News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Politics of Resentment (not even the first draft - incomplete)

Students from Third World countries study in First World countries, return to their home country and start spouting Marxist or resentment rhetoric about the unfairness of Western colonialism, free trade, US hegemony, etc. Naturally, the unfairness claim is a giveaway as nothing is nor can be fair. But of greater forensic interest is the psychology of these performers, their masks, and how their faces grow to fit them.

[Ressentiment’s] characteristic emotion is a kind of retributive vengefulness toward whichever class or race or cultural tradition impairs one's self-esteem; and its characteristic political expression consists of policies which satisfy no economic rationale but exist almost entirely to satisfy a need for revenge. - Roger Sandall

The above doesn’t satisfy me though: too condensed and it's missing a couple of stages. The article from which it came is very interesting, but much of what he writes in his own words appears borrowed from others. Which isn't even a misdemeanor in the writing world, but there’s often a lack of articulateness when you parrot the work of others, as the original context ain’t there and as the logic train often moves out of synch with your own, making it hard to digest and reproduce without sounding oddly syncopated. It’s best when possible to keep the conclusions of others in mind, while arriving at them on your own. This reinvents the wheel, so to speak, but now it’s your wheel and you understand it inside and out, where it came from and how to use it to get to other destinations.

So I rework Sandall’s sentence above and expand it as follows in the next three paragraphs:

Picture yourself as a bright young go-getter with a will to power but dismayed on finding onself competing in the job and glamour markets against elder men possessing vastly superior experience, professional knowledge, and learning. How does one win? With talent and elbow grease, one can quickly compete against all three of the oldster’s strengths and with a minimum of social skills be welcomed into their rarified lair. Without talent, one is faced with the dispiriting prospect of decades of spade and shovel work to construct an air of respectable authority.

But…what if…could it be…yes? Ah-hah! What if one competes on moral grounds? With a pocket full of pieties, one can achieve a respectable state of grace within 30 seconds. Presto! Gone is the requirement of decades of full living, career accomplishments, and the midnight study lamp. Voila! A gallant clearing away of the ghastly scheme and a noble disposal of its inconvenient and unfashionable traditions; like tossing so many spent gang-bangers into the dumpster of history. Never again the rigged match! Never again is the hopeful visionary, pockets incommoded with positive-think and heavy ideals, heaved unconscionably into the ring for combat against sinister smelly old duffers approaching their shelf-lives. Hooray! Hurrah! Huzzah! The game is moved to a new venue, the infinitely fair 'level playing field', and suddenly the prospect of a new and very public Circus Maximus beckons.

Adopt a pious countenance and publicly j’accuse the aging athletes of mercantile immorality or political infidelity. Sell it to the hopeful, downtrodden, and envious masses; which, after all, ain’t hard as they’re always ready for a new moral combat having been weaned on them by the indigenous yellow press and television.

But it’s not always this simple.

Here in Taiwan, locals complain about the arrogance of foreigners strutting the streets like great swinging dicks. It’s a universal theme that homo sapiens is the center of his own attention with ego in orbit. And thus it is often somewhat of a revelation when locals learn that this aggressive body language is not aimed at them at all, but at other foreigners.

After all, we foreigners from North America come from much more competitive societies where we are challenged on many more fronts and much more often than the locals. As a North American male, you are required to the proficient at a broader range of tasks and able to explain them to others. The locals, as a rule, are much more conservative and deliberately narrow-minded; it is no accident but instead rather by design that they are competent with only a small array of tasks. It is, I presume, however by accident that they are generally incompetent at explaining any of these tasks to anyone else; this being a society where people very rarely talk to each other, abhorring intimacy and vastly preferring the security of speaking at one other. Given the present North American era of Confession, this lobbing of words at one another from a safe psychic distance is one of the key curiosities of contemporary traditional Chinese culture.

I mention the body language of strutting foreigners because so much of language, whether spoken or body, is employed not only to preempt violence (a sort of unspoken don’t fuck with me to prevent spitting, eye-gouging, shin-hacking, and shit-kicking. Chickens peck and dogs nip. Humans get on their high-horse, work sympathy trips, swear that their uncle is bigger and badder than yours. Of course language is used to advance one’s competitive interests across the board. As with all social mammals we’re pretty much usually happy to advance our interests by hook or by crook, with language just another weapon of choice, though the frontal assault or stab-in-the-back most preferred by the articulate of course.

