Saturday, 4 May 2013

Reactionary Mind

First published in the Backbencher. April 21 2013

The Reactionary Mind

The Reactionary Mind

The fear that stalks the reactionary mind is the prospect of the loss of power. The fear goes as deep as it possible to go in the human psyche and impels action. Power and most importantly fear of its loss, does corrupt – it forces those with it to protect it from those without it, at all costs. Its most obvious examples are seen in the brutal gangsters who operate their protection rackets through sheer physical strength. We should note though that not all gangsters follow the model of Bonny and Clyde – gangsters come in many, often highly respectable, suits.

But power is a ubiquitous feature of human life and rarely is it given up easily. Lived out in the actions of men over women, landowner over landless, wealth over poverty, manager over managed, the reactionary mind feels threatened and preoccupied with self preservation to the extent that defensiveness structures what it is. The reactionary’s raison-detre is the maintenance if not extension of its own power – it looks out to see and interpret the world in terms of personal threat.

Within ‘civilized societies’, the fist cannot be the first defensive manouvre for the reactionary although it always lurks ominously not far behind the veil of social relations. The same rules don’t apply to other societies however - the fist is more easily, more justifiably, wielded towards external threat – any ‘other’ that doesn’t have membership of ‘our’ world.

Within civilized societies the reactionary mind has to deploy some form of reasoning and turns to the tactic of controlling the semantics. It polices the groundwork of possibility, constructs commonsense and claims a version of reality that flatters its own interests. ‘There is no alternative to the way we run things’ it says to any challenger ‘because life is only possible the way we run things – look around you its obvious and any attempt to change the rules has ended in chaos and destruction. You must accept the way it is and your position in it.’

The problem is though that the reactionary mind is simply that - a reaction - it has no real philosophy despite the tub-thumping ideological trickery of the largely conservative heads in which it sits.  Principles are thrown to the wind when the self interests of the powerful clash – witness the constant schism between the pro and anti EU Tories.

The reactionary mind is forced into all sorts of defensive contortions because the position of power it holds has been arrived at through luck or brutality – attributes that have no real credentials or philosophy. For the most part people inherit power through forces beyond their control, or they fight for it. For such fighters they have got where they have by assuming the rules of the jungle. When they get their position of power, the unthinking reaction to defend it structures the way they think.

There is no real intellectual coherence to the reactionary mind despite the occasional ‘I worked to get where I am’ justification. It is luck that the winners were not born under the carpet-bombing or a thousand years ago or in some hell hole - they have merely exploited the circumstances in which they found themselves.

That’s not to belittle the sincere efforts of many – most people do engage their lives and the world honestly and some attain positions of power from where they operate decent and considered agendas. But these are not the reactionaries. They are not normally inclined to knee jerk reactions in defense of positions of power once they have attained them albeit the cut and thrust and greasy pole of the hierarchy promotes them to.

The worst of it is that the reactionary mind is suspicious of everything and sees threat everywhere.

Not much good if we really want to play fair and find sustainable solutions to the problems we face.


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