Myth and the crisis of alternative ideology

Salim Kassem, Guest Blogger

In a recent article, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik provided critique of the received wisdom that neoliberal policies hasten capitalist development and hence the march to modernity in a developing context. He rightly arrived at the conclusion that far from dealing blows against the old obscurantist order of myths and self-styled messiahs, neoliberal policies reach a modus vivendi with it, which impedes the march to modernity. Indeed, it does, but not only in a developing context but also in a developed context.

If modernity is to be partly understood as a social and political discourse and practice free of the influence of mythology, shamanism and phantasm, then the case may be that the United States, the leading capitalist power, is anything but modern. One recent occurrence, the speech of Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister to congress, which had received 29 standing ovations may, in two particular accolades,  unequivocally demonstrate the point. Standing ovations numbered 15 and 16 respectively, in which biblical references to Judea and Samaria and a 4000 thousand years old bond of Jewish people to Jewish land exemplify the body language a state to mythical statements.  How is one to understand this raucous applause to religious myths from the representatives of the most advanced capitalist state, which is, at one end, the ‘realisation of the spirit’ and, on the other the mediation of the varying positions of social classes in society? 

At first sight, the issue may be construed as a meddling of the supernatural in worldly politics, an estrangement of a whole society from the real or a case of severe alienation. But it is not simply the sort of alienation that arises because workers are detached from and fall victim to the world of commodities they produce. It is not the putative alienation, which oscillates between the degree of exploitation and revolutionary consciousness. In archetypal alienation, workers, which are the subject of history, can attenuate the symptoms of estrangement in the course of their struggle and togetherness as they re-appropriate the socially produced wealth, which is theirs to begin with. This grip of mythology over the policy makers of the real world however, is a new form of alienation. It is a rebirth of an old phenomenon on a larger scale today. It is similar to what Marx had already discounted in Feuerbach, which is, religious self-alienation, or to use Marx’s own term, the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. Thus, this idea that a monotheistic god had sanctioned territorial expansion has its counterpart in present day colonial or imperial expansion. But for such a phantasmagorical notion sanctifying colonial settler expansion by godly fiat to have come about, one must stand in awe at the power capital in reproducing an ideology that was capable of turning the mystical into the real.

Capital must have enlisted a huge mass of intellectual labour to reify or invert a myth into a thing and to make appear the unreal as real. Reasoning, in this context, becomes rooted in celestial discourse. Divine expansion incontrovertibly drives colonial or imperial expansion and the dichotomy between imperialism and Zionism disappears to the benefit of both. There is no need for theories reasoning whether it is American imperialism, which is subordinate to Zionism or vice versa, for they have become one in god. Their account of expansionism is to be found  in myths dating back millennia and not in the capitalist drive to accumulate blindly consuming both man and nature. And in like fashion of the patriarchal monotheistic god, the American way of life or its mode of production, in more structural language, goes around breaking the barriers of outdated modes in the third world creating them in less than perfect replicas of its own image. So in Saudi Arabia, the Jinn (genie) is called to testify in court, a matter unbeknown even in the darkest ages of Islam. In Iraq, the myth applauding US congress and its turbaned and faithful allies leave abandoned in the streets of Baghdad more than one million orphaned children- nearly a fifth of the population. Like the monotheistic god, US capital creates more drastic images of itself, replete with fantasy and nonsense, wherever it protrudes colonially or through neoliberal policies.

The strength of  capital’s ideology, which had transformed myth into received dogma, is confronted with a weakened social ideological alternative. The collapse of the faulty Soviet model has dented the advance of humanist thought and socialised models of organising life as viable options. An end to history and a bankruptcy of alternatives to capital were declared. Capital’s model of mass incarceration, famine, environmental degradation  and war became like god’s will the sole alternative to humanity. Capitalism was ideologically reinvented as victor. History in the epoch of capitalism was represented as a football match and not the dreadful and irreversible continuum, which it is. In this double-dealing world of ideas, the ideological struggle against religious self-alienation becomes similar to that carried out by  Averroes in the pre-enlightenment age. It is a struggle to de-reify, to turn reality back onto its feet, or to furnish earthly explanations to earthly matters.

One outstanding myth, which fuels one outstanding problem and, which brings literally the body politics of the superpower to adulation is that of divinely sanctioned Zionist expansion. That the outcome of that is also the most outstanding refugee problem on the globe, which is the Palestinian refugee crisis, is not a myth.  The Palestinian refugees who want to return to their destroyed villages were neither Goliaths nor the prehistoric mob behind the walls of ancient Jericho. They were real people living as forcibly displaced persons desiring to go back to their homes. For the superpower to even remotely uphold a notion that god intervenes in history or that there are peoples who transcend history implicates the whole of humanity. That is why delegitimizing Israeli occupation addresses more than just a narrow territorial issue in the small corner of the world dubbed the Near East and, at least, two outcomes may ensue. Firstly, it will be the religious or ultra nationalist mythology that is no longer subliminal to the ideology of imperial expansion, which will suffer a setback. Secondly, a chief  gendarme  of US imperial interests guaranteeing control, albeit, in alliance with Arab dictators, over key petroleum routes and interests and furnishing the present global accumulation order with its principal point of strength will have to reverse policy course. In designing practical priorities, it is only possible to speak of a direction in politics on the basis of vividly observable undercurrents in political economy, in particular, the usurpation of the social surplus from the developing world. It is here that it becomes pellucidly clear that to redress the brutal power order maintaining the present distorted international class order, the struggle against Zionism and its myths, represents more than just support for a national liberation movement, but more decisively, a step in the emancipation of humanity.

Salim Kassem is a nom de plume of an Arab social scientist based in London.

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