Slackrifice and the Ritualization of Caring Without Helping- Rituals Week on BTR


Rick Santorum at CPAC (Creative Commons)

An Editorial

Rick Santorum: “So the gay community said, ‘He’s comparing gay sex to incest and polygamy, how dare he do this,’ and they have gone out on a, I would argue, jihad against Rick Santorum since then.”

Not to get my boxer briefs all twisted in a knot, but jihad is not some light-hearted word like, say, the word “santorum,” that can be applied to anyone picking a fight. I say this not to defend the sanctity of a word, but to remind Ricky-boy that you should tread lightly in volatile waters.

Being the unctuous bag of grease that he is, Scrotorum knows damn well the differences between jihad and JIHAD: the former inspires boos and shouts of treason while the latter inspires freedom yelps and warhawking loogies. Santorum’s stand-up routine, in addition to fellow comedians Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, are certainly worth watching for pure entertainment value, but they could learn a thing or two from their declared enemies in the Islamic world if they’re really looking to spark a revolution.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, radical Islamic factions emerged in response to growing liberalism and Western influences on Islamic territories, threatening again and again the imperial forces impinging on their world. Though inexcusable and deplorable, these seeds sprouted on September 11, 2001 with the attacks on US soil, inspiring a giant state of confusion and fear from a country that wasn’t used to looking over its shoulder.

Combine this fear of the outside world with the increasing marginalization of blue-collar labor and high profile confirmations by “political figures” that the Bible is the only thing worth reading, and you have yourself the seeds of a real radical movement[i] in the same conspiratorial modeling of the Kemalists, the Pharisees and Zealots, and the Muslim Brotherhood. (Never mind the mujahideen, to whom we bequeathed weapons to extinguish our Red enemies in the 1970s and later had to negate as progeny like Frankenstein did his monster.

Taking a look back to when medieval Christian dogmatism promoted asceticism and extreme forms of self-subjugation like flagellation, sexual denial, and social isolation, Islamic leaders were already having heated discussions about the social applicability of Islamic thought in government. And much like the Bible, a lot of stuff in the Qu’ran once made sense but no longer fits into a world where women and homosexuals are humans, and slavery is not OK.

It is only recently though that Islam has been associated with the types of blind zealotry made globally public on 9/11, when worshiping took on a new purpose: from “[gaining] His blessing, and purify the soul” to “protest events playing out on the evening news.”[ii] An anti-imperialist, reactionary re-definition of Islam took shape not because the Qu’ran explicitly dictates such behavior, but because radical Islamists reappropriated Muhammad’s Hadiths and sections of the Qu’ran to justify aggression toward perceived enemies in the name of survival. The rationality of Ijtihad, or the “striving, truth-seeking” attempt to interpret Islamic law along with independent reasoning, was constantly at odds with its companion jihad, a more emotional, devotional concept relating to the defense of Islam. The “struggle” versus the “striving” played out from Islam’s beginnings up to now, where Turkey fights to assert itself not only against the West but against its less progressive Islamists in the Middle East. In late 7th century Islamdom, the Kharijites, also known as the “Dissenters”, “denounced as “infidels” every Muslim who disagreed with their doctrine and then set about killing them.”

So while the Zealots of Islam walked through the streets hiding daggers beneath their cloaks and assassinating known enemies to their cause (and then later committing mass suicides to prevent capture), this contemporary American zealotry stops at words and under a pretense of civility. It’s one group of slacktivists against another, slackrificing nothing but the time they could have spent listening to Rush Limbaugh or reading Harper’s for more fuel to add to a completely fruitless online slacktivism.

On November 3, 2006, the activist-musician Malachi Ritscher self-immolated as an act of protest to the Iraq War, writing in his mission statement, “I too love God and Country, and feel called upon to serve,” and offering his life in reaction to what he viewed as a criminally corrupt political system backed up by unflappable public complacency and cynicism. The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper condemned the act as pointless, writing that “if he thought setting himself on fire and ending his life in Chicago would change anyone’s mind about the war in Iraq, his last gesture on this planet was his saddest and his most futile.” Was Ritscher’s act worth a quantitative analysis – a sort of treasonous capitulation to modern America’s injusticies – or should it be viewed as a selfless act in the name of what could be American pride? Whatever it was, that kind of symbolic act has disappeared from our imaginations as lacking utility and therefore moronic.

Theodor Adorno, a Frankfurt School theorist and musicologist wrote in the late 1930s, Hitler’s Germany that “it is seen as arrogant, alien and improper to engage in private activity without any evident ulterior motive. Not to be ‘after’ something is almost suspect: no help to others in the rat race is acknowledged unless legitimized by counter claims.”[iii]

He argued against basic instinct, greed, and competitive ruthlessness as rationale for bad behavior in marketplace activities, and mourned the victory of advanced capitalism and the complacency that comes with a society of utility. Whether or not he would view Ritscher’s self-sacrifice as in any way honorable depends not on any previous incarnation of self-sacrifice, but on the social context of his action. In a society that criminalizes suicide, his act was not only unlawful but unproductive. In the 10th century he could have been a martyr, but today he might be labeled insane (as in, the sane operate within society’s rules and the insane do not).

The Enlightenment Era had a lot to do with Marxist discourse like Adorno’s, bringing us a utilitarian mindset that turned our attention away from the afterlife and towards the present life, where at least we had some tangible idea relating to cause and effect. The gradual move away from original sin and, sublimated into socioeconomics, the progress toward social mobility, was a democratic triumph to celebrate the cerebral detachment of individual from nation and religion. With a move out from under the thumb of God came inward thought, self-reflection (Modernity), and the valuation of the self as a body of use, expression, and play.

The rise of the self as a commodity, however, has been exponential since Freud’s exploration of the ego and the id, and many (notably, Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays) realized they could successfully use his discoveries and theories on the mind’s insecurities to make consumers buy shit they didn’t need. Karl Rove’s brilliant appropriation of this industry of manipulation brought evangelism’s unconditional love of God and Country into the mass culture, exploiting the vestigial qualities of loyalty and dedication to family and God and channeling it into politics.

Today, the idea that our individual lives are to be valued over anything else in the world is taken for granted, and that’s where the breakdown of the ritualization of sacrifice begins and ends in our country and in most capitalist democracies. Islam’s war against the prospect of losing its grip on the individual as a devoted member above the self has sustained itself longer than the Judeo-Christian West, which has resulted in places like Turkey, movements like the Arab Spring, and large migrations by Muslims into the United States and Europe.

Thus Santorum’s attachment of jihad to the gay community’s struggles to assert itself in the United States was an unintentional jab at the shortcomings of political movements in America, and it calls into question the effectiveness of true political movements in the face of extraordinary manipulation, exploitation, and a deep-seated cynicism that just may end up being the rebirth of real self-sacrifice.

[i] According to the August 29 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, “81.2% of men between 25 and 54 held jobs in July” as compared to 95% in 1969. Found in “The Slow Disappearance of The American Working Man” by Mike Dorning

[ii] Akyol, Mustafa Islam Without Extremes Pp 198

[iii] Adorno, Theodor, Minima Moralia