There is a balm in Gilead. Modern permissive authority is serpentine and consumptive, it is the Apophis to the Ra of individuality. And yet, at Reed, a supposed wellspring of good progressive individuality, we collectively play boss to one another. I find that to be not only antithetical to basic moral hygiene, but also a fine example of an interior oppressive regime to our daily lives that few of us ever really take notice of.
To start, what do I mean by “Modern Permissive Authority?” An easy encapsulation of the term would be to quote from Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. To set up the quote, he is telling the story of a child and his father, who wants the child to go to his grandmother’s house for the weekend. In an old fashioned way a father might say “I don’t care how you feel. Just do your duty, go to grandmother and behave there properly!” In a “postmodern” way a father might say “You know how much your grandmother loves you! But, nonetheless, I do not want to force you to visit her – go there only if you really want to!” and Zizek’s quote to sum up this joking allegory is simple: “beneath the appearance of a free choice there is an even more oppressive demand than the one formulated by the traditional authoritarian father, namely an implicit injunction not only to visit the grandmother, but to do it voluntarily, out of the child’s own free will. Such a false free choice is the obscene superego injunction: it deprives the child even of his inner freedom, ordering him not only what to do, but what to want to do.”
I detect a connection between cancel culture, toxicity, racial politics, and cliques at Reed, and it’s not that they account for 90% of content in the MC’s. When we as people communicate, we do so memetically. The memetic refers to a sort of shared conceptual mind between us. An example of memetic thinking is a meme. I am penning this on monday and so today I will send my friends photos of Garfield when they ask how I am doing. They know I hate Mondays because they see Garfield. This could also be read as codeswitching, and the difference between my using the n word between myself and my friends and me using it to someone I am upset with. I believe that the memetic perception at all connotes a certain violent Othering. It seems to me that even to delineate along the lines of reference is to define an identity group with just the same violence as shaped the worst schoolyard bullying. This is not to say I disregard shunning, it was effective for the Athenians and is I think preferable to carceration with regards to predators etc. But it is absolutely to say that there is a deep and terrifying violence we are inflicting upon one another all the time, and I think it’s time to discuss it.
If we do not challenge our underlying assumptions not of how we perceive ourselves, but how others perceive us, then we are articulating a prolonged traumatic violence interiorally and reflecting it onto everyone around us as a dogmatic obsession with discrimination. Case in point, I am Black. What does it say of my character if I go throughout the day proclaiming any issue white people hold with me as being racially motivated? It would imply to me personally that I am so insecure in my racial identity as to interpret it as an accidental performance. Such a case presents a radical issue of existence and I think also adequately portrays an issue I have spent months trying to articulate: rarely are we concerned with how we appear to ourselves, constantly we wonder how individuals understand us. This is a fundamental rejection of actual progressivism. A truly progressive notion would be to not undo identity within ourselves but to remove it from perception. In assuming everyone is out to get me, I presume an onlooker, and that is not at all an artful or positive way to live. When we presume trauma we enact trauma onto ourselves, violating the basic principles of consent in communication. The truly liberatory act therefore is not merely to be Black and to be aware of what that means in one’s life, and it is not merely to identify how other groups interpret that, it is quite likely to understand that Blackness is defined only by what it is not and to see the occasions in which absolutely any individual may share in parts of those. When we use “progressive racism” what we are doing is invoking one of a number of authoritorial bodies, be that the academic, the psychiatric, the legal, etc. And cloaking our own repressed bigotry in language that we know to be respectable. This is just the same as MLK’s “White Liberal.” It is not at all overcoming for an identity group to be the only ones present at a function, it is in fact a cry of deep insecurity at the inability of the members of the group to overcome bigotry. Of course, historically marginalised groups need safe spaces, but what then is made of me, the mixed race person, or do we want to police relationships as well.
When we maintain all human contact at so controlled and manipulated a level, we refuse to allow ourselves to meaningfully know one another. In point, my partner is from Korea. One of the few arguments we have had that struck me with existential terror was with regards to whether or not South Korea is a US colony. I think it is, he insists it is not. It took me an hour of back and forth before I realised that to him, an American raised in Korea, there could not be two more separate things. Subconsciously I admitted to myself that he held his Koreanness much like I hold my Blackness, as a thing neither burden nor gift but simply an operating procedure for life. I hold my gender in much the same way, my sexuality. I can easily demarcate the extent to which a thing is of me, with endless delineations and simple definition in an argument. But without having the obscenity of an argument he and I would’ve been stunted with one another because always the question would exist “do they see me as I want them to?” When we endlessly police we never allow for true intimacy. Corporatised language nullifies basic presumed consent contracts. Because relations are mediated, their value is destroyed. We have an issue wherein the further one is from the WASP, the more they are allowed to assert themself in progressive spaces. I, a Black, can call someone cracker and honkey and so forth and the longer I go on the more Lord Fontleroy the NYC WASP tells me he is sorry for his people bringing mine over and subjugating us and so on. But, and this is what I learned from my conversation about Korea, the whole time that the WASP is delineating this space for me to express myself, for the “lesser” identities under the hegemon to express themselves, he is using violence to meaningfully show his power. He is so powerful and so comfortably unaware of his positionality that instead of just engaging as equal he cannot help but betray how he really understands anyone who deviates from what he perceives as universal.
I am surprisingly anti-anti-racist. Ibram X. Kendi is my nemesis. The so-called 1619 Project is my antithesis. That is not to say I am racist. But political correctness is as invalid, as presumptively castrative, as actively shooting oneself in the foot. Not this sadness for your grandfather’s actions or his grandfather’s actions. You are no better a person for feeling bad about racism or making up for it with small timely donations. Recognition that that was the class decision they made at the time, and making an action, not an inaction, to make a proletarian class decision now is the right thing to do. It is nothing like signing a petition or assuaging your personal guilt with a purchase or payment. A step toward the basic distinction between us, and away from the obfuscatory. Lenin once said in an essay entitled The Denouement is At Hand, “ ‘I promise you anything you wish,’ says the tsar, ‘only let me retain power, let me fulfil my own promises.’ That is the gist of the tsar’s Manifesto, and it obviously had to spark off a determined struggle. ‘I grant you everything except power,’ tsarism declares. ‘Everything is illusory except power,’ the revolutionary people reply.” I am here telling you that all you have decided to know of yourself is told to you just as much as you tell it to others, and that until we decide to do something else we are stuck in the same abusive cycle. If I as a Black person do not hand you the power chiselled out for me from above, if we cannot share in it, then how free am I? I offer to everyone a reprisal. The chance of validation via comebacks and sly replies.
True inclusivity, true individualism, leaves your will to you while asking you to be a positive force. It is absolutely an issue of capital that twists identities like queerness into an oppressive structure and authority, and indeed when it is used as a reflexive thing “Please in-group members only, we are tired of thinking about the out-group” it is just reifying the delineations made from on high. Because for those of us who are partial heirs to violence and subjects thereof, the moment of Moses in the basket looks like true identification from within, not without. If we want to be free then we have to reach through the cooling waters of the tank, past our issues of not being in the in or out group, and stick our hands into the Cherenkov radiation of consensual relations, and let us cease the false communication of internalised hatred. There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole. Instead of spending all of our time poking one another’s eyes out and lamenting the terrible pain of being caught yet with one, let’s rejoice in how our differences make us the same.