Liberalism Yet To Come: The Boundaries of the Thinkable

In yesterday’s episode of this series, Outis came up with an attractive synthesis about the trajectory of modern progressivism.  He was then thrown into confusion by the arrival of a Phantom, and cryptic references to “neoliberalism’s intellectual and cultural border guard.”

I felt like a snake, compelled to painfully tear away one skin after another.  The outline of my conclusions was the same, but in the cold light of Reed’s words, things somehow appeared differently.

Is it true that we have surpassed postmodernism?  We still look negatively at right wingers and others who believe in non-trendy absolutes.  We still pay lip service to the idea that other cultures are just as praiseworthy as upper middle class American liberal culture.  But looking beneath the surface, it does seem like postmodernism has been consigned to the graveyard of history.

But rather than post-postmodernists who have learned from the mistakes of postmodernism, we are neo-modernists who have successfully forgotten that postmodernism ever existed.

Already in the 90s, parts of the left/liberal world were uncomfortable with postmodernism, and Wendy Brown argued that they had set up their own “reactionary foundationalism.”  By that she meant that they had selected one aspect of their dogma, and then declared all attempts to interpret it critically to be subversive.

Our newfound unity is based on two prongs.  On the one hand, we have consolidated our alliance with key sectors of modern capitalism, and thereby cemented our branding as well-educated, intelligent people.  It is working out wonderfully – but have we paid a price for it?  Daniel Bell argued in 1976 (The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism) that conservatives supporting capitalism were thereby supporting a cultural engine that undermined the social values central to their conservatism.  Have we, by letting the cultural arm of the economy fight our battles for us, clouded our ability to radically critique that economy?  In the complex relationship between modern progressivism and the cultural sector of capitalism, who is using whom?

On the other hand, we have fixed certain instances of suffering as foundational texts, and can now blast anyone who seems to doubt their centrality in understanding the world.

Earlier attempts to create a liberal culture based on a consensus about oppression tended to produce a hodgepodge of groups that centrifugal forces could easily pull apart.  What was different now?

Maybe, as I had suggested to Foucault, the Internet had played a role.  But 9/11 seemed relevant as well.  As Osama bin Laden had hoped, the image of the planes striking the towers appeared on television as a dramatic flash of absolute reality.  In the new rhetorical world thus created, “squishy” postmodernism came off as inane and decadent; meanwhile, neocon Republicans happily twitted liberals over their lack of moral clarity.  The Right surged from one apparent victory to another, while liberals seethed with humiliation.

Maybe there was no epistemological breakthrough that enabled us to answer the postmodernists’ gnawing doubts about objectivity.  Maybe we changed the nature of liberalism, absorbed the stubborn moral clarity of Rush Limbaugh’s conservatism, and went on to forge a rough-and-ready consensus between unruly interest groups, simply because we believed we had to.


As stylized images of suffering inject us with potent shots of certainty, we become addicted to empathy with suffering, as an antidote for existential disorientation.  This leads to a natural desire to expand our attention to micro-aggressions and hurtful ways of thinking.

But then, if we commit to being on the side of people who experience micro-aggressions, almost everyone might be able to find something in their life that could qualify.  And in fact, many groups for whom we feel little sympathy are not unwilling to talk about their pain and humiliation.  We have dodged this trap by finding a principle that will disqualify unintended groups from empathy – that way we can classify their pain as not real.  The simple rule that does the trick is:  “If a group has suffered something historical that we agree is really, unmistakably horrible, then it is also allowed to claim micro-aggressions as real.”  We dress it up in academic language about what counts as “structural” oppression, but in simple words, the rule is, “if a group suffered, and we have canonized their suffering as a source of moral clarity for us, then they should be allowed to freely discover further incitements to suffering.”

So in Judy’s movie, mocking older people, or rural people, or government employees, or overweight people, is all entirely acceptable, while carrying around fox repellent, thinking a sheep’s fur is fluffy, calling a bunny cute, or not supporting a baby fox who wants to be an elephant are all entirely unacceptable.  The principle isn’t that prejudice is wrong.  The principle is that the latter examples are code for liberal flash points.

I thought about something Brown said:

In its emergence as a protest against marginalization or subordination, politicized identity […] instills its pain over its unredeemed history in the very foundation of its political claim […]  Politicized identity enunciates itself, makes claims for itself, only by entrenching, restating, dramatizing, and inscribing its pain in politics; it can hold out no future – for itself or others – that triumphs over this pain.

By “instilling” pain at the center of our epistemological universe, we condemn ourselves to endless efforts to shuttle around, direct, and amplify that pain.  Brown emphasized revenge as a key technique in dealing with pain:

[…] a will that makes not only a psychological but a political practice of revenge, […] an identity whose present past is one of insistently unredeemable injury.

Zootopia offers plenty of examples of hurting people the way they hurt others, so they can see what it feels like, and learn.  The response to Nick tricking Judy and telling her “it’s a hustle, sweetheart” is for her to trick him and then announce, “it’s a hustle, sweetheart.”  The same line is then used on the evil female sheep at the end of the movie.  The movie sees cultural insensitivity as not only the primary evil in the world, but also the most appropriate punishment – the final prison episode also came to mind, when I had laughed at the evil sheep’s anger at her wool getting touched.  The culmination of Judy’s apology is announcing that she really is “just a dumb bunny” – her guilt is so great that she knows she deserves the pain of stereotyping.

Brown worried about the insatiable dead end of “insistently irredeemable injury.”  Here, though, modern liberal culture proposes a way out of the cycle of suffering and revenge – Judy models it for us in her apology to Nick.  If the oppressor voluntarily decides to submit to the worst tortures the oppressed can inflict, and to bind herself as an instrument of his revenge, then he may choose to forgive her, making possible a triumph over pain.

I had always thought that when people do something wrong, they should just stop caring about their own feelings and, like Judy, really, deeply apologize.  In the movie, Nick had forgiven her.  But in real life, if someone apologized like that, say in a professional context, and the other person chose to be unmerciful – what then?

Imagining the Future

Wendy Brown said that right wing fundamentalists were trying to “foreclose democratic conversation about our collective condition and future.”  Are we doing the same thing?

Adolph Reed maybe thought so.  What did he mean when he said we had become “border guards of neoliberalism,” policing “the boundaries of the thinkable”?

Of course we work hard to stigmatize certain sorts of prejudices.  Do we thereby successfully repress them?

Foucault, in his History of Sexuality, recalled that it is often supposed that the Victorian era’s rules of manners and taboos on sexuality were aimed at making sex “driven out, denied, and reduced to silence.”  He argued instead that those restrictions had the effect, and maybe the purpose, of inciting and intensifying the power of sexuality:  a “complex deployment for compelling sex to speak, for fastening our attention and concern upon” it.

If Foucault was right about sexuality, are our attempts at “repressing” prejudice and trauma serving to amplify them as a force in society, by “compelling prejudice and trauma to speak,” “fastening our attention” upon them?  Is the result then to drown out attempts to speak in other ways, and so to police “the boundaries of the thinkable”?

Is the neoliberal order safeguarded by the fact that certain conversations just don’t happen in mainstream progressive circles?

Well, it does seem that Star Trek is better at imagining an economic system without money than modern progressives  Maybe we see a radical stance on the economy as a quick way to brand oneself as edgy, while privately assuming that there is no alternative to modern capitalism.  If so, why continue to be so moralistic about it?  Is our compulsive focus on mental sin a way we cover up despair at our inability to change the deep structure of the world?

A lot of ordinary people are convinced not that capitalism is perfect, but that any alternative to it is will necessarily involve the collapse of technological civilization or severe restrictions on freedom.  If this isn’t true, are there some progressives trying to explain why?

I struggled with what I had perceived.  Were we, despite our idealistic vision of ourselves, simply agents of the system, tentacles that it uses to smash some people, complete with the pretext of defending others?  Was it a labyrinthine, twisted joke?


At that point, I rebelled at the implications of my thought.

Maybe modern progressives are much less self-critical than we imagined ourselves to be.  Maybe we do indulge in some prejudices while criticizing and often tokenizing others.  Maybe we have acquiesced in a long series of accommodations with power.

But Polyphemus had spoken not just of wretchedness, but of idealism and grandeur.  Maybe I didn’t agree with the postmodernists after all.  Maybe there is something good, or at least potentially good, in the way we have tried to turn back to sincerity and moral conviction, to humility and introspection.

Brown said that in the postmodern world,

individuals are buffeted and controlled by global configuations of […] power of extraordinary proportions, and are at the same time nakedly individuated, stripped of reprieve […]

Since she wrote, the way the world makes many feel precarious and lost has only gotten worse.  Maybe she was right that when we feel this way, we try to rebuild a sense of something we can really believe in.  But was she right in assuming that this was mainly a bad thing?

When Judy apologizes to Nick, she treats herself as utterly insignificant, and her victim as omnipotent, exactly mimicking the relationship between the sinner and God in traditional Christian confession.  This was extreme, but could it also be seen as the sign of a great and widely-shared loneliness?  Of the longing we feel for more dramatically intimate relationships between people, or between a person and some sort of transcendence?

Could we salvage what was hopeful in modern progressivism and disentangle it from what wasn’t?

That sounds… hard, I thought to myself.  Anyway, I’m dead.  Maybe someone else will worry about it.

Then I remembered Judy Hopps.  She wouldn’t accept me being dead as a reason for me not to try to help people.

What could I do?


“Polyphemus,” I cried out.  “You’re back.”

He surveyed me.  “WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?” his voice boomed.

I thought for a moment.  Then I realized how to solve this problem.

“Polyphemus,” I said.  “I have learned that I have been ignorant and irresponsible and small-minded.  When I hear criticism of liberals that I don’t want to think about, I deal with it by explaining how right-wingers caused the problem, or are worse than us, or are scary or horrible.  Or I say the criticism is justified, but only as a criticism of not-real-progressives.  Or I divert attention by accusing critics of ignoring the horrible things that have been done to marginalized people.

I say I am against prejudice and trauma, but my attempts to repress certain forms of them have the predictable effect of intensifying their power throughout society.  I say I am against prejudice, but I don’t mind making fun of old people, Millennials, hicks, wingnuts, adults who live with their parents, and a whole slew of other categories and stereotypes.  I say I am against capitalism, but I’m completely fine with corporate action when it imposes antiracism, feminism, and other aspects of liberal culture.  If someone raises an objection, I accuse them of opposing antiracism or feminism.  I have the privilege of knowing that I can repel any attack on my basic understanding of reality.  I really am a horrible hypocrite; some of the things I do hurt people, abet an atmosphere of shaming and guilt, and ultimately foreclose any possibility of positive change.”

“How do you feel now?” Polyphemus inquired.

“Great,” I responded.  “I feel great.”

“So will you honor the spirit of true progressivism in your heart, and try to keep it always?” he demanded.

“Perhaps,” I said.  “But not just now.  A bootleg copy of the latest Game of Thrones season just made it past Charon.  And anyway, I’ve faced my fears, I’ve recognized my progressive privilege, and I feel like I’ve really grown through this experience.”

Polyphemus smirked at me.  I smirked back.

Epilogue:  And so I thought no more about these matters, and have been able to return to my comfortable existence in the underworld.  I no longer need this diary, and am casting it into a bottle so that it can dance along the eddies of fate, troubling whom it may.

Outis Philalithopoulos

April 1, 2016

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  1. Disturbed Voter

    Too much Clintonian triangulation. You need to square the circle, be less hip. Even for Progressives, the unexamined ideology leads to tyranny.

    1. Uahsenaa

      The problem with radical critique, be it deconstruction or something else, is that it is generally other-directed and rarely if ever directed toward oneself. To think of oneself in such a way might come of as near suicidal. This is why, in my chosen profession, for instance, the very same people whose academic work adopts and advocates a radical politics on behalf of the oppressed simply refuse to see the plight of those in their very midst who barely scrape up enough to live and regularly make hiring decisions that benefit themselves to the immiseration of others.

      It’s rather easy to say pointed things about French colonial fallout in Algeria or pen abstruse paeans on ethics from a desk chair in Ann Arbor, even while the lecturers picket outside for a modest reduction of the co-pays in their medical benefits. The radical critic may even wonder what the hubbub is about, but will then swiftly realize her deadline approaches and that she needs this article to get published in order to secure tenure. When push comes to shove, class interests override even the best intentions, for not doing so would swiftly find you no longer capable of composing paeans from the comfort of Ann Arbor desk chair.

      1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

        Thanks for providing this vivid example. I think that an additional result tends to be an imbalance in the analysis itself.

        Your critic of French colonial policy will maybe pry deep into the motives of the French colonial administrator: his embrace of imperialistic ideology, his evident racism, and so on. His decisions will be subjected to searching critique.

        To the extent that the critic even thinks about the lives of the lecturers, she will tend to think of her own involvement as strictly structural; after all, nothing is amiss in her intentions or her beliefs about the world.

        The problem here is not merely the inconsistency. It is that an attempt to understand both sets of experiences together would actually raise useful questions about the margin we have for action when inserted into institutional roles. Our behavior is clearly constrained – but how constrained is it?

        1. Uahsenaa

          Since I used a bit of a fable–and thus violated my own rules for useful thinking–I could also offer a specific example. When the lecturers union was first organizing at UM, the professor I was working for at the time, a kind and generally thoughtful older man, was dead set against what the lecturers were trying to do, because it upset the “special arrangement we have” in the large, intro to western civ type course I was teaching a section of. That special arrangement amounted to ad hoc employment, with no benefits and with term-to-term contracts that could be canceled at a whim and generally didn’t pay very well. It was a paternalistic system–and he is a paternalistic kind of guy–that benefited him directly in allowing for the flexibility he desired in order to account for fluctuating enrollment. His interest was tied directly to the status quo, and he acted accordingly.

          Similarly for my hypothetical post-colonial theorist, her interests are directly tied to the maintenance of the status quo, whether she chooses to recognize that fact or not. She has been trained–and I know, because I was trained as well–to see her circumstances as the only means to do the kind of critical work she wants to do. She simply cannot countenance doing that work outside of the environment in which she finds herself, even though, as you say, finding yourself in such circumstances would force you to ask the questions you hadn’t even considered up to that point. I know that was certainly true for me. I used to be a koolaid drinker, and when I found myself working indefinitely as an adjunct, I started to become much more intellectually honest with myself as well as with the objects of my scholarly intervention.

          1. Disturbed Voter

            Academics love the position of Omniscient Narrator. Liberals love to ride to power on the backs of the poor.

        2. Uahsenaa

          Skynet seems to have gobbled my rather lengthy response…

          tl;dr – it’s less a matter of constraint than training. Academics in particular are trained to believe the kind of intellectual work they do can ONLY be done in that environment, rendering them complicit in the status quo.

          You’re right to note that being subject to a different set of experiences might force them to ask different, equally useful questions. That’s what happened to me, more or less.

      2. Disturbed Voter

        Bravo! Girondists don’t get it. It is very hard not to act in conscious or unconscious self interest.

      3. Tim

        The closer something is tied to survival, the quicker one is to deny the ethics of the situation. Some kind of instinctive darwinian cognitive bias.

        The only thing that overcomes it is intelligence actualized through consistently taking the opposing view of one’s initial thoughts and decisions.

        The following is brilliant: As stylized images of suffering inject us with potent shots of certainty, we become addicted to empathy with suffering, as an antidote for existential disorientation.

        A cognitive bias to check out despite any critical thinking instigated by someone conservative. The reality is most everything in sociology is bounded by existential disorientation because social systems, the summation of individual cause (experiences and scenarios) and effect (decisions) are hopelessly complex.

    2. catbird seat

      Even for Progressives, the unexamined ideology leads to tyranny.

      Disturbed Voter, you may or may not realize the depth of wisdom that statement holds. One can re-purpose that quote to a myriad of things!

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I must admit to finding this series baffling at first, but it all makes sense for me now with the last two episodes. Very insightful it is too.

    I remember a conversation with an American friend as to why Irish universities don’t have the same obsession with identity politics as in the US. My immediate thought was that as a catholic country, Irish people recognise immediately the similarity between ‘pc thought police’ as the tabloids describe it and the traditional catholic church. Both attempt to set up strict boundaries about what is considered ‘moral’ and ‘acceptable’, and relentlessly police the boundaries. Everything outside the boundaries is free game, but we are forced to self-police those issues within the moral boundaries. Anyone who dares question anything within the boundaries will find themselves excluded from circles of power and control.

    I’ve also been intrigued as to why it is that corporations – or more specifically US corporations – are so enthusiastic about the liberal equality agenda. Its easy to see why mainstream feminism appeals – its a way for upper class white women to adopt the mantle of the oppressed and so keep the aspiring lower classes (male and female) out of plum jobs. Here in Ireland, the gay marriage referendum was supported overtly and covertly (supplying financing contrary to legal restrictions) by big business. While I was delighted it passed, I found the enthusiasm of various dubious corporate bodies for it to be disturbing. I think this article puts its finger on it – an agenda of supporting ‘equality’ allows corporations to simultaneously appear to be the good guys, while slowly imposing an agenda of control over all aspects of its employees – and even those it doesn’t directly employ.

    1. craazyboy

      We don’t like using the term “Inquisition” in America….

      As far as corporations go , they are hotbeds of political correctness. As you allude to, more fodder to beat employees with* and good PR_Image. But everyone knows, the almighty buck still rules.

      * The new factory in the Third World is “fighting global poverty”. H1Bs are multi-cultural enlightenment. Green cards help brown people. Women should have the right to work – cheap. And if we ever need to fire anyone easily, have you seen our new 4 page sexual harassment forms that everyone signs? Also, the non-compete forms are job security. Healthcare – we do drug tests. Just a little prick…

      1. craazyman

        I didn’t see the movie but somebody posted a link to a clip yesterday and it looks like Judy is pretty hot. It doesn’t seem plausible that a tiny 6″ tall rabbit can be hot, but somehow they pulled it off.

        I think she even has tits.

        This is what Hollywood does. It infects people’s minds with ludicrous nonsense and then they believe it and they go out and copy it in their lives. This is why they burned books. This is why Plato banned poets from The Republic. I bet there are rabbits right now trying to become police officers. I bet a 6″ tall male rabbit wouldn’t have a chance, but if a 6″ tall female rabbit tried to sign up, I bet they’d have to take her — after this movie. Can she eat donuts? That would be a big question. Maybe she eats dozens of donuts in the movie but if she’s going to be on the police force she has to be able to eat donuts.

        How can somebody look at a movie about a talking rabbit and come to conclusions about society? It doesn’t seem reasonable. It seems like they should watch something like Masterpiece Theater or something by Shakespeare, where nothing is ever made up or invented. Even the Encyclopedia would be a better place to get information about a society. Or the Dictionary. If people start with the dictionary, at least they won’t get delusional and only make stuff up in their minds and then believe it.

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

          I’ve enjoyed your comments throughout the series. I should read L’Homme Révolté. And I think you are right – the Phantom should have been Chris Rock.

        2. ambrit

          Whoa craazyman;
          You are attempting to force people to think. That’s about as un-PC as it gets. Now, the movie in question makes people laugh, which is usually a form of emotion. How many really good semantic puns do you see versus linguistic puns? Don’t knock the production of “ludicrous nonsense” mister. Just such exercises got America into WW1, and WW2, and stopped most real Leftist political movements cold. EPIC is the marquee example. Then, as for reading the Dictionary, well, that’s for squares, er, nerds, ah, I mean gleeps. Oh, snap! You know what I mean. (You would know what I’m alluding to if you spent time in any grade school play yard, or tried to ‘hang out’ with any clique of ‘cool kids’ in High School.)
          I do get the meta snark that is your whole last paragraph. Sort of like those Green shoes you’re always going on about, but with roofing nails sticking pointy side up inside them. Something like footwear for fakirs. You might not get much mileage out of them, but you’ll go very far.
          On another front, about the U of Magonia schedule. Any info yet on the scheduling for the course on “The Epistemology of Faerie?”

        3. Skip Intro

          You don’t think that a modern cartoon is representative of modern mores, and therefore a mirror reflection worthy of serious analysis? As a vehicle for transmitting values to children, it’s use of animals as metaphor is completely understandable. As a technique for distancing social commentary from the society it comments upon, animal metaphor is well established, from Aesop to Orwell.

        4. polecat

          “Can she eat donuts?” ……

          ….. more likely, carrot cake …

          ‘let them bunnies eat cake !’

        5. flora

          Now that you mention it, positing a policebunny is absurd. But for the length of the movie I kinda believed it, or at least accepted it.

        6. craazyboy

          I saw the clip too and also noted Hollywood solved the real bunny tit issue. Just 2, not 6?, and pumped up just right to mommy boob size. Not Playboy bunny size. I’m sure they worked it out with “story boards” first and the graphics artists decided a bunny with 6 pumped up Playboy bunny size boobs wearing a pushup police uniform looked ridiculous. These people know their trade.

    2. Moneta

      Inclusive classrooms where those at the tail of a normal distribution are put on Ritalin. Got to fit all those square pegs in round holes for those cookie cutter mind numbing jobs.

    3. Lord Koos

      This is how Hillary Clinton has been able to capture progressive voters — all the feel-good PC stuff like gay rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, etc seem to render issues like foreign policy, economic policy, labor, and income inequality as being less important. I find it difficult talk to many of my friends who describe themselves as liberals/progressives about this disconnect.

  3. Carolinian

    Well at least in the end took Outis up with a piece of entertainment more relevant to our times: Game of Thrones.

    1. polecat

      Well ….. it seems the BBC production ‘I Claudius’ had it down in spades 40 years ago ……..

      Blatant self-interest …. greed …. violence …… and debauchery … !

      still worth a watch …..even now ……. and no bunnies !

  4. Moneta

    A lot of prejudice is based on whether the person deserves it or not which is predicated on free will. We humans feel we control much more than we do. Maybe when we better understand how the brain works and actually incorporate this knowledge in our social structures will we become more civilized.

    IMO, it is visibly evident that we are all made different so we can each cooperate bringing our own skill set. However, our economy has evolved into massive cookie cutter uniformity where most human skills are useless because nature is not a variable in our model.

    So if we want a good life but don’t have the right skill set for the cushy job we must find all kinds of reasons to convince ourselves and others that we deserve to be there…

    Some feel guilt because they feel like a fraud, others realize it’s luck while many are convinced they deserve to be there… and only a handful were really made to do what they do.

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos Post author

      Regarding your first sentence, an illustration is the different way that working class racism and meth addiction are typically viewed.

      On their face, both sets of phenomena involve interactions between cultural backgrounds, economic context, and personal choices, and both have consequences in broader society.

      However, the normal view on racism is to see it as a malevolent and fully conscious choice (or perhaps a sign of irremediable individual backwardness), while meth addiction is seen as a health problem exacerbated by economic distress and community breakdown.

      1. Skip Intro

        And this touches on the question of homosexuality as a ‘choice’, a well-troden battlefield of the culture wars. If it is considered an inherent characteristic, it must be respected, and discrimination against homosexuals is deplorable. If it is considered a choice, it can be cured, and homosexuals may be consigned to hell or stoning (or both, but not in that order) by Good Christians.

  5. flora

    Whew! So glad Outis confessed his ‘sins’, found personal redemption, and can peacefully move on with his… uh… death.

    Did Outis let corporations subtley guide his thoughts with their entertainment branch about who was and was not “worthy”? Cut Social Security for old “greedy geezers” and “greedy boomers”? Offshore jobs the jobs of the “deplorable people?” Force the “redneck” rural to buy unaffordable health insurance while closing their hospitals? Cut “lazy” government employees’ jobs like food inspectors or disease control scientists or judges? Outis, being smart, can see through the corporate propaganda. He’s smart! And he feels good about himself. That’s the main thing. And his new copy of Game of Thrones has just arrived! ;)

    Enjoyed this series very much. Thanks.

    1. flora

      ‘Wendy Brown said that right wing fundamentalists were trying to “foreclose democratic conversation about our collective condition and future.” Are we doing the same thing? ‘

      Sure seems like it. Hope I’m wrong.

  6. Anna Zimmerman

    This has been a great series – much food for thought. Many thanks. But of course, I am only saying that because it confirms all my prejudices.

  7. Robin Kash

    Outis showed himself as an unredeemed post-modernist, full of critical questions, unsure of answers, and persuaded of the virtue of his self-patodying incertitude. Great series? Loved it? Who can say for sure?

    1. makedoanmend

      Ah, yes – Outis is outed as a simple normal flawed Homo sapiens ;-)

      this is verboten, nyet & hell no

      when ubertechnology ascends supreme, we can dispense with these messy meatsacks, and perfection shall reign once again in the garden – population .01 Homo meritocris

  8. Jim

    This series raises so many issues.

    “By instilling pain at the center of our epistemological universe we condemn ourselves to endless efforts to shuttle around, direct and amplify that pain.”

    It can also be argued that liberalism in predicated on the premise of equality and that Hobbes maintained that reason was subordinated to the passions–thus referring to a common set of susceptibilities or vulnerabilities, such as pain, which is broadly distributed among human beings.

    If what makes us more authentically human has more to do with our capacity to feel (to experience joy and pain) rather than our capacity to think (which is a set of capacities that is more differentially distributed among human beings) then a powerful focus has been established for justifying greater and greater equalization of human societies.

  9. Jim

    “Could we salvage what was hopeful in modern progressivism and disintangle it from what wasn’t.”

    What if the best metaphysical backdrop for liberalism is a generalized agnosticism.

    The liberal state’s self-identification as a neutral proceduralist state often ends up supporting Foucalt’s insight that bureaucratic regimes of power-knowledge (like we have today) end up normalizing the population so that a liberal ethos predominates–with the inevitable class-beneficiaries and class-losers–all under the auspices of a fake neurtrality.

    But a generalized agnosticism as a type of metaphysical backdrop to liberalism may give the liberal state a critical perspective on itself.

    Our modern-day liberals must be then open to the proposition of the potential incompleteness or a least partially-unknown character of objective reality. And if reality is at least partially unknown or circular then liberalism can be envisioned most coherently as an institutionalized form of skepticism.

    Such skepticism then undercuts the claims of particular individuals or groups to superior knowledge and from a negative standpoint justifies the inclusion of as many people as possible in public decision-making.

    At the same time, because any results reached cannot claim an unreserved epistemological sanction, liberalism introduces a series of breaking mechanism that allow existing democratic outcomes to be reconsidered and revised.

    Process is all and no public verdict on any issue can be conceived of as final.

  10. Plenue

    I have to admit what I’m ultimately getting out of all of this is what I already knew: liberals are mostly useless and up their own asses. They aren’t left-ist, they’re left-ish. Phil Ochs summarized it wonderfully:

    “In every American community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects, ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.”

    They’re all for women and gays and so on, but don’t threaten their slice of the pie, and don’t even suggest there shouldn’t be a divided pie at all. They can perhaps be useful allies at times, but for my money I would say ignore them all together and build your base elsewhere. Let them float and sputter, frankly, who fucking cares what they think about anything?

  11. David M Reich

    Scratch a liberal deep enough, hard enough and discover a facist underneath. I did not think of that, but I have never seen it miss. The system demands immersion in order to live comfortably. The system is a phoney democracy ruled by the corporate world; the tools and weapons (military, police, mainstream media) of the Liberal Order protect the corporate order. The classic liberal line is: “…work for change wihin the system…” That cannot be denied.

    Facism–like Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan in the 20s, 30s and 40s–was a marriage of raw physical might of the government with corporations (banks, manufacturers, agri-business, etc.). Facist states destroy organized labor to benefit corporations, direct popular mob rage against scapegoats, seek to establish their own brand of order beyond their bounderies and protect a comfortable ruling elite–many of whom appreciate the arts, gourmet food and the natural spledors of the world. And all of those elites support the Liberal Order with lots of money. Krups and Farben for Hitler. Wall Street, GM, Exxon-Mobile for Obama and pretty soon for Trump.

    The American Liberal Order has very cleverly destroyed unions, kept its back turned on its oppressed minorities, promoted and protected a culture of greed and revolting consumerism, exported military violence to “create democratic states,” overthrown and dominated foreign countries all the while creating ‘feel-good’ public agenies at home that promote confused policies to protect the natural spendors and “politically correct” easy-speak to bathe itself in self-righteous murk.

    At the heart of it, Obama is no different than William F. Buckley who was no different than JFK, who was no different than FDR who was no different than Clinton who was no different than the Bushes. Many conservatives of the 30s and 40s, who loathed “that man in the White House, never grasped the fact that FDR saved American Capitalism and the Liberal facist order even while he put people back to work and improved our infrastructure. But a savvy few got it instantly. They made out like bandits and still do.

    From the very beginning of our republic the government–all three branches–has sanctified business and held it above all else. From the earliest Supreme Court rulings to Dred Scott and the Civil War, to Manifest Destiny to Cuba, to Vietnam and Iraq all state power has favored the interests of corporate America at the expense of its people. The state shot down MLK and hanged John Brown, two men who chose different tactics but who threatened the Liberal Order such as this nation has never seen the like because they saw things clearly, listened with open hearts and minds to the people and took action.

    As FDR rolled for the order, so too did our first African American leader–a hollow, phoney Liberal who disappointed and betrayed me and many others. We did not read him right, so smitten as we were by his bright and cheery countenance, his intellect and his wife. Those are undeniable facts to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

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