Archives for category: Politics

To understand postmodernism, one must first have a basic understanding of modernism. Luckily, modernism is far less complex than postmodernism, which hopefully makes understanding postmodernism easier as well. Modernism is a paradigm that says that we’ve figured everything out, science has won, our current institutions never need to change again, and any form of progress will only be the refinement of things that we currently have got going for us right now. It’s the paradigm of Fukuyama’s “End of History.” There’s no point in talking about things anymore; this is it.

Postmodernism is the reply to that which says, “Wellllllll….. I mean…. really? Literally everyone in the past has said that their way of thinking is irrefutably true, but you’re super sure that you’ve got it this time?”

This of course is completely reasonable. Modernists give primacy to science; science is about the refutation of existing theories (except apparently when it comes to the primacy of science and other modernist principles which can never possibly be refuted), so why is there such blowback against attempts to refute existing theories? Postmodernism is applying rational skepticism to firmly entrenched ideas and values. This is usually done by looking at an idea that is taken for granted as true, analyzing its history, and then pointing out flaws that have been imbued in that idea since its inception. Postmodernists usually leave it up to us to decide what to do with their criticism, but it’s generally assumed that a revaluation of that idea is the implied minimum.

For a couple of examples, capitalism is an economic system founded in colonialism and slavery. Tracing its history to today, one can see threads of that continuing in the exploitation of third world countries for first world profits. Postmodernism stops there. It has never been big on solutions, just pointing out the problems. I’ve also outlined the general thesis of Foucault’s evolution of punishment here. This blog is essentially a postmodern analysis of contemporary justice. Basically if you’re criticizing something by looking at how its history has shaped its current incarnation, you’re doing postmodernism. Nietzsche was actually one of the first postmodernists. In The Genealogy of Morals, he takes the firmly established Christian way of life, and then deconstructs it as the “slave morality” response to the Roman “master morality”, thus leading to the insipidness of his time. The difference I guess is that Nietzsche offered a solution.

Here’s the thing: nobody likes postmodernists. Which is weird because skepticism has been around for a looonnnng time. Postmodernists are attacked for not liking science and reason; David Hume posited that causality is unknowable; Renee Descartes suggested that mathematical truths could be the deception of an evil demon, and thus could not be held self-evident; Sextus Empiricus, one of the most famous Greek skeptics, provided proofs both for and against the gods; Socrates denied traditional piety, values, language, epistemology, justice… so many things. Much like Socrates, postmodernists get a lot of grief because they attack the paradigm of those in power. They are the gadflies of modernity.

If you watch any video on postmodernism, you’ll probably see somewhere in the comments advice from helpful Youtubers to check out Jordan Peterson, because he knows about postmodernism, and he says it’s bad. Let’s look at some of his criticisms:

It’s an attack on rationality/empiricism/science: That’s one way of framing it, sure, but that isn’t unprecedented even in the most enlightened of circles, and it’s not actually the case. Postmodernism appreciates other ways of knowing, rather than baldly accepting the deification of reason. Maybe beauty has some truth worth knowing, or empathy might reveal something about the universe. Ask yourself, “How can I prove that reason is the ultimate way of knowing?” You can answer either with reason, which would lead to an infinite regress (proving reason with reason would require further reason to prove the second reason), or with some other way of knowing, which shows the value of an alternative. It’s not that science is wrong or bad, it’s that it’s not alone.

It suggests multiple viewpoints, which means there can be no true viewpoint. The only reason we have an agreed upon viewpoint is because it belongs to those in power: Well, yeah. Read a book. History belongs to the victors, right? Those with the most power are going to organize things so that they keep winning. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Everyone knows politicians are corrupt because they do everything to keep their power, but nobody can make the leap to other facets of our society functioning on the same premise? Please.

Next would be the relativism implied in the criticism: the difficulty we have with truth does not mean that there cannot be a best viewpoint, and deciding which is best is a lot more complicated than accepting the current system simply because that’s the way it has always been. Perhaps with a postmodern lens, we can better understand which viewpoint has the greatest benefit.

