Archive for August, 2015

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Superman needs you: Do you have a super need?

August 27, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

Great leaders, they say, have “magnetism.” Their “charisma” casts a spell.  But it’s really a collaboration. Hitler staged the Nuremburg rallies, but thousands had to show up and stand in the hot sun saluting and throbbing with crowd power. They’d been through a capital “D” Depression. They wanted to be rescued. They believed in a payoff. When it comes to leaders, them is us.

So here we are in our own American funk, telling pollsters who we’d like to rescue us. It’s highly scripted. People have been studying leadership formulas at least since Plato. And tycoons have been manufacturing leaders for ages. Yet followers still want to believe.

Consider candidate Trump, who’s a favorite among some voters. Instead of questioning whether he’s a worthy candidate, let’s look at tools he and others—including Hitler—have used. No, this isn’t to equate the two men. We’re talking tools here. And wondering how them could be us.

Let’s start with the obvious. Adolf and Trump play the roles of “Hitler” and “Trump,” heroes powerful as the parents who raise us as infants. Literally, they raise our morale and self-esteem, rousing us to feel heroic purpose, offering us more life. How can one person do all that? For one thing, they speak in abstractions while winking at you, so you can attribute to them qualities dear to your heart. It’s hero-worship. And it’s like the paradox of love: if you fall in love with someone who embodies your most cherished ideals, you’re in love with yourself.

So how can a “Trump” or an “Adolf” raise anybody up? Yes, they show stupendous self-confidence. But how does that pump us up? The trick is to turn depressive flight into invigorating fight. They gather us into a vigilante posse to drive out hated scapegoats. Trump’s scapegoats are “Mexican” immigrants, plain women, gays, and the losers he fires on TV. The blog Glaad describes him throwing victims “under the bus.” His rejects suffer social death. By contrast, Adolf’s losers—Jews, gypsies, Slavs, Commies, quite a list—get the real thing. “Trump” calls for “mass deportation”; Adolf put mass deportation in cattle cars to Auschwitz. But it doesn’t have to be so sensational. People “put down” others routinely—the same verb that describes euthanizing an animal.

The heroic rationale for this aggression is Social Darwinism and eugenics. Since only the fittest survive, you confirm your own merit by getting rid of the unfit.  Eugenics would improve “us” by wiping out disease and death. Adolf’s campaign famously characterized Jews as vermin and germs. Trump trooper Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas vows that “We don’t even know all of the diseases [immigrants carry], and how extensive the diseases are.”

Adolf relied a lot on slave labor. The idea is to drain the losers before disposing of them. Trump has been abusive to labor. But Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson created his own Nuremburg rally on Twitter by calling for undocumented immigrants to become “property of the state” and put into “compelled labor.” When a caller challenged the idea, Mickelson answered, “What’s wrong with slavery?” Even as it rattles the shackles for immigrants, this sort of slave talk points to America’s real slaves, black folks. Substitute “Jews and gypsies” for black Americans, and you’re reading Adolf’s playbook.

Given this sensitive program, “Trump” and “Adolf” have to be unquestionably right. The script calls for both to have infallible intuition and tell truths others are too cowardly or corrupt to utter. They see through journalists, scientists, and what VP and jailbird Spiro Agnew called “pointy-headed intellectuals.” And they never apologize. This enables them to hold demonstrably false ideas without blushing. Like Adolf’s delusions about Jews,Trump’s claims about immigrants don’t square with reality.

The freedom to lie is part of a larger freedom to break the rules that limit ordinary mortals. In The Art of the Deal, Trump brags about deceiving his business partners in Atlantic City. In a PR stop at the Tex/Mex border, “Trump” floated on a cloud of double-talk. Adolf too felt entitled to enjoy what Goebbels called “the big lie.”

To shore up their infallibility, “Trump” and the Führer “double-down” when wrong. Like double-or-nothing gambling, doubling down can be self-intoxicating. Like a Ponzi scheme, illusion requires more and more illusions to keep paying off. Keep it up and you end up in the toybox or the tomb.

When illusions fail, the great leader blames betrayals. For Adolf, defeat in WW1 was a stab in the back; the Gestapo had a full roster of traitors to kill. On a more playful note, “Trump” condemns Sen. McCain for betraying his troops, supporters, and others. But then, if you think that politicians and illegals are secretly undermining the nation, they’re all traitors.

