A hallmark of the middle class rebel is that he is,
in certain stages of his development, extremely normal.
It sounds counter-intuitive but the extremism with which
the rebel embraces the normal, the banal, the non-
extreme, identifies him as a rebel. The Source of
Terrorism (p. 213): "the middle class rebels by
conforming, i.e., conformism in extremis shows
that class has overshot the mark..." In his non-
rebellion -- often, anti-rebellion -- phases, all the
dynamics that characterize rebellion as we commonly
know it are present, albeit latently. Only the
Beware the good child -- the polite and well-mannered
kid, the altar boy, the youngest-ever Eagle Scout,
the engineering student, the exemplary marine, the
accomplished pianist, the officious bank teller and bill
collector. He, not the teenager caught drinking beer
or smoking a joint, is the one who climbs up the
tower at the University of Texas and shoots 48 people.
-- Part (1) of this series, November 28, 2014 --
The Hong Kong parking question is making the Internet rounds -- deservedly so.
It contains a lesson not taught in American elementary schools. High schools either. You won´t see it in a single U.S. state university. Forget Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford. Oxford and Cambridge? -- you´re joking. The Sorbonne? Pas de chance.
What could a 20-second question for Hong Kong children possibly have to do with terrorism?
Helpful Hint 1: You won´t solve the parking spot puzzle without changing your perspective -- ever.
* * *
They say truth is stranger than fiction. Some things are stranger still...
Take this incident. Agence France-Presse issued a poorly-phrased tweet "implying the FBI director himself might be Jihadi John. "
How could anybody say such a thing? Silly and ridiculous at best; scandalous and abominable at worse. We´ll return to abominable in a moment.
(i) There must be some truth somewhere somehow in the tweet. Otherwise, dear reader, it would not have stirred up your sharp emotional reaction.
(ii) The poor phrasing of the tweet suggests a Freudian slip occurred (for a discussion of that phenomenon, see our post of April 8, 2014, "Freud on Obama"). To wit: for a few seconds the tweet´s author´s unconscious welled up and seized control, short-circuiting his conscious censorship.
James Comey and Jihadi John are birds of a feather. Kindred spirits: that was the message the unconscious sent.
Strange... How could the FBI and ISIS, the CIA and al-Qaeda, Homeland Security and Boko Haram, as opposed as they are, have something in common?
In posing that riddle and seeking to solve it, this post presents a new perspective on terrorism. Without it, you have no more chance of understanding terrorists than you do of finding the answer to the Hong Kong parking lot question -- and for exactly the same reason. Your assumptions are false.
Many people believe they already have a new perspective. They think Jihadi John, the terrorist headmaster in ISIS decapitation videos of Westerners, is a CIA stooge. According to this line of thought, if he is not directly on Washington´s payroll he is indirectly so, i.e., not knowing a terrorist when they have one two feet in front of them, the CIA and the Pentagon naively funded and equipped ISIS to combat the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Today, a few years later, everybody knows about ISIS. What had been latent is now manifest. Even in the changed circumstance, however, Jihadi John provides a vital service to America. As did Osama bin Laden before him, Jihadi John is the iconic terrorist who ignites Western hatred and legitimizes American military presence in the Middle East. The clarion call goes out from the American press and populace: Get him! God damn it -- GET HIM!!!
And so, as a useful dupe, if Jihadi John is not directly financed by Washington, he is at least left alone to tease and torment. In either case, the last thing Washington wants is to GET HIM!!!
We think there is significant, indirect merit in the position that Washington is aiding and abetting Jihadi John -- indirect in that its meaning is not literal but figurative. As figurative as Jihadi John himself.
Our last post denounced the FBI´s current policy, i.e., the agency says it knows who Jihadi John is but refuses to publicly name him. Assuming the FBI is not lying, in terms of strategy and tactics the FBI´s position is complete nonsense. To tear off Jihadi John´s mask would instantly strip him of his mystique. He would become what he was before he joined ISIS: Wally or Billy, son of the saccharine couple two doors down -- the boy the other boys used to beat up in the bathroom between classes.
