There was not too long ago a tendency among South African artists, authors, and musicians to produce transparently derivative work, because they were not as uniquely privy to the arcane cultural gnosis which inspired them as they thought they were. Indeed I must confess that I am guilty of something like that at this very moment, as my trick of leading with an apparent irrelevancy and then getting around to the point in an unexpected way comes directly from the great British motoring writer, the late L. J. K. Setright. Even in making this very statement I must remind myself that at least a small part of my audience might be familiar with Setright’s work, and thus inclined to go, “Ha! Gotcha!”
There is moreover a uniquely white-Afrikaner twist to this tendency, a version of it weighted by the characteristic cultural inferiority complex, and consequent cultural snobbery, of this demographic. Of this I should hope to proclaim myself innocent: apart from the obvious reasons, I am a vehement anti-nationalist and a radical cosmopolitanist, and despite individual attachments this demographic is nothing of mine. I have merely had the opportunity to study it up close; I shamelessly exploit the cultural climate in some quarters to bandy about this accusation with impunity. The tendency is this: to neglect due diligence in research for the production of creative works, because the people who would know the difference aren’t important.
Thus, for instance, song lyrics LARPing poor-white Afrikaner culture might be filled with nonsensical automotive terms, on the basis that nobody who knows their grample unit from their genuine Lucas replacement wiring harness smoke is going to be attending this genteel recital anyway. It is a kind of cultural slumming on the part of those who, unlike the “best of men” according to C. S. Lewis, “would rather be called wicked than vulgar.”
Now, my Setrightian approach to the point is not the obvious one: that all this arises out of the legacy of an authoritarian right-wing regime which engendered a condition of cultural isolation, and was moreover deeply suspicious of any sign of originality, though that much is certainly true. Rather, it is tempting for us on the left to gloss over fine distinctions in the nature of the political right, on the grounds that the only people who would know the difference are right-libertarians, theocratic conservatives, and neo-Nazis. And thus we happily conflate things which are really quite different. What, after all, does it matter?
Yet it is obvious even across the breadth of the room that the political right has a markedly bilobal anatomy. The shape of the thing is that of two distinct regions, and though the border between them is surprisingly long and ironically permeable — for one element is a shared enthusiasm for impermeable borders — it is a border nonetheless, and each side of it differs in its essence from the other. The radical right is not the same thing as the conservative right, and the difference between them is not merely one of degree. To call a conservative a Fascist is not poetic hyperbole, it is a failure to understand either.
As the polar opposite of the broad anarchist movement, the radical right is in some ways our mirror image, and so shares certain elements of our most basic thinking, albeit fundamentally reversed. The radical right is alive to context and circumstance, as we are; it is aware that things have a history and that events as such are susceptible to critique. The radical right is as ready as we are to recognize the reality of systemic structure, when it sees in that structure the denial of the supremacy it considers its moral due — while we find in that structure the origin of the same supremacy, which we hold to be nobody’s due but a crime against all. The radical right needs to have a concept of resource-finity if it is to proclaim its philosophy of substantively real nations, ethnicities, and races, of which individuals are mere semi-real projections, eternally battling one another for survival, in constant zero-sum mutual jeopardy — a philosophy in which hate is conceived as having a vital function. Anarchism too has a concept of resource-finity, but is able to draw radically different conclusions from it.
Notwithstanding the irrelevance of consistent reason to the programme of the radical right, there is something comprehensible in its logic, if only by way of the devil citing Scripture for his purpose. And of course the stance of the radical right is more complicated than the above suggests. For all its embodiment of pure evil, it is in some weird sense unremarkable.
The universe inhabited by the conservative right is far stranger. It is the world which doesn’t owe you a living, whose intrinsic unfairness justifies any crime as long as its reach is near enough universal. It is a contextless place, in which every circumstance is novel, unlike any other, with its own wholly independent set of ultimately inexplicable causes. Imagine attempting medicine in such a world! where every disease is unique to each patient, and thus proof against all prior research or remedy. What indeed could the point of any medical research then be? This universe is drastically different from that of the radical right, and yet people pass from one to the other with disturbing frequency, as through a portal in the continuum of space-time in a work of science fantasy.
The conservative right is willfully blind to structure. It stubbornly denies that the poverty of A and the poverty of B might have a causal origin in common. It will accuse both of having made “poor life choices,” but what might have informed wise choices if those could have no applicability to anyone else’s life? How would A or B know what would be wise, if that is wholly adventitious and unique to a given random state of luck? Of course they could indeed be “down on their luck,” but in this reality having made “poor life choices” boils down to the same thing. And that in turn ultimately boils down to elevating the established and conventional, the place one is supposed to know, to the level of metaphysics.
I have had apologists for capitalism tell me with a presumably straight face that capitalism is when there is no structure. The inference is that structure is something which only manifests in a sort of nefarious forced choreography, synchronized calisthenics at gunpoint in track-suits colour-coded according to one’s station in life. It should be clear how this meta-ideology readily engenders the conspiracy-theory thinking which is common in these circles, if only by process of elimination. There is little alternative to what might be called the “dancing sleepwalkers” model of society – the view that society is like people performing unreal rituals with unseen objects on an endless plain, under the influence of induced illusory experience –when one has ruled out the more common-sensical “maze” model, of more or less sane beings trying to negotiate a very real maze, because recognizing the reality of the maze would be disastrous for one’s ideology. It is easy to imagine a world of lizard-people whispering in the ears of brainwashed “sheeple” when one needs fairly obvious structures of oppression to be mythical. How the conservative right-winger who has gone this way accounts for their own purported exceptional perspicacity remains a mystery. Luck?
Yet, nowhere are the laws of supply and demand more held as axiomatic than on the conservative right. I want to know, how? A denial of finity is implicit in the very essence of the conservative-right reality. Thus there is always one more job to be found: not only can anyone find a job if they try hard enough, everyone can find a job if they try hard enough, magically without putting anyone who has a job out of it. At the same time there is always one more job-seeker: one merely has to look. Both the supply of labour and the demand for it is always necessarily infinite, yet if one asks what determines the price of labour one is told that it is supply and demand. How could supply and demand be meaningful metrics in the necessary absence of scarcity? Whatever the going rate for labour is, it is simply decreed to be the result of supply and demand.
In a way it is like Schrödinger’s supply and demand: supply and demand determine the price of labour except when one is discussing the Labour Theory of Value. Then, the price of labour is independent of supply and demand, but only until one stops discussing the Labour Theory of Value. It could, of course, not possibly be that there is a fairly obvious historical factor depressing the price of labour, because that would be systemic structure …
Likewise, if one lacks bread, finding even cake is a mere matter of setting one’s jaw and diligently pumping one’s fists back and forth, like a toy boxing robot. Supply is infinite, and if one has no bread it is one’s own fault for not being gung-ho enough about it. So why is bread suddenly so much more expensive today, as opposed to, um, free, as one would expect of something which is infinitely abundant? Supply and demand?
No, the conservative right can have neither its bread nor its cake and eat it. If it credits market price mechanisms it must accept scarcity, hence finity, hence systemic structure, hence the possibility that someone can be systemically oppressed. If it wishes to continue to deny systemic structure it has no choice but to abandon the principles of supply and demand. It cannot have it both ways.