Incitement to Self-Defense

By Michel Bounan

Chapter III

If the police forces of Napoleon III found it advantageous to accuse a bronzier affiliated with the International Association of Workers of being a Prussian or a vagabond, perhaps it was useful to the accused to refute this mendacious imputation, but then it was assuredly necessary for him to take exception to the criminal code and his accusers: the workers' International did not recognize the crime of being a Prussian, nor the personal shame of being deprived of a home. Who forced men into such misery? For what profit? Which interests separated the States from each other? On whom fell the crime and the shame?

Thus, it has been necessary for me to respond to the preceding accusations of charlatanism, mysticism and homophobia that one judged it interesting to make against me. I have shown that these crimes were not mine -- I have pursued others -- and that my defamers were themselves accomplices of a great charlatanism, of a more modern and dangerous mysticism, and of theses that have historically served a really criminal homophobia. But their trial assuredly aimed at other things: neurotic homophobia, archaic religion, and minor, private charlatanism, that is to say, more popular perversions: emotional, ideological and social, respectively. These perversions are actually quite common, and those who abominate them will certainly agree that it is a praiseworthy enterprise to seek the causes and combat them by all means.


Charlatanism consists of mendaciously attributing to a commodity some kind of illusory use value so as to increase the demand for it and justify its excessive price. It is an abuse of commercial trust that concerns all kinds of commodities: B.C.G. [Bacille de Calmette et Guerin], proposed as "anti-tubercular protection"; dangerous sources of energy [proposed] as "proper"; Quadruppani as an "ex-situationist."

Tied to commercial activity, charlatanism has developed considerably since the Renaissance (the classic charlatan appeared in France at the end of the 16th century). It became almost universal when the new use-values demanded by insatiable clients -- "nature," "health," "liberty" and "life" -- became properly extravagant in the market civilization. A mode of production that was constrained to suppress all this could obviously not satisfy such unreasonable demands. But it could furnish in their places a documentary film, a polyvalent vaccine, a politician, some bath water. Today, when the largest part of the market offers illusory compensations for the deprivations and suffering that it itself produces, one can say that charlatanism completely covers the old "honest" market. And advertising in all of its forms is the modern means for the charlatan to ascend the bench and ring the bells with a luxurious array of mendacious promises.

Today, a marginal charlatanism still tries its chances in the midst of the generalized brigandage. The renter of the farm speaks of "ecology," the fortune-teller speaks of "prospective," and the bone-setter speaks of "revitalizing bio-energy." This minor, private charlatanism is often mocked, sometimes publicly denounced or prosecuted, but by whom? And for what supplemental profits? The denunciation of charlatanism certainly clamors for voices other than these, and other, more radical methods.

Contemporary, universal charlatanism is the bastard child of a mode of production that has become incapable of satisfying the most urgent human needs of today, those that result from the suffering occasioned by this mode of production. One cannot have done with one without suppressing the other. Thus, I have defended myself against this calumny, but I remark that such an accusation -- even directed knowingly against some tame oddball -- habitually serves to camouflage and reinforce a charlatanism of a completely different scope and especially to exonerate a system in which charlatanism has become the normal mode of functioning.


What about the crime of mysticism that one today imputes so willingly to the zealots of the old, dismissed divinities, from the heights of an institutional idolatry that is far more powerful and dangerous? In its time, the triumphant Catholic Church already denounced the previous mystical residues. The tree of the fairies, the invocations of the enchanters and magic practices were all ridiculed, disapproved of, and sometimes even criminalized: because no dominant church can easily tolerate the competition of surviving micro-sects.

But it is the very foundations of mysticism that prohibit one from regarding it as a minor crime. In the Theses on Feuerbach, Marx remarks that "the religious spirit is itself a social product"; elsewhere, he specifies that the religious spirit is both "an expression of real misery and a protest against this misery" (Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right). Thus, it is never a question of accusing someone of mysticism or imputing to this person the crime of having "illusions about his/her situation," but exclusively of denouncing the social conditions that create mysticism and "the situation that needs illusions." Those who single out mysticism or charlatanism as a private crime, in a calumnious fashion or not, work to exonerate, to protect and to reinforce a social system that produces both.


Finally, to accuse someone, in a defamatory fashion or not, of the crime of "homophobia" or any other phobia, or any other neurotic behavior, is obviously even more ignoble. The "emotional plague" and sexual misery are the most marvelous gifts that are offered to us in profusion by a mode of production in which all social relations are reified. Any contemporary desire or amorous behavior is -- permanently or episodically, to different degrees and in infinite varieties -- perverse, affected by the reified consciousness of oneself and others (it is not superfluous to enunciate today that a free social or sexual relationship is a relationship between subjects who mutually recognize themselves as such).

The universality of sexual perversion nevertheless finds itself greatly occulted by an emotional perversion as widespread and as tied to market activity: puritanism (the conservation of "use value" by the mastery of desire conditions that of "exchange value": the merchant is thus traditionally -- sometimes even passionately -- sober, frugal, rigorous and puritanical, and literally without thinking about it).

The happy marriages between perversion and puritanism, between reification and retention, gives birth to varied characterological structures, which are completely compatible with modern social activity. One can even observe that emotional amputation and neurotic character[istics] are today the best conditions for satisfying social integration.

