Category Archives: Politics

Subject rights, object rights

I was just talking to a friend of mine about pronouns and why language is so important to many people.

There is no doubt that language is political and has real social and material consequences. Therefore, nobody should ever blame anyone for critiquing language and arguing for change. It is also entirely fair to suspect anyone who says “sticks and stones” and denies these truths of lacking the experience of social vulnerability and powerlessness.

Arguing for change can mean many different things. It can mean anything from publicizing a personal choice to adopt more inclusive language, to advocating new standards of etiquette in one’s own social sphere, to codifying new linguistic practices within institutions who decide to do so, to using economic means to pressure individuals or organizations to comply with reformed language standards, to passing laws regulating language and punishing noncompliance. In other words, one can act interpersonally, socially, institutionally, economically or legislatively to make what one considers good or necessary changes to language.

As we move across this scale from personal to collective we should bear in mind something that is perhaps overemphasized among conservatives and underemphasized among progressives: the rights of the speakers, thinkers, judgers to speak, think and judge according to their own ideas, beliefs and consciences.

The rights of those who are spoken about, thought about, perceived and judged — the objects of language, thought, judgment, etc. — must be weighed against the rights of the subjects doing the speaking, thinking, judging, etc.

To put the problem simply, Person A thinks about, speaks about or expresses a judgment about Person B, whose rights prevail?

You cannot prevent Person A from oppressing Person B with beliefs that condemn and invalidate her very existence — beliefs which, if shared by society as a whole would make Person B’s life unlivable, without condemning, invalidating Person’s A’s existence. An argument can be made that Person A is intolerant, hateful and dangerous, and should be suppressed or contained to — but can’t it also be argued that a readiness to impose one’s own beliefs and morals on the rest of society and to forcibly suppress and punish those who disagree is also intolerant, dangerous and requiring suppression to protect dissidents? The point is not that one side is obviously right or wrong, but that looking at the full problem from multiple angles makes the question messier, makes it less obvious what ought to be done, and makes it easier to respect opposing views.

Object rights (the rights of those about whom we think speak) and subject rights (the rights of each person to speak their own truth) are in tension must be considered together and weighed together if we wish to do full justice to the problem.

Further we should not make the mistake of neglecting the more modest social actions an activist can take — conversation, etiquette, shaping of local social settings. Enforced conformity under threat of punishments ought to be a last resort, done reluctantly, under the most dire circumstances. It is not a small thing to force another person to conform to your own will and conscience, against their own will and conscience. We might be able to succeed here and there, but when we do, we have disrespected and violated the other person’s judgment and personal autonomy. We have (whether justified or not) insulted and oppressed them and likely made an enemy.

Persuasion does the opposite: by appealing to another person’s reason and moral sense and making arguments to them we show the greatest respect and produce solidarity in difference.

Producing solidarity in difference through respectful attempts to persuade — to say Thou to our adversaries, who share with us a commitment to appeals to reason and mutual acknowledgment of one’s subject and object rights — is the heart of liberalism, perhaps the most miraculous invention of humankind, so far.

*

If your reaction to this is “no, I do know what is true and right, and I intend to do whatever it takes to make my views prevail”, I would suggest that you do not really ultimately belong to a marginal or vulnerable group, even if that is how you identify. If you were, in fact, powerless and vulnerable you would have little hope of success using force. Your real political body believes itself capable of imposing its will on the unwilling. We are not always conscious of our power and privilege, and power often conceals itself in the truths and morals it imposes.

Reciprocities

Why is it that reading Nietzsche always sends me back into working in my wiki?

I just made a new theme: Reciprocity.

  • And under that page I created three headings:
    • Of help
    • Of harm
    • Of love

    I will offer a chord of quotes to indicate the theme that unites these three reciprocities.

    Of help:

    • “Pity is the most agreeable feeling among those who have little pride and no prospects of great conquests: for them easy prey — and that is what all who suffer are — is enchanting.”
    • “If he did not have the compensation of gratitude, the man of power would have appeared unpowerful and thenceforth counted as such. That is why every community of the good, that is to say originally the powerful, places gratitude among its first duties. Swift suggested that men are grateful in the same degree as they are revengeful.

    Of harm:

    • “Benefiting and hurting others are ways of exercising one’s power upon others — that is all one desires in such cases! One hurts those whom one wants to feel one’s power; for pain is a much more efficient means to that end than pleasure: — pain always raises the question about its origin while pleasure is inclined to stop with itself without looking back. … Certainly the state in which we hurt others is rarely as agreeable, in an unadulterated way, as that in which we benefit others, — it is a sign that we are still lacking power, or it shows a sense of frustration in the face of this poverty; it is accompanied by new dangers and uncertainties for what power we do possess, and clouds our horizon with the prospect of revenge, scorn, punishment, and failure. It is only for the most irritable and covetous devotees of the feeling of power that it is perhaps more pleasurable to imprint the seal of power on a recalcitrant brow — those for whom the sight of those who are already subjected (the objects of benevolence) is a burden and boredom. What is decisive is how one is accustomed to spice one’s life; it is a matter of taste whether one prefers the slow or the sudden, the assured or the dangerous and audacious increase of power, — one seeks this or that spice depending on one’s temperament.

    Of love:

    • “The cure for love is still in most cases that ancient radical medicine: love in return.”

    One more quote by Mary Davis, from the foreward of Maus’s The Gift is illuminating: “Charity is meant to be a free gift, a voluntary, unrequited surrender of resources. Though we laud charity as a Christian virtue we know that it wounds. I worked for some years in a charitable foundation that annually was required to give away large sums as the condition of tax exemption. Newcomers to the office quickly learnt that the recipient does not like the giver, however cheerful he be. This book explains the lack of gratitude by saying that the foundations should not confuse their donations with gifts. It is not merely that there are no free gifts in a particular place, Melanesia or Chicago for instance; it is that the whole idea of a free gift is based on a misunderstanding. There should not be any free gifts. What is wrong with the so-called free gift is the donor’s intention to be exempt from return gifts coming from the recipient. Refusing requital puts the act of giving outside any mutual ties. Once given, the free gift entails no further claims from the recipient. The public is not deceived by free gift vouchers. For all the ongoing commitment the free-gift gesture has created. it might just as well never have happened. According to Marcel Mauss that is what is wrong with the free gift. A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.”

