Enter the Senex: Leader of the Age of Anxiety
PUBLISHED: 12:43 05 August 2017
2017 Getty Images
An idea for a movie that once upon a time no one would buy – because it was too improbable.
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The Pitch: imagine that the President of the United States, the most powerful person on earth, relies on a breakfast television show for his news and opinions. He interacts with it, sending out into the world its various tropes on Twitter. He’s like a child playing back in real time every kid’s dream: the kiddie show designed to appeal to him. Imagine that he has around him an unpredictable, out–of-control assistant. Something like the “Scaramuccia” , the disruptor-clown in Italian commedia dell’arte.
Add to the mix something called “Article 50”, a legal mechanism created by the European Union. The reason it was created was to provide a legal mechanism through which a dictatorship or a rogue state can leave the Union. But instead of a “Blofeld” type invoking it, it is that epicentre of good sense and reason, the United Kingdom, which fires the gun.
Mix in a Mad Boy with a crazy hairdo who is a President For Life. He is head of a government in a perpetual state of war, threatening to obliterate his enemies, real and imagined, as a matter of course. Never mind that his nation worries about food, overall stability. What the Mad Boy does seem to have is an abundant stockpile of up-to-date intercontinental ballistic missiles.
This is the plot of a horror, an apocalyptic one. It needs, not a virile superhero; nor a disruptive superwoman.
We, the ones pitching this once improbable film, know that our characters are “stupid”. Not in the sense that we use “stupid” in the everyday, but in the sense of its Latin origin: stupere, to be stunned or amazed. The onslaught of events itself, in other words, has put them in a stupor. We want our audience to scream at them, urging them to not open that door, to not climb that stair. But their stupor blocks any other reality except the incomprehensible one enfolding around them. Then comes the presence of a Morgan Freeman, The Wise and Powerful Elder Man.
The theme of this imaginary film: “Fear of Interior And Exterior Collapse.”
There are moments when it is not an exaggeration to use the word “crisis”. We are living in one of those times.
The crisis involves the challenge to truth, to reality itself. And it centres in what political scientists call: “The Liberal World Order”. In other words: us.
The “Liberal World Order”, born after the Second World War, implied and expected that the United States Of America would lead the “Western World”. Great Britain, which the US in World War One refused to join in a unitary command which also included the rest of the Allies, became in the Second World War, America’s trusty lieutenant.
This was the beginning of the “Special Relationship”, special because Churchill and FDR said it was. Never mind that this is also the name of the bond America has with Canada and Mexico and France. It is the relationship that Brexit Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox is relying on. He promises us the “quickest deal in human history”. We are Partners.
But gradually the dream of partnership, of global citizenship became globalism. One of the defences against this is Populism. It is a form of nationalism that above all supposes a “People”. This “People” are considered unitary, and also (most importantly) suppressed, hidden from itself. Populism implies that The People are One; that outside forces exist and are active in destroying this Oneness.
These destroyers are “The Other”. Populism demands “others”, demands that The People turn inward for strength while shoring up the borders, building walls, pulling up the drawbridge.
Never mind, for example, that Trump’s “America First” was initially used by the Ku Klux Klan as its rallying cry in the 1920s. Or that “Brexit means Brexit” has all the clarity of the pronouncements of the White Rabbit in Alice In Wonderland.
Populism makes it easy to chant slogans; slogans filled with emotion. Blank enough for anyone to fill in and live by.
This is the era we are in. The movie is real. This past April, the cover of Time Magazine blared an existential and urgent question: “Is Truth Dead?”
Enter the Senex, Latin for elder man. His ascendancy is another sign that we have entered an Age of Anxiety.
As we continue to live longer, grow healthier, the literal age of the Senex advances, too. The word “Senate” derives from it and “senate” itself gives us the image of an assemblage of wisdom, experience, surety. The archetype of the Senex is one of an older man of power; an older man in who we can entrust our doubts; our fears in the hope that he will lead us into the sunny uplands.
But the Senex by his very existence and our elevation of it, relegate everything that is not him. Everything becomes “women “ and “children”. These “women” and “children” are not only literally that, but also minorities; entire regions and nations; sexual preferences and realities; also political and artistic dissent.
Deviation from “order”. The “Decree”. The “Word”.
The Senex arrives and drives out the mischievous “scaramuccia”. He brings order and also a kind rigid austerity.
Because the Senex has no sense of humour. He is Wisdom and Purpose. He is, in the title of that great Taviani Brothers film: “Padre Padrone” “Father”/“Boss”.
Younger males, lucky enough to gain his attention, are his “juveni”, the Senex’s main disciples, his heirs, the holders of his purpose. The Masculine itself becomes the archetype of intelligence and power. The rise of Donald Trump; the dominance of Vladimir Putin; and many more, older males, too, show us that we believe our time to be fraught. We put the Senex in charge. We follow him. He becomes the head of the 21st century idea of The Cult.
Trump, for example, is a Senex who operates through the political realm. But he is not a politician. He is an Aspiration; a destination; a saviour. He is, the embodiment, like Bernie Sanders for example, of a kind of safe purpose.
We follow the Senex now, chant his name, wear his insignia as we would our own father’s.
He has escaped “political correctness”. He can “kill somebody on 5th Avenue and still get elected” as Trump once boasted. The Senex is dominant now: in politics; business. They have slowed down, for now, what appeared to be a forward trajectory: the rise of the Millennials; of women; ethnic and religious minorities; other abled people; younger males different from the Senex. For the time being, these cohorts are in relegation. “Working class” means exclusively white male, for example.
But the Senex is ultimately not good news.
He is what the stock market would call a “lagging indicator”. The rise of the Senex is a nostalgic reach. A backward lurch.
All of this is not the result of an individual’s action or being; nor the intent of the man who we, after all, have made into the Senex. We have built him. We have empowered him.
Through him, our collective and individual unconscious begins the task of reordering reality, making it once again a place of safety; comfort; surety. Escape.
The Senex aids us individually to make our own Brexit.
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Almost four years after its creation The New European goes from strength to strength across print and online, offering a pro-European perspective on Brexit and reporting on the political response to the coronavirus outbreak, climate change and international politics. But we can only rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press with your support. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.Become a supporter