Before getting into this stream of notes, I want to list the 3 types of relationships Zygmunt Bauman believes are particularly prone to produce “ressentiment” (rancor, malignancy, acrinomy, grudges, spite, repugnance):
1. humiliation (denial of dignity)
2. rivalry (status competition)
3. fearful ambivalence
Civilization is based on an irresolvable contradiction. How can I “love my neighbor as myself” when my neighbor may not show the slightest consideration, or, whom, when it suits him, would not hesitate to injure me, jeer at me, or slander me?
The injunction to love one’s neighbor as oneself is less likely to be obeyed than any other norm. To love one’s neighbor would be setting oneself up against Nature, turning into an unnatural being too unlike the beasts in the wild. (Bauman 2008).
We need to love ourselves before we can love others, but we need others to love us in order to love ourselves. Say what? Do we even need to love ourselves? What else could it mean to love oneself but to try to stay alive for better or for worse? Actually, survival, animal survival, bodily survival, can do without self-love. Sometimes survival does better without self-love. According to Zygmunt Bauman in Does Ethics Have A Chance in a World of Consumers?, “self-love may rebel against the continuation of life if we find that life hateful. Self-love may prod us to reject survival if our life is not up to love’s standards and therefore not worth living.”
Bauman goes on to suggest that what we love when we “love ourselves” is a self fit to be loved. In order to have self-love, we have to be loved or have the hope of being loved. Refusal of love, a snub, a rejection, denial of the status of a love-worthy object … all this breeds self-hatred.
We believe we are worthy of love when we are talked to and listened to; when we are listened to ATTENTIVELY, with an interest that signals the listeners readiness to respond. We gather then that we are respected. It is from this “state of being respected by others” that we derive the conclusion that what we think, do, or intend to do matters, that our staying alive makes a difference, that we are worthy of being cared for. Is it possible for us to value each other’s uniqueness? Are we able to “value each other for our differences, which enrich the world we jointly inhabit and make it a more fascinating and enjoyable place?”
Bauman admits that this is the bright side of the presence of the Other. Each of us is the Other’s Other. What are the obstacles we face in teaching respect? What are the obstacles to experiencing authentic respect (and not merely coerced respect, known as fear or “learned helplessness”)?
Nietzsche, Scheler, and Bauman himself point to “ressentiment” as a major obstacle to loving the Other as thyself. Bauman’s work is fascinating, and he wastes no time in exposing us to this term, ressentiment. While both Nietzsche and Schiler wrote in German, they both used the French term ressentiment, which has a complex meaning not conveyed by the English word, resentment. When reading the word ressentiment, think of rancor, repugnance, acrimony, grudge, spite, malignancy – or a combination of all these.
rancor – bitter, long-lasting resentment; deep seated ill will
acrimony – bitter or sharp animosity, especially in speech or in writing
malignancy – malevolent (wishing to harm others)
For Nietzsche, ressentiment is what the downcast, the deprived, the discriminated against, and the humiliated feel against their so-called “betters” (the self-proclaimed betters and self-established betters): the wealthy, the powerful, THOSE WHO CLAIM THE RIGHT TO BE RESPECTED TOGETHER WITH THE RIGHT TO DENY (or refute) THEIR (so-called) “INFERIORS” RIGHT TO DIGNITY.
Ressentiment, for Nietzsche, was a mixture of acrimony, envy, and spite. The deepest cause of ressentiment is the agony of cognitive dissonance, that irresolvable ambivalence: approving of qualities one does not possess involves disapprobation. Ressentiment leads not to freedom but to alleviating the pain of one’s own indignity by pulling others down. Max Scheler’s concept of ressentiment and the role it plays in society is opposite to Nietzsche’s. It is a feeling that appears among equals. The middle-class competes to promote themselves and demote others. Ressentiment results in competition and also, what Thorstein Veblen called ostentatious consumption (that shameless display of one’s own opulence and wealth to humiliate others who don’t have the same resources …) —- (Bauman 2008)
Zygmunt Bauman adds a third instance of ressentiment, the timeless kind, the most unstoppable obstacle to “loving thy neighbor:” the resentment toward strangers, outsiders – vivid tangible embodiments of the resented and feared fluidity of the real world. Many of us have served as natural props in the exorcism rituals against evil spirits threatening the orderly lives of the pious.
TV Land broadcasts the mantra, “Life is a hard game for hard people. In the game of survival, trust, compassion, and mercy are suicidal. If you are not tougher and less scrupulous than all the others, then you will be done in by them.”