For example, among the causes of homosexuality two pre-dispositional factors have been revealed -- familial and congenital -- , which one willingly opposes, one to the other. But the "castrational" family, which the homosexual experiences precociously, is itself the concentrated product of a reified social organization in which the deprivation of the I is the very essence of this "castration." As for the morpho-psychological type of the homosexual, it is only remarkable due to an extreme sensitivity to all environmental aggressions, and particularly psychical aggressions. The only congenital terrain here is the hyperesthesia of the homosexual to this "castration" that he, like the others, suffers.[1]

But homosexuality is not simply the expression of this loss of the I, it is also a protest against this very loss. The protest of the homosexual can take the form of a mirror-identification with "domination" (as with Montherlant), or that of an affirmation of the subject with "servitude" (as with Genet). The choice between these protests is assuredly already a political choice.

Nevertheless, if homosexuals manifest more clearly than others the essential misery of all, they easily believe that their homosexual engagement spares them from a more general protest against the world of reification, with which they have found an acceptable accommodation. With the sole exception of their sexual conduct, of which one disapproves, the majority are highly honorable due to their enthusiastic contributions to all the mirages of consumption-participation, including the theories of congenital homosexuality that prepare a hell for them. In this respect, the psychiatrists have spoken of an astonishing "split of self" (Henry Ey, Manual of Psychiatry) between the homosexuals' excellent social adaptation and the precise failure of their sexual morality. On the contrary, it is obvious that the so-called failure and the supposed virtue mutually protect each other.

As for homophobia, one knows that it is a neurosis, that is to say, an intimate conflict between vivid homosexual inclinations and an even stronger moral prohibition. Like all the neuroses, this one is accompanied by panic attacks (known under the name "homosexual panic") that occur when environmental circumstances become too tempting.

The aversion of the homophobe for the devirilized "queer" pleasantly masks for him his own amputation and, obviously, the social origin of this misadventure. Inversely, for the homosexual, the homophobe incarnates "castrational" authority, and the hatred that he has of the homophobe dissimulates the real cause of his misery. Thus their mutual aversion allows them to be unaware of their shared unhappiness and to maintain it.[2]

Homosexuality and homophobia thus are not crimes, but forms of misery, the social origins of which are not difficult to recognize, and which will be maintained as long as the victims hatefully designate each other as the perpetrators of their own [respective] sufferings.


Questions of charlatanism, mysticism and homophobia -- these alone are not the mendacious imputations that it has been necessary for me to highlight, but also the indecency of the people who have dared to reproach someone else for the crimes of a system of which they are the salaried domestic servants.

The maintenance of the current social organization certainly has great need for this permanent civil war between victims: homophobes against queers, Calotins against science-idolaters, alcoholics against heroin addicts, hysterics against obsessives -- cannonballs against cannonballs. With accusing fingers, craftsmen point out the African immigrants to those who have recently been chased from their towns and forced to emigrate to neo-banlieus. And, at the same time, other professionals incite the Africans or their defenders against the "racists." Today, who denounces the economic system that has destroyed the native lands of both groups -- and that, additionally, pushes them to slit the others' throats -- without making itself suspect of complicity with the "terrorists" or the "racists"?

Assuredly, the fact of inciting the prisoners against each other and the slaves against each other does not constitute a real historical novelty. The squires of Texas sometimes amused themselves with their blacks, and the SS would also amuse themselves in the concentration camps. But the real innovation -- and quite worthy of our admirable "society of the spectacle" -- is that today these confrontations and these hatreds, which are absolute conditions for the maintenance of the current order, are aroused and encouraged in the name of "social critique" and sometimes even in [the name of] what one dares to call "the class struggle." Obviously, a large part of the animators must present themselves as violently opposed to the established order, whereas the other camp is inflamed by other kinds of actors.

I must recognize that neither The Time of AIDS nor the texts that I published afterwards respected the imperative rules of such a "social critique." Thus, it was just and foreseeable that those who participate in the dynamism of the delicate balances found no sympathy for these books. But today, those for whom I wrote them and those who have found them so detestable work on such divergent projects -- of which our social history has provided enough edifying examples -- that the expression "class struggle" perhaps would not be incongruous to designate their divergence.

[1] For a nice contrast to these ideas, see Gilles Delueze & Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (1972; translated by Hurley, Seem and Lane; pp. 59-60): "Something common to the two sexes is required, but something that will be lacking in both, and that will distribute the lack in two nonsymmetrical series, establishing the exclusive use of the disjunctions: you are [a] girl or boy! Such is the case with Oedipus and its 'resolution,' different in boys and girls. Such is the case with castration, and its relationship to Oedipus in both instances. Castration is at once the common lot -- that is, the prevalent and transcendent Phallus, and the exclusive distribution that presents itself in girls as desire for the penis, and in boys as fear of losing it or refusal of a passive attitude. This something in common must lay the foundation for the exclusive use of the disjunctions of the unconscious -- and teach us resignation. Resignation to Oedipus, to castration: for girls, renunciation of male protest -- in short, 'assumption of one's sex.' This something in common, the great Phallus, the Lack with two nonsuperimposable sides, is purely mythical; it is like the One in negative theology, in introduces lack into desire and causes exclusive series to emanate, to which it attributes a goal, an origin, and a path of resignation."

[2] No: homosexuals do not hate homophobes because of what (or who) they represent: they hate homophobes because of what they say and do. Furthermore, any real solution to this situation will not be representational, that is, will not be reached in a psychoanalytic setting, but will be social: the eradication of violence against homosexuals.

(New revised edition, published by Editions Allia, 2005. First edition published in 1995. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! November 2007. All footnotes by the translator.)

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