Nettime mailing list archives

RE: <nettime> The Flexible Personality, part I
Kermit Snelson on Thu, 10 Jan 2002 09:31:07 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

RE: <nettime> The Flexible Personality, part I

> The figure of the flexible personality can be publicly
> ridiculed, satirized, its supporting institutions can
> be attacked on political grounds, its traits can be
> exposed in cultural and artistic productions [...]

Brian Holmes proposes thus to revive Marcuse's critical theory by erecting a
new "ideal type" for public ridicule, etc.  Spontaneously, a new public
community will emerge to fling the term "flexible personality" and other
stinging epithets at the insensate brutes who comprise the "networked
managerial class" at Dell Computer.  This epoch-making alliance of academic
name-calling and street theater will be carried out using the personal
computers that Dell and the like have unwisely (yet profitably) sold to this
new post-proletariat.  And so will Empire fall and a just society finally
emerge, thanks to a collective exercise of "negative critique" that is, in
fact, so purely negative that it contains nothing that the ruling class may

I have my doubts.  Marcuse-style "negative thinking" and scorn for
"repressive tolerance" is hardly immune to co-optation, as shown by
Marcuse's own ten-year career as an analyst in the US Office of Strategic
Services (now called the CIA) and later as the US State Department's bureau
chief for Central Europe.  The reason is that Marcuse's opposition to
liberalism, relativism, and the displacement of politics by technology was
useful to those who also employed "conservative" courtiers like Samuel
Huntington during the same period to propagate similar messages.

An economic system dominated by transnational corporations requires a
post-liberal legal system, and much of the ideological work of paid
political theorists since 1905 or so, from left to right, has been concerned
with establishing precisely that.  This involves, in part, replacing a
positive law system based on convention with a natural law system based on
ethics and aesthetics.  Marcuse and Huntington were used as means toward
this end, both providing what amounts to a justification for natural law
ideology but packaged differently for different economic classes,
educational levels and psychological types.

The irony is that as the uniformly anti-liberal 20th century drew to a
close, the uniform anti-liberalism of professional intellectuals and
activists is becoming obsolete.  This may have been evident as early as
1975, upon the occasion of the Trilateral Commission report that Brian
cites.  Although progressives love to cite Samuel Huntington's fascist
musings on the "governability of democracies," I've never seen anybody point
out that in an appendix of that volume, the Trilateral Commission made it
clear that several of its members thoroughly rejected Huntington's analysis.
For example, from page 196-7:

     The Founding Fathers of the United States, one North American
Commissioner stated, did not see their first problem as that of creating a
_governable_ democracy.  At least as important in their minds was the
guaranteeing of the rights of citizens against the possible excesses of
their governors [...]  According to another North American Commissioner, who
disagreed that the need is for "less democracy," the current relative
deadlock in U.S. politics is not unique.  Contrary to the pessimists, he
feels recent developments indicate "triumph" and a "finest hour" for
American democracy [...]  A number of other Commissioners also associated
themselves with the above points, arguing for "more democracy, not less" and
expressing a concern for maintenance of "absolutely free media." [1]

Sound familiar?  Obviously, the Trilateral Commission was not exactly
horrified by the street and cultural politics of the 60's and 70's.
Huntington's "democratic distemper" theory was rejected by those in power in
1975, just as his "clash of civilizations" theory has been rejected by those
in power now.  Of course, this is not to say that the World Managers are on
our side.  Their loyalties are to shareholder value and the balance sheet,
not to us.  It is important for activists to understand this.  Global
corporations act against peace, justice, democracy and the environment when
it is lucrative for them to do so.  When it isn't, they don't.  They most
certainly don't do what they do because of "craziness," as stated in October
by the absurd Munich Volksbad Declaration. [2]  They have economic
interests, and they build centrally-led institutions and organizations to
defend them.  We, who have competing interests, must do the same.  Simply
accusing our opponents of hating sex won't accomplish much.  Let's allow
Marcuse and the other Freudo-Marxists to rest in peace in the history books,
for the only thing of lasting value they ever contributed was a classic
example of projection.

Kermit Snelson

[1] _The Crisis of Democracy_, eds. Huntington, Crozier, Watanuki, pp 196-7
[2] http://slash.autonomedia.org/article.pl?sid=01/11/04/0356224

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net