In the end the rain comes down

4 06 2019

Oh, what’s a conservative to do?

Yes, I’ve been following the Ahmari-French “whither conservatism?” dust-up with some professional interest and personal amusement. (You can find links, along with Rod Dreher’s usual voluminous commentary, to the whole schmatta here, here, here, and here)

As a political theorist, I’m interested in how ideology shakes out; as a leftist, I’m a bystander, as I have no interest in making conservatism stronger. And even if I did want to contribute, I don’t know why any conservative would want to take my thoughts under advisement: I’m sure as hell skeptical as hell of anyone from the other side telling those on my side how to do better.

That said, I will offer this one nugget of analysis: none of these arguments are going to go anywhere unless they can find a way to contend with both capitalism and climate change.

I know Dreher likes to go on and on and on and on about politics-being-downstream-from-culture, which, fine, the relationship between politics and culture is fraught, but to think that either of these realms can be dealt with apart from the material conditions under which they manifest is to fail at thinking.

Now, I’m a bad marxist and am allergic to any kind of determinism, but Jesus, Mary, and Adam Smith how can you have a version of the Good Society without some sense of the economics of that society? I’m not saying you have to go commie—I mean, 20th-century American conservatism has pretty much been defined as against that—but you gotta do more than vaguely wave toward God-and-markets and away global warming.

What ought they do? Again, that’s for them to work out—and if they don’t, well, then none of what they’re saying will matter.





You said you’d try to look for the end of the road

22 11 2012

It’s wicked, I know. I should stop, but I can’t.

I so enjoy reading GOP sob stories.

The flailing of arms, the casting of blame, the faux-introspection and real outrage: it’s just too delectable to be denied!

And no, I won’t be commenting on what went wrong, for precisely the reasons I mentioned earlier: I’m not a conservative, concern-trolling is annoying, and we leftists have our own messes to figure out.

These messes might explain why I am pretty much unrepentant in my snarfing down rightist blog post after rightist blog post: after all, any honest leftist of the past, pffft, four? five? six? decades has had to come to terms with some pretty nasty shit on our side of the ledger, and we still haven’t got it sorted.

Thus, it’s not so much that I’m unsympathetic—although I kinda am—as I am impatient with the bluster and bullshit and the apparent dedication to that same bluster and bullshit. I think something a former vice presidential candidate said about “lipstick on a pig” might just be applicable here.

Lemme put it this way: I started identifying as a feminist when I was in the eighth grade, and out of that grew an affinity for liberalism, then leftism, then socialism. And then at some point I had to come to terms with the fact that saying “the Soviets aren’t really socialists” wasn’t an honest response to repression in the old USSR and the Eastern bloc. If human rights and liberation were important to me—and they were and are important to me—I had to recognize that socialism as it was actually practiced in the world was not compatible with a free human life.

And then I had to choose.

I chose to hang on to the principles which led me both to liberationist politics and to socialism, and that meant I had to look honestly at those who claimed to liberate people under the banner of socialism—and criticize the shit out of them. There was no red flag large enough to wave away the barbed wire.

This wasn’t traumatic for me as I had never been invested in the myths of Soviet freedom or a Cuban paradise—not because I was so wise but because I came of political age in the 1980s and not the 1930s. The crisis of conscience wasn’t really so much a crisis as a click: Wellllll, shit.

The critical work is ongoing, while the constructive work is. . . lagging. I still call myself a socialist because I am persuaded by the left-critique of capitalism, but I am not at all convinced we have any replacement for capitalism. I am a kind of negative-socialist, seeking a positive program.

The elements of that program are there—a commitment to equality, to pluralism, to human being, among others—but do is there anything beyond welfare-state capitalism which might allow us to approach a fully human life? I think there must be, but I don’t know what it is.

So I’m a little impatient with Republicans who are gobsmacked by the 2012 results: You lost a fucking election, not a whole world.

You can wander around bellowing about the blindness of the electorate or the unfairness of change or the perils of pluralism or moochers and looters and other assorted layabouts, or you can put down the hanky and open your eyes and your ears and pay some damned attention to who and how your fellow Americans actually are, and go from there.

Your choice.





We might as well try: stuck in the middle with you

19 07 2012

We’re a mess, a mortal, biological, social mess.

Now what?

Now. . . nothing. Or something, or everything—take yer pick.

I stated in the last post that any serious theory of human being has to take into account some basic facts about us, but having taking those basics into account does not lead in any particular moral or political direction. You can believe we’re m-b-s and believe in God (or not); hold to socialist, capitalist, fascist, monarchist, republican, and even many versions of libertarian beliefs; love, hate, or be indifferent to your fellow humans; love, hate, or be indifferent to the material and social conditions in which we live.

