GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

May 31, 2016


Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:00 am

I would like to roll some of my recent reflections on the victimary, the alt-right and related matters into this very fruitful way of thinking about the victimary from Eric Gans’s latest Chronicle:

“PC” suggests political orthodoxy, but it is more useful to understand its root basis in ethical terms, which alone can explain its power even in conservative circles. The fundamental ethical posture of PC is the fiction that, as in the originary event, all humanity is present at every conversation, so that any utterance that can be suspected of predicating something unfavorable, whether factual or not, of a category of people, particularly an ascriptive category, is to be avoided out of consideration for that group’s claim on universal human status. If all political discussion be considered the equivalent of such a universal conversation, then any reference to disparities in competence, however “objective,” violates the moral model in which all humans participate symmetrically, as in the originary event, in the exchange of signs. Any suggestion of unequal competence is not merely impolite but immoral, the equivalent of denying someone the vote because he or she is less intelligent or well-educated than others. The enforcement of originary equality, on the back burner throughout the long history of hierarchical society although affirmed in principle by Christian doctrine, was brought to the fore in reaction to the racialism of the Axis in WWII and particularly to the Holocaust. We should not forget that the expansion of the political/voting class in Western countries to include Jews, the members of nonwhite races, persons without property, and finally, women, took place over several generations and ended in most places less than a century ago.

The notion that the fundamental fiction of “PC” is that all of humanity is present at each conversation is, I think, not only exactly right but a way of thinking about the victimary that is originary, down to earth and commonsensical, and generative. Let’s work through the above the discussion step by step.

…so that any utterance that can be suspected of predicating something unfavorable, whether factual or not, of a category of people, particularly an ascriptive category, is to be avoided out of consideration for that group’s claim on universal human status.

The so that makes some very specific assumptions about conversation. First, that a conversation can only be sustained among those who make maximal assumptions regarding each other’s shared humanity. Only the most favorable assumptions about all the others can guarantee this shared humanity: if I consider some others stupider than me (or, for that matter, smarter), or crueler (or more compassionate), etc., that would somehow preclude continuing the conversation. (What counts as a favorable assumption? What seems favorable to me privileges my own scale of values while disprivileging that of the other.) This would have to be true of any difference, though, wouldn’t it, since no difference can be declared absolutely non-ascriptive, once and for all, and any noticing of a difference can be considered derogatory (considering the other more creative and imaginative, for example, can be exoticizing condescension). In that case, though, what is there left to talk about in this universal conversation?

If all political discussion be considered the equivalent of such a universal conversation, then any reference to disparities in competence, however “objective,” violates the moral model in which all humans participate symmetrically, as in the originary event, in the exchange of signs. Any suggestion of unequal competence is not merely impolite but immoral, the equivalent of denying someone the vote because he or she is less intelligent or well-educated than others.

To the assumptions about conversation we can add some regarding morality. In what kind of conversation could I not offer to someone (and would that person absolutely refuse to listen to) comments regarding their performance in the company softball game, or suggestions regarding how to improve the paper they are working on, or, between lovers or spouses, how requests might be made in a more considerate way, etc.? All such comments can be taken to reflect adversely on disparities in competence in some area—any comment about competence can be taken to reflect some disparity, insofar as how could one comment on another’s competence without implicitly asserting a greater competence in, at least, observation? Couldn’t we go even further and say that any conversation, insofar as each participant says something that isn’t exactly the same as what the other participant(s) would say, implies the capacity to proffer some insight the other has not arrived at on his own? In that case, what counts here as “symmetrical,” and therefore “moral,” is representing each person to him or herself exactly as that person would like to see him or herself represented. The only moral conversation would then be reciprocal effusive flattery. But in the originary event all participants are reminding each other that each is on the verge of making a dangerous situation far more so—that leads to a very different (and far more demanding) kind of morality than the one Gans finds, correctly, to govern “PC” exchanges. The insinuation that the retraction of voting rights would follow close behind any invidious distinction is, indeed, the method of the SJWs, but we can see the slight of hand exercised here, insofar as there is no reason to assume that those questioning others’ competence are ending the conversation—to the contrary, on the assumption Gans’s example provides, that is simply their side of the conversation. In some cases assertions of incompetence might involve exclusion—say, when firing someone—but in other cases it might be tied to pedagogical intent or moral exhortation (“you can do better!”).