In other words, the educated person returned from a rich country abroad, outfitted with an education but finding an ineradicable blank where talent might otherwise lay, returns to the home country and unluckily finds that his academic or professional knowledge has little utility there. Lacking creative talent or executive ability, and thus possessed of little confidence in his ability to be a maverick and kiss the original culture goodbye and make one’s own way, he instead looks around and check out his options in the mainstream (i.e. Third World, i.e. medieval) culture and endeavors to make a go of it.

A person returned with a First World education is something like a hunter trained in using shooting irons but finding, on returning to his hunting and gathering culture, that there’s no access to gunpowder. What to do when faced with a technology of bows, arrows, and spears. Pick up tribal ways again? Not likely. You feel special -- you are in fact special -- and you want privilege, as we all do. You have a will to power and you wish to become a leading member of the tribe. Therefore, given your limited abilities, rather than make yourself useful and improve upon local hunting practices, you throw it all over for a short-cut, a get rich quick scheme: you return to the world of words, your specialty and your training, and start working up and rehearsing a few rhetorical monkeyshines to become the sorcerer, the shaman, the Prophet.

Again, it seems to me that invoking the politics of resentment or Marxism or whatever, is essentially pathological: these actors have the universal will to power, but an absence of talent and honor. Again, how do you move forward, achieve your ambitions, if you do not have the connections or worldly knowledge required to make the fortune business and similarly lack a talent for either developing or implementing ideas? Ergo, you look around for somebody who has already generated a set of ideas useful to an ambitious mediocrity such as oneself. You look around you for a political calculus or ideology which endeavors to raise the pathetic, the failures, and incompetents.

In a more religious era, Christianity did the job. It offered ready-made guilt trips, moral stories, magic and conspiracy theories which predestined the meek to inherit the earth; even socialist schemes such as ending money-lending and feeding the masses with a handful of loaves and fishes (Mao tried that one in The Great Leap Forward). It was the wonder of a Dark Ages which lasted around 1000 years, during which ignorance truly was bliss for Christendom’s state sanctioned predators. Today we have the secular edition: Marxism (food for thought) and postcolonial reparations (putting food on the table).

Economic oppression or historical grievance as an explanation for Third World intellectuals who take the Marxist line or the resentment line never persuaded me. I’ve lived in too many thriving colonies to buy that one. And besides, serial stupidity is clearly a product of some pathology of the intellect. Nations starving for decades don’t suffer from bad history but from bad indigenous culture. When it comes to individuals, a pathology may grow out of personality (sibling order, chemistry), it may have to do with bad information (religion or ideology), but either way and for whatever reason, there is most definitely a pathology at the heart of this rotten apple.

We've all known people who get things wrong time after time. We all know people who screw up and never seem to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes these people are ourselves at a particular stage of our lives when we're in denial, are too proud to learn from someone else, or are too proud to admit our mistakes to ourselves. Either way, and for whatever reasons, there are people who elect for a can-do approach and there are people who propagate excuses for their failures. Two different types of people, and generally two different mentalities.

+++ Stuff to fill out: Talk about the appeal of the underdog. Via supporting other underdogs, oneself, also an underdog because under-lucky & under-talented & under-successful, one intends to generate sympathy and support for underdogs and thereby assist oneself get a leg up.

Consider using that web page from the BBC one the country of Benin and demonstrate the invasions and gaps and deliberate spinning or falsifying of history.

The case of Uruguay, which, after long experience of democratic rule, almost willfully reenlisted in the ranks of "Colonia," was even more extreme. At the time of Naipaul's visit to Montevideo in the early 1970's, out of a workforce of just over a million, 250,000 were in government employ. The telephone department alone had forty-five grades of civil servant, and although the business it did was lamentably slow,

“The public, scattered among the messengers and the police dogs of the foyer, is uncomplaining: many of them are civil servants from other departments, with time on their hands. ... The padding of the civil service, which began thirty years ago, in the time of wealth, disguises unemployment and urban purposelessness. Everyone knows this, but too many people benefit: the whole state has been led into this conspiracy against itself.

As life in this penniless wonderland slipped further and further into paralyzed incapability, many Uruguayans consoled themselves by denying the value of what could no longer be accomplished. Modernity could not be achieved internally: the level of science and technology was too low. Nor could it be bought externally: there was now no money to buy it. It therefore followed that the entire direction in which the modern world was moving had to be disavowed, discredited, dismissed: "We won't progress. What's progress, though? America? That's consuming and stressing, keeping up with the Joneses. We don't have that kind of shit here, if you pardon the expression."
- Roger Sandall with V.S. Naipaul inside the quotes

As usual, this will be finished tomorrow…maybe…(I should be writing fiction)

No comments:

Post a Comment