Speaking as an existentialist…

To existentialist ears, the identitarian preface “speaking as a…” sounds like an announcement of inauthenticity.

It is hard to be an individual. It is even harder when one does not know from where individuality comes, and it is impossible when one starts from the position that individuality is a delusion produced by one’s identic composition.

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Making conversational space

A post I put on Facebook just now:

This morning I was reading a pdf book (using the Notability app on my iPad) about the relationships people have with the things in their lives. As always, I was writing all over the pages, underlining, starring, etc. However, the book format was cramped, and there was insufficient space to write my own comments in the margin. I was feeling written at. So I reformatted the pdf with generous margins to make room for myself, and turned the monologue into a conversation.

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Symptom, diagnosis, treatment

A good doctor must respectfully trust a patient’s descriptions of symptoms — for the patient has privileged access to this reality — but respectfully mistrust all self-diagnoses and treatment suggestions, requests and demands.

Any doctor who will not listen to a patient’s about what they are experiencing and what they think might be going on is not only losing access to valuable information, but, worse, to a personal connection to the patient. But the doctor must sift through the information provided by the patient to determine the most probable diagnosis. The doctor will persuade the patient of the correctness of the diagnosis (versus the patient’s own self-diagnosis), and to accept and adhere to the best course of treatment.

Good parents and good leaders of every kind will accept the doctor’s example as paradigmatic.

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Establishing the conditions for the possibility of establishing the conditions of possibilities

This morning I’m kicking Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics to the curb and starting Peter-Paul Verbeek’s What Things Do. It’s funny, but not entirely a coincidence, that this books starts out attacking Heidegger’s anti-technological views. I suppose I’ll mark my book transition by joining in with a few parting shots at Heidegger.

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When philosophers go transcendental and start establishing the conditions for the possibility of actual things, something deep and stubborn in my temperament rejects the self-understanding of such efforts.

By my understanding, actuality alone establishes possibilities.

When we establish the conditions for the possibility of some thing, all we really establish is a way to conceptualize the possibility, which is far from the same as proving the actual existence of the possibility.

I am cannot see how “What are the conditions for the possibility of x?,” isn’t better expressed as “How can I conceptualize x?,” perhaps with the qualifier “…so it has intuitive immediacy for me and people who think like I do?”

What am I missing here?

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A related point: Heidegger’s claim that not being is a possibility for an actual thing is profoundly doubtful. A being can change radically so that it is for us no longer what it was, but that has far more to do with how we conceptualize beings than it does the being’s being. Unless we are solipsists… and this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

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I’ve heard it said that solipsism is easier to assert than to live. I disagree. I think many people — maybe most people — live solipsistically, while asserting the existence of an objective truth that exists beyond their subjective experience. This is practically inevitable if we treat truth and reality as alike — if not in substance, in correspondence — and if not certainly, in principle, possibly. In other words, even a fallibilist non-idealist can, for all practical purposes, live solipsistically.

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Demonic possession

The horror movies have it all backwards: people possessed by demons don’t become demonic themselves. No — in real life people possessed by demons are good people who live in a demonic world, doing what is necessary to make good prevail.

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A bad case of apotheosis

Yes, apperception involves awareness of one’s own experience of perception and conception — but it also requires adopting other modes of perception/conception, for only these alternate modes of perceiving help us detect the difference between our own immediate perceptions of objects and the objects we perceive, which are always necessarily perceived partially, in every sense of the word. We must shift modes serially and notice how much changes and what (so far!) remains constant.

Without the aid of serial multiple partiality, we confuse our own partiality with direct access to reality, resulting in naive realism, which is non-apperceptive however obsessively we self-reflect on our experiences of experiencing what we take to be objective reality. We stay unaware of what we bring to truth when we know it, and we succumb to apotheosis.

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I’m currently reading Heidegger in his pro-Nazi period complaining about how demonic America was at the time, and how America and Russia were more or less metaphysically identical, and I’m trying to keep my criticisms from turning wholesale against him. It is helpful in times like these to understand the partialities of most radical kinds of right-wing thinking, and what kinds of diagnoses and recommended treatments these modes of thinking almost automatically produce. Or, as they put it, the timeless perennial Truth they recover.

