Saturday, September 10, 2016

A tisket, a tasket

Assorted reactions to Clinton՚s “basket of deplorables” remark:
  • It managed to express something everybody knows but for some reason is never made explicit: politics is about labeling the other side as bad people. Rightwingers think leftists are bad, and vice versa. Just a simple fact. Politics is all about solidifying these sorts of moral/social judgements.

  • But we are in a democracy, which means that everyone, no matter how much of a scumbag they may be, is entitled to a voice and a measure of respect, or at least lip service to their basic goodness. Presidents and presidential candidates especially are supposed to maintain the fiction that we are a united country rather than a collection of mutually antagonistic groups. So this was an unusual eruption of real-talk into the discourse.

  • People are comparing it to Mitt Romney՚s remark that 47% of the populace were entitled moochers. They have a superficial resemblance, to be sure, in that they seem to cursorily dismiss a large fraction of the electorate. Of course the main difference is that Clinton՚s was largely accurate and Romney՚s was not, although that doesn՚t seem to be a big consideration.

  • It՚s a really awkward turn of phrase. “Deplorable” is not really a noun and people don՚t generally get organized in baskets. It also seems politically clueless. Here՚s some interesting theories as to where the phrase originated, although it doesn՚t explain the political motivation behind using it.

  • One assumes that anything out of Clinton՚s mouth has been carefully engineered, so what՚s going on? I've heard a theory that the weird phrasing was deliberate, something people could't help discuss and propagate, so now people are talking about the exact level of racism and other deplorable characteristics of Trump's supporters -- maybe it's half, or maybe just 20%, but that idea is now firmly lodged in the discourse.

All the above is kind of abstract, here՚s my concrete and personal reaction: Yes, I find Trump and most of his supporters deplorable, and I don՚t have any problem with making that judgement, or the idea that this particular political contest actually is a fight against a very real form of evil.

Trump has sort of done the country a service, because normally I wouldn՚t feel much solidarity with someone like Hillary Clinton, who I find awful in some ways, but her awfulness doesn՚t hold a candle to that of Trump. So he՚s brought the country – the decent parts of it – together.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Burning Sensations

That last Burning Man post was way too serious, trying to make up for it.


Holy Labor

It՚s Labor Day and for some reason I have a tradition of making posts on this holiday. And I wouldn՚t want to break tradition, it՚s one of the few things we can hold onto in this chaotic world. But if it՚s an obligation, that writing it becomes work, and you are not supposed to work on labor day. So I՚m trying to write in a spirt of anti-work.

Whatever is motivating me to write, it does not feel like work, at least not the onerous kind. It՚s work but in pursuit of goals that come from within rather than from without. So I՚m not anti-work, I՚m anti-working-for-someone-else. At least for today, tomorrow I can go back to the daytime adult world, where everyone has someone to report to, even the CEOs. I՚ve been slowly and grudgingly accepting this fact of life, which most people seem to accept at an early age.

The ethics of Marxism seem to promise, not redemption from work, but redemption through work, which at least sounds more mature. To an old-school Marxist (if there are any left) labor does actually have something of the holy about it. I can even sense a spiritual logic behind it. Just as the breath (prāṇa) is holy because of its role as a connection between mind and body, labor is holy because it is a connection between mind and effective action in the world. Both represent a path towards reconciliation and reconnection of things that are split apart.

But (again according to Marxists) labor has been misdirected into alienated tasks, that is to say, despiritualized and mindless forms of action, and it is the job of the revolution to redirect it to its proper purposes.  (And yes, we all know how well that worked out). But I give Marx some credit for trying to turn labor from a curse (one of Adam's punishments in Genesis in fact) into something liberating.

So we should celebrate labor day not by lazing around a barbecue, but by laboring on what is not alienated, on something that aims at liberation.

[Realized I wrote almost the same post a year ago. Guess it really is Belabor Day.]

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The End of Argument

Argument used to be the foundation of intellectual activity. Between the internet and the more general culture of outrage, it's kind of dead. Nobody really argues on the net; when people try, it reads as trolling. Now you are only supposed to talk to people you already mostly agree with. That might be great for socializing but seems awfully boring or worse for ideas, which can only thrive under conditions of opposition.

One reason this is the state of things now compared to early iterations of electronic communication is the replacement of public space (mailing lists and usenet groups) with privatized spaces (Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter feeds). Whether or not this is a bad thing, it means that there is no public square to have a fight over. Now it makes more sense, instead of having an argument to settle the matter, you just go start your own blog and attract like minded people.

I suppose this is just a particular incarnation of the more overarching transition from modernity to postmodernity. In the latter state, every community gets to have its own version of the truth, and there is no master narrative, nothing worth fighting over.

In some ways this is a good thing. The old-style intellectuals were arrogant and their testosterone-fueled contest to impose the One True Ideology or Philosophy or whatever had some unfortunate consequences. Yet something feels lost.