No time for dancing, or lovey dovey

10 01 2017

I’ve never been accused of optimism.

Well, okay, I was a happy happy kid, likely to believe that the Good will out, but nothing like a bout of life to kick the stuffing out of such positivity.

That said, I do think part of our political resistance ought to have nothing to do with politics at all, that it is not enough just to resist: we must celebrate the Good in the world. There should be dancing, and lovey-dovey: We want bread and roses, too.


In my piece on Modernity’s Ideologies I divided the response to the historical moment, Modernity, into particular worldviews (Liberalism, Totalitarianism, and Reaction), and extend the various ideologies out from those worldviews.

This can lead to a bit of confusion, insofar as I identify both Liberalism as a worldview, and liberalism as one of its ideologies. I’ve considered changing Liberalism to, say, Pluralism (which would then contrast nicely to Totalitarianism), but I think the term as I mean to use it is so entrenched in political theory that switching it up might simply lead to greater confusion. (I still might be convinced otherwise, but at this point, I’ve stuck myself with Liberalism and liberalism.)

What does this have to do with anything? Well, Liberalism can itself contain and tolerate a variety of illiberal elements, but its ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, and reform socialism) will generally seek to uphold and even further a Liberal worldview, even as they may, at times, be used to further what its opponents might argue are illiberal goals.

See, for example, disputes over whether business must serve all customers or if they may choose to turn some away. Those in favor of serve-all refer to principles of equality and justice, while those against might call on individual liberty and, yes, justice as well. These partisans are using Liberal values to advance/defend their particular ideology.

Now, various disputes about campus activists, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc., often bounce back and forth between worldview and ideology, and often in ways which obscure the level at which the dispute is taking place. So, for example, someone like Jonathan Chait or Mark Lilla might chastise those campus activists as behaving illiberally, when it seems their real beef is that they appear to be acting against pluralism and tolerance, i.e., against Liberalism.

I’m not convinced of this, not least because I think Liberalism can also contain fierce partisanship and passionate, intemperate, even intolerant argument. I think, for example, that instead of smacking the activists as bad Liberals (which they probably could give a shit about, anyway), the tut-tutters should engage the argument at the level of ideology—by which I mean, actually engage the fucking argument instead of dismissing it as impolitic.

In other words, while I do think it’s necessary for liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) to defend Liberalism, I also think that liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) and anyone else gets to fight for what their version of the Good, and to do so without apology. If you disagree, fight back.

That, I would argue, is a great way to defend Liberalism.


But let’s get back to the fighting-for: we need to do more of this, without apology. I don’t mean nastily or triumphantly, but sincerely (jesus, did I just write that?) and profoundly and yes, even giddily.

As a bread-and-roses socialist, I want more dancing, more music, more art, more celebration of all we could possibly be. These are good, and part of the Good of human life.

This celebration needs a political grounding and goes beyond it—and in so doing, helps to justify the grounding itself. Liberal politics are often criticized—I’ve often criticized it—as deracinated, worn-out, and in its pure-procedural form, it is; but Liberalism is not just proceduralism, it’s also about possibility, an openness to what we can’t yet see. It’s about something more.

So let’s claim that, that openness and art and possibility, without apology.

I don’t want to reduce all of life to politics—too totalizing—nor demand that all celebrations celebrate all things—again, too totalizing. But when we have the chance to say, This is good, this song, this movie, this dance, is good, let’s take it.

When we have the chance to dance, let’s take it.


Lines are drawn upon the world

21 10 2015

Liberalism, conservatism, communism, fascism, feminism, environmentalism, libertarianism, anarchism.

Your basic soup of ideology.

I’ve taught an ideology class before, and yeah, I pretty much went through these (and their varieties): it’s bog-standard to compare these different bits to one another.

Yet I, of course, have come to disagree not only with myself but EVERYONE ELSE!!!

(Okay, I doubt very much I’m the only dissenter to this approach, but let’s pretend I’m being original, here.)

My crankiness with the standard approach stems from history, in particular, the combo of teaching the course of Weimar and my earlier musings on modernity. (I’m still musing, by the way, but to no particular end.) I wanted something which helped me to make sense of these histories, and for which history would help make sense of the ideologies.

Blah, blah, what I came up with was something centered on modernity (as historical epoch), which in turn lead to various ontologies (or Weltanschauung—hey, I’m doing Germany, so why not a little German?), which in turn give rise to various ideologies.

Here’s the basic idea: historical epoch

MODERNITY (historical epoch)
Liberalism (Weltanschauung)
…liberalism (ideology)
…varieties of communism
…varieties of theocracy

This is drafty—very drafty—but I’m trying to get at the notion that all of these ideologies in fact come out of world-views which are themselves formed in reponse to Modernity. In particular, I’m trying to get at the importance of the concept of time: of the past, and the future.

