The Reflexivity of the Swarm
We are fast approaching a point in the intersubjective texture of American life in which if one does not find immediate agreement with someone else’s discourse or language, it will automatically be experienced as oppressive, violent, and privileged.
This does not point to something simple like, “The problem is we are refusing to really listen to each other and understand,” but rather the fact we have passed the point in which listening to the Other is even possible.(1)
The worst kind of violence, which is always an outward expression of internalized emotional and spiritual dysfunction, does not emerge from differentiation, clear and distinct boundaries in which one can easily relate to Otherness; but rather the terror of Sameness,(2) the horrifying feeling that you are losing yourself to the Other’s desire.
This now structural feature of American political discourse is pointing towards the looming presence of violence, and there is no other way to interpret this phenomenon. And the violence is not simply oppressor versus oppressed, MAGA versus Antifa, it is violence as violence in its most elemental form: scapegoating, victimization, and the radical reflexivity of a mob out looking for blood.(3)
One of the strangest features of the 21st century late-capitalist world is the level of narcissistic-individuation that takes place internal to the structure of the mob, or as Byung Chul-Han terms it, “the digital swarm.”(3)
The violence of the swarm today, digital or embodied, is not constituted by a group of people all wearing the same uniform and outwardly expressing the same views as it was in the past.
The truly frightening element of the mob (or swarm) today is the way it masks itself, the way it shields it’s raging desire for Sameness: the mob allows and even encourages radical differentiation in appearance, personal world views, and individual idiosyncrasies to be fully expressed so long as you are in accordance with the fundamental rhythmic motion of the group — which of course is none other than violence.
The great drummer of the Grateful Dead Micky Hart once said something to the effect, “The world is made of rhythm.” This is of course true, and it is true on the molecular level the same way it is true on the sociopolitical level; and the most dangerous of all rhythms in the rhythm of the reflexive mob unconsciously looking for a scapegoat so to discharge its surplus desire.
- See, Han, B. The Expulsion of the Other
- See, Girard, R. Violence and the Sacred
4. See, Han, B. In the Swarm