the golden rule

In Wittgenstein’s notes on Frazer’s The Golden Branch, he writes:

“Already the idea of wanting to explain the practice – for instance, the killing of the priest king – seems to me to miss the mark. All that Frazer does is make it plausible to men who think as he does. It is very remarkable that all these practices are finally so to speak portrayed as stupidities.

But it will never be plausible that people did all this out of stupidity.

When he explains to us that the King must be killed in his blood, because after the ideas of the savages, otherwise his soul will not be fresh, one can only say: where this practice and this idea go together, the practice does not spring from the idea, but they are both simply there. “

I view this as a sort of golden rule of social explanation. This is why I’ve always found the idea, so popular since the Bush election, that – as my commentor Abb1 puts it – the people are just gullible one that simply says, all people would think like the people in my circle if they were simply not dumb.

But what if there are different kinds of intelligence views of what is advantageous in different circles? Surely liberal circles, which are charmed by the long term, seem intolerably ... constraining to those who dream of quick bucks. Different time frames, different institutional biases. What seems to be the rightwing habit of claiming a and not-a at the same time has often driven me mad with frustration, or the thought that there was some kind of cultural mindfuck going on, some degradation of the native powers, some dimming of vision, some common damage to the frontal lobes out there in the prairies and the pine forests. Some return to infancy. But it is easy to see that this explanation has the advantage of lifting myself up to a self-evident point of superiority.

The popular rage about the failure of the kind of capitalism that, merely a year ago, was held up by these very same people, or their tv heroes, as the very model and acme of what the years of the Great Moderation were all about – the neo-liberal principle untrammeled by any traditional ties or chains – has led to all kinds of explanations that walk around the central fact of that failure, sniffing out traditional demons. And, of course, in this case the traditional object of American anxieties: the black man. Who happens, thank you very much, to be heading closer and closer to the presidency.

Wittgenstein says, further: “No opinion furnishes the ground for a religious symbol. And error only corresponds to opinion. One would like to say: this and this event happens. Laugh if you can.”


abb1 said…
Well, it so happened that I have lived under three different socio-economic systems: authoritarian soc1alism, quasi-authoritarian capitalism, and now what appears to be some sort of democratic communitarianism. It's my first life that trained me not to trust anything printed in the newspapers, since I was about 10 years old and started reading Pioneer's Pravda.

This doesn't make me superior to anyone, nor do I have any circles, nor do I necessarily consider myself a liberal.

Propaganda does work, and the omnipresence of it explains a lot of things, though clearly not everything, far from it.
modulo said…
I'm reading Michael Taussig on shamans. A and not-a comes down as the perception of the shaman: a fraud and a trickster, whose magic is to be learned from and emulated. Not even shamans believe, as a modern consumer is supposed to believe at least, in their powers.

So magical propaganda, is it neither tricking us or being seen through?
Chuckie K said…
That disdain is, after all, the heart of the liberal elitism, so effectively exploited by media displays of the right. I sometimes think this irrational prejudice outweighs any 'long-term' orientation in constituting liberal consciousness. All about 'uplift' for the benighted.
P.M.Lawrence said…
It looks as though the title of Frazer's book has been translated back and forth. In the original it's The Golden Bough.
roger said…
Thank you mr. Lawrence. I knew that didn't sound right when I translated it.

Alas, I've been sick the last two days, so I haven't been able to comment too much, although I have a lot to say about the issue of elites, and the rhetoric of "elites".
northanger said…