Category Archives: Politics

Bias metabias

Motivated reasoning not only can, but does motivate thinking about motivated reasoning. Our awareness of cognitive bias can be biased — biased in where we notice bias or unfairness, biased in where we assume that objectivity or fairness reigns, biased in where we assume charges of bias from others aimed at us are mere projections of their own bias.

When we assume these theories are (through some metacognitive magic) exempt from their own implications — when we take these ideas at their word without subjecting them to the critical scrutiny they prescribe for all other ideas and practices — we feel like we have transcended naivety. In fact, we have only deepened our naivety, through the naive conceit that we have transcended naivety.

Without a twinge of conscience — or even ironic self-awareness — we view ourselves as the most competent and altruistic of reasoners and cognitive bias counterbalancers. Because we have “done the work” and neutralized our own self-interested biases, we are not only qualified, but obligated to use whatever power we have at our disposal to impose objectivity on those who, in our unbiased opinion, are biased, self-interested and dangerously authoritarian.

What could possibly be self-interested about maximizing your own power and using it to suppress all opposition if your intention is to use power responsibly and altruistically to make things equitable for all people?

Liberal virtue mimesis mad libs

A few days ago I threw a design tantrum on my blog dedicated to design tantrums:

Apple seems to think its Jobsian Reality Distortion Field is still operational. It thinks that if it keeps pretending its botched syncing is a magically simple cloud experience — if it sings out “ta da!” insistently enough — its cult of uncritical boneheads will just believe what Apple wants them to believe. And you know what? Apple is 100% correct.

But I do not believe. I do not believe because I notice things and think about them. That is what smart people do. Stupid people copy the thoughts of people they think are smart, and then stupidly imagine that copying smart person thoughts makes them smart.

In that last I suspect I am dumbing down Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and applying it to the contemporary virtue of virtues: smartness.

It is interesting though, how much contemporary progressivist culture rejects mimesis in word, while embracing it in action, producing some pretty comical effects for spectators positioned outside progressivism.

Nobody — or at least nobody in in the ascendant professional class — wants to be a cultural copycat. Everyone wants to be the originator of his own beliefs, attitudes and practices. And every fails dramatically, because originality doesn’t come from intense need to be original and determination to achieve it. Originality comes from noticing what one notices (not just what everyone else is fixating on) and trying to find a way to make clear, coherent and persuasive sense of what strikes one as relevant. It’s the “persuasive” part that is hardest. It requires intellectual honestly beyond what most people have — because most people believe mimetically, and play little or no attention to whether they, themselves, are persuaded.

To put it into my mimetic liberal virtue mad libs formula: Unoriginal “original” people copy the ideas of people they think are original and imagine copying Original Person Ideas makes them original.

A person urgently seeking answers to questions they themselves feel urgently — or, even better, the capacity to resolve perplexities they themselves have entered, with any form of positive or negative resolution, whether it be question, answer, problem, solution, or response — will accept help wherever they can find it. They’ll borrow, steal, copy, whatever — and they won’t stop until they experience genuine persuasion and relief from the question, problem or perplexity. The originality follows from this uncompromising pursuit of clear, cohesive persuasion. As James Dickey said “Amateurs borrow; artists steal.”

So, now I’m wondering what happens if the other virtues of progressivism — those remaining traces of waning liberalism — are subjected to this same mimetic virtue mad libs formula. I’ll make a quick list of the liberal virtues progressivists still prize: Liberalism (as opposed to illiberalism), Strength (as opposed to weakness), Uniqueness (as opposed to conformity), Objectivity (as opposed to ideology), Empathy (as opposed to self-centered).

Let’s mad lib these and see how it goes:

Illiberal “liberal” people copy the ideals of people they think are liberal and imagine copying Liberal Person Ideals makes them liberal.

Weak “strong” people copy the behaviors of people they think are strong and imagine copying Strong Person Behaviors makes them strong.

Conformist “unique” people copy the qualities of people they think are unique and imagine copying Unique Person makes them unique.

Ideological “objective” people copy the beliefs of people they think are objective and imagine copying Objective Person Beliefs makes them objective.

Self-centered “empathic” people copy the emotions of people they think are empathic and imagine copying Empathic Person Emotions makes them empathic.

It seems to work, at least for liberal virtues.

And also, just as Girard says (or I think he does, because I still have only read about his thought and have not yet read him) competition to possess these virtues exclusively and deny them to the out-group produces hostility and an overpowering need for scapegoating.

Nonconformism

Ethnomethodologically speaking, a nonconformist is a human breaching experiment.

Breaching experiments violate the tacit rules of the social game. When those rules are violated players no longer know how to move around. Perplexity ensures.

Nonconformists inspire perplexity, anxiety and hostility.

*

If we understand personalities to form and sustain itself through ethnomethods, and if we understand personalities to be constituted of varying abilities and tastes — it follows that any particular culture’s ethnomethods will favor some personalities over others. This accounts for why some people are attracted to certain cultures and repelled by others. It also accounts for why we might want to borrow customs from other cultures. Foreign borrowings can can help us feel less alien in our own culture.

*

Regarding identity, the compulsive obsession of our self-alienated times: If we wish to reshape our culture we can create new roles or we can change the meanings of old roles. Both of these strategies require a holistic shift in ethnomethods. A private ethnomethod is like a private language, and it cannot sustain personhood. The notion that a person can be a person inwardly without a supporting social setting — one with ethnomethods that allows a person to signal and to be recognized as the kind of person one is — reveals a fundamental essentialist misunderstanding of personhood.

In times when radical cultural change has been desired by a marginal few, the forming and sustaining of new kinds of personalities — kinds of personality more accommodating to the variabilities of ability and taste — motivated the formation of subcultures. These subcultures were voluntary. Those who needed them joined them; those who did not, ignored, avoided or scorned them. Sometimes subcultures were attacked and persecuted. Nonconformity produces perplexity.