One could, for example, see our mortality as reason for despair, and seek release from life’s arbitrary limits, or see these limits as a reason to cram as much living in as one can while one can. (As an absurdist I both despair and seek to live—a change from my previous existence as a self-destructive depressive, in which I couldn’t even lift myself up to despair.) Mortality might lead him to a belief in the afterlife, and her to make sense of life on this earth as it is, and them to do both.

Some revel in our carnality, others are disgusted by it; some seek to augment our physicality, some to escape from it, some ignore it, some resign themselves to it; many, I’d guess, feel all of these urges over any given period in time. Sometimes our bodies are just bodies, other times sites of moral interrogation and feats of the will. We tend to and fret over our bodies, their shapes and sexualities and appetites and frailties; we boast what our bodies can do and bewail its insubordinations. We are and are not our bodies.

As for our sociality, well, that would seem to lead more directly to a particular politics, but outside of those who think we’re hatched as adults into our Randian lairs, every political ideology has some sense of the social and its own way of arranging our relationships to one another as humans. Anti-politics, too, as a view of the social, whether as something to be abandoned for a shack in the wilderness, or embraced in a particularistic way as a hedge against incursions of power—to which I can only say: good luck with that.

So what’s the point of laying out the ur-ontology if it doesn’t lead anywhere? Because it places us somewhere—and somewhere is a place to begin.

If you want to make sense of us you can’t skip over the elements of us. I’ve no beef with brain-in-a-jar philosophy, but if you want that to illuminate anything about us as people, you’ve got at some point to put the brain back in the skull, and then attach that skull to a body which requires food and water and other forms of care, which forms in turn depend to greater and lesser extents to the people and stuff around that body.

And if you want to develop a political theory of and for us, you have to understand how our limits and potentialities and requirements and desires under the basic conditions of our mortality, biology, and sociality create and constrain our possibilities. James Madison noted, famously, that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary”; since we’re not angels, but humans, we need a politics for us as humans.

You’d think this would be obvious, and in many ways it is, particularly when it comes to theories of our selfishness, but we also like to overlook the obvious when it’s convenient to do so, e.g., when it comes to global warming or the necessity of clean water to life. And in the US we have a weird relationship to the social: we tend toward friendliness and u-rah-rah and we have politicians who offer paeans to “communities coming together”, but talk about any kind of obligation we may have to one another or “taking a village” or “we’re in this together” is considered by many to be polarizing or pinko-talk and demeaning to the individual.

This attitude makes no sense: Capitalism requires social relationships, and forges those which work best in it, and scarcity is certainly a key component of basic capitalist theories. And social conservatives—well, duh, social—too often throw themselves to the floor wailing whenever someone points out that how we are social is matter of legitimate debate.

Anyway, I’m neither a capitalist nor a conservative (tho’ I do have a conservative temperament), so I’ll let them work out their own theories. The point is, is that nothing I’ve said so far about our basic conditions necessarily goes against any theories they may have.

Soon, however, very soon. . . .





Mayan Campaign Mashup 2012: misc bits

15 01 2012

So unfair. So irresistible.

Greg Marmalard

Mitt Romney

I  should be better than this: comparing a presidential nominee to a fictional character from Animal House.

I really should. But like I said: irresistible.

~~~

On a more serious note, some conservatives in the Republican party are wondering if Mitt is really one of them, or whether he’d govern as a moderate if elected president.

To which I respond: not really, and probably not.

Not really: He’s an establishment guy, through and through, who smiles when he’s irritated and whose voice falls to a faux-whisper when denouncing the perfidy of the president. In the past, presenting as an even-keeled establishment type would have been more than enough to, well, establish oneself as a presentable conservative Republican, but today, among the excitables,  if you’re not constantly outraged, you’re suspect.

So he is, justly, suspect.

As to how he’d govern if elected, there’s a good chance, as others have pointed out, that he’ll try to do what he says he’ll do.

Yes, he governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican—just as he said he’d do. Now he espouses conservative social policies, has surrounded himself with conservative advisers, and says he’ll govern as a conservative Republican.

Take him at his word. Really.

So to all of the excitables hyperventilating about the true shape of Romney’s malleable heart, settle down: he may not really be one of you, but he’ll govern as if he were—and isn’t that enough?

~~~

The former senator of Pennsylvania is shocked, shocked! that someone is lying in campaign politics:

The new ad by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future hits [Rick] Santorum on supporting earmarks, backing the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” raising the debt ceiling five times and voting to “let convicted felons vote.” The ad will be broadcast in South Carolina and Florida. . . .

“That is an absolute lie,” Santorum said of the ad’s claim. “I voted for a provision that that said if a felon serves his term, serves his parole and probation, and then after that period time he can be restored his voting rights, which is exactly the law that’s here in South Carolina. But we had a federal law at the federal level. … Gov. Romney should be saying to his PAC say take that ad down, it’s false. It gives the impression that I want people to be voting from jail.” [emph added]

Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

(Credits: still photo from Animal House footage; WBUR.org)