Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Portrait of the Author, Polishing the Brass on the Titanic

John Halbo has been dissecting the work of sociopolitical Philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, specifically in this post, concerning his (to me) rather incoherent definition of Liberalism. It's an interesting discussion, one that gets to the heart of a major problem that liberas have been wrestling with for the last decade or so, the problem of identity.

This problem arises from the fact that there is no coherent liberal ideology.1 Unlike Conservatism, which has a core ideology and a list of talking points, plus a hierarchy to enforce them, Liberalism is actually a broad category tearm used, these days, to describe everything west of Reganomics and historically, anything that fell in-between Anarchism/ Communism/ Socialism on the left and Conservatism/ Fascism on the Right. Liberalism is a broad term, in that it has a list of categorical traits that may or may not apply to any individual or group that gets tossed into the category. Inherent contradictions arrise when we try to paint everyone in an ad-hoc category as belonging to a monolithic movement. Conservative movementarians (you know, dingbats, bobble-heads and the mentally ill) especially fall prey to this mistake.

This problem arises from one of the inherent faults of the Conservative mindset: the reliance on heirarchical power structures as the only reliable model of organization. There must be a head, a body and a single goal, it is reasoned, because this sort of hierarchical inheritance is the only power structure that Conservatives recognise.2

Zizek (among others) wants to look at Liberalism as if it were the result of Chairman Mao and Emma Goldman sitting down and hashing out plans for world domination, appointing leaders and issuing orders to their minions at the ACLU, simply because this is the only sort of arrangement they can conceive of. That it is an oversimplification and a fantasy is besides the point. It achieves a desired goal: to frame the opposition in the mind of the casual citizen that Liberals are a distinct type of advesary, and they want to sodomize your sons and convince your daughters to join Greenpeece. That many people buy this nonsense and actually think middle of the road moderates like Howard Dean have a radical plan for foisting the UN approved, Homosexual agenda, with Government subsidized healthcare for all and Jesus for none, just proves that there is no such thing as the Liberal Media. Which, liberals have known all along and tried to tell you, before the country slid into a one party state ruled by Randroids and Neocons. But most Americans were too busy listening to Newt Gingrich prattle on about card carrying pot heads in the Clinton White House and worrying about how Monica's little blue dress would end Civilization to notice that we were all being manipulated, prepared for the bloodless coup of the Bush administration.

But that's OK, because most Liberals are now too occupied with pointless navel gazing, trying to figure out if maybe we should follow the Conservative model of governance and organise ourselves into a movement to actually do anything constructive to oppose the Bush regime's radical agenda. Weather or not streamlining our incoherent jumble of conflicting ideas into a solid, internally consistant ideology is a good idea or not is really beside the point as well. We should have had this debate ten years ago, when we saw what the Republican party was trying to do. But we didn't and so now it's too late. They control the country in every major aspect and can paint us as week-kneed ninnies, Bin Laden's boy toys, Francophiles and Egg head academics who hate apple pie and like to molest goats and our only response is to shout as loud as we can, "Nuh uh!" and then sit silently on our hands as we ponder our socks, while they lumber past, reshaping the world in their image.

Contrary to popular belief, I think we should embrace our incoherence and force the dialog back into our territory. We make the media admit that it oversimplifies arguments, that every situation has multiple facets, not just one and a half sides and that this was the ideal on which our country was founded. That the world is a messy, complex place and anyone who tries to simplify the debate and foist one idea on the world is the true adversary of democracy.
1. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. Ideologies metasticise. Followers of them become dogmatic and proponents of them become blind to the truth of the human condition, that we are vast and contain multitudes. Democracy is a plurality. Sacrificing our individuality and broad acceptance to fight a loosing battle for identity politics is not going to do anyone any good. Liberalism, such as it is, worked in the past because of a broad consensus of what needed to be accomplished. It worked because the landscape had not been minimized and filled with sound-bite landmines.

2. which explains why we invaded states like Afghanistan and Iraq in order to fight stateless terrorists. You can't actually wage a war on terror, so you fall back into the standard categories, and start looking for states that will substitute for the real threat .


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