The fortress and the gyneceum

Athenian society venerated Athena, virginal goddess of wisdom and martial virtue: a female deity doted with attributes the Greeks ascribed to masculinity and rationality, as embodied by the soldier-citizen. This archetype is in stark contrast with gods from other cultures; notably, Egyptian fertility god Osiris. Posthumous father of god-king Horus, Osiris was murdered and castrated by Seth, and then revived by his wife and sister Isis; he was strongly associated to agriculture, the moon, and the Nile’s silt – all of them Chthonic and feminine for the Greeks. Thus, the Athenians venerated a virile warrior-maiden, while the Egyptians saw their ruling pharaohs as descended from an emasculated, mummified and androgynous figure, who presided the harvest and judged the dead.

One could expect that adoring a female goddess would make Athenians less misogynistic than their counterparts across the Mediterranean. The demands for more representation of women in positions of power and woke slogans such as God is a woman would certainly point in this direction; the often male-centered narratives of patriarchal narratives both from the classics and pop-culture are a favorite object of feminist polemics. The project of rebooting the James Bond saga with 007 as a female character is a good example of this, as it would signify the defacement of a quintessentially masculine myth.

In spite of this assumptions, according to most historians, Athenian society and Greek culture in general were quite misogynistic. Egypt seems to have been relatively less so, with women being considered legally equal at court and able to hold property rights. The picture is further distorted when we compare both to another Greek polis, Sparta, which has for a long time captivated the imagination of sociologists and political thinkers. Spartan women enjoyed better conditions than their counterparts elsewhere in Hellas, including rights to property and education. Their traditional dress, a slit skirt, earned them a reputation for promiscuity among other Greek cities, especially compared to the Athenian woman’s long robe. Was the Spartan woman politically freer, more empowered, than the Athenian, despite their almost identical cultural roots? And how did they fare in regards to the Egyptian, with her completely different background?

In all of these societies, childrearing was seen as the primary role of adult women, but the sociopolitical consequences of this were manifested in different ways. Specifically, Athenian women were not formally educated, could not make economic transactions, and lived secluded in the house’s gyneceum (from γυναικεῖον – gunaikeîon, the special quarters reserved for women); their reduced public life was mostly concerned with religious rituals, as they were supposed to stay at home with children. Compared to them, Spartan women were better fed and educated, because they were supposed to produce strong offspring and thus contribute to the lacedemonian polis’ military population. Xenophon goes as far as to state that there was some measure of polyandry in Spartan society, so that women could be impregnated by younger and healthier men for eugenic purposes. Even the important status granted to Egyptian women was heavily related to maternity and fertility. Particularly, the basis of female political power emanated from the figure of the Pharaoh’s Queen Mother, of which Isis (sister-wife of Osiris and mother of Horus) was the main archetype. So what do all of these practices tell us in regards to how women were viewed in their respective societies?

If one looks at ancient artifacts, such as pottery, a peculiar feature soon becomes obvious: Egyptian and Greek artists often used different colors to represent the two sexes. In both cultures, the male sex is usually represented in black or tan, while the female sex appears in white or pale hues. Despite the wishful thinking of gender theorists, this is no proof of the misogynistic character of any of them. It is, however, illustrative of different worldviews.

In Egypt, the difference in coloration alludes to the possibility of a synthesis between both sexes. Creation was the work of a male solar god, Atum-Ra, but the lunar fertility god who descended from him, Osiris, was also male. The black or green color with which Osiris is represented is a reference to the dark color of damp, fertile earth; white would be the color of bones, dust, and death. The juxtaposition of the two hues and the two sexes is used to convey the notion of a balanced cosmos, enforcing an idea of complementarity.

In Greece, the use of different colors has an altogether different connotation, pointing to the existence of different races: one indigenous, and one foreign. Thus, in the archaic period, Athenian women were usually painted in the same hue used for Persian invaders. A symbol of the untamed otherness of the Orient, mythically epitomized by the Amazon: militarily fearsome and sexually intriguing at the same time. This identification of the female sex with an external race shares the views presented in Pandora’s myth, already discussed here: mainly, of men being native to Earth and women being extraterrestrial, manufactured entities.

This essay would not be complete without some mention of that most patriarchal ancient civilization, Rome. Why were the supposedly misogynistic Romans willing to guarantee their women some rights their Greek counterparts never enjoyed? Did Roman females conquer their advantageous position thanks to their proto-feminist gender awareness? To answer these questions, we cannot rely on the interested contributions of woke gender theorists. On the contrary; the comparatively good situation of Roman women was a result of the Empire hindering the intrusion of misogynistic Greek philosophy. If in Roman society the situation for women was better than in Greece, it was because old laws and customs were respected, and lacked the Greek “women-as-foreign” element.

As an expansive Empire, Rome’s collision with the outside world, Jewish, Greek and ultimately Germanic, was inevitable. It is undeniable that the Romans were aware of the dangers posed by philosophical encounters with foreigners. After all, barbarians are, by definition, a threat. So, if Rome was initially more benevolent to its women than either Athens or Sparta, it was because its philosophers and legislators did not see females as unpredictable foreigners, but as people of their own kind: a demonstration of internal unity, the hallmark of a confident culture.

In the end, this discussion is an ancient iteration of a recurring meme in imperial politics: that there must be a wall somewhere, separating the in-group from the out-group. The establishment’s survival depends on whether to include women in the former or the latter; on choosing between xenophobia and misogyny. Between the fortress and the gyneceum. And for those unwilling to choose, of course, there is always a third way: letting the barbarians in and becoming an undiferentiated one yourself. Which would be arguably the most entropic, accelerationist, capital-communist option, after all.

Geopolitical Change Denialism

As we’ve explained before, when a conflict arises, the possible positions to be taken in regards to it, its memetic frame, is previous to the choice of sides by the participants. Geopolitical discussions are no exception. The polarization is magnified by the great amount of information available, the infinite ways in which that information can be interpreted, and the connection geopolitics has to many other subjects in which people are emotionally invested. So, naturally, when China-as-Future-Power is brought up, people are very fast to jump into the trench they instinctively recognize as their own.

One of such trenches is the one occupied by people who are deeply skeptical of China’s actual and potential power – let’s call them Geopolitical Change Deniers. This train of thought usually argues that the threat China’s ascent is blown out of proportion. President Trump’s confrontational rhetoric is explained as a propaganda strategy to obfuscate who the US’s true rival is. Usually, the Russian Federation is given this adversarial role, which follows the logic of classical geopolitics, enshrined somewhat poetically in the Sea versus Land paradigm. For a naval empire such as the US, foreign policy has to be focused on hampering the consolidation of continental power. In practice, this means antagonizing the most powerful player in Eurasia, using secondary actors to create a balancing counter-power.

One of the main arguments Geopolitical Change Deniers have to disparage China’s growing power is its economic dependency of the US. According to this line of thought, the Middle Kingdom relies on the American Empire to keep running. The idea goes something like this: if the US stops supporting China, the Chinese economy collapses; if China stops supporting the US, the Chinese economy also collapses. Thus, any diplomatic measure by the US against China is interpreted as a yanking of the leash to remind the dog who its master is.

This claim is disputable to say the least: although the US is indeed China’s greatest buyer (20% of Chinese exports go there), the combined value of exports to Asia and Europe triples that of products destined to America. This is a trade sphere which every day grows more detached from the US-protected trans-Pacific routes, especially as China develops its land communications and its own maritime security with its aggressive artificial island policy. On the other hand, 22% of foreign products arriving in the US come from China. At the same time, a third of US exports goes to the same Asian market China is trying to claim as its own. America cannot find an easy substitute for Chinese cheap supplies. It also cannot afford to lose the Asian market to China, who has obvious cultural and geographical advantages in accessing it. So who owns who?

The meme of China as a giant economy slave to the US, always on the verge of collapse, is a bastard scion of the Triangular Policy initiated by Kissinger in the Nixon era. This policy, devised in a time of relative weakness of American political influence, intended to drive a wedge between the two communist (and continental) powers of China and Russia. By exploiting their rivalry, US diplomacy hoped to avoid the creation of a united block capable of driving America out of the World Island. But the US has been cutting the Chinese too much slack, and as the world changes, it’s time to pay. China has made enormous inroads in Europe and in Africa, and even if the local powers don’t trust them, they will have to comply with Chinese influence if the US does not show up as a power player. There has been some talk of expropriating Chinese assets with the excuse of coronavirus reparations, but it’s difficult to imagine any country willing to assume the diplomatic cost this would entail, and that includes America. The People’s Republic is a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council, a nuclear and space power, and controls vast amounts of strategic resources, like rare earth minerals. It also has enormous pressure tools at its disposal, trade not being the least of them.