I choose to resist being influenced by the cola-selling, car-culture-promoting TV as well as the big screen. Instead, I go directly to my own nervous system for the news of the world! How can I ignore this “sense” that there are some kind of invisible forces at work in my willy-nilly coming across Zygmunt Bauman’s recently published (2008) work? Early in the text, after quickly bringing to the foreground the concept of ressentiment as an obstacle to loving our neighbors, Zyggie mentions that, in Emmanual Levinas’s first publication in 1930 (a prize winning essay on the role assigned to intuition in Edmund Husserl’s work) was dedicated to the “exegesis and interpretation of the teachings of the founder of modern phenomenology” [Husserl] – his philosophy teacher.
On the authority of a procedure conceived, practiced, and legitimized by Husserl – the phenomenological reduction – Levinas endorsed putting ethics before ontology. Deploying tools like epoche (detachment, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming this?”) led Levinas not to transcendental subjectivity but to the “impenetrable transcendental otherness of the Other.” (Bauman 2008)
Is societal coercion necessary to prevent “war of all against all?” – like in H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, when each “god-beast” was toting an automatic machine gun, coming down to an orgy of bodies dropping? Would the cessation of social coercion render humans unable to resist the morbid pleasures of their own essentially antisocial instincts? Look at the way the cities of the liquid-modern consumers are designed. See the obsession with security? Do you notice how the poor and hungry serve and even protect the hallucinations of the well-connected? Civilization is unthinkable without coercion.
Freud presented social coercion as the very essence of civilization: since the “pleasure principle” (desire for orgasm, or the inborn inclination to laziness) would guide [in Freud’s view, “misguide”] individual conduct toward “the wasteland of asociality or sociopathy,” unless it were constrained and counterbalanced by “power-aided, authority-operated ‘reality principle,’ civilization could not function.”
Now, at the threshold of the modern era, Nature was viewed as the major source of uncertainty that haunted human life. The ill-will, malice, and uncouth conduct of the neighbors next door [me], or the next street, or beyond the river [the inner-cities], that made people fear and tremble, were classified on the side of Nature, as distinct from the man-made part of the world. Giorgo Agamben suggests that the constitutive feature of the sovereign state was the “relation of exception,” through which “something is included solely through its exclusion.”
The modern state was about managing human affairs through the exclusion of everything unmanageable and thereby undesirable. Uncertainty and all that caused it – all that was resistant to management, all that evaded categorization, all that was under-defined, all that was category-crossing, all that was ambiguous, and all that was ambivalent – was the major, most toxic pollution of the would-be man-made order that had to be excluded.
Uncertainty had to be excluded! Honest souls most certainly pose a problem to the managers of the social machinery. Am I a philosopher-in-chains?
In our society of consumers, where so many seem to act on an urge to replicate the lifestyles currently recommended by the markets and praised by the markets’ hired and voluntary spokespersons, management has ceased to be associated with external coercion. This urge to replicate social norms is perceived as a manifestation and proof of personal freedom!
Only if one tries to opt out and retreat from the chase – or if one is blackballed and chased away from the chase (a truly horrifying scenario) or refused admission a priori – will one learn just how powerful are the forces that manage the racetrack, guard the entries, and keep the runners running – and only then will one find out how severe is the punishment meted out to the helpless and insubordinate.
Those who opt out of the rat race may easily slip into the ranks of the “collateral victims” of consumerism – the excluded, the outcasts, the underclass. Most gorts are terrified of slipping through the cracks of their bubble-worlds and “falling by the wayside” or “going down the tubes,” and so they fall prey to the market forces, consuming the products which will grant them approval, thereby avoiding exclusion, abandonment, and loneliness in the Taker Prison. Those of the silent majority most terrified of the fluidity of the real Natural World, which we are all still the presence of, enclose themselves in elaborate bubbles, always in some kind of bubble, whether it has wheels or flies or floats on the water or is stationary.
Those who get by without such bubbles, without anything but basic shelter and a life of eating from day to day, are flawed consumers and so also become social outcasts. What enormous psycho-socio-economic coercion is required to promote and instill such “civilizing choices” as the work ethic! And yet, this variety of the civilizing process arouses little if any dissent, resistance, or rebellion as it represents the obligation to choose as freedom of choice. Individuals are expected (obliged) to choose to consume more and more, to reinvent their identities according to what they can “afford” or how much debt they are willing to commit themselves to climbing out of.
This is the culture that has farmed us, mis-educated us, and continues to drive us insane.
