Libido and the slacker politics of war and peace

Why can’t America stop bombing other countries? Seriously now.

Is it that we are a warmongering, aggressive nation? It’s certainly plausible. We’ve got more than our share of guns, racism, bullying, road rage. And it’s a basic tenet of psychoanalysis that aggressiveness is unleashed when the libido is repressed. Libido (love and other yummy stuff) and destrudo (anger, aggression, the will to punish) are the two poles of our primitive psyche. According to Freud (and Marcuse, my favorite interpreter) when libido goes unsatisfied, the will to destroy gets stronger. In hippie talk, only love — fiery, strong, sweet, passionate — can keep the wolves of our nature at bay. Well, all twerking aside, the American libido looks like shit these days. Maybe this is our problem.

Overwork, underpay, stress, boredom, the ever-ascendant bullshit of the bean counters at the top and the slave drivers at the bottom — no wonder we are subjected to a constant barrage of pharmaceutical ads hawking pills that will make it tolerable to get through the workday, and make it possible to get it up once it’s over. Take a pill to fall asleep. One to wake up. And don’t forget the one that keeps you from killing yourself at that stupid meeting. From the looks of things, Americans are in bad shape.

If you don’t believe me, check out this ad, seriously the most pathetic fucking thing I think I’ve ever seen. A market research department for a giant, highly-profitable corporation came to the conclusion that enough Americans could identify with this poor fucking sap that they ought to put this commercial on television. Here, my friends, is what is wrong with America in a convenient disposable cup:

Here’s the thing. This poor guy is not getting off on bombing anybody. The dark angels of his nature, the destructive passion within, is getting no more satisfaction from American imperialism than his fun time desires are from that stupid pudding.

The wasted energy that he calls his life has just been beaten down by the work and the traffic and the boss and the bullshit. It’s not even aggressiveness. It’s worse. He’s numb, deadened. That’s why this guy may even know quite well that we go to war not because it’s right or we’re angry but because folks who are rich and powerful benefit from it. But he feels totally powerless to do anything but make himself fat with the only happiness in his life, some fake chocolate and a mildly affectionate but totally boring relationship with his long-suffering kid.

Sure, we have armed tea partiers and radio call-in yellers and right wing angry-ass nutbags, and many of these guys do provide the regime major cover for their imperial adventures. But so do “liberals.” The politics of aggression don’t explain why most Americans oppose going to war in Syria — even under the sway of a mainstream media that frames the debate as either saving the Syrians or not saving the Syrians — but are resigned to the reality that it’s going to happen no matter what.

As David Graeber points out in a brilliant recent essay here, the neoliberal project over the last several decades has been, more than anything else, a war on the imagination. On the sense that things could be different, that another world is possible. That, for instance, all the incredible wealth on planet earth could nourish people and places rather than destroy them. That people could be free. That life could hold greater, far more intense pleasures in it than the consumer goods that are supposed to make up for all the concessions of everyday life.

And why? Why has quashing people’s dreams been even more strategically important to the Man than, for instance, even making money? Because our imagination is fueled by libidinal desire, a desire that roundly rejects the depressing numbness of the work-squandered life of pudding man. And all the contemporary insanities, like endless war and chronic disaster, that this kind of life makes people tolerate as inevitable. Elites around the world are still constantly guarding against another libidinal revolution, against the demands for a free and pleasurable everyday life not centered around the banality of the workplace but the joys of really living it up. From the police state hysteria around any whiff of collective protest to the massive private national security and intelligence-gathering apparatus, what looks like power might actually just be shrill, hysterical, and massively insecure.

What are they so terrified of, anyway? The most powerful force in the world, that’s what. Perhaps they know that we are done settling for pudding.

5 thoughts on “Libido and the slacker politics of war and peace

Add yours

  1. I’m sure many saw this piece in The NY Times:

    What was interesting was how many nasty angry comments there were. Many, it
    seems, do not like people living outside the box and pursuing visions of joy/discovery/freedom!


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