Fantasy Ideology

In August of 2002 Lee Harris published Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology, an essay exploring the “root cause” of the 9/11 attacks. It made a fairly big splash in the blogosphere. Here, for the purposes of this essay, are the key graphs from Harris’s piece:

My first encounter with this particular kind of fantasy occurred when I was in college in the late 1960s. A friend of mine and I got into a heated argument. Although we were both opposed to the Vietnam War, we discovered that we differed considerably on what counted as permissible forms of antiwar protest. To me the point of such protest was simple–to turn people against the war. Hence anything that was counterproductive to this purpose was politically irresponsible and should be severely censured. My friend thought otherwise; in fact, he was planning to join what by all accounts was to be a massively disruptive demonstration in Washington, which in fact became one.

My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of such a demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason–because it was, in his words, good for his soul.

What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

And what it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy–a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent antiwar demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view–for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

It was not your garden-variety fantasy of life as a sexual athlete or a racecar driver, but in it, he nonetheless made himself out as a hero–a hero of the revolutionary struggle. The components of his fantasy–and that of many young intellectuals at that time–were compounded purely of ideological ingredients, smatterings of Marx and Mao, a little Fanon and perhaps a dash of Herbert Marcuse.

For want of a better term, call the phenomenon in question a fantasy ideology–by which I mean political and ideological symbols and tropes used not for political purposes, but entirely for the benefit of furthering a specific personal or collective fantasy. It is, to be frank, something like the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons carried out not with the trappings of medieval romances–old castles and maidens in distress–but entirely in terms of ideological symbols and emblems. The difference between them is that one is an innocent pastime while the other has proved to be one of the most terrible scourges to afflict the human race.

There seems to be a lot of something much like that going around these days.

The topic of the “Three Percenters” has floated to the surface again. See here, here, here, and here. My previous posts on the subject are The Threshold of Outrage, Freedom, Hope, Outrage, Bright Lines, Revolutions and End Times, and Philosophy, Revolution, and the Restoration of the Constitution. And yes, the pieces are as long as the titles would suggest. You really need to read these links if (somehow) you’re unfamiliar with the background of this topic.

SayUncle states:

I would try to engage them and point out that maybe scaring the white people isn’t the best policy decision. That their efforts are better spent being politically active instead of engaging in mental masturbation all over their keyboards. Or, as Sebastian said: If 3% of gun owners were as involved in political activism as they supposedly are at preparing for civil war, we’d be an unstoppable political force. But, like reasoning with the birds, it’s a fruitless endeavor. It will waste my time and probably annoy the birds. After all, these are guys who accuse other bloggers of cowardice for not drawing a clear line in the sand, while pointing out their own lines have been crossed while they do nothing but engage in a New World Order induced circle jerk.

Linoge says:

After wasting considerable amounts of time reading their writings, the only conclusion I can come to is that they do not give to farts about America’s liberties and freedom – they only care about their own liberties and freedoms, and whatever perceived slights or affronts to them they see the government doing. They do not care that their writings (such as the letter to the editor) have almost undoubtedly done more harm than good by alienating readers. They do not care that there are political and social means and methods for airing their grievances, making changes in the governmental system, and making headway in terms of liberties and rights… and doing it all peaceably and without fomenting armed rebellion. They do not care that their proposed, poorly-thought-out actions have no clear-cut termination or resolution. They do not care that those actions would result in the deaths of many, many innocent people – people who had no interest in the situation, people whose choices were made for them by a merry band of “three percenter” misfits, people who might have supported them politically. They do not care that they do not have public support now, and they sure as hell would not have public support were they to follow through on their threats. They do not care that public support is the only way to make permanent, lasting changes in the American governmental system. They do not care that they appear to have absolultely no plans concerning what to do with the smoldering and shattered remains of the country after their glorious revolution (which indicates an admission of having no hope of success). They obviously do not care about standing up and fulfilling their useless promises in the past, when Americans’ Second-Amendment-protected rights were being “further restricted” (much less other rights going out the window). They do not care about all this, and more.

They don’t care, because they’re taken with a fantasy–a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. They want to take part in order to confirm their ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling themselves among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability.

The fact that it won’t accomplish their stated goals – is antithetical to them, in fact – is irrelevant.

Fits pretty good, doesn’t it?

Several people have quoted Sebastian on the topic, Uncle did so in the excerpt above. Let me repeat it:

If 3% of gun owners were as involved in political activism as they supposedly are at preparing for civil war, we’d be an unstoppable political force. There would be no need to argue about where the line is, because it would be political suicide for any politician to get anywhere near it.

I want to bring up Billy Beck again:

You know you’re talking about Carl Drega, right?

