Attempts #3: The Sour Grapes of the Body Politics, Or The Troll and the Tumblrite, part 1

I. On The Strange Contradictions of Our Political Spectrum, or Why I don’t see myself as political in the way American’s mean by it. 

Dear Mick: Why do you think that readers get so agitated and hammer you personally for a film that they like and you don’t? I can see getting that worked up over politics, but not film criticism. What’s up with that? Jack Barnes, Berkeley “The short answer is that people are nuts. The longer answer is that, for many, popular culture has replaced religion, philosophy and politics as the center of the ethical universe, so if you criticize something they like, they react as they might have to a heretic 500 years ago. I also feel that there’s a certain bullying spirit on the part of some who take comfort in believing themselves part of a majority, so when a minority opinion presents itself they get angry: It means they might have to think — or come up with an excuse for not thinking. This is not unrelated to politics, in that the ways people get angry usually correspond to worldviews that, in turn, correspond to political affiliation. Rabid right-wingers have the highest tendency to glory in being part of a mob. They’re outraged at the existence of anyone who doesn’t see things their way, and they love to predict the ultimate eradication of all dissenting voices. They believe the future belongs to them. Rabid left-wingers, by contrast, see themselves as glorious individualists, in the advance guard of some future sensitive universe, which they hope to bring about by finding offense in absolutely everything. They want to take the revolution one step at a time, by suppressing individual voices. Both sides see everyone in media as part of a conspiracy to forestall the glorious day when everybody will be just like them. Thus, their letters, if seen in the right context, are political, in a nutty kind of way. By the way, it’s ironic: Conservatives brag about being part of a collective, and liberals brag about being individualists, when philosophically they should be doing the reverse.” – Mick LaSalle

Why do the conservatives always talk about “real Americans” while also prattling on about “individualism.” Why do left-liberal activists, whom their enemies derive as social justice warriors, always talk about structural problems while focusing solely on recognition and often on individual taste? Why have “concern trolls”–to use internet parlance that seems to have faded–and just general trolling seemed to dominate politics as well as constantly accusations of personal immorality and bad faith?

I can’t pretend that I am going to answer these questions. Indeed, any attempt at answering these questions with a grand theory would be against the very tendencies I am critiquing about reducing complicated social processes into simplistic narratives that fit more easily into one’s ideas about the body politics. In this sense, I have found myself writing often about how writing about politics isn’t helpful, but also since this is more concretely about “values,” I cannot pretend that it is possible to have any serious beliefs about the morality or aesthetics and NOT address this kind of problem.

Mick LaSalle is a film critic I enjoy, and this letter to him from almost exactly a decade ago seems to have only accelerated in the last ten years: Ammon Bundy, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump.  All individuals braying at the maw of appealing to a collective identity. That identity’s hey-day being objectively past, and yet also appealing to the “individualists who made America great.”  Appealing to “tradition,” which, despite the post-Reagan tendencies to pretend that the libertarian-conservative alliance made any sense, tradition has never been particularly a respecter of individual aspirations.  Conversely, why the liberal obsession over media and respecting people’s individuality, while talking about collective and structural problems?  While respecting individual subjectivity may be a good thing, this was not really part of the historical project of “leftism,” even within the states.

It is telling that LaSalle wrote about this in California, where the hyper-realism of the extreme trends of American politics be in full bloom, as Joan Didion said, it’s the end of the continent and there is feeling that America must get its act together, there is no more land to steal and no more West to expand into.  In some ways, as California goes, so goes the national extremes, and it is no accident that California is the historical home to the field of dreams we call Hollywood, even if movies are increasingly made in cheaper locales like Georgia.  It also wrong to think that this extremity in California is just left-wing. The inner-valley of California can be one of the most conservative places on earth–after all, it gave us Reagan.

It in increasingly my contention that this isolated dreamscape of a country is reflected in what LaSalle was saying. We think more diverse comic heroes and Star Wars is good or bad instead of just a reflection of the shifting demographics of who has some spending money. This may be a good or a bad thing, but fundamentally does not change the system–either economically or morally–that led to the disparities in the first place.  Furthermore, the right too is busy in the collective dreamscape, idolizing either the 1950s, which ironically may be the Keynesian “social Democratic” period of American history (if one was white), or the 1890s, when things were so bad that anarchists were bombing Presidents.

