Beyond the Promised Land: Fukuyama and Muñoz

“We must vacate the here and now for a then and there…”

– José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia

“It was the slave’s continuing desire for recognition that was the motor which propelled history forward, not the idle complacency and unchanging self-identity of the master” 

― Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

Capitalist societies daily shower in advertising, techno-babble and banality affecting the psyche into a state of satiated sedation. At the end of The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama takes on Nietzsche’s pessimistic view that equality of personhood under the law, bourgeois consumerism and liberalism would spell the death of greatness and nobility. Very seriously concerned with Nietzsche’s critique of the burgeoning liberal democratic state with Christian universalism underpinning it, Fukuyama in a chapter titled “Men Without Chests” begins a critique to remind his readers that under capitalism the opportunity to express competitive spirit and egoism will still exist, especially in sports, politics and finance. What does it mean to be confronted and comforted in the early 21st Century? 

Vladimir Putin, Not a Man without a Chest!

Vladimir Putin, Not a Man without a Chest!

Plato’s theory of thymos, or spiritedness, might offer a clue. Thymos is a need to be recognised. Going beyond what might be considered the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and medical care, thymos is that which makes one “wish for” a place in the world. Not just a place in the world, but a place to be seen, noticed and praised. Societies produce various scenes to be seen: perhaps this explains our fascination with Facebook, Twitter and, the aptly named now anachronistic, MySpace. The problem of “unbridled megalothymia,” excessive and irrational focus on the ruthless crushing of mediocrity, is challenged by Fukuyama. He notes, “This [20th] century has taught us the horrendous consequences of the effort to resurrect unbridled megalothymia, for in it we have, in a sense, already experienced the ‘immense wars’ foretold by Nietzsche. Those pro-war crowds in August 1914 got the sacrifice and danger that they wanted, and more more besides … It [resurrected, unbridled megalothymia] led not to satisfaction for recognition, but to anonymous and objectless death.” Furthermore, “contemporary war undermined popular faith in the meaning of concepts like courage and heroism, and fostered a deep sense of alienation and anomie among those who experienced it.”

Andy Warhol's "Mao"

Andy Warhol’s “Mao”

Many are now in a strange place: in the contemporary West large sections of the population are at the margins of consumerism, meaning that they are no longer capable of fulfilling themselves as proper consumers according to the dominant discourse that encourages a universal idealisation of the upper-waged middle classes. Fukuyama addresses the problems of spiritedness, but he does not have an exacting analysis of the cultural and psychic material of the mental environment. The mental environment is largely inundated with advertising, in fact, many people living in capitalism see more of the commercial propaganda machine than religious iconography or even their families. Experience in such a place produces results of repetitive compulsion. The constant flow of the Facebook “timeline” on the screen of a “smart phone” produces an endless abyss of drive to be where one is not. The individual is never complete under capitalism, it – as an object purely – is always fragmented, fractured and driven in a multiplicity of directions. Pathos such as attention deficit disorder, hoarding and obsessive compulsive disorder combine with the age-old horror of the body: witnessing the leap from analog to digital is painful, but the revolution is Tweeted.

Running to the forest, the ashram or the monastery might seem like a sensible solution, but one question remains: for how long can such a solution last? Considering the levels of socialisation to- and for- the systemic commodification of psyche, soma and sex most have been subject to, new age proposals for “detox” are both privileged and imply the ability to launch oneself outside the social gravitational field. Plato’s problem of thymos must be utilised in this battle for a transition. A resistance movement based on the need for individuality, not the collective hegemony of sedative-only para-consumerist, capitalist satiation, is already underway, but it has many features, and a new communalism, based on the evacuation of selves from the matrices of powerful corporatism, will have to remain open to what the late philosopher José Esteban Muñoz called moments of dis-identification, remaining within the matrices, the nexuses and grains of capitalism, racism and imperialism, even as it determines these three end and a new history.

Regarding Muñoz, Bully Bloggers wrote, “José’s work, his craft, his social worlds, his teaching all reached out for the ‘forward-dawning futurity’ that, he felt, harbored other ways of being, other forms of life, other worlds. These other worlds, alternative forms of life, could be glimpsed only through the cultural landscapes that queer people create out of love, desperation, hilarity, performance, perversity, friendship, sex, feelings, failings, pain and communion… And because he taught us all how to feel ‘queerness’s pull,’ we are all here now, sitting on the shore, alone, bereft from his loss, squinting towards the horizon and hoping to see the shape of the queer world to come that he insistently pointed us towards.” 

Coming forth to a place whereby desire is sought, recognition a matter of survival and thriving, and where commercial success is primarily the route to such survival, both Fukuyama and Muñoz posit themselves within the futurity of the un-folding of events for people as they live them. Yet Muñoz breaks with the liberal, capitalist democratic programme as being the end of the matter, always leaving the necessity and, more importantly, the possibility for a queer-futurity, a place beyond the programme of Hegel, Fukuyama or others who have fixed for themselves a theoretical-hypothetical promised land.

About Eilif Verney-Elliott

London-based Writer, Artist and Philosopher. View all posts by Eilif Verney-Elliott

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