Thursday, May 24, 2007

Theorising the relationship between transcendentalism and authoritarianism

I have been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between dreams and reality. It is easy to romanticise utopian thought, but I have also been trying to be sober about some of its pitfalls. Martin Luther King had a dream, but so did Mao Tse-Tung. And look at how Mao's dreams manifested in reality: We had the bloodbath of the Cultural Revolution! And just look at the phenomenon of the FIVE-YEAR PLAN in all the former communist countries, and how many fucking lives were sacrificed to the Plan (a concretised dream) and the transcendent ideal of modernisation. Peasants busted their asses in the fields and for what? It's just like that donkey character in George Orwell's Animal Farm ! The problem, I think, is that Mao's dreams became reified as TRANSCENDENT IDEALS. Everyone talks about why utopian revolutionary movements so often turn dystopic... Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro... the list goes on. Everyone talks about absolute power corrupting absolutely, but I don't think anyone has approached it from this angle (i.e. the angle of the dream-reality nexus). For sure, power is transcendance, and this is what I want to talk about here, but I also want to talk about transcendence more broadly. I, personally, would like to mount an all-out war against transcendence, and believe the transcendent ideal to be a cancer on the imagination. Related to this is a critique of the whole notion of IDEOLOGY. Not only are all ideologies transcendent, but they also form closed systems. All beliefs and values thus become closed equations. This then sets the stage for the homogenising, proselytising, evangelising impulses of IDEOLOGUES - whether leftist, rightist, religious, or whatever... And isn't it interesting that activist organisations' epistemologies or beliefs (i.e. whether they have transcendent ideologies or immanent, open systems of thought) seem to map isomorphically with their organisational structure and practice? So my basic thesis at this stage is as follows: those organisations with the most transcendent, closed systems of thought are those with the most hierarchical, vanguardist modes of organising. Those organisations with more immanent, open systems of thought tend to be more democratic, less hierarchical and less vanguardist. Anyway, I think it was at the European Social Forum in London in 2004 that there was a split between those calling themselves the 'horizontals', and those who they called the 'verticals'. These terms were primarily referring to modes of organisation (i.e. democratic vs. hierarchical/centralist/vanguardist). However, I don't believe it was a coincidence that all the organisations labelled the Verticals were also those with the most transcendent philosophies: mostly various forms of Marxism-Leninism. On this same tip, I think an interesting parallel can be drawn: In the Catholic bureaucracy, the archbishops and cardinals and the like are seen as god's representatives on Earth. So already, the relationship between transcendental philosophy and hierarchical (and at times anti-democratic) organisation starts to become apparent. Likewise, in the Marxist-Leninist bureaucracy, those in the executive committees or politburos (as per the dogma of "democratic centralism") are entrusted with being the representatives (or true interpreters) of the Objective Truth and the One True Way, as shown to us by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, etc. ... With transcendence comes authoritarianism!

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