On the other hand, if you need somebody to hate... I will add parenthetically that if you need somebody to hate, you had better figure out why you need him; you are in dire trouble.
Back to the Hong Kong parking spot question: I hate to tell you but your 20 seconds are up. That´s O.K., though, for our purposes. Don´t quit; gaze deeper.
Helpful Hint 2. If you look at the top of the car, you will see what appears to be a digital zero. I suspect its purpose is to distract you. The correct answer is not "0."
* * *
Since there are no rational or conscious reasons for the FBI to keep secret Jihadi John´s identity, there must be irrational, unconscious ones.
They belong to the realm of ideology. To understand them requires a fresh perspective on terrorism. It starts at the source, the middle class, from which most terrorists come. (Update, January 3, 2015. Our three-day-old new year has already presented two case studies: (i) Abu Anas al Libi, al-Qaeda operative, died yesterday of liver cancer while in U.S. custody. He was an engineer. (ii) Christodoulos Xiros, an escaped prisoner and member of the Greek November 17 terrorist group, was recaptured hours ago. His father is an orthodox priest.)
We offer below, in abbreviated form, a discussion from The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion. Due to unprecedented international censorship, you will not find what you are going to read anywhere else.
At least since ancient Greece, the socioeconomic middle class has performed the indispensable role of reconciling the upper and lower classes. Concerning that role, Aristotle’s 2,000-year-old perceptions and judgments are alive and well.
Aristotle wrote that neither the rich nor the poor would
“tolerate a system under which either ruled in its turn: they have too little confidence in one another. A neutral arbitrator always gives the best ground for confidence; and ‘the man in the middle’ is such an arbitrator.”
But why should the man in the middle be trusted? Aristotle´s answer: the middle class “forms the mean” and “moderation and the mean are always best.” Being moderate, those who occupy the middle “are the most ready to listen to reason.”(1)
In brief, the middle class was Aristotle’s totem.(2) I see no need to elaborate further his viewpoint; most readers grew up with it. Guardian and helper: the totemic status of the middle class prevails in all Western societies.
The fact that Aristotle´s viewpoint has endured for 2,000 years suggests it is true -- and it is. As we shall see, however, it is not the only truth.
A new perspective on terrorism begins with this seldom-asked question: what does middle mean? To repeat, middle is the origin of terrorism.
The question is as simple as it is complex, as empirical as it is mythological.
The answer will show how the inconceivable becomes conceivable, the impossible possible. The reasonable and moderate middle class so vital to harmony and stability is also the source of terrorism and upheaval. It is here, in the middle class, that FBI Director James Comey and Jihadi John see each other in the mirror.
Our question, what does middle mean?, must be addressed in terms of middle in its wider context, viz., as a phylum. The socioeconomic middle class is only one of countless classes comprising that phylum.(3)
The middle phylum has been rigorously analyzed by anthropologists. Three indispensable findings:
(i) Besides being intermediary, to be middle is to be in transition. In 1908, Arnold Van Gennep found transition to be a truly universal phenomenon:
"The phenomenon of a transition may be noted in many…human activities, and it recurs also in biological activity in general, in the applications of physical energy, and in cosmic rhythms. It is necessary that two movements in opposite directions be separated by a point of inertia, which in mechanics is reduced to a minimum by an eccentric and exists only potentially in circular motion. But, although a body can move through space in a circle at a constant speed, the same is not true of biological or social activities. Their energy becomes exhausted, and they have to be regenerated at more or less close intervals. The rites of passage ultimately correspond to this fundamental necessity, sometimes so closely that they take the form of rites of death and rebirth."(4)
Some basic points. First, as a universal cosmic entity, transition cannot be suppressed, evaded, “cured,” “fixed,” superseded. Second, as a human phenomenon, transition is not entirely "bad"; it is necessary for regeneration. Third, transition only exists within a context, viz., relative to fixed points. If those points change, the context changes; indeed, a transition can cease to be a transition and turn into a fixed point. Conversely, what was previously a fixed point can become a transition to something else.
