Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Year resolutions

Number one. I resolve not to fulfil my potential. First of all, as Dylan Moran says, it's like money - you never have as much as you think you do. Who needs to find that out? Secondly, potential isn't necessarily a good thing. No one ever said of the Nazis: "tragically, they never fulfilled their potential". They were over-achievers. Achievement is vastly over-rated. Thirdly, and most importantly, to fulfil one's potential is managerial-speak for self-exploitation, and for accomodating oneself to exploitation. You are encouraged to think of yourself as a piece of capital, shamefully wasted during unnecessary leisure time.

Is it a coincidence that this sort of babble emerged from the 'humanist' psychological paradigm of the business psychologist, Abraham Maslow? Maslow's iconic status in the development of managerial ideas owes itself in large part to the concerns of the Cold War, and his hierarchy of human needs expresses a kitschy account of human beings in which there is an 'essential' self that can be actualised in the process of capital accumulation (he didn't put it like that, of course). Underlying Maslow's apparently liberal and universalist account of self-actualisation was an elitist precept: that the situation of human beings owed itself to their sexually-rooted drive to dominate.

Following the McCarhyite purges on American academic institutions, those who survived as mainstream liberals were to do very well. Their utility was invaluable, and the CIA in particular became notable for its interest in techniques of 'mind control'. Maslow was himself a Cold Warrior, a staunch patriot and a supporter of the Vietnam War until he died in 1970. He considered that democracy of a "Western sort" was okay for those who had their basic needs met (those at the bottom of his hierarchy, such as food and water), since those whose basic needs were met were capable of proceeding to more refined self-fulfillment (democratic participation). His hierarchy was thus a social hierarchy, and its characteristics those of societies projected onto individuals. He could not understand why his ideas were being taken up by countercultural figures like Abbie Hoffman - if he had understood that segment of the counterculture for what it was, he would not have been surprised. For him, "enlightened management" was a form of patriotism, a kind that could be reclaimed from the far right. The predicates of this centrist patriotism had already been laid down by McCarthy: unAmericanism has funny foreign names, doesn't worship God, doesn't respect the cock etc. For Maslow, liberals could handle all this: they were tough, and "postambivalent" about that toughness. They were "good cops, good ships captains, good generals & bosses, good administrators of justice, good superiors." The old fashioned liberal with his suspicion of power, Maslow held, was re-enacting a sexual psychodrama in which identifying with the weak and oppressed was merely 'spitting in Daddy's face', but which concealed "the tendency to present to the dominant one" on the part of the "covert unconscious homosexual" who entertains "fantasies that go with offering yourself up to the strong one, who deserves to be the fucker & the penetrator & the mounter (it is suitable, fitting & proper, just & right, apposite, appropriate) ... the Gaze determines instantaneously
who presents and who mounts." Maslow pondered whether "this secret sexual life of the ambivalent 'liberal' might go over into overt behavior?"

Fulfilling one's potential, then, is the straight American power-worshipper's privilege in a materially privileged society. The good liberal works to ensure opportunity for all to self-actualise, but in the end, the weak are perpetually presenting to the powerful, availing themselves of being mounted, and this is only suitable, fitting and proper. So, instead of fulfilling my potential, I resolve to leave it the fuck alone. I shall, like Adorno, seek my utopia lying on a lily-pad in a lagoon, with nothing to do.

Number two. I resolve to boycott as little as possible. This isn't mere contrarianism, I promise. There is a serious point to be had here. Boycotts should be a determinate political strategy for applying pressure in circumstances where it is likely to have an impact. For instance, I would continue to boycott Israeli goods and support the attempts to impose a cultural boycott - the excellent thing about it being that the hysterical reaction of apologists for Israel suggests that it might well work. It is a tool.

However, boycotts are all too often encouraged as moralistic ventures, Beautiful Soul narcissism, keeping one's hands clean - whereas in fact, one's hands are already dirty. How could it be otherwise under capitalism? There is hardly a good to be had that isn't produced under exploitative circumstances, whose underside isn't drenched with blood. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.

Number three. I resolve to watch as little television news as possible. There's something insidious about it, particularly the compulsory impressions that it forces on you, against your best knowledge and best will. If you read a news item or a script, you can analyse and parse, you have time to slow down, go back and check what you've read. With the news, you have a barrage of images saturated with barbaric connotations and untestable hypotheses, fragments of events punctuated with ideological assumptions so hegemonic that you have to be a fanatic to even notice that they are ideological assumptions. You can call it intellectual self-defense, or you can call it the hubristic munification of one's fat-headed self against the oceanic flows of information, but I am sticking to dry text as far as possible. Solid chap that I am.

All of these resolutions will be broken.