Another argument to support the Geopolitical Change Deniers claim that China is indeed a giant with clay feet, is the supposed threat of internal rebellion. The authoritarian Communist-Capitalism of China is seen as so oppressive, that to the West’s eyes a revolution is expected at any moment. Setting aside the possible hypocrisy of such a statement (looking at you, Google), the Deniers assume that a vacuum of power in China would be filled by Russia and Central Asian islamists. In their interpretation the US government is actually protecting a puppet China from its inner demons to avoid chaos in the region. While Chinese collapse would certainly be more dangerous to World stability than the current status quo, it is not such a safe bet to claim that Russia is ready –nor willing– to step in its place. The Russian Federation has profound demographic problems which make it barely able of holding its territory together, let alone occupying Manchuria. In fact, it is actually China who threatens Russia, with both its GDP and its population surpassing Russia’s by a factor of ten. The threat of Central Asian islamism is also overblown. Islam is not a new phenomenon in the region and hasn’t made gains in centuries. It has plenty of fertile ground to expand in other areas ripe for the taking, from the Sahel all the way to Indonesia.

The only argument in favor of a supposed US-China collusion is based, perhaps surprisingly, on ideological grounds. China inhabits the dialectic synthesis of Capitalism and Communism. It’s a vision of the Future, free at last from its human and religious/ideological drag. It’s not Late Capitalism what we’re seeing, but the early lights of Capitalist Revolution, at last led to triumph by its Communist elite. If after 70 years in power the Communist Party ends up collapsing, it will not be substituted by freedom-loving, religious “natural conservatives”, but by an even stronger and more materialist establishment, more certain of its superiority to the West than the Communists were. We’ve explored this subject in the past and we will explore it more in the future, so we’ll leave it at that for now.

So, in summary: it’s not for nothing that the US is willing to change its warfighting doctrine to adapt once again to the South Pacific. Redesigning training plans, acquiring and developing new technologies, cultivating alliances in the region… All of this requires an important effort, which would be an enormous waste if it was only a matter of propaganda. As we’ve seen, China can be a problem to the West by being too strong, but also by being too weak. You can make a bonfire and stomp it down whenever you want, but you still have to watch it so it doesn’t burn your house down by escaping your control. Foreign policy does not have an auto-pilot mode, and the roof might be on fire.

CUSC: wokeness, technoutopia, and outdated futures

Today’s the last chapter of this series on the Communist Manifesto. Staying true to the form of the past weeks, this finale will analyze the memetic history of the third and last type of socialism antagonized by Marx and Engels: Critical-Utopian Socialism-Communism. We will call it by its initials CUSC for short, as the movement seems to have initiated the cherished Marxist tradition of giving things exhaustive, long names like USSR, DPRK, or LPDR (you get extra credit if you recognized the last one).

CUSC is a bit different from the schools of thought that we have described so far. It can be described as the product of a “primitive” era, right after the French Revolution, when the end of absolutist feudalism was already predictable but not immediately evident. At the time, the Proletariat as a class lacked any strength or ability to organize and thus was completely incapable of any political action. The proponents of this movement identified the acceleration vectors of a society increasingly stratified not only by traditional criteria, but also new economic ones. Thus, CUSC is a school previous to Reactionary Socialism in the evolutionary – not necessarily chronological – sense. It predates the industrial environment which gave life to revolutionary communism. Paraphrasing Marx and Engels: it is in sum a product of class struggle being in an undeveloped state.

Seeing the trends of the 19th century, proponents of this movement such as Fourier or Count Henri de Saint-Simon aimed to change the world’s course for the better, bringing about a completely new society. Deeply seeped in the anthropological optimism of Rousseau and the Enlightenment, they speculated that a society which disposed of most of its traditional structures would be characterized by more justice and social equality. As the engineers of a New Jerusalem, they looked for ways to mitigate class distinctions and were interested in proletarians only in the sense that they were identifiable as the most suffering class”, according to Marx. Interestingly, these two most important exponents of CUSC came from very different social backgrounds: Fourier was the son of an urban merchant and spent his life traveling and writing, thanks to a modest inheritance; Saint-Simon was an idealistic aristocrat who had joined Lafayette’s army at 17 to fight in the American Revolution, and who experienced many different economic conditions throughout his life.

CUSC is called utopian because it advocated for peace, reconciliation and the mitigation of class struggle. In this sort of naiveté, it has some similarities with Bourgeois Socialism. Its good-willed opposition to revolution hampered the progressive historical development of the Proletariat, which made it counter-revolutionary under Communist eyes. It conflicted with Marxist economic theory and deviated from the materialist dialectical axis of Bourgeois Capitalism => Proletarian Communism => Capitalist Communism. Some examples of this utopianism can be seen in the development of voluntary association into communal living quarters, such as Fourier’s phalanstères (from phalanx and monastery), of which some were established in the USA by his followers. Funnily, Fourier tried to convince Capitalists to finance these subversive communes, and his failure to do so led to none of them being successful in Europe.

CUSC’s critical component is a function of its intent to level all social structures, such as family or religion, which compromised the full and natural development of personality and allowed the existence of a parasytical class. A tribute to their Rousseaunism, theirs is a critique of civilization and an exaltation of the noble savage. Their criticism was notoriously centered in the promotion of sexual liberation: both in Fourier’s and Saint-Simon’s thought monogamy and the nuclear family endured heavy attacks, and some of the memetic roots of liberal-individualist feminism and LGBT discourse can be traced to their ideas. Another feature is their industrialism, most notable in Saint-Simon’s thought. Instead of the proletarian-bourgeois dichotomy, he saw the division as between the productive vs. the unproductive. The Industrial Revolution was not conceived by Saint-Simon as an oppressive tool conducive to proletarian uprising, but as a positive end in itself, capable of making redundant the useless, unproductive public servants, judges, feudal lords, and clergy. He advocated a scientific rule by industrialists and engineers: what would later be called a technocracy.

According to the diagnosis made by the Communist Manifesto, the historical relevance of CUSC is in inverse relation to historical development, as the more class consciousness is advanced, the more meaningless projects of a new, classless society become. Although it is true that they did not survive as political movements, many memes which can be traced to CUSC have survived well into our times, and in a remarkably unmodified form.

The most obvious comparison is with Woke Left ideas about personal identity and sexual conduct, particularly, are clearly a modern iteration of CUSC thought. Historically, these memes were seized for accelerationist and revolutionary purposes by the likes of Antonio Gramsci and the folks at the Frankfurt School. They however, have proved challenging to fit in the revolutionary narrative. The breach between classical Marxism and this Neo-Marxism, which rejects the former’s economical determinism, descends directly from the foundational Socialism vs Communism divergence we’ve been discussing these past weeks. The debate is still alive and kicking in the Modern Left, as Bernie Sanders can attest.

The same happens with other aspects of CUSC ideology. Fourier’s phalanstères, for instance, led to the development of similar communal living projects in other movements, from anarchist autonomous communes to, notably, israeli kibbutzim. This fact perhaps makes it less surprising that Israel, hardly a woke country in many aspects, portrays itself as a Near East’s queer paradise. At this point, it should be made explicit that these Fourierist, associative, voluntary communes are absolutely not to be confused with their distant cousin, the soviet, which is State-established, mandatory and more accelerationist in the sense that it processes social organization even more thoroughly. 

A final significant connection also emerges from the waters with this analysis. The relation between hippie culture, techno-utopianism and “California ideology”, which on the surface can seem contradictory, makes complete sense from an evolutionary memetics point of view. After all, when the Count of Saint-Simon joined the fighting in the American Revolution, he stated he did so for “the industrial liberty of America”. The perception of technology as an emancipatory tool is intimately linked to the American Project. The modern, Zuckerbergian iteration of this project certainly makes the cut: a communal space, a personal identity expression platform, and a mega-corporation, all in one. Silicon Valley overlords, with their t-shirts and jeans, look certainly in-character as modern socialist aristocrats of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the end, CUSC shared a destiny with cyberpunk: it became less and less transgressive as the world transformed into precisely what it described. There’s no impact to it anymore: like the special effects from an old horror movie, which now look fake and unscary. Brave New World might have been deeply disturbing for its original 1932 audience; it has become so similar to reality that its dystopic tone actually flies over many people’s heads. The city-noir LA streets depicted in Blade Runner look like any current Western metropolis at night, minus the cyborgs and flying cars; its veiled, Yellow Peril implications are now a given with the coming Chinese economic sorpasso. With coronavirus raging outside, our dependence on virtual realities has become almost mandatory, too; we use our interconnectedness mostly for zoom calls, videogames and Uber Eats, though, so there’s less subversive hacking than anticipated. Past visions, utopic or dystopic, fail as they become just normal. The only thing nobody expected was our cyberpunk dystopia to be so lame.