What one notices though is that the “bad faith” move here is subconscious rather than conscious. The tendency is to denounce people as “bad actors” (see the popular “sick puppies” denunciations of SJWs as lairs, which some are, but is probably not a universalizing political trait) and conservatives as merely interested in protecting their own interests at the expense others. In short, the popular narrative assumes that both are merely power mongering for the control of the state in their own imagine, and the moral assumptions of both are that other is acting in total bad faith while one’s own motives are pure and pristine.

Of course, this is self-justifying bullshit.  But why has this come to dominate our culture? The prevailing liberal myth is that this is a sign of progress, and the speed of change means that society was must markedly worse for everyone in the past.  As if there were not “conservative” tendencies and traditionalists outside of white, male Europeans, this goes on to basically claim this tolerant form of capitalism is a sign of the moral progress that runs, albeit, unevenly, through western culture. Ironically, this makes these progressive, generally young middle class, white commentators, show the necessary amount of self-denouncement while conversely implying that their tolerance has moved society forward.  This kind of thinking can be seen as both “American exceptionalism” (although one also sees this in the other English Speaking commonwealths and the UK) and a denial of that very exceptionalism by wearing the necessary hair shirt for the sins of the past.

In short, it’s having your cake and eating it too.

Conversely, the identity claims of much the right are similarly mealy-mouthed. Denouncing the ideology of the victim in the social structure, many of these individuals often flip and claim that they themselves are the primary victims.  Why are white, exurban and suburban poor seeing a massive drop off in life-span?    Of course, its because #blm and #occupy are stealing from them and are all semi-secretly racialist themselves.   In other words, in denouncing the victim, there is a move to claim the mantel of the victim themselves Again, cake and eating it too.

Now, one may say, “You are buying into the binary of the America, and falsely claiming they are equally guilty of the same sins.”  I am not, but I am saying if most Americans are fighting, despite all this talk of “red” states and “blue” states or millennials versus boomers, they are essentially taking part in the same culture of hyper-real, media monopoly capitalism.  While this is a dramatic oversimplification: even the liberal-left and the “right” are hyper-fragmented now and one sees this in the confusion of BOTH primary elections, this narrative does offer some clear explanatory value for the stalemate and over-simplifications that have really taken hold of the “national” narrative–a national narrative that has left the US and infected, through media and the internet, the entire English speaking world.

(Side note: I have a theory about why the numbers around mortality and longevity have frozen or slightly improved around the Black and hispanic community, but fallen amongst the “white” community. This comes from my experience in Southern versus Northern Mexico, where urban and suburban poor had massively decreased quality of life (and an increase in criminality) from the even poorer indigenous people in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Yucatan.  This is something neither left nor right in the English-speaking world can really deal with. Most white poverty is exurban and suburban, and the “traditional” community forms in the white community outside of work have been far more corroded.  Even religious forms of community have been increasingly “capitalistic” as anyone who listens to a AMC Preacher and compares it to Joel Osteen can tell you. Whereas, not only are both the black and hispanic community more religious, but have more pre-modern style “para-instituions” to combat the stress of alienation, even in criminal world, gang affiliation will probably shortened your life but in its shared trauma provides something like “organic community and symbolic kinship”. However, this puts US conservatives and liberals in a bind, conservatives would have to admit that their relationship to capital is corroding the very institutions that they supposedly value as Daniel Bell warned in the 1950s and 1960s, and liberals would have to admit that while they may be right about structural economic limits on specific minority groups, a simplified privilege narrative does not really explain much in that is going on in the white community unless one now wants to say that merely living is an entitlement. Not that things aren’t bad for blacks, who still have worse health outcomes than whites, but that is stagnated and slightly improved whereas the expectancy for white communities has dropped dramatically.  Hispanics in the states actually show better health outcomes that both groups. Now this is actually in line with Marx’s predictions about capitalist dissolution of prior social forms but to be a Marxist in this sense is to be seen as essentially conservative in the eyes of many modern leftists. For one thing, Marxists say they don’t believe–although they have never actually really practiced–in the oppressed being liberated from outside, be it reparations, social services, or even trade unions.