(ii) To be middle is to be marginal. Franz Baermann Steiner refined Van Gennep’s theory by seeing transitions as movements through marginal zones filled with danger:
"[Van Gennep] concerns himself with ritual behaviour occasioned by passing from one social status to another and from one age or relationship to another. He shows us the eternal pattern of transformation, of becoming, in which the stage before transformation and the one after are socially recognised, safeguarded, and protected. The passage over the border itself, however, is unrelated to such safeguards and lies in a sphere of danger. In passing through, and even in enacting these dangers, various ritual abstentions are observed, and in this context one suddenly discovers that the great number of taboos are indeed concerned with the various delimitations of our spheres and boundaries, our time span and our experiences.…One aspect of taboo undoubtedly consists in providing an idiom for the description of everything that matters in terms, quite literally, of transgression; of passing, that is, from inside-outside the individual’s rights or competence."(5)
(iii) Finally, along with being transitional and marginal, to be middle implies, as Steiner mentioned, taboos.
Mary Douglas, a former student of Steiner, explained the middle class/taboo connection in terms of the two origins of taboos: (1) impurity and (2) danger.
(1) Douglas began her analysis of impurity with an ancient enigma. Deuteronomy xiv and Leviticus xi present lists of prohibited food. At first glance, the forbidden, “abominable things” have nothing in common. She asked, “Why should the frog be clean and the mouse and the hippopotamus unclean? What have chameleons, moles and crocodiles got in common that they should be listed together…?”(6) Centuries of inquiry failed to solve the enigma.
Douglas affirmed that impurity does not exist in an absolute sense; rather, impurity is impurity only within a context:
“For the only way in which pollution ideas make sense is in reference to a total structure of thought whose key-stone, boundaries, margins and internal lines are held in relation by rituals of separation.”(7)
In the case of forbidden food, the context or total structure of thought is holiness:
"The only sound approach is to forget hygiene, aesthetics, morals and instinctive revulsion…, and start with the texts. Since each of the injunctions is prefaced by the command to be holy, so they must be explained by that command. There must be contrariness between holiness and abomination which will make over-all sense of all the particular restrictions."
What, then, is holiness?
She observed, “Holiness is the attribute of Godhead. Its root means ‘set apart.’…Granted that its root means separateness, the next idea that emerges is of the Holy as wholeness and completeness.”(8)
Being separate, whole, and complete,
“Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the class to which they belong. And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused...Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order.”(9)
Finally, order is not only the Holy’s purpose, it is also practical. “The blessing of God makes the land possible for men to live in. God’s work through the blessing is essentially to create order, through which men’s affairs prosper.”(10)
We come to Douglas’ solution of the 2,000-year-old enigma:
“[I]n general, the underlying principle of cleanness in animals is that they shall conform fully to their class. Those species are unclean which are imperfect members of their class, or whose class itself confounds the general scheme of the world.”(11)
For answering our question, What does middle mean?, Douglas´ solution has astounding implications:
The socioeconomic middle class, the intermediate/transitional/marginal class, is located where the other two classes meet, mix, are confounded. It is hardly surprising that, as did Tocqueville before them, many scholars today see more than one middle class: it escapes definition, its order and borders are obscure; any determination of its form and contents is unstable and disputable.
Once those qualities are accepted, one conclusion is inescapable, and it is a conclusion diametrically opposed to the Aristotelian view: the socioeconomic middle class is impure and confounds order, is dangerous and threatens prosperity. Middle class terrorism and extremism become not only conceivable but also possible, indeed probable.
Phrased in dramaturgical terms, the Babbitts of Sinclair Lewis and the devils of Dostoevsky are different aspects of the same thing. That is what the France-Presse tweet unconsciously picked up on.
The other, dark side of the middle class is known but not consciously recognized. That side is something almost totally unexplored, deadly, touching the essence of Western civilization if not of humanity itself. If our presentation of the dark side created a feeling of revelation in you, it is due to that side´s unconscious status, viz., it is something you already knew but were not aware of.
The knowledge you already had was based on a simple reality. Everybody has experienced middle class existence and its dark aspect. If you crossed a street you were in the middle until you arrived at the other side.
The view of the socioeconomic middle class as polluted and abominable is the shadow of the prevailing, conventional view of that class as moderate and reasonable, as the best class.
