Fractal Politics 2.1

Photograph Source: Fractal made by the Tierazon program using a quartic formula – CC BY 2.0

While the sphere of finance is ruled by algorithms that connect fractals of precarious labor, the sphere of life is invaded by flows of chaos that paralyze the social body and stifle breathing into suffocation.”

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Breathing, 2018

Two paragraphs convey the assumptions of Fractal Politics 1.1:

The coastline of the American mass psyche is fractal, which means it’s not continuous or connected but full of gaps, fissures, unbridgeable enclaves. Bridges are not only too far but non-existent. Porosity not grounding firmament is here. Commensurate with Goethe’s own assumption that what is inside is also outside, what is manifest is thus also a fractal order of things, cultural, in Raymond Williams’ whole way of life definition of culture.

One of the causes of these fractal states is the absence of a commonly accepted rule of understanding and judgment running throughout. Another has to do with the usurpation and replacement of the real by simulacra creating a hyperreality which no form of reasoning, empirical or rational or even consensual, can have a hold as there is nothing to hold on to.

The fractal state then can be understood as a pharmakon, a means of producing something, in the political sense, simultaneously resistance and remedy, but whose nature, fractal, is antithetical to any coherent, unified order. Thus, as Derrida pointed out, the pharmakon is both the poison and the remedy. This is a complexity that enables realities to be represented outside and beyond the web of the hyperreal, disconnected and isolated as they are from any totalitarian or hyperreal presumption of order. The fractal nature of psyche, culture and politics in particular partake of the pharmakon, for our resistance to all unity, coherence and continuity, our antidote to any form of totalitarianism, abide in our DE centeredness, our framing of reality within mutually inconceivable domains, our isolated coherences fashioning an overall incoherence.

In our fractal state we cannot achieve a universally accepted rule of judgment that would lead to common understanding. Our poison is in centers being everywhere; our remedy to the centering of anyone, including our hyper-capitalism, is in centers of a fractal order being everywhere.

The only order of things in a fractal reality is within siloed realities, discontinuous, coherent only with their own locale, and unified by means of exclusion, and thus a disorder of things. In regard to order, this is the poison but in regard to resistance to “the flow of life” irreducible to the oppression of “One law for the lion and the ox” this is remedy, especially when that flow is supplanted by a hyperreal that neither reflects nor references it.

Donald J. Trump emerged from one silo within the fractal of the hyperreal, creating thereby an order of simulacra modeled on a new real — himself. This claim to impose a totalizing order of his own maimed ego as a new model of reality lies, however, within our fractal disorder of resistance and remedy where the simulations of hyperreality face revolts of the real, such revolts only made possible by our fractal disorder. In terms of this notion of the bi-polar nature of the pharmakon, Trump is not both poison and remedy but only poison, the remedy lying within a fractal disorder outside the pathology of his own reality displacements.

This is not the case with issues such as diversity which allied with multiculturalism display the full range of paradox and fractal disorder. E pluribus Unum, out of many one, told within the present surround is at the same time an envisioned unity which is itself an illness to be remedied, an inherited societal malady to be dissolved or cured by a non-dissolvable diversity. This is an indeterminate, undecidable condition within our fractal politics, the disease and the remedy caught in a tug of war at the heart of our Red/Blue divide.

Diversity is an anathema to right wing fascists but as far as market rule is concerned it’s almost but not quite a wash. Like racism, it’s a useful tool to muster angered, aggrieved whites as well as evangelical hard-shell fundamentalists and Roman Catholics set against religious and moral diversity they cannot Biblically or ecclesiastically condone, or, simply set against a threatening diversity in the customs of everyday life. However, an expansion of economic enfranchisement to every variety of consumer is like a proliferation of product choices. Diversity opens new marketing frontiers. There’s profit to be made with an expanded buying power of Blacks and LatinX who can settle as easily as whites into consumption if given the means.

