The Zen of Marx

If you know how there’s this scene at the end of BLADE RUNNER, where the replicant Roy – in the moment of his programmed death – says to Deckard – the replicant built to kill him, whose life he has saved:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Then you might understand the idea that Roy was a frustrated artist.

Also, you might see – in the progression of BLADE RUNNER to its sequel – the analogy between creating art, living romantically, procreation and political liberty. All four of these are the same thing, in different domains; and that thing is the thing that Jesus was talking about when he said he was bringing “life, and more of it.”

Life and more of it.

It is the antidote to Roy’s lament, which is the lament of all of us mortals. That’s why Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses,” as it was the drug to dull the pain of mortality. Or, at least that’s what Marx would have meant if he were the Buddha.

But, Marx stopped short of identifying mortality itself as the thorn. Or at least his descendants stop short, and identify the source of Roy’s lament as class oppression.

In fact, in stopping short of identifying this suffering with existence itself, the Marxists came to stand in opposition to this view. This is the foundation of the Communist banning of the church, because religions find an existential, a personal, source for suffering, that is necessarily prior to and transcendent of class relationships.

For a Communist engaged in a war with the Capitalist world, the opiate of religion dulls the spirit of revolution, by confusing people about what the source of their suffering is. From this perspective, this teaching people to process the suffering brought by class oppression as their own personal moral failing, was the ancient trick of the ruling class.

And they were, of course, right. Problem is, the doctrines of the religion hardly mattered; as any group that obtains power inevitably mythologizes itself and enslaves the great mass of people within an ideological vision wherein it is only individuals that are to blame.

That, you may have noticed, is where we are now. Or maybe you haven’t quite become conscious of the fact that you’re the one to blame.

Marx understood that this was how the few controlled the many, by getting them to drink the kool-aid that caused them to blame themselves for the misery their masters were creating. Maybe he also understood that this kool-aid didn’t have to have an overtly supernatural component. An apocalyptic future would function just as well as eternity in the creation of a state religion.

That’s what Naziism did. That’s where we are now.

Whether you blame yourself, or you blame the Mexicans, you probably aren’t blaming the fat cats who are making bank on all this.

Problem is, even if you see this, the question then becomes how natural is the hierarchy that exists?

Or, put in revolutionary activist terms, how possible is it to improve this system?

This brings us to the Zen of Marx:

First there is a hierarchy,
then there is no hierarchy,
then there is a hierarchy again.

That is: first there is the moral order created by society, the class-serving vision of the good that keeps people playing the capitalist game; then this hierarchy is exposed as a class-serving racket; then you have to confront the real challenge of organizing a society on Earth, in time and space.

And this return to the real evolutionary problem returns the individual to the problem within their own characters, and the question: are you just trying to change the world because you can’t deal with your own mortality?

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