The Freak And Its Own
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When – and if – the world reaches the moment when post-pandemic debates will finally commence, the noise just might stifle one interesting question.
Therefore, in order to add to a discussion that will most likely never happen, we’ll try to preemptively formulate it here.
The question is quite simple – nothing more than a remark on apparent anomaly; namely, why does one get an impression that countries of the European cultural circuit, commonly held to be the ones most progressive in providing civic and political freedoms, now, in the course of the Corona upheaval, ended up as also being the ones most progressive in limiting of civic and political freedoms?
Moreover, why, on the one hand, the majority of the beneficiaries of said freedoms unconditionally supported their suspension to an indefinite term, without even bating a collective eye lid?
On the other hand, how come that in the less progressive European countries we seem to notice the opposite: for example, in Croatian capital of Zagreb, there was a massive protest on the broad platform of opposition to anti-Covid measures and not a single person – be it protester or policeman – could claim a broken fingernail, whereas in liberal Amsterdam, batons were liberally applied and, judging from what was apparent from the media, at least one police dog got to chew on at least one protester?
Although the example serves merely illustrative purpose, the question is certainly not a rhetorical one. Still less is it here to bedazzle the benevolent reader with Croatian political virtues. All nuances aside, their export value is still comparable to the export value of the Yugoslav automobile industry.
Yet our question cuts much deeper than the protests, vaccines and the pandemic itself; the crisis, as it where, brought to the fore something that was already present for quite a long time.
I cannot claim this with absolute certainty, yet I am convinced that motives of the more civilized protesters and lockdown conformists further West should not be sought outside of the private interests of individuals who want to keep enjoying their private freedoms; moreover, as we are talking about societies proud of their own liberal traditions, it is not likely that anybody saw anything objectionable in the fact that, by fighting for one’s own right on access to a restaurant, one is simultaneously fighting for the society that provides one with that right.
Of course, we are talking about the principle upon which one is free to do what one wills as long as one’s action doesn’t impede on the freedom of others; and we are obviously talking about societies that cannot move further from this principle without putting it into question.
Yet it appears that the step further has been taken.
How is this possible?
Could it be that it came to pass because the principle was defended both by the protesters and their opponents, for exactly the same reason?
To demonstrate that this eventuality entails no paradox and to, generally, put things into perspective, we’ll draw one more illustration.
Recently, a well known Croatian journalist opined how his compatriots always perceive politics through the lenses of moral judgment; by this he meant, mainly, that the public, on top of its pragmatic interests, considers absolutely everything that comes to pass as, not merely beneficial or damaging, but also as morally good or evil and as such it gets imbibed with the pathos of the dramatic event being in continuity with Croat “surplus of history”, no matter how trivial the issue happens to be in reality. The impression he left was that he considers this to be a sign of, if not downright mental blindness, then at least the one of political immaturity, because some issues should be approached with pragmatic indifference, rather then emotions, and that not everything must be correlated to unresolved historical conflicts still swaying the minds of men. If that was the meaning of his remark, then I can agree with the quod facti but not with the quid iuris part of it. Croatian mentality does indeed presuppose some kind of nominal moral judgment with historical underpinning when evaluating politics, usually to quite comical effects. However, sometimes there’s nothing comical about it and one such instance came to the fore in the course of the present crisis.
One of the most prevalent and obvious among the symbols of protest carried by the protesters in Zagreb was the image of the Virgin Mary. This in itself is a clear indicator that their motives might be quite different from those moving their more Western equivalents, even if their declared purposes – but rather the catch phrases they both used – seem to resonate. Nobody carries the icon of Gospa in order to beseech Her to get him, by Her intercession, into his restaurant of choice; after all Croatia is consecrated to Her and hefty number of people takes this seriously; the biggest thing even the theologically most retrograde Croat Catholic would dare to ask of Her would be an access to an important international football match. However, if one brushes aside the comical surface, even in that case the thing is quite serious, because it is a plea for participation in the matter that is not a private, but rather a common one; for the good number of people, especially in the southern part of the country, it is probably both the lowest and the only common denominator in which the sense of political community finds its expression; also it is the only branch of the still young nation’s know-how that survived the fall of Communism and is highly successful on the world stage, all corruption and fragility of the society to the contrary.
