Making Sense Beyond Opinion

Let’s consider two quotes:

“To interpret is to determine the force which gives sense to a thing.”

Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy

“To opinionate is to refer to the register, shallow or deep, of your personal thoughts and feelings regarding any subject.”

Warren de Bloviate, Bloviate and Everything

If you are in the first camp, you attempt to recognize, i.e., determine, the conditions that surround/envelop a subject, comprehending those conditions as “force” which shapes “the sense of a thing.” Your own opinions, then, are always already conditioned by such force and are therefore first to be determined.

If you are in the second camp, defined by a fictitious author, you may or may not recognize surrounding conditions but their existence remains within the control of your own freedom to choose. And so a force outside yourself and already shaping your choice is no more than a fly in the winds of your own personal choosing. When someone who is in this camp is also the leader, say, the president, then you can expect the surrounding conditions for all of us will go terribly wrong.

Those in the second camp rule the day, for a whole host of reasons deep within the American cultural imaginary but most likely rooted in a Frontier spirit of individualism. Before that, we can see an American revolutionary anxiety to dispel and deny European determinations of society. European culture loomed as a whale of a force threatening to swallow the birthing mewling of American independence. To resist such dominating force a defiant American individualism developed, society and culture, which were owned by the Europeans, subservient to personal will.

A growth in illusions of personal autonomy and freedom of choice were then nurtured by a competitive sort of economics that spurned societal and collective goals, strongly opposing any notion of mutual aid as congruent with self-empowerment. The ruthlessness of this war of all against all found a place to espouse, disingenuously, a democratic egalitarianism not resting on a fierce winner take all competitiveness

Contradiction appeared immediately and has remained. Mutual aid and interdependence seemed appropriate if we wished to “promote the general Welfare.” However, it has proven to be no difficult matter to represent the competitive arena as the surest way to “promote the general Welfare,” a faith that is maintained even when what has been promoted is the welfare of a few. “America’s top 1 percent, for instance, holds nearly half the national wealth invested in stocks and mutual funds. Most of the wealth of Americans in the bottom 90 percent comes from their principal residences, the asset category that took the biggest hit during the Great Recession. These Americans also hold almost three-quarters of America’s debt.” (Institute for Policy Studies).

Economic belief and a cultural psychology combine to define both truth seeking and winning as personal discovery and achievement, both arising not out of societal consensus and compromise but out of individual domination in a competitive arena.  Even science, then, is after all, only someone else’s truth, a truth competing with your own. Societal achievement, most recently the Affordable Care Act and, on an international scale, the Paris climate accord, mean little compared with personal achievement. They seem to impede what we personally want to do.

This economic and psychological disposition of the personally empowered presents the face of the force, namely, a free market competitiveness, which now “gives sense to a thing.”

This force, which mocks personal choice and confounds the idea of personal autonomy, remains yet in the view of those “free to choose” as subject to their will.  This remains a notable mystery of our time and place, a dark, underlying confusion that inhabits a hyperreality we now live within.

Force, as it manifests itself in the U.S. most dramatically, is expressed through wealth and the ensuing power that it creates, through either lobbying, media control, campaign financing of loyal candidates or inherited positions of influence. Wealth establishes affinities regardless of political party, all parties in the U.S. serving the needs of market forces. While Republicans and Libertarians serve the wealth class directly, Liberals do so by mouthing values other than profit. In this way, they give Americans a sense that they are compassionate and charitable and not selfishly rapacious. This alibi falls in line with egalitarian goals and the promotion of “the general Welfare.”

Liberals also provide Republicans a toothless opposition, keeping at a distance a real scourging of a reckless form of capitalism that serves a few and immiserates many. As long as we believe some of our politics are promoting a kind of bandaging, a field triage, we can live in the illusions that we care about something other than profit to shareholders. There is less and less need for this front as we all move closer to the notion that the greater the wealth divide, the greater the incentive for the Losers to “start a business.”

It was this arrangement of determining forces that has led to the Trump presidency, not simply because he is a mogul of TV celebrity who is glorified in the hyperreal  but because those whom Neoliberals call Losers, the powerless, in this arrangement, many Trump supporters, are shaped by this cluster of affinities and affiliations of power not to sense their own manipulation.

Within this manipulating arrangement, we give sense to not only the actions and words of others but to our own. Working our way free amounts to determining what force is operative. This is a kind of disclosure that goes way beyond what the Fourth Estate sees as its mission. But the occasions for interpretation in a Deleuzian sense, search for the force that gives sense to what we believe our own determinations, abound.

Example: Trump makes no sense to some and all the sense that matters to others.

Right now, we say the divide polls at something like 38-42% Trumpian and 52-55% anti-Trumpian but as some 45% of adult Americans did not vote in the election, it is probable that they also did not respond to polls. The Trump supporters are The Forgotten, which seems to be an accurate description of what sense, literally cents, that has been assigned them.

But we also have The Lost, who are beyond the range of accounting and tabulation. What sense may be given to them requires first their representation. Inconceivability terminates any attempt at representation. And here both Liberals and Neoliberals cannot conceive what lies so far outside the schema of their own sense making. Some 20% of the population is daily moving further away from any contact with both the Forgotten and the Lost. Gentrification, for example, is illustrative, like covered wagons moving west represented a changing zeitgeist.

We hear more from a class that controls a discourse of representation than from either The Forgotten or The Lost.  Trump has indeed made The Forgotten conspicuous but not, however, in any way that is helpful to them. I say this because he is so dramatically and scene stealing false and fallible  that attention is not placed on them, in any but a vilifying way, but on him. So preposterous a president is he that those whose anger he has captured are tarred with the same brush as he is. There is no legitimate, respectable raison d’etre to Trump. There is, however, to those, not roused by a politics of hate, who follow him,

The legitimacy of their bitterness and anger, their feeling of being cheated is not the story we have been following. Trump is. He is both false prophet to the Lost and Forgotten and a convenient distraction from their plight. He is, in terms of our Deleuzian search for the force that gives sense to anything, a “ringer,” which as Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski tells the Dude, “can’t look empty.”

Trump may be empty in very many ways but not as a news story with legs. Within the first hundred days in office, what became clear was that Trump was not going to be a serious threat, as for example, Erodgan in Turkey who is expanding his dictatorial powers, but rather a poorly comprehending clown skilled at his own self-destruction.

If we observe an effect of our predominating market force, the wealth divide, we could say we have about 20% at the top doing nicely while the rest are fractured into groupings with marked sociological and psychological dimensions. What they have in common is that they are, economically speaking, scheduled for extinction.

Some in this fractured 80% grouping are feeling cheated and looking for revenge. Others are looking to recover lost glories. They are not embittered or vengeful, not looking for destruction, but reconstruction of a former middle class contentment they themselves may never have experienced. Still others exist in a hyperreality, in an aura of spin, which creates illusion and offers escape.

There are yet others who see a businessman who has mastered “the art of the deal” as the kind of back room conniver who can cut through the deceit of a status quo that has crippled them, the power of the Deep State. It is not this scapegoat, however, who is the power we interpret as “giving sense to a thing.” Market power seems forever successful in deflecting its own power to shape our understanding to a Federal government whose own power is either defensively and offensively weak or gridlocked.

A discounted 80% of the population who are yet fractured in their views as to what forces have led to their present state is itself a force whose effects on “things” must be determined. This force now stands independent of an economic system that brought their woes into being. And it is far less transparent or even calculable than market rule, where you need to only connect profit with policy or platform.

An embittered and angry posse each pursuing widely differing offenders and yet never the guilty party is quite literally a loose cannon, explosive in more ways than ISIS has developed. But their containment is now going on and probably will extend post-Trump. What is going on here is an important matter to determine.

Right now, all attention is placed on the explosive force of Trump’s presidency and the pressing need to either impeach him or commit him. But if you determine that he is a countervailing force to the Forgotten whose anger has been defused by his election, you recognize his stabilizing importance. Hillary’s election would have been an accelerant. The only people who do not recognize that are those perched too far from an ungentrified reality, which remains inconceivable to them, to estimate the danger.

Trump, however, is no safe barrier between the relentless surge of market forces and the Forgotten. He seems intent on further aggrandizing self and family, conning those who voted for him and replacing or removing whatever threats democratic institutions put in his way. He has also exposed the Republican Party to ridicule and failure, which is happening at the same rate that the presidency itself is falling apart. The presidency, however, will endure beyond Trump’s tenure while the Republican party has no such Constitutional resilience.

If and when millions are thrown off health care, the issue may not spark revolt because so many Americans have been anxious to destroy Obamacare, though many of them, oddly, are its beneficiaries. If Social Security is also put in the hands of profit makers, Americans have long been told not to expect it because it will be bankrupt shortly. Therefore, its demise as an entitlement has been foreordained and already accepted. Few Millennials feel that Social Security will be around for them. That skepticism is met by a supreme confidence in their own empowerment to secure impressive retirement savings on the stock market. Thus, skepticism and confidence are assigned contrary to what is the case. We are “giving sense to a thing” in a totally contrary manner.

What appears alongside the powerful sense making force of market values and the latent threat of The Forgotten and The Lost to upend that sense making is the viral dissemination of opinions that are destroying any form of sense making.

The legacy press is now vilified as a source of “fake” news, its authority thrown into a moshpit of twittering, a millennial wailing and gnashing of teeth. As with the office of the presidency, the Fourth Estate will endure beyond Trump’s tenure although the ceaseless vomiting of opinions such as 6,000 tweets per second, 163 page views per second on Reddit, 73k page views per second on Facebook amount to a tsunami of maddening proportions. Maddening because each post is impervious to other posts, each absolutely confident in the supremacy of his or her own opinion.

Here we have a direct threat to the capacity of humans to make sense of anything in a concordant manner. What has become our chosen form of communication has itself become the force that has led communication into a new tower of Babel and so eroded our power of determining anything. A force set against interpreting beyond opinion is itself a force set against a mutuality of understanding, a force fracturing the cohesions of society and its institutions.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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