In this article the author traces the colonial origins of “post-truth” politics, and ponders whether we are witnessing the final iteration of neoliberalism — where colonial racial templates of social ordering have been liminally deracialised and adopted by the profit-obsessed market in order to subject an ever-widening demographic to social inequality.
Our Colonial Legacy….
In a recent community discussion about Frantz Fanon’s essay Concerning Violence,1 (as brutally visualised by Goran Olsson’s 2014 eponymous film2) I remember arguing why I rejected the idea that we are entering a new phase of fascism with a rebooted far right ideology that the mainstream media is now rebranding as “post-truth” populism. I have often argued that colonialism and its tools of racist and racial subjection have long existed before this so-called new populist phenomenon and these tools have even been used as a template for current political developments.3 But upon reflection, I am coming to realise that what is new is not the barbarity of current social inequality or even its methods of subjection but its maturation as the ultimate product of capitalism. Frantz Fanon, in Concerning Violence tracks an unerring timeline that organically traces the development of colonialism into capitalism. He also explains how the brutality of colonial oppression was far more than just a physical reality because it penetrated deeply to an internal psychic level in the subject. Colonialism had perfected its methods of oppression and suppression by gnawing away at the layers of human agency. For Fanon, colonial objectification challenged the very core of understanding of what it is to be a human being.
To be a human being is to have an internal world (as well as an external one in relation to others). However, when that interior world is denied to the subject because only their bodies are recognised as instruments of agency (only for others), we arrive at a pernicious form of psychic violation. A violation of privacy that paradoxically has been stripped away from the individual by its denial. What is even more violent is that by the time the replacement of the subject’s innate interior world is supplanted by a psychic representation of their external subjugation, their personal agency has all but disappeared. Nearly.4 When Fanon was treating his patients, he tried to remedy their stolen agency by getting them to see just how hollowed out their colonial psyches were. He also showed them how they could choose to respond to their distorted interiors and generate personal agency.5
Stealing Our Psychic Interiors
So, at the height of colonialism, how was this theft carried out? It was quite simply but devastatingly executed by repeatedly telling the colonial subject that they had no history, identity or independent (pre-colonial) worldview of any value. Using state apparatus, such as education,6 history books propagandised distorted historical narratives of colonial nations and their colonised subjects. Laws were unevenly applied in ways that fixed the societal status of individuals within a systemic hierarchy.7 Social mores re-enforced the “immutable reality” of a status quo, out of which the subject was forced to performatively hail themselves into (social) being.8 The list of these forms of social conditioning goes on, of course.
However, what is new is how all of these mechanisms have been truly co-opted by the market. What we are witnessing is how colonialism, which birthed capitalism that then morphed into neoliberalism has come of age. The child has now become an adult. Elsewhere,9 I write at length about how racial formation, racial rule and the resulting racial contract of colonialism has become a template for contemporary (“non-racial”) market relations between social actors. I also outline how the stripping away of human agency that is characterised by the colonial violation of the subject’s interior world has now been marketised and normalised in the form of “individuality” or “market freedoms”.10
Market simulations as new Psychic Interiors in the new era of Post-truth
It is worth outlining this process of market individuation again only because of its immediate and urgent political importance. The market strives to innovate in order to accumulate capital and it does this by wilfully ignoring and indeed trying to erase historical innovation11 that undermines its property rights and ability to turn profit. The market is able to do this by convincing its social actors that they are “individuals” with “market freedoms” to do anything that they want. They are given “market freedoms” for Simmelian market re-invention12 only on the proviso that they leave their social knowledge at the threshold of the market place. As Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno13 correctly deduce, any ideas of personal agency that the subject has upon entering the market are seen as being superfluous or dangerous, so must be excised from the now market actor. David Graeber describes this as a form of social death.14 The consequences of this are that the histories and identities that make up the social knowledge of the individual before entering the market are deliberately stripped away leaving an empty husk ready to be filled with something else.15
The market then fills the individual with its own interpretation of how a market actor should be and presents this as the only acceptable form of (marketised) social knowledge. Obviously, this is not a social knowledge because the market actor is encouraged to act as a market individual; it is a market knowledge. It is a “knowledge of the market” that the market actor is convinced they can utilise and commoditise for the accumulation of personal profit. However, the knowledge of the market given to the market actor is just a mere illusion of agency designed to manipulate and secretly extract as much information from the market actor as possible to further its own systemic ends.
