limits of a reality-based community', from a while back.

Posted by mark at August 15, 2005 12:50 PM | TrackBack