Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
Both politics and religion are taking on, in different ways, the popular tide against core beliefs, that tide amounting to the triumph of personal opinion and belief. A core belief in a personal autonomy and will threatens both religious dogma, predominantly in the West, and political Neoliberal ideology, whose core dogma is the righteousness and correctness of “The Invisible Hand of the Market.”
While Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) appears to be an attempt to ease the tension between church teachings and personal views on these matters, he has not moved Catholicism’s core beliefs in regard gender roles, extra-marital sex, birth control and same-sex marriage. While it seems unregulated markets and their distribution of income is a liberty on a macro-level of a similar emancipation from restraint sought on the personal level, the former actually throws everything personal on the layout of a roulette wheel. So both the ancient core beliefs of Catholicism and our present Neoliberal core beliefs have different maneuvers of countering the popular tide.
What history records is a never ending interplay of one set of core beliefs running into another set of core beliefs, each side doing all it can to hide any attachments to the personal. The pretense grounding any core belief is that it is objectively determined, or celestial in origin, or simply “in the nature of things.”To argue for universal applicability, the personal, subjective, idiosyncratic, anecdotal is kept out of sight. The idea that reality was what you willed it to be or what you designed it to be and that any truth posted outside your own interests just did not affect you is represented not in philosophy or history but in psychopathology, or, the not quite formed mentality and psyche of the very young.
Nevertheless, part of our millennial clime is this clash of personal and core beliefs, of the world is my oyster and the world is what some sacred text says it is, either religious or scientific. Foucault’s “structures of domination” are now observed in all narratives that impose themselves upon your own self-designed narrative. The illusion that what you will is in some way accommodated by a world outside yourself is nurtured in what Bifo Berardi calls the infosphere, the universe of transmitters. Here you find a niche that does accommodate your opinions. It is here in cyberspace that the popular tide rushes, not toward any societal ocean of shared views but cascading in tributaries that fracture yet into more tributaries.
That the mental traveler can by a Google search somehow liberate himself or herself from a prison house of already existing knowing is yet another illusion. We choose within the boundaries of the chooser, the infinitude of cyberspace choices offered somehow leading us to think that such infinitude is within us.
We do see, however, sudden viral surges of common reaction, of a joining beyond the boundaries of self. The only way to explain a surge of widely shared notions, a faddish tidal wave, among those who neither respect nor seek shared understanding or have shared core beliefs is to say that powerful magnetizing forces are at work. In other words, in spite of the sovereignty of one’s own views, outside forces bring people together in shared views. And it is here that we see the way a Neoliberal politics manages to bend the anarchy of personal rule within the domain of market rule.
Political authority and the power it wields is the authority that now emerges from a plutocratic order that has been the result of an unregulated market rule. The “personal opinion” crowd is being heavily lobbied by plutocracy to maintain its core market beliefs while also maintaining the illusions of a proper representative, electoral democracy. The popular tide of personal opinion has run alongside the powerful tide of plutocracy. And the latter infiltrates the former in such a way that everyone so recruited to accept market rule is able to hold onto the illusion of personal autonomy.
Division and distraction are the sand bags stacked to defend plutocracy against the popular tide of personal opinion. Rather than directly oppose deviations from market rule directly or finesse opposition as seems to be Pope Francis’s approach in regard to deviations from Catholic core beliefs, the Neoliberal/plutocratic order welcomes the chaos of personal opinion in the same way Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse welcomed Custer’s dividing of his troops at the Little Bighorn in 1876. “Divide and rule the politician cries” were words of Goethe that sum up the Neoliberal strategy here. Entanglement within distractions is another way of defending plutocracy from a turning of the popular tide against it. One way to get those who have been scrunched by Neoliberal corporate politics to vote for the scrunchers is to not only encourage a wandering off into one’s own personal interests but to elevate relatively inconsequential issues, which do not threaten market rule.
We can observe these Neoliberal strategies at work in the current presidential primaries where the popular tide of personal opinion has actually coalesced in the form of an angry solidarity.
Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters are reacting to a diminishment of everything for the Many and an expanse of everything for the Few. Hard times stun but a slow and growing experiential awareness and representation of such angers and mobilizes. However, the anger of Trump’s followers has been led down the path of easy distractions, the low road of the primordial visceral. Neoliberals exploit a politics of narcissism by converting societal problems, such as a Grand Canyon of a wealth divide, to the personal realm, specifically personal biases and hatreds.