Threat and relief like poison and remedy lie side by side. Market rule’s one law of profit lies side by side with the resistant fractal of diversity. The poison and threat lie in a legislating economic enfranchisement to such diversity which will seriously alter the order of usurpation of fractal diversity which is market rule. Diversity is a marketing frontier that bears within it the seeds of mutual aid, sharing and egalitarianism, and thus is a frontier that disrupts the united mission of profit trying to make headway within the fractal disorder of “the flow of life.”

Because such disorder upsets a privileged economic zero sum economic game as well as a privileged white Devout, diversity remains market rule’s both offensive and defensive weaponry, a weaponry which is itself both illness and remedy as it attacks the growth upon which profit feeds, poisons the waters of proliferating choices and the mad march of quick obsolescence and diverse, innovative start-ups. A market order weaponizes racism and diversity in order to ward off threats to an order of endless growth by asserting an order of exclusion and denial, of, in short, an order that ends growth.

Even regarding the existential threat of global warming, the politics of our responses, or non-responses, cannot rise to unity and coherence because they are fissured by the priorities of market rule. That order of things, that “sphere of finance ruled by algorithms,” however, is itself fissured by the growing disorder caused by global warming. And so, the order of capital market efficiency becomes, in the face of global warming, a toxic remedy, or, death masking as life.

The too slowly emerging awareness of the perhaps fatal consequences to our Anthropocene caused by global warming only appears on the aprés moi le deluge column of investors. Even a coastline as fractal as ours cannot escape the sure and steady determinate direction toward peril our own warming up of the planet is creating. We cannot be siloed either in our mass psyche or in our cultural order in ways that save us, whether or not we map this planet, ourselves and our culture as unmeasurable or measurable in any continuous way. The planet is of fractal organization, spontaneously re-organizing itself by the noise of disruption but it seems quite possible now that such re-organization may lead to our absence.

On the level of realpolitik, we see that much wealth presently in the hands of dividend recipient and investor class would disappear if we left all fossil fuel in the ground or at the bottom of the seas. Thus, our own chosen economic system has launched an offensive against the measures modestly laid out in The Green New Deal. And here, the calculation is that it’s better to have a very damaged bit of inhumanity, Trump, as president than any Democrat leaning into the Green New Deal.

Whether Biden does this and to what extent, we are destined to see. So much now promises a repeat of a House/Senate impasse and a stalemated Biden presidency, preceded perhaps by 72-78 days of a losing Trump’s declaration of martial law as his presidential powers do not elapse until January 20, 2021 and the fury of his pathological amour de soi builds.

The presidency of Donald J. Trump is poisonously self-organized, extending throughout the coastline of a fractal American psyche and fractal order that has not yet found a remedy as resistance from the Congress, the Intelligence community, the Fourth Estate and the Constitution itself flail helplessly. Perhaps this is so because a hyperreal encompasses all — Trump, psyche, and culture. However, hyperreality is itself fissured by a carnivalesque polyphony of voices, a fractal empire of voices, each representing a very personalized relationship with reality, from the lunatic narratives of QAnon to the lunatic tweets of the President of the United States. While market rule flourishes in the hyperreal it can only do so within fractals of both real and hyperreal, thus unable to avoid the dissident disorder such a condition creates. Out of that dissident disorder emerges a fractal politics grounded in a fractal reality.

Trump has not trespassed against the essentials of market rule in any way equal to what the Democratic Left would. The transgressions of tweets, vanity, meanness and flamboyant hair color and $70,000 styling are unremarkable in market rule calculation. As repulsive as he is to so many, Trump draws a 40% of the population to him, about half of whom do so against their own self-interests. Our hyper-capitalism cannot reject this accomplishment because he scores low on the Gini coefficient. What he does to defend and preserve the only order of things holding tight at the center of a surrounding cultural fragmentation is all that matters.

