Category Archives: Politics

Private totalitarianism

Two of the more novel features of my “ambiliberal” political diagram:

  1. According to this framework, left versus right is a matter of egalitarianism versus hierarchy. Those hierarchies can take any number of different forms depending on the principle of rank. Traditionally, right-wing movements have followed traditional form, such as aristocracy, theocracy or plutocracy. But according to this framework, we should also be alert to newer forms of rank, including technocracy, the rule of experts, which is easily confused with leftism — especially when expertly administered fairness is its primary legitimacy claim .
  2. The nation state is only one kind of concentration of power. Any sufficiently cohesive group, for instance a class, can also rule through other means besides law. For instance economic and cultural levers can be used to control a population as effectively as laws and courts — even outside of constitutionally protected areas. In fact, the reach of coordinated private power can legally violate the Bill of Rights. This affords a private hegemon far more extensive and invasive reach, less oversight and fewer limitations.

If you consider these two possibilities together, it seems not only possible but likely that the next kind of totalitarianism we see could be a private totalitarianism.

 

Man, I really hate Fundamentalism

Religion (when it is real religion) helps form an active, mutual relationship between a person and the infinite reality in whom each person participates as a unique, divine spark.

Fundamentalism (which is misunderstood as extreme religion, but which is failure of religion) severs relationship with infinite reality and replaces in with beliefs. The entirety of Fundamentalism’s metaphysics — “god”, types of people, categories, moral judgment — takes place inside the skull of the “believer”. Its heaven is imagined and the god who riles over this imagined kingdom is the believer. I call this misapotheosis: stupid confusion of oneself with God and confusion of Creation with the paltry product of one’s own creative imagination.

Fundamentalism places all emphasis of the factual content of its belief, so it sees no connection between itself and other denominations of Fundamentalism. What could be more opposite, Christianism and Progressivism? But each approaches belief the same way and approaches non-believers the same way. The faith is identical, and the differing content is a superficial difference.

Recovering “Christian” Fundamentalists are especially vulnerable to Progressivism. Fundamentalists rarely are able to recover real religious life. They wander through life god-gutted and empty, able only to stop the Fundamentalist habits, but unable to re-conceive religious life in order to live it. Then something like Progressivist Fundamentalism comes along and the sheer familiarity of it is seductive. Fundamentalism kicks back into motion with new omniscient fervor.

New drug, old habit.

I will say it again: the distance between Fundamentalisms is paper-thin. The distance between Fundamentalism (and its always-oppressive political agendas) and authentic religion (and its liberal agenda — yes liberal religion is the purest form!) is vast.

Meditation on the ten-thousand everythings

….it was said that one god, Hermes Trismegistus, had dictated a variously estimited number of books (42, according to Clement of Alexandria; 20,000, according to Iamblichus; 36,525, according to the priests of Thoth, who is also Hermes), on whose pages all things were written. [Anomalogue: From what I’ve read, Hermes Trismegistus was not a god; the god Hermes is a different being.] Fragments of that illusory library, compiled or forged since the third century, form the so-called Hermetica. In one part of the Asclepius, which was also attributed to Trismegistus, the twelfth-century French theologian, Alain de Lille — Alanus de Insulis — discovered this formula which future generations would not forget: “God is an intelligible sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” — Borges, “Pascal’s Sphere”

The universe is made entirely of absolutely unique particles, each constituting the very center of the universe. Only from the vantage point of one of these myriad centers can any of the other myriad particles be understood as identical to any of the others.

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“The ten-thousand things” of the Tao Te Ching are also ten-thousand everythings.

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Myriad is a quantitative quality; it means uncountably many. Ten-thousand was traditionally used to represent myriad, but computers have rendered ten-thousand too puny, so now we say zillions or gazillions.

We should not confuse myriad with infinity. Infinity challenges reality at the definitional — de-finition — level, the category level, which alone makes quantity possible. Only a particular viewpoint can render unique things identical.

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Some spiritual people view Liberalism, the coalition of the unique, as shallow and dry, but this has more to do with the prejudices of conventional spirituality than with the depth or richness of Liberalism itself.

The deepest things are cloaked by myopia. Only looking deeply can reveal depth.