The shadow side is visible today, first of all, in its absolute invisibility. Nobody disputes that the majority of terrorists are from the middle class; however, nobody apart from this blog is saying so without reserve and is investigating further.
That missing discussion testifies to the totemic status of the middle class discussed above. In presenting the dark side, we are delivering a message nobody wants to hear. Make that is allowed to hear.
Whenever what is common knowledge is not openly acknowledged, at least one taboo is in place. As we have seen, taboos go with the middle territory. More on taboos shortly.
And secondly, the abominable, dark side of the middle class is visible in its projection onto the screen of Islam. That projection transports the source of terrorism elsewhere, thousands of miles away, to another continent and to boiling desert sands where it can be "handled."
That the shadow side is unconscious is detectable not only in the projection onto Islam (for all projections are unconscious) but also in the energy with which the projection takes place, an energy that is more than sufficient to override any and all discordant factual evidence, logic, arguments. That is why nothing said here will make the slightest bit of difference. There will be no echo.
But repression rarely succeeds totally. What is repressed, in this case our alternative explanation -- the middle class is the source of terrorism -- breaks through consciousness repeatedly in the form of a bolt from the blue, a slip, an afterthought. The poor wording of the France-Presse tweet is the latest case in a long -- very long -- line of cases.
(2) We come Douglas’ second source of taboos: danger. As does impurity, danger derives its meaning from the context of the Holy.
As noted, the Holy stipulates that God’s ultimate purpose is order. With order, mankind can prosper. As for disorder, Douglas noted we have an ambivalent attitude:
"Granted that disorder spoils pattern, it also provides the material of pattern. Order implies restriction; from all possible materials, a limited selection has been made and from all possible relations a limited set has been used. So disorder by implication is unlimited, no pattern has been realised in it, but its potential for patterning is indefinite. That is why, though we seek to create order, we do not simply condemn disorder. We recognise that it is destructive to existing patterns; also that it has potentiality. It symbolises both danger and power.
Ritual recognises the potency of disorder. In the disorder of the mind, in dreams, faints and frenzies, ritual expects to find powers and truths which cannot be reached by conscious effort."(12)
If danger is inherent to disorder, it follows that danger is inherent to any and all intermediate/transitional/marginal zones, which are ipso facto areas of disorder. Douglas reiterated this essential relationship in noting that Van Gennep
"saw society as a house with rooms and corridors in which passage from one to another is dangerous. Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is indefinable. The person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time and then publicly declares his entry to his new status. Not only is transition itself dangerous, but also the rituals of segregation are the most dangerous phase of the rites.…The whole repertoire of ideas concerning pollution and purification are used to mark the gravity of the event and the power of ritual to remake a man -- this is straightforward."(13)
We arrive at our general conclusion:
Every middle class per se -- every member of the middle phylum -- is manifestly or latently a carrier of impurity and danger, contagion and corruption, transgression and power -- a forbidden zone laden with taboos. You just saw the heart of our new perspective on terrorism.
Tragically, any discussion in academia, government or mainstream media of the abominable, dark side of the socioeconomic middle class is taboo. Tragically, because an understanding of terrorism is impossible without acknowledging that side.
Speaking of zones... I bet you still haven´t solved the parking spot problem. Helpful Hint 3: the answer is right in front of you.
* * *
The middle phylum is the context that gives the socioeconomic middle class meaning as the entity that it is -- the source of terrorism and extremism. To repeat: that context is in direct opposition to the middle class in terms of what it does, i.e., provide moderation, reconciliation, reason, balance, stability.
We indicated at the outset that the Aristotelian view of the middle class as the agent of moderation and reconciliation is correct, that it is based on history, on life experiences, on reality.
Our picture of the middle class is now ambiguous. If there is a single key to understanding the middle class in general and the socioeconomic middle class in particular, it is ambiguity and the ambivalent attitudes it generates. There is much truth in Karl Marx’s observation:
“[T]he petty bourgeois is composed of On The One Hand and On The Other Hand. This is so in his economic interests and therefore in his politics, in his scientific, religious and artistic views. It is so in his morals, in everything. He is a living contradiction.”(14)
Why is the socioeconomic middle class necessarily ambiguous?
