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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mouseketeer Roll Call

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "The Mathmos" wonders:
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 (not to mention, I can truly dread what would happen if Republicans regained the House at this moment and re-enacted the paralyzing, vitriolic, litigious mischief-making of the Gingrich years, given the precarious state of our economy, climate, global politics, and so on), 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 here regularly say things I can kinda sorta 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?

I don't agree with a single theorist I teach, for example (although I am indebted to many of them -- Arendt, Butler, Rorty, Haraway, Foucault, Fanon, Keynes, King, Shiva, Harvey, Latour, Gilroy, Jackson 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 seems a bit like that to me. I don't stop my assessment of some political vicissitude 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 (both in the sense of what's likely and what might be an opportunity to whom) 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.


The Mathmos said...

I noticed that one faultline in our more or less enjoyable fits of discussion is the focus on domestic v. foreign policy. Where you underline this or that important difference and hopeful perspective on the home front, I can't help but contrast it with the situation abroad. This may be a function of having family in another country, having lived for a time in South America, having close friends who've been involved in the Middle East. My experience of talking to people on the receiving end of our multifaceted efforts at economic-cultural-military dominance made me aware of how, no matter how profoundly their life was affected by the merest nuances of US foreign policy, the change from Dem to Repub usually meant little improvement, or simply the shifting of this or that "priority" in the ongoing campaign of abuses and atrocities.

Seeing as the basic issue driving my political engagement, human dignity at the international level, is casually tossed aside or worse, hideously distorted in the context of American two-party politics, I'm not amiable to the "pragmatic" line of argument ; I don't think HCR, DADT and other domestic issues, to say nothing of outright media distractions like the supposed Tea parties and Sarah Palin, should dominate our political discussion, to the point where we ignore our role in the funding, management, execution and legitimization of massacres, famines, collective punishments and tortures inflicted upon the world.

Most people are not American, but most people are affected one way or another by US foreign policy. The pragmatic argument, to support Democrats in a very nuanced way, some more than others, because some Democrats better than others point toward a hopeful political future, must necessarily mean aligning oneself in the end with one of both political parties responsible for the gravest human rights abuses in recent history. This is utterly incomprehensible to people from Haiti, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Honduras, East Timor, Columbia, Palestine, Yemen, etc. And rightfully so, I feel.

Dale Carrico said...

In the diorama of US foreign policy since the Monroe Doctrine there is little apart from Marshall Plan that does not provoke my ire and revulsion (and I have reservations about the Marshall Plan). The planetary character of both environmental crises and networked p2p-formations creates conditions in which my own, most would say utterly quixotic, desire for a democratic world federalist polity might be realized -- campaigns for more authority for various global weapons, human rights, pandemics, and weather monitoring agencies, for a popular assembly to supplement the UN GA, for democratization of palpably undemocratic and also palpably failed neoliberal post-Bretton Woods global governance agencies like the IMF and the World Bank (possibly via ILO, WHO, UNESCO, and so on) all taken together suggest the terrain on which this struggle is properly seen to be taking place. The Hilary Clinton State Department and Obama Administration's diplomatic and "soft power" emphases are, I guess, comparatively better than the Killer Clown Administration with John Bolton's spittle inflected calls for the UN Building's demolition and so on, but the remoteness of US foreign policy guiding assumptions across the board from my own multilateral multicultural pacifism and social democracy doesn't provide me much basis for discriminating between the parties, except to say that I don't hear anybody who isn't a Green or Democrat saying anything even in the ballpark of what I would want to hear ever on this topic, rare though even that seems to be.

The Mathmos said...

Thanks for the response.