Kill Your Idols IV: Let Daddy Hurt You, Research Time, 10/08/2017

That’s probably my ickiest title in the history of the entire blog. We live in icky times.

But the past few posts about the ideas I had reading Perry Anderson’s book on Gramsci, comparing it to my own notes on the Italian have returned to the central critical question of Utopias. Why do we fight for our slavery as if it were our freedom?

One critical question we in democratic countries should always ask is this: Are we democratic enough? Or can we build a more free and prosperous society?

You know you live in a pretty damn democratic society when your
public broadcaster devotes money and a really solid time slot (at least
in its first season) to a show as weird and deranged as Kenny Vs
Spenny. Plenty of powerful countries devote their public
broadcasters to ridiculous propaganda.
Once we start taking that question seriously, we can ask another one, a matter of strategy and planning for our real-world activism for more democracy: What makes people love our country when we could be so much better? What’s the ground of a population’s loyalty to a country?

Antonio Gramsci found himself asking that when he was imprisoned by a government far more brutal than any government we have in Canada,* which inspired incredibly loyalty among Italy’s population.

* Well, non-Indigenous territory in Canada. Our federal government isn’t very kind when it comes to governing them. Our leaders have mostly blamed poor Indigenous people for the pathetic state of basic infrastructure that our government built.

We were taught all our lives since elementary school that Mussolini was a monster. But for most of the two decades he ruled Italy, Mussolini’s popularity as a political leader could go as high as Justin Trudeau’s and as low as Donald Trump’s. But that’s still the support of millions of Italian citizens.

Gramsci’s analysis is rooted in the powers of the state. It’s how, in part, he develops his concept of hegemony. He accepts the idea that one of the central powers of the state is violence. We all learn in basic political theory that the state is the only agent of legitimate violence in a society.**

One day, maybe we'll remember Donald Trump the way Italians
remember Mussolini. With ironic kitsch paraphernalia and
deranged media mogul politicians admiring his virility. Oh God.
** Too bad we’re never asked in those basic political theory to discuss why even state violence is legitimate in the first place. Seems an even more basic question to me.

But it’s all too easy to think of violence as the only function of the state that matters. Think back to the Russian state’s vulnerability in 1917. Hell, how about the Syrian, Libyan, Egyptian, and Tunisian state’s vulnerability five years ago!

When the only way a state can actually encourage the population’s loyalty is violence, it’s already lost. Or at least, there’s not much beyond revolution, or civil war, or both as the only ways forward. Violence and the threat of violence is a very ineffective weapon precisely because it’s so destructive.

Most of the work of loyalty building for the state doesn’t come through its violent institutions. The most efficient institutions of loyalty are the soft power institutions. Schools, naturally, are the most powerful – we learn the national anthem, basic stories about Canadian history and culture, Canadian values.*** We learn it all as children, impressionable creatures whose basic habits and personalities can still be moulded.

*** Maybe they’re left-wing Canadian values of universal brotherhood in infinite combinations. Maybe they’re right-wing Canadian values of more conventional patriotism. Still Canadian.

It has never gotten less subtle.
Plenty of other state institutions help take care of this value-building process too. Public broadcasters for news and entertainment, film development boards, and museums. Working together, schools and cultural institutions are powerful tools to weave patriotic loyalty into a population.

Deeply democratic cultures and governments let their state-run cultural and education institutions bring up problems the country faces – for instance, poverty or a past of crimes against humanity. But these institutions can also be used for pure indoctrination. Of course, they’ll work best if they’re subtle about it.

Still, indoctrination from such powerful institutions can sometimes be so heavy-handed it’s a form of violence itself.

When all these institutions of soft power and values training have done their work, you have a significant chunk of the population whose political reflexes are their belief in the unconditional good of the country.

Now what do you do with those people?

No comments:

Post a Comment