    *

    All this is why I have come to a place in my life where I only like interacting with equals, as equals, and this is why I remain specifically a left liberal: Rough equality is the necessary condition for liberalism. But where equality is pre-defined and imposed by one group upon another non-consenting group, there is already an equality-precluding power imbalance. Where equality prevails, any attempt to unilaterally referee justice, truth, morality, etc. must be viewed as delusional hubristic and futile. If this attempt is not, in fact, futile, the attempt to position oneself as an advocate of equality is delusional. And this is why I continue to insist “wokism” is a right-wing movement: it seeks radical inequality of classes, and justifies its lust for power with a mission of defending vulnerable identities, not only from genuine persecution, but also from hurt feelings.

    Real equality is a perpetual negotiation, perpetual conflict held in bounds by mutual dependence: agonistic pluralism. In such struggles, nobody gets a “safe space” from the anxious experience of having cherished beliefs challenged. And frankly, that is what “being triggered” is: it is the experience of existential dread we feel when fundamental concepts are challenged from a source beyond those beliefs.

    The more ideological we are the less we can distinguish our fundamental concepts from reality itself, and the more we confuse our experience of dread from a real threat of violence. Ironically, this ideological stance is the actual origin of real violence, since it views its extreme self-defense and just punishments of what feels threatening and is believed to be threatening with real threats, counterbalances theorized institutional bias with real institutionalized counter-biases, suspected hate with real, felt hate, theoretical violence with actual physical violence, and so on.

    The feeling that we are entitled to feel safe from our own perceptions and our beliefs about other people’s beliefs — freedom from feeling “triggered” — is a symptom of having too much power while needing the justifications of powerlessness in order to exercise it.

    You and whose army?

    Our sense of entitlement grows with our power.

    Those without any power have no rights and expect nothing.

    Those of equal power respect one another’s rights and the rights become more finely granulated and observed more exactly the more equality is achieved.

    Those with overwhelming power are free to imagine what they wish about the powerless, and the powerless are expected to complete the illusion by conforming to their expectations. And the most important conformity of all is worldview: those without power and rights have least of all the right to deny truth and justice.

    *

    Whoever feels entitled to control the contents of another person’s mind imagines themselves to have the power to succeed, correctly or incorrectly, consciously or unconsciously.

    It is not uncommon to delude oneself on the source of that power. Most conquerors of the New World acted under Christ’s power and authority, with a little extra assistance from sponsoring monarchs and investors. Anywhere the righteous exercise power under the authority of an abstract ideal — whether of God, of truth, of justice, of progress, of the market’s will — it pays to follow the advice of Deep Throat: Follow the money. Or say what children say on the playground when threatened: “you and whose army?” You’ll either call their bluff or learn exactly whose army underwrites their threats — in the name of the abstraction which is the source and justification of its power.

    Soul

    We are collections of potentials, known and unknown: spirits. We are spiritually composite, a society of spirits living on the land of a body.

    One’s soul is a spiritual society.

    One’s ethic is the soul’s government.

    One’s style is the soul’s culture.

    One’s inner life is the soul’s politics. Some of us are liberal democracies, e pluribus unum; some are dictatorships of self-discipline; some are theocratic police states; some are anarchies of decadence; and a great many of us are human civil wars.

    Please do not decenter yourself

    Decentering one’s self or one’s identity as a response to one’s former egocentrism or ethnocentrism is just this year’s model of altruism.

    Altruism is benevolence modeled on a stunted vision of individualism, which it tries to overcome by simply inverting it: Selfish people care about themselves at the expense of others, so unselfish people care about others at the expense of self.

    *

    We’ve experienced the consequences of the altruistic ideal in design.

    In the late 1990s and 2000s user experience design (UX) set out to help organizations stop being org-centric, and instead to be user-centric or customer-centric. Organizations who listened to us invested in research to find out what their customers wanted them to be and tried to become that. And everyone got told approximately the same thing, so wherever UX did its thing organizations started looking expertly, unobjectionably, and blandly alike. There was nothing wrong with the solutions — UX had seen to it that all flaws were removed — but there was nothing spectacularly right, either.

    The solutions were well-informed, but poorly-inspired.

    *

    I want to argue that an impoverished understanding of personhood is at the root of the uninspired, uninspiring, unobjectionable but bland products of UX.

    But I want to take it further and claim something more general and consequential:

    The impoverished understanding of personhood that belongs to altruistic ethics is responsible for uninspired, uninspiring, unobjectionable relationships incapable of sustaining personhood.

    The high divorce rate, the empty depravity of hookups, the shallowness and fragility of friendship, the feeling of victimization and oppression that motivates so many young activists to hunt down and punish whoever is responsible for one’s own bad experience of life (and, it appears, one’s own self-contempt) — all these are caused by a theory and practice of personhood that can only produce empty relationships and selfless, decentered alienation.

    This nothingness at the center where somethingness ought to be — nihility — is not neutral or numb or Buddhistically empty or void. On the contrary, nihility torments, aches, rings, glares, and stinks in its absence.

    Our last two generations were aggressively indoctrinated in this decentering, altruistic ethic of goodness. They, in turn, are replicating it everywhere they can, motivated by intense resentment toward a world that has put them in this state. Or, as they prefer to put it, out of a selfless love for the oppressed, with whom they identify.

    *

    I would propose as a replacement for this altruistic vision of personhood — self as an inert subjective object, a discrete, body-sized soul which moves around in space expending its limited resources caring for its own self or caring for other selves — with something radically different. I propose that we see selves as radiant centers, comprising smaller radiant centers, and contributing to larger radiant centers. A person is one unit of such centers, possessing a sort of center of gravity, based on the dynamic arrangement of centers at any given moment. Each of these centers, being radiant, extend in their being outward. In other words, they exist. Ex- “out” + -ist “be”.

    But these radiant centers, with their own personal “I” center of gravity, also constitute larger units of being, and these larger units are relationships. These “we” relationships change the dynamics within the person, and brings that person to exist within the larger being, as a member of the relationship as well as remaining a person.

    *

    The meaning of love changes with this reconception of personhood. Love is not so much a love of the other as other, but as a fellow participant in a relationship that is the next scale upward of oneself, a larger self in whom one is a participant — a participant in something real and transcendent to self, within whom one subsists as oneself. In the altruist conception of love the other is the object of one’s love, “I”, the subject, love “you”, the direct object of the love. In this new understanding of love, love is an enclosing subject within which love happens between persons.