So, for example, while the ideologies of Liberalism hold to a more-or-less open future, those of Totalitarianism hold to closed future, some final, perfectible, end. Those of Reaction, on the other hand, reject Modernity’s social-linear notion of time and seek a return of past glories.

What I don’t include here, obviously, is any explication of what Modernity or the various ontologies or ideologies mean. I’m also not so sure about the ideologies themselves: I don’t think anarchism (or libertarianism, which I don’t include) are sufficient as governing ideologies themselves; it might make more sense to fold anarchism into socialism (as I implicitly do with libertarianism and liberalism).

There’s also the matter that these Weltanschauungen are ideal-types, and while the ideologies themselves are closer to the ground, the organization and experience of politics itself tends to slosh over any neatly drawn lines.

Finally, this schema may not travel well to other parts of the world. The experiences of China, India, and Japan (to name a few) are arguably not anchored in a response to Modernity: they’ve got their own things goin’ on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of overlap in ideologies, but I’d guess the underlying dynamics would be distinct.

I don’t think that’s a knock against this genealogy, however, to say that’s it’s limited: that tends to be feature of genealogies generally.

Anyway, this will take more work (I’ve already modified this from my original presentation in class last week), but I think there’s something there.

And ja ja, Hegel or someone probably already beat me to this. Guess I’ll have to get my own owl.

And you will know us by the trail of our dead

23 09 2011

Posted this at TNC’s joint, worth reposting here—an excerpt from a recent New Yorker piece by Adam Gopnik:

. . . Americans are perfectly willing to sacrifice their comforts for their ideological convictions. We don’t have a better infrastructure or decent elementary education exactly because many people are willing to sacrifice faster movement between our great cities, or better informed children, in support of their belief that government should always be given as little money as possible.

The reasons for these feelings are, of course, complex, with a noble reason descending from the Revolutionary War, and its insistence on liberty at all costs, and an ignoble one descending from the Civil War and its creation of a permanent class of white men convinced that they are besieged by an underclass they regard as subsidized wards of the federal government. (Thus the curious belief that the worldwide real-estate crisis that hit the north of Spain and the east of Ireland as hard on the coast of Florida was the fault of money loaned by Washington to black people.) But the crucial point is that is the result of active choice, not passive indifference: people don’t want high-speed rail are not just indifferent to fast trains. The are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas: these things give too much pleasure to those they hate. [emph. in original]

One gent pushed back, arguing that Gopnik was holding a match to a straw man, but, y’know, I don’t think so.

This doesn’t explain everything, but it damned sure explains some things.

You can’t always get what you want

28 07 2011

Completely irresponsible.

Yes, I disagree with the Republican agenda in general and the Tea Party agenda in particular. No surprise there.

And I’m not particularly happy with the Democrats, either—see my various Bam! posts—and their apparent inability even to generate an agenda (which is likely related to their lack of overall purpose).

But there are certain realities which are indifferent to ideologies and agendas, realities which include a high unemployment rate, divided government, and a wary global economy. There are, in other words, constraints on one’s aspirations, constraints which ought to discipline one’s behavior.

And yet they do not. Or, to put this another way, “limits” are apparently to be used only as an ideological battering ram by the TeaPers, rather than marking out the boundaries of a difficult debate.

Difficulty? What difficulty? We’ll simply wave our “don’t-tread-on-me-flag” and declare that our will is what is.

Why deal with reality when you are the Master of Your Own Universe?

It must be admitted, of course, that life in the real world is a little less heady, a little more complicated, and contains more than its share of frustrations. The notion of living within one’s means requires that we nail down just what we mean by “living with” and “one’s means”, and that the old Rolling Stone lyric is wrong only in that, honestly, you don’t always get even what you need.

We can change the world (the universe? not so much), but not by declaring the world changed. We have to do the work.

So, members of the House of Representatives, put down the flag and do the fucking work.

If you don’t like how and how much the government spends, you deal with that in the budget process. Want less spending? Then allocate fewer funds. Lower taxes? Ditto.

If, however, you want to increase defense spending, maintain agricultural price supports, protect subsidies for oil companies, fatten up the transportation/highway spending budget, fence out all illegal immigration, give money to survivors of tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and fire, well, then, you have to make some decisions about those taxes.

You don’t get to say “no deficit spending” and then vote for deficit spending.

You want a balanced budget? Then produce a FUCKING BALANCED BUDGET.

And after you’ve produced an unbalanced budget, don’t pretend to have been victimized by your own actions.

Don’t say “hey, spend money on this,” and then refuse to hand over the credit card.

I’d prefer more spending: on multiple high-speed rail routes, a single-payer health plan, scientific and medical research, aggressive development of green technologies, elder care, day care, welfare, environmental protection, job (re)training, mixed- and low-income housing, education—the whole social welfarist shebang. Higher taxes, more and better services.