Elsewhere,16 I write at length about how the market obscures this process of domination via super-complexity à la Friedrich Hayek17 or surveillance à la Jeremy Bentham.18 But remember that we are talking about smoke and mirrors, here. Since the days of colonialism, we have indeed already been operating at the level of Jean Baudrillard’s third simulation of reality where the deception (of subjugation) has been masquerading as (universal) truth. In real world terms, this means that the elites have always issued edicts of “truth” about a mediated (curated) narrative of history or identity (that profits them to the demise of others). This “truth” has always been accepted as an infallible proclamation of the world as having been true in history and true in perpetuity according Pierre Bourdieu’s taste-making powers of habitus.19 Such colonial proclamations have been violating “coloured” psyches for centuries.
However, with the arrival of the concept of post-truth20 especially within the arena of politics, we are now having to grapple with Baudrillard’s fourth level of deception, where crucially, deception no longer needs to masquerade as a universal truth. Here post-truth is a deception that openly rejects “evidence” in favour of its own self-importance and routinely invents provenance to back up its own subjectivities (mainly feelings of grievance). So, we are either witnessing the destruction of the myth of “universality”, the main ideological staple of Eurocentrism or its re-invention by a smaller circle of elite. Hard to tell right now, but it is ironic that today’s “experts” are routinely denigrated and their vilification is now becoming normalised. Whether it be the economists who argued that Brexit had the potential to do more harm than good to the UK economy21 or the judges whose deliberations to uphold parliamentary sovereignty were deemed treasonous.22 How the elite seem to have fallen! How these former stalwarts of our Eurocentric institutions seem to have fallen out of favour, where their former universal edicts of “truth”, previously supported by institutional and canonical “evidence”, are now being deemed irrelevant.
But who are the new gatekeepers of this post-truth? This is an intriguing question because the elites who appear to be currently holding the balance of “post-truth” power have seemingly emerged from the traditional ranks of the existing elite. Whether they are attempting to build a new universal “reality” or feel that they don’t need to be universal, just all powerful, is perhaps too soon to tell. What we can tell, however, is that the innate, colonial fascism of the capitalist project has matured into its own self-legitimising narrative with corresponding agency. As I have written elsewhere,23 neoliberalism has begun to cannibalise itself and is beginning to devour or emasculate its capitalist parents.24
I think that the neoliberal tendency to isolate its market actors has been given renewed legitimacy through its Baudrillardian “post-truth”. This market isolation is manifesting itself in grass roots forms of all sorts of cuts to public services.25 The market actor is progressively been cut adrift in terms of their systemic support. As the market forces the state to withdraw these services and also as the market actor becomes ever more surveilled by the state in their isolation,26 is there any way to fight back?
As Fanon’s Concerning Violence spoke about the violence of colonialism and its sometimes-violent ripostes from the oppressed, in our community discussion, we identified that violence takes many forms. Prompted by Audre Lorde’s ideas about self-care,27 we explored how merely looking out for one’s own interests in the face of market oppression can also be seen as an act of political violence. Here, we begin to see an interesting potential “post-truth” era of inversion, where building community in the face of market gentrification could be interpreted as a threat to society. Kronos’ violent changing of the guard could easily be represented by the potential recasting of David Cameron’s early ideas of Big Society,28 as political and cultural subversion. In community terms, viewed through a now normalised post-truth lens, marginalised groups who have always tirelessly striven to form “community” and enact Big Society ideals in order to survive and look after themselves, are now regarded as self-segregating communities who need to integrate.29 Through a post-truth lens, we also observe the market “violently” imposing its version of integration through the politely named process of gentrification, which the recent Casey review oddly seems not to address.30 Big Society communities are increasingly confronted by a market process that drives them out of their neighbourhoods because of rising property prices and (pop up) economies against which they cannot compete. I have written at length elsewhere,31 how black and minority ethnic communities have long been the canaries in the mine warning of this spread of social and economic oppression. Of course, by and large, they have been tolerated as Cassandras but now their unheeded warnings are coming to pass and the now marketised pain of past and present racial oppression is beginning to affect a wider demographic, we have, it seems, finally reached a point of ideological warfare.
