Postscript on the Irrelevance of Religion and Ideology

I.L.F., 2006


"As Marx said, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year. The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production".
To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class 'in words'.

In other words, the school (but also other State institutions like the Church, or other apparatuses like the Army) teaches 'know-how', but in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology or the mastery of its 'practice'. All the agents of production, exploitation and repression, not to speak of the 'professionals of ideology' (Marx), must in one way or another be 'steeped' in this ideology in order to perform their tasks 'conscientiously' -- the tasks of the exploited (the proletarians), of the exploiters (the capitalists), of the exploiters' auxiliaries (the managers), or of the high priests of the ruling ideology (its 'functionaries'), etc."

Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses
The big problem with a radical, even if reasonable critique, the idea of "educating the masses", of enlightenment ("they only need to open their eyes!"), of propaganda of the deed (setting a good example) is that we are attacking a system of faith, an ideological system more ancient than christianity, and it is a system shared as well, at least in large part, by leftist reformer and statist-revolutionary alike. This is no mere metaphor. The name of this church is Organized Production (of exchange values - services, trinkets, gizmos, commodities), its sacraments are Labour (the precondition of survival), Markets (providing the circulation of private property) & Government Dole (providing the circulation of community property and called, of all things, "charity", "social services" or "back to work programs"[1]) and its ritual practice provides for the construction & maintenance of civilization, which is to say, "itself" - the productive and efficient "social life" which sets aside "man" from "beast".

Perhaps because of a little organ in the brain called the amygdala, the trump card of emotional attachment beats reason every time. Like the catholic church, ours is an ideological system which functions to relieve guilt for the exploiters and maintain feelings of shame and insignificance in the exploited. It is a small thing to proceed (to or) from guiltless rape of the planet and its other inhabitants to (or from) exploitation (not excluding institutionalized rape and murder) of each other in the name of "god", "the greater good" (which Aristotle spoke of) or even "The Revolution" - in effect, these are all the same thing. If Dostoyevsky was right, and we are all Golyadkins searching out meaning in the world around us and finding our 'place' in it, religion justifies and normalizes (naturalizes) our alienation and encourages us to wear the masks of others. We are encouraged to transcend our self and become a mirror for the other in the interest of a democracy which calms all seas.

It is only revolutionary ideologists and religious practitioners who distinguish the bourgeois revolution from the protestant reformation and completely disregard the spontaneous peasant rebellions across Europe which made both revolution & reform not only possible but necessary, time and time again. But what else is an historic rupture than unanticipated change, only recognized after the fact and thereafter labeled "The Grand Conspiracy", "Great Reform" or "Historic Revolution"?

Did Althusser anticipate that the superstructure could slowly wither away while the "gang of thieves", "partners in crime" themselves went ahead barely challenged "the exploiters (the capitalists)" and "the exploiters' auxiliaries (the managers)", would go on to become only "the high priests of the ruling ideology (its 'functionaries')" performing specialized rituals with no concern whatsoever for specific meaning and even less for general purpose, whether they represent the forces or counter-forces of control? Modern Ideology, given birth when Plato discovered cognitive dissonance, insures that all revolutionary breaks equate in the long run to reformist gradualism. We are thus confident that the periodic crises inherent in capitalism (or any other generalized system of exploitation) will always counter any gains made by reform. As an old capitalist (Hearst) once said, "The secret is to give them a dollar, and take back two!"

The grand project or utopian vision of civilization as realized by the bourgeois revolution via the protestant work ethic is thought to be complete. A belief in the conquest of immortality (the god-like autonomy of the "ego") or the equally absurd unification of mankind is making the long-term goals as well as romantic yearnings of revolutionaries and dissenting utopianists as sterile and obsolete as those of the ideological functionaries themselves. The unfortunate result of this project is that the self has been nearly annihilated, selves fragmented.

For most adults, the Ideology sublimates awareness of this alienation by appealing to "nature", substituting subjective oppression with objective goal-seeking competition and creating an ideological pool guaranteeing its own reproduction. Even so, the sentiment that something still smells rotten is pervasive, so the greater the number of denominations within the faith, the better this process works. There is an ideological variety suitable for everyone. Is it any wonder that, other than small children who have yet to learn their place in the world (all that top-of-the-class or back-of-the-bus shit) and the many harmless beings who have succumbed to the death of all feeling in states of depressive acquiescence or disabling withdrawal, those on the reactionary (sometimes called "lunatic") fringe have always been a minority among minorities? The social ideology sounds the death knoll for the unique imagination of the individual: "Individual life as individual life is characterised by divergence from what has just been said and not repetition of it" [ Dupont.].

Without teleological implication, the grand old church bureaucrats have established The Church of the Grand Bureaucracy, making the infrastructure, that source for the satisfaction of our increasingly artificial needs, the All and the superstructure unnecessary. The divergence in the meanings of the word, "State" are in the processes of merging. It is no longer appropriate to speak of "The State" as a superstructure. It is only "State" as a condition. Landauer said long ago that it was always just such a condition. Many on the fringes refer to it as a mental condition. The State is dead! Long live the State!

Skyscrapers may have once spectacularly symbolized the grandiosity of the superstructure - the project of civilization, king, parliament, pope, the cephalic capitalist ('head') class, the summit conquered, the forces of nature mastered, the decapitated pyramid on the back of the one dollar bill proclaiming death to monarchy. Today there is no superstructure. That metaphor is no longer applicable. The pyramid has flipped on its side, successfully negating the possibility of revolutionary overthrow not by clever disguise, but an out and out disappearing act. The tower is only a sink, stripped even of its old aesthetics but shrouded in countless layers of grand conspiracy theory. The twin towers have fallen it matters not who fell them. Like all modern technology, the skyscraper is only a device to increase and complicate the bureaucratic connections (and circulate commodities) and concentrate power (a form of meaningless wealth announcing meaningful privilege) in the hands of an increasingly decentralized ("globalized") quasi-organization, living in gated enclaves (sinkholes) connected by satellite transmission, handing out hope for the nirvana of universal employment in "interesting and useful" jobs to people who cling to the idea that there even is an economy, and it can not only be saved, but maintained. Capital itself has been rendered invisible. Slavery has made a big comeback (did it ever leave?) to accommodate those necessary but unpleasant chores required to feed the synergistic beast. Even in the slave sector, there is hope that automation will liberate the slave to become a wage-earning machine operator a "tech". But this wage is only symbolic. Survival outside the enclaves of wealth is accomplished by means of supplemental, underground economies of contraband exchange in local environments of toxic waste rural as well as urban ghettos, each surrounding its own "green zone" secure from barbarian influence.

Like the individual "subject" (or "proletariat") or even major corporation "struggling in these precarious times" (both illusory beings inhabiting our ideological schema the illusion is of individual or corporate "structural autonomy" maintained by repeated allusion to brand name, the mediatic mantra), the tallest building is entirely disposable. In fact, it is necessarily disposable to maintain the spectacle of growth, if only to mask the increasing incompetency of its designers. Once necessity is properly inculcated, quality control is no longer cost effective. Every replacement is taller than every predecessor, yet each new gizmo is outdone in one way or another by the old. Before it's over, every 'country' resisting the future (that is, every "sovereign" nation-state) will need be bombed back to the stone age in order to continue progress and erect security fences around smaller, 'culturally sensitive' territories representing a new, expanded consumer base for needed military technology to maintain those fences and for pharmaceutical companies to assist in the manufacture of consent within them. This is Balkanization, but reminiscent of a nazi wet-dream.

Remember that "shock & awe" was the terminology of a geopolitical economic strategy before it became the chief military strategy of state terrorism. Because of the general commitment to the ideology of production & growth (competition, progress and redemption), I fear nothing would have changed but the form the spectacle has taken on had the unionists, worker-councils or anarcho-syndicalist federations succeeded in their historical struggles. We would all have become volunteers, experiencing the dignity of managing our own exploitation on 'culturally sensitive' reservations, coordinated by a global federation little different than the Obama Program straight from the playbooks of such imaginative philanthropists as Brzezinski and Kissinger, Mussolini and Augustus. Unfortunately, our social planners have not anticipated the social mayhem created by the current incompetence of the ideological apparati, taking no lesson from their experience in Provincial Germanica or Iraq, and the periodic ruptures at home in the form of riot, mutiny and local insurrections. The sound of clicking bullshit detectors, although still perceptible only at lower decibels, is beginning to amplify, but unless the ideology itself is rejected, of sacrifice & power (disguised, of course, as "love & productivity"), that all we are is what we own (but we always need to be more, so we should own more ...), no amount of political activism, reform, insurrection or revolution will lastingly, if at all change anything of consequence.



[1]  These are all attempts to transform community property back into private property. For example, in the usa, food stamps appropriate community property in the form of taxes and re-distribute it to people who have a hard time getting fed. This is not so much a charity to the hungry, but a subsidy to the food producing corporations to maintain a certain level of profit by maintaining a certain level of consumption and thought by some to counter a natural process of inflation, by others, a means to increase it. State socialism merely reverses this formula regarding private (corporate) and public (state) property, giving the appearance that the state supersumes itself over the corporate entity. For the "authentic" public, the queue or line-up is part of the job description.

Both systems depend on a certain level of discontent. The illusion is that the state functions to "make it better", to equalize conditions (democracy) or to provide for our future. This is not to suggest that workers in the social services and other so-called "helping professions" are conspirators scamming poor people. Of course, conspiracies exist, which is why we come to expect "government corruption", but in the big picture, the system works so well for the capitalists because the workers actually believe their professions are for "the people", not the corporation. In other words, the system works because of ideological commitment, faith in the doctrine and hope that things will get better.

 


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