Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Third Exchange: "Movement" Politics

James Hughes wrote:
I still don't understand the distinctions you apparently make between the bad movements/parties and the good movements and parties -- like civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, gay rights, and worker rights -- all of which have had their own problems with extremism, tribalism, authoritarian tendencies, cognitive biases and so on, and which yet have done much good, are part of both of our identities, and which you don't appear to have a problem recommending that people join.

I don't have a problem with anybody joining any subculture that stays moral and doesn't start proselytizing or otherwise hankering after "sweeping the world" -- which is a different thing from assuming a vantage from which to make a stakeholder claim among peers with whom one differs but one still recognizes as peers sharing the world and worldly problems.

I don't think civil rights struggle, environmental politics, and so on make much sense anymore -- if they ever did -- as "identity movements," while they certainly make enormous sense as progressive political struggles. Civil rights as an identity politics couldn't let Bayard Rustin be an out gay man. Martin Luther King, Jr., is not appealing to a "civil rights subculture" but to a decent respect to the opinions of humankind when he makes his case for the idea that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. When gay rights becomes an identity politics it seems to me it starts telling drag queens they should stop appearing on camera at Pride and that sort of thing. When environmentalist struggles become an identity politics its ecofeminists start quarreling with its global warming wonks who are quarreling with its eco-socialists and so on over what is the "true environmentalism," who are the properly representative environmentalists, and so on. This can be edifying aesthetically and consolidating morally, but it is not political so much. The sub(cult)ural policing of moral identification/dis-identification gets in the way of peer-to-peer stakeholder politics.

What I'm trying to say is that my problem isn't with identity, obviously (especially once we've made it nicely provisional and partial and negotiated and so on), it's with identity politics. I recommend that people participate in struggles that seem good for good reasons, but also that I think they should always watch out when participation in these struggles starts doing subcultural work for them. I don't think our ability to distinguish progressive from conservative tendencies provides enough of a material basis for an identification worthy of the name.

Secularism demands the demarcation of moral from political work, it seems to me. I see this as a generalization of the separation of Church and State, in turn seen as a version of the separation of private from public life. What differs in my account is that I don't posit just the traditional dualism but a kind of pentangle of demarcated but inter-implicated practical spheres (scientific, moral, aesthetic, ethical, political), each warranted as reasonable by criteria unique to them, as my version of secularism.
Did banner-waving ever serve a purpose, or is it just now reactionary?

Maybe. Definitely it seems to me reactionary now.
Does the "planetary moment" mean that people should only belong to flower clubs and soccer leagues, and avoid all movements with banners?

Yes. And so, for example, I completely disapprove of Carl Schmitt's premise that politics is organized by the friend/foe opposition.

Peers are not friends. World sharing is not belonging to a community. The pleasures of politics are not the pleasures of mores. The work of politics is not the work of science or of ethics.

I guess I don't so much recommend avoiding all movements with banners, which would be awfully hard to manage after all -- given all the confusions and mischief-making in this area -- so much as recommending working to privatize these banners when we find them among our contingent comrades and to consign them to the clubhouses where they more properly belong. Also, I would say, as a general sort of rule of thumb, that such "identity movement" framings of politics will be the less objectionable and worrisome the more populous, diverse, richly historical, and actively contestatory their correlated "memberships" are.

It's true I still distinguish democratizing from anti-democratizing (whether fundamentalist, oligarchic, militarist or whatever) politics, but I can't say that democratic experimentalism seems to me coherent or thick enough to do the work of subcultural/moral membership for me (which is provided for me, for example, in professional academic contexts, among pervy queers, among fans of the movies and music that matters to me, and so on).
Again, not to cast aspersions on the post-modern tribe that you identify with and defend,

I don't identify with "post-modernism" at all, which is a term that seems to me to corral together figures who disagree enormously on questions of substance that matter easily as much as their differences with people who get called "anti-postmodernist."

It's true that I often find myself "defending" postmodernism against facile critics many of whom can't seem to be bothered actually to read the figures they excoriate, but this is only because I think attacks on "postmodernism" function as a stealthy form for a certain flavor of characteristically American anti-intellectualism (just as I think attacks on "political correctness" function as a stealthy form for a certain flavor of characteristically American racism and sexism) that I do feel attacked by and think is dangerously anti-democratizing more generally.

But I find no pleasurable identification at all with more than half of the figures with whom I would presumably have to hobnob as a "postmodern tribalist."
but if it is a broad-brush dismissal of belief in movements with historical missions this seems a characteristic of both the post-modern moment and post-modern academe.

If you say so.
If it is simply a distinction between H+ or S^ or TP [i.e, "Transhumanism," "Singularitariansim," and "Technoprogressivism"] as ideologies and the other progressive banners that you unreservedly endorse, then you seem to be giving some movements a pass for their long and colorful history of precisely the excesses you excoriate.

I regularly resist the efforts of others to crystallize "technoprogressivism" as an ideology (a quixotic effort of mine that seems all too likely to fail, I fear), and like it only as a countervailing technocentric tendency to sub(cult)ural futurisms. I'm trying to be consistent and not give a pass to any sub(cult)ures with political/ethical aspirations, including those with which I might personally sympathize in some of their geekier aspects, being a big geek myself after all.

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