Since it is the United States that defines the meaning of the new planetary order, designs its shape, and manages, monitors, equips and polices its implementation, the real challenge to Europe is that the sole superpower of the planet fails abominably to lead the planet toward peaceful coexistence and away from imminent disaster. This superpower may become a prime cause of disasters’ not being averted. The US military behaves like a fearful giant striking about wildly, further intensifying peoples’ already bitter resentment of the callousness and arrogance with which their needs and ambitions are treated by the high and mighty princes and princesses of the planet. Conflicts and antagonisms multiply and the chances for peaceful cohabitation become ever more remote.
How does one hold onto respect in a world of consumers? Are we able to respect such depth of thought that Bauman displays in environments contaminated with the mantra of TV-land spreading fear and toughness – where respect is reserved for only brute-militaristic-force or obscene wealth? Is respect in our world reserved for external power? While the managers and engineers work on ways to get around why human beings are so reluctant to love their neighbors, or even reluctant to love themselves, I wonder why the concept of neighbors is restricted to human beings, or even human beings around us? What if we love our bird neighbors and tree neighbors and cloud beings more than we even love ourselves or our bloody human neighbors? What if we know quite well what side we are on in this monotheistic-God versus Nature battle, in this Scientific-humanistic-State versus Nature battle. I shake my rattle. I’m not like trained cattle. Somebody’s gonna have to kill me before I am farmed into chattel.
Your mind for a job.
Your mind for a hair-dryer.
Your mind for a car.
Your mind for consumption.
What’s YOUR function?
Nature does indeed belong to itself, and something that the managers of the liquid-modern societies of consumers seem to always overlook is the fact that Nature is within us and IS every mineral in our bodies. You don’t have to love the poisonous snake. Just don’t tread on it. Respect it. Don’t try to subdue it or decide it is too aggressive and hostile and reptilian to deserve your respect.
We shouldn’t confuse respect with fear.
Ressentiment, for Nietzsche, was a mixture of acrimony, envy, and spite. The deepest cause of ressentiment is the agony of cognitive dissonance, that irresolvable ambivalence: approving of qualities one does not possess involves disapprobation.
disapprobation – the state of being disapproved
It has to do with our dignity.
We are supposed to admire qualities we hate? We’re supposed to admire greed and stupidity?
My lack of interest in most all of the products promoted by the liquid-modern society causes me to be a social outcast. Perhaps I was even chased out of the race. Maybe people like me have been wildly resistant to being managed, controlled, or manufactured. So, what does it mean to be unmanageable?
management := to cause (humans, animals, etc) to submit to one’s control
To manage is to manipulate probabilities. To manage means to limit the freedom of the managed.
There is a neat division between the managers and the managed, the powerful and the submissive, those behind locked doors “engineering” and those being engineered upon. The managers-and-managed is intrinsically agonistic; the two sides pursue two opposite purposes and are able to cohabit solely in a conflic-ridden, suspicion-infected, and battle-ready mode.
It is so frustrating to realize that the toughness and hardness of those who would claim to have been made this way “by the streets” may actually be the result of television viewing and TV-Land’s enculturation to HATE. The world today conspires against trust. The city in ancient times may have kept danger out, but in our world, the city itself breeds the danger. The city is a death sentence.
As far as what Nietzsche calls “ressentiment” (see above), the “old” Natives of North America knew how to handle this. They just got rid of anything anybody wanted. They didn’t own property and they dressed in rags. They laid low and let the aristocrats, egalitarians, sycophamts, and assassins all look on them as worthless. Pirsig examines this in his second and last book, LILA.
It seems that I can only love “my neighbors” in the abstract, only at a distance. I am finally reading Dostoevsky’s final novel, The Brothers Karamazov; and I’m not ashamed to confess that, reading some sections aloud, I could not keep from crying tears. There is gut-wrenching scene about the pain, bitterness and anger of a nine year-old boy defending his shattered impoverished father’s “honor” against a heartless pack of mocking teenagers. But that’s not the passage that applies to this thread. It is a passage from Part Two Book Five Chapter Four … Ivan speaking to his brother Alyosha, who is living in a monastary but is not a monk:
“I must make you one confession,” Ivan said.
“I could never understand how one can love one’s neighbors. It’s just one’s neighbors, to my mind, that one can’t love, though one might love those at a distance.”
“Beggars should especially never show themselves, but to ask for charity through the newspapers. One can love one’s neighbors in the abstract, or even at a distance, but at close quarters it’s almost impossible.”
“I think if the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”