The Left Which is Not One, Part 1: Moderates begging the question, Pragmatists avoiding the question (archive 2012)

“Science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact”. – Thomas Huxley

“Unreason is in the same relation to reason as dazzlement to the brightness of daylight itself.” – Michel Foucault

“History is not like some individual person, which uses men to achieve its ends. History is nothing but the actions of men in pursuit of their ends.” – Karl Marx

“[Henry Ford] was the one great Marxists of the 20th century”- Kojeve

So nothing is further removed from an act of cognition, as conceived by the intellectualist tradition, than this sense of the social structure, which, as is so well put by the word taste — simultaneously ‘the faculty of perceiving flavours’ and ‘the capacity to discern aesthetic values’ — is social necessity made second nature, turned into muscular patterns and bodily automatisms. Everything takes place as if the social conditionings linked to a social condition tended to inscribe the relation to the social world in a lasting, generalized relation to one’s own body, a way of bearing one’s body, presenting it to others, moving it, making space for it, which gives the body its social physiognomy. Bodily hexis, a basic dimension of the sense of social orientation, is a practical way of experiencing and expressing one’s own sense of social value. One’s relationship to the social world and to one’s proper place in it is never more clearly expressed than in the space and time one feels entitled to take from others; more precisely, in the space one claims with one’s body in physical space, through a bearing and gestures that are self-assured or reserved, expansive or constricted (‘presence’ or ‘insignificance’) and with one’s speech in time, through the interaction time one appropriates and the self-assured or aggressive, careless or unconscious way one appropriates it.”- Pierre Bourdieu, “Classes and Classifications“, Distinction

“Aside from that reservation, a fictive tale even has the advantage of manifesting symbolic necessity more purely to the extent that we may believe its conception arbitrary.”
– Jacques Lacan

As a operating principle, I have always assumed that ideology was a meta-discourse informed by various heuristics and feedback loops which are created by a necessary meditation between something one would call knowledge and something one would all its use.   The more we know about heuristics and biases inherent to psychology: present bias, asymmetry insight fallacies, the sunk cost fallacy, hindsight bias, confirmation bias, etc, the more reason seems to point to the fact that human beings did not develop reason until very late.

Indeed, irrationality is in some ways rational as a cost expenditure to time.

The pragmatist and the moderate stem and say, “See, we don’t need politics or a grand ideology–we can just let the facts lead us to good policy. We can manage society.” But this is always question begging:  It assumes to know what society is, and what its ultimate goods are.  The moderate move is to position itself between to polls and pretend that the managerial center is the best way to move forward.  This pretends that meta-ethical and meta-social questions are already answered. In Hegelian terms, this just assumes the endstaat of the dialectic like Kojeve posited could happen and Fukuyama posited has happened.

I, however, don’t think dialectics is the best way to approach this: This can be dismantled on the analytic level with the concepts that science itself has given us.   One can see this in the critique of Behavioral economics on the concept of rationality employed in all current models of economics: including Classical, most readings of Marxist, Neo-Classical, Kenyesian, Chicago, Austrian, Neo-Keynesian, and Neo-Marxist.  It appears that in behavioral situations, biases make any definition of rationality in economics so circular that it is NOT descriptive. In the dialectic of instrumental reason, it becomes clear that reason actually undoes itself.  Human beings are rational because rationality as defined by human beings comes up against some profoundly irrational sets of psychological impulses, but these psychological impulses do have both a social and biological rationality than transcends most simple logic.

The “moderate” then can only play the role of manager: broker between two poles.  But there are no two poles: there is no simple right and no simple left.  The primitivist has more in common with the fascist romantic than the techno-Utopian, but all three primitivist and the techno-Utopian both believe that “civilization and its politics” inhabit us. Furthermore, the libertarian shares the beliefs of liberty that the primitivist and techno-Utopian does, but generally their belief in great men make them more similar to the fascist romantic.  The “moderate” says, “I told you so: the extreme ends resemble each other.” In temperament, often, this is true.  However, the moderate neglects to see how his or her position is already predefined with a set of assumptions that avoids political and meta-ethical questions.

The moderate and the pragmatist both say, “We can define all this by policies that work.:”

Forgetting, of course, that the definitions of the good, work, and all the the rest are not necessarily shared.   For policies can be judged on their effects if and only if the meaning of those effects are agreed on. Science and sociology can only be used after the axioms trying the definitions of “works” and “goods” are concluded.   As I have said to many moderates: “You can admit that policies work within a context and with axioms. This is the part of politics, though, that most “moderates” I know don’t want to admit to: that there is actually are differences in what a political group defines as well-being which limits what the evidence could show. When you are arguing with a Libertarian, generally, they are not being more illogical then you. They don’t share your priorities. They don’t see their own contradictions the way you see then, but then you don’t see your contradictions like they see yours either.”

The next move is to cry: “relativist!, post-modernist!”  you are “privileging a sphere.”  But this is a false move, no where did I imply that all frameworks where equal or that there wasn’t criterion for judging them, but these criterion themselves emerge out of political and meta-ethical discourses.  It is completely false to pretend otherwise.  Ironically this is both a version of present bias and a version of asymmetrical insight fallacy.

Now in the framework of Hegelian dialectics, this makes sense. In a Lacanian framework, this also makes sense: the symbolic order that primes us is assumed from the moment we are exposed to language as a priming mechanism and this channels our “natural” (for lack of a better word, perhaps, “biologic”) impulses.  The false move of the post-modernist was to assume their was no truth, the false move of the positivist was to assume that logic could dictate truth.

Then stems the pragmatist, which I have alluded to, which is the more philosophically complicated version of this: this is the claim that since knowledge is probable and coherent frameworks aren’t a given, then we can just assume truth off of what works most correctly.   Now the pragmatist tradition in America was interesting: it accepted, for example, pulling from Hegel that philosophic frameworks are historically situated, it accepted from Hume naturalistic accounts and logical problems of reasoning processes like induction, and it accepted from Berkeley the add that unclear concepts should be banished.  This was the last great attempt a bridging between the continental and analytic divides that develop after Kant and Hegel in post-European philosophy before the contemporary returning to the problem of this divide (In Hegelian terms, Analytic philosophy is stuck in the first stage of Hegel’s Logic triple structure and most continental philosophy is stuck in the last).  I, however, think that it quickly, from William James forward, began to cop-out on meta-ethical issues.  The much maligned phrase from James, while he meant something more sophisticated by it, was this:  the true is only the expedient in our way of thinking. This line of thought led to instrumentalism and non-realist pragmatism.

In other words, the way out of the binds of logical and empirical thought was to set them down in terms of instrumentality within questioning the intrinsic implications of those values.  In fact, utilitarianism becomes just assumed.

This leads to the Steven Pinkers of the world saying the ideology is root of most violence and that our lack of an ideological period, unlike world war 2, is why violence is a net-low.  Yet, I actually completely disagree with one assumption: that ideology was the primary cause of violence in world war 2.  Listening to Dan Carlin’s description of war causalities in World War 2 and the explicit increase of attacks on cities and civilians, all the logic was “rational insanity” as opposed to “rational irrationality.” The civilians killings were justified in order to stop killing more civilians through attrition warfare. 

No, it is clear: science is not a matter of common sense or even best policy. In fact, psychological senses indicate that this conception of human reasoning is fatally flawed. Believing in universal logic has a high body count, and as Carlin’s history of moderates role in the World War 2 bombings–including the atomic bombing of Japan–indicate, this brings horrors that are hard to imagine.

Huxley is wrong: there is nothing common sense about science. There is no common sense period.


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