As an intermediate/transitional/marginal phenomenon, that class is neither separate from the other two classes nor is it united with them. Sometimes with the one, sometimes the other; subsequently both; then neither: middle class existence is anything but straightforward, clear.
There is no greater testimony to the fundamental ambiguity of the middle class than the welter of taboos in and around it, for taboos are founded on ambivalent emotions. To develop this point, we turn from anthropology to psychoanalysis, to Freud. Here is his central thesis:
"Taboo is a primeval prohibition imposed (by some authority) from outside, and directed against the most powerful longings to which human beings are subject. The desire to violate it persists in their unconscious; those who obey the taboo have an ambivalent attitude to what the taboo prohibits. The magical power that is attributed to taboo is based on the capacity for arousing temptation; and it acts like a contagion because examples are contagious and because the prohibited desire in the unconscious shifts from one thing to another. The fact that the violation of a taboo can be atoned for by a renunciation shows that renunciation is at the basis of obedience to taboo."(15)
In much the same language of the anthropologists, Freud associated taboos with an intermediate/transitional/marginal zone, viz., with a person in an unusual situation(16), as well as with a power or dangerous charge attached to all exceptional states.(17) He also observed that taboo means, “on the one hand, ‘sacred’, ‘consecrated’, and on the other ‘uncanny’, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unclean’.”(18) Finally, as if to drive home his point that taboos are an outgrowth of ambivalence, Freud summed up: “‘Taboo’ is itself an ambivalent word….”(19) The image of the cave-dwelling outlaw Osama bin Laden on horseback was for many people a primeval example of the person in an exceptional situation and with a dangerous charge, of the sacred/dirty contradiction in action.
We sum up by showing where our perspective leads:
The FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and Pentagon view themselves as being poles apart from terrorists. We entirely agree.
Opposite poles, however, are exactly the problem.
The middle class spectrum is not straight. It bends in the form of a horse shoe. The opposite ends -- the Babbitts and the possessed, the Chamber of Commerce mainstreeters and Jihadi Johns -- are closer than you ever imagined; sometimes, they touch.(20)
Most CIA agents, for starters, come from the "middle classes of middle America;" they are right out of an Andy Hardy movie. But just as important to qualify for middle class status is what the CIA, the FBI, and other police-authorities do day in and day out: enforce taboos.(21) If the anthropologists and Freud are right, no closer association with or participation in the middle class phylum is possible.
I am frequently asked if the CIA or FBI ever contacted me to work for them. The answer is no. As noted, they are paid to enforce taboos, not to question -- much less challenge -- them. There is another reason: they read this blog and shake their heads. They intuit I am not part of the middle class dynamic outlined at the top of this post. I am in the spectrum, but not at either end.
Most likely, dear reader, neither are you.
* * *
Hopelessly stymied by the parking spot question? If so, dear reader, I regret to inform you that you failed to be admitted to Hong Kong elementary school.
Blasted nonsense; maddening... I will put you out of your misery.
Turn the picture upside down. You will see the answer instantly.
UPDATE, January 7, 2015: The Charlie Hebdo Attack.
Hours ago masked gunmen killed 12 people in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian satirical newspaper. The search for the killers, apparently Islamic terrorists, is on.
I want to address French police directly. As our above post makes clear, when it comes to terrorists your American colleagues have a deeply-rooted problem: to put it crudely, they identify unconsciously with the people they pursue, hence are unable to do their job efficiently and effectively.
Rather than waste precious time with American mega-bucks computer programs, whiz-bang outer space vehicles, and Washington consultants chomping at the bit to fly to Paris and chow down on foie gras black truffle at Le Meurice, I hope you will read our post of August 23, 2014: "James Foley and Jihadi John: Time/Time/Time." It contains a terrorist tracking technique that would have identified the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers, within hours. No telephone taps, no email bugs, no satellites required. Basic tool: a telephone book.
Late report at 10:25 pm: French police are searching for two brothers, Chérif and Said Kouachi. Le Monde stated that in 2008 Chérif was convicted of terrorism, thus he was in the French police data bank on terrorists. It appears the police did the right thing, avoided foreign technological gimmicks and mystifications and started with what was obvious.