You want more, you have to pay more, full stop.

But maybe you don’t want to pay more. I think the anorectic approach to governance is wrong, but legitimate—or it is only legitimate if you actually lower your spending levels to match your revenues (and, frankly, if you don’t off-load any costs on to other entities). If you’re willing to tell people that they’ll receive precious little in return for the precious little they pay, then, okay.

But you don’t get say “I’ll cut—and there will be no blood.” And then double-back and proclaim your courage in dealing in “hard truths”.

Don’t paint yourself as a martyr—“I’m willing to risk my seat over this!”—for doing your fucking job, especially when you’re not doing your fucking job.

You took a job in government, a government which has obligations which predate your arrival and will incur obligations after you’re gone. Whether you like it or not, you’re responsible for those obligations.

So start acting like it.

Wipeout, pt. III

4 11 2010

Do the Republicans care about ideas?

EmilyLHauser agrees that ideas are important but in a cri de coeur argues that Republicans don’t care about ideas, don’t care much about people, period:

If we, the Democrats, were fighting an ideology that was somehow bigger than “defeat the Democrats and support the rich,” I wouldn’t feel so ill. If today’s GOP were offering, you know, ideas, I wouldn’t feel so ill. If we were engaging on the merits of a case, the merits of a piece of legislation, the merits of this appointee or that bit of policy — I wouldn’t feel so ill.

But what the GOP is doing — what it has done since the Newt Gingrich House — is dragging us down to our lowest level of discourse, our basest fears, our most easily pushed buttons. They are playing us, and they are doing it magnificently. And the depth of the hypocrisy, not to mention the utter lack of concern for honest-to-God real human lives that are damaged or destroyed in the process is just mindboggling to me.

It is enough, she notes, to make me hang my head and weep.

I don’t disagree that the Repubs were nasty and mean, that they appealed to the lowest common denominator—even helped to lower that denominator—or that they impeded the progress of even noncontroversial legislation and executive appointments simply because they could, and because they thought it would hurt the President and the Democrats.

But I don’t know if that’s all they were. Yes, the notion bring-down-the-deficit-by-reducing-taxes is unsupported by the evidence and the show-solidarity-with-the-little-guy-by-helping-the-Big-Guy sensibility is incoherent at best, but that these themes are deployed to manipulate doesn’t mean they’re only manipulative.

There are people who honestly believe in supply-side economics, who think wealth actually does trickle down, so why wouldn’t they try to convince voters of the same? Why wouldn’t they try to bollix up any and all legislation or presidential maneuvers which counters their views?

In the past two years the Republicans have treated the entire executive, judicial, and legislative arenas as fields of action for Total War. Gentlemen’s agreements, practical accommodations for the sake of governance, across-the-aisle alliances for shared agendas—gone gone, gone daddy gone. Day-to-day tactics are now driven by partisan strategy and whether it is good or bad (I tend to think the latter), it is now the standard operating procedure.

The Democrats and President Obama (bless their hearts. . .) have been operating as if good-will still mattered, as if individual legislators would cross party lines in the name of a worthy cause, as if party didn’t override everything. And while they’ve been able to accomplish a great deal, much of what they have accomplished they won precisely because they, too, sought to beat back every bit of opposition to their preferences.

The key difference is that the Republicans have evolved to fight in every way, while the Dems have contented themselves to fighting bit-by-bit.

And here is the hard nut of my disagreement with Mizz Emily: The issue isn’t that the Republicans are devoid of ideology, but that they see all that they do in service to that which preserves that ideology. No, they’re not fighting idea-by-idea; they’ve gone global.

And if the Dems are going to advance their causes, they’re going either going to have to pull the GOPers back to the Dems preferred methods (unlikely, not least because it’s not clear that the Dems have a clear and effective notion of their preferred methods) or they’re  going to have to go global, too.

That doesn’t mean they have to deploy the same hatefulness as did some of the GOP campaigns, but it does mean that they will have to bring it to every.single.thing. they do. It may be ugly and awful, but it’s also necessary.

Ideas matter, but so does the strategy used to bring those ideas forth. Let’s hope the Dems figure that out before 2012.


Here is my blood shed for thee

13 12 2008

Last thing about Ainadamar (for awhile): Did I mention that after the performance I trekked up to Corporate Bookstore and bought two books on the Spanish Civil War?

Wait! There’s a reason for this! The libretto  included broadcasts from Radio Falange, and I wanted to know if these were the product of David Hwang’s imagination or actual transcripts. Here’s a sample (translated)

Our youth must be ready//to shed their blood generously/ for the sacred cause of Spain//Whoever is not with us/is against us//We’ll exterminate the seeds of the Revolution,/even in the wombs of their mothers//Long live death!