Now the most powerful classes of our society wish to change the ethnomethods of our culture to conform with the ethnomethods of certain large subcultures. Because these are the preferences of the most powerful — those who dominate both the public and private sphere — these are not mere preferences, but morality itself. Consequently, those who resist these changes are immoral.

Because the most powerful are acting on behalf of groups who are minorities, and because they champion the ethnomethods of subcultures who have been persecuted in the past, they miss the fact that they themselves are overwhelmingly powerful and that they are behaving precisely the way dominant groups always do. They are perplexed by anyone who fails to see the justice in their domination and refuses to conform to their new norms — and perplexity makes them hostile. So they persecute conconformists, and pretend this persecution is required to defend the vulnerable.

It is all motivated reasoning that serves to justify persecution and domination, just as it always is when one group gains enough power to rule unopposed. It is always done in the name of morality, but this time — always — it is a moral morality.

It’s been God.

It’s been Freedom.

Now it’s Justice.

Someday it will be something else. And, as always, everyone complicit in this madness for Justice will have been doubters all along. Until then they have no doubt: justice must be done.

*

“Beings must pay penance and be judged for their injustices, in accordance with the ordinance of time.” — Anaximander

“Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.” — David Byrne

Musical fusionisms

Postliberal leftism is progressivism that has de-fused from and rejected left-liberalism. It opposes left-liberalism and postliberal rightism as more or less the same thing: institutionalized social injustice.

Postliberal rightism is cultural conservatism that has de-fused from and rejected libertarianism. It opposes libertarianism and postliberal leftism as more or less the same thing: global capitalism that sold out traditional Western culture.

Liberals — both the left-liberal and libertarian refugees of the postliberal de-fusions — should view postliberal leftism and postliberal rightism as two halves of the same thing: illiberalism.

Whatever difference we left-liberals and libertarians had, it pales in comparison with the differences we now have with our former allies.

Perhaps we can call ourselves ambiliberals.

*

Last time the entire world got wise to liberalism and decided to replace it with something better we didn’t much like the results. Maybe it will go better this time.

Self-exalting debasement

“This is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of doing the right thing.”

What notion could be more politically wrong than this?

Politics is essentially about contested rightness and wrongness within a community of equals.

This community of equality is a higher rightness than any one person’s or any one faction’s opinion ever could be. To know this with one’s entire mind, heart and body should be the primary qualification for entering politics.

Anti-evil

Much evil originates in the belief that an other is evil, and therefore must be dealt with as evil — that is, ruthlessly.

Belief in evil motivates evil-doing. For that reason I am perhaps excessively reluctant to attribute evil to others.

I prefer to see evil-doers as possessed by evil-generating bad faiths — faiths that can, if addressed with sufficient insight, patience and skill, be dispelled.

I have attempted such dispelling numerous times with numerous people, and I have failed repeatedly. But I must believe it is my own shortcomings, not the strategy, that has made me fail, and that overcoming these shortcomings will produce success. My failures are not evidence that the dispelling of bad faiths is impossible, nor is it evidence of undispellable, irredeemable bad faith — of evil.

Are there irredeemably evil people? Do they exist in large numbers? I cannot know that, so I will bracket that question, and move forward with a rigorous maybe. I will proceed with what I do know, and know firsthand.

What I know firsthand is that most people want to be good, and that when they fail at being good, what causes the failure is misconceptions of what good is and how good is achieved. I am absolutely, maybe unreasonably, convinced that if such people were offered a more immediate and resonant understanding of goodness they would adopt it.

So my strategy is to attempt to appeal to those still able to hear appeals — people who are not so wound up inside closed ideologies that they can only hear answers to the closed questions they have been trained to pose — people who are still, to some degree, still alive to new questions — or, better, alive to open-ended listening that reveals responses to questions we have not learned to ask.

I am not interested in wasting my time appealing to those who are so closed and circular that conversing with them requires me to enter their circularity and spin with them within their presuppositions, their evidence and their logic.

And I am also not interested in direct combat with alleged evil people. I will lose that confrontation and I will lose myself engaging in that kind of confrontation.

While there are still reasonable people with ears to hear appeals from beyond their own dogmatic or ideological circularity, I will voice those appeals.

This approach will allow me to do who I am and to become who I aspire to be, and it provides me an alternative to fighting monsters and becoming one. If I fail at making progress, it will be an honorable failure.


I am planning some rhetoric adjustments. Here are some prototypes.

Prototype 1. Progressivists have learned some true things about how social situatedness, self-interest and dominant ideology can combine to make oppressors unconscious of their own oppression. My message to them is this: your understanding is true, but not true enough. There is work left to do, and perhaps the hardest work is ahead of you. Some underasked questions: How does your class distort your view of what is true and just” Who ought to decide what is true and just, and what is untrue and unjust? Who ought to be excluded from such decisions, and who ought to decide who gets excluded? How is truth and justice determined in a society free of class hierarchy — or at least in a society that aspires to free itself from class oppression? This is a hard thing to do when your class has both become accustomed to its power and can feel that total hegemony is within its reach.

Prototype 2. Conservatives have learned some true things about what it is like to be vulnerable, scorned and humiliated. But has it learned to desire the elimination of such vulnerability, scorn and humiliation, rather than simply wanting it to happen to other people who, according to conservatives, deserve it? In other words, can conservatives transcend cultural hierarchies and wholeheartedly embrace pluralism?

Object rights versus subject rights

Let’s call object rights whatever rights we believe we have pertaining to the thoughts other people have about us or about things that concern us. “If the thought is about me, I should have something to say about it.”

Let’s call subject rights our perceived rights pertaining to thoughts we think. “If it is my thought, it is none of your business what I think unless I choose to involve you”

I regard subject rights as absolute, and I regard object rights as nonexistent, unless they are voluntarily granted.

Of course, we all have subject rights to think whatever wish about one another’s thoughts. And if we disapprove of what we think another person thinks about us, or if we feel disrespected or willfully misunderstood, we might choose to sever relationships with that person. For this reason it is prudent to make an effort to show respect.

To the degree a person or group prioritizes their own object rights over other people’s subject rights, that person or group is narcissistic. Narcissists are unable to respect even if they attempt to behave politely.

Freedom system

From Cooper’s Existentialism: A Reconstruction:

‘In the end,’ writes Marcel, ‘there must be an absolute commitment’, and what
‘matters most’ is the ‘fidelity’ demanded by this commitment. This squares with his earlier rejection of commitment to principles as ‘idolatrous’, since the commitment now in view is to persons — to other people and to God. (Like Buber, Marcel thinks that fidelity to people is intelligible only through a similar relation to God. …)

Corresponding to this commitment to others is a further form of availability. Earlier, unavailability was understood intellectually, as a ‘hardening’ of a person’s descriptive and evaluative categories. What matters more to Marcel
is unavailability to other people. This is ‘rooted in alienation’ from them, an inability to allow them a ‘presence’ or ‘influx’ in one’s life. They are mere ‘cases’ or ‘objects’. ‘When I am with an unavailable person, I am conscious of being with someone for whom I do not exist.’ The last volumes of Proust’s novel depict, in Marcel’s opinion, a coterie of people chronically unavailable to each other, obsessively enclosed in their private worlds as Proust himself was in his cork-lined room.

The remedy for such unavailability is commitment: for it is only through this that others come to ‘have a hold’ on me. And it is through this ‘hold’, and the reciprocal one which I have on them, that our lives interpenetrate and we become truly ‘present’ to one another. But what are the constituents of this reciprocal commitment? In part, the mutual exercise of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity. In charity or ‘generosity’, for instance, I must be pennanently ‘on call’ for the other person, in case he is in need. More interesting is the point made, in very Buberian terms, in this passage: ‘if I treat the Thou as a He [or any identity], I reduce the other to … nature: an animated object … If I treat the other as Thou, I treat him and apprehend him qua freedom … what is more, I help him … to be freed, I collaborate with his freedom.

Availability, then, is a reciprocal relation through which each party is committed not only to treating the other as a free person, but to enabling and ‘collaborating with’ his freedom. This has an important implication. A person can only realize himself’ qua freedom’ as a participant in such reciprocal relations. For, outside of them, he is without ‘collaborators’ to ‘help him … to be freed’. This is what Marcel emphasizes when he writes that in contrast to the ‘captive soul’, the one which is available to others ‘knows that … its freedom … does not belong to itself.

With remarks like these, it is clear that Marcel is in the territory not only of Buber, but of Sartre who, we know, also states that a person’s freedom
‘depends entirely upon the freedom of others’.

Existentialism was conceived in the years preceding the Second World War, when the public became a They, a mass of “people chronically unavailable to each other”.

When folks get woke or red-pilled, they lose availability.

That is how I experience politics.

That is why I hate ideologies: They kill the souls of past, present and future friends and turn them into body-snatched aliens.

Hostility system

I think the big difference between me and many people I know is that I see war as caused by general cultural conditions, rather than by any particular faction.

The cultural conditions leading to war produce mutually-antagonistic factions, which naturally regard one another with suspicion.

Each faction’s partly-understood, mostly-imagined reaction to the other provokes a counter-reaction. That counter-reaction, partly-understood and mostly-imagined by the other, provokes another counter-reaction. Back-and-forth it goes, like a two-stroke engine, fueled by contempt, lubricated with slippery-slope grease. Provocation drives provocation. Antipathy feeds antipathy. Paranoia justifies paranoia.

Each side is goaded into acting the villainous part the other casts. Eventually act becomes actual. Each faction’s darkest imaginings become prescient: they knew it all along.

*

Only by viewing the situation from the outside — from outside the perspectives of culture’s hostility system itself — can the absurdity of the system be seen. From either of the hostility system’s perspectives, though, the struggle is clearly one of good and evil.

If we implicitly identify with one of the factions within the system — one of the only possible “sides” one can reasonably take, given the threat the other poses — we are possessed — not only by that faction — not only by the hostility — but most of all by the self-destructive absurdity.

*

Susan believes in reincarnation. She thinks in a past life I was traumatized by war.

I also believe in past lives, except those past lives are those of authors I have read, who experienced the before, during and after of war. They accepted my hospitality and joined my soul, and now they live in me. It is from their vantage that I can see this hostility system from the outside, at least partially, at least some of the time.

*

Yes, this is simplistic.

Yes, it is far more complicated than this.

But reality is always more complicated than truth.

Well-designed truths make smart trade-offs that cut through complication to give us clean access to what matters most.

One-siderists accuse me of being a both-siderist. But that is the furthest thing from the truth. I’m rejecting the whole hostility system and all its idiotic parts and fluids. I reject its “sides”, its constricted perspectives, its brainless passions, its ideological self-deceptions, its dark prophesies. I refuse to become a standardized interchangeable part of the system — an identity, or a bolted together identity intersectional subsystem.

I’m a neither-siderest, as all decent, self-possessed souls should be right now.

I would be ashamed to cooperate with this nonsense, and I am ashamed of the identical nobodies who have given over to it and have adopted system-compliant linguistic habits, behaviors and attitudes.

Eventually, these nobodies — (Are you one of those?) — will try to pretend they were not really part of this. But nobody ever really is. That is what cooperating is, essentially: wholehearted unrealness.

