On Unlearning Abjection (or in plain English, How to Fix this Hellified Mess)

New Year’s Resolutions

by O Society Jan 7, 2019

Someone asked me to make a list of Things We Should Do to fix our current hellified La Brea Tarpit of a situation. You know, a reader’s observation complaining without solutions is whining. This person is correct. We can’t just pitch a tantrum, we have to fix some stuff. WE. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. Not Hollywood celebrities. WE.

We? Who’s this “WE?”

At this point, only an utter moron could believe in a quick fix to our chronic collective illness. As in, just elect, “Obama, Trump, Oprah, etc.” This is a collective issue. Therefore, by definition, one person, be they a celebrity, a president, or both – is not going to fix this issue. It took us a long time to get in a hot mess of this magnitude.

In this spirit, here‘s a New Year’s Resolution list posted by this fellow Robert Reich. He’s a professor of Public Policy. The stuff on his Top 10 List doesn’t sound crazy. Mostly normal sane ideas here, which just might fix the situation. If you want a Top 10 list, Reich’s is a good place to start. That said, the ideas I have for Stuff We Should Do is more radical than The Reich’s…

My take is we are in a spiritual/ mental/ physical  mess. People want Daddy.to come and make it all right again. People worship Mammon.  We have become a nation of Hungry Ghosts. We try to fill the hole with more. Always more. It doesn’t work.

At this point in our journey, we must realize There is No There, There… it’s the only way we’ll halt the illness and reverse it’s course.

We need to unlearn the way we are living. That is correct. Unlearn the things we already “know.” Challenge our sense of reality and identity. What does this mean?

Unlearn the abject. Get it out of our hearts, minds, and bodies. What is the abject?

The abject is this sense of “self and other.”

The term has been explored in post-structuralism as that which inherently disturbs conventional identity and cultural concepts.

The abject is, as such, the process which separates from one’s environment what “is not me.”

Subjective horror (abjection) as the feeling when an individual experiences, or is confronted by (both mentally and as a body), “corporeal reality” or a breakdown in the distinction between what is self and what is Other.

Julia Kristeva developed the idea of the abject as that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason – the communal consensus that underpins a social order. Kristeva’s concept of abjection is utilized commonly to explain popular cultural narratives of horror, and discriminatory behavior manifesting in misogyny, misandry,homophobia, and genocide. The concept of abjection builds on the traditional psychoanalytic theories of  Jacques Lacan.

In other words, we need to go find ourselves! No really. This identity politics. This Self and Other state of mind. The Us and Them game. It’s killing us.

How do we state this in political terms?

Well, in a nutshell, America has domestic problems and foreign problems.

Our Self is circumscribed by our national identity. The current administration symbolizes this as “Secure our Borders! Build the Wall!” Sound familiar?

The problem of identity here is the traditional hierarchy favors the white, male, Christian, heterosexual. The bigger the conflict between this conservative moral hierarchy, and a “liberal hierarchy” which inverts all of these relationships, the worse this is going to get. It’s culture war and this war never ends.

Therefore, the difficult process, one I cannot tell you how to do nor do for you is unlearn the abjection. Our revulsion to this realization of “Self” vs. “Other.”

An environmental way this manifests is our collective inability to do anything about the climate crises with the concomitant dawn of the Anthropocene era. We may call this the Tragedy of the Commons.

The heart of this is a domestic economic ideology. One political term for it is “neoliberalism.” Many folks haven’t heard of neoliberalism for the same reason most fish haven’t heard of water. Anyway, the never-ending competition leads to a mental/ spiritual illness which manifests itself as WINNING!!! Neoliberalism brainwashes us into believing in nothing but WINNING!!! Ironically, being obsessed with WINNING!!! will kill all of us and take the planet with us in the form of climate crisis or other tragedy.

The heart of this is a foreign policy ideology. One political term for it is “neoconservatism.” Neoconservatism leads us to believe for the world to be a happy peaceful place, America must be in charge. American hegemony is supposed to lead to Pax Americana. Permanent unipolar state of Uncle Sam running everything is the goal. The method is war and violence. Somehow constant war and violence are supposed to bring us everlasting peace. If it sounds like a contradiction, that’s because it is.

Therefore, neoliberalism and neoconservatism are not “Democrat” things or “Republican” things. These are distinctly American ideologies. Therefore, if you think YOUR PARTY is going to fix this, you’re delusional. Conservatives can’t fix it, neither can Liberals. Because we have to abandon these two ideologies, which if you squint real hard, are two sides of the same coin:

Competition for the sake of competition. Greed for the sake of greed. Selfishness for the sake of selfishness. WINNING!!! for the sake of WINNING!!!

There is no collective; there is no cooperation.

There is only the individual; there is only competition.

Identity is the root of this. We can’t let THEM win anything because WE simply must win everything. To say otherwise is not only heresy, it’s un-American. Isn’t it?

See what I mean? The American Dream.

Neoliberalism and neoconservatism lead us to fascism. This is how we get Neoliberal Fascism.

The self is commodified into a brand. Brands compete until we get monopoly. We get Darwin economics.

ME competes against YOU. Individualism. Winner take all. There can be only ONE.

US competes against THEM. America at war with Russia, China, Iran, insert foreign country _____ here. Endless warfare.

True, I replied, I had forgotten; of course they must have a relish-salt, and olives, and cheese, and they will boil roots and herbs such as country people prepare; for a dessert we shall give them figs, and peas, and beans; and they will roast myrtle-berries and acorns at the fire, drinking in moderation. And with such a diet they may be expected to live in peace and health to a good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them.

