DIALOGUES: Serve the Master / Full Tilt Dementia

Print Friendly

By John Steppling and Guy Zimmerman

Bleeding heart Hollywood: well-intentioned liberal interlopers provide the ideal fig leaf for imperial meddling.


I HAVE RECENTLY PARTICIPATED in an on-line e-mail group where news is shared from various view points. Most of the people involved in this are very conservative and all are US citizens. I’ve done this partly because one of the members of the group is a nice man I play chess with on-line, but also because it provides a kind of barometer for US consciousness. I recently was sent an article linking to the *Save Darfur* coalition. This is a group advocating military intervention (uh, *humanitarian* intervention, I always get those confused) in Darfur…..but let’s look at who is on the board of directors:

Sam Bell, Genocide Intervention Network
Rev. Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals
Mike Edington, Wellspring Advisors
Zeinab Eyega, Sauti Yetu Center for African Women
Jerry Fowler, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Rev. David Emmanuel Goatley, Ph.D., Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention
Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Omer Ismail, Darfur Peace and Development
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, National Council of Churches
Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service
John Prendergast, ENOUGH
Fr. Michael Perry, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Jill Savitt, Dream for Darfur
Scott Warren, STAND, A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition
Rev. Gloria White-Hammond, M.D., My Sister’s Keeper
Dr. James Zogby, Arab American Institute

The victims are unfortunately quite real, hence the power of the simulacrum to fool the public.

Well, gee, lookie here…..John Prendergrast, a well known supporter of US foreign policy and big supporter of american intervention, and a rep from the National Association of Evangelicals, and ol’ James Zogby. But you get the idea I think. A few *faith based* groups, a pro Zionist organization, and even the Holocaust Museum. I love the names of these *organizations* ….”Genocide Intervention Network”…..it’s just pure Orwell. In any event, this is a good example of the propaganda that is fed to the average american…..whoever that might be. I quickly am reminded of the good work of Keith Harmon Snow, and the work of Chris Black and a lot of good info on Africa over at Mick Collins blog….but what seems relevant here are the assumptions behind this propaganda. The most glaring assumption is that the US military is a force for good (as reactionaries like to put it). That the US is the guiding light for the world, and is in sole pocession of moral authority.

Now, let me interject at this point, per your last post, that yes, the basic tension in people is somehow rooted in the conflict between the symbolic and the *real* — the part that bleeds. The part that dies. Ortega y Gasset spoke somewhere about how if you really inspect what people are saying, really examine their opinions, you realize these ideas have nothing to do with what they claim to have to do with. This is all part of that basic refusal to accept that one’s identity is a rather tenuous construct. I don’t really think Lacan exactly thought language per se was alienating, only that [it] served that purpose, mechanistically. But I’m not a Lacanian expert by any means. I do think we are shaped by language, however, and now as language has been utterly degraded, has been served up in mass produced sound bites and in constantly regurgitated ad copy, man has closed off more and more of the world around him. The Americans who watch a lot of TV and toil at pointless jobs for little money have lost all purpose, and therefore must continually, and ever more desperatly, create ersatz meaning. This is the logic of total alienation as we now see it in the 21st century. The entire human project is about a flight from the *real*. So, with the disinformation of the US empire at work non-stop, the manufacture of issues (Darfur….but not Uganda? Not the Congo? Not Chad?) and the selling of solutions that are really only the intensification of what caused the destruction in the first place; in other words continued domination, we have a populace addicted to moral band aids.

One of the LiveAID concerts. Band-Aid would have been a better name. The correction of capitalism on a global scale by the magic power of rock-and-roll celebrities! Utopianism at its most insidious and ludicrous.

And here we could and should mention Rene Girard again. In any event, we have institutionalized alienation, and death has become industrialized, if not also eroticized. The pathologies of modern existence seem more stark these days, perhaps because the enviornmental crisis, which looms as the final act of this tragic/comedy. The insanity of sending MORE US troops to africa, the insanity of believing anything connected to the US government is testimony to how deeply conditioned people have become to this *master discourse*. The other effect of all this propaganda being spewed forth is that the *theatre* of public life has degraded to sub cartoon level. Twelve million dead in the Congo (30,000 each month) — thats more than the total population of Sweden and Norway combined. How can such destruction not cause a serious pause…..a cognitive caesura, a moral moment of awakening? How is that possible? The endless cruelty against humans and animals, against all of life, is being sped up at the hands of the corporate ghouls and the political bottom feeders now running for office in the demented playpens of both US parties.