And later:

. . . And if we find them dead, we will kill them again. I give you permission to kill them like dogs, and your hands will be clean.

Well. I just started Anthony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain (c. 2006) so I don’t know if these are actual transcripts, but he does note, on p. 56 that the nationalist Foreign Legion, ‘Composed in large part of fugitives and criminals. . . were taught to be useful suicides  with their battle cry ‘Viva la Muerte!’‘ And, skipping ahead to p. 424, Beevor notes that ‘Ideological and religious invocations deliberately tried to make the violence abstract. . . . Carlist [nationalist] requetes were told that they would have a year less in purgatory for every red they killed, as if Christendom were still fighting the Moors.’

So much for the notion that Al Qaeda invented the (anti-)political cult of death.

In any case, I was seized by the notion of the ideological underpinnings of massacre. What makes it killing those who are not trying to kill you okay? It seemed—seems—a tremendously important issue.

But as I thought more about this, I remembered the work I did a lifetime ago in a human rights seminar in grad school. We were trying to theorize about human rights abuses, and, frankly, having a terrible time doing so. There were too many massacres, across all populated areas, from all different ethnic, religious, and ideological groups: how does one find a way through such a fog of data?

One key feature, as discussed by Leo Kuper in his book Genocide, was the dehumanization of the victims. They were a cancer, an infection, rats, insects—anything which not only removed them from their fellow humans, but which also made it a positive good to eradicate.

But the casting out of humanity of the victims is only part of the story; what of the killers? There have certainly been a number of studies of the sociology and psychology of mass killing—cf. Ervin Staub The Roots of Evil; Robert Jay Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors; Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, among others—but what of the specific ideological indoctrination? Robert Proctor gets at both the material and ideological aspects of Nazi scientists and doctors in Racial Hygiene, as does Benno Muller-Hill  in Murderous Science, but even these are more sociological than political-ideological.

What kind of ideology posits mass murder as a good? National Socialism was proudly genocidal, but does all fascism necessarily lead to the valorization of massacre? And Stalinism was clearly genocidal, but that seemed more cultic or psychopathic than ideological. (That said, Bolshevism wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, and Bolshevism clearly shaped Stalin. And no, I’m not one to think Lenin was somehow betrayed by Stalin: ol’ Vladimir may have been more pragmatic than Stalin, but he was a revolutionary, after all, with all the ruthlessness that implies.) The errors and crimes of Leninism and Stalinism are clear to me (if not their precise etiology), but Marxism is an ideology, if not always a practice, of liberation.

Capitalism? Certainly, in practise it has sanctioned the treatment of humans as ends rather than means, and there is plenty of violence woven into long history of the emergence from pre-capitalist economies and societies as well as colonization. And, oh yes, there were more than a few killings commited in the defense thereof during the Cold War. Yet, as with Marxism, as an ideology it pitches liberation.

Furthermore, I think it makes sense to distinguish between massacres, such as My Lai, and concerted extermination. It may make little difference to the victims of such massacres whether their deaths were the result of  a (morally, psychologically) chaotic situation or a fixed program, but as I’m trying to get at the programmatic content of mass murder, the distinction is important. In the former case it is a kind of criminal accident, a breakdown of ordinary operating procedures: Even if the soldiers or killers are not ultimately punished, the massacre itself must be explained [away] as something extrinsic to the (political, national) cause itself. In the latter case, however, massacres are intrinsic to the cause, necessary as both means and end.

Hm. I think that’s a part of it: an ideology in which death is not a mere (unfortunate) means, but a desired end. And this bifurcates: it is necessary and good to kill these others, as it is necessary and good for ourselves to die in battle against the others, and for ourselves.

So back to the ideology of death. Is this its own ideology, or a component of other ideologies? Can it be integrated into other ideologies? Does it require a belief in some kind of life [for the killers] beyond death?  And whatever its status as a freestanding or constituent part of another ideology, does the embrace of death mark the ideology as anti-political?

That last question, at least, I can answer: Yes. Politics is about the world, a particular kind of being-in-the-world which is predicated on human life (yep, Arendt again). To disdain such life is to disdain politics.

I’m not saying anything particularly shocking here: What violent dictator hasn’t asserted his triumph over politics? And while I think there is a political (i.e., worldly) agenda of Al Qaeda, from what I’ve read of bin Laden or Mullah Omar’s speeches, ideologically, they’re all about wiping out politics.

Sigh. Don’t know how much this helps me with the whole exterminationist-ideology thing, tho’.

Anyway, I did at least discover that one line from the opera is authentic. It is the response of the fascist Ramon Ruiz Alonso, to the question of the crimes of Lorca:

He has done more damage with his pen,/than others have with their pistols.