There is no individual in postmodernism, just identity. It splits people into an oppressor and oppressed class: Again, yes. Economists and statisticians split people into identifiable variables all the time. It makes measuring trends easier. It’s a way of analyzing social phenomena. If one group is lumped together into an oppressor class, that’s because historically that group has tended to behave in that pattern and now benefits from that history, even if you don’t accept that that practice continues today. It’s not complicated.

Postmodernists are all Marxists. They don’t engage in dialogue. They want to destroy everything: To sum up, postmodernism corrupts the youth. Peterson is famous for wanting to shut down university courses that he believes perpetuate postmodern ideas and “cultural Marxism.” This is the exact charge the Athenians levied against Socrates. There is a lot of propaganda against postmodernists by those who stand to lose under their dissecting eye. Peterson is a buffoon.

There are some valid criticisms of postmodernism, even in this blog. You may have noticed I repeatedly pointed out that it doesn’t offer solutions. Beyond this, it denies any Grand Narrative, which in theory could be used to unify people even if today they are mostly used for jingoist purposes. When people call postmodernism a philosophy I usually cringe because I see it more as sociology rather than philosophy. A postmodernist is more likely to criticize bourgeois philosophy than participate within it, and fair enough.

The true skeptic holds that every belief must be questioned, including the belief that every belief must be questioned. Postmodernism is not beyond criticism, and nobody says it should be. It’s just that too much of its criticism has been coming from people who lump it in with “Cultural Marxism“, and those people are just so, so dumb and are ruining things for everyone. I just want to go back to writing about how empathy isn’t real and the Marxist implications of Facebook, but NOOOOooooo! I have to write out entire blogs explaining why alt-right talking points are wrong.

Post-script: In that Jordan Peterson video, he says that he read Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, and then says that its theme is that the presentation of mental illness is shaped by the conditions of its surrounding environment. That’s… not what the book is about at all. The book is about showing how mental illness is framed in moral terms, as a manifestation of an unreason contrasting the social norms of its environment. Kind of like how being transgender is seen as morally deviant because it flies in the face of the traditional understandings of gender. It’s actually exactly like that. Peterson either never actually read the book and is posturing (so smugly) to seem smart to his followers, or he’s just really, really dumb and didn’t pick up what Foucault wrote out explicitly like, a bunch of times throughout the book. It really seems to me that Jordan Peterson learned about postmodernism from a Jordan Peterson video, and didn’t investigate further because whatever, he gets to be famous for being the stupid man’s smart person.

Advertisements

There is this belief that the centre possesses the highest moral value. The Golden Mean of Aristotle suggests that the ethical character exists between two extremes. Between cowardice and rashness is bravery; between stinginess and prodigality is liberality. When applied to politics, the spectrum appears as a horseshoe with the Right and Left extremes meeting near the bottom, allegedly indistinguishable from one another, and the glorious yet humble centrists take their position at the pinnacle of enlightened political thought.

13493486_f1024

It kind of looks like seating arrangements with the head of the table being really conspicuously obvious. Whoever came up with Horseshoe Theory must have been a centrist.

Of course this is incredibly patronizing to those without liberal viewpoints, but it’s also patently absurd. It’s the “both sides” rhetoric which equivocates fighting Nazis with being Nazis. The truth does not lie between two extremes of an argument. It’s like going to a court case, and assuming that justice exists somewhere in the middle between the positions of the defense and the prosecution, without listening to either side.

Not listening is key to political centrism. It’s telling victims that, while I recognize that there is bad shit going on, I understand your situation better than you, and I will judge you harshly for your response to violence that I do not have to endure. It’s telling those who victimize others that, while I recognize that what you’re doing is socially destructive, I respect your right to do so within the written law. Centrism is the perpetuation of the status quo even if the status quo is harmful to certain groups and privileges others, which means, by its very nature, centrism benefits the socially destructive simply by its passive allowance of their flourishing.

Centrists assume that any dialogue is productive. It suggests that groups who want to secure basic freedoms can solve their differences amiably over tea with others who believe those groups to be subhuman. I’m not saying that dialogue can’t solve the issue, but the type of conversation matters more than simply having a conversation. To be politically centrist is to avoid productive debate, despite conventional wisdom, because they insist that the louder and illegitimate voices have an equal seat at the table, despite the silencing effect that this has on others. Marginalized voices must be given a microphone in order to be heard above the din, and certain arguments are unjustifiable in productive dialogue, like the supremacy of one group over another, and those arguments must be quashed or ignored if we’re going to actually make any progress. White supremacy, for example, cannot be debated because it is not grounded on a debatable foundation.

Despite the language we use to understand politics as a spectrum, it’s far more complex and nuanced than a horseshoe or even a linear framework. It seems asinine to perceive climate science as a position on the political spectrum, but it is. Believing that black people should be murdered less too finds its place on the political spectrum. If someone believes that gay people shouldn’t be able to marry, we consider them right wing, but if they murder someone because they’re gay, are they are more right wing? Is murder on the political spectrum? That’s like saying a Muslim who commits a terrorist act is more Muslim than one who doesn’t. If someone believes that workers should own the means of production, we call that left wing. What about the difference between those who want to achieve it through revolution compared to those who wish to achieve it through incremental reform? Is one more left than the other? The belief is the same, the methodology is different. We consider revolution more extreme, and therefore somehow “more left”, but the basic political beliefs are identical. Political methodology should not impact political position. If we were in Eastern Germany during its Communist phase, and someone set off a car bomb because they wanted liberal democracy, would they be considered more centrist than someone who only handed out pamphlets? Jean-Jacques Rousseau would never be considered a centrist during his time, even if what he was fighting for are the values of centrists today. We have the term Overton Window to describe acceptable social discourse (ie. centrist values) which can shift depending on the surrounding culture, which means that centrism is essentially arbitrary. Politics is issue specific, and that’s why we have racist Gay Rights activists and fiscal conservatives who think pot should be legal. There isn’t really a defined spectrum, just a mainstream with the “extreme” political views falling on the outside of that. Centrism is only pop-politics.

To self-describe as centrist is nothing more than virtue signalling. It’s buying into the myth of the spectrum simply because it puts you in a flattering light. Centrists get to claim the moral high ground because of the perceived golden hue of the mean, even if what they advocate is otherwise morally bankrupt. Claiming a label that identifies you as socially responsible unlike those types is choosing to remain ignorant because the destruction going on around you does not affect you personally. Listen to the arguments, research the data, and see if “both sides” truly have equal merit.

When faced with horrific behaviour or deeds, how we respond as a society determines whether that horror is perpetuated or mitigated. Some don’t want to think about it, and just want to close their eyes and swing blindly until the evil goes away. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized that response quite candidly, “We do not understand why child predators do the heinous things they do and, in all frankness, we don’t particularly care to.” Karl Rove, on the American side of the equation, said, “Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said, We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said, We must understand our enemies.” Karl Rove was of course attacking the view that understanding one’s enemy is part of an important process to defeat them. The views expressed by Harper and Rove are akin to trying to cure cancer without ever actually learning anything about the disease. As with cancer, this approach will inevitably lead to the perpetuation of horror until it consumes us entirely. When approaching the events of Charlottesville, and the Alt-Right extremists in general, perhaps understanding their radicalization is better in the long term than the simple satisfaction of punching them in the face.

Regarding the American response to Islamic militants, Louise Richardson in her book What Terrorists Want, wrote, “We have believed that the superiority of our values and our systems of government is so self-evident that only the ignorant or the evil could reject it.” The Left has fallen into the same trap. The virtue of feminism is so abundantly clear that anyone who strays from its canon is automatically a misogynist. The righteousness of the Black Lives Matter movement shines so brightly that anyone who questions them is a racist. Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” is no different from Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” When we force a dichotomy of good versus evil, we fall into dogmatic religious absolutism: our moral high ground is all the evidence we need that our opponents are in league with Satan, metaphorically or literally, depending on your point of view. What this means is that we must abandon this illusory dichotomy and assume that the opposition has reasonable points to make. Of course, listening to opposing points of view may mean that compromises will need to be made, and zealots on both sides may deplore compromise as concession, but the alternative is purely violent. A quick look at how the War on Terror is going should show how effective that method can be.

Richardson claims that there are three criteria that need to be met in order for someone to become radicalized. There needs to be a disaffected individual, a legitimizing ideology, and an enabling community. Somewhat surprisingly, poverty in and of itself is not linked to increased radicalization, neither is it linked to stupidity. Where the link does exist is in the perils of social change. According to Richardson, “Rapid socioeconomic changes are conducive to instability and tend to erode traditional forms of social control. These situations are then open to exploitation by militants offering to make sense of these changes, to blame others for the dislocations and humiliations involved, and to offer a means of redress.” One of Donald Trump’s campaign videos highlights this social change perfectly, as it references the stable, good paying jobs that are in sharp decline, the establishment’s participation within that decline through iniquitous trade deals, and the centralizing of power into corporate and political hands. Trump’s community is, according to his legitimizing ideology, the only group capable of standing up and redressing these social imbalances. Of course he points to immigrants as responsible for this destabilization, but the socioeconomic change is there, and it is leaving enough people behind that radicalization is an obvious response.

Richardson is writing about terrorist movements, and there are few who describe the Alt-Right as a terrorist group, but there has been enough violence (such as Charlottesville, the Charleston church shooting, the Portland train stabbing, etc.) that I think looking at the direct motivation for terrorist acts is important here too. They are revenge, renown, and reaction. An IRA member may blow up a police station because the British Armed Forces violently abused a Catholic nun. An Islamic martyr seeks validation and celebrity from his community. The undiscriminating brutality of the War on Terror has created a massive influx in terrorist numbers, making 9/11 a success far surpassing what Osama Bin Laden could ever have hoped for, legitimizing his cause beyond his wildest dreams. If we consider the Alt-Right a terrorist organization, what do they seek when their members commit violence?

Something Richardson points out is that if we are ever to have a dialogue, we must admit to our own failings, our own infliction of suffering, rather than focusing solely on the suffering inflicted against us. Peace in the Middle East is impossible until the voices that matter acknowledge the illegality of Israeli settlements in Palestine, for example. What does the Alt-Right have to complain about though? If all our news is filtered through our political biases before we even look at it, it is unlikely we will ever come across the misdeeds of those from “our side.” For example, a disabled, white teenager was gang beaten, tied up, and tortured by a group of people yelling, “Fuck Donald Trump! Fuck white people!” Someone else took the time to replace cis, het, white, and male with Jew in select comments to show what SJW vitriol looks like: “My sister learned a valuable lesson when she was young – never trust a Jew.” “Listen to me you fucking twat. You are a fucking Jew. Jews don’t get to talk shit about anybody. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. You lost that right when you were born a Jew.” And so on. There was the Dallas Police shooting that prompted obvious propaganda from Alt-Right networks. And then of course the random violence committed by Antifa that is legitimized by the argument that the receptors of violence deserve it simply because they hate our freedoms. Since organizations like Black Lives Matter and Antifa don’t really have a leadership caste to denounce the actions of extremists who operate under their banner, these acts appear to go unchallenged by left-wing progressives. Feminism, being an ideology, cannot comment on the behaviour of those who adhere to it either.

Richardson says that in a war of ideologies, the values and principles of the “good” ideology must remain consistent, since blatant hypocrisy will only serve the argument of your opponents. Even in the sake of emergency, our values are what we’re fighting for, so abandoning them is self-destructive both against ourselves and in the battles abroad. Reaction is a goal sought by terrorists, and if that reaction betrays spoken principles, then their goal is a success because they’ve shown the flimsiness of those principles. “The Intolerant Left” is a rallying cry specifically because it showcases the hypocrisy of those who preach tolerance yet will not accept dissenting views, unless that dissenting view is proselytized by someone less privileged. Equality is laughed at when feminists willfully ignore male issues that place them in a less privileged position.

Yes, it’s propaganda, but its data is accurate. What’s the best way to counteract this narrative? Should its concerns be addressed?

Part of understanding radicalization is learning the nature of its appeal. If being a white man is so great, why are these individuals becoming so disaffected? Why would they seek to embolden their white identity? If one looks at what creates identity in today’s culture (consumerism driven by advertising, impossible role models derived from movies and television, dead ideals of achievable success), and then you consider the allure of inherent acceptance based on an identity derived from ethnicity and gender as found in progressive movements, why wouldn’t these groups seek out a similar way of defining themselves? In the Feminist rejection of #NotAllMen and the language of Dear White People, the generalizations against that demographic alienates them into the warm embrace of those who are willing to give them that inherent acceptance.

We must know thy enemy, so to speak. What are their goals? What would need to occur to reduce disaffection? What is their plan? What is the internal dynamic of their group? Is there dissent or warring factions that could be utilized to destabilize the movement? By refusing to investigate and then, in turn, negotiate, even if it’s simply to gather information about that organization, all that is being done is prolonging the conflict. Negotiation may be seen as a means of legitimizing that ideology, but the alternative is ineffective warfare or genocide. Would the Left be willing to accept white identity if supremacy was not attached to it? Is an ethnostate a universally agreed upon notion within the Alt-Right? Richardson, “By knowing your enemies, you can find out what it is they want. Once you know what they want, you can then decide whether to deny it to them and thereby demonstrate the futility of their tactic, give it to them, or negotiate and give them a part of it in order to cause them to end their campaign.”  If the goals of a radicalized group are non-negotiable, then the next step is isolating them from their enabling community.

The best policies in regard to reducing radicalization will focus on the enabling community, as unstructured groups will always fail without necessary support, so the question that must be asked is what is the best way to undermine support for Alt-Right beliefs in the wider community? According to Richardson, “We must demonstrate in our reaction to them that we respect the right of others to oppose us. We simply do not accept their right to express their opposition through terrorism.” What Richardson is suggesting is that moderate groups must be empowered to speak out against us, since criticism is a necessary component of any dialogue. These moderate groups will act as a counterbalance to the violent extremists, and in turn will reduce their efficacy in gaining new members. Regarding the Alt-Right, one could perhaps encourage the ideology behind the Men’s Rights Movement. It has been argued that MRAs are often the disaffected individuals who become radicalized into Alt-Right movements, and so empowering those dissenting voices could bring back into the fold those with less extreme views. Male issues have some merit, and enabling that discussion will greatly delegitimize the extremist Alt-Right perspectives of supremacy and oppression.

Ingratiating your side toward the community at large is also another way to reduce animosity that may lead to radicalization. Richardson cites an example of the humanitarian aid that America provided to Indonesia after an earthquake in 2004, and how the Muslim opinion in the country improved radically toward the Americans, and greatly decreased against Osama bin Laden because of their charitable relief effort. If Black Lives Matter held a fundraising drive for residents of the Vancouver East Side, would it be as easy for their critics to denounce them? Ingratiating ourselves to our community, building bonds and securing trust, is what will win the hearts and minds needed for an ideological battle.

When combating extremism and radicalization, we need to create specific goals. When George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan before him, declared a war on terrorism, they doomed themselves to fail right from the beginning. If Bush had declared that America would subdue the leadership of al-Qaeda, then that is something tangible that could be achieved. Even reducing extremist allure is a reasonable goal, but then one must recognize that it is a political goal, not a military one, and must be fought accordingly with appropriate tactics for its achievement. In regard to the denouncement of the Alt-Right, if all we say is we want to eliminate racism, that is just as feasible a goal as waging a war against a tactic.

Richardson says, “The language of warfare connotes action and immediate results. We need to replace this language with the language of development and construction and the patience that goes along with it.” If we are really going to try to eliminate far right radicalization without succumbing to oppressive authoritarianism, we must see our ideological opponents as salvageable, not deplorable. There is a non-profit organization in the United States, Life After Hate, that seeks to de-radicalize individuals by connecting them with the communities that they hold in disregard, to show them that there exists a world beyond their narrowly defined worldview. There are methods of reducing extremism. We have to look for them if we wish to eliminate it, and unfortunately, the answers lie behind the voices of those touting extremist views. It is almost certainly a difficult task, but the alternative is allowing it to flourish, and that makes it easier to see which option is more palatable.