The enforcement of originary equality, on the back burner throughout the long history of hierarchical society although affirmed in principle by Christian doctrine, was brought to the fore in reaction to the racialism of the Axis in WWII and particularly to the Holocaust. We should not forget that the expansion of the political/voting class in Western countries to include Jews, the members of nonwhite races, persons without property, and finally, women, took place over several generations and ended in most places less than a century ago.

Let’s keep the trope or fiction of conversation in mind here: what has happened is that many others have joined the conversation recently. Whether they were actively trying to interrupt, or were invited in, or, as it turns out, were already part of the conversation without being taken note of, makes a difference but can be set aside for now. I think that the most fundamental moral component of this fiction is the fact of finding others on a scene to the surprise of the veteran or founding members of that scene. Everyone has experienced these kinds of shocks or embarrassments: you are talking about someone, and all of a sudden realize that person is standing right there; you are a part of an informal cohort or cadre, and some new person joins and you realize they don’t know the slang, the anecdotes, the jokes that operate as currency within the group—either they must be instructed (often a tedious or impossible task) or the lingo of the group must be revamped (at great risk to the cohesion of the group) or the newcomer is simply ridiculed and expelled, on no grounds other than the tautological one of not “belonging,” and hence immorally.

In this way the fiction of a universal conversation is directly relevant and highly revealing of contemporary humanity, especially when we consider the vastly expanded means of communication now available, which, in fact, makes this something more than a fiction—someone in Nigeria really can see someone in China’s retweet of a comment made by some Mexican about Nigerians. There does seem to be a moral conclusion we can draw from this observation: don’t say anything about someone that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to them. This imperative clearly distinguishes our condition from that of early 20th century Westerners (for example), who certainly weren’t thinking that the objects of their conversations might also be participants as they explored the intellectual and moral implications of relative skull sizes of the different races. But people are starting to say those same things once again today, aren’t they? Well, yes, but let’s add a corollary to the imperative just adduced: when speaking, explicitly or implicitly, to someone, you should be prepared to hear from them and respond accordingly. This simply derives from the reality that you will hear from them and many, including your own supporters, will expect to hear what you have to say in response.

This brings us back to our respective models of conversation. On one extreme, we have the extremely stilted, heavily choreographed and strictly policed model of “PC” conversation, the ethical basis of which (or the interpretation or exploitation of the ethical basis of which) Gans has very accurately explicated. On the other extreme, we have an increasingly universal conversation (circulating through Nigeria, China, Mexico, and so on) in which everyone is addressed by or overhears everyone else, but which fact is taken to be a cause to “up one’s game” and be prepared to engage one and all. I have not yet seen anyone on the alt-right refuse a conversation with others, whether on the Left or what they would consider the faux-right; VDare, for example, publishes both anti-Semites and Jews (their one “speech rule,” apparently, is that you can’t express absolute despair regarding the possibility of “patriotic immigration reform”). There is no evidence that people who consider blacks on average less intelligent and more violent than whites are unwilling to address what blacks, including critical and antagonistic ones, have to say. And when they are, well, then, the universal conversation will see to their self-marginalization, won’t it? Certainly for now it is in the interest of the alt-righters to take on all comers, and that seems to be their practice. It is the “establishment” types who seem obsessed with narrowing the conversation and issuing entry permits to acceptable interlocutors—and that is what reduces the civility and level of conversation, and makes us less intelligent (it’s possible to imagine, for example, the elementary logical procedure of examining hypotheticals going extinct, insofar as it’s very hard to construct hypotheticals without assumptions about others’ likely behavior).

The trope of “conversation,” with its suggestion of civility, face-to-face intimacy and mutuality, can be misleading, though. These conversations are not always going to be polite—but name-calling and insults, as long as it keeps going, and something new keeps happening, is as much of a conversation as an Oxford-style debate—and far more so than the bizarre ballets the victimocracy demands we all get trained in. Of course, often, new things no longer happen—but, then, the conversation dies on its own, and there’s no cause for concern. Even more literal conversations work on multiple levels, with, say, overt politeness subtly undermined through dismissive body language or barely detectable irony. All these ways of expressing solidarity and opposition can now be dismantled and rearticulated in numerous ways through various media, e.g., through mash-ups on YouTube. In a sense we’re all also talking about each other to our cohorts in full awareness that all the others are listening, thereby allowing for new layers of indirection and implication. One line of attack on the part of establishment conservatives on the alt-right has involved pointing to explicit and often obscene Nazi and racist iconography and verbal expression. I suppose it’s worth a try, but there are enough people who realize that such modes of expression are not necessarily a way of saying “kill all the Jews/blacks” but, rather, a way of saying “you’re telling me I can’t say x but I’m going to go right ahead and say y.” Prohibition and inhibition breaking obscenities are also “conversational”—they make it possible to say other, more reasonable and productive things that were arbitrarily anathematized; they rattle and demoralize the enemy, exhaust their resources and weaken their policing powers; and they serve as bait, eliciting symptomatic responses from potential allies and enemies alike. “But you’re just justifying the unjustifiable, making excuses for the abhorrent!” If you like—but from my side of the conversation, by refusing to disavow those beyond some arbitrarily defined pale, I’m demolishing the SJW’s tactic of guilt by association. In this way I believe I am expanding the kind of all-inclusive conversation in which we are all ready to speak both about and to everyone—the kind of conversation that is not only the best chance of saving civilization, but is virtually synonymous with civilization. (And, anyway, if it turns out that there are really enough people who want to kill me to create a danger, I want to know that, so I can prepare to defend myself or make other arrangements.)