Ronald Dworkin’s “Liberalism”

Ronald Dworkin’s essay “Liberalism” from the essay collection Public and Private Morality has, so far, been a revelation on the order of Mouffe’s Democratic Paradox.

This passage captures a proposed key difference between liberalism and conservatism, both of which, Dworkin acknowledges, desire a conception of liberty, but different conceptions. I think he nails the essential difference:

What does it mean for the government to treat its citizens as equals? That is, I think, the same question as the question of what it means for the government to treat all its citizens as free, or as independent, or with equal dignity. In any case, it is a question that has been central to political theory at least since Kant.

It may be answered in two fundamentally different ways. The first supposes that government must be neutral on what might be called the question of the good life. The second supposes that government cannot be neutral on that question, because it cannot treat its citizens as equal human beings without a theory of what human beings ought to be. I must explain that distinction further. Each person follows a more-or-less articulate conception of what gives value to life. The scholar who values a life of contemplation has such a conception; so does the television-watching, beer- drinking citizen who is fond of saying ‘This is the life’, though of course he has thought less about the issue and is less able to describe or defend his conception.

The first theory of equality supposes that political decisions must be, so far as is possible, independent of any particular conception of the good life, or of what gives value to life. Since the citizens of a society differ in their conceptions, the government does not treat them as equals if it prefers one conception to another, either because the officials believe that one is intrinsically superior, or because one is held by the more numerous or more powerful group. The second theory argues, on the contrary, that the content of equal treatment cannot be independent of some theory about the good for man or the good of life, because treating a person as an equal means treating him the way the good or truly wise person would wish to be treated. Good government consists in fostering or at least recognizing good lives; treatment as an equal consists in treating each person as if he were desirous of leading the life that is in fact good, at least so far as this is possible.

This distinction is very abstract, but it is also very important. I shall now argue that liberalism takes, as its constitutive political morality, the first conception of equality.

“The first theory of equality supposes that political decisions must be, so far as is possible, independent of any particular conception of the good life, or of what gives value to life.”

Yes!

These conceptions, in my view, reach back behind opinions of what is good, to the very conceptions that shape our enworldment — which include those fundamental conceptions that direct our attention, shape our interpretations, invest what we conceive and perceive with relevance, guide our choices, animate our actions and so on.

Liberalism specifically defends and promotes existential freedom.

*

Progressivism is not liberal, because it sees its ideal of social justice as justifying — requiring, in fact — imposition of a certain ideological beliefs that support a society where marginal groups (or at least progressivism’s canonical marginal groups ) can safely assume all people will view them as normal and equal — if not more equal than others.

This, very obviously, is unjust. Or at least, it is obviously unjust to those who are not confined to progressivism’s own limited understanding of the world and, worse progressivism’s own limited understanding of its own intellectual limitations.

*

Back at the height of the George W. Bush regime, I got in an argument with a conservative over gay marriage. He kept insisting that he had to “vote his conscience.” That conscience was a conservative one, but to me he seemed to be a bad American. I still think that. He wanted to limit all Americans to his view of a good life. Well, fuck you, Ron. You’re not qualified to limit how other people live and who they become. You’re not smart enough, deep enough or moral enough to make that judgment. Nobody is. Your own holy book says it.

Similarly, these days, progressivists all seem to feel entitled to make that same kind of judgment, prioritizing their preferred vision of justice over that of others who are subjected to their vision. They can see nothing wrong with workers being required to attend and consent to DiAngelo “antiracist” harangues, and to be made to performatively affirm all kinds of sociological theories they find repugnant or even anathema to their ideal of the good life. They don’t see why people hate it so much, so they’re just going to continue subjecting people to it, whether those people like it or not. Bad Americans!

When the tide turns and someone else’s ideal of the good life is imposed on progressivists, they now have no principled objection to make.

See you in church, asshole.

Real and ideal

Bruno Latour: “What is real resists.

Reality most conspicuously resists our ideals.

What do we do when reality and ideal diverge?

We can be incurious, and ignore the gap.

We can be ideological, and condemn those who make it hard to ignore the gap.

We can impersonate gods, and condemn the gap itself.

We can be industrious, and reshape the world to conform to our ideals.

We can be reflective, and reshape our ideals to conform to the world.

We can be designerly, and reshape the world and our ideals together.

Design is not a praxis.

Design is praxis.

Political comb-over

To demand radical change that will never actually happen in order to refuse responsibility to participate in reforms that could actually happen — but which require real risk, real effort and real sacrifice and imply real culpability for participation in systems of oppression.

It’s much, much, much easier to accept generalized culpability for minor, possibly-nonexistent offenses and to surrender make-believe privileges, than to actually give up one’s own moral narcissism (the conceit that one is “on the right side of history”) and one’s own cushy and lucrative spots in real hierarchies (“earned” through buying a degree from an elite university) that makes “hard calls” that force lowly people to shoulder all the tradeoff burden of one’s own institution.

I call this revolutionary stance used to preserve the comfy status quo “the political comb-over”.

Just go back to being an open bloodsucker. Read Ayn Rand and rejoice in who you really are. Own it. You’re not an abolitionist, or a civil rights champion, or even an ordinary, decent leftist. You’re a self-interested careerist who uses politics to get what you want in the market. There are worse things to be — for instance a self-deluded moral narcissist!

Just let your bald scalp shine forth.

Design, existentialism, technocracy, etc.

If a philosophy is more a matter of questions than of answers — or to take this beyond mere language, that praxis is more a matter of problems than of responses — and I do see it this way — then the fact that the questions and problems that concern me most are all, without exception, existential ones — including this crucial distinction I am making this very moment between mind-bound philosophizing and full-being praxis.

Many of my responses to existential problems have come from pragmatism (for example instrumentalism). However, I have noticed where pragmatism departs from existentialism (for instance much of analytic philosophy) the questions it pragmatists concern itself with feel like idle conceptual play in the sandbox of language.

