How was it before?
With the Berlin Wall, at the end of a war whose bureaucratic and technological disgraces showed us a variety of the worst horrors of the century, politicians put their fingers to the wind and wondered whether history was at an end or not. They were burdened by the need to remake the world that had been ravaged by war. At that time it is even possible that politics was as necessary as the need to rebuild, and that these two needs went together.
This only lasted the time it took to straddle the two sides of the business of reconstruction and the imperative not to repeat the horrors of the past. The sense of relief weakened with the fall of the Berlin Wall and then the collapse of the towers in New York, when politicians, Western especially, went back to being a weathervane stuck on flat plains… The ideologies needed for managing bodies in society were already known, and the movements of opinion shone like a low-wattage ceiling light in skies that had been deserted by ideologies.
Politics, though, is like the line painted between the lanes of a highway: it is needed in order to make a separation clear, but it also does not prevent exits from the road from being taken. The separation created by politics is not only a separation in/of ideas. It could be only that, but the relation of politics to language is not straight/straightforward, sometimes by necessity, and always by politeness (complaisance). History is filled with affairs in which political registrations in a party, for example, are easily spoiled by circumstances in the course of which outspokenly rude remarks end up in whispered cynical, vulgar insults.
The Cruelty of Articulated Bodies
Politics is thus a practice of separation because bodies are irremediably separated from each other, just as they are in the social organism they constitute. But they are held together by imposed hinges. In order to live with one’s body, it is necessary that there be a frontier that materializes both this de facto separation, and the possibilities for articulations. Politics has always let everyone believe that they can decide on their own future: this what is so amazing about a hinge, which both allows and prevents movements. This hinge is external to the body, but is at the same time part of it.
For nearly two decades, whether it has made then throw up or celebrate, politicians have been like everyone, reduced to their social utility as hinges. When Trump was elected, his first move was to say that he would not accept a salary. The president of the first power in the world will thus be benevolent: a Mister nobody not by self-effacement, but because he’s like you and me.
The wellspring of hatred
It isn’t social networks that have made Mister Nobodies, it is the social horde as a new norm, one that finds in these networks a way to blossom. In France, the US, and Russia we’ve seen gray, colorless beings emerge who are cherished by their people, and we are astonished at this new infatuation. They are no longer presidents of a country, they are the leaders of their hordes. But the horde hunts regardless of borders.
There’s a first way to read this infatuation: people are scared, and want a return to basics. Especially security: most often security of goods and persons.
About this point, Lacan tells us that “the exterior limit that keeps man within the service of goods is the primum vivere,” and that being wedded to a service to the good (which one can associate with the interest in security) generates the fear that burdens everyone’s primum vivere. The incidence of this fear, Lacan adds, is “superficial”.
Superficial does not mean nonexistent; superficial means instead that it is diffuse and spreads everywhere. Lacan rejects the idea that fear produces an act, but tells us that it does lead to an invasion. The primum vivere acts as an imperative. It ends up contradicting as well, and by extension for our topic, the sociological reading according to which the middle classes, for example, vehiculent political choices or, maybe, construction workers or steel workers or whomever else. The sociology of the Trump vote, or the Fillon vote, after the primaries of the right and center, in France, despite what some commentators graced by a comprehension of what for so long eluded them say, remains in fact totally muddled.
With the primum vivere and fear, Lacan tells us that “between the two, lies for the common man the exercice of his culpability, a/the reflection of his hatred for the creator, whomever he is – because man is creationist – who made him such a weak and insufficient creature.”
Lacan’s tour de force is to link hatred with the negation of time implied by creationism, on the basis of the imperative primum vivere. There is no longer a “let’s wipe the slate clean of the past” at work here, but a “stuck between the past and the future, let’s dwell with hatred”. Politicians today are, for this succumbing to hatred, like stokers cleaning out the vats at the bottom of the hold. Their stupidity astonishes us, but it produces the identification required for voters to take themselves to be autonomous and auto-didact in their hold. The future probably goes to a multiplicity of micro-dictatorships. In this sense, political men and the little assistant bureaucrats are not different, which they usually claim vehemently: they have their feet on the ground, while others, those of the past notably, thought way too much.
In the meantime, a renewed reading of the contemporary period is needed. President did not to run again in the last presidential race. He was praised for this. In France, as always, the program of the right (and center) wing opponent was considered, even in its own camp, as unmakable and demagogical: it was praised for its courage. Trump says what no one else does on Twitter? He’s praised for this as well, again for his courage.
What kind of courage is this? That of having the cowardice to succumb to the dark side, in a negation of time, in order to get an immediate effect. What’s at stake in business and states is nothing but immediate profit.
As Time Goes by…
Political action in the zone of public opinion enables the (albeit illusory) distribution of bodies in the sense that it suspends the time each is subject to in favor of an affect. Just as a shock is defined as an infinite weight occurring in zero time, politicians play at making the watered down past of their illusions cohabit with the concentrated future of their promises. In France, whether they go up the Seine along the left or right bank, politicians cannot escape this freezing of time. Its perseverance withstands geographical distances very well, from the banks of the Potomac to those of the Moskva: democrat or republican, politicians are set on keeping permanent a present that heads toward immediacy. Information technologies have rendered them the serfs of a slope that dictates that elections no longer make them presidents of a country, but the rulers of social networks. And this is common today: left or right, democrat or republican, it’s the same. They’re all rotten anyway – is this what the most reasonable say? Yes, by cancelling time to the profit of hatred.
Then, the politician is not someone with a mandate, or someone who starts an initiative, but someone who has to work at stretching out an event, stoking a fire around which people can continue to dance. The pyramid is inverted, its point pierces the soil and its base culminates in a circumstantial heroism, in which the bar of the café is being used as a broken compass. It’s no longer a matter of finding north, but of dominating the clock, and knowing how to erase what needs to be. Technology’s ability to erase time in this way covers up the promotion of hatred.
(translated by Ed Pluth)