This was the last chapter on a series about the Communist Manifesto. You can go to the first chapter here.

Men Towards the Ruins: German Socialism

In our last post, we went through two of the strains of Reactionary Socialism described by Marx and Engels, feudal and petty-bourgeois socialism. Today we will discuss a third variant, dubbed German or “true” socialism.

This third school of thought is a very peculiar type, specific to the context of post-Enlightenment Germany and its unification process. This period in German history was marked by tension that pitted the liberal, industrial bourgeoisie against absolutist aristocratic power. The case presented by the Manifesto is one of memetic evolution promoted by changing environmental pressures. French revolutionary literature, once disconnected from its social context, became for German intellectuals an abstract thing; a literary trope. In characteristic Teutonic fashion, German philosophers equated the proletarian interests with “the Interests of Mankind”, economic oppression with “the Alienation of Humanity”, French criticism of the bourgeois State with “the Dethronement of the Category of the General”, and so on. The transfer of social conflicts characteristic of bourgeois France to the alien German reality resulted in the relegation of said conflict to the realm of Ideas. According to Marx and Engels, as a consequence of this decantment, French discourse was completely defanged and lost its revolutionary potential.

Following the example set by French and English reactionaries, German absolutists tried to use socialist themes as a weapon with which to attack the bourgeoisie. After being co-opted by the aristocratic, Junker-dominated governments, the meme soon found a promising breeding ground in the minds of German Philistines. This numerous class of petty-bourgeois and peasants had been long threatened by the pincer of Capital accumulation by industrialists, on one side, and the revolutionary proletarians on the other. The idealist substrate of German Socialism pushed it to take the side of these Philistines. It branded them as the human core of the German Nation, and denounced the “brutal destructiveness” of class struggle which was threatening said Nation. Some of the memetic roots of National Socialism, its German idealist heritage, and its bitter rivalry with both Communism and Liberalism, can be found in this early German socialism.

This type of Reactionary Socialism, married to idealist concepts of Nation and People, was not only retrograde to Communist eyes, but had to be repulsive aswell because it directly attacked the notion of an International Proletariat. For this reason, it was the first name in the communists’ hit list, even before it mutated to its more virulent form of Nazi racialism. German socialism was exported successfully to many European countries, thanks in part to the prestige of German intellectuals in the continent. Its abstract nature, decoupled from real social conditions, also gave it a quality of mutability, making it adaptable to many different cultural contexts. Many of these “regional varieties” would put up an impressive, violent fight against Communism for most of the 19th and the 20th centuries.

The merit of Marxist predictions concerning Reactionary Socialism lies in the identification of its retrograde tendency. The communists successfully anticipated that the social conditions conducive to the adoption of Reactionary postulates would fade away. Indeed, they have been non-existent in the West for almost a century. This is the reason why most current Western reactionary movements are basically LARPing clubs. Their only alternative is to rely on external conditioners such as strict peer pressure to perpetuate themselves. This is the mechanism employed by religious sects with “traditional” values: instead of letting the meme adapt to the medium, the meme itself creates a favorable environment for its survival.

As highly-abstract memeplexes, German Socialism and its exported national variants were able to overcome the loss of their habitat, the fin de siècle capitalist hellscape. They did so through a form of convergent evolution with communism, though, and acquired in the process a revolutionary and accelerationist streak. National Socialists didn’t see themselves as counter-revolutionary, but carrying forth different type of revolution. They saw their overcoming of class distinctions as nothing but the next step in the revolutionary dialectical process.  The Futurist world of aluminum, skyscrapers and parachutes, which inspired Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, is a good example of this. The crumbling of the Axis powers after World War Two allowed for the victors to reappropriate the most successful elements of this memeplex, and breathe life into them: the rocket, the highway, the atom bomb, and the space program. As a result, the strong association this technological icons had with reactionary socialism was diluted and eventually lost. As we’ll see in future installments of this series, however, the socialists kept trying.

