Dr. Nicole Morgan, CACOR member, writes on Cold Hatred.
On the eve of the 2012 US election, while I was still professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, I published in Paris : Haine Froide (Cold Hatred, What is the American right thinking?) (1) The timing was pure coincidence. This book was not aimed at commenting the event. I was analyzing another one of the hateful ideologies that shape and distort the minds of adoring crowds of nostalgic seniors and hopeful youngsters .
I documented over fifty-years the construction of a nasty ideology of growth-predation, starting with the raging harangues of Ayn Rand and ending with the already perceptible grunts of Donald Trump. Lewis H Lapham (2), the respected patrician of the respectable journal Harper’s, had already paved the way going back to the end of the nineteenth century when the extreme-right propaganda mills started. He came to the conclusion it worked like a mafia (alias the Octopus) spreading its tentacles of rage in Washington and New York. The word rage adds a special and essential dimension. The extreme right acts like a mafia but is not a mafia. The Mafiosi (like the Oligarchs) are mere thugs and bullies who grab everything they can by any means. The rage which simmers in the ultra right American movement has the flavor of crusades. From the very beginning it was pumped up by the certitude it was fighting Satan, the object of hatred
I knew enough, Lapham explains, to know that the numbing of America’s political senses didn’t happen by mistake, but it wasn’t until I met… formerly a senior adviser to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that I came to fully appreciate the nature and the extent of the re-education program undertaken in the early 1970s by a cadre of ultraconservative and self-mythologizing millionaires bent on rescuing the country from the hideous grasp of Satanic liberalism. To a small group of Democratic activists meeting in New York City in late February, Stein had brought thirty-eight charts diagramming the organizational structure of the Republican “Message Machine,” an octopus-like network of open and hidden microphones that he described as “perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system.
All this to say we should not fall into Trumpian exceptionalism. His rage has deep roots. If it had not been Trump it would have been another, less flamboyant may be, less insane but still representative of a hot ideology based on cold economics and abstract logarithms. It is an ideology : it is not a faith (miraculously revealed by a prophet, guru or the like) but it works like a faith . Its followers think in terms of evidence, of first truths and are truly indignant if others, less enlightened come to question it. Trump is always right whatever he does. Any proof to wrong him is regarded as the proof of a satanic-like conspiracy to prevent him from speaking the truth and therefore reinforce the trust in him. Science, empowered or not by robots and mega data does not make a dent on the faith when it questions his statements. That said, the science of economy reduced in a silly way to cost-benefits of free markets is presented like the true moral stick.
In 1991 Harvey Cox, demonstrated that the ideology of the extreme free market (represented by Milton Friedman) was a religion modeled on Thomas Aquinas’ Summae.: For this former Harvard professor of theology, there was a sense of déjà vu when he came to read the business newspapers. All the themes of the financial pages, he found, were direct parallels of theological texts. They were constructed around giving a sense to human history and ideas such as the “fall” and “redemption” of man. Put “God” in the place of “the Market” and all becomes clear (3)
The market is omnipotent. Cox defines this term as “the ability to define reality”, “the power to create something from nothing and nothing from something”. The reality created by the market leaves no other space available since everything can be reduced to figures and traded on the stock exchange, whether it be sacred sites, human body parts, traditional methods of nutrition or Tibetan prayers. Its omnipotence is such that proofs to the contrary (for example, monetary losses in billions of dollars) are interpreted as simply doctrinal corrections and a supplementary proof of its existence.
The market is omniscient. Like God, it knows man and his most secret needs (the proof of which is the sale of a product or service that corresponds to these). Only the market can determine the value of goods and services through the indicative processes of the international stock exchanges. Financial experts have become high priests and prophets whose advice must be heeded on pain of excommunication and damnation. Every political initiative must pass by its judgement.
The market is omnipresent. It has invaded all fields, including private life (family, couple relationships, friendships etc.) which hitherto had escaped its ambit.
Cox fails to add that the market is also a promise of future paradise which attributes this time to the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith (wrongly understood) the powers of divine reward. When individuals are finally left free to choose, they will meet their interests on a free market and eventually will find a state of dynamic equilibrium which is for the greater benefit of each and every one, since prosperity, unencumbered by governments and bureaucracy, will be able to spread its benefits to a greater and greater number of individuals.
Mystery sustains power, has already told us with his formidable humor, Umberto Eco. And there is probably no more mysterious power than the power of computer science, which, through a mathematical language, transforms all exchange operations into incomprehensible equations for the ordinary mortal. The less he understands, the more he believes in the truth that is presented to him. That said, those who understand mega data, those who gather them, those who designed robots share, quite often, the faith.
We must end with the element that gives its spice to the ideological kitchen: a good spoonful of magic. There is no religion or power without prayers and miracles for the use of the people. It is not only about convincing him that he does not need the state or the social group to prosper, but to stir miracles that make him dream.
The New Age and its miracle workers fulfill this essential role. It is all the more important as it is centered on a center-of-the-universe individual who is made to believe that it has a direct link with the force, the universe or the stars, where he-she must work. The empowered individual is made to forget that he-she exists within a structure, a political society, a culture and a nature. A thorough research on the way these new ages groups are financed will reveal sources caught in the tentacles of the octopus of rage.
It fits the market ideology which divides the world between winners and losers, a term so full of contempt and dislike that Trump loves to throw in all directions like bullets. He is echoing (with a more limited vocabulary) Ayn Rand whose vociferations gave an impetus to the movement. Getting rid of parasites is a moral social duty since it frees the daring dashing entrepreneurs, and therefore the beneficial trickling down effects of wealth, that is the Common Good.