The fiction of new entrants onto a conversational scene provides a helpful way of understanding the historical privileging of excluded participants in sequence. In the US, first Jews, then blacks, then the colonized, then women, then gays (it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the disabled seem to have dropped out of all these discussions and agitations—presumably, they couldn’t be shoe-horned into a “struggle for liberation” narrative). We can also, then, see how the terms of the conversation had to change in each case, and how each change provided a model for the next one. What kinds of invitations, interruptions and revelations were involved in each case? There is no doubt that we could target very specific “chunks” of discourse that were once deployed heedlessly about each of these groups that seemed crisis-inducing once taken as addressed to them. The hows and the whys of each case would be interesting to explore. The strategy that ultimately became “PC” was to treat every “about” as a “to,” and, moreover, a “to” that couldn’t sustain itself in the face of a response “from.” In the end you have no choice but to let the other (the third person, in grammatical terms) supply the rules for the “about.” The universal morality of the West was taken hostage here, precisely by accusing it of being a “straight White male” morality. This excuses the new participants from themselves responding to this morality that they presumably take to be both inadequate and the basis of a compelling indictment. For a while, through the 80s and maybe the 90s, there were feminists and postcolonial theorists aware of this paradox, and willing to take up the challenge. That all seems like ancient history now, which seems to suggest that there was, in fact, no real response. All that’s left, then, are constant interruptions of the conversation—but, since the others have long been inside the gates, what gets interrupted is the rejiggering of the terms induced by the latest pseudo-crisis. This is not only lucrative for the most shameless interrupters, but ensures that we speak about nothing other than how to narrow the discursive terrain even further. It’s all ripe for explosion, and the new interrupters can only laugh when accused of violating some universal ethical norm.


  1. How easy it is to assume the affects without recognizing the causes. So it has been with your frequent exhortation for freedom. Freedom, as everyone knows in their hearts and in their guts, represents opportunity. Man, as most animals, has an instinct for freedom as to enjoy those opportunities. Restrictions to freedom restrict opportunity. This PC anointed Straight White Male morality to which you refer is correctly recognized as a restriction of opportunity imposed by the most privileged.

    Overlay that gut response to Straight White Male morality with an underlying assumption of PC which is that any claim to differences beyond appearance of any category of people is patently false, and based on corrupt data, and you can get a movement.

    Comment by Alan — June 1, 2016 @ 8:08 am

  2. Stared more succinctly, the PC crowd is privileging one set of opportunities while ignoring the associated risks while you are doing the same for an alternate set.

    Comment by Alan — June 1, 2016 @ 8:26 am

  3. “The fundamental ethical posture of PC is the fiction that, as in the originary event, all humanity is present at every conversation,”

    This is profound (and new for Gans?). Arendt predicted this with her observation that modernity has inverted, or at least confused, the private and public realms.

    I was never quite sure of what Arendt meant by that but I see two ideas here that are definitely related. Do you see it?

    Comment by tommy704 — June 1, 2016 @ 8:35 am

  4. Re: Alan: and yet, one of the two sets of opportunities must be at least marginally more supportive of human flourishing, and one set of risks more capable of being managed or defused. Any way of telling which?