It looks as though we will increasingly have to get used to our resistance to this neoliberal post-truth machine as being seen as violent, even as we only go about trying to help our communities retain a sense of self and agency.32 Our traditionally marginalised groups have always fought this fight to protect their communities and communal sense of wellbeing. However, our grown up (populist) neoliberal Kronos is going to marginalise an even larger demographic of people, especially those who currently support him in the mistaken belief that he has their best interests at heart.33
So, will we come together in social unity to resist this? We do actually have the seeds of genuine revolution and of an equally genuine paradigm shift. But will the system alienate enough people who are willing to fight for change? We will have to wait and see but I get the sense that we won’t have long to wait, as we stand staring over a precipice.
Photo credit to “Enabled Global Media”
About the Author
Ornette D. Clennon is Visiting Research Fellow and a Critical Race scholar in The Research Centre for Social Change: Community Wellbeing, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK where he leads the Critical Race and Ethnicity Research Cluster. He is also Visiting Professor at the Federal University of the Amazonas, Brazil. He has written and published widely on a range of topics including community engagement, education and multiculturalism.
1. See F. Fanon, ‘Concerning Violence’, in The Wretched of the Earth, C. Farrington, (trans), Grove Press, New York, 1963, pp. 35 – 106
2. See Concerning Violence, film documentary, Final Cut for Real, Helsinki, 5th December, 2014 (US)
3. See O.D. Clennon, ‘Populism, the era of Trump and the rise of the far right’ in openDemocracyUK. December 4th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.opendemocracy.net/ornette-d-clennon/populism-era-of-trump-and-rise-of-far-right
4. See W.E.B DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches (Second ed.). A. C. McClurg & Co., Chicago, 1903, p. 264 for his thoughts about “double consciousness” (p. 8) that describes the internal struggle for personal agency for the racialised as black subject. Also see O.D. Clennon, Polemics of CLR James, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2016, p. 129 for a parallel argument that uses Lewis Gordon’s ‘bad faith’ to describe a comparable internal struggle for personal agency for the racialised as white subject.
5. Nelson Maldonado Torres introduces us to Fanon’s concept of sociogeny, which seeks to explore the interior nature of hierarchical colonial oppression within the subject. See N. Maldonado Torres, ‘Frantz Fanon and C.L.R. James on intellectualism and enlightened rationality’. Caribbean Studies, volume 33(2), 2005, pp. 149 – 194.
6. See P. Bourdieu & J.-C. Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, R. Nice (trans), Sage, London, 2000 , p. 288 for a discussion about the symbolic violence of education and how it is used to oppress us on behalf of the state.
7. See B.J. Fields, ‘Ideology and race in American history’. In J. M. Kousser, & J. M. McPherson (eds), Region, race and reconstruction, Oxford University Press, New York, 1982, pp. 143–177 and B.J. Fields, ‘Slavery, race and ideology in the United States of America’. New Left Review, volume 181(May/June), 1990, pp. 95 – 118 for a full explanation of racial contract theory and its role in fixing racial hierarchy in place .
8. See J. Butler, The Psychic Life of Power, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1997, p. 228
9. See Clennon, Polemics of CLR James
10. See O.D. Clennon, ‘The Black Face of Eurocentrism: Uncovering Globalisation’. In O. D. Clennon (ed), International Perspectives of Multiculturalism: The Ethical Challenges, Nova Science Publishers, New York, 2016, pp. 91 – 128 for an exploration of the psychopathological structures of the Hegelian whiteness/blackness dialectic that are in turn transformed into market relationships.
11. See L. Gordon ‘Disposable Life’ in Histories of Violence, February 10th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://vimeo.com/154827028 and P. Nora, P. (1996). General Introduction: Between Memory and History. In L. D. Krtizmann (ed), Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, Vol 1: Conflict and Divisions, A. Goldhammer (trans), Columbia University Press, New York pp. 1-20 where both Gordon and Nora describe the post modern tendency of the market to constantly reinvent the present.
