Friday, August 31, 2012

my TotE review

So I have a review up of Twilight of the Elites, over at The New Inquiry, which you can check out. Chris Hayes, with typical equanimity, tweets about it:



Perhaps it doesn't come off in the review, but to be plain: my affection and respect for Hayes are very real. It's hard for me to envision liking and respecting a prominent figure in the media more. He's brilliant and committed and incorruptible, and I don't give false praise.

My fundamental point in the review is only that Hayes is perfectly emblematic of mainstream American liberalism; he has an analytical take on our current predicament that implies far more radicalism than he is willing to countenance in his prescriptions. Honestly: I'm impressed and enthused by just how scathing the conventional liberal take on modern America is. They diagnose our problems, correctly, as coming from corporate and aristocratic capture. More and more often, in my experience, they arrive at the correct perspective that such capture by money is an inevitable consequence of our capitalism, at least, if not all capitalism. And then you say "So look, guys, we are not getting out of this mess through the system that you say has been captured," and you get that record-scratching stop.

What I am doing in my review is to take Hayes's argument seriously. I am suggesting that taking it seriously requires the consideration of the not-very-nice. I don't think that we can achieve the change Hayes wants without shitting on some people Hayes loves very much. I doubt we can achieve it without dashing my own dreams of a comfortable middle class parlor radical future.

Look at Kevin Drum. Dude makes some brutal criticisms of the American political system. You propose one solution that's more radical than, like, minimally tweaking the Earned Income Tax Credit, and he has a seizure. "No! Teh politics! Center-right country! Triangulation! Argle bargle!" And I just want to say, for fuck sakes, guys, do you want us to take your critique seriously or don't you? If Kevin Drum is correct in his role as analyst of our current predicament, then we're beyond little moves here. If the point is merely that we are likely to fail, that's okay. Meet me behind the shed, I'll bring the whiskey. I am not an optimist. But something is fundamentally not working here and I would rather take the chance of meeting exigence with appropriate effort.

I will take being accurate and being mean over the typical alternative, which is to be nice and useless. I do apologize to Hayes if he thinks that my ad hominem was intended to hurt his feelings. It rather was intended to make a point that he himself makes in the book: that he is a part of the system that he indicts, just as I am. (I am, indeed, a more direct participant.) That Hayes's social and personal relations contribute to a network of privilege is, again, a point that I doubt he would dispute. So what is illegitimate about my pointing it out? I'm not sure. Given the typical fury which attends my every attempt to interrogate the influence of the social in human power relationships, most people seem to intuitively see it that way.

I am an incredibly easy person to ignore, so if I'm wrong, it's whatever. If I'm right, then eventually mainstream liberalism is going to have to make hard choices. I'll give the reactionary lunatics who dominate the Republican party this: there is a perfect logic between the extremism of their diagnosis and the extremism of their prescription. And they don't care whose feelings they hurt.

7 comments:

Afshin said...

Forgive me for going straight to the point, but I found your prescription in the article wanting. Here's the quote:

The only alternative to an oligarchic society then is a radical leveling, a forever jubilee. The details of this become irrelevant if the outcome is assured: no false diversity in resources or power, only the teeming difference of all things human. No notion of human deserts, no thoughts of reciprocity, no assumption that exchange is beneficial or proper, no anachronistic concept that one can justify one’s conditions through reference to their behavior. And the leveling must be enforced by all means necessary. Today’s liberals love to debate regulation against redistribution. When you’re facing a man with a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

Simply put, you provide no positive notion that is to be considered the foundation of a robust society. It's like saying to write well one shouldn't bring their laptop to bed, but the central question remains unanswered: what strategies and techniques are involved in writing well.

The Occupy Movement as Slavoj Žižek has countlessly pointed out was successful in that it rebuked the conceptual relationship between 'the people' and its 'leaders'. They didn't perpetuate the false legitimacy of power by going to Capitol Hill and request them to listen to their complaints and then give them lip service on how they'll serve their narrowed interest in Congress or in the President's agenda. They merely demonstrated that there's a group of disaffected powerless people fed up with the economic system that was created through Wall Street 'neoliberalism' (or whatever self-serving capitalistic ideology Wall Street lobbyists pushed on legislators). But in the end they failed to come up with a creative political solution.

Personally speaking, I rather leapfrog the advocacy of any political ideologies and advocate the abolishment of the simpleminded First-Past-the-Post electoral system and move to a proportional representation system. It removes gerrymandering immediately as well as eliminating the asinine journalistic standard of balancing two talking points and thereby preserving the mediocre black-and-white reporting partly born out of fear to challenge lies and inaccuracies of the two dominant parties who in the end only represent the elites.

It also provides legitimacy to the weaker groups that have been continuously shut out, like Ralph Nader and Ron Paul and forces the elites to step down from their perches and actually deal with the more radical and reactionary political forces rather than neglect them and hope they die out from being disheartened and disenfranchised. As a basketball official, I'm required to address the coach amicably when he's irate even when he's wrong. Ejecting him because I was too lazy to give him a chance to calmly explain his grief over my calls would lead me straight to my assignor's office. This accountability is not to be found in the American political system.

Honestly, I have no hope for this country to make socialistic principles a priority, let alone implement, or even moving in that direction under this two-party dominated political system. How can it be done when the political system is rigged by Wall Street hedging their bets by funding two parties, journalists remaining tepid by merely repeating two talking points, and politicians feeling safe because of gerrymandered districts and the opposing party sending up weak candidates to ensure extremists like Paul Ryan get elected?

So what is your ideal vision of a political society and what practical steps are you willing to take to move in that direction if not enact it?

Joseph said...

"I will take being accurate and being mean over the typical alternative, which is to be nice and useless."

Okay, but being accurate and mean does not necessarily mean you are being useful in the way you mean (or so I infer). This fact is something you seem to acknowledge when you state:

"I am an incredibly easy person to ignore"

So why are you being mean and accurate? Is it about achieving ideological objectives or is about how it makes you feel? On the other hand, I might be completely misreading what you mean by useful.

Anonymous said...

I look at Drum and Digby as part of a vast containment vessel for smart liberals disenchanted with our system and ultimately terrified of the necessary correctives. Their raison d'être, consciously or explicitly as operatives, is to preach to those about to go off the reservation, pulling them back into the fold of the status-quo. They grasp the depth of our problems and the radical solutions that were required years ago but b/c their own privilege would be threatened if the entire system is rejiggered they coo sweet palliative reassurance to those losing faith.

We’re talking about scared individuals, and they should be scared, who however wretched their lives will keep on keeping on b/c any path to a better alternative is strewn with uncertainty and risk. In this regard, like most in human history, they’re cowards. Party and politician or rhetoricians stand in for church and preacher beautifully—keeping the faith despite all evidence that argues against it. But the hopeful thing is shit is going to get arguably not merely worse but horribly worse and the risk won’t seem that great anymore. This is where elites are demonstrably stupid—you have to shave off a bit of that pie to feed to middle classes to keep them pliant and divided from the proles. If these latter groups interests start to align, if the bourgeoisie’s sympathies are no longer with their lords but with the dirty rabble, well, then the whole fucking thing is going to blow up in your face.

Han said...

Sometimes when I read (excellent!) articles like your review, I can't help but wonder if the (Far) Lefts' basket of values is so quixotic that in the short run it always does more damage than good. Look at the violent revolutions. Can we really say they were worth it? It's the same proletariat we claim to be concerned about who end up ground under the wheels of the tanks, right?

The most horrible thing for us to countenance is the true conservative ideology: that perhaps even the masses will be happy with a fixed, hierarchical, unequal system, as long as it's stable and peaceful and everyone "knows their place". Isn't our uncertainty about status what drives us (overeducated?) left-wingers to instigate so-called grassroots movements?

To put it in vulgar terms: what if ignorance really is bliss, even for the slave or untouchable?

Or, alternatively, perhaps there is a kind of perverse joy in submitting mindlessly to a god, or a king, or a Dear Leader?

Baroness said...

"I am an incredibly easy person to ignore".

Freddie, I am a great admirer of yours, will always take time to read what you've written, for a few years now, on multiple sites. I honestly have to ask, to whom this uh, humble declaration addressed? Not Chris Hayes, clearly. Who is ignoring you?

Besides your very intelligent and worthwhile posts such as your own blog here, Balloon Juice, LoOG, The New Inquiry as here, I'm sure there's many others- you have or had been a prolific commenter on at least a dozen other websites that I read or have read, under your own name, over the past six years or so. And you were far from easy to ignore. In fact, your smart, articulate comments often sparked lively discussion.
Not always favorable to your opinions! Sometimes presenting sensitive lady-sorts with provocative ideas. That were not appreciated!

I appreciated them, not to agree or disagree, just that I have always found you an interesting and distinctive voice, even in mere comment sections at Gawker, say. Your personality shines through your text , distinct. And you always acquitted yourself admirably defending yourself in certain shitstorms that were sent your way. As someone who used to like to liven certain commenting sections with a verbal firecracker or two, I always admired your aplomb and sincerity.

My point: even in the vulgar marketplace of mere comment sections, you were rarely ignored. Seeing your posts (again, under your own name, which is brave), well, they were and are always worth reading. I mean your current proper posts and articles at BJ and the like. Always worth reading, and you are a smart guy who makes great articulate points.

But who's ignoring you, exactly? People tend not to ignore you, I've noticed, Hayes hasn't ignored you. No offense, but I wonder if you mean really major bookers on MSNBC or something are "ignoring you".

I mean, probably not, but saying, ""I am an incredibly easy person to ignore" is just bosh and and insincere humblebrag, forgive my saying. I always notice your name and byline or comments, you're quite distinct. Keep doing what you're doing, just drop the wimpy comments like that. It seems like a sulk that who you think are the right people are ignoring you. Anyway, my very best to you. Stop with the self-deprecation, it's unnecessary and people hate hearing others put themselves down. You're far from ignored. Take care, keep doing good work.

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