A sample of 1935 Heidegger:

The darkening of the world involves a disempowering of the spirit, its dissolution, diminution, suppression, and misinterpretation. We will try to elucidate this disempowering of the spirit in one respect, namely, the misinterpretation of the spirit. We said: Europe lies in the pincers between Russia and America, which are metaphysically the same, namely in regard to their world-character and their relationship to the spirit. The situation of Europe is all the more dire because the disempowering of the spirit comes from Europe itself and — though prepared by earlier factors — is determined at last by its own spiritual situation in the first half of the nineteenth century. Among us at that time something happened that is all too readily and swiftly characterized as the “collapse of German idealism.” This formula is like a shield behind which the already dawning spiritlessness, the dissolution of spiritual powers, the deflection of all originary questioning about grounds and the obligation to such grounds, are hidden and obscured. For it was not German idealism that collapsed, but it was the age that was no longer strong enough to stand up to the greatness, breadth, and originality of that spiritual world, that is, truly to realize it, which always means something other than merely applying propositions and insights. Dasein began to slide into a world that lacked that depth from which the essential always comes and returns to human beings, thereby forcing them to superiority and allowing them to act on the basis of rank. All things sank to the same level, to a surface resembling a blind mirror that no longer mirrors, that casts nothing back. The prevailing dimension became that of extension and number. To be able — this no longer means to spend and to lavish, thanks to lofty overabundance and the mastery of energies; instead, it means only practicing a routine in which anyone can be trained, always combined with a certain amount of sweat and display. In America and Russia, then, this all intensified until it turned into the measureless so-on-and-so-forth of the ever identical and the indifferent, until finally this quantitative temper became a quality of its own. By now in those countries the predominance of a cross section of the indifferent is no longer something inconsequential and merely barren, but is the onslaught of that which aggressively destroys all rank and all that is world-spiritual, and portrays these as a lie. This is the onslaught of what we call the demonic [in the sense of the destructively evil].There are many omens of the rise of this demonism, in unison with the growing perplexity and uncertainty of Europe against it and within itself. One such omen is the disempowering of the spirit in the sense of its misinterpretation — a happening in the middle of which we still stand today.

 

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Titaness

Pardon the flakiness; I am reading Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics:

If a titan is a god who cannot imagine he is not God, what is a titaness?

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Approval or love?

When I was in my early 20s I made a sharp distinction between what I loved and what met my approval, and I noticed my music taste split along those lines, and the best of both tastes conflicted with the other taste. I did not love what I found most acceptable and what I loved was unacceptable. At the time I decided to emphasize what met my approval, and shortly after that I fell in love.

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Political test

When you were a kid, who did you hate more: A) the school bully who gave you a wedgie on the playground? or B) the teacher’s pet who took your name and made you stay in for recess?

If you answered A) you vote Democrat. If you answered B) you vote Republican.

In 2016, we chose from candidates who were as close to literal embodiments of these detested antitheses as could be imagined, and this intensified everything. No?

Just a hunch.

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Ex nihilo, omnia

If you’ve known a being to emerge from nothing to change everything you’ll be converted from illusion to truth. If it happens again — God forbid — a different order of conversion should occur.

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OOO inventory

A hammer, two walking sticks, a thermos that got dented in and eventually discarded, a house across the street that was torn down years ago, Lily’s absence.

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Gnossiennes

A few moments ago, I was looking back through a book for a passage, but I started to think about something else, and I mostly forgot what I was looking for. …mostly… But I had a lingering wordless feeling about what I was looking for, and even writing about this fading feeling intensifies it. By now it has left.

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I remember one of the first times I meditated, I became aware of an incessant murmuring behind my mind and I witnessed my own awareness picking up some of the background as recognition of words, like wind blowing mist off the peaks of ocean waves. But the recognition was entirely preconscious… nobody decided to recognize or select. At the time I though “So, this is how an idea pops into my head.”

Thoughts think themselves in this wind over water.

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I imagine the opening bars of Eine kleine Nachtmusik: the melody, a sense of the chords, the timbre of the strings, the dark, woody ambience of the space. But my musical imagination is limited. I doubt I could even get pick out the basic rhythm and notes on a piano. Yet, as I recall my experience of hearing my favorite recording of the piece, nothing is missing. If I hear a recording, I know whether I am hearing my familiar one, or some other version. Sometimes I cannot even describe how it differs, but that does not change the fact of the difference, or my ability to detect it.

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My mind is full of subtle intellectual feelings. They coax my thought, guide it, and goad it. These feelings, and make my ideas my own. “Here, there is something new.” “This is not ‘lying flat’ yet.” “This is beautiful.” “This is repugnant.”

What should I call these intellectual feelings? Thinking about music and reading Heidegger (with his existental/existentiell distinction), gnossiennes seems right.

By “seems right” I mean a gnossienne signals approval.

A gnossienne can be understood as an experience of tacit intellect.

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I feel very much obligated to reconcile these gnossiennes with logic, and to bring them into relationship with the world and with the truth claims of other people.

But just as much, or maybe even more, I feel obligated to reconcile anything that seems logically sound and settled and regarded as true — what requests or demands to be regarded as true — with the silent testimony of gnossiennes. They desire reconciliation, but not at the cost of abnegation, and any argument that seeks to treat them as unreal or false or unworthy of respect will be met with resistence beyond reason — but I will argue this resistence is prereasonable, not unreasonable, and it is rooted in the most radical pluralist faith.

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Quietly, implacably gnossiennes force rethought, demand creativity, advocate newer, better truths.

Gnossiennes force me to find new ways to conceptualize, to ask, until they are satisfied with a law-abiding logical answer that accords with available evidence.

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And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli’jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli’jah?”

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Reason

Reason is situated midway between bloodless logic and bloody passion.

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Two conversions

Expansive conversions permit us to relate ourselves to more of reality.

Intensive conversions permit us to relate more of ourselves to reality.

The former are cold; the latter are hot.

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This way of categorizing conversion events is helpful when comparing and contrasting scientific revolutions and religious epiphanies.

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Chord: Love as hermeneutic device

Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human:

Love as artifice. — Whoever wants really to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, or a book) does well to take up this new thing with all possible love, to avert his eye quickly from, even to forget, everything about it that he finds inimical, objectionable, or false. So, for example, we give the author of a book the greatest possible head start, and, as if at a race, virtually yearn with a pounding heart for him to reach his goal. By doing this, we penetrate into the heart of the new thing, into its motive center: and this is what it means to get to know it. Once we have got that far, reason then sets its limits; that overestimation, that occasional unhinging of the critical pendulum, was just a device to entice the soul of a matter out into the open.

Rorty, “The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature”:

When I attribute inspirational value to works of literature, I mean that these works make people think there is more to this life than they ever imagined. … Inspirational value is typically not produced by the operations of a method, a science, a discipline, or a profession. It is produced by the individual brush strokes of unprofessional prophets and demiurges. You cannot, for example, find inspirational value in a text at the same time that you are viewing it as the product of a mechanism of cultural production. To view a work in this way gives understanding but not hope, knowledge but not self-transformation. For knowledge is a matter of putting a work in a familiar context — relating it to things already known. … If it is to have inspirational value, a work must be allowed to recontexualize much of what you previously thought you knew; it cannot, at least at first, be itself recontextualized by what you already believe. Just as you cannot be swept off your feet by another human being at the same time that you recognize him or her as a good specimen of a certain type, so you cannot simultaneously be inspired by a work and be knowing about it. Later on — when first love has been replaced by marriage — you may acquire the ability to be both at once. But the really good marriages, the inspired marriages, are those which began in wild, unreflective infatuation.

 

 

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Maturing

Reading Appendix A of Rorty’s Achieving Our Country, “Campaigns and Movements” I came upon this bit: “Most of us, when young, hope for purity of heart. The easiest way to assure oneself of this purity is to will one thing—but this requires seeing everything as part of a pattern whose center is that single thing. Movements offer such a pattern, and thus offer such assurance of purity. [Irving] Howe’s ability, in his later decades, to retain both critical consciousness and political conscience while not attempting to fuse the two into something larger than either, showed his admirers how to forgo such purity, and such a pattern.”

That brought to mind another passage from the introduction of Nicolai Berdyaev’s Slavery and Freedom: “My thought has always belonged to the existential type of philosophy. The inconsistencies and contradictions which are to be found in my thought are expressions of spiritual conflict, of contradictions which lie at the very heart of existence itself, and are not to be disguised by a facade of logical unity.”

For me, this immediately connects up with three themes from Nietzsche’s thought: youth, wholesale thinking, and the compulsion to systematize. (To poke around in my glorious wiki — and you really should — use the password “generalad”). Rather than explicitly draw every connection, I will juxtapose some passages and make a concept chord meant to convey an ideal of maturity I learned from Nietzsche.

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Rough consistency. — It is considered a mark of great distinction when people say ‘he is a character!’ — which means no more than that he exhibits a rough consistency, a consistency apparent even to the dullest eye! But when a subtler and profounder spirit reigns and is consistent in its more elevated manner, the spectators deny the existence of character. That is why statesmen with cunning usually act out their comedy beneath a cloak of rough consistency.

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Beware of systematisers! — Systematisers practise a kind of play-acting: in as much as they want to fill out a system and round off its horizon, they have to try to present their weaker qualities in the same style as their stronger — they try to impersonate whole and uniformly strong natures.

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I mistrust all systematizers and I avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity.

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Youth and criticism. — To criticize a book means to a young person no more than to repulse every single productive idea it contains and to defend oneself against it tooth and claw. A youth lives in a condition of perpetual self-defence against everything new that he cannot love wholesale, and in this condition perpetrates a superfluous crime against it as often as ever he can.

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Consciousness. — Consciousness is the latest development of the organic, and hence also its most unfinished and unrobust feature. Consciousness gives rise to countless mistakes that lead an animal or human being to perish sooner than necessary, ‘beyond destiny’, as Homer puts it.’ If the preserving alliance of the instincts were not so much more powerful, if it did not serve on the whole as a regulator, humanity would have to perish with open eyes of its misjudging and its fantasizing, of its lack of thoroughness and its incredulity in short, of its consciousness; or rather, without the instincts, humanity would long have ceased to exist! Before a function is fully developed and mature, it constitutes a danger to the organism, it is a good thing for it to be properly tyrannized in the meantime! Thus, consciousness is properly tyrannized — and not least by one’s pride in it! One thinks it constitutes the kernel of man, what is abiding, eternal, ultimate, most original in him! One takes consciousness to be a given determinate magnitude! One denies its growth and intermittences! Sees it as ‘the unity of the organism’! This ridiculous overestimation and misapprehension of consciousness has the very useful consequence that an all-too-rapid development of consciousness was prevented. Since they thought they already possessed it, human beings did not take much trouble to acquire it, and things are no different today! The task of assimilating knowledge and making it instinctive is still quite new; it is only beginning to dawn on the human eye and is yet barely discernible it is a task seen only by those who have understood that so far we have incorporated only our errors and that all of our consciousness refers to errors!

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When one is young, one venerates and despises without that art of nuance which constitutes life’s greatest prize, and it is only fair that one has to pay dearly for having assaulted men and things in this manner with Yes and No. Everything is arranged so that the worst of tastes, the taste for the unconditional, should be cruelly fooled and abused until a man learns to put a little art into his feelings and rather to risk trying even what is artificial: as the real artists of life do. The wrathful and reverent attitudes characteristic of youth do not seem to permit themselves any rest until they have forged men and things in such a way that these attitudes may be vented on them: — after all, youth in itself has something of forgery and deception. Later, when the young soul, tortured by all kinds of disappointments, finally turns suspiciously against itself, still hot and wild, even in its suspicion and pangs of conscience: how angry it is with itself now, how it tears itself to pieces, impatiently, how it takes revenge for its long self-delusion, just as if it had been a deliberate blindness! In this transition one punishes oneself with mistrust against one’s own feelings; one tortures one’s own enthusiasm with doubts, indeed, one experiences even a good conscience as a danger, as if it were a way of wrapping oneself in veils and the exhaustion of subtler honesty; and above all one takes sides, takes sides on principle, against ‘youth.’– A decade later: one comprehends that all this, too–was youth!