    Re: tommy: I don’t recall ever seeing this from Gans, which is why I seized on it. For Arendt, it seems to me that the private (in one sense) subsumes the public (labor, consumption become all), but then coalesces into a movement (totalitarianism) that destroys both private and public (perhaps in different, premodern senses, though). The omnipresence of humanity in each conversation can be totalitarian–everything private becomes public, and that new, expanded public then abolishes privacy. That’s the “PC” trajectory. Or, all of humanity is present in each conversation, but we learn how to speak back to anyone, maintaining differentiation. I’m not sure what to call that alternative: “conservative” and “reactionary” don’t seem quite right. “Disciplinarian” and “Digital Civilization” are the best I have right now.

    Comment by adam — June 1, 2016 @ 8:47 am

  5. Is it really possible to hold in tandem, even for the moment before the PC dam indubitably breaks, the tactic of denouncing no provocateurs on the supposedly un-cucked right, and the larger goal of renewing civilization? As soon as you make this claim on behalf of furthering conversation, you are of course pushing towards a more explicit agenda where, with every Trump bump in the polls, it’s a little less sufficient to be just anti-SJW. The point of anti-PC is that the universal civilization must be sustained by some minimal degree of sacrificial closure, in this fallen world at least. But we will never all agree on what patriotic immigration reform entails

    Comment by John — June 1, 2016 @ 11:58 am

  6. So, is the problem that the “supposedly un-cucked right” doesn’t acknowledge the need for sacrificial closure? They are the ones trying to save/renew civilization, rather than manage decline or preen self-righteously, so they will eventually learn about sacrificial culture if they’re not already aware of it. Anyway, at this point, the more explicit agenda is parrhesia, revelation, apocalypse–unremittingly reading the SJWs’ words and actions in terms of their dyscivic performativity. Any further agenda will come from pursuing the victimary back to its origins in liberal modernity and, ultimately, in the neutralization of “producer’s desire” in the interests of “consumer satisfaction.” But I would say “civilization” without the qualifier “universal”–first things first! Universal conversation can very well include barbarians, savages, and decadents.

    Comment by adam — June 1, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

  7. Adam: I would say (predictably, I imagine) history and anthropology are the best predictors. Also there appear good and bad positions in both camps. Still, as in the course of all human events, the best of plans can easily go astray.

    My presumptive best sets of restrictions are those which have delivered the success we currently enjoy [Drumroll please]: Straight White Male morality, Liberal Christian theology, representative government with a division of powers and capitalism with strong unions. Now within that pantheon of virtues I would argue without a blush that gay marriage is good and abortion is bad.

    Comment by Alan — June 1, 2016 @ 2:46 pm

  8. The question may be how much success we’re enjoying at the moment, and will continue to enjoy. Institutions are always under stress–how are they likely to stand up to that stress?

    Comment by adam — June 1, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

  9. Just because I see good choices available does not mean I think optimal choices will be made. There are long term and short term trends, local and global arenas. From a long term, global perspective, life has never been better for humans. More humans are enjoying longer, healthier lives, by a large margin, than ever before. From a local perspective, the USA is the only world super power and the worlds’ strongest economy. For the short term, the trajectory for the US is down, and will continue down under Hillary, thanks in part to the SJW’s, PC and victimary crowds. Romans cheered at the free bread and wine with their passes to the circus as the republic was transformed into an empire. SJW’s will cheer legal pot and open restrooms. And the bankers will fiddle as the middle class burns.
    If the US comes to its senses in time (next election cycle), it can still recover and rally the world to new heights. Should it fail that, it will take Asia about 40 years to take over as we continue to emaciate our own economy. The ME will succumb first followed by Africa and Europe.

    Comment by Alan — June 1, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

  10. Yes, and I’m not sure that Asia is in such great shape either. (I can’t say I share your assumption that Hillary will be the next president, though.) The point is, if all this is true, some reassessment of all those ideas and institutions that have gotten us this far seems to be called for. Just reiterating what has worked and calling for a return to our senses doesn’t lead to much understanding.

    Comment by adam — June 1, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

  11. At this point, I think the institutions are fine, it’s leadership that is pushing the crisis.

    Comment by Alan — June 1, 2016 @ 8:02 pm

  12. OK, but that seems highly unlikely to me. After all, who’s pushing the leaders?

    Comment by adam — June 2, 2016 @ 3:45 am

  13. People, of course, push the leaders. Some (as SJW’s) through loud public noise, others through back-room deals, often greased with large donations. And we (most adults) get our votes. We can, and do change leaders all the time. Sadly voters get bought off a lot cheaper than politicians, but that is no fault of institutions.

    Comment by Alan — June 2, 2016 @ 5:57 am

  14. So, the people are no good, and the leaders are no good, but the institutions are fine. If we take out the people (shaped by and inhabiting those institutions) and the leaders (governing those institutions) what is left of the institutions other than Platonic ideal forms?