Neoliberals can demonize and scapegoat ethnic minorities because in the voting calculus more votes will be won than lost with such a strategy. That may change as ethnic minorities rise out of a bottom 40% no voting group to voters with leverage. A poor man who could benefit from increased taxes on the wealthy will vote for the party of wealthy because it will protect his gun ownership. Those out of work can easily be persuaded to see that immigrants have taken their jobs.
Bernie Sanders has taken the path of explanation and understanding, seeking to overcome a politics of narcissism with a politics of shared wealth. What Sanders has been taking on head to head is the populist tide of personal opinion, forcing it into the one channel where plutocracy can be demolished.
Both the media and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, have mocked the single focused, one message campaign of Sanders. The media does so because its entertainment approach to politics cannot abide a repetitive, one message transmission. It needs the theatrics and antics of a Trump in order to attract fifteen second attentiveness.
Hillary plays to the politics of personal identity and liberation by preferring to avoid the issue creating a coalescence of anger — the wealth divide. She has clearly found a distracting issue campaign to offer a greater accommodation to a plutocracy with which she has only minor issues. Returning Sanders’ critique of plutocracy with critiques on his civil rights and gun control credentials assists the Neoliberals in dismissing Sanders and his critique.
However, Sanders’ one message and its unexpected power to draw the angered and thoughtful has forced Hillary off her preferred focus on cultural issues, such as race, guns, abortion, marriage, gender identity, ethnic identity, immigration, all significant to a wide variety of the electorate. They remain, however, both distracting and divisive because the most correct settlement of these issues would not staunch the bleeding of the Many in which a plutocratic order engages.
While Sanders is fighting both the plutocratic order and a popular tide of personal autonomy, both Hillary and Trump are playing into that popular tide but facing the plutocratic order quite differently. Hillary is non-threatening to that order while Trump, ever the wild card, is at play with it. It is this seigniorial erratic disdain for the core beliefs of plutocracy that attracts those who also assert their own seigniorial will against all order outside themselves.
When we turn to the core beliefs of religion and the popular tide of personal opinion, we find different strategies at work.
Religion is the other force bringing the fractured and dispersed into a common net but, unlike the power of plutocracy, which is expanding, religion’s assertion of core beliefs is on the wane in the Christian West, though not on the wane in the Islamic world.
The coalescing affinities of a radical Islamism are not being challenged by any greater affinities in Islam, although the West is hoping that such will occur. Christianity, however, is being pushed by a rising millennial preference for personal determination into clashes that are marking it as out of date, out of touch, old school analog, and so as irrelevant as everything now being discarded in our cybertech world is. Islam’s authority is not diminished by the West’s view of women’s headscarves or the Muslim failure to get behind LGBT rights. There is no Islamic “popular tide” of personal will superior to the will of Allah.
It seems clear that Islamic core beliefs have not been perforated by a zeitgeist of personal will and autonomy that has filled the post-truth world of the West. Christianity’s core beliefs then find themselves in the kind of war Islam is not fighting.
Pope Francis’s Joy of Love recognizes a need to create a rapprochement with a millennial world with very little appetite for any kind of authority beyond the authority of personal choice. At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church’s long survival has much to do with its persisting core belief and its refusal to adapt those to the winds of societal and cultural change. Their center will hold even though the idea of a center has withdrawn into a personal space where final authority rests there and not on any outside authority.
Americans cohabit outside of marriage, abort and divorce at will, expand marriage beyond a man and a woman, see LGBT rights as the new civil rights. The mood is not “Do What the Church Commands You to Do” but rather a slogan from Rabelais, “Do What Thou Wilt.”
The Pope’s hope for a kind of détente relationship therefore is a dilemma for the analog nurtured but for the digital nurtured a “whatever” matter. Pope Francis by the sheer force of a growing celebrity personality hopes to finesse a tolerance for the ancient institution and its analog ways, surviving, as it has countless times in the past, the predilections of the present. What he refrains from bringing into play in his upholding core beliefs against the popular tide is all the fear that Dante’s Inferno, for instance, instilled in the mind of medieval Catholic.
The Pope does not play to the dark side of our natures and, in this, he stands far above the man who seems set to become the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidency of the United States.