Self-intoxication leads to overreaching. Beginner’s luck lured Adolf into a doomed two-front war. “Trump” begins to imagine that he can control all the vicious chaos in the middle east. Adolf designed triumphal arches and stupendous buildings. As the kids say, speaking for the infant in all of us, Adolf’s monster buildings would be “awesome.”  Not to be outdone, “Trump” brags about “his” skyscrapers.

As self-intoxication intensifies, boundaries blur. The actor confuses theater and life. Emergency physiology takes over. More victims died in the last six months of WW2, when the outcome was obvious, than in all the war years before. Survival rage takes no prisoners.

Told about two young followers in Boston who mauled a  homeless Hispanic guy and praised Trump to the police, the candidate first said, “That would be a shame.” But he couldn’t resist adding, “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate. They love this country. They want this country to be great again. But they are very passionate. I will say that.” Of course he was talking about himself too.

This dreamlike response echoes Adolf’s belief that passionate “will” can conquer the world. The idea is that the leader’s superhuman will can rouse enchanted followers to superhuman ambitions. In the ultimate blurring of boundaries, leader and followers imagine that they’re fusing. As in transference—hero worship—the merger of the enchanter and the enchanted creates not problem-solving wits but passionate belief. In reality all is not well, but in the mirror you see a champion.

Superman wears many costumes: politician, priest, lover, parent, celebrity, business executive, and more. In these days of insanely overpaid executives, for example, the formula shows up when the corporate CEO axes “other” employees in lean and mean downsizing, freeing up profits and awesome power for the impressed followers.

“Trump” and “Hitler” didn’t invent the Superman formula. They’re copycats inspiring more copycats. And like rampage killers, Superman copycats try to outdo one another to get noticed. They’re natural extremists—think “mass deportations.” As leaders and followers pump up the Superman dream, the dream is taking control of them, they breathe hot conviction, and salute.

Better not to stick around for the ending.

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Some interesting youtube documentaries about eugenics and “eugenics”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=427&v=c2kV83nPWnM(link is external)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=101&v=ufqOe0_pres(link is external)

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Helena K. Farrell/Tacit Muse. Used with permission
Source: Helena K. Farrell/Tacit Muse. Used with permission

As a cultural style, berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring. It promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare to politics and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.

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Hunting Bwana the Dentist: What fantasies move a man to ambush an elderly tourist lion?

August 27, 2015
"k1f" Kirby Farrell

“k1f” Kirby Farrell

A Minnesota dentist has paid tens of thousands of dollars to “hunt” a rhino, an elk, a leopard, and lately Cecil the 13 year old celebrity lion in an African park.

Public opinion is outraged. The “hunt” has the stink of injustice about it. Dentist Walter Palmer hired a guide to bait Cecil out of a protected reserve. The dentist wounded him with his fancy bow, then trailed the dying “king of beasts” for 40 hours till he could finish him off with a bullet. Realizing their mistake, the mighty hunters naturally tried to hide Cecil’s GPS collar and left his severed head behind.

Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe are making noises abut prosecuting Palmer. His next hunt may be for a shark with a briefcase.

The symbolic logic at work is worth some thought because it’s so prominent in the air these days. To kill a lion, the “king of beasts,” is to kill a mythic predator. The fantasy is that in bagging a “wild” animal, the mild dentist from Minnesota is overpowering “wild” death. The hunter takes nutrition out of the dead prey, but also the animal’s spirit strength.  Aztec warriors dressed up in jaguar skins to give themselves a little extra wildcat pick-me-up while killing enemies on the job.

Dentist vs Lion pits two top-dog males in a fight to the death to prove potency and death-defying juju. Conservatives often justify dog-eat-dog survival economics as Social Darwinism, “nature red in [ahem] tooth and claw.”

The public is outraged because the fantasy is such a lie.  The  rich suburbanite with his store-bought weapons hires a “guide” to whack an elderly tourist lion who’d lost his fear of humans and wore an Oxford University GPS collar. Like drones and sniper wetdreams, it’s shooting fish in a barrel without risk or even a sweat.

In this reading the tame hunter is a sort of murderer, and since he lured the lion out of the park, an assassin. Instead of being an alpha animal, the dentist has used lies and trophy heads the way lynch mobs cut off parts of tortured blacks as souvenirs of their glorious triumph over a “bestial” scapegoat.

