Free free, set them free

12 08 2014

People break.

We break because of who we are and what we are and the things we do and the things done to us, intentionally, unintentionally, and no matter how hard we do and don’t try to break.

I’ve gone over this before, so I won’t belabor the point: any politics worth its salt has to take account of how humans are, and how humans are is fragile.

We’re not just that, of course—we’re also jerks! and brave and beautiful and inconstant and mean and weird weird weird—but our fragility is a basic part of our condition as humans, and no amount of bluffing or, so far, technology, can undo the fact that we are and will be undone.

So even if a libertarian moment has arrived (I have my doubts), I gotta wonder where it’s gonna go from here—“acerbic sideline critics”, after all, don’t usually perform center stage.

More to the point, libertarianism seeks a clean line through politics, government and society; however admirable such cleanness may be, that line can only, like us, break down when dealing with the inevitable messes of human life.





Baby, baby, please let me hold him

24 11 2013

This makes no damned sense.

No, I’m not talking about ACA/Obamacare criticism—there are legitimate political questions about the size and role of government in the provision of the general welfare—but the notion that maternity care only benefits fertile women:

A “single male, age 32, does not need maternity coverage,” [Representative Renee] Ellmers said. […]

[…] Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, a former Mitt Romney adviser, asserted: “Having children is more a choice than a random act of nature. People who drive a new Porsche pay more for car insurance than those who drive an old Chevy …. Why isn’t having children viewed in the same way?”

[…] “My [Nicole Hopkins, writing in the Wall Street Journal] asked ‘Do I need maternity care at 52?'”

No, men don’t get pregnant, yes, having children is a choice, and no, most 52-year-old women do not need maternity care.

That is all irrelevant, however.

Garance Franke-Ruta concentrates on the empirical realities facing mothers in the US in her analysis of the anti-maternity care argument, but even that analysis is beside the point.

What is the point? Every single goddamned person who is and was ever on the planet was born to a woman, and was cared for by someone else—almost always the woman who gave birth. It is a basic condition of our existence.

There is no human life, no society, no politics, no world, without children being born and raised.

We do not exist without care.

Which is precisely fucking why maternity care affects us all, and ought to matter to us all.  Goddammit all.





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. . . .





We might as well try, 1: See how we are

12 07 2012

D’oh!

First, an error (which will nonetheless remain): I was thinking we might as well try was a Beth Orton lyric, but it is not; the line I was thinking of, from “Pass in time” is You might as well smile/cause tomorrow you just don’t know. Since we might as well try fits so well, however, it’s staying.

That’s how it is.

(That whole cd is fantastic, by the way. Central Reservation. I’ll post a vid, below, along with the X vid; I know that lyric is right.)

Anyway, to begin the beguine, the human.

Hannah Arendt’s admonition that we should pitch “human nature” in favor of the “human condition” made a kind of intuitive sense to me when I first read it, although I couldn’t put that sense into words.

The problem of human nature, the Augustinian quaestio mihi factus sum (“a question I have become for myself”) seems unanswerable in both its individual psychological sense and its general philosophical sense. . . . [I]f we have a nature or an essence, then surely only a god could know and define it, and the first prerequisite would be that he be able to speak about a “who” as though it were a “what.” The perplexity is that the modes of human cognition applicable to things with “natural” qualities, including ourselves to the limited extent that we are specimens of the most highly developed species of organic life, fail us when we raise the question: And who are we?

She says, in effect, that we can’t get outside of ourselves, which is what is really sufficient to be able to determine any essential qualities; more to the point, even if we could determine an essential what, that helps us not at all with the how and who of us.

On the other hand, the conditions of human existence—life itself, natality and mortality, worldliness, plurality, and the earth—can never “explain” what we are or answer the question of who we are for the simple reason that they never condition us absolutely.

Arendt noted earlier that

The human condition comprehends more than the conditions under which life has been given to man. Men are conditioned because everything they come in contact with turns immediately into a condition of their existence. . . . In addition to the conditions under which life is given to man on earth, and partly out of them, men constantly create their own, self-made conditions, which, their human origin and their variability notwithstanding, possess the same condition power as natural things. Whatever touches or enters into a sustained relationship with human life immediately assumes the character of a condition of human existence.

I know, right? Right?

Okay, so it was good that Arendt was such an acute thinker, because she wasn’t always the sharpest writer. Still, I wanted to give you the excerpts, if only to give you a base from which to jump off and all over my interpretation of that base.

Which is: we are whats, material beings, but not just whats. To  divine a human nature is, in a sense, to reduce us to a what, and since we can’t get outside of ourselves (which would be necessary for such a reduction), it makes no sense to try. We may, in fact, never fully understand even our whatness, much less the how and who (and don’t even bother with the why) of humanness, but we can look around and make sense of the world we live in, both given and constructed. Thus, to speak of the human condition is to refer to that double-existence: one (please forgive the Heideggerianism) always already there, and one we are constantly re-shaping and re-creating.

And of course you understand that even the givens are fluid—Heraclitus and all that, right?

I’m as bad as Arendt, aren’t I? To boil this nub into a nib: We live in a world made over by us, and which makes us over. We condition and are conditioned, and the best chance we have of making sense of our selves is to make sense of those conditions and conditionings.

And that nib into a bit: We live in our relations to the natural world, the world we make, and to one another; we cannot make sense outside of these relationships.

So what does that mean for this project? That we start in the world, with actual human beings in all our messy whats and hows and who-nesses and not in some abstracted stick-figure of what someone things we should be, if only we could get rid of all our messy whats and hows and who-nesses.

The mess is our condition; get rid of that, and you get rid of us.

~~~~~~

And now, as promised, Beth Orton:

And X: