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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Both/and, Vote/and

Upgraded and adapted from an exchange from the Moot with my friend Ian Paul:
I'm always in the mood to pick a fight, Dale ;-). As usual, what isn't being discussed (what is considered outside of the discourse) is usually more important to critically reflect upon than what was actually said. What we didn't hear about during the debates:
-Climate Change
-National Defense Authorization Act
-Drone Assassinations
-NSA warrantless wiretapping
-Largest Incarcerated Population in the History of the U.S.
-Unprecedented Global Protests
Is Obama a better choice in light of these issues? Yes, of course. But nonetheless I feel it's incredibly important to deeply think about why global hegemony has shifted so far to the right over the past couple of decades. This shift is not necessarily the result of the processes of electoral politics, and perhaps (in line with critiques of idealist conceptions of democracy) electoral politics aren't capable of remedying this shift. Thoughts?
I reply:

I agree that it is ridiculous that these topics (and others) have not come up in the debates.

I also agree that the current electoral process is obviously unequal to these and other questions. Education, agitation, and organization as political exercises exceed the electoral even if they ultimately find their fruition in reforms and regulations and public investments implemented through partisan governance.

Since you concede that Obama is a better choice or no worse than the alternative actually on offer I don't see why you would think saying anything you do here would feel to me like you are picking a fight. I think I agree with you in everything you are saying here, even if I might not be so quick to concede there is such a thing as "the discourse" politically or maybe I don't agree with you that the electoral properly exhausts what even constituted institutions treat as "the discourse" when all is said and done, and also I would suggest that at least sometimes electoral politics do indeed address some of the things that are as important as the things they do not at the moment (which I doubt you would really disagree with, and I admit such nuance wreaks havoc on elegant formulation).

I don't think that elections are a place where deep necessary critique really is happening for the most part. I don't even think that elections are particularly suitable for such discussions. I don't think the highly partisan election-analysis to which you responded should be construed as such a discussion (though I do think I have engaged in many discussions otherwise that should be so construed). I don't think political discussions should be confined to discussions of the electoral, even tho' I think electoral discussions as they play out in our media are absurdly more circumscribed than they need be and more than even ill-educated complacent Americans would prefer them to be, bad as they are.

But I also think that voting produces differences that make a difference in peoples' lives, that sometimes it produces differences more dramatic than those that are otherwise available to collective agency in a particular historical moment in respect to vital particular causes or problems and that none of the things I agreed with you about up to now properly yields the conclusion that it is wrong or mistaken or a distraction to vote.

I think one should vote for (or organize for, or sometimes maybe even try to BE) the best viable candidate actually on offer -- AND educate, agitate, and organize politically beyond voting so that in the longer term one finds oneself, if one is patient and disciplined and lucky, voting for things that are better still.

I have the sense that you advocate a both/and vote/and attitude as well.

If yes, what's not to like?


ian paul said...

Perhaps there's not such a distance between our positions, but I suppose the potential barb I meant to hint at (and after rereading realized was't clear) was a critique I often hear from some of my neo-marxist/left-communist friends (part of the political current arguing for "communization" as opposed to "democratization", have you encountered this yet?).

The critique is a Gramscian one as far as I can understand, namely that the intense focus on electoral politics, as horribly visible on every television station and social media platform, that endlessly dissects every media-worthy-moment of the election, only functions to curtail political imagination and reinforce capitalist hegemonic positions. This could perhaps be observed in the "race is tightening" effect you mentioned, as well as in the exaggeration of differences between the candidates.

Note, this isn't an argument against voting necessarily, but rather is a systemic critique which would urge at-most voting and then politically choosing to downplay the significance of the elections in the interest of agitation/revolt. I definitely sympathize with this analysis on some level (placing a much larger emphasis on the agitation end of your equation) and feel like it has some teeth. It's also a very real problem I face quite often in day-to-day political encounters and confrontations, wanting to support Obama and also deeply critique the incredibly serious systemic limits we find ourselves fixed in.

Well, now I feel like I'm meandering (beer + catholic upbringing => aimless proselytizing), but hopefully the thoughts are legible.


Dale Carrico said...

What you say is fair enough. I focus on the electoral on Amor Mundi, especially right now, [1] because I teach radical and revolutionary theory in academic contexts already and so have less of a need to vent from that perspective on this blog where I am mostly venting, [2] because I happen to have regular commenters whose version of radicalism recommends an anti-electoral politics that I happen to think is wrong even when I agree with them in many of their diagnoses of problems and in many of their ultimate aspirations and so I find myself arguing electoral stuff more than I might otherwise do, and [3] because I actually happen to think the GOP in its Movement Republican epoch is the single most dangerous organized force in the world today (because the GOP has an authority in the duopoly disproportionate to their objective madness and because the US happens to be the disproportionate beneficiary of unearned riches of geography and history) and so fighting them into harmless marginality and into serious self-reflection and reform at the level of partisan politics makes me care about the electoral level of politics at this historical juncture rather more than my more radical left values and activist history would probably otherwise prompt. In other words, at least for me, this focus is more specific to this historical juncture than it might seem if one just leaps to generalize from the belly of the beast we're in to hegemony theory or the Spectacle or what have you.

Barkeron said...

The lesser of two evils is the preferable option?

Dale Carrico said...

When the lesser of two evils is still evil but the difference between the two is still a difference that makes a difference, then very definitely, and in my view even obviously, the lesser evil is absolutely the preferable option. I think it is only a misidentification of or misassimilation of politics to ethics that would create even a moment's confusion on that score.

ian paul said...

"The lesser of two evils" is such an uninteresting way of framing elections, or any decision for that matter. In any given situation we are presented with a set of possibilities/potentialities that are assumed to be actually realizable in reality given the current political/social conditions. As such, every decision in life incorporates both speculative opportunity costs and benefits, allowing us to frame these decisions as the lesser of two evils or the better of two goods, depending on you want to rhetorically spin it. An essential part of being in the world is being framed by these contexts and conditions, and to simply ignore these conditions of possibility in the interest of idealism or utopianism is to miss out on grasping the very-real gains to be made within the limits of the possible in a given historical moment.

(an aside: there is of course much work to be done to transform the perception of the imagined possible, and the conditions that produce it, but that is another discussion)


Dale Carrico said...


Athena Andreadis said...

Let me put this very simply (no Gramscian nuances for unsophisticated me). Republithugs: women as chattels; Democrats: women as kinda human. Republithugs: science replaced by fundamentalism; Democrats: science still kinda there.

Neo- (and paleo-) Marxists and other "progressives" promptly threw half of humanity under the bus whenever it had served its first-order purpose in the respective movements.

So pardon me if I don't subscribe to the "dissecting gnats, swallowing camels" part, although I agree that drone use, curtailed civil liberties and passivity at climate change are huge disappointments of the Obama presidency. As for US international policy, it was tone-deaf from the get-go. That has never changed, regardless of the administration hue.

Dale Carrico said...

I pity the poor fool who would call you unsophisticated, Athena.