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Horseshoe Overton Window

Normally the Overton Window defines a range of discourse between left and right that is considered acceptable. When things get so extreme, however, that we start experiencing the Horseshoe effect, the Overton Window functions differently. Suddenly the Overton Window defines completely disconnected extreme forms of discourse, and the radical disconnect becomes normal whichever socially acceptable extreme you embrace. Liberalism moves outside of the frame, and is viewed on both sides as stupid cooperation with the other extreme. On the contrary: the extremes are in stupid cooperation with one another, serving as justification of extremism

 

Enworldments

I move around in a world of enworldments.

When I meet a person, their enworldment is what I am trying to intuit. When an artifact — object, environment, artwork, anything — attracts my attention, it is because it implies an enworldment with a person at its center.

At times I’ve wanted to call a particular enworldment an instance of “everything”. Applying the pragmatic maxim, roughly “the meaning of a belief is everything that follows from believing it”, an enworldment is the particular totality implied when a particular person says “everything”. Some people might prefer some related words: worldview, lifeworld, totality, philosophy, or, simply, world. I like enworldment because, for me, it implies an attempted embracing and gathering toward a creating/discovering instaurating center.

Some enworldments include within it an awareness and concern for the existence of fellow enworldments. An enworldment of this kind can be called pluralist.

Some pluralist enworldments hold pluralism itself as a supreme value, and wish to respect, cultivate and protect a plurality of pluralistic enworldments, as the very locus of value in the world. This kind of pluralism can be called liberalism.

Some liberal enworldments believe that even the most liberal, most pluralist enworldments contain partial incompatibilities and conflicts, and that entering these conflicts with fellow liberals is not only unavoidable, but valuable. This kind of liberalism can be called agonistic.

However, liberalism of even the most agonistic kind cannot be indiscriminately open to every enworldment. It cannot enter into and grasp from within every enworldment that presents itself, because some enworldments are explicitly opposed on principle to liberalism. Some others claim to be liberal, but function illiberally. While it is not necessary or even good  to reject an illiberal enworldment wholesale, it is necessary to isolate and reject illiberal elements within it. Unfortunately, challenging its illiberal elements threatens the enworldment as a whole, and will provoke its defense systems, which are themselves aggressively illiberal. Countermeasures progress from avoidance, to emotional, to social, to material and finally bodily tactics for protecting the illiberal ideology from what it correctly views as an existential threat.

But it is important to remember that the line between liberal and illiberal is not sharply or clearly drawn, and each liberal must use his own judgment to determine which enworldments to respect or even accept as collaborative partners, which to ignore, which to actively oppose as adversaries, and which to go to war with as true mortal enemies of liberalism. These boundaries are some of the most contentious controversies among agonistic adversaries. The cost of drawing them too hastily and too intolerantly is succumbing to illiberalism.  It is tempting to refuse to draw any lines at all, or automatically draw them as broadly as possible, and, in effect, to default to a tolerant acceptance of all views as valid, but this is a mistake. The risk cannot be avoided.

Liberal enworldments can flourish together; illiberal ones will dominate and suppress all others, liberal and illiberal, alike, often in the name of peace — a peace of utter dominance.

Coalition of the unique

God lives in the uniqueness buried in the center of every soul.

God is precisely what is not identical — yet, this very uniqueness is what we most have in common.

The connection between our unique centers gives life value.

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This center-to-center intimacy alone nourishes us. Without it, we starve. Like starving people, we lose our appetites, and eventually nourishment itself becomes life-threatening. If all we are is identity and our relationships are with instances of identity, we can never feel fulfillment, only an engorged emptiment.

The Buddhists describe hungry ghosts as having have tiny throats and huge hollow bellies they cannot fill. Hungry ghosts are identical.

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Liberalism is the coalition of the unique.

We are the ones who value the unique, and want to protect and cultivate uniqueness in ourselves and in every other person.

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Liberalism is politics of protecting each and everyone one of us from politics and its imposition of  unwanted, unchosen identities.

We might have to join together temporarily to oppose the imposition of identities upon us, but in the process we must take care not to lose our uniqueness.

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

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The ideal liberal wants to overcome identifications as soon as possible, and to invite out the strange and surprising being hidden inside the stranger. This is not done through “good listening”. It is done through a collaborative act of conversation, through which uniqueness meets uniqueness, and creates uniqueness.

My best voice

I believe I’m finding my best voice for this time. I have to say something, and I have to say it the right way.

A sample of this new voice, which I sent a friend of mine, explains why I need to speak up.

Who-respect vs what-respect

Respect is a universal need.

Everyone wants and needs respect.

We need self-respect, and we need respect from others. Many of us are too proudly individualistic to admit it that we need respect from others, but we absolutely need to be respected. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. It’s bad for everyone.

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Some people have learned to view everything and everyone in terms of power, and this is unfortunate.

Seeing the world through the lens of power invites comparisons, confrontations, competitiveness, defensiveness. A powerful person threatens the power of another.

Respect is different. A respected, respectful person is no threat to anyone. A respectful person gives respect, wins respect and makes respect increase everywhere respect is exchanged.

People with healthy self-respect who are deeply respected by people around them are rarely ruthless power-seekers. But power-seekers often do disrespectful things to gain an advantage or defend a vulnerability, and are more often resented or feared rather than respected.

We are better off understanding each other as respect-seeking beings.

Seeing the world through the lens of respect-seeking makes us more respectful and more respectable.

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The best kind of respect is who-respect: the respect for who we are as a person.

If we feel that we cannot be respected for who we are, we will seek what-respect: a respect for what category of person we think we are.

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What-respect, however, cannot substitute for who-respect.

What-respect can alleviate social starvation, but not much more than that.

When our self-respect is mostly what-respect, and whatever respect we get from others is mostly what-respect, we cannot be satisfied with ourselves, with anyone we know or with the world. A diet of too much what-respect and too little who-respect leaves a soul irritable, anxious and resentful.

What-respect is empty calories for the soul.

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The only thing worse than what-respect is what-disrespect, a withholding of all respect on the basis of what someone is said to be.

Sadly, what-disrespect functions like an appetite suppressant. If you are starving for respect and lose all hope that you will ever get it — or worse, if you have never experienced who-respect and are blind even to its possibility — disrespecting others can dull the pain and replace it with a hot rush of ecstasy. There is no nourishment in it, but at least you aren’t the only one starving, and it doesn’t feel nearly as bad.

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Respect means caring what another person is seeing when they look back at you. Etymologically, it means back-look. When I look at you, I don’t only care what I see, I also care what you see looking back.

Respect is an empathic disposition to try to understand not only how you feel, or what you think, but also for why you think and feel what you do. It does not mean I have to uncritically accept everything you say. Respect is exchanged, and that means we must expect to have our thoughts and feelings respected. For some people an argument is one of the best opportunities to show respect.

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When we meet someone for the first time, we start a delicate respect process.

No matter how much we regret the fact, a new person arrives packaged in whats. Some people try desperately to shut out these whats and whatever implications they carry for us. Many of us think this is the point where we battle our racism. We try to force ourselves to think all the right things and produce all the right gestures and we get all tight and tangled and calculated like an over-scripted politician. This is forced what-respect, and it interferes with the real goal: letting this new person be who they are. That won’t happen when you are too terrified to let them know who you are, because what you are trying to be is a good what. Just give up on the what, and ask questions until you can calm down enough to be who you are.

Even the kindest what-respect obstructs who-respect.

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For heaven’s sake, don’t attempt to mirror the contempt you imagine this what you are attempting to think and do all the right things for. Seeking affirmation by producing what-disrespect is no way to exchange who-respect with another person.

And if this other person you are trying to know does seem to require you to what-disrespect yourself as a condition for approval, you are in a difficult situation. It is likely they are addicted to what-respect and what-disrespect and might know nothing else.

A moral genius might know how to summon up enough self-respecting humanity to overcome the dynamic. More of us will fuck it all up by giving them the self-denigration or self-abasement we think they want, or attempt to defend our own honor by confronting and insulting them, or if we are wise we get out of that situation and avoid further contact with them.

Nobody should ever demand anyone to compromise their self-respect.

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There is lots more to say, but this hits the main points.

I’ve been looking for a better way to represent why I care so much about liberalism, and why I believe it must not continue to be confused with selfish individualism.

When I cast liberalism as about producing optimal conditions for who-respect I feel that I am getting very close to why it matters to me.

We can argue over what those conditions are. But before I will even have that argument with anyone, I first have to know they share my commitment to liberalism.

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I don’t think I have said this even close to perfectly.

I am asking my best-spoken and most socially smart friends to rewrite whatever parts they think they can improve. If this turns out well, I might have to make a book.

Ezra Klein’s evolution

I’m not sure what happened to Ezra Klein between his infamous 2018 spat with Sam Harris and the publication of his book this year, but it seems to be a move in the right direction.

During his debate with Harris — especially toward the end as mutual frustration heated it up — he continually accused Harris of a form of false consciousness. Harris kept insisting that his political ideals were essentially left-liberal, not protecting the interests of the categories to which Klein assigned him, namely white, male, cis, heterosexual.

“All politics,” Klein asserted, “are identity politics.”

Which is true, but only if you will permit those identities to be dynamic and creatively shaped by the process of politics itself, not pre-existing, fixed and determinist, controlling the political process in ways only those in the know can fathom.

And the latter was the position Klein took in the debate. For those who subscribe to Klein’s identitarian worldview, it looked like Klein was simply repeating, with admirable patience, and just the right amount of combativeness, what social psychology has taught us about how politics really works, versus how it appears to work.

But for those who take the former position — that participants in politics form group identities that they themselves collaboratively instaurate — what Klein was doing was infuriatingly hubristic and unreflective. Klein was essentially saying that he knew what Harris’s real identity was, because he, Klein, possessed expertise on which identities are real and effective and which are delusions that conceal the political actor’s true motivations. This expertise authorized Klein to take an asymmetrical position in the debate and tell Harris objectively why Harris was making the arguments he was making, where Harris was speaking from such naivety that every claim Harris made could be diagnosed rather than addressed substantially.

In other words, Klein was imputing motives to his opponent. And he was doing so, on the basis of belief that his expertise afforded him privileged access to objectivity. These two moves are anathema to liberal-democratic dialogue. It is a technocratic form of illiberalism, and it exemplifies what has turned half of our nation against all claims to expertise.

This display of technocratic, classist arrogance ended my admiration for Klein. I couldn’t even hear his voice without bristling.

However, since Klein has started promoting Why We’re Polarized, I’ve been hearing him not only include political identity in his schema of legit identities, but considering them to be among the most important.

This makes me wonder if he would debate Harris differently today, especially if Harris were to do what he should have at the time: insist that his primary identity is liberal-democratic. And that his liberal-democratic identity is being attacked when members of other political groups scoff at his ideals and dismiss them as a vehicle for his true racist, sexist, etc. identity interests. It is a double-attack, because it is denying the very existence of his identity in a manner that violates the principles of liberal-democracy.

I think I would feel better about Ezra Klein if he would explicitly acknowledge that he has changed his position to allow identity based on political ideals, and admit that this is a departure from the position he took when he debated Harris.

And I would re-enlist as a fan if he would add to this that when he did these things he was doing so, not as an objective egalitarian, but as an impassioned member of a very powerful political identity, whose power was acting on him unconsciously and made him feel entitled to dictate what is true and good to a member of a socially inferior political identity.

Faith and belief-production

On Facebook Leafy said “My friend and I have been asking ourselves WHY people have so much contempt now for experts. … Stephen’s contribution is: Americans still fundamentally live in a culture informed by a team spirit that pits Science against Christianity, as if these things were part of the same sport. Even though many claim not to believe in God, we still tend to thus address all knowledge through the lens of authoritarianism, dogma, and faith. Since the development of the scientific method, modern science has always recognized that knowledge is a work in process, and that part of the Great Work is to prove ourselves wrong. But most Americans nevertheless now apprehend Science as substitute for Christianity, and blame it as if it were a bad religion with evil priests when it doesn’t immediately have all the right answers.”

I felt a need to clarify:

My point was that America still lives with unconscious habits of thought that form its beliefs, and that this is true not only for the right, but also for the left.
 
If your faith-habits lead you to reject explicit belief in, say, original sin, in invisible demonic forces, in metaphysical moralism, in the future coming of a kingdom of god, in a conversion that makes the scales fall from your eyes (so you can experience the true Truth), that the beliefs you claim are true change your moral status, etc., etc. etc., if your faith-habits remain the same as before, you’ll just trade out one believed-in entity for another, and they’ll perform very similar functions. The more ideologically-driven a person is the more conspicuous this becomes.
 
To root out not only the beliefs but the belief-producing faiths, you have have to examine the what, how and why of your thinking, iteratively design and try on new concepts and methods of thinking until something starts making new sense of our experience — and then the hard work starts of gradually rebuilding our habits around this new kind of conceiving, perceiving, thinking and responding. This is a much more arduous process than having a brilliant flash of insight into the true Truth that either wokes you or red-pills you, and knocks you right off your horse.
 
But our faith leads us to anticipate some great eureka that delivers us to righteousness. So if we happen to hear something that gives us a minute of conceptual coherence, we interpret it as finally seeing the light. Nope, it’s just the effect of ideological coherence when you’re not accustomed to it. Many other worldviews/lifeworlds are possible. And I promise, most of those many others will actually work better than the kind that bowls folks over who don’t think much about their thinking.
And then I added the following, because I just cannot resist beating two of my deadest horses 1) fundamentalism-is-a counterfeit-religion, and 2) scientistic-belief-is-a-form-of-fundamentalism:

…And further, [when someone rejects beliefs without rejecting the faith that produces and sustains them] because only the what of the belief has changed but the how of the believing is left untouched, most folks who “believe in science” do so in the same manner as those who “believe in Jesus”. In other words, they are scientistic, not scientific.

But to clarify, I do not consider scientistic thinking to be an infection of science with religious thinking. Believing in this manner ruins religious practice at least as much. “Believing in Jesus” with a faith that thinks that certain facts we can hold in our heads are like golden tickets that get you into the heavenly chocolate factory — that’s ideology, not religion. And the only thing it has to do with religion is that it body-snatches and reanimate religious symbols. It is a horrible shame that people equate fundamentalism with religion. Fundamentalism and religion couldn’t be more different.

Liberalism’s dependence on democracy

In a stable liberal democracy, the majority of citizens must consent to a shared vision of liberty.

As soon as some powerful minority imposes a vision of liberty that the majority experiences as unjust, the fragile alliance between democracy and liberalism begins to break down.

This will happen even if that minority is entirely correct about absolutely everything — that it really does have special access to the absolute moral truth, thanks to better education, purer motives, or more reliable techniques for counterbalancing its biases and neutralizing its own motivated reasoning — or any other similar claims that justify privileging one’s own judgment and enforcing one’s own convictions over the unconvinced.

If the unconvinced also think they have privileged access to the truth (and they do think that!), and however wrong they may be (and they are wrong about having special access to the truth!), the righteousness of the minority will not matter: the majority is going to assert its will. Angry majorities tend to have the advantage over righteous minorities in such conflicts.

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One of the consolation prizes of vulnerability is you can never forget how dependent you are on persuasion for your very survival. This, and this alone, is what gives the marginal person some kind of intellectual privilege.

Extending the autism spectrum

I see the autism spectrum as one half of a much longer spectrum, one that runs from the extreme pole of full autism (mind-blindness to others) to full borderline (mind-blindness to oneself).

A person (or group) unbalanced toward the autism end of this enlarged spectrum will proudly refuse to care what anyone else thinks. A person (or group) unbalanced toward the borderline end will feel existentially threatened by the thoughts of others, because the thoughts of others is the sole source of selfhood for the borderline personality.

The ideal, of course is the middle region, where we are aware of what others are thinking, feeling and intending, but we remain rooted in what we ourselves think, feel and intend. Even when we consider changing our views, we do so as ourselves, making an evaluation and decision.

This ideal is represented in my Geometric Meditations book in the symbol of the spiral.

 

 

The Great Awokening

“One thing I’ve always heard on the right is ‘Oh, a Great Awakening is gonna save us. You know we don’t need to do anything. God will come down and save us.’ We may have a Great Awakening but there’s no guarantee that the religion that will be awoken will be a reasonable one or an orthodox one. If anything you could argue we are in the midst of a Great Awakening right now and it’s the Great Awokening. It’s this secularized fanatical identitarian religion that preserves the Christian categories of original sin and inherited guilt but removes the possibility of redemption.” — David Azerrad, introducing a Ross Douthat talk.

In search of liberalism

What I have been looking for is a vision of liberalism that justifies personhood (individuality) as our best access to God, because 1) it is only as a person that we encounter God as God, 2) it is only in interaction with fellow persons willing to accept and share personal uniqueness that we encounter God in others, and 3) it is through authentically personal and interpersonal encounters with reality in its myriadfold being that humankind cultivates living, sustaining communities.

Such person-founded communities help people 1) intuitively and spontaneously feel the value of life because the value of life flows into it from what surrounds and exceeds it, 2) to act effectively to create, preserve, repair and strengthen the necessary conditions for community in which personhood flourishes and 3) to share, preserve and honor these understanding through clear, demonstrable and inspiring accounts of truth, but truth that is sharply aware that it is only a part of reality, a mediating surface — a person-reality interface — not a container for reality, and certainly not a substitute.

Truth is especially not a container or substitute for any person. This is the crux of liberalism.

Where we try to substitute truth for reality and most of all the reality of others, we suffer the fate of King Midas. Everything and everyone we touch turns to cold, hard truth, and the world becomes a lonely, pointless and oppressive place.

“Transgressive realism”

Reading the introduction of Jean Wahl’s Human Existence and Transcendence, I came across this:

With this critique, Jean Wahl, at least I would argue, anticipates an important dimension of contemporary Continental thought, which has recently been quite daringly called by an anglo- saxon observer, “transgressive realism”: that our contact with reality at its most real dissolves our preconceived categories and gives itself on its own terms, that truth as novelty is not only possible, though understood as such only ex post facto, but is in fact the most valuable and even paradigmatic kind of truth, defining our human experience. The fundamental realities determinative of human experience and hence philosophical questioning — the face of the other, the idol, the icon, the flesh, the event… and also divine revelation, freedom, life, love, evil, and so forth — exceed the horizon of transcending- immanence and give more than what it, on its own terms, allows, thereby exposing that its own conditions are not found in itself and opening from there onto more essential terrain.

“Transgressive realism” jumped out at me as the perfect term for a crucially important idea that I’ve never seen named. I followed the footnote to the paper, Lee Braver’s “A brief history of continental realism” and hit pay dirt. Returning to Wahl, I find myself reading through Braver’s framework, which, of course, is a sign of a well-designed concept.

Braver presents three views of realism, 1) Active Subject (knowledge is made out out of our own human subjective structures, and attempting to purge knowledge of these subjective forms is impossible), 2) Objective Idealism (reality is radically knowable, through a historical process by which reality’s true inner-nature is incorporated into understanding), and 3) Transgressive Realism, which Braver describes as “a middle path between realism and anti-realism which tries to combine their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. Kierkegaard created the position by merging Hegel’s insistence that we must have some kind of contact with anything we can call real (thus rejecting noumena), with Kant’s belief that reality fundamentally exceeds our understanding; human reason should not be the criterion of the real. The result is the idea that our most vivid encounters with reality come in experiences that shatter our categories…”

Not only is there an outside, as Hegel denies, but we can encounter it, as Kant denies; these encounters are in fact far more important than what we can come up with on our own. The most important ideas are those that genuinely surprise us, not in the superficial sense of discovering which one out of a determinate set of options is correct, as the Kantian model allows, but by violating our most fundamental beliefs and rupturing our basic categories.

This concept is fundamental to my own professional life (studying people in order to re-understand them and the worlds they inhabit, in order induce innovations through perspective shift), to my political ideal (liberalism, the conviction that all people should be treated as real beings and not instances of other people’s categories, because each person packs the potential to disrupt the very categories we use to think them) and my deepest religious convictions (the most reliable door to God is through the surprising things other people can show you and teach you, which can shock and transfigure us and our worlds.)

Though I am Jewish — no, because I am Jewish — I will never stop admiring Jesus for combining into a single commandment the Ve’ahavta (“and you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength”) with the imperative to love your neighbor as yourself. Incredible!

Transcendence, love and offense

Transcendence is what gives all things authentic value, positive and negative.

Positively, when we value anything, and especially when we love someone, what we authentically value is precisely the reality beyond the “given”, that is, beyond what we think and what we immediately experience.

If we only love the idea of someone or if we only love the experience of being with someone, while rejecting whatever of them (or more accurately “whoever of them”) defies our will, surprises our comprehension, breaks our categorical schemas and evades our experience, we value only what is immanent to our selves: an inner refraction of self that has little to do with the real entity valued. To authentically value , to love, we must must want most of all precisely what is defiant, surprising, perplexing and hidden.

To want only what we can hope to possess is to lust; to be content with what we have is to merely like, and no amount or intensity of lusting or liking adds up to love. (To put it in Newspeak, love is not double-plus-like. Love is not the extreme point on the liking continuum, but something qualitatively and, in truth, infinitely different.)

Conversely, authentic negative value — authentic offense — is our natural and spontaneous response when another person interacts with us as if we are essentially no more than what we are to them. They reduce us without remainder to what they believe us to be, and to how they experience us. In doing this, they deny our transcendent reality. This is the universal essence of offense.

When a social order is roughly equal, it is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to oppress another with such treatment. A person can either shun the would-be oppressor, or make their reality felt by speaking out or refusing to comply with expectations. But in conditions of inequality, threat or dependence can compel a person to perform the part of the self a more powerful person imagines. This is where offense gives over to warranted hostility.

The fashionable conventional wisdom, which has been drilled into the heads of the young, gets it all backwards. Ask the average casually passionate progressivist what is wrong with racism or sexism you’ll get an answer to the effect of “racism and sexism produce or reinforce inequality and oppression.” But the truth of the matter is that inequality is bad because it allows people to get away with forcing other people to tolerate, if not actively self-suppress, self-deny and perform the role the powerful demand of them. And part of that performance is asserting the truth the powerful impose.

Ambiliberalism report, late 2019

This weekend I hit a political breaking point. While my political position is as liberal as ever, and in better times would be considered left-of-center, Progressivism has become so dominant in left-wing politics and as a whole has drifted so far from liberalism I have realized it no longer makes sense to emphasize my points of agreement with it. I am now entirely and openly opposed to it, not only to its methods and rhetoric, but to its ideal.

Progressivism presents itself as anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-prejudice, but does so by redefining racism, sexism and “bad” prejudice as bad only when deployed from positions of power. This means that if you claim to speak on behalf of a less powerful identity you can indulge your hatred toward (allegedly) more powerful categories of people without the risk of being called a racist, a sexist, or a bigot and whatever hateful language you use or vicious sentiments you express cannot be called hate speech, because you are “punching up” from a position of relative weakness.

And because Progressivists have a monopoly on determining what identities are politically relevant and which are not, Progressivism is protected from being itself understood as an identity — much less an overwhelmingly powerful identity. In many social milieus, including corporate workplaces, Progressivism is by far the most powerful ideology, both capable and eager to “punch down” with crushing force from positions of authority.

Progressivists have a collective habit of scoffing at such claims and reacting in the manner that all overwhelmingly powerful groups do when confronted with their own prejudice (with dismissal, fragility, offense, rage, etc.). They appear to lack the ironic and emotional self-discipline to recognize when they themselves are facing truths outside their own comfort zones and to respond with the empathy and openness they demand from others.

So, I’m not even sure what the practical consequence this shift will have besides refusing to stress points of agreement when speaking with Progressivists, and not pleading with them to see me as a fellow left-liberal. They’re not liberals, and I’m not all that sure most of them know what left means, either. I’m definitely not going to cooperate with racist, sexist, bigoted and hate-saturated redefinitions of racism, sexism, bigotry and hate speech. They need to be called out, however unpopular they are and however much racists and sexists and bigots resent being told the truth.

I’ve also redrawn my Ambiliberal diagram to situate my own Liberal Pluralism against Progressivist identitarianism and its antithetical twin, the Alt-Right.