I find those who ridicule this distinction between the two different mentalities, by invoking the civilization/primitivism dichotomy, to be severely ill informed and, as a matter of fact, rather retrograde.
They seem to presuppose that liberal societies in the midst of the Corona crisis just took a little slide backwards, i.e. that in their continuous pursuit of ever greater freedoms they slipped and fell on their socio-political behinds, because of the temporarily unfavorable conditions; but we are to rest assured that the state of exception will pass and the progress will keep rolling forward.
However, the actual state of affairs is quite the opposite. I would rather claim that said societies took a step forward, not backward, and that the repression we witnessed was a quite progressive one with nothing retrograde about it.
The reason for this is as simple as it is hard to pinpoint by the standard methods of social analysis, because serious sociological or politological research doesn’t suffer simplifications. However, in this particular case the simplification is not on the side of the observer but in the very essence of the social action observed, which is in itself a historical novelty of the first rate, and, as such, very difficult to properly notice, let alone analyze methodically.
Political community whose ultimate purpose is the protection of private freedom, with no recourse to the actual positive content of that freedom, once forced to use coercion to protect it, has to limit the private freedom without any inner restraint; as there is no positive content to freedom, i.e. as there is no content to it at all, the coercive protection cannot be restrained by any natural, or even consensual, purpose of the political community. The higher the perceived threat, the higher the coercion, and in the case of the Corona crisis, threat to private freedom is being perceived as absolute, because the demand for the safety in enjoying the freedom became absolute as well.
If it is possible to ensure the complete safety for the people to freely do whatever they want, while not limiting the freedom of others to do the same in the exercise of their own, arbitrary, freedom then the safety has to be absolute.
Therefore, if I cannot be completely safe during my visit to a restaurant then, by necessity, I have to be forbidden from going to a restaurant altogether.
Is this absurd? It certainly is. However, it is also necessary, if one is to draw the consequent conclusion from the principle and realize it politically. Novum lies in the fact that any regard towards the reality has been suspended in order to enact this.
If the purpose of freedom doesn’t exist outside of the “freedom from-“, then the security is the only necessary condition that has to be actualized by the state apparatus in order for freedom to be practiced unimpeded; however, it is also the sole sufficient reason of the state, because it is its only purpose, and sufficient reason of the social action has to be present if society is to exist at all, i.e. the freedom has to be practiced in order for everything else stemming from it – laws, regulations, customs, etc. – is to have any meaning. For example, in order for the free citizen to enjoy his restaurant-going freedom, his action has to be safe from all the threats to its full enjoyment; the possibility of infection is a threat to enjoyment, hence he has to be free from the possibility of infection; moreover, he has to be absolutely free from the threat, because both freedom and security are absolute values, provided the social system can shut out its “irrational surroundings”. Consequently, his freedom has to be limited to a degree in which the enactment of it can impede on his security; preferably it has to be limited to an extent that it completely removes the threat. Anything less would endanger the principle at the foundation of the political community.
The reason why this is so difficult to notice, let alone fathom, in all its implications, is the degree to which reality influences the application of the principle and always, by impeding on its logic, somewhat obscures its presence. However, the reality is being understood as a sort of irrational externality to argument and not as its integral part. As the tendency of such autonomous rationality is to exclude everything opposing it from its operation, once the historical circumstances align in such a way that illusion of it being fully able to really fulfill the purity of its operation becomes possible, then the reality ceases to be politically relevant.
A lot of people this late summer observed the total lockdown of New Zealand caused by a single one Covid patient as a final proof of the mass insanity going global. Such reaction is quite understandable, but it is correct only to a qualified degree. In reality we are talking about madness that is abroad for many years now.