One can see Marx’s positive politics as humanly disastrous and still see this truth.)

II. Victims: Structural and Individual

“Like all ideologies, the varieties of the ideology of victimization are forms of fake consciousness. Accepting the social role of victim—in whatever one of its many forms—is choosing to not even create one’s life for oneself or to explore one’s real relationships to the social structures. All of the partial liberation movements—feminism,  gay liberation, racial liberation, workers’ movements and so on—define individuals in terms of their social roles. Because of this, these movements not only do not include a reversal of perspectives which breaks down social roles and allows individuals to create a praxis built on their own passions and desires; they actually work against such a reversal of perspective. The ‘liberation’ of a social role to which the individual remains subject.” –Feral Faun

So much this seems to be about being a victim or victimizing. Many libertarians often harp on this point, but fail to see that there really are victims and structural oppression in the larger world. Feral Faun does not deny these oppressions, but sees the evaluation of victimhood itself as problematic. Indeed, it can do two things: the first externality is that activism around such concerns, if professionalized, would need those concerns to never be fully addressed to to maintain ones own career. In other words, there is an perverse incentive in such activism to make fixing the problems seem, or perhaps actually be, impossible. The second concern of such an answer is the victim ideology renders one far more passive in the regards to addressing those concerns. It is something done to you, and for which you can seek redress, but if your identity is rooted in that trauma, such redress itself would be terror-management invoking shock to identity.

To speak in Hegelian terms, to abolish the identity is the goal of anti-racism, but that also abolishes anti-racism.  For people who conceptions of self is oppression to something, and most people are more coherent in what they hate as opposed to what they love, the very idea of success is undoing.  What have all nationalists realized?   From Tacitus-quoting Nazis to the “proletariat nationalism” of the Italian fascists to Dominionists claiming Christians are oppressed to Chinese claiming putting more and more “foreign disgrace of China” to various Third-World nationalist movements needing an enemy after kicking the colonialists out, often in weaker powers?  Fear of outsiders and the exclusion of a party perceived as wronging you is the best key to deep-seated fears and terrors that can bring people who otherwise have completely opposed economic interests together.  This is not a left- or a right-wing trait in our capitalist, liberal democracies.  This is also the source of both liberalism’s left and right having profoundly illiberal tendencies in terms of tolerance.

This is not to deny that there are structural victims.  In the aforementioned discussion of health outcomes and longevity rates among the poor, you will notice I didn’t mention first peoples, whose health outcomes remain abyssal in both the US and Canada. There are always victims, but against much of the narrative of liberal progress, there is also always antagonism between victims.  In 2008, a gang war in my home town in Georgia did lead to what looked like the strategic murdering of South East Asian shop owners in black neighborhoods. Who is a structural victim in that situation?  Well, obviously, both parties, but that does undo the violence and xenophobia is such acts.

Structures are rarely as monolithic as political polemics must make them. And in the age of hyper-reality, when so much of our mental capital is spent online and in entertainment, these structures can seem more real than real. In Amazon prime show Transparent, one actually saw a far more nuanced discussion of this allowed on the internet. In the end of the second season, a “radical feminist” festival that excluded transgender women, the main character had to admit as a man priorly she had oppressed some of the women around her. However, in a moment of rare lucidity, instead of painting all the discussions of radical feminism as unjustified, one woman says to her, “Your pain and your privilege are separate.” This is profoundly true, one can be both oppressed and an oppressor. Yet, the irony is that the women did not see themselves as doing the same thing at the moment, and because they did not, the main character did not hear that truth. Her children, however, did.