If the work done inside the philosophical sandbox does not persist beyond the conceptual playtime, and the relevance of the work does not extend into the world beyond the sandbox — in other words, if it neglects the practical dimension and falls short of full praxis — the work is not only unimportant, but straight up uninspiring. Yes, praxic work, like any kind of work, can, in its inspired moments, feel playful. But if the work is dropped when it starts feeling painful, not only will the work not get done, the play itself will be mediocre — mere speculative escapism.

While I will continue to use pragmatist tools, I’m seeing my project as existentialist. For that reason I’m kicking all talk of “design unstrumentalism”, “design pragmatism” and the like to the curb, and accepting the fact that I’m just another neo-existentialist. As I see it, I’m returning to existentialism gifts it contributed to design praxis, worn smooth and refined by use, and therefore, hopefully, in improved form.

*

I think design praxis should merge more fully with existentialist praxis.

This means design praxis must fully liberate itself at last from the objectifying praxis of technik, which currently dominates not only technology, but the entire commercial world (still mostly managed as industry), the world of politics (technocracy), and even our culture (which objectifies unique persons as mere instantiations of identity).

I hear a lot of careerist-types, whose whole mission in life, it seems, is success and social prestige, sitting around casually raging about “dismantling the system”. I don’t take them even a little bit seriously, because they know who butters their bread, and they like butter a lot. They like butter, in fact, far more than justice. As long as they continue to loyally serve the system in action — which very much includes directing their angry justicy words toward non-problems (such as DEI), and impossibilities (like overthrowing Capital) — they’ll get all the butter they care to eat. Social justice, for most, is butter — a way to self-righteously get a leg up in the market. It is annoying, but luckily also funny to watch them scold everyone around them about their unconscious biases and motivated reasoning… in the name of justice. But now I’m digressing, again.

Say these people did manage to actually dismantle the system. What would replace it? Given their intellectual poverty, all these activists would be capable of would be to construct a new technik-dominated system, and probably one with all the worst vices of the current system, minus the war-honed technical competence of the New Deal, and omitting the redeeming vestiges of liberalism that make what we have today bearable.

We’d end up with another technocracy cobbled together by Dunning-Kruger-crippled social engineers.

It’s the philosophy, stupid.

*

Yesterday a friend posted an article on LinkedIn, “Why Corporate America Broke Up With Design”, along with some comments. I left some comments of my own.

Here’s the thing: design is a praxis — meaning it is a philosophically-guided practice. Nearly all large organizations are dominated by industrial praxis. They appropriate the tools and techniques and jargon of design, but confine it to the philosophy of technik, which cannot accomodate it. 1) This severely limits what design is able to accomplish. 2) The philosophy of technik is the actual source of misery, commonly attributed to capitalism by pop leftists.

Unfortunately, it is taboo to talk philosophy in the workplace, but fact is, our culture badly overdue for a philosophical reform, and until it happens the angst and conflict afflicting our society will intensify.

and

If corporate America did break up with design, it would be the typical divorce scenario: some thirsty dude marries an idea of a woman and cannot bring himself to learn that she is a real person, with her own first-personhood, with important lessons to teach him — and not an ideal or a function that exists only to satisfy his own needs or desires.

and, finally

This article is severely marred by its click-bait title. The author talks about design evolving to “stakeholder centered design” (which, by the way is what service design is, and has been for decades) and concludes with “Companies may have no choice but to adopt a more expansive view of design.”

No kidding.

But this is the furthest thing from a breakup. It is a much-needed deepening and internalization of design in how organizations approach their business.

Eventually, if we are all lucky, organizational leaders will finally recognize their organization (not only what it makes) is itself essentially a design problem, comprising smaller design sub-problems, each comprising smaller engineering, operational, financial and executive sub-problems.

The corporate world still has things mostly backwards and inside out… but this seems to be slowly but steadily changing.

You say you want a revolution…

What the world needs is serious reformers, ready to do the serious work of changing real institutions — not yet more complacent revolutionaries who play around with radical ideas while sucking the tit of the status quo.

*

When marginalization, disprivilege and oppression become a valuable commodity, they will be bought up by the rich and powerful, and doled out as payment to those who faithfully serve them.

Complacent revolutionaries

If you think “complacent revolutionary” is a contradiction in terms, you must either be outside the world of the professional class — or you must yourself be a complacent revolutionary.

Here’s how it goes: privileged, meek, conformist people are taught by authority (the same authorities, by the way — elite universities, news organization and corporations — who have always been the foremost perpetrators of oppression) to think of themselves as radicals and to perform the role of revolutionary when revolutionary performance seems appropriate and seem likely to win approval. So, they’ll loudly call for the complete dismantlement of this oppressive system — a system, which, unfortunately, provides them the comfortable life they enjoy.

It is hopelessly corrupt! Reform? Bah! That’s weak sauce. Nothing less that dismantlement and replacement will do!

But, weirdly, the system itself dumps huge quantities of cash into these revolutionary efforts. Universities establish programs to encourage overturning, presumably of themselves. Corporations make revolutionary theorizing nearly mandatory. They loudly support openly Marxist organizations that claim to seek destruction of capitalism. The louder your revolutionary talk the more approving pats on the head a revolutionary activist can expect to receive from the powers that be. Lucrative and prestigious careers are made preaching revolution against the very funding sources that pay the revolutionaries’ salaries.

Of course, nobody in this system really wants change. Things are comfortable.

Revolutionary self-images, revolutionary gestures and revolutionary talk are just opiates to sooth the consciences of those who belong to an order that they know is corrupt, self -serving and exploitative of their social inferiors, but which is the foundation of their own prosperity and comfort.

