Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Inner and Outer Worlds


Libertarianism as I have experienced it focuses 99% or more of its attention on the outer world. Peruse just about any of the most popular libertarian websites and you'll find discussions about politics, economics, culture, and history.

You'll find very little about psychology.

It's a curious, maybe even suspicious gap in libertarian thought. For a political philosophy that characterizes itself as the champion of the individual, there doesn't seem to be very much reflection on the individual and the inner world of individual human beings, which are considered by libertarians to be fundamental and prior to society.

Most popular libertarianism focuses on issues that can be formulated as the following stock headlines:

Congress Passes Another Bill That Limits Your Liberty

The President Issues Another Edict That Limits Your Liberty

How This [State, Congressman, or Activist] Is Working to Stop [Government Agency] From Limiting Your Liberty

But if the freedom of the individual human being is the primary concern of the libertarian, why is there such little examination of the individual human being?

Why strive so mightily for a marginally healthier military-industrial-corporatist-police-state-complex-thingy and not for substantially healthier individual human minds?

Isn't the inner world of the individual at least equally worthy of libertarian attention? Can we begin to explore the question: "How do human beings constitute themselves as subjects?"

Since I began to seriously explore the question (as one stumbling in the dark and unsure of what I was exploring) in 2012, I am more convinced now than ever before that: "we are acted upon most effectively by power relations internal to our own sense of ourselves" and that "the fundamental exercise of power over individuals is their own confessional interpretation of themselves" (link above).

What the hell does that mean?

Here's just one exploration of the topic at The Last Psychiatrist:

In Django Unchained, evil slaveowner Leonardo DiCaprio asks a question. Sorry, back up: why does everyone call him an evil slaveowner? As far as I can tell, he was a pretty average slaveowner, I'd even say he was "kind", in the sense that all his slaves "like" him, and he rarely "tortures" anyone and by the use of quotes you can see I'm hedging, my point here is how quickly people have to broadcast their indignancy. "He's evil." So what you're saying is you're against slavery? Thanks for clarifying.

This explains the near-universal anxiety over the movie's frequent use of the word nigger, and someone asked Tarantino if he thought he had used it too much in the movie, and his response was perfect: "too much, in comparison to how much it was used back then?" Nigger, and the violence, was all anyone was upset about. Terry Gross, NPR's mental Fleshlight, asked Tarantino her typically insightful and nuanced questions: "do you enjoy violent movies less after what happened at Sandy Hook?" Sigh. So there's the Terry Gross checklist for reviewing Django: gun=bad and saying nigger=bad. Check and check. You know what no one thought badworthy? When the white guy asked to have a certain slave sent to his room to try out her ample vagina, and the prim white lady of the house happily escorted her up. "Go on, do what you're told, girl."

I'd venture that Terry Gross and and the gang at HuffPoWo would rather be whipped than be-- that's rape, right?-- but that scene didn't light up their amygdalas, only hearing "nigger" did. I find that highly suspicious, or astoundingly obtuse, or both.

Anyway, perfectly ordinary slaveowner DiCaprio asks a rhetorical question, a fundamental question, that has occurred to every 7th grade white boy and about 10% of 7th grade white girls, and the profound question he asked was: "Why don't they just rise up?"

Kneel down, Quentin Tarantino is a genius. That question should properly come from the mouth of the German dentist: this isn't his country, he doesn't really have an instinctive feel for the system, so it's completely legitimate for a guy who doesn't know the score to ask this question, which is why 7th grade boys ask it; they themselves haven't yet felt the crushing weight of the system, so immediately you should ask, how early have girls been crushed that they don't think to ask this? But Tarantino puts this question in the mouth of the power, it is spoken by the very lips of that system; because of course the reason they don't rise up is that he-- that system-- taught them not to. When the system tells you what to do, you have no choice but to obey.

If "the system tells you what to do" doesn't seem very compelling, remember that the movie you are watching is Django UNCHAINED. Why did Django rise up? He went from whipped slave to stylish gunman in 15 minutes. How come Django was so quickly freed not just from physical slavery, but from the 40 years of repeated psychological oppression that still keeps every other slave in self-check? Did he swallow the Red Pill? How did he suddenly acquire the emotional courage to kill white people?

"The dentist freed him." So? Lots of free blacks in the South, no uprisings. "He's 'one in ten thousand'?" Everybody is 1 in 10000, check a chart. "He got a gun?" Doesn't help, even today there are gun owners all over America who feel that they aren't free. No. You should read this next sentence, get yourself a drink, and consider your own slavery: the system told Django that he was allowed to. He was given a document that said he was a bounty hunter, and as an agent of the system, he was allowed to kill white people. That his new job happened to coincide with the trappings of power is 100% an accident, the system decided what he was worth and what he could do with his life. His powers were on loan, he wasn't even a vassal, he was a tool.

This is not to minimize the individual accomplishment of a Django becoming a free man. But for the other slaves, what is the significance?

Of course Tarantino knew that the evil slaveowner's question has a hidden, repressed dark side: DiCaprio is a third generation slave owner, he doesn't own slaves because he hates blacks, he owns them because that's the system; so powerful is that system that he spends his free time not on coke or hookers but on researching scientific justifications for the slavery-- trying to rationalize what he is doing. That is not the behavior of a man at peace with himself, regardless of how much he thinks he likes white cake, it is the behavior of a man in conflict, who suspects he is not free; who realizes, somehow, that the fact that his job happens to coincide with the trappings of power is 100% an accident... do you see? "Why don't they just rise up?" is revealed to be a symptom of the question that has been repressed: "why do the whites own slaves? Why don't they just... stop?" And it never occurs to 7th graders to ask this question because they are too young, yet every adult thinks if he lived back then, he would have been the exception. 1 in 10000, I guess. And here we see how repression always leaves behind a signal of what's been repressed-- how else do you explain the modern need to add the qualifier "evil" to "slaveowner" if not for the deeply buried suspicion that, in fact, you would have been a slaveowner back then? "But at least I wouldn't be evil." Keep telling yourself that. And if some guy in a Tardis showed up and asked, what's up with you and all the slaves, seems like a lot? You'd say what everybody says, "look wildman, don't ask me, that's just the system. Can't change it. Want to rape a black chick?"

"Why don't the slaves just rise up?" is a psychological question.

Libertarians will frequently remind you that you are a tax slave. "Why don't you just rise up?"

Against what?

Against Obama? He's just a character on TV that's never laid a finger on you.

Against the tax man? What constrains you more than a tax collector who lets you keep enough of your income to buy far more than a 19th century laborer who worked much harder than you?

If individuals exist prior to society, then the government of the outer world that lives in Washington DC is merely a shadow cast by the government that lives in the inner world of our individual minds.

If individuals exist prior to society, then a police state exists in the outer world because one exists in so many of our inner worlds.

If individuals exist prior to society, then abolishing external tyranny must be spearheaded by a psychological project to dismantle the tyranny that is inherent to our own confessional interpretations of ourselves.

The state is not the reason we are not free. That we are not free is the reason that the state exists.