Friday, May 8, 2009

The Blob as Threat: A Discourse on the Nature of the Masses and Its Bifurcating Capabilities through Terror

Hansley A. Juliano, II AB Political Science: January 20, 2009

Inasmuch as the illustration might sound unsuitable, it appears that we Filipinos, in functioning as a democratic unit, always subscribes to the maxim of community-building shared by the iconic 1990s rock band Eraserheads: that every good and relevant action should consider the well-being of what we love to term as “the masses” (para sa masa, sa lahat ng binaon ng sistema). In an appeal to the notion of collective experience and thinking about the practice of politics as a fulfilment of social imperatives, we unwittingly subsume ourselves to a dynamic of communal experience that is, in itself, following the order of modernity which, in turn, proliferate the seeds of its darkest potential in the form of totalitarianism. Consonant with the Hobbesian proposal of power as necessarily centralized, it then appears as if society cannot function if the accumulation of property cannot occur and thus, the necessity of increasing power parallel to the intensity of accumulation for the bourgeois. This imminent greed of the bourgeois catalysed the retaliation of the lower social classes in the form of “the masses” as the proletariat, illustrated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s The Communist Manifesto. This, however, is problematic if we are going to consider the fact of the claim of historicity in action. To centralize political action into the welfare of the masses is to commit once more the error of the French Revolution in thinking that community-building could and should be equated with the desire to accumulate and preserve property.

Hannah Arendt defines the masses as the product of the breakdown of class structures which, though related, is not at all similar to the relations of the mob and the bourgeois. The mass is, in more ways than one, the conglomeration of directed interests of people displaced from their class in the aftermath of the breakdown of society. In the destruction of the nation-state, the security of each individual is put to question, which leads to the attempt to assure the rights of an individual in the enactment of Universal Human Rights. This is in itself, as may be garnered from the declaration of Jacques Derrida, always suspicious as human rights can only be guaranteed inside the nation-state. In such a situation, we cannot help but be under the suspicion that the supranational agency declaring such is on its way of attempting to establish a world order under its hegemony. Thus, it comes off as no wonder that any action of the United States of America that is claimed to be interventionist will always fall under the lens of scrutiny as an imperialist move.

It must also be noted that, contrary to the belief that the masses are the exact equivalent of the demos in the public sphere, the driving force of the masses is a sense of despair and loss of significance to themselves; a form of “pervasive emo-ness” which makes them think that society and the world in general will never understand nor tolerate their existence. Thus, they are predisposed to all ideologies as these ideologies present “grand narratives” which will explain their situation without them having to deliberate upon it. The masses follow a very Rousseauvian (and therefore problematic) view of the means by which the community caters to the development of the individual. Entering the self no longer produces neither enlightenment nor recognition of desires and appetites but a hysteria acknowledging one’s brokenness and inability to change it.

It is in this context that totalitarianism feeds upon to promulgate its radically evil agenda through the destruction of distinctions between the public and the private. Contrasting to the Classical and Early Modern perspectives of ruling through virtue and/or the utilization of fear, as well as the valuing of honor and material gains, the aforementioned have been eliminated in favour of establishing a regime of terror. A tyranny can only exist in the presence of fear amongst the people, causing inaction among them; in contrast, however, a totalitarian regime encourages action and constant movement, carefully planned and systematically eliminating types of people. The callousness and detachment of the proliferators sends chills down the spine of people who cannot comprehend human capability for inhuman tendencies and, in a disturbing fashion, seduces people with grand personal projections. Such an occurrence is not new not only in the political sphere; in fact, this idea of constant movement with the absence of deliberation for its massed composition also is practiced in the various illegal (or counter-religious) cult organizations.

How then do the masses play into the picture of totalitarian establishment? This is explained by the fact that they, being the most emotionally and psychologically volatile portion of the state, is likely to be taken in by the totalitarian leader’s self-image as a deprecating and non-ambitious person. The charisma of this person will likely draw the attention, support and, ultimately, fanatical devotion of the masses in his quest for setting up the regime of terror organized by his party. This, in turn, will likely pose questions of moral judgment which will test the capability of the human person to actually consider disowning his held scruples. In playing upon ambitions of both leader and followed, they begin to think that one cannot exist without the other, and therefore has to retain semblance of arbitrariness in order to project the image of a normal political state. Yet it is actually carefully deliberated upon by the leaders and they labor enough through propaganda and indoctrination of certain ideologies which will help in their holding sway over the hearts and minds of people.

The conception of ideologies might be considered as an evolution (or a horrible transmogrification, depending on the situation) of the necessity of fabricating “grand narratives,” as Socrates once proposed in his establishment of the polis. And yet, however, the way totalitarianism uses ideology is never for the sake of community-building but, in fact, to destroy communication among the citizens. In seeking to instate the rule of terror through deft massages of ego and ambition, the masses are likely deluded into believing that politics will only be relevant to them through the salvific nature of a totalitarian leader, which is, obviously, against everything politics stands for and will spell the disintegration of the public space.

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