The Father In 2024

Hunter Biden, Youtube screengrab.

The chemicals are reducing testosterone levels. The world is plastic and we’re just living (dying) in it. The strong man contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden symbolizes the decline of the man.

Tony Soprano repeatedly laments that there is no more of the strong silent type in The Sopranos, the greatest television show of all time. For Mr. Soprano this crisis is related to the decline of the small business, the family, and the individual freedom.

Tony Soprano represents capitalism at its best, at its most contradictory. He comes from a mythical time in which man ran capital, and capital did not run man. For Soprano, the decline of man is of course linked to the browning, the queering, the feminizing of society. But his misreading only reaffirms his crisis and ours.

Society may have become soft, but it also has become more brutal. The weaponization of victimhood and the ignoring of real victims link together. For example, the cancellation of a new director of Genocide and Holocaust studies at the University of Minnesota, just one day after his hire. This was a Jewish man who labeled the Palestinian crisis a genocide. This is a sign of a society that is far too sensitive and far too brutal at the same time.

Microaggressions trump real aggressions. The political persecutions of Donald Trump and Hunter Biden heighten our alienation from politics and society in general. Few can state the obvious about these trials. Both are political and do nothing for the people. All it affirms is that you will be punished by the people who don’t like you. It won’t be fair.

For Hunter and Donald their criminality used to insulate them from the punishing nature of modern society. Now they are being taken down for cynical political purposes. Their criminality is not the crime. It is a sham. A reminder to ordinary people that the way to make a career is to take other people out.

But Biden and Trump emerge as the only real rallying figures for bourgeois society precisely because they are so far from being men. The more senile Joe Biden becomes, the more he seems strong to his supporters. The same is true for Donald Trump. Biden and Trump become things in and of themselves.

Their speech is associative. They do not really know what they are saying. But a feeling comes in one way, a word comes out the other. Deciphering a coherence isn’t the point. The father’s command is not direct. The father himself is lost.

We relate to the father on this level. He is not leading us. We are leading him. We want to lead Biden and Trump to coherence. We do not want to admit that the real forces that drive these men are so far out of our grasp, comprehension or control.

Biden and Trump know themselves. They know the good old days. Days we do not know. Somewhere in there the good old days rest. When they speak the good old days try to come out. The pieces of the puzzle don’t make sense.

We can go to war. But we can’t fight in them. I hear in passing a story of a young man who went to fight in Ukraine on his tour of Europe, a place even more emasculated than the United States. He remains in Ukrainian prison. What are we doing?

We want a war. We want something to fight for. But the frontlines are not heroic. The police and border control are growing and hiring. But this is not the work of heroes. Brutalizing the poor and desperate minority population does not make us men.

We blame these minorities, women, trans people, but it is hard to believe it. We have more of a sense that our food and water is poisoned. We don’t know where it comes from. The chemicals from too green grass in drought runs off and cuts off our balls.

Tony Soprano looks to his mother as the castrating figure. If only it was that easy. If only it was the family that alienated us, rather than society that alienated us from the family. Tony is not the man his father was. But no one is. No one has rules or standards anymore. Everyone has sold out.

So we can blame our MAGA neighbor, we can blame the immigrant, we can blame whoever we want. But eliminating the other solves none of our problems, it only lays them bare. So we continue with a militancy treadmill. We want to be radical without going anywhere. We want to maintain our opposition, our resistance, for as long as we can, before we realize the totality of our crisis.

Biden and Trump are the leaders for our time. It is easy to say one hates them both. Everyone hates them. Even the justice system. Sure they are pathetic. But they are the modern fathers.

There is not one father in modern society. He cannot be the breadwinner. He cannot take the heat. He is too traumatized and self-absorbed. We need at least two fathers.

Immanuel Kant writes in Critique of Judgement: “There is clearly a big difference between saying that certain things of nature, or even all of nature, could be produced only by a cause that follows intentions in determining itself to action, and saying that the peculiar character of my cognitive powers is such that the only way I can judge how those things are possible and produced is by conceiving, to account for this production, a cause that acts according to intentions, and hence a being that produces things in a way analogous to the causality of an understanding.”

We want to explain Trump and Biden. They cannot explain themselves. What is driving them is alienated from us, completely. The same can be said for ourselves, our fellow workers, our family. We cannot explain each other’s motivations, or our own.

At times it appears a straightforward motivation occurs. Is it ambition, purpose, compassion? But each step out of line is absorbed by the system where individuals do not exist. Each individual cannot be predicted. But a group of people on average? Always, or so it seems. Except never by the machines that claim they are able to do it.

Even the machines that watch us are alienated. They don’t know us, they don’t know themselves, they don’t know their creator.

The modern strong man is weak. He is on the run. He continues to accumulate as many skulls as he can in the hopes he can trade them for his freedom. Even if he can, his freedom is unfree.

When the American Right claims that freedom is not free, they are attempting to guilt the civilian who is still alive and seemingly oblivious of the blood that makes him alive. However freedom is unfree, rather than not free. Freedom in modern society is so mediated that we feel even more alienated when freedom is presented to us.

We know our free actions are not our own. The modern aesthetic seeks solely to express a class position. Art is disastrous. Through its formula, art loses its humanity and can no longer express what is true. Instead art is a data set. We repeat again and again that there is no way out through the predictability of our art.

All heroes are martyrs. No heroes are success stories. Heroes are necessary to keep the violence and destruction going. They will be honored for their sacrifice.

Where is the salvation in this story? Where do we look, besides Trump and Biden? Do we look to the moment of castration? Should we obsess over what could have been? Or do we find freedom with our castration? A little less weight to carry around. A little.

The pesticides and packaging, not the trans story time at the library, is castrating. But this castration is not the end. It may not be our freedom. But it is also not the end. We may primarily be machines. We may be at the mercy of technological development that both makes us expendable in our labor and powerless in our resistance. We may find that simple life isn’t possible or even desirable. We may find that our penis is being sold on the side of the road, for a pre-inflation price.

We may have reached the spiritual end. We have not reached the physical end. We must continue to go on. We must not look to the past. The figure looking for his father may have never had him. The abstraction and alienation may have always existed. The attempt to reclaim a coherent reality might always have been there.

There is still freedom. Even if the only freedom is death, or the choice to die. The father does not know the way. They often do not know they are on stage. But the father can lead us because he knows himself. Or more accurately, he is confident in his misreading. We too don’t know the way. However, that shouldn’t stop us from being confident in our misreading. We should go forward knowing only one thing: we do not know.

Now we are free. Now we can be our own fathers and each other’s fathers. If Joe Biden and Donald Trump can do it, so can we. If these two men can find happiness, success, and a good life in capitalism, anyone can. There is no story more improbable than these two men being at the top of the world. Miracles can happen, miracles will happen, miracles must happen.

One could gain solace from telling themselves: I am not Biden. I am not Trump. That is healing enough. Why stop there? Why not look at their rise as a miracle? Not a miracle for any of us. Not a miracle for this world. Rather a miracle in the sense that the absurd can triumph. Only the absurd can triumph.

So rather than try to relate to a normal that no one relates to, find the absurdity. There is no authority. There may be a giant punitive apparatus but there are no rules, really. There is no right thing. There is no tradition. Just a world of hypocrites looking for self-advantage. Find freedom here. Dad thinks the mirror is a television. So really, no one is home.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at