    *

    The meaning of empathy — another favorite word among altruists — changes with this reconception of personhood.

    Empathy becomes a participant’s direct perception of the state of the larger beings of which it is a part. It is felt via the shifting dynamics of radiant centers within oneself in response to the changes of surrounding transcendent centers. Empathy is felt, but we lack language for its experiences — we have no “red”, “yellow”, “green” or “blue” — and so the speaking part of our mind (the only part of our mind the speaking mind acknowledges) refuses to acknowledge the reality known to empathy. Empathy is a sixth sense — a mode of perception, experienced with immediacy — and it is undeniably real to those who accept its reality.

    Empathy is the furthest thing from intensely imagined feelings of others, or the reaction one has to stories of other people’s suffering. What is called empathy today is more often just emotions generated by vivid imaginations, the virtue of avid readers of sentimental fiction.

    *

    A lot of pretty-sounding Jewish and Christian platitudes make very new sense when heard with ears that hear this way. In marriage we become one in flesh. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Christian idea that the Church is the bride of Christ. I even recognize this vision in Alain de Lille’s formula: “God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” Seen this way, each center is one of infinite sparks of God, who approaches God by participating in ever-expanding nested scales of radiant being.

    So, forget altruism. We do not give ourselves up in order to have the other. We give up the limits of our discrete, body-sized soul in order to participate in larger and larger personhood, and it is this alone that makes life lovable, because this participation as persons, in new, larger persons is what love is.

    *

    By this logic:

    • We should stop telling our children “You are not the center of the universe.” Instead tell them “You are not the only center of the universe.”
    • We should stop doing user-centered or customer-centered, or any-centered design. A better ideal is polycentric design.
    • We should not decenter ourselves. We need our centers! We should polycenter ourselves.
    • We should absolutely not tell other people to decenter themselves. We may invite them to polycenter — as I am doing here, now.
    • We should not express love as “Not for me, but for you, alone.” We should instead express it as “Not for me, but for us, together.”
    • We should not treat gifts as transfers of ownership from giver to receiver. We should instead see gifts as investments what did belong to me, alone, now belongs to you as a member of we.
    • An identity should not be viewed as a classification that makes one person the same as another. Identity is identifying oneself as a member of a group, within whom one subsists. Identity is something we do, and it is not something another person can do to another — at least not respectfully.
    • We are never more self-centered in our small body-sized self than when we refuse to hear another perspective offered to us in good faith, but instead cling to our own omniscient already-knowing. Clinging to altruism does not make us less selfish, it destroys our selves, the very being who can love and be loved.

    Love and self-respect

    At the cusp of adulthood, in the summer of 1990, I became aware that I had two modes of esteem and identification, which I labeled “what I love” and “what I approve of”.

    I decided at that point in my life to embrace and identify with what I approved of and to distance myself from what I loved.

    This choice might seems strange by today’s standards, but I will argue that this was a necessary and wise decision.

    *

    In the autumn of 1990, my friend Rob handed me a slip of paper upon which he’d typed a Rilke quote “A merging of two people is an impossibility; and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see each other whole against the sky.” I feel sure that this passage completed and sealed my choice.

    I believe that taking this path allowed me 1) to cultivate a self-respectful (approved of) selfhood, and 2)to gain the distance needed to love someone else precisely for her otherness. “What is love but understanding and rejoicing at the fact that another lives, feels and acts in a way different from and opposite to ours?”

    *

    A capacity to love that which one finds compelling, admirable, but profoundly alien is a key virtue supporting living toward transcendence.

    A capacity to form self-respectful collaborations with likeminded souls is also a key virtue in transcendent becoming — growing beyond one’s limits.

    And, the wisdom of discerning selfhood and otherhood, and forming appropriate relations with each is necessary to avoid hating what you love and loving what you hate.

    *

    Today I am speculating on what might have happened, had I had made the opposite choice.

    What if I had chosen to identify with “what I love”, and distanced myself from “what I approve of”.

    Earlier, I mentioned that my decision probably looks pretty odd from the standpoint of 2021. Isn’t approval a cold, rationalistic standard? Shouldn’t we love ourselves, rather than just approve of ourselves?

    But consider the consequences: If one identifies with what one loves (and what one loves most is one’s transcendent complement, what one is not) one tries to become precisely what is least possible to be. Failure is inevitable, and when it happens, there is a real risk that one will envy and resent those who succeeded  —  again, precisely those who are most transcendently complementary, those whom one could best love across distance as other.

    And when one invests all of one’s time and energy pursuing an impossible ideal, this diverts time and energy away from the development of one’s own real potential. One’s real possibilities are neglected, and the self is left in an undeveloped state incapable of inspiring self-respect. As a substitute one authors a persona or adopts an identity and uses that as a substitute for selfhood. But this is a thin deception. The assertion of one’s persona or identity is a head-splitting whistling in the dark that barely masks the even louder shame and self-loathing looping beneath. Everything that threatens the illusion is viscerally painful and excites hostility.

    Unfortunately, this speculation is not purely speculative — but, in fact, informed by observations of people I know and have known, and many others I’ve listened to from a distance.

    And I am worried, because I suspect that this peculiarly selfless, but also otherless, state of mind might in fact be psychologically common, or even predominant in the last two generations. The strange, hyper-intense, symbolic politics of our age might be the projection of this inner hell onto the outer world.

    Existential nullity

    Blindness is not darkness — it burns our eyes with a dazzling glare of churning nothingness.

    Losing our sense of smell doesn’t make smell go away. The world is pervaded with a maddening stench of burning rubber.

    If we lose a limb, a phantom limb remains, and it aches and aches.

    Same with souls: those who neglect their unique personhood and instead adopt an identity will have a glaring, stinking, aching, resentful nullity where a soul should be.

    Room 101

    If someone were designing my ideal Hell (or if you prefer atheistic imagery, Room 101) put me on a team that designs by committee for a committee. You don’t even have to sentence me for eternity. A month is plenty to get my teeth gnashing, and more than a month will reduce me to the blackest despair.

    The thing that makes a design approach render clear social sense for me is that it makes sense of some region of the world in personal terms. We investigate how a specific person does specific things with specific things and experiences specific things, and our job is to make these interactions, artifacts and experiences good by the standard of that person. When learning from users, design researchers redirect all deflection of personal response (and users always try it) into speculation on how other people might respond with “we are interested only in what you think and feel, and what you would do.” By looking at responses one at a time, and only at the end finding any generalities, we rid ourselves of the noisy refractions of what people think other people think other people will think other people will think, which gives us more information on their social psychological folk-theories and and insights into how they would try to design the thing we are designing, than on their own personal responses to novel possibilities.

    Speculating on how heterogeneous groups of people might react to a design, and designing for an audience instead of persons is a different art, and an important one. It changes the activity from a interpersonal one to a social one, to use Buber’s distinction. The skillset becomes that of constructing systems that conform to the social rules of that social setting. These rules help people participate as members of a group, performing standard roles, which entails selectively suppressing personal idiosyncrasies, for the sake of smooth social functioning. This means the construction, too, must use standard language, in standard ways, denoting familiar concepts, used in familiar ways. Change at this sphere of design is exponentially difficult and often requires power and some degree of coercion.

    But if you are trying to do this kind of design in a group which is itself so large that it can no longer function by an interpersonal dynamic, but must adopt social rules to function, now we have something requiring a degree of talent for functioning within social rules to design things that function within set social rules. The smartest option in situations like this is to design activities with new, temporary social rules that “program” the group to interact differently to accomplish different outcomes. (Which is another way of saying: design and facilitate workshops, because a workshop is a temporary social setting with new roles and rules that afford new kinds of works and new work products.) Workshops can produce group outputs that differ from the usual, but they are still stiff lumbering things that never result in the kinds of surprising snd brilliant novelty interpersonal dialogue can produce. And that is probably fine. The stars for which very large organizations reach in their grandest moments are suspended like gravel in the upper reaches of clouds, somewhere above incompetent mediocrity but well-below that of the average novelist. Workshop outputs are plenty good enough, 95% of the time.

    *

    It just occurred to me: people who always operate by social rules (even their own invented rules), who play a role of their own self-identity (even their own original identity), and confine themselves to the categegories of their personal ontology (even an ontology of their own invention) — and consequently find it impossible to improvise in response to another in a dialogical setting feel, interact with others like workshop participants in little workshops of their own design.

    Maybe this is what I despise about political types who see roles and rules governing all things. When the “personal is political” dialogue, deep invention, all the inexhaustibly surprising, creative potential of persons encountering the unique personal kernel in the heart of each person’s soul — the mutual conflagration of divine sparks —  is lost. Instead corporate stability is imposed and preserved.

    Totalitarianism is eternal design by committee.

    *

    Room 101.

    Anne-Marie Willis’s “Ontological Designing”

    Yesterday, Nick freaked me out about the existence of Anne-Marie Willis’s paper “Ontological Designing”. I was so distressed about possibly being scooped, and also about the state of my current project — a distress possibly biologically amplified by an infected eyelid — that I barely slept last night. I was dreaming about this stuff.

    Today I got up, read most of the paper and sent Nick the reply below, which seems worth keeping.

    Ok, this is not what I am doing, though it is the kind of ontological designing Willis describes here that informs my project.

    This paper appears to be written from the perspective of a user contemplating designs-ready-made, not a design practitioner reflecting on design-in-the-making (to adapt Latour’s distinction).

    The experiences that feed my thought (experiences I am undergoing, unfortunately, though quite conveniently, on this very project) are the reworkings of understanding induced by the breaking of individual interpretations and understandings upon an (as yet) inconceivable design problem.

    In these situations, designers are forced to instaurate new local micro-philosophies that permit collaborators with incommensurable understandings to “align” their efforts to design equipment that can be readily recognized in a present-at-hand mode, adopted, and then used in a ready-to-hand mode. I think this microphilosophizing is an underrecognized gap both in design practice (which tends to focus its thinking on its tasks at hand, and rarely to macrophilosophize) and in philosophy (which rarely participates directly in the kinds of hellish rarefied design projects that inform my concerns).

    My work is describing what happens if we apply the lessons of constant local microphilosophizing back to macrophilosophizing.

    I think it is important because I’m seeing the same dynamics I see in my mini-hells unfolding in the larger world in our incapacity to align on what to do about — well — everything. The disgruntled tolerance for the postmodern condition and its refusal to macrophilosophize (due to the po-mo allergy to grand narratives) has contributed to a deep fracturing and factionalizing of our citizenry.

    And you can see that this idea of designerly coevolution completely misses the central problem: How do we agree on what to do in the first place, in order to world our world into a state where maybe it can coevolve us back into a more livable, peaceful condition? Everyone is full of end-solutions, but at a loss to explain or even frame the problem of why we can’t get there, except to invent theories of viciousness about those who refuse to cooperate. We do not know how to think these kinds of conflicts, which are essentially just political crises — but I think I do have some clarifying insights, thanks to my occasional hell-immersions, and my funny habit of trying to feel better by understanding their hellishness and applying the resulting insights back to my own grand narrative, which I happen to think is better than the ones that developed in the vacuum of public intellectuals being to smart and stylish to perform their duties.

    Conflict of Visions

    The shift

    From Daybreak: “On the natural history of rights and duties. — Our duties — are the rights of others over us. How have they acquired such rights? By taking us to be capable of contracting and of requiting, by positing us as similar and equal to them, and as a consequence entrusting us with something, educating, reproving, supporting us. … If power-relationships undergo any material alteration, rights disappear and new ones are created — as is demonstrated in the continual disappearance and reformation of rights between nations. If our power is materially diminished, the feeling of those who have hitherto guaranteed our rights changes: they consider whether they can restore us to the full possession we formerly enjoyed — if they feel unable to do so, they henceforth deny our ‘rights’. Likewise, if our power is materially increased, the feeling of those who have hitherto recognised it but whose recognition is no longer needed changes: they no doubt attempt to suppress it to its former level, they will try to intervene and in doing so will allude to their ‘duty’ — but this is only a useless playing with words. Where rights prevail, a certain condition and degree of power is being maintained, a diminution and increment warded off. The rights of others constitute a concession on the part of our sense of power to the sense of power of those others. If our power appears to be deeply shaken and broken, our rights cease to exist: conversely, if we have grown very much more powerful, the rights of others, as we have previously conceded them, cease to exist for us. — The ‘man who wants to be fair’ is in constant need of the subtle tact of a balance: he must be able to assess degrees of power and rights, which, given the transitory nature of human things, will never stay in equilibrium for very long but will usually be rising or sinking: — being fair is consequently difficult and demands much practice and good will, and very much very good sense.”

    This has been one of the central understandings that informs my politics — the one argument for equity that I find compelling. When any single political group becomes so powerful it no longer needs the other’s consent, or where it is do able to dominate it that it need not fear retaliation, it can dismiss that group’s protests and either dominate it or exclude it. All with the clearest conscience.

    And the impotent fury of the powerless at the smug and ignorant moral self-satisfaction of the powerful is a truly dangerous force — especially if the powerful group (thinking inside its own logical bubble) overestimates its power and overplays its hand before the powerless group is truly helpless and unable to retaliate.

    Anyone who sets aside the filters and logic of popular philosophy, and closely observes the relationship between power and truth will see something strange: first-person perspectives bend and warp around power without deciding to, or even noticing it is happening. The power-induced change in feelings and thoughts — even memories — are experienced as an epiphany or moment of clarity. “Now that I think about it, I see the truth, a truth that was there all along, I just never noticed…!”

    I know a couple where one spouse took on a new energizing project, while the other was sinking into a debilitating depression. The energized spouse, looking through the lens of a new power balance, suddenly had insights about the depressed spouse and their years of marriage, and reassessed its value.

    From the perspective of the old power balance, both would have recognized this shift as a betrayal of the worst kind, at exactly the moment when loyalty matters most.

    But this is no longer the active perspective. The very standard of what is true, just and good changes with the change in power-relation. An epiphany occurs. The situation transfigures into a liberation story. …Or it transfigures for one side, the side with the power, the side who sees the truth. The other spouse is in no position to protest. The weak perspective can be disparaged and dismissed in the terms of the stronger one. And the weak perspective might even have to adopt the strong perspective if the relationship is to continue. This creates an illusion that there was really only one valid side to this conflict. The winners write history.

    It is all unnervingly innocent, it happens constantly, and it is all concealed under language that artificially preserves an appearance of integrity and continuity.

    And this story, writ large, is the story of our times.

    Transcending the axial religious worldview

    Susan and I have been having very fruitful arguments over the universality of ethical principles. We’ve been spiraling in on what it is exactly that makes me actively pro-religion, but hostile — almost panicked — toward so much of conventional religious thought.

    Below is an edited and slightly expanded version of a series of texts I sent her this morning.

    *

    My concern is this: the worldview common to religions of the Axial/Ecumenic Age (which includes rabbinic Judaism) is a really well-crafted philosophy. It gives its adherents a well-balanced sense of clarity, ethical guidance and an intense influx of meaning.

    The only real tradeoff (not experienced as a tradeoff at all by most religious people) is that this worldview is not acceptable or accessible for everyone. I’ve always been one of those people. So are the friends I most enjoy talking with.

    Most of them are atheists because the conception of God and religiosity in general given in this worldview fails to resonate with any needs they feel, and the preliminary steps into the worldview offend their intellectual consciences. They haven’t found a conception of God that they can believe in, and they’ve seen many conceptions that repel them, so they do the only decent thing: they refrain from belief, or reject it and remain pessimistic that there’s any value to be found in it.

    But for whatever reason, I’ve never been able to fully reject religion. I’ve kept digging into it, even when I’ve been disturbed by much of what I found. Through this process, I’ve discovered-learned-developed/instaurated an alternative religious worldview that is compatible with existing religious traditions (especially Judaism), but which has accomplished this by re-conceiving who God is, what religion is and does, what relationship is possible with a being who is essentially incomprehensible, and what it means to share a common faith (even when factual beliefs differ drastically).

    I believe this new perspective on religion could address inarticulate needs many atheists have, and presents religion in a way that doesn’t interfere with their commitment to scientific rigor, avoids offending their sensitive and rigorous intellectual consciences, and can be authentically believed as true.

    There is a conflict, however, when I try to share this newer worldview to people who have adopted the axial religious worldview, they hear it and say stuff like: “Sure, whatever, but that’s just philosophy.” Or “That’s just abstract thought, and I don’t feel God in it.” Even if they want to (which they rarely do), they cannot conceal their condescension.

    My worldview is compatible with theirs, however — but to understand how, it is necessary to understand alterity (radical otherness) and grasp why the recognition they expect isn’t happening. Further, it is crucial to understand how this alterity is essential to a relationship with a God who is real, and not largely imaginary or conceptual. Any relationship with God must include awareness of God’s alterity and insights into what it is like to encounter it.

    Religion is not only — even primarily — about being united in a common understanding and experience — it is about participating in an infinite being who is also largely alien to us and whose alterity arouses intense apprehension in our hearts, or to put it in more traditional religious language — who inspires dread as well as love.

    Why do I think I have the right to make claims like this? When you are in a tiny minority, you don’t find commonality in the mainstream, and this is doubly so if the minority you belong to is not even acknowledged to exist at all. To overcome the isolation and loneliness of this condition, you have no choice but to learn to relate to otherness.

    But if you are in a majority, the commonality you enjoy becomes so normal to you that you forget that it is not just a universal fabric of reality. And you are satisfied with that universality, even if you must exclude others to enjoy it fully. This complacence is impervious to argument. The only thing that overcomes it is courageous love.

    (This is the line of thought that originally caused me to recognize and feel intense solidarity with other people with marginal experiences and perspectives,  and motivated me to understand the dynamics of power, knowledge and hegemony. This is why I have insight into the principles of critical theory that the progressivist upper class has appropriated in order to legitimize their hegemonic dominance. It is very devilishly clever. It connects with a very deep and important truth, but subverts it, perverts it, and transforms it into a tool for the most powerful to dominate, intimidate and humiliate the powerless in the name of justice.)

    Generational relationships to categories

    When I was a young, pissed-off, alienated Gen-Xer (as if there was any other kind), we viewed categories with hostility. Not only did they never fit, they were rarely used with respectable intention.

    When we saw someone approaching category in hand, things were not likely to go well. They’d clap the label on us, and proceed to deduce from it that we had characteristics a and b, that they could expect behaviors c and d, and — most importantly — demand that we perform duties x and y.

    For most of us, there was only one category that fit us comfortably: none of the above. And these we couldn’t resist, which was all of them, we took it as a matter of course that they ranged from inadequate to ludicrous. We wanted to be unique. When we called each other freaks or weirdos, this was high praise!

    Younger generations, however, seem to have much higher hopes for categories, and infinitely less regard for uniqueness. They seem to crave perfect categories, as an ideal self-description language. They seem to compelled to restlessly rework their categories and identity schemas, driven by a faith that with sufficient perfection these categories could somehow stand in for who they really are. They want their categories to function as a unique identifier, so anyone literate in identity could read the “speaking as a….” sequence and deduce the most important features of their selfhood from it.

    But who could blame them, given how they were parented and educated? There is a huge downside to being the first digital-age baby boom.  They were born into a world where everything, including them, needs to be rapidly evaluated, scantron-style. They were groomed for mass processing. There were so many of these children to compare, to discipline, to train, to sort, to prepare for professional formatting, and there were relatively few adults left for parenting and education, seeing that tending children has been proven to be degrading, menial work that no truly talented, ambitious professional would choose. All the talented adults were off shoveling data from spreadsheet cell to spreadsheet cell, attending tedious depressing meetings, and making and selling disposable consumer products. Even before they were born, they were being IQ hacked in utero with Baby Einstein CDs. From the moment they were squeezed out of their moms, they were building resumes of impressive bullet points, learning “appropriate” behaviors, appealing to behavioral administrators to resolve every minor conflict, as they were rushed from milestone to milestone in their processing. And then social media hit, and even information was made tl;dr-proof. The bits got smaller and smaller, moved further and further from literature.

    So, it is hardly surprising that younger generations cling to categories. Unique persons are utterly resistant to scanning. As far as their experience has taught them, category strings that can be decoded to produce a representation of who they are is the most reliable route to recognition. And so these categories are truly a matter of authentic being or oblivion.

    I think this strategy cannot work. I think my old-fashioned existentialist disdain for categories as answers to the “who are you?” question is better. But the old answers and the old attitudes are not going to persuade anyone who has gone in for identitarianism.

    We need a new, inspiring redescription of Liberalism, and I think it has to be rooted in a sort of category defiance. Liberalism is the coalition of the unique. What an exciting project, though!

    Against bothsiderism

    Bothsiderism is wrong. All intelligent people should reject it.

    Why?

    First, because “both” implies there are only two sides. I reject that there are only two sides in our current conflict (to which “bothsiderist” refers) or in most political conflicts.

    With respect to understanding political situations I am a pluralist. Pluralists know that the very essence of a political situation is struggle among conflicting worldviews. Each worldview defines its own position, its own justification, and defines its enemies and speculates on their positions and motivations. These views of the situation never line up or harmonize with one another, and that’s precisely what makes it political. When trying to understand any political conflict I am an allsiderist, because that is what it takes to actually understand such situations.

    Those most eager to accuse others of bothsiderism are something far worse than a bothsiderist. They are onesiderists. They have no serious doubts that their own theories about their enemies motivations are correct, and their enemies’ counter-theories are incorrect at best, and likely evil and/or insane. The other side has no valid point worth considering, or hearing, and suppressing their worldview is the best way to resolve the conflict. It is objectively clear there is only one true, good, just side in this conflict: mine.

    With respect to picking sides among onesiderists I am a passionate neithersiderist. I see no reason to takes sides with onesiderists fighting against other onesiderists, and the fact each is completely unwilling to imagine that it is possible to be on neither side, nor that this alleged bothsiderism is tantamount to supporting their enemy.

    I will go further and declare myself an anti-onesiderist. In fact, I reject the notion that ideological progressivists and the alt-righters are even two different things. They are one thing. They are a complementary pair that feed each other’s hatred and justify each other’s excesses, and combine to produce a single illiberal juggernaut bent on undermining and destroying our liberal institutions. Anyone who justifies their own rioting (as resistance to oppressors), their hatred (as righteous anger), their abuse (as speaking truth to power) and their bigotry (as a legitimate counterbalancing prejudice against the prejudiced), while seeing the rioting, hatred, abuse and bigotry of their enemies as beyond the pale, is themselves beyond the pale, not only for being rioting, hating, abusing bigots, but for being hypocrites. People have started rolling their eyes at accusations of hypocrisy, but eye-rolls are not arguments.

    I long ago stopped seeing the political battle-line of our time drawn between left and right. We can quibble over economic policy later. We have bigger problems. The real battle-line today is perpendicular: we are now in a struggle between liberal and illiberal, or, to put it in the terms I’ve been using, allsiderists versus onesiderists.

    Allsiderists try hard to be fair. They try to weigh different sides and assess tradeoffs. They do so because they want to get along with their fellow citizens. But onesiderism has advanced so far, become so aggressive, tribal, simplistic and destructive that it might be time to take forceful action and put down this double-insurrection.

    Reconceiving the unconscious

    Reading Schutz, and examining the structure of lived experience I am suspecting more and more that what we call “unconscious” and habitually conceptualize spatially as submerged beneath our awareness has been misconceived — or, to put it in more designerly language, is a conceptualization that introduces tradeoffs which might not be optimal for our purposes. And what is this purpose, I’d like to optimize for? I’ll try to pin it down: I think in popular thought (which is the thought that creates, re-creates and shapes society, through ethnomethods) we radically misunderstand the relationship between language and lived experience. We have a tendency to conflate consciousness and speech. If something resists language, and we find ourselves unable to capture it our memory with the help of words, that wordless memory of images, sounds, feelings, etc. seems to sink faster into oblivion, and to be harder to retrieve. My hunch is that words are nonverbal memory aids that condense experience from the mental environment. When we have words for what happens to us we are able to “objectify” what is going on, whether what is going on is “out there” in the world or “in here” in my memory. With language we produce sharper objectifications that go into our memories and we have mnemonic objects that will condense the sensory recollections when we wish to recall the experience later.

    So in my model, the unconscious is just those mental activities that we have not articulated for objective knowing. But these are not autonomous demon-like beings who slip in the shadows and depths, who move us against our will when we ease our vigilance, hiding our under-selves from what our minds will tolerate. I see this as a nasty vestige of medieval religiosity — one that keeps popping up among people who fancy themselves secular, but whose minds still move in superstitious ruts.

    I prefer to understand what we call the unconscious as that vast set of tacit perceptual, kinetic, feeling realities hiding in plain sight, but inaccessible to linguistic thought. They are there, real, tangible, important but we don’t have words for them so they evaporate like dreams after we experience them unless something happens to us that causes the vapor to condense again. One of the great benefits of words is they are reliable memory condensers.

    Folks who “think visually” or who take their intuitions and mind motions seriously as real and significant prior to any ability to articulate or conceptualize or demonstrate or argue them have a capacity to create thoughts outside the dominant language games of the culture. I want to articulate some of these realities and make them more thinkable. But also, I want to banish the latter-day demons of the Freudish “unconscious” that seems to have reemerge to haunt our social and political anxieties.

    I also find our beliefs about the role of language in our everyday behavior to mislead designers. If we believe users verbalize instructions to themselves that their bodies obey when using software, we stop trying to directly engage our hands. If we understand that language itself is an interface that we use to help us make sense of experience when other means fail, we create two layers of interface between users and their tools. A great user interface minimizes the requirement to verbalize, so tools become invisible, ready-to-hand extensions of the user’s will.

    Try these ideas on with this line of thought. The political crisis we are in now, with deep roots in the American tradition, can be seen as starting with the rise of social media. Much of our social lives, and our lives in general, became heavily word-mediated. Normally, when people gather it is around experiences. Things are enjoyed together — food drink, music, art, laughter — and experiences unfold over the course of hours. Social media is fast language. TL;DR, scan, scroll, start, stop, scroll. Not only are people’s blah-blah flipped through like TV channels, but engagement is sporadic and flitting. Written literature has time to evoke, conjure, hint, suggest and condense memories and knowings. Fast language only recalls or refers. It is spastic and explicit. Expastic language could be a good word for fast language, dittos and hashtags. But things got worse when Covid put everyone in social isolation. Then the entire world had to be strained through screens. The realm of shared tacit realities constricted and the word-world expanded explosively. I think what we are seeing now is the opposite of an eruption of the unconscious. I think the sensible wisdom our tacit understandings were removed from the public setting, and brainless verbal logic took over and is running itself to its logical extremes inside s frictionless, gravityless vacuum of collective solipsism.

    Political dyslexia

    The terms “far-right” and “far-left” are being used far too frequently, casually, and imprecisely — and maybe completely incorrectly.

    American conservatism is right, but has rarely gotten anywhere near far-right since the disgrace of Jim Crow. And America’s own New Deal reforms were nowhere near far-left either. I’ve seen Libertarianism called far-right, but it is right-of center at most, and it is arguable the exact center-point.

    Here is how I view the range.

    • Far-right seeks inequality under the law. It works to establish formally ranked classes of people, each with different rights, duties and privileges.
    • Center seeks equality under the law. It acknowledges only one class of person: citizen.
    • Far-left seeks equity under the law. It works to give every citizen the same level of wealth and power, taking from those with more and giving to those with less.

    Today’s Progressivism is a tricky case. It presents itself as left, and promises equity. However the equity it promises is not equity among every citizen as leftism normally does. It promises equity to protected categories of people viewed in aggregate. All protected groups will have an equal share in the highest classes. But this movement does not does not see inequality among classes as intrinsically problematic. It almost seems to view class inequality as just as long as every group has its share of the inequality. This acceptance of class inequality is more typical of the right. If you look at Progressivism through a more typical leftist lens and see it as a dominant ideology whose function is to establish, justify and preserve the hegemony of the professional class, collective equity is a legitimation strategy, not a program of substantial reform. This would help explain why Progressivism dominates nearly all mainstream institutions, including most Fortune 500 corporations, public education, popular entertainment, the popular press and popular culture in general. If Progressivism sought individual equity, it would threaten these institutions and would meet resistance from them.

    If this is, in fact, the case, our nation is suffering from severe dyslexia.

    Things are truly scrambled.

    What is your paranoia type?

    I formed a theory about the 2016 election. Who you voted for in 2016 was a function of you you hated more in grade-school: the bully or the tattletale.

    This is also the key to understanding political paranoias: which of two dystopias are you are more afraid of? Are you more afraid of a hard totalitarianism perpetrated by brutes or a soft totalitarianism perpetrated by technocrats? Bullies with tactical weapons spilling blood in the streets, or tattletales with electronic surveillance and expertly administrated rehabilitation? I think the former are more terrifying if they prevail, but I think the latter is far more likely to succeed. Hopefully neither will.

    Totalitarian misconceptions

    I have not enjoyed my latest deep dive into totalitarian thought. It’s made me really crabby. Susan’s been hinting that maybe switching my morning reading would be a good idea. I’m going to record a few random impressions, just so I can see some output and make the ordeal feel less pointless.

    • Most of what we know and believe about totalitarianism comes to us via socialist, conservative and liberal propaganda, all of whom want to maximize the differences between themselves and the most despised totalitarian regimes (Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism) while emphasizing their affinity with their own opponents. So conservatives want to paint them as economically left-wing movements with strong family resemblances with our own progressivism, while progressives want to paint them as nationalist and capitalist to connect them with conservatism. Liberals primarily want to show totalitarianism as essentially illiberal, which, of course, is a correct analysis, but a pretty vapidly obvious one.
    • Totalitarianisms succeeded because they were unprecedented. There was nothing to compare them to, nor was there any reliable way to predict where they would go.
    • The main indicator of trouble was their violent rhetoric. But that was all-too-easily explained away, much as Communist or Antifa rhetoric is today by casual leftists.
    • Contrary to popular belief, racism is not an essential feature of totalitarianism. The Nazi obsession with race was regarded by Fascists as a fruitless distraction. Race was never an explicit theme in Stalinism.
    • There are clear lines of development from Marxism to both Fascism and Nazism. And Marxism was descended from Hegelian, transposed from an idealist metaphysics to a materialist one, and, as a loose consequence, from a contemplative movement to a practical one with revolutionary implications.
    • The primary difference between these and Bolshevism was not what we would identify as left-right today — neither a difference in economic theory or policy, nor different attitudes toward personal rights. It was primarily a difference between group identity: is the unit of loyalty class or nation? Fascism and Nazism were both nationalist forms of revolutionary socialism, where Bolshevism was an international revolutionary socialist movement.
    • The worst inheritance from Hegelianism is idolatry of history, the conceit that history contains a univocal truth that an initiate can learn and use to deduce all kinds of marvelous things. A materialist Hegelian acquires the ability to deduce the future based on an understanding of contemporary economic dynamics.
    • Mussolini was a vocal fan of William James. I think this is another of those idle dig from the conservatives trying to paint progressives as “smily face fascists”, but I’m bothered. Thanks a lot, Jonah Goldberg. I need to research this further and comb out exactly what was so appealing and useful about James to Mussolini. Goldberg seems to have a very shallow understanding of Pragmatism.
    • But! — this is ominous: George Santayana, who famously said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” also said “Of course I was never a Fascist in the sense of belonging to that Italian party, or to any nationalistic or religious party. But considered, as it is for a naturalist, a product of the generative order of society, a nationalist or religious institution will probably have its good sides, and be better perhaps than the alternative that presents itself at some moment in some place. That is what I thought, and still think, Mussolini’s dictatorship was for Italy in its home government. Compare with the disorderly socialism that preceded or the impotent party chaos that has followed it. . . . But Mussolini was personally a bad man and Italy a half-baked political unit; and the militant foreign policy adopted by Fascism was ruinous in its artificiality and folly. But internally, Italy was until the foreign militancy and mad alliances were adopted, a stronger, happier, and more united country than it is or had ever been. Dictatorships are surgical operations, but some diseases require them, only the surgeon must be an expert, not an adventurer.” And he said that in 1950.
    • I strongly suspect that totalitarianism as we (however insufficiently) know it is unlikely to happen again in a way we’d recognize at a glance. My own suspicion is that revolutions tend to be brutally illiberal, and are generated by technologically-driven economic and political change — rapid industrialization, the rise of mass media — changes that we have since absorbed and internalized. Whatever totalitarian threats we might face in the future are most likely to be driven by new technological innovations. My candidates are unsurprising: social media, phone cameras, mass surveillance and AI analysis of “big data”.
    • The current practice of pointing at phenotypical similarities between our and opponents’ behaviors and some Totalitarianism or another is a stupid intensification of conflict that ironically bears more resemblance to Totalitarianism (with its stark friend-enemy thinking, emergency-mongering, persecution/paranoia fantasies and, most of all, its hubristic compulsion to deduce the un-deducible) than the pointed-out similarities, which are superficial.

    Great summary of A. James Gregor’s Totalitarianism and Political Religion

    Dennis B. Mulcare’s Amazon review of A. James Gregor‘s Totalitarianism and Political Religion: An Intellectual History is such a thorough and clear a summary of the book, I’ve decided to post it here:

    Note that the subtitle of this book, “An Intellectual History”, indicates that the scholarly evolution and consolidation of ideas and strategies integral to totalitarianism are the major focus of this book. This perspective contrasts with a necessarily selective recounting of persons, events, and outcomes in the large that typify history books in general. To me, the author’s focus is a big plus: more direct and immediate engagement of the origins, motivations, and rationales regarding historical happenings versus third-party recapitulations, reconstructions, and/or interpretations of those happenings. In “Totalitarianism and Political Religion” then, far more coverage is accorded to the seminal thinkers and energizing concepts behind 20th century totalitarian ideologies than to the historical figures, activities, and outcomes involved in their actualizations.

    As the central concept of this book, a political religion is a faith-based political movement that embodies an institutionalized belief system. In its essence and organization, it sacralizes a profane base of power, thereby undergirding a system of coercive governance. During the early twentieth century, moreover, each of the three full-fledged totalitarian governments enlisted a customized political religion to motivate and control its population. In my understanding, the following elements in concert characterize or explicate the concepts and modus operandi common to the three aforementioned regimes:

    1. Totalitarianism is a class of ideologies that seeks to control all aspects of life, commerce, and governance within a country or politically organized unit. Its doctrine and rationale are captured in an ideology, which typically relies on a political religion for its realization and dynamism.

    2. An ideology is an all-encompassing doctrine that purports to explain the essence and workings of the world, and to prescribe or to proscribe the behavior of the humans within a polity. In all, an ideology is a closed worldview that claims to be secular in nature and to have an infallible basis grounded in science.

    3. The ideologies of Leninism, Fascism, and Nazism were intellectually fully developed prior to their respective articulations and implementations by Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler. Largely, this book describes the historical trajectory of the intellectual evolution of each of these three “-isms”.

    4. Sacralization is the ascription to a profane concept or object of the attributes that are normally properties or practices of traditional transcendent religions. The intent is to co-opt the natural religious tendencies if not the spiritual fervor of humans for purposes of the regime.

    5. Instances of political religions examined in this book are: History as religion – per Engels & Marx; Revolution as religion – per Lenin; State as religion – per Mussolini; and Race as religion – per Hitler. All four cases in their particular manifestations share the salient characteristics of a generic political religion.

    6. The de facto if implicit centrality of political religions in the above ideologies belies their claims of secular nature. Similarly, their emphatic normative prescriptions/proscriptions wholly discredit their scientific pretenses. In all cases, the various ideologies are based on faith, and not on empirical evidence or logical arguments.

    7. Ultimately, the realization of a totalitarian ideology is seen to depend on a combination of: societal predispositions and circumstances; fanatical commitment to seeking power; technological resources to promote/enforce the ideological doctrine; and a suitable political religion. The latter serves to resonate with a society’s extant predispositions, to activate/sustain ideological doctrine, and to exploit the spiritual proclivities of humans in general.

    For me, this book provided several novel and powerful insights, as well as learned exemplifications of some notions I had already possessed. New insights included: the seeming universal recognition among political theorists of the innate and persistent spiritual core of humans; and the force and persistence of ideas over their application, and hence the dominance of thinkers over practical or worldly political leaders (not that thinkers and leaders are mutually exclusive categories). Reinforced or exemplified notions were: the fanatical compulsion of certain activists to force their presumptuous, fatuous visions of worldly salvation on hapless populations; and the recurring reliance upon emotional appeals to engender and maintain popular support for a regime or its agenda.

    Although the subject of this book would seem to be rather specialized, I believe that its treatment by the author possesses genuine appeal for many serious readers. In focusing on intellectual history, moreover, this book addresses a topic meriting broader interest, and in so doing fathoming WHY certain things can have happened as they did. Of lesser relative interest, to me at least, are general historical accounts describing factually or speculatively WHAT ostensibly did happen. Such a tradeoff reduces to addressing the core essence of a generic matter versus engaging the broader particularities of instances thereof. The former option, coupled with the author’s thoughtful and revealing exposition of a very important topic, underlies my high regard for “Totalitarianism and Political Religion”.