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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chewing Gum While Walking From Theory to Practice, From Real to Ideal

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "Mathmos" approves of my critique of libertopian spontaneism from a few posts back and then testifies to the "lesson" they take from that critique:
Great response. The logic of which should impel one to seek the destitution of neoliberals in all their manifold political incarnations around the world. Including the Dems, Nobelized war criminals and corporate apologists that they are. Louisiana is paying the high price for the Democratic Party's moral and political bankruptcy in favor of the ruling corporate class... made me sick to my stomach for a whole day. And counting.


If you apply "logic" at a level of abstraction that renders you indifferent to differences that make a difference you are being illogical.

If you grasp the force my critique and then find yourself attacking Democrats either rather than or more than Republicans at this historical moment in consequence, then you aren't much practical use in my view to those who agree with you in approving this critique.

What is needed are more, and better, Democrats, in order to mobilize the forces to reform the world from here where we can the better to implement with endless difficulty and heartbreaking pain and careful thought the vision you presumably approve in approving this critique.

I don't say that because I think all or even enough Democrats are good, but because they are among the best tools actually on offer to do the job at hand (very much including the job of making the tool a still better one, eventually possibly an adequate one).

Both the effort to hold back the literal madness of the Republican Right as well as the effort to empower and push forward the Democratic Party as a sustainable-democratizing force from within their Green-Labor-Feminist ranks require you and people like you to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

By this I mean you have to find a way to articulate best ideals and grasp structural quandaries, on the one hand, as well as to articulate best-possible efforts given actually-existing constraints and the local-current quandaries one takes up opportunistically in connecting the latter to the former, on the other hand. It is this second part that actually costs effort and gets us anywhere worth going.

If you just swallow some political theory-head variation on The Big Picture (including one of mine) and then just leave it there, lolling around feeling marvelously nauseated and universally disgusted and all-knowing and declaring a plague on both your houses, it seems to me you are taking a crucial tool -- since I believe that articulating guiding ideals and structural critique at a higher theoretical level can help keep us from cynically assimilating to the given in the name of pragmatism -- but then use it instead to disdain pragmatism for a false and self-indulgent idealism-qua-narcisssim politics-qua-performance-art that contributes nothing substantial to the realization of its own declared ideals.

And for those of you who are newcomers to Amor Mundi and may think I'm being rather harsh on "Mathmos," you should know that this is the latest in a long series of comments here, many of which have focused their ire preferentially, and to my mind nonsensically, on the obvious deficiencies of the actually-existing center-left in the US to the practical benefit of the flabbergasting insanities of our white-racist war-mongering christianist-talibanist Randroid-Teabag far right, all the while dancing unsightly jigs of useless ideological self-righteousness in the process. Hence my stern little lecture and wagging finger.


The Mathmos said...

For being the last of a long series indeed, I find your response to my comment in keeping with all previous ones, which is to your credit (who said Po-Mo types are undisciplined, self-contradictory bunch?). As usual, I don’t think we’ll find much common ground on the practical side of things, as much as we may seem to agree on the “theoretical” aspect. That’s the given part.

My interrogation regarding your pragmatic, “best-possible”, stance, is always the same : at what point is that approach ‘falsifiable’, for lack of a better term. What I mean is : Is there a scenario under the auspices of which you would rescind your support for the Dems, having hypothetically being betrayed ‘one time to many’, having lost hope for the two-party system, or something. I ask this in all honesty (this is not a rhetorical gesture) since this is my own situation : the Dems have crossed the Rubicon a long time ago, and in my mind any path for change must at least be prepared to bypass them, and must recognize them as the ruling class vehicule they function as.

The whole “difference which makes a difference” line of argument doesn’t really stick with me, by the way, because I’m well capable of apprehending the actual policy differences between both parties. Of course the Repugs are blood-thirsty barbarians, etc. I just don’t come to the conclusion that the Dems are –sufficiently- different, or better, to warrant my support, in light of their own neolib-neocon depredations.

As conceited as it may seem, I’m actually a much-too-empathetic person in real life, and Clinton/Obama’s foreign policy record will always prevent my extending ‘any’ support to them or their toadies. Simple as that. No performance on my part.

Dale Carrico said...

My interrogation regarding your pragmatic, best-possible, stance, is always the same: at what point is that approach ‘falsifiable'?

This is an excellent question, and my answer is, I suspect, exactly the one you would expect, and which makes you suspicious (with cause) of my view:

I don't think there is an available criterion on the basis of which we can know. Theory provides us many things, enabling analytic purchase on complexities, enabling narratives out of which to connect histories and hopes, but certainty is not one of them. I think here we are making judgments that have something of the quality of judgments of "taste" about them, in the eighteenth century sense aesthetic philosophers grappled with and which made Arendt turn to Kant's Third Critique in later work.

Spending a day as a fly on the wall at my house you might well be surprised to discover me reacting with rage and disgust to many of the same things you do. But when you say that Democrats as a cohort do not seem to you sufficiently different from Republicans to merit your support in any sense, I have to admit I can't even begin to understand what that kind of judgment must feel like. The first stimulus bootstrapped observable renewable enterprise, health reform will observably save lives, credit card reform will curtail observable abuses of everyday people, and so on -- though every single one of these legislative accomplishments is appallingly far from what is needed, what was promised, and was paid for by awful giveaways to evil corrupt stakeholders with a place at the table. I can find hope in such stuff, I can find material out of which to draw a line from here to where I want us to be going as a nation, becoming a social democracy on the way to be a partner in a global democratic federalist polity devoted to sustainability, fair trade, and secular multiculture.

Maybe this is because I am in the Bay Area and Democrats regularly say things I can approve of in spite of our differences (since my politics are to the left of most every elected, even electable public servant except possibly, only possibly, Bernie Sanders)? Maybe as an inhabitant -- however precarious -- of the academy people seem so much smarter and well-meaning compared to the racist-homophobic-know-nothings who thronged my youth that this is a shot in the arm for me? Maybe this is because I draw on my experience as a teacher in making these assessments and applying them?

Dale Carrico said...

I don't agree with a single theorist I teach, although I am indebted to many of them -- Arendt, Butler, Rorty, Haraway, Foucault, Fanon, Keynes, King, Harvey, Latour, Gilroy, more or less in that order -- but all the texts inspire in me a great enthusiasm, and I try to use that to connect students to the texts in the hope that they will take up pieces from them and assemble a critical vantage out of that and that all my students will enter into a world ad-vantaged by their contributions to it, a bit more hesitant to be cruel or dismissive or credulous, a bit more demanding of authority, a bit more capable, a bit more generous. I can't know what parts of what texts will get which students where I want to take them, it all plays out in the scene of the clasroom itself. Raised hands, laughter, wrinked brows, boredom, anger flitting across the faces like unpredictable storm fronts.

Practical politics is a bit like that. I don't stop my assessment once I determine whether I agree with it or not, or even whether I agree with it more than alternatives on offer, but only when I assess what's next in respect to what it changes, given where we are, given who is where.

If my assessment of candidates, stances, public comments, policy positions and actual outcomes stopped at the first point, I would feel so hopeless and disgusted life would not feel worth living to me.

But more than just needing hope to live, I now know such despair would be factually wrong -- because experience has shown me that there is always more going on than I am aware of, and that there is always more that is possible than I expected.

I enjoyed this exchange, thank you.