Among the great driving forces of a mass ideological movement is the desire to mask the referent. By ‘the referent’ I refer to the desires and goals of referent individuals who head up the lead hierarchy of such a movement. In an age where individual referent ambitions are for the most part derided, where self-interest is seen as ‘base’, ‘lowly’ and altogether without virtue, social movements which seek to gain power have used great abstractions to mask the referent self-interests of their leadership.
The referent may be masked in any number of cloaks, cut from different ideological cloths, yet all serving the same purpose. Whether it’s ‘the nation’, ‘the class’, ‘the state’, ‘nature’ or even ‘the individual’ as an essential platonic form, various abstractions serve the purpose of masking the referent. Indeed, in many situations of ideological struggle it is imagined characteristics of the mask that causes the greatest deal of disagreement between rival positions. While the leadership seek to convince both their selves and their followers of lofty, ‘higher’ motives other than pure self-interest, they must also unmask the referent of their ideological opponents, deriding them as self-interested, short-sighted reactionaries. This leads to a game of lies that has become deeply embedded into politics, and found most profoundly among the more explicitly ideological groups.
In this way, the uniting force behind a movement is translated into pure abstraction, and the symbolism which expresses it. Thereafter, it is not really the leaders- as-referent-individuals that people follow, but the abstraction, which acts as a mask for their own self-interest, which would otherwise bring to the surface the deep-seated guilt they hold, as they haven’t come to terms with their own ‘selfishness’. The successful leader of an explicitly ideological movement thus becomes seen as an ethereal creature of abstraction and spectacle, removed from the referent. No longer is he a ‘simple’ individual in a referent, materialistic sense, he transcends material reality in the minds of his followers and becomes a physical embodiment, a vessel of the great abstractions he uses to mask the referent concerns of his self and his hierarchy. He becomes, in effect, a material expression of the triumph of the symbolic over the material. This is found in its most developed form in profound cults of personality headed by dictators and cult leaders, which in certain circumstances have been presented as essentially Demi-Gods.
Masking the referent to hide true motivations is only part of what the nefarious tool-set of abstraction offers. The same mental contortions are performed in order to mask the referent of action, often to ‘legitimise’ those actions which, if viewed on a referent level, would bring revulsion to most people. Violence, that on a personal level is lambasted as unacceptable, becomes acceptable to ideological followers by masking the referent through language. ‘Wars’ between non-referent actors (‘states’) are ‘declared’ in order to mask the referent facts of such a declaration – that a self-interested group of referent individuals has decided to commit mass violence and theft against another group of referent individuals, and usually through the coercion of others to be their willing proxies (‘soldiers’). These abstract declarations are then supported by a framework of further abstractions such as ‘national preservation’, ‘national liberation’, the greater good’, ‘the purity of blood and soil’, et cetera. The point is, that no matter the underlying ideology that supports such a declaration, the referent facts of action are masked as much as they possibly can be.
There are times, however, when the mask of a referent becomes tarnished by the sheer pressure of reality. Presently, I would argue that the reality of ‘war’ is far more consciously understood by the broad mass of people than it was at the beginning of the 20th Century. Truthful images and accounts have broken through the walls of propaganda put up by the controllers, and have stirred in people the intuitive knowledge of the profound immorality and evil of such horrific violence. Consider as an example, the reaction that people all around the world felt when the ‘Collateral murder’ video was broadcast by Wikileaks. These glimpses of truth frighten those most in control of the masking, and so we have seen the emergence of ever-more desperate evolutions in the language used to try and ‘patch up’ what is hopefully a fading illusion. Therefore, ‘war’ has been semi-retired and ‘peacekeeping mission’ or ‘kinetic action’ is to be found in its place. The referent facts however, remain largely unchanged.
Any truly emancipatory movement must be supremely conscious that the truth is being masked, and should bring attention to it by ripping it to shreds, revealing the bloody corpse face it hides.