The history of ideologies being made, according to Isaiah Berlin, of “this meeting between particular destinies and universal concerns,” Ayn Rand arrived at the right time in the seventies to give an allegedly moral permission to those entrepreneurs of globalization, whose eyes were fogging up with dreams of appropriation and exploitation free of regulations, laws and duties to the welfare of the beggars.
Her spirit gave stamina to the lobbyists of the Chamber of Commerce who called for the repeal of the law that would allow firefighters who were on site on September 11 to obtain long-term health care, care they have desperately needed after being exposed to toxic fumes in the first few days after the disaster. She whispered in the ear of Michael Douglas the text “greed is good” which he recited with such talent in the movie Wall Street. She helped the Wall Street financial agents display the mock banner “We are the 1%” in response to street protests in October 2011, and it will be remembered that when that year the crowd yelled “Yes” to the question “Should we let someone die who has not taken private health insurance?
Let’s remember what the most passionate Rand’s disciple, Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Central Bank of the United States, once said: “Justice is unrelenting. Creative [entrepreneurs] whose inflexible purpose is rationality attain the highest degrees of joy and fulfillment. Parasites that persistently avoid this destiny perish … as it should be.
Rand’s never ending novels feature creators-entrepreneurs who deserve to be billionaires and should not be burdened by taxes which only serve to sustain parasites. Ayn Rand is at the head of a singular revolt: that of Atlas, the giant who refuses to carry the world on his back, the revolt of the rich against the beggars, all those that the state makes live or protects, and this include all public servants who serve the institutions made to protect losers and beggars. Hence the title of Rand’s novel whose success is growing, thirty years after her death: Atlas Shrugged (The Revolt of Atlas).
Losers, parasites, vermin, sub-humanity, etc … borrowed from Rand’s prose, made their way in conservative talk shows. In 2010, “53 million listeners and 91% of radio talk shows were hate-mongers. 2,570 hours of conservative speeches are programmed each day of the week to compare with the 254 hours of so-called progressive programs “…. Diatribes are aimed at feminists, gays, Muslims, blacks and environmentalists. One of the most virulent stars of these shows added to his list the mentally ills. We will only give this example, not political, but symptomatic of a climate that is only worsening: “Now that the disease of the day is autism, screams the Joker in his microphone.
Do you know what autism is? Well, I’ll tell you. In 99% of cases, it is a child too spoiled that is not put in its place. That’s autism. What do they tell me that these kids cry or remain silent? Do not they have a father to tell them, “Stop your circus. It will not lead you to anything in life. Stop doing your thing. Stand straight. Become a man. And stop staying on your behind screaming and yelling, you idiot.
Let’s now remember Gekko and his speech on Common Greed replacing Common Good. In the original Wall Street, Michael Douglas’s character, Gordon Gekko, is a corporate raider — essentially, he buys up underperforming companies, breaks them up and sells their parts at a healthy profit. What drives him? Greed, pure and simple. In one scene, Gekko appears at the annual shareholders’ meeting being held by Teldar Paper. Gekko owns shares, but wants more. He wants control of the company, though his motives for doing so are hidden. It is there that he delivers the speech that includes the movie’s most famous line. “Greed,” he tells the shareholders of Teldar, “is good.”
Here’s Gordon Gekko’s famous “Greed is good” speech.
Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can’t figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
The film wanted to be a Wall Street critic of its boys, drunk with power, but Gekko’s message inspired more than it deterred. It was an economic holy war for young warrior.
A visit to Sun Tzu’s killer instinct and business warfare web sites will help us understand why Trump was so much admired and won the support of a whole group of entrepreneurs and citizens when he ran for the post of President of the United States. His electoral platform was simple: ruthlessly rid the country of parasites and incompetents that paralyze him and let American entrepreneurs like him dare to take risks.
The courage of taking risk is the great qualities whose merits are praised in all economy magazines and books and which will be directly rewarded by bonuses and salaries that will reach heavenly heights. We leave here the warlike metaphors for those of Olympus.
In fact, in 1998, Peter Bernstein published a book called Stronger Than the Gods. The remarkable history of risk (4).
This story relates the intellectual odyssey that frees humanity from oracles and soothsayers through risk management methods. Greek philosophers, Arab mathematicians, merchants and scientists, famous intellectuals all helped to develop the modern methods by which the feeling of powerlessness in the face of fate has given way to enlightened choice.
The book is interesting and piquant written for financial investors by a financial investor. After the first chapters, it’s all about finance. His success was unprecedented in the stock market circle where the title made vibrate more than one – “stronger than the gods” – a phrase which added to the hubris of the entrepreneurs already glorified by Rand. Risk management in the financial world removes all contact with reality. One could make fortunes from nothing in a few minutes, on a word, a symbol, and especially by taking extreme risks. A Wall Street elder, Saryajit Das, has tried to describe the ….risks of this culture in a book with the evocative title, Extreme Money. The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk, but not to avail.
Even after the 2008 economic crisis, laments Paul Krugman, most of those in power still associate the word finance with that of progress. The risks are still paying too much for not taking them all, especially as those who take them are not the ones who pay the consequences.
The devastating crusade keeps on and it will until it its collapses on its own hatred, leaving a much destroyed landscape.
(1) Nicole Morgan. Haine Froide. À quoi penses la droite américaine ? Paris. Le Seuil 2012.
(3) « The market as God. Living the New Dispensation », The Atlantic, Mars 1999
(4) Peter L. Bernstein, Stronger than the gods. The remarkable history of risk, Paris, Flammarion, 1998.