Freud’s narcissism of small differences

20 Sep

In her blog post today, Caitlin Johnstone implicitly draws on the great man’s insight with these words:

You don’t own your comrades. A lot of people will get angrier about a political ally disagreeing with them on one percent of total issues than a political enemy disagreeing with them on 99 percent.

I’ve written before on how my blogging loses me friends. In the main I mean pals who, though of sound mind and good heart – I’m at that stage in life where I can’t be arsed with any other kind – have yet to pierce the wall of manufactured illusion blocking them from seeing the truth of the following assessment of the state we’re in:

  • Our world is capitalist in its advanced stage of imperialism – the export of monopoly capital from global north to south, and the south to north repatriation of profits.
  • The prime beneficiaries of this world order are rentier elites in the most successful imperialisms: i.e. most of the former colonial powers (including the USA) but also the Antipodes, Canada, Scandinavia and an EU led by Germany.
  • In its initial progressive phase capitalism freed humanity, albeit at terrible cost, from feudal ties and slavery while hugely advancing human productivity. Now its structures (means of wealth creation in ever fewer hands) and laws of motion (prioritising above all else of private profits and insatiable accumulation) demand unsustainable levels of narrowly defined and grossly distorted ‘growth’, condemning the world to:
    • environmental degradation;
    • ceaseless wars, normalised and monetised, and sold to us in tissues of lies;
    • levels of global and national inequality as dysfunctional as they are obscene, and a mortal threat to meaningful democracy.

But here I speak of of those who broadly share this assessment yet throw a hissy-fit if I fail to write what they want to read on something they view as an acid test of a blogger’s worthiness to be heard on pretty much any matter. Never mind that they may write nothing themselves on the topic in question. Because I don’t promote their arguments – or do so but with insufficient frequency and fervour for their liking – nothing I say on other matters merits a hearing.

At first blush the causes of such irrationality are reductivism and sectarianism. Reductive in that even if they are right and I wrong on their acid test (with Covid a current front runner) it does not logically follow that I am on that basis untrustworthy on all other matters.

Sectarian because such exclusions – couched often in biblically manichean language – betray a greater interest in Damning The Other than working for change. As when I’m indicted for citing a verboten source, not because of any specified flaw in the text cited, but because the author is Not One Of Us.

But that’s at first blush. Dig a little and we see that beneath those surface forms of reductivism and sectarianism lurks a deeper malaise: the intolerance of the insecure, or as Dr Freud put it, the narcissism of small differences.


Moving on, in the same blog post Caitlin offers this:

If you’re more concerned about China’s domestic affairs than your own country’s aggressive foreign policy toward China it’s because you’ve been propagandized. Change your media consumption habits accordingly.

Not even the craziest imperialists want a hot war with China. They’d much rather China to bow and be absorbed into the US-centralized empire as so many other nations before, or to collapse and fragment after a decades-long subversion campaign à la the USSR. In that order.

The empire will happily make life miserable for Chinese people in coming decades to pressure Beijing into accepting that it’s in the people’s interests that the PRC kiss the ring. The problem of course is that China will be resisting these maneuvers in ways that can easily blow up in catastrophic ways. It’s entirely possible for any of the planned escalations and proxy conflicts geared toward undermining nuclear-armed China to provoke a response which causes a chain reaction from which there is no return.

Quite. But still I welcome China’s rise. I see it as humanity’s best only realistic hope.

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