I remember the 1980s vividly, particularly the culture. During that time, swathes of the British population tried to present themselves as intensely self-interested. People went out of their way to convince you not only of how selfish they were, but of how selfish was the human being as such.
If you think about that you will see the ridiculous performative contradiction at the heart of any such enterprise: it is the very effort to expose to social view how normal selfishness is that destroys its very mundanity, its very normality. If it were simply a natural human constant, why would selfishness need to be performed and re-performed, and to have this re-iteration exposited and exhibited, almost as if didactically? Here one witnesses not self-interest as normality, as part of a securely ‘natural’ background condition, but as the foregrounded excess of a strenuous (even anxious) attempt to normalise it. Every attempt to show or reveal self-interest as timeless human nature begins with (and ends with) the excess of a performance staged within a historical culture.
This is why the cynical critique of ‘consumerist’ society, alleging individuals simply too self-interested to participate in collective projects, is very far from deserving the name of realism. Indeed this kind of cynicism, far from accurately tracking some kind of general truth, is an ideology springing ultimately from the philosophical anthropologies embedded in a historically specific series of liberal economic theories.
It’s interesting that the Labour Party line at present is essentially Thatcherite anti-democracy: even if the people want anti-austerity, it cannot be offered to them; there is no alternative. This effectively positions the Labour party (insofar as it is strangulated by New Labour elements and the catachrestically named ‘Progress’ think-tank) to the right of even the IMF.
What a complete disgrace: a party that argues away its own oppositional power with the claim that the policies of their supposed enemy, the economics of Cameron and Osborne, are insuperable. Such a stance would be unsupportable against popular dissent; if it could be demonstrated that the will of the people had no democratic representation, that there was a terrible ‘democratic deficit’ at work, then that would amount to an admission that parliamentary politics is deeply broken. That would be a problem for the Labour Party. It would, in effect, deligitimate parliamentary politics, and thus the LP itself.
Enter Cruddas’ dubious research company intending to show that people don’t want anti-austerity. Showing us that ‘black is white because it said so in the paper’ is not an absurdity but the way things work. Manufacturing consent. Flexing the muscles of ‘Rovean realism’, proving that consensus reality can be constituted only from above. Telling us what the symbolic Other believes is precisely the way to tell us that our principles and desire don’t matter; that we are only isolated individuals and can never amount to a consensus. ‘Public opinion’ as the construct of such research companies is a missile in the hands of political rhetoricians and orators, aimed at an audience keen to know what ‘everyone else’ thinks. This missile’s payload will be policies no-one in particular has mandated, but which a mass dissemination of everyone else’s opinion apparently has.
Let us recall that the big Other does not exist. There is no consensus, only dissensus. The Lie nonetheless functions, as it always does; the power of the Big Other resides precisely in its inexistence — its power or efficacy being both performative and relatively autonomous. A battle in that field — the murky field of the ‘effectively true’ — is always taking place, and we are at present losing quite utterly. The connection to a ‘real movement that abolishes’ stuff is lacking on the side of representation, just as whatever real movements exist lack representation. We have abandoned a Labour Party and an electoral politics that has abandoned us. Corbyn’s fight inside the LP mirrors our own political struggles and may even stir them somewhat, but it doesn’t quite touch them.