Attempting to reform this order, by reforming particular organizations in concrete ways would actually risk their position in the order. And succeeding at reform would actually divert resources and prestige away from themselves. Funds will be diverted from the pseudo-revolutionary programs that write their paychecks and give them a reasonably bearable career and a position of moral authority in the culture. Because, in fact these revolutionaries actually get an extra scoop of benefit in this exploitative system — and they are the last to want to overthrow it.

And of course, this is the whole point of it all.

By disdaining substantial reform and holding out for a dismantlement that nobody really wants, the complacent revolutionary can dissociate from the system that sustains their way of life while continuing to enjoy all its benefits, feel moral superiority over those who favor reformist half-measures and reject their “radical” views, and enjoy simultaneously mainstream and countercultural authority without a twinge of hypocrisy.

*

When marginalization, disprivilege and oppression become a valuable commodity, it will be bought up and appropriated by the rich and powerful, and doled out to those who faithfully serve them.

Response to a design ethics interview

A friend of mine is interviewing designers on ethics in design. A couple of my team members participated. This sparked a guilt-wracked conversation that I thought he might find interesting. Here is what I told him:

For what it’s worth, as a consequence of your interviews with us, my team had a painful conversation about our personal culpability in class supremacy. We design consultants are hired, not only to increase revenue through better products and services, but also to “increase efficiencies”, or to “scale operations”, both of which are code for eliminate working-/service-class jobs. Good proclass employees as we are, we do our jobs with Eichmannian effectiveness.

We all make good livings helping our own class dominate through entrepreneurial and corporate initiatives that siphon more money into our own class while sinking those who get “disrupted” into ever-deepening poverty and despair.

If a real worker’s revolution were ever to happen, I think many of us might fail to recognize it, since we are so accustomed to situating ourselves on the side of justice and of historical heroism. The workers, themselves, I fear, might beg to differ.

We proclassers use environmental and identitarian social justice issues to distract from a large and very angry elephant in the room: The proclass — (the professional class operating under the dominant ideology we call “progressivism”) — is the single most oppressive group in this country — and in the world. This class has been bought by capitalism and serves its interests with near-perfect obedience, even while ritualistically and ineffectually badmouthing it.

Proclass privilege is a privilege none of us will ever voluntarily check because it is the root, but rarely named, source of our collective and individual power. If we check that privilege, we lose the privilege of calling all the shots on what is true, just, and good in our society. We will have to put our values on equal footing with those who see things differently — and that we will never do!

Habermas and the public sphere

I’m reading about Habermas, from (Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series) in preparation for reading some of his core works. This stood out to me:

Habermas claims to have embarked upon a new way of doing social philosophy, one that begins from an analysis of language use and that locates the rational basis of the coordination of action in speech. He associates this new approach with a more general shift in philosophy called the ‘linguistic turn’. This phrase originally designated different attempts by various 20th-century philosophers to resolve apparently intractable epistemological and metaphysical disputes by investigating the conceptual truths inherent in our use of language. The basic strategy was to treat questions of what there is, of what can be known, and of how we can know it, as questions of what we mean, or what refers and how. Habermas applies a similar strategy to the questions of the nature of the social and the possibility of social order.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of reading my blog or conversing with me would be forgiven for assuming that I would oppose any social philosophy “that begins from an analysis of language use and that locates the rational basis of the coordination of action in speech”.

On the contrary, I insist upon it.

Why?

It comes down to Rorty’s concept of public and private projects:

The new distinction is between projects of social cooperation and projects of individual self- development. Intersubjective agreement is required for the former projects, but not for the latter. Natural science is a paradigmatic project of social cooperation: the project of improving man’s estate by taking account of every possible observation and experimental result in order to facilitate the making of predictions that will come true. Law is another such paradigm. Romantic art, by contrast, is a paradigmatic project of individual self-development. Religion, if it can be disconnected from both science and morals — from the attempt to predict the consequences of our actions and the attempt to rank human needs — may be another such paradigm.

Habermas is speaking of public forms of reasoning — the justification of actions and of decisions to which other people will be subjected.

It is my passionate belief that such public justification must be linguistic.

When we subject another group to social control, the reasons for that breach of autonomy must be given, and given so that a healthy majority find these reasons acceptable. If such breaches are not justified to the general satisfaction of the populace the social order will be threatened.

This means that the reasons must not only be given, but also, on the whole, accepted by those to whom they are given. You can’t just make up theories that satisfy yourself and the likeminded, and, on the basis of that self-justification, just impose your will — unless you already have way the fuck too much power.

It is this conviction — the conviction that such power concentrations threaten liberal democracy — that I still call myself left. I’m leftist not because I care about fairness per se, but because I want sufficient equality among classes that they have no choice but to negotiate with one another.

When one group gains enough material power that they believe they no longer must gain majority support, but rather begin to appeal to non-democratic standards — the usual intuitive bullshit offered by the powerful (rights, history, compassion for select categories of people, God’s will, personal feelings, intuitions and other furniture of personal conviction — the group in power will rarely recognize they are oppressing another. They simply feel they are no longer willing to compromise on values that are more important than winning public support for their intentions, and they refuse to bother with it because they don’t have to.

At this point, they stop talking democratically of persuading, building coalitions, winning support or alignment and so on — and begin talking autocratically of using power responsibly, doing what is right, respecting truth, winning the gratitude of the future, and concocting even-steven secular theodicies, where it is all cosmically ok to oppress because you win some and lose some, so why fret when you win and others lose? (Very, very leftist, there.)

If these people of conscience felt a little more vulnerable they might ask themselves some basic Golden Rule questions along the lines of “what if this logic were applied back to me?” — but the powerful generally can’t imagine not having power, and this failure of imagination makes them impossible to reason with. This is why it is that more often than not, the powerful must be forcibly removed from power before they can see why their social inferiors are so murderously furious.