Early media stories on terrorist attacks often turn out to be mistaken; however, if later events prove the Kouachi brothers were the Hebdo killers, the French authorities are to be congratulated for their intelligence work and quick response.
As for FBI "help" in the search for the perpetrators of the Hebdo massacre:
On January 7, we learned from Fox News: "One of the suspects in Wednesday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris was known to U.S. law enforcement, a law enforcement official told CNN." Awwwwww...I knew that... Such is the FBI´s attempt at reflected glory from the French police´s quick identification of the Hebdo murderers. What the FBI isn´t telling you is that the suspect´s name was in a data bank containing millions of names. The FBI wants us to think that because they "had" the name on file, ipso facto they had something worthwhile, meaningful. This is a textbook example of buro-pathic behavior at its very worst.
On to was known. We are gazing at a nuanced form of the ex-post-facto prediction game. To wit: I tell you today, "Back in 1960, I knew that Barack Obama would become president." Gosh, what a smart guy! Ahhh...no. Don´t fall for it. Unless (i) back in 1960 I made my prediction in public, i.e., before witnesses, no meaningful prediction was made. Also, (ii) all real predictions are made BEFORE, not AFTER, the fact predicted. The FBI by innuendo wants you to think it identified one of the Hebdo terrorists right away. Awwwwww...I knew that... Sorry, FBI boys and girls: you didn´t know and still don´t know. What is known is something else: you have a lot of growing up to do.
It appears that one of the killers, Said, left his identification in the getaway car. You ask, how could he be so stupid? Stupidity in the normal sense of the word has little to do with it. What happened was a classic Freudian slip, mistake, gaffe, goof.
Said was ambivalent about what he was doing. On a conscious level he wanted to do what he did; on an unconscious level he wanted to be stopped, to get caught, fail. We saw the same phenomenon before, in 2010, with Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber and vintage middle class rebel turned terrorist He carelessly left the keys to his getaway car in the second car containing the bomb. He had to take the train home and return the next day with extra keys to recover the getaway car,
You don´t think the Kouachi brothers are ambivalent? In 2008, when Chérif was tried for terrorism, he told the court
"that he was motivated by U.S. troops' abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But he said he was relieved when he was arrested.
´The closer the departure got, the more I wanted to turn back,´ he told the judge, according to Le Monde. ´But if I chickened out, I was in danger of looking like a coward.´"
It is one of the great tragedies of our times that the CIA, FBI and other counter-terrorist forces don´t have the foggiest idea about the key role ambivalence plays in terrorism. If they did, you would see governments set in motion an entirely new strategy, completely new tactics. As for what that new dynamic might be, it was discussed in our post of May 7, 2010, "Times Square Bomber: Normal, All Too Normal." I suppressed it because of the suspicious nature of the geographic locations of the readers attracted to it.
Are the Kouachi brothers lumpenproletariat -- beggars, pimps, burglars, contrabandistas, con men, pickpockets, drug dealers, muggers, welfare cheats? Middle class technicians? State employees? One preliminary report places Chérif as a pizza delivery boy and fish monger, who received a "qualification in sports education." Stay tuned...
(1) Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, translated and edited by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, New York, 1962, pp. 181, 186. (Book IV, Chapters XI, XII). Tocqueville expressed the same view of the rich and the poor as implacable rivals:
“If you put aside the secondary causes of great human disturbances, you will almost always find inequality. It is the poor who wanted to despoil the rich of their goods, or the rich who tried to enslave the poor….”
[« Écartez les causes secondaires qui ont produit les grandes agitations des hommes ; vous en arriverez presque toujours à l’inégalité. Ce sont les pauvres qui ont voulu ravir les biens des riches, ou les riches qui ont essayé d’enchaîner les pauvres. […] »] Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique II, in Œuvres, Volume II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1992, p. 769. (III, XXI).