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The so-called soul. — The sum of the inner movements which a man finds easy, and as a consequence performs gracefully and with pleasure, one calls his soul; — if these inner movements are plainly difficult and an effort for him, he is considered soulless.

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The serious workman. — Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great men of all kinds who were very little gifted. The acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it), through qualities the lack of which no one who knew what they were would boast of: they all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole. The recipe for becoming a good novelist, for example, is easy to give, but to carry it out presupposes qualities one is accustomed to overlook when one says “I do not have enough talent.” One has only to make a hundred or so sketches for novels, none longer than two pages but of such distinctness that every word in them is necessary; one should write down anecdotes each day until one has learned how to give them the most pregnant and effective form; one should be tireless in collecting and describing human types and characters; one should above all relate things to others and listen to others relate, keeping one’s eyes and ears open for the effect produced on those present, one should travel like a landscape painter or costume designer; one should excerpt for oneself out of the individual sciences everything that will produce an artistic effect when it is well described, one should, finally, reflect on the motives of human actions, disdain no signpost to instruction about them and be a collector of these things by day and night. One should continue in this many-sided exercise some ten years: what is then created in the workshop, however, will be fit to go out into the world. — What, however, do most people do? They begin, not with the parts, but with the whole. Perhaps they chance to strike a right note, excite attention and from then on strike worse and worse notes, for good, natural reasons. — Sometimes, when the character and intellect needed to formulate such a life-plan are lacking, fate and need take their place and lead the future master step by step through all the stipulations of his trade.

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Learning. — Michelangelo saw in Raphael study, in himself nature: there learning, here talent. This, with all deference to the great pedant, is pedantic. For what is talent but a name for an older piece of learning, experience, practice, appropriation, incorporation, whether at the stage of our fathers or an even earlier stage! And again: he who learns bestows talent upon himself — only it is not so easy to learn, and not only a matter of having the will to do so; one has to be able to learn. In the case of an artist learning is often prevented by envy, or by that pride which puts forth its sting as soon as it senses the presence of something strange and involuntarily assumes a defensive instead of a receptive posture. Raphael, like Goethe, was without pride or envy, and that is why both were great learners and not merely exploiters of those veins of ore washed clean from the siftings of the history of their forefathers. Raphael vanishes as a learner in the midst of appropriating that which his great competitor designated as his ‘nature’: he took away a piece of it every day, this noblest of thieves; but before he had taken over the whole of Michelangelo into himself, he died — and his last series of works is, as the beginning of a new plan of study, less perfect and absolutely good precisely because the great learner was interrupted in his hardest curriculum and took away with him the justificatory ultimate goal towards which he looked.

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A man’s maturity — consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play.

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Human beings are naturally artificial.

It is not our nature that is most precious; it is our hard-won second-nature, that set of artifices that are so well-designed that they disappear into our being and into the world we perceive around us. They become so natural to us that we can no longer experience them as man-made, and we begin to see them as God-given if we see them at all. And they are God-given, if we understand our real relationship with God.

Amen?

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Betrayal of liberalism in the name of liberalism

This passage from Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country (1997) helps me pinpoint the shift from a predominant liberalism to illiberalism in the popular left:

The academic, cultural Left approves — in a rather distant and lofty way — of the activities of these surviving reformists. But it retains a conviction which solidified in the late Sixties. It thinks that the system, and not just the laws, must be changed. Reformism is not good enough. Because the very vocabulary of liberal politics is infected with dubious presuppositions which need to be exposed, the first task of the Left must be, just as Confucius said, the rectification of names. The concern to do what the Sixties called “naming the system” takes precedence over reforming the laws.