Think of the familiar symbolic analogues to the hunt. It’s the child’s triumph over a father, the rebellious subject’s overthrow of the evil king. It’s the fired employee coming back in fatigues and shooting the boss. It’s the alienated schoolkid with a military assault weapon slaughtering schoolmates.  For that matter, think of the ISIS hot heads or the Saudigovernment beheading “trophy” POWs (ISIS) and criminals (Saudis) to dramatize superiority.

The “big game” hunt brings trophy glory the way rampage killing spurs global fame. The sleazy dishonesty of Walter Palmer’s ambush tells us how urgent his fantasy had become. But then, think of how the American corporate military played big game hunter in Iraq, slaughtering thousands in a safari that has thrown the entire region into chaos. Propaganda tried to keep the spotlight on the “big predator” Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11, but reality chased that script into the dumpster.

In panic, a sleazy war pulls on a religious helmet. Note the fantasies in “The Marine Rifle Creed”: “My rifle is human . . .  We will become part of each other  . . . Before God, I swear this creed.  My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country.  We are the masters of our enemy.  WE ARE THE SAVIORS OF MY LIFE.  So be it, until victory is America’s and there is no enemy, but peace.”

Forget the bad writing (they’re creating “no enemy but peace”). The creed makes the warrior-hero a quasi-religious figure.  It turns the hunt into a sacred crusade so the killers won’t feel so guilty violating the deep prohibitions against killing others. As we see in thePTSD suffering and suicides of vets, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you just can’t hide the GPS collar and the severed head.

But there’s another fantasy in play too. This summer Americans have been also appalled at the spectacle of cops killing trophy “bad” blacks. As Dylann Roof justified shooting up a Charleston prayer group, black folks are rapists who’d exterminate whites—just as lions are predators. Trapped in his child brain, trying to be a big (ahem) shot, he reasons that it’s kill or be killed.

The point is not that police and a bigshot dentist are conscious racists, but that a constellation of fantasies contribute to their viciousness. The cop who threatened to “light up” Sandra Bland in Texas saw her as a wild animal he had to subdue at all costs. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown reported that he saw Brown as the mythic, wild “Hulk” and felt by contrast like a helpless child.

Such fantasies are exaggerated by the cruel stress in American life that keeps audiences pumped up for nitwit rant broadcasting, Trump and dump meanness, and TV “nature” programming that obsesses over sharks, lions, alligators, and other voracious jaws. I

For a dentist, such jaws can be especially potent, since destists have an unusually highsuicide rate and deal every day with the spectacle of inner human decay. The mouth, after all, focuses the terrifying contradictions of being human. It’s the source of civilized speech, kissing, and taste, but also hides bacteria and rot, not to mention the teeth we use to kill and chew up the bodies of other  creatures.

We have to kill and eat or we’d die—again, we’re at once victims and warrior heroes brandishing fine china, knives and forks. We display French cookware on the wall and venerate “cuisine.”  But the sneaky reality is that we digest our “prey” into shameful excrement, and then project our angry guilt onto “assholes” and “shitheads.” Dentists charge us a lot of money to look into this frightening paradox every day. Whether they know it or not. Killing “big game” is taking out your fear and rage on a scapegoat, the more shameful when the scapegoat is in effect everybody’s national pet.

A child dresses up as Bwana the great white hunter.  If he hasn’t been able to understand the courage it takes to make something healthy out of the fearful human paradox, Bwana the dentist is pitifully trapped in the maw out of which he makes his living.

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Now available in paperback from Leveller’s Press and Amazon:

Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse
Source: Helena Farrell for Tacit Muse

When behavior becomes a cultural style, berserk abandon is terrifying yet also alluring. It promises access to extraordinary resources by overthrowing inhibitions. Berserk style has shaped many areas of contemporary American culture, from warfare to politics and intimate life. Focusing on post-Vietnam America and using perspectives from psychology, anthropology, and physiology, Farrell demonstrates the need to unpack the confusions in language and cultural fantasy that drive the nation’s fascination with berserk style.

<<This book amazes me with its audacity, its clarity, and its scope. We usually think of ‘berserk’ behaviors—from apocalyptic rampage killings to ecstatic revels like Burning Man—as extremes of experience, outside ordinary lives. in fascinating detail, Farrell shows how contemporary culture has reframed many varieties of abandon into self-conscious strategies of sense-making and control.

Abandon has become a common lens for organizing modern experience and an often troubling resource for mobilizing and rationalizing cultural and political action.This landmark analysis both enlightens and empowers us.>>

—Les Gasser, Professor of Information and Computer Science, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaigne.