Category Archives: Politics

Liberal quintessence

When I was a young father I taught my daughters that every argument has four halves: There is my side. There is your side. There is what I think your side is. There is what you think my side is.

At this point, someone inevitably wants to add: “And there is a fifth side: the truth.”

For a liberal, there is no such fifth side.

This absence is the quintessence of liberalism.

This absence is the space where we can come to new understandings.

Weird liberal

When we are young we lack awareness of how much awareness we lack.

We see all the faults, stupidity and pure viciousness embedded in the system, and we have a vision of a system without all these faults. We see it so clearly! Why shouldn’t we tear out the faults, or even dismantle the system and rebuild it more purely and on cleaner ground?

We would — if it weren’t for the powerful. They will not yield their place. They insist on blocking the way for those who wish to change the world for the better. They have power and wish to keep it, enjoy it and multiply it.

So think the powerless. So think those who have lived under the shelter of other people’s imperfect (sometimes bungled) efforts to make order from the chaos of reality. So think those who have benefitted so much from this orderly sheltering that they believe order, equality and justice is the natural default state and that these defaults persist unless some wicked person disrupts it.

When something goes wrong this must have been inflicted by some other person. They cry out in indignation: “Who is responsible for this?”

It does not occur to them to notice when things go right, and even less when things stay right for long durations. It does not occur to them to cry out in gratitude: “Who is responsible for this?”

Humility develops when one actually takes responsibility for one these sheltering layers. Failure is inevitable and imperfections turn out to be ineradicable. And gratitude grows with awareness of how much sheltering is still happening.

One begins seeing life against the background of chaos.

Health happens against a background of decay and death, and only with effort does health expand out by decades.

Reason happens against a backdrop of insane passion, and only with effort does it expand further and further out into the inexplicable, arbitrary and meaningless.

Justice happens against a background of inequality, coercion, physical violence snd terror.

Leisure happens against a background of toil.

Contentment happens against a background of discomfort and deprivation.

In this age, a great many old people make it to then end of life, never having given shelter to anyone, and without developing humility or gratitude. They still think, had the world been more just and reasonable, they could have done it better. Entire professions exist that permit people to grow old without ever maturing. (Can you guess what these are?)

Entire generations can live under the shelter of ancestors, whose accomplishments were so effective the generations following them are not even aware of the stormy skies outside the azure ceilings under which they have lived. Instead of repairing leaks, they curse those responsible for the leaky roof that is the very bane of their existence.


I am a liberal, but a weird liberal. Through my own persistent trying and failing, I have come to appreciate what a monumental but fragile accomplishment liberalism is. Even under the many superstructural roofs and substructural ceilings over my own head, I still struggle to keep the modest ceilings for which I am responsible intact and dry.

I do not want to surrender this imperfect but mostly-good order to naive idealists who credit themselves (and their kind) for a sunshiny faith that people are innately good, that the world itself is innately good, that order, benevolence and fairness is the default state of things — unless someone makes it otherwise. I do not want to put people in charge who feel that their responsibility is only to prevent wicked people from introducing wickedness into what would otherwise be an automatic paradise.

These idealists feel that all that stands in the way of possessing the order, goodness, reason and justice to which they are entitled is to displace those responsible for this flawed system that deprives them of perfection — and, of course, to replace them with less biased, more aware and more morally awakened people who, on this basis, deserve power. I do not want to live under the rule of innocently ambitious, naive ingrates. It was not their fault that they were badly parented and miseducated — but who (besides them) says that not being in charge is a punishment? They are simply unqualified. They see only the dark side of responsibility.

Perhaps I have become a conservative liberal. So be it.

Square hipsters versus hip squares

Every adolescent knows: Oppressive piety invites defiant impiety.

If you are pious, you believe oppression is a necessary means to protect what deserves piety. But to those subjected to the oppression, it is obvious that it is the piety that is the means. Oppression is the real end. Piety justifies use of coercion, and enables the oppressor to enjoy self-righteous abuse of power.

Impiety is a vehicle for defiance of oppression. The impious content is secondary. What matters is the performative “fuck you” to those who use piety as justification for oppression.

Of course, the pious can only see defiance as a hatred of what deserves piety — morality, justice, compassion and so on. They see it this way and this way only. Permitting alternative views or irony or humor introduces the risk of seeing the ruse from the outside, which would puncture all delusions of moral superiority.

I think most people understand this to some degree. We can all sort of recall how it was to be a teenager. Some of us still identify with our teenage rebellion, and even believe that we are still rebellious, despite all evidence to the contrary. If, when corporations unite to celebrate your rebellion you bask in their approval and feel renewed inspiration to continue your personal journey to self-acceptance — or if you need everyone to unanimously affirm your rebellion or you melt into a puddle of trauma tears — sorry dude, you are the furthest thing from a rebel. How could anyone be so stupid and self-oblivious to miss that?

Here is how: Power is sneaky.

The smarter we are, the sneakier we get.

The world is currently faced with a piety with the sneakiest meta moves ever devised by our sneaky, pious species.

Imagine an oppressive piety obsessed with… opposing oppression and piety.

Now imagine a defiant impiety toward this oppressive piety of anti-oppression/anti-piety.

Pious impiety and oppressive anti-oppression versus impious piety and defiant anti-anti-oppression.

This meta layer has effectively confused the majority of our (mis)educated population.

The pious impious run around shitting on and tearing down everything formerly considered sacred in former times, and if someone gets uppity and refuses to conform with the defilement, they are scarlet lettered and shunned by the community. These people refuse to be named, but I call them Proggos, because that it a silly, unpleasant word perfectly suited for silly, unpleasant people.

Meanwhile the impious pious run around defiantly affirming the sacrality of everything the  Proggos hate, most of all sacred traditions, which is why these people are commonly called Trads. These Trads compulsively disregard all the moral rule Proggos impose and enforce, even that 75% that’s actually decent and good, and even the 50% espoused by their own sacred traditions. But Trads are not sincere in any of their affirmations. They affirm only to negate. They care nothing about sacredness — only saying “fuck you” in the most offensive manner they can find, and that has turned out to be the Apostle’s Creed.

So basically these pious impious Proggos and these impious pious Trads share something in common: a total disregard for sacredness. One desecrates with sincere contempt and the other desecrates  with disingenuous reverence.

Popular versus classical didactics

If you do not subscribe to the dominant ideology of your time all its art forms will seem as false, stilted and contrived as popular art from the past — and for precisely the same reason.

Popular art always reinforces the current dominant ideology, by presenting an image of reality formatted according to its ideals, prejudices and delusions.

When we collectively move on from one decade to another we move on from one grotesquely willful misrepresentation of reality to another equally (if not worse) grotesquely willful misrepresentation, and from there we look back and jeer at how naively awful we were back then.

*

I solemnly swear, we are so unbelievably much worse right now that we’ve ever been before, it will make the ludicrous distortions of the 70s and 80s positively pale in comparison.

You don’t see it? You don’t understand? It’s not because there is nothing to understand. It is because you are failing to understand something glaringly real. Wait. You’ll see.

*

You’ve judged the past according to today’s standards, and you refuse to listen to those who have tried to explain how time works.

Your values are absolute and everyone should have acknowledged them all along.

To you I offer Anaximander’s Maxim: “Beings must pay penance and be judged for their injustices, in accordance with the ordinance of time.”

*

For those who have done enough truly independent thinking — which means overcoming the dominant ideology of their youth and of the current time, and which also entails asking questions we are not permitted to ask (which are most certainly not the utterly harmless “dangerous questions” our cultural elites pat you on the head for asking — popular culture starts stinking of the most ham-fisted didacticism.

If that stench prevents you from enjoying art, you’ll have to flee to unpopular art, which is formatted by lower-frequency ideals — ideals which endure not just months or years like today’s moral “fast fashion” but whole decades and sometimes centuries. Some of this unpopular art is genuine high art whose appeal to higher sensibilities might help it outlast its time. Though timelessness is never guaranteed, and often fails hilariously, the aspiration to timelessness can encourage less overtly propagandistic art. Some other unpopular art is low art — art so low it penetrates beneath the dirty, depleted and eroded surface of today, into the deeper soil of our species.

Late-stage managerialism? Postmanagerialism?

I am going to channel Burnham by applying his 1940 analysis of capitalism to its successor social order, managerialism.

Burnham claimed that the capitalism versus socialism framing inherited from Marx’s analysis of 19th century industrial capitalism omitted the social class best poised to take control over production in the 20th century, namely the managerial class. He left them out because this class emerged as a result (and cause) of the exponentially compounding complexities of industrial production. They were not significant enough as a class for Marx to consider them as rivals to the proletariat as inheritors of production after capitalism collapses.

Burnham’s claim is that with the onset of the Great War, capitalism did collapse, and that instead of the worker’s revolution promised by Marx, the world got, instead, a manager’s revolution. This is why Soviet Russia never got anything anywhere near a free, classless society, but instead something nobody could quite nail down. It certainly wasn’t capitalism, but society remained just as classist.

It only became thinkable once this third class, the managerial class — the new dominant class, was considered, and treated as a dominant class with sharply differing class interests from that of the capitalist class and the working class.

Most “leftist” managerial class members still imagine their interests as aligned with the working class, and when workers accuse the managerial class of being oppressive and contemptuous, ask themselves “What’s the matter with Kansas?” with no intention of letting anyone besides themselves answer. (And of course, refusing to listen to objections and entertaining their validity, preferring instead to diagnose the objectors as deluded, manipulated, vicious and afflicted with false consciousness is precisely the kind of contempt that so infuriates the working class.) But these interests are the furthest thing from aligned, and the better the managerial class did, the worse the working class has fared.

Burnham claimed WWI was the end of capitalism and that WWII was the first great managerial class war. He saw Russia and Germany both as rapid and radical managerial revolutions, which accounted for their violence. He saw the New Deal as a primitive beginning of a managerial revolution in the United States, and that full entry into the war (still over a year away at the publication of his book in early 1941) would accelerate the process.

I believe Burnham was largely right. Much of what he predicted did happen. I’m too lazy to list it all out, but if you are curious, I do recommend reading the Managerial Revolution. It is fun to read — as long as you aren’t attached to popular managerial class ideological narcissism that has well-educated, well-compensated pampered managerials situated on the side of justice. Ain’t so — but nobody can force you to see what you don’t want to see. Not so far, anyway. Keep “doing the work” of misdirection if that helps you continue seeing yourself as a good person, and not as a decadent overclasser seeking moral entertainments as relief from your anomie!

—-

Here is my theory, and it blatantly rips off all of Burnam’s coolest moves.

Managerialism has ended. It fell when the World Trade Center buildings fell. It continued falling when the economy collapsed in 2007-2009. What has been replacing it is a new order that has little and decreasing need for a managerial class.

The managerial class has been in spiritual decay for decades. The postmodernism that electrified universities throughout the 80s and 90s only set the stage for intellectual collapse in the new millennium. As far as I can tell, anyone whose university education happened in the new millennium has experienced only one viable political ideology their entire lives and is seized with existential dread and willful incomprehension when faced with any truth not carefully processed and formatted for their effortless moral consumption. Such people are unequipped to diagnose their own political condition. Instead, they interpret the symptoms of class decline in the most naive way possible, projecting their class despair on any surface suitable for projection. The world is ending in myriad ways. In this unprecedentedly safe time, everything is a physical threat — violence!

What is happening is the emergence of a new social order with no more need for white collar workers than for blue collar workers. And a new social class of technology elites — with class interests at odds with the managerial class and the working class — developed within the managerial class, has separated from it, and is now poised to displace the managerial class.

The technological overclass has less and less need to compromise or to feign goodwill toward either the managerial class or the working class. In some ways, this could look like a return to capitalism, but one with diminishing need for human exploitation. If you have AI, robotics and new, low-labor fabrication technologies what good is a large population? They strain the planet, and are a potential source of unrest. Once again, a few hyper-wealthy individuals can own and directly control all production, without human intermediaries.

Liberal arts education has shifted focus (to put it mildly) from pluralism to an impotent, decadent and sentimental monism. The only students who get rigorous training are in technological fields, because this is all that is useful to the rising overclass.

It appears to managerial class members that they are helping vulnerable identities — nearly all of whom, incidentally are members of the managerial class, but whose essential identity is erased so they can become proxies for actually oppressed underclassers. Likewise, with class erased, underclassers who, to ideologically-formatted eyeballs resemble hyper-rich information technology elites, can be attacked and abused as effigies, without any sacrifice of safety or comfort. And these same people, for a variety of reasons, are childless, and help the managerial class approach its optimal size: zero.

—-

If you are a managerial class member and want to really be on the right side of history (though perhaps not as you imagine it) there are two main ways to approach this goal, depending on your tastes and inclinations.

If you are roughly average in intelligence and courage, continue embracing the progressivist ideology. Keep seeing everything in terms of the standard canon of identities. Direct your hatred at the underclass who are prejudiced against these identities. This legitimizes your hatred and gives harmless vent to your class anxieties, and it also gives the underclass a legitimate target for its anger. This is convenient for the new overclass, who would prefer the obsolete classes to fight among themselves instead of uniting against them. Whatever directs their hostilities away from the technology overclass is good. And if it helps reduce the world population to sustainable levels, that is double-plus good.

And do continue celebrating marginalization, powerlessness and victimization. The more we managerials practice admiring these virtues, the more we can retain some self-respect as a class when dress rehearsal ends, and our everyday reality is one of actual marginalization, powerlessness and victimization. In the future the ability to see what is most degraded, unattractive, useless and weak as what is most admirable will be an essential survival skill. We should be proactive about this. We should find absolutely the most non-admirable people and insist on celebrating them as the very pinnacle of humankind.

If you are smarter than average or have a weakness for daring or transgressive ideas, you can replatform yourself on transhumanism, and be an early adopter of the technology elite’s own ideology.

I hope I’m wrong about all this. I probably am. This, however, is how things seem to me at this strange moment in history.

Liberalism, esoteric and exoteric

Pluralism is for the few, not the many. Pluralism is the esoteric heart of Liberalism.

The exoteric face of Liberalism is the Law of Tolerance.

If you pursue tolerance, eventually pluralism may develop.

Starting with pluralism, though, will produce only intolerance and illiberalism.

Pluralism is a way of being first, and only secondarily a belief.

*

Faith ensouls doctrine.

Doctrines can, and often are, misunderstood and misanimated.

An author can be brought to life through understanding.

An author — or all authors– can be declared dead by those who wish to animate texts with thoughts of their own. But then the author would be better described as undead.

You are not a critical thinker

You are not a critical thinker.

I’m sorry — you just aren’t.

You don’t know what it means. You haven’t put in the right kind of effort.

Despite what you think, “critical thinking” is not just doing an extra-good job of thinking the way you happen to have been trained to think — and, consequently, reaching the correct conclusions your correct and competent thinking reaches.

That is the opposite of critical thinking.

The problem is this: You have your criticism pointed in the wrong direction.

You think “critical thinking” is thinking up criticisms of how other people think. But, everyone does that.

The fundamentalists who send their kinds to Jesus Camp to learn ludicrous garbage and become braindead foot soldiers of the salvation army — they train their kids to memorize and recite arguments that demolish foolish worldly wisdom.

When they do it, it is easy to see that this is not education in critical thinking. It is only indoctrination.

But when you do the same thing, it is different because you are teaching what is true.

Are you really so dim that you cannot see that this attitude does not make you different from those dumb fundamentalists, it makes you exactly the same as them?

You, like they, have grown so smugly self-certain of your own correctness that you’ve lost the ability to put yourself on equal footing with others who, like you, have lost that ability. And you lost that ability because you, like they, have failed at critical thinking.* (see note below.)

The critique of critical thinking is pointed back at itself, not at others. This is what makes it different from what most ideological dummies do, and what makes it as rare as hen’s teeth.

Critical thinking examines its own presuppositions, its own conceptions, its own habits, its own blindness, and it breaks down its own certainty and its own clarity.

Critical thinking is a harrowing process. It leads directly to disagreement with anyone who has not engaged in it, themselves.

Critical thinking is essentially nonconformist and essentially anxious.

If you need your thinking to always be delightful and playful you can’t be a critical thinker.

If you need people to pat you on the head for being a good person, you can’t be a critical thinker.

As long as you cannot do without the comfort of being surrounded by a community of benevolent, like-minded kindred-kindred spirits — all of whom congratulate you and each other for their critical thinking, and for their ethical excellence and their deep concern for the marginal (or at least the like-minded marginal) — you most certainly can not be a critical thinker.

Of course, you can call yourself a critical thinker. I can’t stop you.

But I can laugh at you for calling yourself that. And you can’t stop me.


NOTE: * For instance, have you ever once asked yourself how, if other people can be unconsciously cognitively biased and prone to self-interested motivated reasoning, you can be sure that your use of these concepts isn’t biased and self interested? No you haven’t, because you’ve only deployed these critiques against other people, not against your own ideological dogmatism.

Or have you ever once wondered how, if “Whiteness” can be an identity that “erases” itself in order to continue enjoying unjust “privileges”, how you can be sure you yourself don’t enjoy unacknowledged self-erasing identities with unjust privileges — perhaps one that grants you the unjust privilege to be the arbiter of all matters of justice? No, you haven’t, because asking that question will knock you off your perch, and you love that perch.

Have you ever once noticed that your “offense”, your little “traumas”, your righteous “PTSD” tantrums bear a hell of a resemblance to what you call “fragility” and “rage” and “hate” and aversion to being criticized? Again, no, you have not, because you cannot take what you dish out. (I’m not kidding: I’ve seen people start blubbering, crying actual tears, when confronted exactly the way they confront others, and then actually complain of mistreatment, when they urge others in the same position to “lean into their discomfort.”) But no, you believe you should not have to be subjected to the discomfort of aggressive, radical, unwanted criticism of the kind you subject others to… because you are right and they are wrong.

But you are not right. You are only prejudiced toward your own views, because you are you, and you happen to have enough power to bully others with your ideology and force them to pretend to agree or at least shut up. Isn’t that a “power differential” of the kind your ideal is sworn to oppose? But, see, this is a good power differential. This is responsible bullying for a higher cause, meant to redistribute prestige and humiliation to make things more equitable. So say you, at least when cornered. Everyone else sees it as just the kind of bullying every powerful group does, and always finds a way to morally justify.

Critical thinking could help you overcome these profound intellectual and moral defects, but you won’t do it. You don’t want to be less certain, less, clear, less self-satisfied, less confident.  You’ll only try to make everyone else do it, because when their confidence and certainty is broken it gives you the advantage you unconsciously crave — a desire which, for your own advantage, you repress and disguise as justice. You are full of shit, and you are hated by the truly socially vulnerable — not those pampered, pseudo-vulnerable fellow overclassers you call “marginal” and “vulnerable” “protected classes” — for the very best of reasons. If that revolution you enjoy longing for ever comes — God forbid! — I think you’ll be quite surprised who gets lined up against the wall.

Sectorianism

I feel a mixture of disgust and pity for progressives who actually believe they are leftists despite enjoying every advantage of class dominance. …and not only enjoy this dominance, but work to extend and maximize their class domination, which of course, includes noisily and ostentatiously diverting attention from their own grotesque class privilege by hyperfocusing on petty identitarian trifles.

It never occurs to them to wonder how it could be that their “left-wing” politics are not only approved of in the workplace — but increasingly “left-wing activism” is actively celebrated, even compelled, by the largest, wealthiest, most powerful capitalist institutions — the exact ones they loudly, harmlessly claim to wish to dismantle. Until the day of reckoning comes, though, they’ll work their asses off, sacrifice their happiness, and their children’s happiness to win their boss’s approval and win that promotion and pay raise.

Truth: Progressivism is not leftism.

There is no longer any mainstream left.

Apologies to Gertrude Stein, but there is no left left.

There are only classes which have formed around different industry sectors, which have developed cultures, ideologies and justifications for seeking hegemony.

These classes have no need nor desire to mobilize the masses. This is why democracy has grown unresponsive to citizens. They don’t need citizens. Instead, they mobilize their own products, resources and wealth to maximize their power and establish social and cultural hegemony. The political goal is to maximize the power of the hyperwealthy owners the means of production in these industry sectors (which produce not only products and services, but also culture, information, attitudes). A secondary goal, more a means than an end, is to deputize those who serve the owners of these means of production, and trickle them petty power over those who refuse to toe the ideological line.

For whatever reason, these industries are at odds with one another, and have become existential threats to one another. There is no longer an invisible hand of the market, but, rather, multiple hands, each benefitting one market and undermining the other. These hands have clutched into fists. What we are now experiencing is the impact of invisible fists upon the invisible bodies in which we all, as employees of various kinds, are incorporated.

People, in general, are really, really bad at thinking about how they think. They prefer to just focus on what their current way of thinking — the one they were trained to use in college — presents to them as real and true and good, and just let their logic crank out conclusions by its own rules. They think this thought by acquired logic is “critical thought”, but this is mere ratiocination. Critical thought challenges precisely the logic — the ideological underpinning — that produces conclusion. One of our more engrained ratiocinative habits is interpreting conflicts in terms of opposition. If some movement opposes another movement that is called “right-wing” obviously the opposing movement must be opposite: left-wing. If a movement opposes another movement that is called “evil” obviously the opposing movement must be the opposite: good. If a movement opposes another movement that is called “self-interested” obviously the opposing movement must be the opposite: altruistic.

This is plain dumb. Two entirely self-interested, ruthless, ideologically-deluded, hard-right movements can oppose one another, without either being opposed in principle to the other. And either or both of them can develop ideological images of themselves as idealistic, altruistic, principled champions of the common folk.

In my view, precisely this has happened. Both major factions seek hegemony. Both suspect they can pull it off and have grown increasing aggressive toward the other, using wealth, state power and whatever institutions and infrastructure they control as leverage. Both have developed myths to romanticize participation in their conflict. Both are utterly full of shit. But both movements are amply stocked with well-intentioned, intellectually-suggestible, obedient souls who have bought it all and taken it all to heart. They are the expendable cannon fodder of warring industrial sectors who imagine themselves glorious angel warriors battling over the fate of Heaven.

It’s self-interest all the way down, sahib — especially when people start striking altruistic poses. People care about “the other” only as justification for taking and exercising power.

We could call this situation sector sectarianism. Or maybe sectorianism?

I’m a realist. I don’t blame people for wanting to have both power and good conscience. But I also cannot respect it, nor can I play along with it. It is beneath my dignity. Self-respect, not goodness, forbids participation in this tragicomedy of self-righteousness. And people who fall for it on either side are less interesting and respectable, which makes the world a duller, lonelier place. I’ve lost friends to this nonsense, and by that, I mean friends have ruined themselves with this nonsense. I mourn the loss, and despise the body-snatched political puppets who now occupy their bodies and names.

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.