The American mass psyche is not immune to the ravages of a fractal disorder which ranges from ontological to everyday life levels, from the frisson caused by allegations of “post-truth” and “alternative facts” to the extinction of white, heterosexual, male, carnivorous, auto, gun, Protestant, middle class hegemony. Whether or not the human order of things has always been fractal, what matters is that such a disordering of prior foundations has been destabilizing and angst productive. Trump anchored himself in this. His own obvious instability makes him a magister ludi of disorder and thus a magister ludi of a return to an order of the hyperreal in which he is the Prime Simulacrum. He has control of what we fear and thus rises to the level of deliverer. Only this can explain the almost numinous hold he had on his MAGAs, Proud Boys and QAnons. But the impact of fractal disorder, its growing presence, as well as the replacement of the real by the hyperreal registered long before Trump came on the scene.

Because our cultural disorder is in a moving fluid state of the hyperreal, no presentation, such as Trump or right-wing fascism or Bernie style Democratic Socialism, is rooted. Everything is second by second in motion with everything else with no Archimedean external point of determinate determination. Everything is in an over-determined state where both causes and solutions proliferate, clash and reach no state of coherent understanding. Nothing can take hold when the means of establishing the authority and legitimacy of anything is eroded. This includes attempts on the Left to make some form of ill-defined socialism a permeating cultural influence within an American imaginary filled with advancing “socialist nightmares” as well as attempts on the Right to protect and defend the influence of a market rule never mentioned in any American classroom.

The impact of such contesting narratives on the American mass psyche has a pathological coherence, namely, everyone is suffering from the effects of such destabilization.

Market rule is another matter, another fractal on our coastline. As nothing holds tight within our fractal order nor can any center not be decentered, market rule is itself unstable, not in the same fashion that Gramsci theorized capital’s daily task of manufacturing bourgeois consent but because a surrounding fractal disorder is busy manufacturing or fracturing within other realms of consent, or, relative to a market order, dissent.

The bottom line of profit being the only good is a threatened center within a fractal disorder. All manner of expositions of personal realities and truths remain unreachable by other discourse, practices and institutions outside their own. Cultural hegemony in any totalitarian sense is impossible, though every siloed reality frame seeks to establish its own hegemony.

The clearest view of this is in cyberspace where opinions with only collapsed bridges between them seek to crush each other without hope of any domination. This is also a good example of the pharmakon nature of fractal disorder itself: it both aids the illiberal order by preempting any rational solidarity while also threatening it by decentering its rule everywhere and anywhere.

Revolts then, from the Right and the Left, fracture and defend, disrupting the residency of any order as well as defending incommensurable ways of knowing and being from The One Law of that order. Because the Right, however, has given itself totally to “the rule of plunder,” it stands now on the side of the totalitarian arm of that rule, its loyal operative Constitutionally elected.

An outrageous wealth divide exceeding Ancien Regime proportions as well as the too obvious machinery that kept it in its place seem clear markers of hyper-capitalism’s very poor job of achieving hegemony. The winds of revolt coming from every fractal location could be felt by the `90s. Trump, however, detoured and defused those hotspots in ways that fit our hyperreal America. You don’t economically disenfranchise 80% of the population, put an amount of wealth in the hands of three families equal to the combined wealth of the bottom half of the country and not expect revolts.

This revolt has been postponed and turned upside down, however, and has a good chance of appearing, as we see now from the aggrieved white supremacists, as one responding to the illusions of the hyperreal and not from real conditions on the ground. So many fractal locations of reality, from economic equity and workers’ power, had already taken off to the hyperreal so that where and how revolt would break out became a battle of representation, or, in American culture, a Reality TV competitive arena of spin, spectacle and illusion, charisma vs. discourse, tweets vs. “long form” essays.

In the hyperreal, fantasies of self grandeur and dark yearnings of revenge and domination overwhelm the hard realities of economic diminishment and increased anxieties and insecurities in post-Reagan America. Economic security and mobility eroded as supply side economics benefiting only financial rule shaped a mass psyche susceptible to the hyperreal. A growing number of Americans needed to inhabit a hyperreal that gave them release, ego sustaining gratification, and heroic, patriotic status.