Most liberal television, such as Modern Family, cannot treat characters in such situations as truly flawed–and thus completely human–because they are interested in the acceleration of acceptance of those individuals, instead of exploring the damage and in around those individuals. Yet in doing so, people cannot be made to face how they themselves are oppressors as well as victims.  Some people are more one than the other, of course, both as individuals as well as groups, but the shallow views around such identities are actual limits to any notions of expanding the group.  Instead it just becomes about changing the face of the loyal opposition in that in-group, or even just reproducing the same dynamics with different people in charge. Such antagonism may always be with us as such as antagonism is at the root of the violence of daily life.

(To be continued) 

 

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11 thoughts on “Attempts #3: The Sour Grapes of the Body Politics, Or The Troll and the Tumblrite, part 1

  1. Pingback: The Sour Grapes of the Body Politics, Or The Troll and the Tumblrite, part 2 | Symptomatic Commentary

  2. I just finished reading the two parts. There are a lot of thoughts being brought together.

    ” In this sense, I have found myself writing often about how writing about politics isn’t helpful, but also since this is more concretely about “values,” I cannot pretend that it is possible to have any serious beliefs about the morality or aesthetics and NOT address this kind of problem.”

    I’ve never been interested in politics on its own terms. My greater focus has been toward what makes people tick, both individually and collectively. Politics is at best an expression, not a cause.

    Politics, as it is normally perceived and practiced, seems to miss the point. But that isn’t to say that I exactly know what the point is that is being missed. I just sense that something is being missed and maybe it is important.

    “It also wrong to think that this extremity in California is just left-wing. The inner-valley of California can be one of the most conservative places on earth–after all, it gave us Reagan.”

    I’d add that Southern California gave us Nixon. It was there that his ideas of the Southern Strategy took shape. Also, that region gave us the megachurches and superstar preachers that were the force behind the rise to power of the religious right. All of that came about because there had been several earlier mass migrations of Southerners to that part of California, the biggest having been drawn there by the defense industry.

    Two different lines of my Southern family, Texas and Kentuckiana, ended up in Southern California. A while back, I visited the family of my mother’s cousin, and they live near where Nixon was born and raised. They are a semi-upwardly mobile working class family who attended a fundamentalist megachurch, liked to watch Duck Dynasty, and complained about the police mistreatment (interestingly of Hispanics).

    My sense was that they were maybe socially liberal on some issues and with a slight libertarian/anti-govt attitude. I suspect that they have a reactionary streak as well, going by the kinds of things they spoke about. They probably identified as conservatives, although probably of a different type than that of the Deep South. It is important to note, however, that this area of California had many Confederate sympathizers, the state having had loyalty as divided as Virginia and Kentucky.

    “We think more diverse comic heroes and Star Wars is good or bad instead of just a reflection of the shifting demographics of who has some spending money. This may be a good or a bad thing, but fundamentally does not change the system–either economically or morally–that led to the disparities in the first place.”

    The only ‘liberal’ bias in the media is what is profitable. Anyway, all of capitalism is liberal. There is nothing conservative about it, never has been and never will be.

    It’s occurred to me that capitalism is one of the most radically anti-traditional systems to be implemented in the modern era. Even Stalin’s neo-imperialism and Maoist’s neo-Confucianism were closer to traditionalism than laissez-faire capitalism. The closest capitalism ever got to traditional social structures was in how slavery reformulated feudalism, and in the Civil War that version of capitalism lost to the more radical form of multicultural, industrialized neoliberalism.

    “Furthermore, the right too is busy in the collective dreamscape, idolizing either the 1950s, which ironically may be the Keynesian “social Democratic” period of American history (if one was white), or the 1890s, when things were so bad that anarchists were bombing Presidents.”

    I’ve found that perplexing for a long time. I’ve been thinking about early Christianity, as I was reading Richard Carrier’s latest book on historicity and mythicism. It occurred to me that mainstream Christianity, as originated by heresiologists, was ultimately the myth of history. In the West, we’ve been dominated by the myth of history ever since. The actual facts of history are incidental.

    “The prevailing liberal myth is that this is a sign of progress, and the speed of change means that society was must markedly worse for everyone in the past.”

    The idea of progress is alluring. It is obvious that much has changed over time and some of it for the better. Few people would willingly choose to return to past conditions in terms of healthcare, dentistry, sewage, etc.

    OTOH quite a bit of the ‘progress’ can seem problematic. Oppressive feudalism ended by creating a mass population of poor, starving landless peasants. American blacks were freed from slavery only to eventually get trapped in violent urban poverty and end up in even larger numbers in prison (than were once in slavery).

    It is always a trade off, and it is never clear that the balance is toward the ultimate good. It’s like your discussion of the Flynn effect.

    https://symptomaticcommentary.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/another-thought-the-limits-of-the-flynn-effect/

    Increasing abstract thinking skills do have benefits, beyond merely higher average IQ. The problem, as always, is that the costs are high while the results of those benefits not perfectly clear. This is even more problematic when considering the greatest costs of all, such as with climate change. Capitalism and industrialization have made education and literacy more of a real possibility for more people, but the societal conditions that make this possible aren’t sustainable and if anything seem to be self-destructive in the long-term.

    Not all change is progress. And not all that seems like progress will necessarily end well.

    “I have a theory about why the numbers around mortality and longevity have frozen or slightly improved around the Black and hispanic community, but fallen amongst the “white” community.”

    I was excited to see that you wrote about this. As you know, I was speculating about this myself a while back.

    “This comes from my experience in Southern versus Northern Mexico, where urban and suburban poor had massively decreased quality of life (and an increase in criminality) from the even poorer indigenous people in Oaxaca, Chiapas, and the Yucatan.”

    I came across a comment this past month. The person was noting that all rural populations when urbanized always have at least an initial increase in violence, crime, and social problems. In the US, one of the differences between whites and blacks was the period of urbanization. The majority of whites became urbanized around the end of the 19th century whereas the majority of blacks didn’t become urbanized until the mid 20th century.

    Even so, in many of the early populations, both rural and urban, whites or at least ethnic whites were often far more violent than blacks. Coming out of slavery and gaining freedom, blacks had extremely low rates of violence (even within their own communities) while having high rates of marriage. Rural Southern blacks immigrating to Northern cities also often had higher education rates than did the whites of of those Northern cities.

    Considering what became of inner cities with de-industrialization and white flight, urbanization for blacks wasn’t exactly an improvement in all ways. Some black communities today in the US have mortality rates higher than some developing countries. Nonetheless, they aren’t seeing the declines in health that certain American white demographics are experiencing.

    “Most white poverty is exurban and suburban, and the “traditional” community forms in the white community outside of work have been far more corroded. Even religious forms of community have been increasingly “capitalistic” as anyone who listens to a AMC Preacher and compares it to Joel Osteen can tell you. Whereas, not only are both the black and hispanic community more religious, but have more pre-modern style “para-instituions” to combat the stress of alienation, even in criminal world, gang affiliation will probably shortened your life but in its shared trauma provides something like “organic community and symbolic kinship”.”

    That fits into some of my thinking. In one post I quoted from Stephen Steinberg’s “Poor Culture”:

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/black-feminism-and-epistemology-of-ignorance/

    “More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.””

    In spite of poverty and economic segregation, many black communities have maintained some basic forms of social ties and ‘social capital’ that most white communities lost long ago. Even forming gangs is an expression of social cohesion, albeit under conditions of extreme duress.

    “However, this puts US conservatives and liberals in a bind, conservatives would have to admit that their relationship to capital is corroding the very institutions that they supposedly value as Daniel Bell warned in the 1950s and 1960s, and liberals would have to admit that while they may be right about structural economic limits on specific minority groups, a simplified privilege narrative does not really explain much in that is going on in the white community unless one now wants to say that merely living is an entitlement.”

    Neither most conservatives nor most liberals fully understand how much it sucks to be a poor white and exactly why that is the case. Poor whites, working or unemployed, simply don’t fit into mainstream narratives of news reporting and political campaigning.

    “Now this is actually in line with Marx’s predictions about capitalist dissolution of prior social forms but to be a Marxist in this sense is to be seen as essentially conservative in the eyes of many modern leftists.”

    That sounds interesting. But I don’t understand it. Could you explain?

    “There are always victims, but against much of the narrative of liberal progress, there is also always antagonism between victims.”

    That is a sad truth. Some of that is just predictable social behavior. People form group identities and then fear or hate those perceived as outside of the group. But there is also something about our society that seems to intentionally set groups against each other.

    This is how American multiculturalism has always operated. It was bigotry toward non-white minorities that made possible the assimilation of ethnic whites. What did many of those assimilated ethnic whites get out of the deal now that they (or rather their grandchildren and great grandchildren) are facing the same economic problems as non-white minorities?

    Ethnic whites escaped into the suburbs which in the end offered even worse conditions. And all the New Deal programs that once helped ethnic whites assimilate were gutted in the attack on poor minorities.

    “Structures are rarely as monolithic as political polemics must make them. And in the age of hyper-reality, when so much of our mental capital is spent online and in entertainment, these structures can seem more real than real.”

    Or rather there is no singular monolithic structure. Instead, there are many partial and overlapping structures. Still, I get the point you’re making about our mental capital investments. Our ideas about the world are typically simpler than the world itself, unsurprisingly.

    “Yet in doing so, people cannot be made to face how they themselves are oppressors as well as victims. Some people are more one than the other, of course, both as individuals as well as groups, but the shallow views around such identities are actual limits to any notions of expanding the group. Instead it just becomes about changing the face of the loyal opposition in that in-group, or even just reproducing the same dynamics with different people in charge.”

    That is something I’ve given much consideration. It is depressing. When I see people operating that way, it makes me feel exhausted. It’s endlessly more of the same, so it can seem.

    • “That sounds interesting. But I don’t understand it. Could you explain?”

      The Marxist belief is that there IS something wrong the the oppressed that is the oppressed duty to correct themselves, but this seems like both victim blaming and anti-political in the electoral sense that most left-liberals at least implicitly seem to believe in. The Marxist believes that the oppressed not only gets rid of the oppressors but fundamentally changes their own position into something else. You cannot say, “praise the worker” and self-abolish.

      • Does the Marxist not consider the possibility that someone can simultaneously both be an actor and acted upon? Or even simultaneously a victim of someone else’s victimization and a participation in a society of victimization? Isn’t the worker an inseparable part of the society they work within?

        The Marxist view seems to imply that everyone is capable of and morally responsible for full consciousness and free will. If I understand correctly, the worker is over-idealized. It feels like a desire for something greater, a hope for an arising of a collective force that so far hasn’t existed but should and must exist.

        On a related note, I was just reading an article by Corey Robin. He discusses the public intellectual and the public served or rather created.

        http://coreyrobin.com/2016/01/24/on-ta-nehisi-coates-cass-sunstein-and-other-public-intellectuals/

        “It is here, amid the increasingly short half-lives of these movements, that we must look for the fate of our public intellectuals. Not in the fear that there are no intellectuals but in the fact that there seems to be no possibility of a public.”

        Marxists seem to want to create a particular kind of public as a genuine force.

        “At the other pole of that tradition stands Marx, who understood the body, laboring in the factory, as the site of a civilizational conflict over human domination and the ends of human existence. Where Hobbes saw in the body a set of claims that might annihilate politics and the public for the sake of peace and security, Marx saw in the body a set of claims that might launch an entirely new form of politics, a new public, into being.”

        I’m not sure what I think of all this.

      • You are collectively responsible, not individually responsible. Marxists do believe in agency of human beings–free will is a philosophical trap we don’t touch as we see people limited by their social position, but that social position in capital is seen as having a special place the ability to change things.

        The reason you are having issues with this is partly you are reading a false liberal dichotomy of collective vs. individual onto the Marxist position: that said, the critique I have made of this myself is that how this works psychologically in Marx is unclear, and that may be why those revolution. Robins, by the way, is a bad reader of Marx and tends to read him in ways that make left-liberalism and Marxism less oppositional.

        For example, while I was impressed by Coates in the beginning, over time I have been less and less, his moral arguments being selectively applied in ways that protect DNC Democrats like Clinton while attacking radicals who have strategic objections to his moral arguments.

        Tim Wise did the same thing and was eventually semi-discredited by it. Robins tries to makes Marx talk about the public–Marx’s doesn’t use that term in a political sense anywhere. Marx does not talk about the masses either–he talks about the exploited and the oppressed, and the unique position of the exploited to seize control of society and end both exploitation and oppression in the economic forms we know it.

        Now, I am increasingly skeptical if this works out, but I actually do think that this is key. It is also anti-liberal in that says that people are BOTH created by the social circumstances but able to control them by changing their means of producing those circumstances. Individuals are only accountable in so much that realize that possibility within a contact larger than themselves. The tendency to misread this as either individual responsibility of the individual worker or some kind of collective hive-mind seems to come out of reading Marx in the tensions of the American and French revolution and not in what he actually said in Kapital and the Critique of the Gotha Program.

      • Indeed, my descriptive Marxism takes antagonism to be eternal,which is not something I think Marx thought. He still had a Hegelian teleology even if it has lost the metaphysics.

      • My own view has two parts.

        First, I find something like Ligotti’s philosophical pessimism. When listening to him in interviews, he sends off a vibe of sympathy and compassion. He isn’t portraying a dark world out of a melodramatic embracing of cosmic horror. It makes me think of the important role he places on the human even in portraying the monstrous.

        I don’t have a desire to blame anyone, not ultimately. I don’t even really want to blame those in power. We are all products of our environments, beneficiaries and victims of that which precedes us and is beyond us. But that isn’t fatalism. These larger forces, we are part of them. The water isn’t a mere victim of the current, for the current is nothing more than the water in motion. The water’s flow is determined by the shape of the world around it, but over time the water shapes the world around it.

        Ideas such as free will seem as abstract and meaningless as belief in the soul. Making that will collective doesn’t change anything. Humans never force anything onto the world because there is no gap between human and world where will could operate. There is no more a will of the gaps than a God of the gaps. Everything is seamless. So much of our sense of self is a delusion, inaccurate or incomplete.

        The second point is that the world is dynamic. We humans are less able to understand, control, and predict the world than we’d like to admit. Yet we aren’t mere helpless pawns. We are the world and the world is us. Change is inevitable, whether we like it or not. Humanity is a confluence of forces, ever shifting while holding to some basic patterns.

        I don’t see humans as merely stuck or trapped, even though a Gnostic sensibility can draw me in. Historical records and archaeological evidence indicates how the human world can be transformed in radical ways. We’ll never completely understand the causes, but in trying to understand we maybe do get closer to understanding our own humanity. A shift in understanding can lead to a shift in awareness, perception, way of being in the world.

        Most claims to understanding, however, seem more like attempts to shore up our sense of expectations than opening us up to the unexpected. This is the limits of ideology. I doubt ideology can cause anything. It just explains what is and maybe at best points in the direction of what is (or might be) becoming. But ideology can’t predict the unpredictable, can’t foresee entire shifts of conditions beyond anything previously known.

        I don’t want to pretend to know the answers. That misses the point. We are at a crisis point. If we had answers that actually made a difference, we wouldn’t be at a crisis point in the first place.

      • The Ligotti pessimism is not without compassion, but it is essentially combating terror management by embracing the meaningless behind said terror. Instead of trying to wake up from the Nightmare of history, which conservatives, liberals, and Marxist all in some way try to do through either religion, progressive government, or revolution–the Ligotti position is the learn to accept and have compassion for the nightmare.

      • “We are at a crisis point. If we had answers that actually made a difference, we wouldn’t be at a crisis point in the first place.”

        Bingo, and this is where my politics had sort of jumped the shark of traditional left and right. I don’t think either exist anymore, and the spectacle is a way to hold on to something we think is more sure as our world has already changed so much that the epoch that produced those notions is fading between our feet. We may as well be the Byzantine Reds and blues.

  3. Thanks for your responses here. Your giving me even more to chew on. The way you explain it, I’m getting a better sense. Marxism, at least your take on it, might not be in direct conflict with my own thinking, confused as it is.