*

It is my position that 1) the widening of the wealth gap, plus 2) changes in the role of technology in our social lives, plus 3) the domination of technology by the ruling class has created a gross power imbalance that now constitutes a threat to our liberal-democratic order.

The threat is manifested as a new moral absolutism, which ideologically excludes the voices of anyone outside its ideological horizons. This absolutism is nearly universally held by the ruling class (the hyper-rich and the professional class that reports to the hyper-rich).

This ruling class is so overwhelmingly powerful that it feels entitled — no, duty-bound — to impose its will on an unwilling population. It explains away the objections of the unwilling using its own psychological and social theories, which are also unacceptable to the hapless folks subjected to these theories. They aren’t indignant at being oppressed and treated with contempt. No, they are “fragile”. See?

And nobody can tell these overclassers that none of this is even slightly leftist, because they, and they alone, decide what is leftist. And what is racist, too. And everything of any social importance. They, as a ruling class, dictate truth, justice and reality itself.

This set of self-serving moral convictions plus the theoretical metabeliefs that protect these convictions from external and internal critique is Progressivism. Progressivism is the dominant ideology of the ruling class, its values are replicated and reinforced through the classic moves of cultural hegemony — and those people dominated by this movement, who benefit from it, are entirely unable and unwilling to entertain the possibility that they are oppressors of the worst sort, because they are desperately self-righteous.

NOBODY in my social group can claim I didn’t tell them so. I am telling every adherent to this class supremacist ideology that they are complicit in an illiberal, antidemocratic, and anti-leftist movement. So far, I’ve only gotten a bunch of complaints about feeling judged, or not quite getting it, or this not being polite. You know — the usual blather one gets when one “speaks truth to power”. But these overclassers see it as their prerogative to decide who has power and who doesn’t. It is just uppity for some random nobody to suggest that they are the power. The overclass has made it very clear how they expect these matters to be seen, so get in your place.

But I am digressing. I assume I’ve lost most of my readers by this point. And good riddance: discussing principles with unprincipled hypocrites is beneath my dignity. I’ve stopped doing it. As Eric Voegelin famously said: “I have been called every conceivable name by partisans of this or that ideology. … Understandably, I have never answered such criticisms; critics of this type can become objects of inquiry, but they cannot be partners in a discussion.”

*

I want to turn to the private sphere now — that realm of personal self-development projects. This is the sphere where language must not dominate, where the tacit activity of intuition should reign freely.

Part of why liberalism matters to me so much is that I believe this is where much of the best of human life happens, and that if it is forced to self-justify and give reasons for itself, it will have none.

So, in a liberal democracy, language governs the democratic half, and intuition governs (or at least can govern) the liberal half.

Part of the duty of democracy is to make verbal arguments to protect that part of human life that cannot make verbal argument (or which cannot yet make verbal arguments) — that place where originality emerges. It is my ardent wish to enlarge the private sphere to the greatest possible extent for all people for the enrichment of humanity. Whatever leftism I’ve adopted is there entirely for the sake of liberalism.

And to do this, we must convince the majority of citizens that they benefit and ought to support the maximizing of the private realm through championing real liberalism.

But –[resume diatribe]– when one powerful group loses sight of the requirement to persuade the majority of the value of liberalism and begins to force its opinions of what liberties, beliefs, judgment, intuitions are legitimate on a population that feels its own rights are being violated, they’ll rebel against such “liberalism” in the name of personal freedom.

It is a truly strange situation when autocrats with absolutist notions of whose liberties do and do not matter — a question bound up with the deeper question of who gets to judge these matters — call themselves “liberal” and violate the basic principles of liberalism by deciding these questions of civil liberties unilaterally — and then find themselves opposed by people who hate “liberals” and fight back — weirdly, as liberals.

Strange days.

Militant pluralism

When I was agnostic, religious believers and atheistic nonbelievers would sometimes accuse me of being noncommittal.

Eventually, I found my stance: devout agnosticism.

My devout agnosticism was not on the same plane as factual conviction. It was a commitment to epistemological integrity — and that commitment was every bit as passionate as any atheistic or theistic belief. People find it difficult to imagine that anyone could feel deeply about something as abstract as epistemology, but this incomprehension does not make it any less so. (This passionate commitment, by the way, led me beyond the shallow for-and-against of the debate to an understanding that would have remained inconceivable to me if I had prematurely taken a side.

This experience, in combination with many others, have strengthened my commitment to thinking beyond simple for-against binary antitheticals.

Now I find myself in the same position regarding abortion.

Since the overturning of Roe v Wade in June, several women have engaged me in conversation on this subject, only to inform me, after realizing that my own views differ slightly from theirs, that my opinion on the abortion issue is irrelevant and unwanted. They all say the same thing (in the same words): “they are not ready” to hear any opposing view, because they are still too angry.

But they are especially not ready to hear my particular view, which is, to them, the kind of abstract theoretical opining a person not directly affected by the decision would have. They find it difficult to imagine that I could feel deeply about a position so abstract and “academic” as mine, but (as with my agnosticism) but I do feel very strongly on this matter, and their incomprehension does not make it any less so.

My position is that we must engage our political opponents as adversaries who seek different ends than us within our liberal democratic order, and not enemies who pose an existential threat. To maintain this, it is crucially important to try to see the validity of their positions, however vehemently we disagree with them. Those of us who believe in a woman’s right to make their choice whether or not to abort should work to understand abortion opponents’ various framings of the issue — some of which are, indeed, fundamentalist and others of which are, indeed, cynically partisan — but others of which are motivated by humane concerns, and others of which are focused on protecting our liberal democratic institutions. But you can never understand this if you attribute to them contemptible or insidious motives, declare them existential enemies and refuse to hear what they say. And it is even worse if you coercively silence them or terrorize them into keeping their beliefs to themselves. Our adversaries are not our enemies, and if they sometimes get their way at the expense of us getting ours, this does not constitute an existential threat. But seeing every deep disagreement as a threat, paradoxically is. Turning every disagreement into a literal life-threatening emergency is. It is to our own advantage to understand the full validity of our adversaries’ positions, because this helps us see that they are not monsters, not enemies.