Deconstructive attacks on the illusions of personal freedom and autonomy, on the American Dream to one day have it all, and on the relentless need to compete, win and dominate stand as threats to the order of the hyperreal. What is packaged there as valuable, true, worthy and quintessentially American and not delusional has not, given our fractal state, replaced the real in a vertical inversion but displaced it on a horizontal side by side relationship. The fractal coastline of psyche and culture disconnect the services of the manor house as well as the servants’ quarters.

A remarkable glimpse of this esteeming of the hyperreal as equal to the real occurred when Kellyanne Conway, a Trump senior advisor, blithely mentioned “alternative facts” that could easily lie alongside “your” facts. What hyperreality produced was as good and reliable as what reasoned observation of real conditions produced. The chaos of our pandemic response has its roots here.

Real conditions of oligarchy, planetary devastation and a bifurcation of the American mass psyche into dysphoria for the many and an oblivious inhumanity of “Winners” have been for a long time successfully counterbalanced by the illusions of the hyperreal. The productions of the hyperreal, such as the limited attention span, the lack of any historical erudition upon which to measure the present, the collapse of the political into personal opinion, the turn of education toward algorithmic fulfillment of corporate needs, and all the illusions of self-empowerment were active before Trump, though Trump himself is the epitome of all this.

A progressive/quasi socialist order that defines the foundational cause of cultural collapse as the supremacy and privileging of financial plundering, is a threat to that plundering. So as far as market rule is concerned the Democratic Party Left’s influence on Biden is troubling. Biden then under that socialist influence would not be addressing symptoms but rather those underlying conditions that make both financial plundering and Trump seem not hyperreal but real. But Biden’s talk thus far has been about returning to past foundations that created a less turbulent status quo. This return is both impossible and illusionary as is Biden’s own beliefs in illusionary foundations of a Golden Age bi-partisan America, illusions that Obama held regarding a post-partisan America, until Mitch “The Grim Reaper” McConnell schooled him.

Voices from the fractal coastline of the American cultural imaginary are now active forces undermining all attempts to perpetuate the past foundations of injustice done to Blacks, Latinx and the LGBTQ1A+. Less deeply imagined are the injustices of oligarchy and the fatally destructive ravaging of the planet where the poor are imagined more negatively than the rich and the destruction of our own Anthropocene age is a “future perhaps” without the immediacy of stock portfolio concerns for some and evictions from their homes for others.

The havoc of fractal disorder on all levels is as permeable to the narratives of the Left as to the Right. There is no monologic imaginary, no imagined community within which all Americans draw the sustenance of societal ways of knowing. We do, however, live in the aftermath of an “Efficient Market Hypothesis” that has superimposed itself on the fractal state of American culture, on government itself through the efficient agency of the Republican Party, directly operating through an undemocratically conceived Senate, a legislative body in which New York, population 8 million, and North Dakota, three quarters of a million, each have two senators.

What is singularly different since Trump became president is the presence of a reality frame which presumes to incorporate within itself fractal disorder and at the same time order it all within the regime of his own ego, a “Great I-Am” pathology. This is a manifestation of the hyperreal that has thus far overpowered the displacement of real and hyperreal, eliding the real to a blinding, dizzying degree that, like the Covid-19, we wonder if we can ever bring it to an end.

It is in the nature of the spin and spectacle of the hyperreal to hold fast to nothing; there is no profit today in yesterday’s profit, but it is also in its nature to displace the real and set the hyperreal as seductive and repressive of all disruptions. It is also in the nature of a fractal order to allow nothing to hold fast, no center to hold, which in terms of the threats of totalitarian takeover or fascist removal of all sites of disruption, such disorder is defensive. When you consider that the colonies themselves found a site to disrupt and eventually overthrow the order of the British Crown, it is not surprising to see a defending disorder latent both in the American mass psyche and in American culture.

Within our fractal landscape, inside and outside, we are always awaiting some new rough beast slouching toward us, to paraphrase ignobly, Yeats, because the mapping of that landscape is as impossible to measure as the coastline of England, Mandelbrot’s telling example of fractal reality. It is also impossible because the fractal territories of the real are now displaced by territories of the hyperreal, rough beasts emerging from both.

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 Dark Affinities, Dark Imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey .