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ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2006) 

From the Web: Baudrillard and American Politics

Specular People and Democratic Impotence: The Magic of the Yellow Emperor1

Alevtian Rea
(Olympia, Washington, USA).
 

Politicians of both Left and Right are both equally useless. But those on the Left wear themselves out in finding a moral angle for their depression; they have not quite the measure of their real corruption. Whereas all out free-market liberalism provides those on the Right with an insight that is fully equal to this depressed situation.2

            The wisdom of the ancient Greeks is difficult to ignore. Time’s patina only heightens their maturity and prescience. A Greek historian of the first century B.C., Diodorus Siculus, said, "As for the philosophers of our time, for instance, most of them are to be seen uttering the noblest sentiments, but following the basest practices”.3 What Diodorus said of the philosophers of his time may be said of American politicians of our own time as both Republicans and Democrats vie with each other in performing below par. The shrinking gap between the left and the right which Baudrillard4 has long recognized can easily fool an amateur in politics. Who is who exactly? Which side is the moral one? Can ethics to be expected from these representatives of the people vowing to do what’s best? Explicitly, the discourses of the liberals promise manna from the Democratic heaven. Implicitly, their discourses claim to own the totality of what is true, a totality that differs little from totalitarian and autocratic claims. Meanwhile, near-absolute unanimity in Congress is a recurring political phenomenon these days, be it a decision to launch a war in Afghanistan and Iraq or impinge on civil liberties on the home front. United we stand, indeed.

            In Baudrillard’s article “A Conjuration of Imbeciles”,5 he reflected on the situation of the left in France, a situation that looks like a lot like the situation of the liberal-left today in the U.S.  Baudrillard’s laments that: “the left …deprived of its political energy,” the left that “now acts as a jurisdiction which asks everyone to act responsibly while still granting itself the right to remain irresponsible” fits well into a schema of political life in the U.S.A. Baudrillard asks, rhetorically: “Why has every moral, conventional, or conformist discourse – traditional rightist discourses – moved to the left?” There was a time, Baudrillard writes, when “the right used to embody moral values and the left, by contrast, used to represent an antagonistic mode of historical and political exigency.” However, the left’s current shift to the moral stance is “nothing more than the rule of supreme hypocrisy”.  At the end of his article, Baudrillard points out that if we ever hope to revive “political imagination” and “political will,” we have “to take into account the radical abolition of the antiquated and artificial distinction between right and left, which, in fact, has been largely damaged and compromised over the past decades, and which only holds today through some sort of complicit corruption on both sides.”

            Beyond his general statements of disappointment with the French left, Baudrillard wheels on an example of the left’s futile effort to excoriate the politically “immoral” Jean-Marie Le Pen, France’s notorious politician of the extreme right. He argues that because of the left’s moral attacks and antagonisms, Le Pen acquired “a privilege of enunciation” and thus “an opportunity to claim republican legality and fairness on his behalf.” In this particular case, Baudrillard’s demonstration of the left’s political impotency only exposes the general rule that any counter-attack, or recrimination, governed by the same means as those used by the original “culprits” is doomed to failure. This rule is logical and straightforward but nonetheless is often neglected by the opinion-forming elites as they rush “to exercise their privilege of imposing the curse of exclusion, of exorcism, through the figure of a hated man, institution, or organization, no matter who or what they are.” The lessons of this blind and impotent rage are merely dismissed either because of the impenetrable thickness of the left’s ossified and politically outdated paradigm, or the presence of a highly-evolved gene of imbecility which is irreversibly taking over the left’s political gene pool.

            At the conclusion of his article, Baudrillard doesn’t offer any solutions to this tendency to blind exorcism but rather issues a warning that “one must always be suspicious of the ruse of contamination, a ruse which, by means of transparency of evil, mutates positivity into negativity, and a demand for liberty into ‘democratic despotism.’” Reading Baudrillard’s article following the 2004 election’s flash and trash reminds me that no matter how much Democrats trashed the Republican candidate by ascribing to Bush all the evils they could possibly conjure up – they never succeeded in wiping their own plate clean of their worst nature. The Democrats, in Baudrillard’s assessment, could be said to have failed because “they didn’t see that good never comes from a purification of evil.” The Democrats’ low-level recriminations merely revealed the impotency and impurity of the Party line. Therefore, paraphrasing Baudrillard’s words, it can be said that during the last U.S. election campaign Bush served as “the perfect mirror” of the Democratic Party that used “him to conjure up its own evils.” It might be said that those evils were the ones that made the voters either shun or run in horror from the Democrats’ image, glimpsed in the political mirror they themselves were brandishing

            The renowned Argentinean writer, Jorge Luis Borges, was fascinated by the nature of time, mirrors, labyrinths, and identities. One of his short stories, “Fauna of Mirrors,” recounts an ancient myth. Once upon a time, there were the world of people and the world of mirrors that were different from each other in color, shape, and nature. The border between these worlds was open until the specular people invaded the human world. However, “the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor prevailed. He repulsed the invaders, imprisoned them in their mirrors, and forced on them the task of repeating, as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of men. He stripped them of their power and of their forms and reduced them to mere slavish reflections.”

            When I look at the present political arena, I have an association that Democrats, as those mythical specular people, are captured by the “Yellow Emperor” of Republicans and doomed to mirror the latter’s hypocritical promises – or assurances to do what is good for people – and actions that, in reality, are good only for themselves. In me, this pathetic image evokes more disgust than pity. After all, it is they who led themselves to be “incarcerated” while trying to incarcerate and it’s they who “demand liberty” but instead display a Democratic impotence.
 


Alevtina Rea lives in Olympia, Washington.


Endnotes

1 A slightly shorter version of this article appeared in Counterpunch (April 26, 2005): http://counterpunch.com/rae04262005.html

2 Jean Baudrillard. Fragments: Cool Memories III. New York: Verso, 1997:6.

3 See also: P. J. Stylianou. A Historical Commentary on Diodorus Siculus. Oxford University Press, 1999.

4 Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death (c 1976). London: SAGE, 1993:9.

5 Jean Baudrillard. “A Conjuration of Imbeciles”. Liberation May 7, 1997 English translation available at European Graduate School Website (Translated by François Debrix): http://www.egs.edu/faculty/baudrillard/baudrillard-a-conjuration-of-imbeciles.html

 


©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2006)

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