This is the position I have stated, and which my angry female friends have told me they are “not ready” to hear and which apparently “causes hurt” when I state them.

One woman told me it would even be better if I just took the opposing view, because at least it would signal concrete involvement. It is the theoretical stance of the dis-involved that infuriates.

They are perfectly free to postpone the conversation until they cool down and feel ready to discuss it.

What they are not free to do is try to prevent me from stating my opinion, if they are stating theirs, and especially not if the claim is that my opinions cause them emotional distress. Their attempts — increasingly successful — to socially control whose opinions can be voiced and whose must be suppressed is causing me emotional distress. So now what?

*

What I want people to understand is this: There are four sides to this conflict: their side, my side, what they think my side is, and what I think their side is.

For these righteously angry women, however, it appears (to me) there are only two sides: their side and what they think my side is.

It is those two missing sides — precisely the part that is not inside their own heads — that they are “not ready” for — and this is the crux of the matter.

They are never ready to hear those missing sides.

Sacrosanct fury over bodily autonomy and their status as citizens is only the latest excuse for a deeply habitual contempt for whatever transcends their own limited perspective. This time it is too infuriating. Other times they feel endangered. Or they imagine slippery slopes to extremism and violence. Or they see the preservation of an oppressive status quo. Or they attribute hate.

There are always pressing reasons why their own view — the two sides in their own heads — is the only one taken as real.

And it is this refusal to acknowledge the limits of their own perspectives, their refusal to respect other perspectives, and their readiness to use social terror to force others to pretend to agree with their perspective that is my passionate concern.

In other words, it is their antipluralism that offends me.

I hold pluralism sacred. And when pluralism is suppressed, especially in organizations I love, I feel offense and visceral fury.

And the very claim that my offense and fury is less important, or less legitimate, or less deeply felt than the fury of a woman denied the right to abort a fetus — this exemplifies my point.

This, my angry female friend, is not for you to decide.

Does pointing this fact out “cause hurt”?

Your emotional bullying also “causes hurt”. And although you seem incapable of understanding it, this hurt matters every bit as much as yours does.

But you don’t have to understand it. I will demonstrate it to you by meeting your offense, your fury, your force, your eagerness to confront and create conflict — with my own. And in my prolonged, pressurized self-constraint, I have grown immensely furious, and ready to fight back. I have decided that this is a hill I will proudly die on.

But I will not do as you wish and meet you on your level, and oppose you with a simplistic For that mirrors your simplistic Against.

I do not need your understanding and stamp of approval of my position to fight you. I am coming back at you from beyond your understanding.

I’m done holding my tongue for the sake of keeping the peace. This silence preserves your delusions of unanimity, and encourages your aggression. As you so often say: Silence is violence.

*

My new stance is militant pluralism.

I will tactfully advocate pluralism. If pluralism is forcibly suppressed, I will use whatever counter-force I have at my disposal to re-impose pluralism.

And also know: if you use coercive force to suppress pluralism, you are not a mere adversary, but an enemy: an existential threat to what I care most deeply about.

*

Progressivists, I am finished indulging your collective political narcissism.

You don’t get to decide whose indignation is righteous and whose is “fragility”.

You don’t get to decide whose bigotry is antiracist activism and whose is white supremacy.

You don’t get to decide what identities are real and which are not, which are powerful, which are not — and you do not get to assign those identities and deduce who someone is from them.

You don’t get to decide who is and is not privileged.

You don’t get to decide why people really think what they think, act as they act, or vote as they vote.

And you don’t get to decide what this abortion debate is about, and who has a right to an opinion and who doesn’t.

This is a liberal democracy and we come to these decisions together.

Anyone who does not know this is an enemy of liberal democracy, even if they’ve deluded themselves into believing they are its saviors.

*

Does all this still strike you as abstract, academic, detached, cold? Do you still doubt the sincerity, intensity, validity or courage of my conviction?

Then try me.

Progressive meditations

Here is a question every privilege-checking progressive “ally” of less privileged people should ask themselves:

Do you really believe you get more power and privilege from your racial, sexual or gender identities — or any intersectional combination of them — than you get from your class identity?

Class identity, of course, includes educational pedigree, social connections and behavioral class signifiers (manners, vocabulary, cultural know-how, and so on).

Another way to approach this question is to ask yourself: Would you be as willing and eager to check your class privilege as you have been to renounce your race privilege?

Ask yourself: do you really think these class signifiers your own class accepts as matter-of-fact qualifications — for knowing truer truths, judging more justly and basically calling the shots on all important matters — are somehow objectively valid — and not just the standard features of every dominant ideology?

Do you really, fully understand that a great many European colonists really wanted to bring Christian salvation to the savages of the Americas? Do you understand that conservatives truly do want to save the lives of fetuses? …In precisely the same way, progressives really do want to protect vulnerable populations?

The notion held by progressives that somehow their own sincere motives differ from those of others — that their sincere altruism differs from the delusional altruism of these others — is the furthest thing from a differentiator. This is the essential commonality of every ideologue.

If you think having the immense unilateral power required to offer these protections to vulnerable groups is just a means to an end — that is only how it looks from the inside. From outside it looks like the protection is justificatory means to the end of possessing overwhelming power.

I don’t want to hear your answers. This is between you and your own conscience. I’m sure you can make arguments proving whatever you want. I just want you to ask yourself these questions, listen to your own answers and really notice if you believe yourself. 

Decency demands it.