I find it somewhat comical when people who to an irrational degree reject epidemiological measures and lament about “world gone mad”, don’t see anything out of ordinary in the fact that British state TV hosts debates between women and men who identify as women, on such issues as whether the latter should have a right to an access to female toilets or not. As a matter of fact it is the one and the same insanity informing the public for a long time now, whereas pandemic panic only brought it forth in the form that no one can be indifferent to.
Is the absolute security of a man who convinced himself that he’s a woman, and then legalized – and hence institutionalized – this free choice of his, because he expects everyone to be obliged by law to recognize his insanity as inalienable freedom, a different kind of security then the one guaranteed to New Zealander, whose purpose is to prevent the existence of the single one case of infection that could impede on his private freedoms?
I think not. This is the same thing through and through: the freedom that is being privative exactly to the degree it is being private.
In order for the choice of one’s sex – and in essence this means nothing but the individual’s rational choice to irrationally remove oneself from the reality – to be actualized, it is necessary that it be socially recognized, i.e. it has to be recognized by others. Exemplary in this respect are “gay pride” parades, that need to be continually repeated, year after year, because their purpose is not to declare that one group of people is simply free in its social action of choice – and that entails entering “marriage”, adopting or otherwise procuring children, etc. – but that others are obliged to recognize it or risk being excluded from the society. The reality as such has to be reduced to a specific form of social environment where such action and such choice are possible and which denies any impediment to the freedom of individual to define or redefine oneself.
It is truly comical to observe conservatives attempting to resist the annihilation of the sexes by desperately attempting to apply the liberal principles, where through discussion “we” should ascertain how far the lunatics can go in realizing their right to insanity, without impeding on the freedom of normal people. The matter is, of course, utterly meaningless, because the recognition craved by “sexual minorities” is not something optional but indeed something necessary: the private freedom has to be socially recognized, because it is a political freedom and, in liberal society, such freedom has to be legalized, in order to provide its subject with the security in the course of its action.
Insofar the politics rests upon the principle of the absolute autonomy of the individual – on one’s right to “emancipation” as they like to put it on the Left – it is the total politics. To an extent that the private right to access a restaurant is equally absolute as the private right to redefine one’s sex, the absolute duty of the society, i.e. the aggregate of autonomous individuals, to recognize it is a political duty and as such obligatory for everyone and always. The only limit to political action is the degree to which the contact with reality outside of the political system is not being entirely lost, but the purpose of such politics is to remove that contingent nuisance as much as possible. This is the reason why the conservatives are always at loss in debates – they don’t accept the integral part, but want to participate in the whole of the political system, rendering them to nothing more than a hiccup in the communication channel.
Simply put, if I recognize someone’s right to be what someone is not, then I cannot avoid recognizing it publicly, also. Liberal’s objection that everyone has a right to autonomous decision, no matter how crazy it is, but that he himself has a right to be indifferent towards it, is completely blind to the nature of the social action in the system which we today call, for a lack of the better term, “liberal democracy”. The objection would be meaningful if this would be a matter of personal choice, but political action in the present system is not personal, but individual. The individual actor is obliged to act with regard to others inside the legally proscribed limits and those limits contain not only public but private action, also. In this respect Political Correctness (or “being woke”) is not some kind of nonsense or temporary madness but important part of the “social contract” where clear limits are proscribed for the freedom of speech, but, by extension, also for that of thought: for example, ban on “hate speech” is absolutely necessary in order to describe and delineate what is and what is not socially acceptable, and as we are talking about potentially infinite forms of freedom that all of them have to be recognized, then not only words, but also the thoughts behind them have to be legally codified in some way. People who spend most of their private lives sharing practically everything on social networks, even to an extent that what is not shared cannot be considered experienced, already accepted the “social contract”; if one is capable of posting about the death of one’s own child in real time, then the individual in question already lacks any kind of discernable intimacy, and one’s privacy obviously became quite public because it exists only insofar it is shared with others; the image of a child and few sentimental lines are put forward only to be recognized by others, with their own comments, as a social fact. So it is already a prevalent form of socialized privacy that is now a second nature for the great number of people and none of them has a right to be politically incorrect, but is obliged to follow the guidelines for social action applicable to all.