Yes, Socrates, he said, and if you were providing for a city of pigs, how else would you feed the beasts?

But what would you have, Glaucon? I replied.

Why, he said, you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.

Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way of way They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured.

True, he said.

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings which are not required by any natural want; such as the whole tribe of hunters and actors, of whom one large class have to do with forms and colours; another will be the votaries of music–poets and their attendant train of rhapsodists, players, dancers, contractors; also makers of divers kinds of articles, including women’s dresses. And we shall want more servants. Will not tutors be also in request, and nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners and cooks; and swineherds, too, who were not needed and therefore had no place in the former edition of our State, but are needed now? They must not be forgotten: and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them.

Certainly.

And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?

Much greater.

And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?

Quite true.

Then a slice of our neighbours’ land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?

Most certainly, he replied.

Then without determining as yet whether war does good or harm, thus much we may affirm, that now we have discovered war to be derived from causes which are also the causes of almost all the evils in States, private as well as public.

Undoubtedly.

None of these problems are new. What are the solutions?

Well this solution is not new either: Love your neighbor as yourself.

The Greatest Commandment

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

It isn’t easy, is it? It’s a spiritual, moral, mental problem. The wanting MORE. More stuff. More WINNING!!! That’s the problem. That’s the HARD problem.

And if you don’t like Christianity and the Bible and Jesus, there are secular ways of solving the problem too, or at least getting better. Try Buddha:

The Role of Self

All craving and aversion are also intimately related to our notions of self. We crave to possess things as ours. We are averse to things that seem unlike us. We identify with people, family, sports teams, religions, countries. We also identify very closely with views: in the Brahmajāla Sutta (Dīgha Nikāya 1) all sixty two speculative views are said to be “only the agitation and vacillation of those who are immersed in craving.” In craving for continued existence we cling to views of an eternal soul, for example. Conversely, if we are not neutral to them, we may become averse to people, teams, religions, countries, and views that we do not identify with, that we think of as different or “other,” for whatever reason.

We have to try something, as individuals and collectively.

Because if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to kill us all, and it will make us all miserable first before it does.

That’s radical.

Here‘s the great sage Jon Stewart to show us a practical way to do this. Yes, a comic.

I do. I absolutely do. I’ve watched military families suffer in a way that is unconscionable considering the demands that we have placed on them over this ten-year period. When I say there should be a draft, I also think it should be noncompulsory military. There should be a draft where every young person has to do one year of something — military, public works — something so that we all feel invested in the same game, because that’s the part that we’ve lost.

(In other words, Stewart’s ideal draft would not be the sort of military conscription last seen in 1973, at the dusk of the Vietnam War, but rather a national volunteer service of sorts. Every citizen is required to do some sort of volunteer service, whether it be military or humanitarian. No one’s been able to reconcile the whole “volunteer” aspect of a “mandatory” service, however.)

So this is my solution. No kidding. Make every American serve a year’s worth of community service for our country. Could be the military. Could be the Peace Corps.

Could be at home. Could be abroad. That’s up to each individual.

Volunteer at a government agency qualifies as service. We’ll make new agencies for folks who don’t want to serve in the military or para-military (police, fire, coast guard) agencies. No worries.

But there’s no dodging this draft. There are no Fortunate Sons. Everybody serves a year. No exceptions. Each to his ability.

That’s how we all get skin in the game and  how we get our collective sense of belonging. Rich and Poor. Black and White. Male and Female. Christian and Atheist.

We have a mental/ spiritual/ physical problem, which requires a solution to exercise our mental, spiritual, and physical selves. Three aspects of One whole.

It’s a real beginning, which is more than you’ll  ever get from “volunteering” for the Clinton Foundation or the Trump Foundation.

Identity. Self and Other. Unlearning Abjection. How to Fix this Hellified Mess.

The answer is service. All Americans get a common identity through service.

Want to become an American citizen? Work for us for a year. Immigration problem solved.

Want to go to public school – including college – for free? Work for one first.

Want free healthcare, a “universal right? Work for us in a public VA hospital.

Want a home? Work for us in our “Habitat for Humanity” program first.

Want food stamps? Food benefits for folks who work at our farms or kitchens first.

See this labor force we just drafted? Save tax money by giving time and effort.

And yes, taxes on the filthy rich go up to increase their investment in America.

See how this works? Everybody gets a common identity by working for America.

Identity politics: solved. There is no Us and Them because we’re all Us from our shared experience, which gives us all the entry cost of skin in the game, and all benefits from the government’s collective service program. The bold red line between self and Other blurs and our selfishness decreases.

 

 

3 thoughts on “On Unlearning Abjection (or in plain English, How to Fix this Hellified Mess)

  1. Something like what is proposed here are the programs that gave work to people in the thirties, the Civilian Conservation Corp, the program for artists, etc. It worked before. Making it compulsory would engender huge resistance. So I favor what happened in the thirties. Keep it simple.

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  2. By the way, the Civilian Conservation Corp is exactly the way we can do something about this climate crises we find ourselves in. Just make it mandatory.

    https://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/great-depression/civilian-conservation-corps/

    Remember, in return, people are going to get stuff. Free healthcare. Medicare for all. VA hospitals. Free college tuition. Public universities. Sure, put solar roofs on buildings. Plant trees. I’m hoping the military enrollment makes more people skeptical of US forever wars. It might…

    So there you go. Green New Deal. Turn America off fossil fuels and on solar and stuff. What we’re doing now isn’t working. Time for radical change. People like Trump and Clinton are selling the same old shit. Time for new ideas and adapting old ones to new circumstances.

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