“The system” is sometimes identified as “late capitalism,” but the cultural Left does not think much about what the alternatives to a market economy might be, or about how to combine political freedom with centralized economic decisionmaking. Nor does it spend much time asking whether Americans are undertaxed, or how much of a welfare state the country can afford, or whether the United States should back out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the Right proclaims that socialism has failed, and that capitalism is the only alternative, the cultural Left has little to say in reply. For it prefers not to talk about money. Its principal enemy is a mind-set rather than a set of economic arrangements — a way of thinking which is, supposedly, at the root of both selfishness and sadism. This way of thinking is sometimes called “Cold War ideology,” sometimes “technocratic rationality,” and sometimes “phallogocentrism” (the cultural Left comes up with fresh sobriquets every year). It is a mind-set nurtured by the patriarchal and capitalist institutions of the industrial West, and its bad effects are most clearly visible in the United States.

To subvert this way of thinking. the academic Left believes, we must teach Americans to recognize otherness. To this end, leftists have helped to put together such academic disciplines as women’s history, black history, gay studies, Hispanic-American studies, and migrant studies. This has led Stefan Collini to remark that in the United States, though not in Britain. the term “cultural studies” means victim studies.” Cellini’s choice of phrase has been resented, but he was making a good point: namely, that such programs were created not out of the sort of curiosity about diverse forms of human life which gave rise to cultural anthropology, but rather from a sense of what America needed in order to make itself a better place. The principal motive behind the new directions taken in scholarship in the United States since the Sixties has been the urge to do something for people who have been humiliated — to help victims of socially acceptable forms of sadism by making such sadism no longer acceptable.

Whereas the top-down initiatives of the Old Left had tried to help people who were humiliated by poverty and unemployment, or by what Richard Sennett has called the “hidden injuries of class, ” the top-down initiatives of the post-Sixties left have been directed toward people who are humiliated for reasons other than economic status. Nobody is setting up a program in unemployed studies, homeless studies, or trailer­park studies, because the unemployed, the homeless, and residents of trailer parks are not “other” in the relevant sense. To be other in this sense you must bear an ineradicable stigma, one which makes you a victim of socially accepted sadism rather than merely of economic selfishness.

This cultural Left has had extraordinary success. In addition to being centers of genuinely original scholarship, the new academic programs have done what they were, semi­ consciously, designed to do: they have decreased the amount of sadism in our society. Especially among college graduates, the casual infliction of humiliation is much less socially acceptable than it was during the first two-thirds of the century. The tone in which educated men talk about women, and educated whites about blacks, is very different from what it was before the Sixties. Life for homosexual Americans, beleaguered and dangerous as it still is, is better than it was before Stonewall. The adoption of attitudes which the Right sneers at as “politically correct” has made America a far more civilized society than it was thirty years ago. Except for a few Supreme Court decisions, there has been little change for the better in our country’s laws since the Sixties. But the change in the way we treat one another has been enormous.

The key phrase is “the casual infliction of humiliation is much less socially acceptable than it was during the first two-thirds of the century.” This resonates with my own understanding, and I believe that actually was the left’s mission until fairly recently. We were supposed to oppose the humiliation of other people, and most of all, from humiliating others on the basic of categories we have ourselves have assigned them.

But what I am seeing now is a very strong desire for the humiliated to finally get their turn to humiliate.

Most folks on the popular left see this counter-humiliation in terms of a financial metaphor — as a sort of “social capital” account, debited when praised, honored or granted of privileges, and withdrawn against when criticized, scorned or penalized.

I’m a little skeptical that many have even questioned this metaphor, which functions as a Kuhnian paradigm among subscribers of the left worldview, and which unconsciously guide all their thinking, judgments and even their perceptions. I have also seen little evidence many of them have questioned the either the scientific or moral validity of the sweeping generalizations they make and their applications of these generalizations to individuals to whom they assign to categories. This practice was once condemned by all liberals as as prejudice, but prejudice has been redefined to allow encourage people of certain disprivileged categories to vent their resentments on individuals of other categories.

I don’t believe privilege functions like one fund that can be transferred to another through inflicting humiliation. Yes, there does seem to be short-term influx of visceral pleasure on one side at the apparent “expense” of the other, but the pleasure gains soon evaporate, while the anger of the humiliated lingers and festers, and ultimately the sum of the transaction is a red negative. In fact, there was no transaction, only an abusive interaction performed for the sake of getting to be the abuser — in other words, sadistic pleasure.

I also don’t believe individuals automatically get to draw from cultural capital held in common by social categories. There is no such thing as a quantity of “white male heterosexual” prestige anyone of that category can access and use or spend wherever they wish. Social capital just doesn’t work that way. Treating categories constructed on resemblances one has observed as realities capable of intention, moral agency, practical effectiveness is reification, a confusion of what a subject views as true and the reality beyond what a subject imagines. (And of course, the social or legal imposition of one’s own reifications upon real individuals who do not share one’s beliefs about the reality or the properties or the theoretical justifications of these categories, however much one is convinced of their validy, is one of the traditional core prohibitions of liberalism.)

And, finally, I don’t think people who lash out at various categories of person are actually motivated by a desire to improve the world, however much they pose as champions of the oppressed and however much they justify their attitudes and actions with social scientistic arguments, one-mindedness with everyone who matters, and memories of tearful moments of insight cuddled up with their favorite novels on Sunday afternoons.

All these highminded concepts, proud unanimity and empathetic sentiments are prettifying rationalizations for enjoying what liberalism has always forbidden on principle: hatred of the Other.

And they are most definitely not, as they claim, “punching up”. It is only their refusal to factor class into their assessments of relative privilege that permit this delusion of “speaking truth to power”. As Thomas Frank persuasively pointed out, they’re actually “speaking truth to weakness” from a position of superior class (remember class, fellow liberals?) and generating enormous resentment in a group that is becoming dangerously sick of being scolded. Pay attention to the actual educational pedigree, income bracket, actual, individual institutional position and relative vulnerabilities of who is doing the judgmental confrontation and who is being judged, and you’ll certainly find a power differential, but not the one doing the judging sees or wants you to see.

Everyone outside the ideological sphere of the pop-left and radical academic left sees it though, plain as day. And this number includes not only the awful elements of the right. It also includes leftists who still believe in liberalism, Moderate libertarians and most centrists. To us, this looks very bad, not only practically, but ethically. It is not only a matter of electoral consequences, it is a matter of where we stand on the most important matters, whether we can actually count people who carry on this way as allies at all.

If liberals do not renounce casual infliction of humiliation on despised categories of people, bad things are definitely going to happen, and those things will happen as a direct result of indulging prejudice, hate and sadism. There is no honor in such calamities, only disgrace and discredit.

Once again, I will quote one of America’s greatest liberals, Martin Luther King.

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.

Liberals need to get back to the morality that alone justifies us, and we need to return to practicing what we preach. We mist stand up to prejudice, hatred and humiliation of all our fellow Americans, whoever the perpetrator and whoever the target, and whatever the rationalization.

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Antiwholesale

Some thinkers are exciting to disagree with, not only despite how exasperating they are, but maybe because of it. I have whiplash from alternating nodding and head-shaking, reading Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country. Marginalia from the last three pages: “yes” “yes” “No!” “??!” “Fuck no!” “Illiberal” “Yeeesh.” “Creepy!” “YES!!!”

The older I get, and the firmer, more specific and more nuanced I become in my moral attitudes the less I find myself able to agree completely with any other individual. I take my agreements where I can get them, and I refuse to ignore differences — big, small, shallow or profound — for the sake of preserving a sense of total agreement or total disagreement.

The principled abstinence from wholesale acceptance or rejection of anything has become one of my firmest moral attitudes. I suppose I see this as a virtue and I am proud of it. I need a name for this virtue.

Any explicit concept or implicit attitude that looks to me like a device for wholesaling (positive or negative) will trigger a suspicion of intellectual immaturity, degradation or dementia, and I actually feel sympathetic shame for people who seem to need such things.

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Tradition of self-criticism

A tradition of self-criticism might be comprehensible only to self-critical individuals who have developed their own capacity for justice through long, painful process of increasingly severe self-criticism and overcoming of personal flaws, mistakes and profound errors of judgment.

For those who cannot bear negative judgment, criticism and justice is imposed by an outside judge.

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