12. See G. Simmel, G. (1971). In D. Levine (ed), Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971, p. 412
13. See M. Horkheimer & T. Adorno (1944). Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, G. S. Noerr, Ed., & E. Jephcott, (trans.) Stanford University Press, London, Stanford, CA p. 304
14. See D. Graeber, ’Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery’. Critique of Anthropology, volume 26(1), 2006, pp. 61–85.
15. See “corporate globalization is thriving precisely by emptying out the subversive potential in culture” p. 108 from R. Krishnaswarmy, ‘The criticism of culture and the culture of criticism at the intersection of postcolonialism and globalisation theory’. Diacritics, volume 32(2), 2002, pp. 106 – 126.
16. Clennon, The Black Face of Eurocentrism
17. See F. Hayek, ‘The Market-order or Catallaxy’. In F. Hayek (ed), Law, Legislation and Liberty (Vol. 2), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1976, pp. 107-32
18. See J. Bentham, Panopticon: or the Inspection-House. Thomas Byrne, Dublin, 1787, (online book https://library.villanova.edu/Find/Record/889906#description)
19. See P. Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. R. Nice, (trans), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1984, p. 613
20. See A. Flood, ‘’Post-truth’ named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries’ in The Guardian. November 15th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/15/post-truth-named-word-of-the-year-by-oxford-dictionaries?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks and also see M. Weigel, ‘Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy’ in The Guardian. November 30th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump?CMP=share_btn_tw that describes how the established discourse around social equality has been labelled as ‘political correctness’ in order to push back against any perceived loss of historical racial privilege. This is an interesting development that explains the rancour and pent up frustration behind the post-truth voting intentions of the white working (and middle) classes.
21. S. Sodha, T., Helm & P. Inman, ‘Economists overwhelmingly reject Brexit in boost for Cameron’ in The Guardian. May 28th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/28/economists-reject-brexit-boost-cameron
22. See C. Phipps, ‘British newspapers react to judges’ Brexit ruling: ‘Enemies of the people’ in The Guardian. November 4th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/04/enemies-of-the-people-british-newspapers-react-judges-brexit-ruling
23. See Clennon, Populism
24. I am particularly reminded of the castration of Uranus by his son Kronos in Greek mythology, as an apt allegory for describing contemporary political developments.
25. From the provision of social care for our elderly and the vulnerable, to the closing down of local bus services, to the closing down of libraries, to cuts to mental health services, to cuts to children services, the list goes on and on.
26. They are hemmed in and partially blinded to these growing inequalities by their knowledge of the market for personal gain.
27. See “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” (p.131) from A. Lorde, A Burst of Light: Essays, Firebrand Books, Ithaca, NY, 1988, p. 134
28. See D. Cameron, ‘Big Society Speech’ in GOV.UK. July 19th 2010, viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/big-society-speech
29. See L. Casey, ‘The Casey Review: a review into opportunity and integration’ in GOV.UK. December 5th 2016, viewed on viewed on December 19th 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-casey-review-a-review-into-opportunity-and-integration
30. Dada & Ferjani write passionately about how gentrification is negatively transforming many parts of inner London. See Z. Dada & B. Ferjani, ‘Immigrant hustle in the face of gentrification’ in Media Diversified. December 5th 2016, viewed on December 18th 2016, https://mediadiversified.org/2016/12/05/immigrant-hustle-in-the-face-of-gentrification/
31. See Clennon, Populism
32. Nigel Farage publically attacking Brendan Cox, the widower of the murdered MP Jo Cox, for supporting the anti-hate/racism/fascism campaigning group Hope Not Hate is a case in point that graphically illustrates post-truth Lordean subversion. See N. Ferrari, ‘Farage: Brendan Cox Knows More About Extremism Than Me’ in LBC. December 20th 2016, viewed on viewed on December 20th 2016, http://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/nick-ferrari/farage-brendan-cox-knows-more-about-extremism/
33. See L. Haddad, “Speaking the truth in the post-truth era” in Aljazeera.com. December 19th 2016, viewed on December 19th 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/12/speaking-truth-post-truth-era-161218111206262.html