    Comment by adam — June 2, 2016 @ 6:10 am

  15. The correct answer is to just make me emperor.

    Until that dystopia, however: Moderation in all things. We do not remove the position of leader, we select better ones by not removing the people populating the institutions but by educating and motivating them to be more constructively engaged in the institutions.

    Comment by Alan — June 2, 2016 @ 6:39 am

  16. Over 95% of actions and decisions are reasonable and appropriate. Adjustments are needed, not wholesale change.

    Comment by Alan — June 2, 2016 @ 6:50 am

  17. Good luck with that. Just keep in mind that for every person you think needs to be properly educated and motivated there’s another who thinks the same about you. As Marx asked, who will educate the educators?

    Comment by adam — June 2, 2016 @ 6:51 am

  18. Ah, but what those 5% can lead to! I’ll repeat my previous comment: for everything you want to adjust, there’s something else you think falls in the 95% that someone else wants to adjust. Nobody particularly likes being adjusted.

    Comment by adam — June 2, 2016 @ 6:53 am

  19. Well, yes – it is a continuous process.

    Comment by Alan — June 2, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

  20. But you haven’t identified the process. You seem to think there are “dials” allowing us to modulate (“adjust”) various functions. My point is that when you think you’re dialing up someone else is dialing down–there is no process, there’s nothing happening that the presumably better informed have any control over. There are just sides to take.

    Comment by adam — June 2, 2016 @ 5:42 pm

  21. In the debate of whether our problems lie with our institutions or our leaders I’d offer the politically incorrect answer – if all humanity were present I would offend all of us by saying our problems are the fault of the people, a weak, coddled and confused people.

    In the moment when the basic economic unit ceased being the family and became the individual, the individual wage slave, the paradigm shifted. This is part of Arendt’s juxtaposition of classic Greek culture and modern Western culture and the public/private inversion. I don’t fully understand it but know there is something substantive there.

    At one time children were economic assets. The man with 6 strapping boys was blessed. Now children are economic liabilities estimated at around 250K each. We spend the first quarter century of our lives as useless dependents on others (parents)and then have to create for ourselves a sense of usefulness so that some institution (government or corporation) will take us on as their dependent.

    The individual is set adrift among institutions, government and economic institutions but also institutionalized mimetic models and institutionalized consumer products by which we all craft our individual identities. Better institutions or better leadership of these institutions doesn’t change the basic alienation of the individual in the world. Wage slavery is no valid alternative to the family. Conservatives talk of “family values” and at the same time they talk of the awesomeness of meritocratic private corporations and the wage slavery they offer meritorious individuals. That irony is topped only by the worship of Reagan who gave us no-fault divorce and vastly increased the size of government under his watch.

    See Matthew Taylor’s piece on Muen Shakai. This metaphysical fact of our modern culture should be a foundational first step to analysis.

    Comment by tommy704 — June 3, 2016 @ 8:16 am

  22. Yes, the Taylor essay is very interesting and relevant, but it doesn’t really point to a “weak, coddled, confused people,” does it? Yes, of course, amidst all the new freedoms and prosperity, modern market society generates these new conditions that humans have thus far proven themselves unequipped for. All the short term interests, moreover, seem to point towards exacerbating these conditions. How would someone get elected by trying to counter them? The only way to address all this on the terms we are given (i.e., without imagining a restoration of the very conditions destroyed by modernity), as far as I can see, is through the disciplinary and pedagogical order I have been writing about for awhile. But who knows how to get there, or if it is really possible? I suspect it will have to take shape in smaller, secessionist forms, and thereby provide solutions to those who want them as the crisis deepens.

    Comment by adam — June 3, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

  23. “The only way to address all this … is through…”

    You are light-years ahead of me. You are working on solutions while I’m still wallowing around trying to understand the problem. It reminds me of our 9/11 ignoble truther dialog where you could proceed directly to conclusions skipping over the gnashing of teeth of evidence analysis I was stuck on.

    We, as a people have won the battle for survival and enjoy the luxuries which Solomon never dreamed of. Survival is no longer in question as it has been throughout human history. One need only to conform to the rules of one’s employer and benevolent government and life will be insured. Join me in laughing at the irony of a European outrage at “austerity.” A coddled people? Check.

    What is the telos of life now? The battle for survival no longer provides a futility-proof fall-back answer. We have killed our God and scoff at any spiritual meaning to life. The only telos we have left is a life of labor and consumption, moving only towards more consumption. Only the narrative of a pack of noble lies can emolliate this aimlessness. A confused people? Check.

    In this condition where conformity guarantees the gilding of our cages few have the strength and courage to bust out of their cage. Arendt notes:
    “The old contempt toward the slave, who had been despised because he served only life’s necessities and submitted to the compulsion of his master because he wanted to stay alive at all costs, could not possibly survive in the Christian era. One could no longer with Plato despise the slave for not having committed suicide rather than submit to a master, for to stay alive under all circumstances had become a holy duty, and suicide was regarded as worse than murder. Not the murderer, but he who had put an end to his own life was refused a Christian burial.”
    People, and especially the Muen Shi, go on living in quiet desperation consoling ourselves with things from the market. We conform because we do not have the strength of will to either act in the arentian sense, or kill ourselves. A weak people ? Check.

    The Muen Shi epitomizes all of the above. Read Auden’s full poem and see if his Muen Shi represents us all, and as I described us above. It is but the tip of the iceberg, but the tip we can see clearly.

    BY W. H. AUDEN

    (To JS/07 M 378
    This Marble Monument
    Is Erected by the State)

    He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
    One against whom there was no official complaint,
    And all the reports on his conduct agree
    That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
    For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
    Except for the War till the day he retired
    He worked in a factory and never got fired,
    But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
    Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
    For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
    (Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
    And our Social Psychology workers found
    That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
    The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
    And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
    Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
    And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
    Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
    He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
    And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
    A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
    Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
    That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
    When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
    He was married and added five children to the population,
    Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
    And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
    Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
    Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

    Comment by tommy704 — June 4, 2016 @ 8:52 am

  24. I wasn’t questioning your coddled, confused and weak description–it’s just that the Muen Shi phenomenon seemed to be to represent something a bit new, and different–Taylor makes a point of saying that the Auden poem doesn’t really cover it. At any rate, a coddled, confused and weak people might not be able to sustain the conditions allowing them to be coddled, confused and weak, so we may be getting to the point where some of us, at least, will have to be a bit stronger and more clear-headed.

    Comment by adam — June 4, 2016 @ 11:25 am

  25. Re my earlier comment, sorry, i’ve been drawn away by duties and now can’t divine what was bothering me, probably never could, about the who’s in and out arguments i’ve been reading on the alt-right where it’s fighting words to make precious distinctions among those attacking the victimary from any perspective that can escape the charge of being cucked. My Query had to do with the impossibility (i vaguely thought) of the alt right mimicking the pc “no enemies to the left” mindset (simply ignoring charges of guilt by association, not using them to draw new distinctions) when you take “realism” as your starting point (e.g. “we’re not white supremacists but race simply IS a supreme fact of life”). The left only escaped its fissiparous tendencies, became today’s victimary monolith, when the total unreality of Communism became evident and leftism became simply inarticulate utopianism (“all oppression is one”).

    Anyway if you have thoughts on Gans’ argument about the immunological powers of reality tv for Trump, i’d love to hear them…

    Comment by John — June 4, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

  26. Well, the reality of difference should be enough make the right, not a monolith, but the sustained unraveling of the victimary. Any insistence that difference (racial, sexual, etc.) is not completely “constructed” pokes a hole in the left’s wall. The victimary mode of articulation (its revealed resentments) itself reiterates those differences. In a piece of delicious irony, the alt-right can succeed by performing “deconstructive” critiques more effectively than the left every could. So, in place of “all oppression is one,” “all your oppression is admission of capitulation to dyscivic resentments.”

    Yes, I was thinking about another post on that part of Gans’s analysis. I think he’s right, but, obviously, plenty of other reality TV stars wouldn’t be able to do the same thing–the “Bachelor(tete),” for example, has the same procedures of ranking, distinguishing, competing, and rejecting, but doesn’t seem to be much of a springboard into politics. The same is true, I think, of “Survivor.”We would have to take into account Trump’s specific persona, and the way it built on his pre-TV-celebrity persona. He is, apparently (I’ve never seen the show) a “tough but fair” boss and that, interestingly, is the way he is consistently described by his employees in his “actual” businesses. I think we would have to take into account the audience for these shows (Trump’s “The Apprentice” audience may have given him a built-in constituency) Of course, Gans’s larger point regards the need for cultural spaces outside of the victimary–yes, but the need for a cultural space free of and/or resistant to refers, not to a shared or implicitly consensual social need but to the fact that some “demographics’ are less concerned with and probably less aware of PC than others. It’s not as if we as a culture are ambivalent about PC, but, rather, that significant regions of the culture remain immune to it. Maybe this election is a contest between those seeped in and those immune to PC. At lest we’ll get a better sense of where we stand. Also, reality TV ignores PC more than it confronts it–its antagonism to PC is implicit–Trump’s big step has been to make it explicit, although even he rarely confronts any really sacred victimiologies. We may find out that the people who want a “safe space” away from PC are very uncomfortable with that antagonism being pressed.

    Comment by adam — June 4, 2016 @ 8:28 pm

  27. Just out of curiosity, how do you know there is still a significant demographic immune to the victimary, which is in all the schools, any large workplce, the military, etc. Yes, the nonsense can all be compartmentalized, but only to a degree… There is a Canadian reality tv star , Kevin O’Leary, who is on Shark Tank (and became well known here on the equivalent Canadian show) who is making noises about running for the leadership of the Conservative Party or at least to use his celebrity to promote an entrepreneurial economic policy and play kingmaker in the leadership race. He is asked whether he is the Canadian Trump and says yes and no. He says he can use his no-BS persona to excoriate the left and support taxpayers against big government. But then he says he doesn’t want any walls and talks up his immigrant background. It’s as if he knows there is no white, PC immune majority in the Conservative Party, let alone Canada. (I just want to know how he can sustain his tv promises to partner and build small businesses in America if he is really serious about entering Canadian politics!)

    Comment by John — June 5, 2016 @ 10:10 am

  28. Know? I claim to know very little. But if the reality shows are (following Gans’s analysis) a PC-free zone, their enormous audience seems suggestive. But it does seem to me that there must, on some level, be, if not immunity, then at least an experience of suffering from the victimary and hence a market for immunization–just like Communism necessarily produced, along with the class of dissidents, a general malaise conducive to passive resistance and an unwillingness to defend the system.I think that’s a faith we can rely on.

    Perhaps the immigration issue is different in Canada, without a border with Mexico. Aren’t Canadian demographics far more white, as well? If so, there’d be far less need to pick up the cudgel in defense of whiteness.

    Comment by adam — June 5, 2016 @ 10:50 am

  29. The salient metaphysical fact of the human condition in modernity is individualization. Individualisation’s inevitable product is the rise of institutions as a substitute for the family.

    The secondary metaphysical fact of the human condition in modernity is material affluence.

    The salient narrative (read Noble Lie) of modernity is that individualization is a good thing because it gives us material affluence.

    Set in this is a debate of whether better institutions or better leaders will solve our problems.

    Comment by tommy704 — June 5, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

  30. It will turn out, though, that individualization is just another social relation, and those social relations either will or will not be made explicit and a a source of normativity. And then maybe it won’t be modernity anymore.

    Comment by adam — June 5, 2016 @ 3:05 pm

  31. individual = indivisible, i.e. one, solitary

    social = comrade, partner, i.e. plural

    relation = an existing connection; a significant association between or among things (things plural)

    muen shi = solitary death

    muen shakai = no-relationship society

    “individualization is just another social relation” is a statement that twists the ideas embedded in those words. It would be correct to say that:

    Individualization eliminates all social relations and leaves only relations with institutions.

    “ahh” the counter-argument says “the institutions are but people.” It is like whether corporations have a civil right to free-speech, or the Social Security Administration counts as a social relationship. or even if Social Media counts as actual relationships “me and my 3600 friends.” It is possible today that one relates to their institutions entirely through digital mediators. “Ahh, but the software was made by a person.”

    We have lost our metaphysical grounding …and we just don’t see it. Foucault, rightly in my opinion, says that different ages have their own grids that mask certain things. By studying history we can find our own blind-spots. That’s what Arendt does in The Human Condition by juxtaposing the philosophically well-articulated classic Greek culture with modernity to discover what we don’t see – like the inversion of public and private and the disappearance of human action (her definition).

    If you are right about our “deepening crisis” we will rediscover what “social relations” really are. We will reenact the originary scene and individuals will bind themselves through promises, the emission of signs which manifest our social connections.


    Comment by tommy704 — June 6, 2016 @ 8:59 am

  32. To put it crudely, the whole point of social thought is to enable a few more people to be a bit less flummoxed when the crisis comes.

    Comment by adam — June 6, 2016 @ 9:34 am

  33. Well, according to the 2011 census, Canada is 76% white (i.e. non- aboriginal, non-“visible minority”). (I take it the “non-Hispanic whites” are somewhere around 63% of the US population.). That number will be somewhat lower in this year’s census because Canada has immigration of about one percent of the population per year ( higher legal immigration than the States) and today the large majority come from places beyond Europe. So in the big three cities, especially in the more central areas, whites will soon be less than half as they are more at the greying end of things. And this is where the news and opinion is made, and we are quite victimary, culturally. Given current fertility, if trends continue, a non-white Canada is in the cards and most people know it, i think.

    Immigration has always engendered a certain level of populist grumbling, especially with reference to our socialized, hence rationed, healthcare system (many see it as a ponzi scheme suffering diminishing returns) and today with the rise of the jihad. In foreign policy, O’Leary is playing the isolationist card, and, remarkably, he is calling to allow more private healthcare.

    Yes, we don’t have a border with Mexico but it wouldn’t be too difficult to smuggle people into Canada from the US. But the labour blackmarket is small, i think, because cautious Canadians play by the rules and because the government is sympathetic to businesses in, e.g., agriculture and hospitality by providing them with a low wage Temporary Foreign Workers programme which has engendered a fair deal of resentment lately, even in the leftist media.

    Anyway, i think you are closer to the mark to talk about reaction and passive resistance to PC creating a potential market for immunity. You know enough not to know and that is something!

    Comment by John — June 6, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

  34. John, just an anecdotal story, perhaps it might be representative. My ancestry is Canadian since Waterloo Ed, as we call him, lost his leg in the battle of Waterloo and in return the Queen gave him a 500 acre tract on Prince Edward Island. His prodigies emigrated after WWI because the economy in Atlantic Canada was terrible and masses of Herring-Chokers, as we are known, came to New England to share in the wealth of North East industrialization. I vacation there on the Island most summers. Last time across (2 years ago)I was interrogated by the border agent for about 1 1/2 hours. The agent demanded that I prove I wasn’t crossing the border to take work away from Canadians. He searched for any reason to refuse me entry, but in the end he very reluctantly allowed me in. The Agent, by the way, was a heavily tattooed Mexican with an urban, or ghetto type accent.

    The incident left an impact on me – to be so overtly profiled and judged to be undesirable.

    Comment by tommy704 — June 6, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

  35. Tommy, as I understand it, the border guards are not just acting on suspicions but are required to give a close look, every so often, to random unfortunates, just so stories like yours circulate. And It may well be you got the guard who didn’t have a clue how to profile. Government jobs appeal to those whose cultural affinities are not necessarily appreciated elsewhere. I like herrings but it’s a small business. And smugglers will, of course, take other routes.

    I cross into the US two or three times a year and am grilled a little. Recently, I wonder, sympathetically, how the officers take themselves seriously when a leading presidential candidate can stand up to defend the “rights” of “undocumented immigrants”. When the world doesn’t make sense, best to see the dark humour.

    Comment by John — June 6, 2016 @ 9:40 pm

  36. No. I was profiled. I fit the profile of competence and availability/unattachedness. (While libertarian-ism is the ideal of the competent, socialism is the ideal of the incompetent.) When I said that I receive healthcare from the Veterans Administration his eye’s lit-up like a fisherman feeling a huge tug on the pole.

    I went on a hiking date with a cute little Canadian government employee once. She explained how she helped get some young men a job working on an authentic recreated French settlement with period construction techniques. It was a sponsored government program to teach employment skills. I had beforehand really looked at this project, they did a good job, and I blew my chances when I laughed out-loud and said: “But it’s an obsolete skill-set you’re teaching.” – “Well maybe, but what we are teaching is to wake-up and go to work in the morning.” To my suggestion that her and her hiking club could undertake some badly needed trail maintenance as we hike, I could supply the tools, and it’s what I do on my favorite trail … She immediately and firmly said “No way.” That’s the mentality of socialism, to never take another person’s job or to attempt to solve a problem without the State’s involvement.

    I’m sure the economic armpit of the Maritimes is different from the West. They are further down the path of socialism. Here is a Canadian movie you might find funny (maybe not) and is representative of socialist economics and an absolute distortion of what in the human condition counts as a happy ending.

    Moving Day

    Comment by tommy704 — June 7, 2016 @ 11:17 am

  37. Thanks, but video not available here. Licensing?

    Actually, we could do with rediscovering old craft skills, if only someone could pay for them. Modern houses are ugly compared to what the wealthy built a century and more ago.

    Comment by John — June 7, 2016 @ 10:47 pm

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