Progressive repression in the context of the pandemics is just one, not very radical, example of the repression that is in the very nature of the system and is being going on for years now.
In conclusion, let us return to explain why the remarks on Croats, and most of the other peoples of Eastern Central to proper Eastern Europe, being retrograde, are in themselves retrograde and completely off mark.
Croatia, as well as any other country, can be understood as retrograde society solely on condition that it is observed from the modern stand point. However, it seems that nowadays only American conservatives and Eastern European leftists believe that we are still living in the modern age. For history and its real denizens, that is: for those who cannot afford to step out of it in their own imaginary world, this age has ended.
Modern mentality acted on assumption of the linear progress and values produced by it, from the material/technological to moral ones. At the centre of progress, as its intrinsic purpose, stands the human being carrying the progress forth, but also continually being reformed by it. Hence, for the modern man any impediment to progress in well being and political freedoms is a slide backwards. However, as we indicated above, nothing of the sort is at work now. Contemporary politics is a direct result of modernity but in itself it is not modern at all. Man is not at its center, but something else: its subject is post-human, being liberated from all properties, i.e. history, ethnicity, religion but, above all, sexual duality and cannot be understood as man, even in the sense that it used to be a man and could at some point revert into being man again. And here we have the hidden essence of the irreversible process of modernity coming before our eyes: the being, standing at the center of every social action today, as a centre of gravity around which everything revolves, is stricto sensu a freak. It is quite natural, therefore, that genital mutilation, as the necessary condition for sex change, became a clear symbol of freedom: the purpose of the freak is to peel the skin off the human orange and annihilate all properties that define, and at the same time, limit the human being.
Of course, we are addressing the intrinsic causes here and this implies that we are dealing with realities that are never completely visible. Any form of resistance, even in the form of vague unease, still felt by many people, towards “insanity” just outlined, shows that things are still not over the edge to an extent that man accepts the situation without any resistance, if just in the form of inner, inarticulate, rejection. Yet, to an extent the resistance comes from the ideals of modernity, as is unfortunately the case with most people, it is utterly futile, because what we have today are simply inner implications of modernity being articulated to their logical conclusion.
If that’s how things stand, is it then retrograde when someone, without pausing to think, carries the icon of the Virgin Mary to a protest in defense of civil freedom?
Being retrograde or backward makes sense only under the assumptions of modernity.
But those assumptions don’t apply any more. Therefore, not only that such act makes sense, but it also demonstrates that modernity hasn’t destroyed all that preceded it and that the very idea of the “precedence” where everything that was is being grinded in the recycle bin of history, makes no sense outside of modern mentality. Today, however, when orientation is not towards linear progress but towards horizontally spaced dissolution with the tendency to absolute systematization – which is, more or less, a description of chaos – both the way up and the way down are being open in ways that seemed impossible just few decades ago.
The part of Europe in which Croatia is situated appears to have retained the deep continuity with what was present before the dissolution of modernity and, certainly, also with what preceded modernity itself, because the leap into the void did not occur as it occurred in certain places further to the West.
How this had happened is something that only future generations will be able to comprehend and what are all implications is anyone’s guess.
In the end, one has to realize that uncompromisingly destructive political project can be countered only by correspondingly uncompromising rejection. Although that’s not always realistic, especially in the political sense, it is quite necessary in the personal sense. For the only total impediment to complete mutilation is the fact that a person, as an intimate center of the human being, is not accessible to it unless it decides so.
What this means is a subject we’ll address in our future work.
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