Every now and then, I see someone going on about “totalitarianism”. The misgrapplings surrounding this subject are rife. All the classic literature has gone far to foster them. (Arendt did damned fine work on it, but…) It just about never occurs to anyone that the root of that word can descend on any given individual, to the effect that “political scientists” always project over the whole culture, but without destroying the whole culture.

The destruction of Carl Drega was, nonetheless, “total”, and it was only the logical end of the very first claim that the state ever laid on his life. After that, it was all only degrees of application until the end.

And what difference did it make?

I’ve been so near the end of my goddamned rope that, for years now, I’ve harbored a half-baked plan to set myself on fire on the steps of the Capitol. Go ahead and make fun of it. Am I any more far-gone than the rest of you? What difference would it make if I was? Here is the central problem surrounding what you people are talking about:

There is no coherent and cohesive philosophy underpinning it. Everybody’s pissed off, but you all have your varying degrees of what you’ll settle for. Someone like me comes along to suggest something like starving the Beast out of existence by not paying for it, or withdrawing the overt political sanction by not bloody voting — like I’ve been doing for years to general laughter — and, suddenly, nobody is so pissed off anymore. There is something everyone can agree on: “Beck’s a kook.”

Beck concludes (read the whole piece, it’s worth your time):

But you people are talking about blowing the place up, whether you know it or not. That’s the only way it can go, as things are now, because there is no philosophy at the bottom of what you’re talking about. Once the shooting starts, all bets are off.

I’m pretty damned sure I’d rather not live to see that.

Realistically, neither would I. I’m not wrapped up in a fantasy ideology. Oh, I have my own personal line in the sand – my doorstep – but I don’t believe that 3% of the gun owning population will rise up against the eeeevil Feds when the next Assault Weapons Ban is passed. Or the next Wayne Fincher gets arrested.

Are you familiar with the “Free Wayne Webring”? Members of this webring want to bring attention to the case of Hollis Wayne Fincher, a man who put his ass on the line for what he believed. Mr. Fincher now, I believe, 61 years of age decided that being a citizen of the U.S., and the Second Amendment to the Constitution meant that he should be able to possess fully-automatic weapons and a short-barrelled shotgun without having to jump through the hoops of the 1934 National Firearms Act. Mr. Fincher was a founder of the Militia of Washington County, Arkansas. He quite openly built up some Sten submachine guns and some Browning 1919 light machine guns and, as Syd at Front Sight, Press put it, “formally notified the governor of Arkansas what he was doing.”

The BATF was not amused. Hollis Wayne Fincher was arrested for possession of post-’86 unregistered machine guns and an unregistered short-barrelled shotgun and was convicted in January of 2007, Second Amendment be damned. As I noted at the time, the verdict was completely unsurprising. Mr. Fincher made his argument in the 8th Circuit where there was already precedent on a similar case, U.S. v. Nelsen. Remember, this was long before D.C. v. Heller. So Mr. Fincher was convicted and sentenced to 6½ years. And, of course, the revocation of his right to arms forever.

This, of course, pissed off the gun nuts, and most especially the “Three-Percenters.”

But nobody shot a Fed. After all, their doorway wasn’t crossed.

Sebastian says that if he could get 3% of gun owners to become politically active – do the dull, grinding, irritating, necessary work involved in living in a Representative Democracy, then the possibility of this kind of thing ever occurring again would be nil.

OK, say you’re just not into envelope-stuffing, knocking on doors, writing letters to your Congresscritters, writing letters to the Editor of the local birdcage liners, calling your local TV and radio stations, showing up at the local office of your Representative or Senator and asking questions (or volunteering to help their campaign – if they’re on our side – or volunteering to help their opponent, if they’re not) or even running for office yourself as Clayton Cramer recently did.

Change the paradigm.

We don’t need a Free Wayne Webring, we need a JOIN Wayne Webring. Civil disobedience worked for Gandhi. It worked for Black civil rights.

I’ll be right up front with you: I’m not volunteering, I’m just proposing the idea.

Hey, if 3% of the gun-owning population is willing to saddle-up and go kill (as Mike Vanderboegh puts it) “the bureaucrats and politicians who decided to start the war? And, like Clinton, should we target the media talking heads and newspaper editors who clamored for it in the first place?” wouldn’t those same people be willing to clog the courts and even further overstuff our prison systems in the name of peaceful change?

I suspect not. After all, the point isn’t to actually alter the minds of other people or persuade them to act differently. The whole point is what the fantasy ideology does for the three-percenters.

I now expect a comment sh!#storm of my very own.

UPDATE 12/7: Will Brown comments cogently. I’ll have more to say about that post, if I have any energy left after work tomorrow.

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