    “You are collectively responsible, not individually responsible.”

    I do seriously consider that possibility. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around what it means to be a social animal. What is the ‘collective’? We use collective labels all the time: social and political, class and status, race and ethnicity, nationality and religion, and on and on. But our conceptions of the collective tend to be crude and simplistic. The reason I look back to earlier societies is because they seemed to have had a more direct experience of collective reality, i.e., organic communities (and kinship in Sahlin’s sense).

    “The reason you are having issues with this is partly you are reading a false liberal dichotomy of collective vs. individual onto the Marxist position”

    I don’t doubt that is the case. I live and breathe liberalism. It’s all around me.

    “that said, the critique I have made of this myself is that how this works psychologically in Marx is unclear, and that may be why those revolution.”

    The psychological is what concerns me. I can’t help but think of almost everything in psychological terms. I am the kind of liberal who is prone to psychologizing everything.

    “Robins, by the way, is a bad reader of Marx and tends to read him in ways that make left-liberalism and Marxism less oppositional.”

    That is good to know.

    “Now, I am increasingly skeptical if this works out, but I actually do think that this is key. It is also anti-liberal in that says that people are BOTH created by the social circumstances but able to control them by changing their means of producing those circumstances.”

    I agree. That is key. And I’m fine if it is anti-liberal. The second part points to greater possibilities. I’m not against the notion of people control social circumstances. My issue is more with what that control is and means, which requires us to come to terms with human nature(s).

    “Individuals are only accountable in so much that realize that possibility within a contact larger than themselves. The tendency to misread this as either individual responsibility of the individual worker or some kind of collective hive-mind seems to come out of reading Marx in the tensions of the American and French revolution and not in what he actually said in Kapital and the Critique of the Gotha Program.”

    What did Marx think of the American and French revolutions (and the early modern revolutionary era in general)?

    “Indeed, my descriptive Marxism takes antagonism to be eternal,which is not something I think Marx thought. He still had a Hegelian teleology even if it has lost the metaphysics.:”

    My views have been in flux for some time now. I’m not sure where I will land. I’m more at the point of taking account of what I don’t know and what I maybe would be wise to know. I have this intuitive sense that so much of what we moderns think we know is wrong, incomplete, confused, and/or misdirected.

    “The Ligotti pessimism is not without compassion, but it is essentially combating terror management by embracing the meaningless behind said terror.”

    In the end, I’m not a Ligottian. I just respect his attitude. There is a sincerity in it that feels refreshing. I came across a slight variant of this kind of attitude in reading Scranton’s “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.” It resonates with part of me, but it is only part of me.

    “Bingo, and this is where my politics had sort of jumped the shark of traditional left and right.”

    Maybe I’ve jumped the shark as well. My dissatisfaction with received wisdom and conventional thought grows over time.

    “I don’t think either exist anymore, and the spectacle is a way to hold on to something we think is more sure as our world has already changed so much that the epoch that produced those notions is fading between our feet. We may as well be the Byzantine Reds and blues.”

    I’ve argued that conservatism doesn’t exist and that everything is liberal in this liberal age. But that is simply to say that even liberalism has no specific meaning either. That which frames our thought is what can’t be thought about within that frame.

    That leads to the question: What exists outside of the frame? Or what would be seen and understood differently within another frame?

    • What did Marx think of the American and French revolutions (and the early modern revolutionary era in general)?–

      Marx took a less cynical view than most Marxists now, and deFinitely less cynical than say Maoists, he viewed both the American and French revolutions as steps towards freedom, but their dependency on prior forms of accumulation in colonialism and their capitalist development would limit there true chances of revolution in ways that they couldn’t see. Marxists now tend to see them as more corrupt or more one-sided (depending on if one is Maoist inFluenced or Trotskyist inFluenced)

      “I’ve argued that conservatism doesn’t exist and that everything is liberal in this liberal age. But that is simply to say that even liberalism has no specific meaning either. That which frames our thought is what can’t be thought about within that frame. ”

      Liberalism is a current tradition but its splits are meaningful.

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