(2) The word totem is obscure and disputed. Rather than enter the on-going debate, as a rudimentary introduction to the subject I will cite the following definition: a totem
"is as a rule an animal (whether edible and harmless or dangerous and feared) and more rarely a plant or a natural phenomenon (such as rain or water), which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan. In the first place, the totem is the common ancestor of the clan; at the same time it is their guardian spirit and helper, which sends them oracles and, if dangerous to others, recognizes and spares its own children. Conversely, the clansmen are under a sacred obligation…not to kill or destroy their totem….The totemic character is inherent, not in some individual animal or entity, but in all the individuals of a given class."
Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, edited and translated by James Strachey, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, undated, p. 5. In Western culture the most prominent and pale manifestation of totems is the names of sports teams: the Kentucky Wildcats, Chicago Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, the Australian Wallabies.
Aristotle´s totem of The Golden Mean, a.k.a. the middle class, is so implanted in Western societies that negative criticism of it is extremely rare. Here is Victor Hugo’s assessment:
"There is for everything a theory that proclaims itself to be ´common sense´.…it offers mediation between the true and the false; an explanation; a warning, and a somewhat conceited attenuation which, because it is a mixture of blame and excuse, believes itself to be wisdom and which is usually only pedantry. An entire political school, called the golden mean, came out of it. Between cold water and hot water, it is warm water. This avaricious school, which is all surface, sits on the throne of a demi-science, and with its false profundity and without going into causes, dissects the effects of the movements of public affairs."
[Il y a pour toute chose un théorie qui se proclame elle-même « le bon sens »; […] médiation offerte entre le vrai et le faux; explication, admonition, atténuation un peu hautaine qui, parce qu’elle est mélangée de blâme et d’excuse, se croit la sagesse et n’est souvent que la pédanterie. Toute une école politique, appelée juste milieu, est sortie de là. Entre l’eau froide et l’eau chaude, c’est le parti de l’eau tiède. Cette école, avec sa fausse profondeur, toute de surface, qui dissèque les effets sans remonter aux causes, gourmande, du haut d’une demi-science, les agitations de la place publique.]
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables II, Edition of Yves Gohin, Gallimard, Paris, 2003, pp. 396-7.
(3) We are so accustomed to seeing middle class exclusively in terms of the socioeconomic middle class that the greater phylum of the middle is not apparent. In the interest of clarity, three examples of other classes in the middle phylum are provided below.
The first shows how an entire country can be “middle class.” That country is Iraq after American troops arrived:
“´We are all betwixt and between, suspended between the hope for freedom and the danger of occupation,´ said Sayyid Abu Mfurtadah Yasiri, 45, an Iraqi cleric, who fled the southern city of An Najaf 23 years ago after agents of Saddam murdered the grand ayatollah who was his religious mentor. ´We are happy to be rid of injustice, but we fear the Americans’ intentions.´”
Neil MacFarquhar, “Arabs are stunned and wary,” International Herald Tribune, April 11, 2003.
Our second example demonstrates how people need not be from the socioeconomic middle class to be middle class in its phylum sense. The following article was based on interviews conducted after the riots in French ghettos in 2005. I note in passing that it makes evident how French Arab youths could be attracted to ISIS:
"In the northern housing project of La Courneuve, a menacing place littered with burned-out cars and small groups of youths lingering in entrances, the frustration is palpable.…
They have spent their whole life in France, but for their whole life they have felt trapped in a cultural no man’s land: their experience in 21st-century France clashes with the traditions and history of their parents’ countries -- mostly former French colonies in Africa. Formal citizenship in France aside, they feel their North African names and their skin color still firmly set them apart.…
´We are French, but we also feel like foreigners compared to the real French,´ said Mamadou, whose father came to France from Mali decades ago and married his mother, a French woman.
Who, according to him, are the ´real´ French?
The answer comes without hesitation and to vigorous nodding by a group of his friends: ´Those with white skin and blue eyes.´…
Leaving the afternoon prayer at a makeshift outdoor mosque, Hocine, 23, a soft-spoken young man of Algerian descent in religious attire, said he was resigned to never having his culture and his religion truly accepted in France.