This article is part of a series centered around the Communist Manifesto. The following installment is available here. You can read the previous article here.

The Anti-Socialist Load

In the last article published here at The Outpost, we discussed a critical assertion implied by the Communist Manifesto’s: that capitalism and communism are two sides of the same coin. They are two forces of the same cult of Material Progress, taking part in the same process of Acceleration. Two phases of a two-stroke engine bringing History forward.

With the end of Cold War polarization, this has only become more apparent. The Race against the Machine was tentatively introduced into US public discourse by Andrew Yang, and suddenly UBI experiments seem to be popping up everywhere. The lights of our porn and glucose syrup-fueled welfare dystopia must not go dark, so America will now take care of her forgotten children. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Ocean seems to be getting wider these days. After all, NATO was meant to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” America’s foreign policy of decoupling from its many foreign engagements makes it every day more unpredictable and unreliable for its allies overseas, and there is no more Soviet Union to fear. The US always had a cultural soft-spot for those boorish Russians. They may not be that bad, after all. Look at them sort out our Middle East headaches, and how admirably they comply with WHO Covid-19 recommendations! Let Europe deal with them. The Big American Game has already been on the Pacific for a while, anyway. The trade war pushes China to outsource its production to poor countries, and with it comes a way of life. After all, everybody enjoys some of that good consumerist alienation. It’s the Future.

This whole situation leaves the EU sitting on the fence: once again pushed to the edge by an existential security crisis, it looks into the abyss of full political consolidation. A Brussels’ bureaucrat wet dream of technologically-enhanced European solidarity with green, deculturalized, borderless markets, and a high-speed railroad from Lisbon to Beijing. The freight trains finally making the trip back to China fully loaded, for a change. Or, on the contrary, perhaps coronavirus will succeed where Jihadist terrorism did not, as the Schengen space collapses and disintegrates. The result is the same: either sell to the Chinese, or let the Chinese buy what’s left of your remains. The barbarians must pay tribute to the Middle Kingdom once more. And this is also the Future.

So, the landscape is evidently changing, one way or another. The World as we know it is being digested by the powerful revolutionary enzymes of technoeconomic Progress. Some kind of Brave New World, Fully Automated Luxury Communism looms over the horizon. The technology is coming nonetheless, so we might as well adapt. But what are those clouds gathering in the horizon? What dark forces dare to oppose this New Dawn?

Obviously, Socialism has always been an adversary of Capitalism. An often overlooked aspect of the Communist Manifesto, however, is how many of its few pages are dedicated to attacking Socialism. Communist animosity against socialists has its origin in the fact that socialists, as a force, opposes the forces of historical development, of Progress. The Progress which, as we were saying, can only be brought forth by Capitalism. Socialism means deceleration. Engels made it clear in the 1890 German edition of the Manifesto, when justifying its title: at the time of its first publication in 1848, the word “socialism” referred to a bourgeois movement, and “communism” to a workers’ movement. Socialism was quite respectable in the bourgeois milieu; communism was the complete opposite, an ideology for the great unwashed. And the great unwashed are the Future, too. Thus there was no choice but to describe the ultimate revolutionary ideology as Communist, in explicit rejection of Socialism.

Due to this rivalry, Chapter III of the Manifesto is basically a treatise on socialist taxonomy, comprising about 3,200 words, and distinguishing three main schools of thought: (1) Reactionary Socialism; (2) Bourgeois or conservative Socialism; and (3) Critical-Utopian Communism. All of them can be collectively described as aberrant variants of the proletarian movement, unfit for the responsibility of carrying forth the Revolution, which is a historical necessity.

The next few chapters of this series will focus on the different brands of Socialism, as understood by Marx and Engels, along with commentary on their memetic history, their associations, and their current versions.

This article is part of a series centered around the Communist Manifesto. The following installment is available here. You can read the previous article here.

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