—John Steppling

and a perfect follow up link on authority……speaking of orwell :

Serve the Master


HAVE YOU HEARD the one about Bush and the painting? In Texas he wrote a memo to his staff about this picture of a guy on horseback leading a group of riders up a steep hill. To George this image of a fearless decider in action embodied his determination to “do my Master’s will,” and was a reminder that “we serve One greater than ourselves.” Bush loves this kind of goofy piousness, which allows him to deploy his own sadism in idealized form. Folks on the net – me included – are loving the punchline of the story, which is that the horseman depicted in the painting, it turns out, is not an intrepid and divinely enspirited leader…but rather a “silver tongued horse thief” in flight from men who want to string him up.

But reading the language Bush uses in anti-Christ mode underscores for me that what he really worships is the Master Discourse. This is defined by Lacan as the means by which the subject comes into being via alienation – via, actually, the alienating effects of language. We are not fully subjects – “selves” – until we acquire language; when we acquire language we are alienated from real experience and hence from actual being. All experience becomes mediated by the meanings imposed by language – we are ensnared in a complex matrix of defined identities – class being one significant dimension of this matrix. (I need to note in passing that the only difference between Lacan’s description of “alienation” and a buddhist description of “suffering” is that the buddhist, unlike Lacan, thinks it’s possible to recover access to a non-alienated mode of being (satori – awakening.))

One thing I find intriguing about Lacan is his embrace of the Pre-Socratics. Here’s Badiou: “On several occasions Lacan praises the innocent audacity of the Pre-Socratics, who identified the powers of discourse with the grasping of being [la prise sur l’etre]. Thus, in the seminar on transference, he writes: ‘Beyond Plato, in the background, we have this attempt, grandiose in its innocence – this hope residing in the first philosophers, called physicists – of finding an ultimate grasp on the real under the guarantee of discourse, which is in the end their instrument for gauging experience.’”

This is intriguing stuff, but what’s relevant to our recent exchange is the way Lacan’s work begins to bridge the gulf between Marx and Heidegger. The Master Discourse, for example, expresses itself on the socio-economic plane as Capitalism, in which the “slave” produces for the “master” surplus value that the master then enjoys as a kind of “jouissance.” This arrangement all takes place in a mode defined entirely by alienation: “The Master must show no weakness, and therefore carefully hides the fact that he or she, like everyone else, is a being of language and has succumbed to symbolic castration: the split between conscious and unconscious…” This is what I identified in my last post about the ur-Capitalist Jack W – how the abject-ness of the “winner” is carefully concealed by the lavish spectacles of wealth. The ultimate secret is that the “winners” win nothing that’s real (other than the enmity of the slave)…and those most favored to “win” are those most willing to keep this secret.

Now, there are various discourses other than the Master’s discourse, but all are simply different arrangements of the same fundamental ingredients, and all are equally alienated – divorced from “the real.” So one of the challenges of the radical, liberationist agenda is to gain access to a ground of action that is not itself just another “discourse” based in alienation. Too often, I think, revolutionary activity has taken place under the sway of the Master Discourse – where the revolutionary is just a new version of the Master – or under the “Hysterics” discourse, which is all about laying bare the arbitrary and tyrannical nature of the Master, but which has no non-alienated solution to the root problem, which has to do with our ability, collectively, to relate to “the real.”

The problem isn’t one of intention or morality, but only of effectiveness. Part of the exhaustion one senses on the Left today has to do with the fact that the root problem remains, despite all the energy and steely nerve and intelligence poured into the fight over the course of two or three centuries. On a certain level, perhaps, we just need to get smarter about what we are fighting. The project of the Left is, ultimately, a Utopian one, so these issues are crucial in terms of motivation and mobilization. If you have nothing to lose but your chains, you must at least understand what those chains are made out of, perhaps.


Senior Editors Guy Zimmerman and John Steppling are lords of the VOXPOP domain at Cyrano, where they publish almost daily some of the most mordant analyses this side of the Atlantic divide.

One comment on “DIALOGUES: Serve the Master / Full Tilt Dementia
  1. yes…yes…yes….thanks,………. do you know what it is like when we think things in our lonelyness and imagine for a while that we are the only ones thinking this way, and then we open a page in the internet , in this case this one, and discover that there are others that think and feel the same…..at that moment, I know that I am not mad, nor alone. This gives me hope, the hope that there are many more like me and you, just waiting for the hundredth monkey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


From Punto Press



wordpress stats