´How many times have I gone into Paris and have been shouted at "Go home"!’ he said. ´Home is here,´ he added. ´But it doesn’t really feel like home.´…
´We are all janitors here,´ said one young man, who appeared to be the leader of the group. ´It’s our destiny.´
Katrin Bennhold, “‘We’re French,’ but not ‘real’ French,” International Herald Tribune, November 5/6, 2005.
Third and finally, we come to Osama bin Laden.
The standard first impression is that such a fabulously wealthy individual could not possibly be middle class in any reasonable meaning of the term. However, in Saudi Arabia,
“Bin Laden, despite his family’s great wealth, was made an outsider...by not having been from the royal tribes. He’s Hadrami, people will say, meaning his family is from central Yemen, intending this as a slight and implying that’s all you really need to know.” Terry McDermott, Perfect Soldiers, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005, pp. 217-8.
Even within his own family, Osama bin Laden occupied a marginal position:
“Osama had wanted to play a major role in the company after college but was marginalized by other brothers, either because he lacked business skills, as one source contends, or because he tried to mount an unsuccessful takeover from his elder brothers.” Jane Mayer, “The House of Bin Laden,” The New Yorker, November 12, 2001. Cited in Terry McDermott, op.cit., p. 100.
(4) Arnold Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1960, p. 182.
[(5) Franz Steiner, Taboo, Truth, and Religion: Selected Writings, Volume 1, Berghahn Books, New York, 1999, p. 189.
(6) Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, Routledge, London, England, 1996, p. 42.
(8) Ibid., pp. 51, 52.
(9) Ibid., p. 54.
(10) Ibid., p. 51.
(11) Ibid., p. 56.
(12) Ibid., p. 95. The order/disorder dilemma is nowhere more directly or dramatically presented than in “The Book of Job.” The devil is, albeit with God’s permission, the agent of disorder and change.
(13) Ibid., p. 97.
(14) Karl Marx, “Marx to J. B. Schweitzer, London: January 24, 1865,” in Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, International Publishers, New York, 1971, p. 202. In Marx’s time, the petty bourgeoisie was the core of the middle class. That is no longer the case, but Marx’s characterization of the middle class as essentially ambiguous continues to have validity.
(15) Sigmund Freud, op.cit., pp. 44-5.
(16) Ibid., p. 30.
(17) Ibid., p. 29.
(18) Ibid., p. 24. Freud reiterates a line of observation made by the anthropologist W. Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites. See also the sociologist Émile Durkheim’s Les Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse.
The sociologist Roger Caillois noted that in early societies unclean and sanctity were often expressed by the same word. Only later was the differentiation made via two separate words for pure and cursed; however, the same root was preserved, showing the original unity and ambiguity. Roger Caillois, L’Homme et le sacré, Gallimard, Paris, 1996, pp. 45-6.
In ancient Rome one word, sacer, meant both sacred and unclean. The philosopher Giorgio Agamben analysed in depth this ambiguity in Homo sacer, Seuil, Paris, 1997, pp. 81-96.
(19) Freud, op.cit., p. 84.
(20) Those who view the fight against terrorists as one of "Good" (Washington) versus "Evil" (ISIS, al-Qaeda) will eventually come to the equivalent conclusion.
In one sense it can be said we went in search of what is newest; we found it in what is oldest. Our post of November 9, 2013, "Pillars of The Sea (III): Exposition":
"An interrelationship between good and evil clearly existed in the pre-Christian world. The Book of Job, arguably the oldest book in the Bible, relates that one day Satan visited God:
´7 And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
8 And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
9 Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.´
Not only did God and Satan (i) meet, they (ii) conversed. Moreover, God (iii) listened to him, and (iv) they made a covenant. The New Testament did not continue, much less develop, this richness of text.
The idea that good and evil are connected exists in the United States, albeit in a stunted form. In The Dark Knight the murderous Joker tells Batman, ´You complete me!´ What was not said -- it cannot be said in America -- is that the Joker also completes Batman. The thought that Batman could in any way identify with the criminals he pursues -- that Superman, the Man of Steel, might occasionally steal -- is taboo."
(21) This point is developed in depth in Ray R. Brown, Editor, Forbidden Fruits: Taboos and Tabooism in American Culture, University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.