The morality of the outraged versus ours

9 January, 2021

The Trumpist cause mattered so much to her that she died for it, declared the brother of Ashli Babbitt, one of the four protesters shot dead during the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Her biography, published today by the American press, looks like literary material. A true concentrate of a particular time and social class, it places a whole moral panorama behind the action that led to her being shot.

Babbit, born and raised in a small Maryland town among small farmers and fishing patrons, had spent 14 of her 36 years as a professional soldier. Like so many in her generation, she came to the military – where she spent her last years training riot police in the Emirates – looking for what school and family had not provided her with: structure and a way to enter the workforce. From the structure remained the obsessiveness and a certain way of dealing with frustration that her widower’s ex knows well, having obtained three restraining orders for harassment. From her job insertion came her experience as a sworn guard at a nuclear power plant where she met her late husband. After three trials for different episodes of harassment from which she was acquitted, she decided to get out of the spiral by moving to California, where she set up a pool equipment store. The press reports that they got ahead with the business on short-term usurious loans. Interest rates of 169% are not the best for the emotional balance of an obsessive. In that last stage as a shopkeeper, a growing hatred of the California Democratic politicians appeared in her and with it the fascination for Qanon and the whole panoply of delusions that populate the folklore of grassroots trumpism. The sensationalist media are now disseminating the videos that she used to post on twitter. Babbitt is in some of them driving and screaming for the camera. You can see the will to let off steam, but also the breakdown. Bobbitt is an outrage in search of a cause.

Containment and indignation

She was not alone, the sign on the door of her store tells us that the customers she sold stuff to share her feelings and worldviews: Autonomous zone without masks, also known as America. Food for thought: What was America for a woman who had spent much of her adult life on military bases in the Middle East? What was America for the shopkeeper strangled by wild interest rates while she vented her tension by shouting her vital indignation to the camera?

To diagnose Trumpism as an ideological phenomenon and stay calm would be as wrong as declaring Bobbit just another victim of the meat grinder. She was not a suicidal woman overwhelmed by a precarious work life, but rather one of the grinders who ground others in her wake.

If Bobbitt’s profile seems awfully familiar outside the United States despite all the differences with the US situation, it is because she was one more in a group of the unleashed that abound in social networks airing nationalist fantasies and militarized ideas of the communal. Bobbitt’s and her clients’ American nostalgia expressed the search for the structures and forms they associated with being contained themselves and with containing the evolution of a world they perceived as a personal aggression. And that is not an exclusive profile of trumpism or the far right. The rise of the most patriotic and militaristic neo-stalinism in European neighborhoods is significantly similar in sentiments and arguments. Nor is it any historical novelty: what always characterized the petty bourgeoisie was to seek in different ways the containment of history in order to maintain its own position as an intermediate class at all costs.

Bobbitt, the outraged, is a practically universal social product, a logical result of the desperation of the most precarious sectors of the petty bourgeoisie that her own life illustrated. It is also their moral portrait. And it is this morality which is contaminating more and more neighborhoods and businesses every day.

Demoralizing pressure

In Spain, 175.000 businesses hang by a thread. Over 755,000 workers are under temporary layoffs receiving a pittance, without going to work or any alternative employment. No, this has not been the most celebrated Christmas: those who are not unemployed are saving as much as they can, in case they become unemployed. But the fact is that everyday life is not what it used to be, neither at work nor with regard to family plans. Everything seems to have ceased going anywhere. Everything seems to be provisional or on the spot. Then you turn on the TV and just about anything is more important than the hundreds of deaths the government declares every day and which one cannot stop putting a face to. At this point, in the midst of the rise of the third pandemic wave, we have all had victims of the covid in our direct environment. Not even our friendships are the same as before. Meeting each other is not so easy. After nine months of social distancing conversations no longer counterbalance the media as they used to. The complaints that fill the screens are those of the shopkeepers and hoteliers: they want everything to be open with normality no matter what as long as sales are not falling any more. The government refuses to lock everything down despite the figures of contagion. For them, avoiding a chain of small and medium sized business bankruptcies that could precipitate a banking crisis through defaults is the main goal. Once again, as has been the case from the beginning of the pandemic, they end up imposing the principle of profitability on the saving of lives, by cynically shifting the responsibility onto the famous individual behaviors.

The pressure of demoralization is being felt. Months go by and little or nothing seems to change. In Spain collective fights and strikes do not emerge as they have in France and recently in Portugal. So the local cousins of the trumpists feel more legitimized than ever, those on the right and those on the left, all of them patriots. They sell the promise of an ordered and contained world. They use the word social like the shaman who applies ointment to a broken leg: to urge the injured person not to complain and not to realize that his inaction will make him lame. They encourage outrage while blinding others. They unleash unstructured emotions to better contain them in their fold.

What is to be done?

Regretting the lack of a sufficiently vigorous movement within the businesses and the neighborhoods which could address human needs and open up an alternative future to the slaughter and the daily misery, is unproductive. Melancholy is irresponsible and therefore demoralizing. The question is to ask ourselves what we need to build in order to provide a basis and reference for this movement that needs to emerge and assert itself. What can we do here and now, under the conditions of the pandemic and in the context of the attack on our living conditions.

And first of all, even before organizing, educating, discussing or agitating, it is time for something more basic: do not be afraid to go head on against the inconsequential indignation, do not accept the unarticulated complaint or the rage that does not seek understanding; it is not enough to be against the existing conditions, it is not enough to express detachment or courage. All this is also true of suicidal trumpists. None of this stops the breakdown by itself.

At the same time, a universal future must be affirmed through each of our acts within the social collective because without affirming the future, there can be no political construction of the class. In the face of individual demoralization, let us perform collective work. When faced with the anguish of an exhausted world, species idealism, closely linked to class idealism. In the face of defeatism, open your eyes: the material conditions for abundance are already given, they are us as a class. To set ourselves in motion, we do not need outrage, but rather adopt that particular knowledge longing for human action residing in a form of experience and critique ready to change its subjective existence into objective existence.

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