The Many Stolen Labels of the Reactionary Mind

Ideological labels are used in an odd way on the political right. They are used more as weapons of rhetoric than as accurate descriptions. This relates to Corey Robin’s analysis of the reactionary mind. One of the most interesting things that distinguishes the reactionary from the traditionalist is how easily the reactionary co-opts from the political left.

This is particularly central to American society. The reactionary mind, like fundamentalism, is the product of modernity. And the American experience was born out of modernity, beginning with post-feudal colonial imperialism. The social order and social identity fell into disarray and so political ideology became ever more primary. The reactionary mind is dynamically adaptive, for it shifts according toward which it is reacting. It thrives in instability and will promote instability, even as it scapegoats its enemies for this very same instability that it requires.

Reactionaries are tough opponents. They feel no moral obligation to fight fairly. Nor will they ever state their true intentions. The mindset and worldview precludes it, at the level of consciousness. The reactionary mind is not just a set of tactics but a way of being in the world, a permanent survival mode of mistrust and deception. Labels in themselves mean nothing to the reactionary. They are like crabs, in camouflaging themselves, that attach things to their shells — pieces of coral, anemones, etc. There is a hodge-podge quality to their stated views, a little bit of this and a little bit of that with no need for principled consistency. 

The earliest example of this is the fight over Federalism. The war of rhetoric was won by those fighting for centralized power. They didn’t actually want Federalism. What they were attempting to create, as Corey Robin explains so well, was a new form of hierarchy and ruling elite involving the same old pattern of concentrated wealth and power. They were as much attacking the traditional ancien régime (old order) as they were attacking the revolutionary movement. They co-opted from both of their enemies, but over time as traditionalism declined they increasingly focused on co-opting from the political left.

The first great victory of American reactionaries was in falsely claiming to be Federalists. They did this by co-opting the revolution itself and, by way of the Constitutional Convention, redirecting it toward counter-revolution. This forced their opponents into the position of being called Anti-Federalists, even though their opponents were the strongest defenders of Federalism. The winners not only get to write the history books but also get to do the labeling.

This is how a society like ours, founded on liberalism, quickly had its radical liberalism defanged. Thomas Paine, in a short period of time, went from revolutionary hero to social pariah and political outcast. He didn’t fit into the reactionary scheme of the new centralized establishment. Even to this day, the political right goes on trying to co-opt the label of liberalism, despite the absurdity in calling themselves classical liberals. Now a radical progressive and social democrat like Paine was a classical liberal, but he was largely written out of the history books for almost two centuries.

This pattern has repeated throughout Anglo-American history (and I’m sure elsewhere as well). The capitalists originally were strong liberals with a clear progressive bent. Paine, for example, was for free markets. And like Paine, Adam Smith saw high economic inequality as a direct threat to a free society. Yet the reactionaries took over free market rhetoric to promote the inevitable authoritarianism and paternalism of a high inequality society. Because of this, it has become harder and harder to take seriously the rhetoric of free markets — in its being falsely used to defend crony capitalism, plutocratic corporatism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal globalization, market fetishism, and crude (pseudo-)libertarianism. There is nothing free, much less classically liberal, about this capitalist realism.

There are more examples. Consider right-wing libertarians and right-wing anarchists (e.g., anarcho-capitalists). Both varieties of right-wingers typically defend the legacy of inequality and injustice. Their labeling themselves as libertarian and anarchist would have been absurd a century ago. Both libertarians and anarchists arose out of the left-wing workers movement in Europe. Yet here we are with the political right having successfully co-opted the label of libertarianism and are in the process of co-opting the label of anarchism.

There is nothing they can’t co-opt, once they set their mind to it. This is true even for labels that involve race issues. The theory and label of human biodiversity has become popular among the political right, specifically among alt-righters, the Dark Enlightenment, and other similar types. They use it to promote the cynical worldview of genetic determinism and race realism. The sad part is that the originator of human biodiversity, Jonathan Marks, created the theory specifically to disprove these right-wing claims.

Once again, here we are with the political right having so thoroughly co-opted a label that its very origins is forgotten. It’s a theft not just of a label but the destruction of meaning. It makes genuine debate impossible, and that is the entire point. Reactionaries are constantly seeking to muddy the water. They do everything in their power to control the terms of debate. Their opponents are left in a state of disorientation and constantly on the defense. This is easy for reactionaries to do because they have nothing specific to defend or rather that they keep well hidden what they are defending by way of obfuscation.

This wouldn’t necessarily mean much if not for the consistent pattern that can be seen across the centuries. It’s clearly significant in what it says about the modern political right and the consequences it has for the political left. The lesson is this. Never take them at their word. And never fight on their terms. Labels do matter.

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Confused Liberalism

Here are some thoughts on ideological labels and mindsets in the United States. I had a larger post I was working on, which I may or may not post. But the following is bite-sized commentary. Just some things to throw out there.

These views are not exactly new to my writing. They are issues my mind often returns to, because I’m never quite satisfied that I fully understand. I can’t shake the feeling that something is being misunderstood or overlooked, whether or not my own preferred interpretations turn out to be correct.

The two thoughts below are in response to this question:

What do we mean when we speak of liberalism?

* * *

We live in a liberal society, in that we live in a post-Enlightenment age where the liberal paradigm is dominant. But what exactly is this liberalism?

What I find interesting is that conservatives in a liberal society aren’t traditionalists and can never be traditionalists. They are anti-traditionalists and would be entirely out of place in a traditional society. These conservatives are forced to define themselves according to the liberal paradigm and so their only choice is to either become moderate liberals or reactionaries against liberalism.

Even if they choose the latter, they still don’t escape liberalism because our identities are shaped as much by what we react to as by what we embrace. In some ways, we become what we react to, just in a distorted way. That is why reactionary conservatives use liberal rhetoric, often unconsciously.

Ironically, the illiberalism of such reactionary politics is only possible in a liberal society. And, sadly, that reactionary politics has become the dominant ideology in a liberal society like this. The liberal and the reactionary are two sides of the same coin.

This is quite the conundrum for the liberal and reactionary alike. Both are chained together, as they pull in opposite directions.

* * *

There are a large number (how many?) of self-identified liberals who aren’t strongly liberal-minded and maybe a bit conservative-minded, aren’t consistent supporters of liberal politics, are wary of liberal economic reforms, are unsure about the liberalism of human nature, and/or doubt a liberal society is possible. These kinds of ‘liberals’ are their own worst enemies. They make it easy for the political right to dominate, for the authoritarians and social dominance orientation types to gain and maintain power.

I’ve come to a suspicion. It’s not just that many of these supposed liberals aren’t particularly liberal. I’d go further than that. Some of them, possibly a large number of them, could be more accurately described as status quo conservatives. But this isn’t to say that some liberals aren’t strongly liberal-minded. My thought goes in a different direction, though. Maybe the crux of the matter isn’t self-identified liberals at all.

Self-identified liberals have proven themselves easily swayed by the rhetoric of reactionaries, authoritarians, and social dominance orientation types. Because of this, the label of ‘liberal’ has become associated with weakly liberal positions and what are sometimes illiberal attitudes. Liberalism has become identified with the liberal class and bourgeois capitalism, with mainstream society and the status quo social order, with a waffling fence-sitting and Washington centrism.

My thought is that most liberal-minded people (specifically in the US) don’t identify as liberals and never have. Instead, the strongly liberal-minded have taken up other labels to identify themselves: independents, non-partisans, social democrats, progressives, leftists, left-wingers, socialists, democratic socialists, communists, communalists, communitarians, Marxiststs, unionists, anarchists, anarcho-syndialists, left-libertarians, etc. Pretty much anything but ‘liberal’.

This is where mainstream thought goes off the rails. The most liberal-minded tend to be ignored or overlooked. They don’t fit into the mainstream framework of ideological labels. These strongly liberal-minded people might be a fairly large part of the population, but they can’t be seen.

We don’t have the language to talk about them, much less study them. We have nuanced language to distinguish people on the political right and this nuanced language is regularly used in collecting and analyzing data. Pollsters and social scientists are often careful to separate conservatives from libertarians, authoritarians, and social dominance orientation types. Such nuance is rarely seen in mainstream thought about the political left.

It seems, in the mainstream, that it is assumed that ‘liberals’ can be taken as mostly representative of the entire political left. This is based on the assumption that leftists in the US are so small in number and therefore insignificant and irrelevant. But if we define leftists as all those who are to the left of the liberal class found in the Democratic Party establishment and the mainstream corporate media, we might discover there are more leftists than there are so-called liberals. And if many of those leftists are far more liberal-minded than the self-identified liberals, then how useful is the social science research that uses self-identified liberals as a proxy for all liberal-mindedness?

Non-Identifying Environmentalists And Liberals

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans identifying as environmentalists is about half of what it was a quarter century ago, when I was a young teenager. Yet the other polls show that Americans are more concerned with environmental issues than ever before.

This is similar to how fewer Americans identify as liberal precisely during this time when polls showing majority of Americans hold liberal positions on diverse issues. Older labels have lost their former meaning. They no longer resonate.

It isn’t as if Americans are becoming anti-environmentalist conservatives. Quite the opposite. It’s just that an increasing number of Americans, when given a choice, would rather identify as progressive, moderate, independent, or even socialist. In fact, the socialist label gets more favorable opinion than the Tea Party label, although libertarianism is gaining favor.

Young Americans are the most liberal of any age demographic, in terms of their politics. They are more liberal than even the supposed liberal class, despite the young not self-identifying as liberal. They are so liberal as to be leaning leftist.

Conservatives are mistaken when they put too much stock in ideological labels and too little stock in substance of views. Their confusion is understandable. Many pollsters have had a hard time keeping up with changing labels, not initially realizing they needed to offer choices beyond the standard binary of liberal or conservative.

Not all of this can be blamed on pollsters, though. There was enough polling data to show major shifts were afoot. Some pollsters were able to discern that Millennials had a majority positive opinion of the ‘socialism’. That interesting fact of public opinion began showing up about a decade ago, but apparently few in the mainstream were paying attention until Sanders’ candidacy came along.

The older generations are shocked. As children of Cold War propaganda, they unsurprisingly have a knee jerk reaction to the word ‘socialism’. More interesting is that these older Americans also dislike libertarianism. For the young, socialism and libertarianism are two expressions of their growing extremes of liberal-mindedness.

So, it’s more of a divide of generations than of ideology.

Central to this are environmental concerns. Most older Americans probably assume they will die before major environmental catastrophes happen, allowing them to shut these problems out of their minds and pretend they aren’t fully real. Younger Americans, on the other hand, realize they’ll be forced to deal with these problems they’re inheriting.

* * *

Americans’ Identification as “Environmentalists” Down to 42%

Americans’ Concerns About Water Pollution Edge Up

U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High

For First Time, Majority in U.S. Oppose Nuclear Energy

Opposition to Fracking Mounts in the U.S.

In U.S., 73% Now Prioritize Alternative Energy Over Oil, Gas

Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)

I’ve looked at this poll before but was just browsing it now to check out again the liberal data.

http://www.people-press.org/files/2011/05/Political-Typology-Detailed-Tables.pdf

In the 2005 Pew poll, the demographic was just called ‘Liberals’. In this 2011 Pew poll, the demographic is called ‘Solid Liberals’. So, I don’t know if it is speaking about the exact same demographic segment of the population. Pew changes the demographic groupings as the data changes. In the new ‘Solid Liberals’ demographic there is only 23% Independents whereas in the previous ‘Liberals’ demographic there was almost 1/2 Independents. Of those Indpendents, they didn’t ask how many self-identified as liberal or something else. Among ‘Solid Liberals’ in general, only 60% self-identified as ‘liberal’ while 31% self-identified as ‘moderate’ and 9% self-identified as ‘conservative’.

What does ‘liberal’ even mean when slightly less than 1/2 of supposed ‘liberals’ don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’? This goes to the heart of the American public’s confusion about ideologies and labels. Given a choice between the two, most Americans self-identify as ‘conservative’. However, when asked about specific issues, most Americans support many liberal positions on key issues.

– – –

I’ve been having some discussions with a left-winger recently. I’ve noticed that he, like many other left-wingers, often are highly critical of liberals. Left-wingers, like right-wingers, often see liberals and Democrats as essentially the same thing and so they assume the policies of the Democratic establishment are supported by most liberals.

It’s not surprising that there is a conflict here, but it demonstrates a number of things. The right is incorrect in assuming liberals are the same thing as left-wingers, but left-wingers are also incorrect in conflating liberals with Democrats. One set of data I saw shows a third of Independents self-identify as liberals. So, there is this undescribed middleground of Independent liberals who aren’t left-wingers and aren’t Democrats. No one represents these independent liberals in politics and the media mostly ignores them except when they protest. Many of the OWS protesters (and activists in general) are probably independent liberals.

– – –

The problem liberals face is related to their love of compromise which is just an aspect of their love of democracy. Liberals genuinely believe in democracy. Even many if not most left-wingers are highly suspicious of democracy for various reasons. It’s not that liberals don’t see the corruption, but it’s just that liberals have a strong sense of faith and vision about what democracy could be.

This is the challenge. Liberals are the only demographic that has majority support for compromise, but compromise only works if everyone supports it (at least to some minimal extent). All other demographics see compromise as political weakness and/or unprincipled capitulation. Liberal independents are in the toughest spot of all because they see that this is true of the Democratic establishment, but the Democrats don’t represent them or their ideal of compromise. The only place we now see compromise being demonstrated in the grassroots democratic sense is in the OWS protests. Liberal independents know that compromise is possible if the public is willing, but all the other groups so often seem bound and determined to prove compromise doesn’t work by undermining any effort to accomplish it.

What independent liberals understand is that you either support democracy or you don’t. There is no way to have democracy without compromise. If left-wingers and right-wingers don’t trust democracy and compromise, I just wish they would be honest about it and admit that is what they believe. Instead, everyone pretends to believe in democracy because it’s considered politically incorrect to not believe in it, but few actually do believe in it to the extent that independent liberals believe in it. Too often political cynicism rules both mainstream and alternative political discussion.

– – –

Here is another way to look at it. I noticed this analysis of poll data:

http://www.opednews.com/Diary/More-Americans-Self-Identi-by-Thomas-Farrell-110301-401.html

“But the Gallup survey of self-identification of ideology shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and liberals than as conservatives. Most Americans do not self-identify as conservatives.”

Given a choice between the three, the data I’ve seen shows most Americans self-identify as moderates. So, what is a moderate? They are essentially those who tend toward centrism or at least away from the extreme wings. Considering that, where is the center in American politics? I’ve analyzed this before (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism):

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

What I discovered was that the center isn’t conservative and certainly is moving away from conservatism on many issues. So, the moderate/center is shifting to the left. This is obvious when you look at the increasing liberalism of the young and the growing left-leaning demographics such as minorities. Here is my insight. Decades of Cold War rhetoric have brainwashed the American public into believing liberals and left-wingers are the same thing, i.e., Commies. This is the reason why among even Solid Liberals 31% can identify as moderates and 9% identify as conservatives. When considering the normal definition of liberal (minus the term itself), most Americans probably equate that with the ‘moderate’ label. As such, it’s quite likely that many if not most moderates are liberal on a lot of issues.

– – –

It’s kind of interesting to look back at some data from more than a decade ago. This survey broke up the Democrats into 5 groups including a groups labeled as ‘Libertarian Democrats’.

http://www.progress.org/freedom/wpdesc.html

I imagine that some independent liberals might be attracted to left-libertarianism. Actually, I don’t need to imagine. As an independent liberal, I’m attracted to left-libertarianism such as that of Chomsky with his support of social democracy and a gradualist vision of changing society toward increasing grassroots democracy (Chomsky apparently being on the moderate liberal end of left-wing ideology).

– – –

I was looking further at the Pew data. There is another interesting group: Post-Moderns. They are considered Independents and they are the only group to have the majority self-identify as moderates. One would assume, therefore, that they wouldn’t have any bias toward either party. But one would be wrong in that assumption.

Post-Moderns are 62% Independents, 26% Democrats and 2% Republicans. Of the Independents, 19% has no lean, 58% lean to the Democratic Party and 23% lean to the Republican Party. They favor Democrats over Republicans on almost every question, including reelecting Obama. Also, they listen to Fox News less than the average Democrat and listen to NPR at almost the same rate as the average Democrat. They are second only to Solid Liberals in their reading of The New York Times and their watching the Daily Show. They generally seem closest to Solid Liberals on most issues. They are strongly socially liberal. They have the strongest, although qualified, support of the government. They’d prefer it to be smaller, but they see a role for government in many social issues.

Post-Moderns are the only demographic with a majority of moderates which means they are the clearest indicator we have about where the center is right now in US politics. These moderates are more liberal than not. So, the majority of Post-Moderns identifies as moderate even as the majority also supports many liberal positions and policies.

– – –

Here is the reason why the Democratic Party has never been controlled by liberals and especially not by left-wingers.

http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/bob-burnett/37872/one-two-three-what-are-liberals-fighting-for

“The Pew Research poll notes a fundamental difference between “solid Liberals” and the other two groups that lean Democratic — “Hard-pressed Democrats” and “New coalition Democrats”: “both of these last two groups are highly religious and socially conservative.” To the extent that cultural issues — such as abortion and homosexuality — dominate political discourse, these groups can be peeled away from the Democratic bloc to vote Republican. In his classic, What’s the Matter With Kansas? journalist Tom Frank detailed how Republicans redirect economic discontent to explosive cultural issues. In 2012, “moral purity” will be a major Republican theme — particularly if messianic Texas Governor Rick Perry becomes the GOP candidate. The Liberal challenge is to ensure that jobs and economic fairness become the dominant political themes, not “How can we make the US a Christian nation?””

– – –

Here is some data from 2004 which I suspect might be even more true in 2011. The article notes that in 2000 the Independents were evenly split between the two parties but by 2004 they were leaning Democratic and liberal. If this is a trend that fits the other leftward trends, this will continue into the near future as OWS seems to demonstrate.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_3_26/ai_114558708/

“The bad news for conservatives is that a majority of independents line up on the liberal-to-moderate side of the ideological spectrum. Twenty-one percent of independents in the Zogby poll described themselves as liberal or progressive, while 37 percent called themselves moderates. In contrast, 30 percent of independents describe their politics as conservative, with only 4 percent calling themselves “very conservative” or libertarian.

“Zogby asserts that the polls indicate independents are trending more liberal in this election year as opposed to 2000. For example, fully 70 percent of independents believe the federal government should play a major role in protecting the environment, a traditionally Democratic concern. “The environment is a Democratic ace in the hole this year,” Zogby says.

“Meanwhile, 82 percent of independents want the federal government to play a major role in protecting individual freedom, suggesting a backlash against the Patriot Act and other attempts by the Bush administration to change the traditional balance between national security and individual liberty. Sixty-two percent feel the government should help ensure that all citizens have economic opportunities, while 60 percent want a dominant role by the federal government in providing social programs to help the needy.

“The liberal bias of independents contrasts sharply with the other elections in which their vote has proved critical. In the 1980 election, blue-collar workers deserted Jimmy Carter and the Democrats to vote Ronald Reagan into office. And in the 1990s, Bill Clinton infuriated traditional liberals but won the presidency twice by appealing to the socially moderate, fiscally conservative instincts of suburban soccer moms. Third party candidates – John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 – attracted disaffected voters who saw no real difference between Republicans and Democrats.”

– – –

I was amused that the Wall Street Journal is, of course, trying to dismiss the Occupy movement.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204479504576637082965745362.html

This interested me for two reasons:

First, the Wall Street Journal recently had an article which proves how much corruption exists in many big businesses and how this hurts the average person.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903532804576566862041674794.html

That article gives the objective evidence supporting the very same reasons for why people are protesting on Wall Street. The article also helps to explain why most Americans, including most white working class Americans, now support the Occupy movement. When I heard the author of the second article interviewed on Coast to Coast AM (one of the most listened to talk shows in America and in the world), I knew that this was hitting to the heart of the outrage that is growing in America and that heart of outrage is definitely not directed at the left.

Second, I was thinking that maybe the Wall Street Journal should look closer at the data showing what the protesters believe and what Americans believe.

http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1302.xml?ReleaseID=1662

“By a 67 – 23 percent margin, New York City voters agree with the views of the Wall Street protesters and say 87 – 10 percent that it is “okay that they are protesting,” according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

“Agreeing with the protesters views are Democrats 81 – 11 percent and independent voters 58 – 30 percent, while Republicans disagree 58 – 35 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Even Republicans, however, agree 73 – 23 percent with the protesters right to be there.

“New York City voters say 72 – 24 percent, including 52 – 41 percent among Republicans, that if the protesters obey the law, they can stay as long as they wish. “A total of 72 percent of voters say they understand the protesters’ views “very well” or “fairly well,” with 17 percent who say “not too well” and 10 percent who say “not well at all.”

[ . . . ] “Asked who is to blame for the current state of the nation’s economy;

  • 37 percent of New York City voters blame the administration of former President George W. Bush;
  • 21 percent blame Wall Street and financial institutions;
  • 18 percent blame Congress;
  • 11 percent blame President Barack Obama.

“New York City voters support 61 – 28 percent an extension of the state’s so-called ‘Millionaire’s Tax.’ Even Republicans support the extension 55 – 38 percent.

“Voters also support 73 – 19 percent, including 48 – 40 percent among Republicans, tougher government regulation of banks and Wall Street firms.”

– – –

Considering all of this, it blows my mind that 9% of so-called ‘Solid Liberals’ self-identify as ‘conservative’. Pew defines ‘Solid Liberals’ as being liberal across the board, fiscally and socially liberal on most if not all issues. Essentially, ‘Solid Liberals’ are as liberal as you can be without becoming an outright communist.

How on God’s green earth could such a person ever be so confused as to think they are a conservative? What do these 9% of conservative ‘Solid Liberals’ think that ‘conservative’ means? What kind of conservatism can include liberalism to such an extent? What could possibly be subjectively experienced as conservative despite appearing liberal by all objective measures?

Consider the seemingly opposite Pew demographic which is labeled ‘Staunch Conservatives’ (basically, conservative across the board). Are there 9% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ who self-identify as ‘liberal’? Of course not, although interestingly 3% do.

Compare also how many self-identify as ‘moderate’: 31% of ‘Solid Liberals’ identify as moderate and only 8% of ‘Staunch Conservatives’ identify as moderate. ‘Staunch Conservatives’ are as partisan as they come with %100 that lean Republican (0% that lean Democratic, 0% with no lean). On the other hand, ‘Solid Liberals’ have 1% who lean Republican and 3% with no lean; that might seem like minor percentages but that means 1 in 100 ‘Solid Liberals’ are drawn toward the Republican Party and 3 in 100 are genuinely independent.

– – –

Corey Robin sees conservatives as right-wing counter-revolutionaries in reaction to left-wing revolutionaries (with, from my own understanding/speculations, liberals as moderates in the middle moderating between the two extremes). Many Americans identify as strong conservatives but few identify as strong liberals. To many Americans (who aren’t and/or don’t self-identify as ‘liberal’): being a liberal automatically means being a left-winger; but being a conservative doesn’t automatically mean being a right-winger. Thus, from this perspective: ‘liberal’ already implies ‘strong liberal’; and so, if you see yourself as a ‘weak liberal’, you’d probably identify as a ‘moderate’.

Conservatives see bias in that the term ‘right-wing’ is, supposedly according to one study, mentioned often in the media whereas ‘left-wing’ is mentioned less often; but I take this as further evidence of how ‘liberal’ has come to mean ‘left-wing’ for the mainstream media (the two used interchangeably). Certainly, conservatives (along with many moderates and even some liberals) think ‘liberal’ and ‘left-wing’ mean the same thing. It seems that most Americans have come to accept this conflation considering that many Americans can hold liberal views while not perceiving themselves as being liberal or at least refusing to accept such a label.

As a side note, I found this interesting description by Rochelle Gurstein (in “The Look of Time”):

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/76822/the-look-time

““A man of the past”—recently I had been re-reading John Stuart Mill’s essay, “The Spirit of the Age” (1831), and was taken by the peculiar way he employed that phrase. The essay is about what it is like to live in an age of “change,” what it was doing to people, existentially speaking. Mill thought that “men are then divided, into those who are still what they were, and those who have changed.” I expected the first group to be those who have been left behind—the superannuated—and the second to be the men of progress. But Mill thought it was the opposite: those who embrace change are “men of the present age”; by changing with the times they stay the same. Those who do not change with the times are changed into “men of the past.” To the former, “the spirit of the age is a subject of exultation; to the latter, of terror.” It then occurred to me how, because of the incessant speed of the Internet, no one is able to change fast enough to remain in the present; we were all being turned into “men of the past.””

Gurstein wasn’t directly speaking about conservatives, but it would seem that her view here fits into the context of Robin’s reactionary conservative. Even if we all now may be “men of the past” to some extent, only conservatives have fully taken on the role of being “men of the past”. As Gurstein makes clear, “men of the past” are a modern invention just like the conservative movement. We moderns have become so historically self-conscious that we are able to imagine a past absolutely distinct from the present, but in the earlier times a traditionalist assumed the past was like the present, a continuum. Traditionalists during traditional times are, therefore, always men of the present.

Since conservatives are reactionary, you must judge them by the social and historical context of their reaction. Thatcher and Reagan were reacting to one situation and conservatives now are reacting to another situation. Yes, in reaction, conservatives push further and further away from the Left even as they adapt to new forms of liberalism. It doesn’t matter that conservatives become increasingly radically anti-liberal over time (especially as society increasingly embraces progressivism). It’s the reaction against liberalism (more specifically, the far left) that defines conservatives and not how their views appear relative to conservatives at a later time.

The conservative is in an interesting position. Robin points out that even someone like Buckley admits he would probably have become something different if he had come of age at a later time. A conservative isn’t a traditionalist in the way a modern Protestant fundamentalist isn’t a traditional pre-Enlighenment Catholic. A fundamentalist is creating something new with each generation because they are constantly reacting to new social changes and new scientific knowledge.

Going by Gurstein’s conclusion, maybe it is impossible or very difficult for any person to be a traditionalist in the modern world. Maybe conservatives have fully or nearly replaced traditionalists altogether. My thought was that traditionalists and conservatives might be the same in terms of psychological predispositions. Research shows that conservatives have a larger amygdala which processes fear responses and research also shows conservatives have a stronger disgust response to that which is abnormal/unexpected (whereas the liberal tends to respond with curiosity). In a traditional society, this fear/disgust predisposition would manifest as traditionalism because there wouldn’t be any major left-wing progressive movements to react against. However, in a non-traditional society, this fear/disgust response is provoked into a state of hypersensitivity and constant activity (i.e., reaction). So, a reactionary conservative may seem like an unnatural response, but maybe it is just a natural response to unnatural conditions (possibly not dissimilar to how overcrowding rats causes them to take on anti-social behavior). Would-be traditionalists can’t get their bearings in a non-traditional society and so they become a much more aggressive political activist.

– – –

Now here is some really interesting info:

http://www.princeton.edu/csdp/events/Hajnal050406/Hajnal050406.pdf

“The second and more interesting conclusion is that Independents also tend to be extremists. On two of the three issue publics we examine, the results closely match our expectations. As we predicted, the more liberal one’s views on the environment and the stronger one’s support of women’s equality, the more likely one is to identify as Independent or nonpartisan. 14 In each case the magnitude of the effects is meaningful if not dramatic. All else equal, those who were the most supportive of environmental spending were 5 percent more likely to be Independent than those who believe we are already spending too much on the environment. Similarly, white Americans who strongly favor efforts to ensure women’s rights were 5 percent more likely to identify as Independent or nonpartisan than those were least in favor of government action on women’s equality. On two of the major social movements in America, those who hold strong views on the left are particularly apt to not identify with a major political party. This suggests that there really are issue publics who care enough about a particular issue to reject both parties if neither party actively endorses their issue agenda.

“In Table 5.1 we also looked at how views on religious/social issues affected partisanship. Since at least some observers would claim that the Republican Party has actively taken up the cause of the Christian right by doing things like fighting gay rights, attempting to ban or limit abortions, and generally espousing religion in public affairs, there is less reason to expect a positive relationship between extremist views on this issue and Independence – and possibly some reason to expect a negative relationship between moral conservatism and Independence.”

“The results in Table 5.1 are informative (if not fully conclusive). What is clear from Table 5.1 is that moral conservatism does not lead to greater Independence and nonpartisanship. The negative coefficient for views on abortion indicates that those on the far right on this issue are not more prone to choose Independence. What is less clear is whether liberals or those on the far left are especially apt to end up not identifying as partisans. The fact that the coefficient is negative and almost significant seems to imply that the more liberal one’s views on abortion, the more likely one is to identify as Independent.”

Those with strong liberal views are the most Independent/nonpartisan… while having strong conservative views doesn’t lead to an increase of being Independent/nonpartisan. Therefore, it isn’t about how strongly held are one’s political views but rather how liberal. It immediately jumps out to me how this data relates to the polling data showing only liberals have majority support for compromise. Maybe there is a direct correlation (or possibly even a causal link) between the three factors of liberalism, compromise, and Independence/nonpartisanship. Also, consider the two other factors I mentioned earlier of strong liberals (“Solid Liberals”) apparently being more open to that which is outside of liberalism (“Solid Liberals” having higher rates than “Staunch Conservatives” of self-identified moderates and such).

This makes me rethink a bit. Are those with liberal views misinformed and confused when they don’t identify as ‘liberal’? Or is it that the psychological ‘openness’ of liberal-minded people gives them more freedom in how they choose to identify themselves? Considering the nearly 1 in 10 liberals identifying as ‘conservative’, are they in some psychological sense seeking compromise by trying to adapt their own beliefs and values to the conservative worldview?

– – –

Here are my last thoughts.

Both liberalism and conservativism are creations of modern society, but both are built on natural predispositions that evolved in human nature long before modern society (probably long before all of civilization). Humanity is still experimenting with all of this and has yet to find a balance.

From a liberal perspective, what seems obvious to me is that all of us moderns are ‘liberals’ (relative to the past). The liberal is the modern “man of the present” (the man of our age) or at least that is what they liberal strives to be, and so the liberal has in some ways taken the place of the traditionalist (playing the role of conserving institutions in a changing world and conserving cultures in a multicultural world). The reactionary conservative has left behind the role of the traditionalist and maybe the reason conservatives attack liberals so harshly is because liberals have taken up that traditionalist role (so, they criticize liberals as weak as they’ve criticized traditionalists as weak).

However, it wasn’t the liberal who caused the conservative to leave behind the role of the traditionalists. The liberal merely picked up the role because the liberal realized it was a necessary role that someone had to play. No, the real reason the conservative left behind the role of traditionalist for the role of reactionary was because of the rise of the left-winger. It is left-wingers who are “men of the future”, and conservatives as the penultimate “men of the past” have adopted the left-wing ideologies and tactics of the past. Traditionalism is no defense against progressivism, both liberals and conservatives realizing this. All traditionalism can do is moderate the changes happening in the present by seeking balance (through compromise) between the push/pull of the left-wing revolutionaries and the right-wing counter-revolutionaries.

The challenge for the liberal is that the role of traditionalist doesn’t really fit the liberal worldview. Nonetheless, the liberal fears modern liberal society falling apart and all the liberal gains being lost. Someone has to compromise… and so the liberal is in a tough spot, not able to be fully himself. This is particularly true when reactionary conservatives become dominant and left-wingers become weak… because then liberals become the necessary representatives of left-wing revolution/progressivism (at least in the minds of reactionary conservatives who always need an enemy to fight against, even if that requires them to invent an enemy). It’s only when left-wing ideologies are ascendant that the liberal can have some breathing room. Liberals don’t want to fight conservatives in the way conservatives want to fight. It’s only left-wingers who can fulfill this position of worthy enemy.

This is why liberals have struggled so much and been so confused in recent decades. The left-wing was in constant retreat which left liberals to use all of their strength just in trying to hold the center, to keep it from shifting too far right. This makes me wonder. Where did the left-wingers go? It’s not as if they all disappeared. It’s just that left-wingers became divided in sectarianism while also getting lost in abstract theorizing and so their activism became impotent. Liberals fought as well as they could without much organized support from left-wingers, but there was only so much liberals could do alone. As time went on, liberals weren’t just fighting conservatives but often fighting left-wingers as well. Many liberals turned to the Democratic Party as their last refuge because they had no where else to turn (left-wingers, of course, interpreting this as selling out). Liberals who chose to remain independent became lonely fighters or else apathetic recluses. Independent liberals, like left-wingers, have felt abandoned by the ‘liberal’ establishment (their liberalism being rather questionable from the stand point of the independent liberal). Left-wingers in particular see that it was the ‘liberal’ establishment that left them rather than left-wingers having abandoned liberals. Either way, a splintering happened on the left.

– – –

In conclusion, that is how we ended up in this situation: Where most of the population supports many liberal positions even as they don’t support the liberal label. Where even the most liberal of liberals are either ignorant about what liberalism means or wary of being identified as such. And where the entire left is disempowered and often divided against itself.

On a positive note: It’s only during such times of tumult and uncertainty that genuine progressive change happens… because it’s only when conservatives have dominated so forcefully that the fires of the left-leaning imagination is stoked to such an extent that new visions of society can form. The furnace for that imagination is grassroots populism of the variety seen right now with the Occupy movement. Whether or not people understand liberalism or like to be labeled that way, the protest movement that has developed is pure liberalism in action.

Political Labels – Meaningless? Divisive?

I keep coming across the problem with political labels. I’m actually a fan of labels when they are used to accurately represent fundamental differences, but too often that isn’t how they are used. I probably don’t have much hope to disentangle that which has been intentionally tangled. Still, I can at least explain my own understanding of the entanglement.

First, there is a difference between European and American political histories. In Europe, conservatism has traditionally been supportive of government. In America, conservatism opposed the government because the government was founded on a liberal vision. So, American conservatism is radicalized and contradicts traditional conservatism. To speak of the conservative tradition in America is to speak of an idiosyncratic tradition. The American conservative tradition isn’t traditionally conservative. It’s more complex than that, but there is a basic truth to this explanation.

Second, there is a difference between mainstream politics and majority public opinion. America was inspired by a vision of populist liberalism, but the founding fathers were mistrusting of this vision and so they created a new entrenched ruling elite (rich white males, landed aristocracy, plutocratic owner class). So, American politics has an inherent conflict. The original vision that inspired the American Revolution has yet to be fulfilled. This puts conservatives in a weird position when they try to defend the American tradition. Are they defending the radically liberal vision or are they defending the ruling elite? In some sense, the two are so mixed that they can’t easily be separated. The founding fathers were liberal for their day and yet socially conservative compared to present society, especially in their favoring a hierarchical society built on slavery where most citizens are disenfranchised from voting and holding political office.

Third, about a century ago through lies and deception corporations gained the legal rights of personhood. At that time, there was a populist revolt against the capitalist oligarchy. But it didn’t last as the ruling elite quickly destroyed it and co-opted the rhetoric. With corporate personhood, the founding father’s plutocracy was turned into a corporatocracy. Yet it’s a corporatocracy that retains the external elements of America’s social democracy. Corporatocracy is what Ike was warning about when he spoke of the Military-Industrial Complex. The 20th century has been the history of that warning not being heeded. The result is that the entire mainstream political spectrum has been pushed toward the right (toward a fiscal conservatism defined by the plutocratic ruling class of business owners, CEOs, bankers, investors, lobbyists, and corporatist politicians).

Fourth, there used to be a left-wing and a right-wing in both parties. This changed when the entire country had a political switch over the past half century or so. The Democratic Party used to be strong in the South, but is now strong in the North. However, the Democratic Party still is strong with poor, minorities, and other disenfranchised demographics even in the South. And the Democratic Party has maintained both a left-wing and a right-wing (Democrats are almost equally divided between those who identify as liberals, conservatives, and moderates). The Republicans were the party of Lincoln, the leader of the Northern Aggression who forced the South to end slavery. Republicans were the party that defended government instead of attacking it. Republicans were called that because they believed in the ‘republic’ which is the government. Earlier in the 20th century, there were still many progressive Republicans like Eisenhower. But there was a purging of the left-wing of the GOP which has caused the conservative movement to become radicalized toward the far right, specifically the far right of social conservatives. This radicalization has, as research has shown, led the conservative movement to become strongly aligned with right-wing authoritarians (a specific label with a specific definition as used in research).

All of this together has led Americans to have a very confused sense of politics.

When polled: If Americans are given a choice between identifying as liberal, conservative or moderate, the majority chooses moderate. If Americans are only given a choice between liberal or conservative, the majority chooses conservative. However, when asked about specific political positions and policies, liberals and moderates are largely in agreement. What usually is defined as ‘liberal’ positions are supported by a majority of Americans.

So, there is an apparent contradiction between what Americans label themselves as and what Americans actually support. This is because for decades the word ‘liberal’ has been portrayed in very negative terms which the American public has internalized. Mainstream politicians and media pundits have increasingly portrayed liberalism as the far left which is obviously not the case since moderates and the majority agree with liberals. The political spectrum has been pushed so far to the right that the far left is almost entirely excluded from public debate. The vacuum left from the banishment of left-wingers has forced moderate liberals to fill that position on the left end of the spectrum.

The political center in Washington isn’t the political center of the American public. Most Americans are moderates, but most politicians are polarized in their rhetoric. Also, most activists are polarized as well. This leaves a moderate silent majority which is in fact the liberal silent majority. Most liberals are probably so silent because they don’t even know they are liberals.

On top of that, the majority of Americans don’t vote because America has a history of disenfranchising the masses (which was intentionally created by the founding fathers). Conservatives, like the founding fathers, don’t trust the masses and are suspicious of democracy because it gives power to the masses. The silent majority isn’t just silent but silenced. Our political system is technically a democracy (however imperfect and corrupt), but even admitting this fact is a concession conservatives are unwilling to make. Conservatives will say that we live in a republic, not a democracy. I find that funny since there is no inherent conflict between the two. Yes, we are a republic AND we are democracy. Anyway, there is nothing inherently good about a republic. China is a republic.

A further confusion is that many Americans, especially among conservatives, don’t understand the difference between a liberal, a socialist, a communist, and a fascist. It’s all one and the same to them. As I’ve already pointed out, the contemporary American liberal is actually a moderate and, I would add, a small ‘r’ republican (in that they support our republican government). Beyond that, a socialist isn’t a communist isn’t a fascist. Socialism is a broad category which gives power to individuals and to communities of individuals. To varying degrees, socialism can be found in many churches, local organizations, unions, etc. Communism and fascism, on the other hand, are specifically about governments. A communist government owns the means of production. And a fascist government is controlled by those who own the means of production. But the distinction is often blurred. For example, the Nazis were fascists who used socialism to label themselves while killing and imprisoning socialists as well as communists. If you were a socialist being killed or imprisoned by Nazis, you wouldn’t be comforted by the fact that Nazis labeled themselves as ‘socialists’.

Yet another confusion, especially among conservatives, is that libertarianism and classical liberalism is true conservatism. Now, that is a confusion of labels worthy of a propagandist. The original libertarians and classical liberals were radically liberal and not conservative in any sense. Some of them thought free markets were potentially beneficial, but they were also very wary of capitalism not constrained by the morality of public good. The first libertarians were labor movement socialists (which makes it all the more ironic that most self-identified libertarians today are mostly from the privileged upper class). The godfather of American libertarianism, Henry David Thoreau, criticized the capitalism of his day which is the very same 19th century capitalism that right-libertarians today like to romanticize. The original vision of America was described by Thomas Paine who was a classical liberal of the bleeding heart liberal variety. Even so, left-libertarians like Thoreau and radical liberals like Paine are today so far to the left that they are no longer even included on the political spectrum. Even militant secessionists get more media attention and mainstream respectability. Washington politicians are simply being good conservatives when they speak about overthrowing the government, but when a moderate liberal defends the moral justification of the government they get labeled as a far left socialist.

The confusions abound. Many people think of America as a Christian nation, but only a minority of Americans regularly attend church and atheists know more about the Bible than most who claim to be Christian. Republicans use fiscal conservatism as rhetoric, but when asked it’s self-identified liberals who state the most interest in balancing the budget. Tea Party supporters and many right-libertarians idolize the constitution, but some of these people have proposed repealing the 14th amendment just because they don’t like immigrants and they’ve sought to take away the rights from the working class by busting unions. It’s hard to know what to make of all this.

Even though I think of myself as a liberal, I don’t mean to just blame conservatives. When I read about traditional conservatism, I find elements of it quite appealing. I’ve always been mistrusting of radicalism and not just because the radicalism of American conservatives. I’m like Paine in that I want to believe in our democratic government. Paine would be disappointed to see our country becoming ever more fascist, but he would be quite uplifted by the fact that the government finally ended slavery which he wanted the government to do right from the beginning. I want to believe in America, including the government. In this sense, I’m ‘conservative’. But being this kind of a ‘conservative’ in America means that you’ll likely feel more at home with those who identify as ‘liberals’. As such, I praise conservatism even as I criticize conservatives.

I had no grand purpose in analyzing all these labels. I just wanted to explain my own understanding. I keep hearing the same muddled labels being argued about… which is annoying. I also find it annoying when someone claims the labels are meaningless, that the left/right dichotomy was created to divide and conquer. My problem is most people who think labels are meaningless seem to do so because of ignorance about the history of those labels. Yes, those in power do use tactics of divide and conquer, but they also use tactics of keeping the public so ignorant that they can’t make intelligent distinctions.

I feel harshly judgmental (which isn’t unusual for me), but that isn’t the point. Maybe those who think the labels have become meaningless are right. I don’t know if it matters. The labels themselves, of course, are just words. What matters is that which words are intended to represent. From my perspective, the loss of meaningful labels is the loss of meaningful discussion. What these labels represent is history. There is something sad about the collective forgetting of our collective past.

– – –

After writing the above, I had some further thoughts (surprise, surprise). I want to expand on a few points I made and maybe offer some corrections or clarifications.

I think the confusion of politics has always existed in America. It goes beyond the radicalization and polarization of the 20th century.

I was particularly thinking about political groups such as right-libertarians, objectivists, and anarcho-capitalists. I often consider these groups to be ‘conservative’ in the broad sense. Certainly, they are right-wingers. It makes me wonder what is the relation between conservatives and right-wingers. As I already pointed out, liberals and left-wingers often have very little in common. Many left-wingers choose not to identify as ‘liberals’ and many self-identified liberals disavow left-wingers. I’ve noticed similar dynamic can be found between right-wingers and conservatives (which, to an outsider like me, often appears as a conflict between those who emphasize fiscal conservatism and those who emphasize social conservatism).

The confusion in this area has two main aspects.

  1. Those on the right tend to conflate liberals and left-wingers and those on the left tend to conflate conservatives and right-wingers.
  2. If you go far enough to the right or left, you often end up around the same place: left-libertarians and right-libertarians, anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-capitalists, etc.

Both the left-wing and right-wing in America have some origins in classical liberalism (because America has its origins in classical liberalism). My complaint is that the right-wingers often want to claim classical liberalism for themselves. I’ve argued that classical liberalism has more in common with the left than the right. Ignoring the two wings, it’s obvious that liberalism in general has its origins in classical liberalism, although much has changed since the time of classical liberalism. On the other hand, one would have to make a major stretch to argue that contemporary conservatism overall has much to do with classical liberalism. Right-wingers make a simple mistake in assuming that classical liberalism automatically means minarchism or anti-statism. The early classical liberals, prior to the American and French revolutions, were against the governments of the time because those governments were monarchies with state-sanctioned religions. But they weren’t against all government in principle. For damned sure, classical liberalism isn’t just another name for anarchism.

That said, I must admit that I’m not an expert on classical liberalism. I think some right-wing ideologies have a case for their origins in classical liberalism, but they don’t have a case for sole possession of classical liberalism nor as the rightful inheritors, the official standard-bearers of all classical liberalism. When they attempt to make this argument, they discredit themselves with their own arrogant self-righteousness. I’m willing to share classical liberalism with them, but I won’t allow them to eliminate the liberalism from classical liberalism.

Here is what I see as the source of the confusion about classical liberalism. I’ve noticed two diverging tendencies within the founding generation of America. Both were liberal relative to the monarchy they were collectively opposing, but one was more liberal than the other. Some of the founders wanted a ruling elite based class, education and property. These founders were successful in implementing this vision to varying degrees in federal and state laws. Opposing them, were those who agreed with Paine which largely included those not a part of the ruling elite (Paine himself was born into the working class). Paine’s vision inspired the American Revolution, but was shoved to the side once the American ruling elite was freed from the British ruling elite. Paine was a radical liberal in the tradition of social democracy and so that meant that Paine was a classical liberal who didn’t hate government. He realized that a democratic government was the only protection from a new ruling elite. And many of the other founders feared democracy because they realized it limited their own power as the ruling elite while empowering the average person (i.e., the ‘mob’).

So, the right-winger today who self-identifies as a classical liberal tends to be in the American tradition of a capitalist ruling elite (plutocracy) that opposes other ruling elites (such as monarchies and often government in general) while simultaneously opposing the vast majority of citizens who potentially could oppose their own position of ruling elite. They see themselves as part of a meritocracy and so believe that they, unlike others, have earned their position as the ruling elite. However, it’s a bit misguided to call this classical liberalism. Classical just generally refers to the liberalism prior to the 20th century. Paine absolutely was a classical liberal. He was definitely liberal for politics of his day and his vision is still radically liberal by today’s standards. The right-wing founders were liberal in wanting to replace a monarchy with a republic, but they were conservative in wanting to maintain a ruling elite. I find it almost disingenous to call people classical liberals who feared giving people basic freedom and human rights. Paine wanted everyone to be absolutely and equally free, but many of the founders didn’t want to end slavery or give voting rights to all citizens because they believed maintaining their own freedom necessitated limiting the freedom of others. That is a very distorted and uninspiring notion of classical liberalism.

Many right-wing libertarians to this day find themselves in this conundrum of simultaneously praising and fearing freedom. Many right-wing libertarians and minarchists are fine with any constraints on freedom that help maintain their position of power and the social order that upholds it (e.g., strong border control and military). They like capitalism (or rather their version of big business corporatism) even if it means (or because it means) undermining democracy and disempowering those of the lower classes (e.g., union busting, Citizens United). This attitude may have elements of classical liberalism in terms of rhetoric, but it is also a response of wanting to deny the unadulterated and unrestrained vision of classical liberalism as proposed by Paine. Even though it seemed relatively liberal a couple centuries ago, this right-wing ‘classical liberalism’ is extremely conservative compared to the present leftwing ideologies that seek to free and empower all people of all classes and races. I prefer my classical liberalism taken straight and not watered down.

Unlike most of the founders, Paine was a genuine progressive. It is interesting to note that progressivism isn’t always or entirely aligned with big government and with liberalism. Some of the founders who wanted to maintain the status quo of a ruling elite (meaning they were afraid of Paine’s populist progressivism) were for that reason also for having a strong central government. Paine didn’t disagree with having a strong central government, but he wanted it to be balanced by localized grassroots democracy. The ideal of progressivism existed at the beginning of America’s political tradition. Progressivism and populism have tended to gone hand in hand. In the Populist Era a century later, Paine’s vision was reawakened but it served both socially conservative agendas (e.g., religious revivalism, Prohibition) and socially liberal agendas (e.g., feminism)… and, oddly, it often was the seemingly social liberal feminists who were promoting the socially conservative agendas such as Prohibition. Still, at the heart of it, there was the same basic impulse that motivated Paine. The Populists were progressive in that they believed by making changes in the social order the average person would be empowered to change themselves. It’s the ideal of grassroots democracy, of direct political action.

Once upon a time, the Republican Party was the progressive party. Republicans ended slavery and maintained the union, created the national park service, built the interstate highway system, created the EPA. Et Cetera. These aren’t inherently liberal or conservative issues. Maintaining the union was maintaining the status quo and protecting the social order, both conservative impulses in a fundamental sense (although they’ve come to be identified with contemporary liberals). Conservative used to mean ‘conserving’ such as conserving land and resources by creating national parks and by creating the EPA which protects (i.e., conserves) the environment. Even unions aren’t inherently liberal. Maintaining living wages for workers maintains social order and ensures a healthy community and stable families (all of which are issues central to conservatives) which is why Catholic communities have also tended to be union communities.

In conclusion:
The liberalism of America’s past gets claimed by many American conservatives today.
And the conservatism of America’s past becomes identified with Americans labeled as liberals today.
But the radical left of America’s past and present usually gets forgotten and ignored.

– – –

I just finished writing another post that is in some ways a continuation of what I wrote above:

Is Classical Liberalism Liberal?

By the way, this is a topic I’ve grappled with often. This post is a summarization of analysis I’ve made and data I’ve gathered in previous posts:

Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Posted on Apr 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi : Japanese Buddhist scholar & Zen master, founder of the San Francisco Zen Center Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 – 1971)

I’m wary of labels… especially when placing them on myself.  The moment someone identifies with a label, I’m pretty sure they’re no longer in beginner’s mind.  I don’t mind labels to any great extent because I use them tentatively.  At its best, a label is just a way of looking at things.

I was criticizing a certain type of Christian in my previous blog post, and this is related.  A label is a way of looking at things.  And when one identifies with that label, it limits the way one can look at things.  Comparative mythology and integral theory is more interesting to me because they both allow one to switch perspectives.

I’m attracted to Christianity and to that extent I’m Christian.  But, to me, Christianity is a very loose network of ideas, myths, and cultural paradigms.  There is no one true Christianity.  Christianity is a confluence of trends that come from diverse cultures much of which predates or was concurrent with Christianity.

I’m also wary of hegemony whether of the Christian, perennial, or integral varieties.  I do believe there is a universal truth of some sort, but within that infinite specific differences.  Yes, all gods point to the mystery beyond but so do all humans.  Monotheism doesn’t negate polytheism.  The powers that be(archetypal or whatever) are as distinct from eachother as one human is to another.  When you consider all of the saints and angels and demons, its easy to see that Christianity isn’t essentially different in kind from Hinduism for instance.  Its more apparent in Hinduism how Monotheism and Polytheism relate.  To be technical, most modern world religions are henotheistic… which means they have a favored deity but still aknowledge the reality of other lesser deities(powers, spirits, angels, demons, etc).

For certain, all the monistic and monotheistic religions arose from and were largely based upon polytheism.  Whenever looking at different views, I’m often mildly annoyed and amused at how ignorant most people are of this fact.

Similarly, is the phenomena of conversion.  How do people know what they’re converting to?  There is a whole lot of biased interpretation in the conversion process.

As an example, I was reading of an agnostic lady who while on vacation visited a Christian shrine.  She had a vision and became a Christian.  I find this amusing because many shrines were built on pagan holy ground.  She saw a spiritual vision, but how does she know that this spirit wasn’t the ancient spirit of that holy place?  Just because Christians built a shrine there(possibly incorporating some of the pagan shrine) it doesn’t mean that this particular spirit converted to Christianity.  The spirit of that place may not give a hoot about Christianity.  Maybe that spirit likes anybody with sufficient devotion no matter what there religious affiliation.  Maybe the spirit was simply saying hi.  Furthermore, the shrine this lady visited had a statue of Jesus.  I’ve read before that the image of Jesus was based on previous pagan savior god-men.  So, which god-man came to save her?  Maybe it was Mithras and he was disappointed after she left because she didn’t sacrifice a bull for him.

She took an ineffable experience and effed it up with Christian theology.  =)  Now she is a Christian who filters the world through a theological lense.  She has gained something, but I suspect she lost even more.

But nobody ever said religion is rational… sort of like love.  Essentially, conversions is just a form of falling in love… and that goes a far way in explaining the insane things that some religious people do.  Its not accidental that a monotheistic religion like Christianity promotes monogamy.  God is jealous and so are his followers.  There is a difference between falling in love with a god and falling in love with a person.  Many people when they fall in love with a god become devoted in a way that is rare when they fall in love with another person.  Falling in love with another peson usually doesn’t lead one to deny the existence of all other people or else deem everyone else as evil.  Could you imagine if people treated their romances the way that many treat religion?  What if when people fell in romantically fell in love, they felt they had to deny their love for their parents and family?

(Here is the thread for this post at the God pod.)

Access_public Access: Public 14 Comments Print // Post this!views (229)  

2 days later

Domi333 said

marmalade,
it’s always been like that…have you heard about ‘our lady of guadalupe’ appearing on the hill of Tonantzin(trad. Goddess)?
and yes, spirituality is nameless, I once read a piece which said that the mother goddess appearing as Kwan Yin to Chinese, Mary to Europeans etc, she appears in forms common to the people living nearby…
I also think you touched on the ‘God is a jealous god’ topic…so then wouldn’t there be other gods to make him jealous? monotheism and polytheism are related…Allah was high God become only god, JHWH-God may have been El or Ea(poss. combination of both)
ahh i see now, we can express belief without being dogmatic and through different expressions, one loves one’s wife and mother just like one expresses spirituality on different levels and in different(sometimes contradictory)ways…
Peace

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

4 days later

Marmalade said

Howdy Domi333,

You’re a very new member of Gaia.  I’m glad you found my blog and responded.

I’ve read a little about the story behind ‘our lady of guadalupe’, but I haven’t looked into it much.  Have you ever heard of the Evil Saint?  I have a picture of him and I find him very fascinating.

As for goddesses, I most definitely feel there is immense connection with the Virgin Mary and all the other Marys.  I’ve read that some of the Black Madonnas in Europe were probably originally statues of Isis that were bought from traders.  The churches that bought them assumed they were statues of the Madonna.  Maybe they saw it as the Madonna because the imagery of the Madonna was based on pagan goddesses in the first place.

Yep about the El and Ea origins of JHWH-God.  And yep I think you get what I was saying about love and belief.

Blessings,
Marmalade

Nicole : wakingdreamer

12 days later

Nicole said

Ben, I think that we tend to be polytheists, really, even when we think of ourselves as monotheists. the important thing is to realize the unknowable God behind all the “gods” or knowable one God. it’s when we think that the God or gods we “know” is/are all there is, that it gets out of balance. cause that is just the tiny bit of the elephant in the parable of blind men that we can touch. love and light

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

12 days later

Marmalade said

Yep, right you are.  We do forget that there is an essential common truth behind all “gods”.  But we also forget that there is an essential common truth within all people.  When we’re in love(with a god or a person), we can become unbalanced.  We become focused on our love object and forget all else.

Song of the day:
Let the Mystery Be
by Iris Dement

12 days later

Domi333 said

What do you mean by the evil saint?
and also you just went into two concepts: deus absconditus(hidden god) from Thomas Aquinas…or deus otiosus(idle god) yet not hidden… then we have the closer active forces in the universe- relating to shakti(creative forces) in hinduism…anyways, as long as we experience whatever it is, that’s what’s important..
Dom

FastDart : Peaceful Arrow

12 days later

FastDart said

You guys rock my world. I am one in Spirit and remember that my source is always available.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

12 days later

Marmalade said

Dom,

Two names of the Evil Saint are San Simón and Maximón.  They’re also related to the Santa Muerte, a female personification of death.  Maximón is a combination of Mayan deities, Judas Iscariot and Pedro de Alvarado, the conquistador of Guatemala.  He represents evil, but he is also a protector of sinners.  As such, he is a favored saint amongst prostitutes.  San Simón is similar, but his name may be a reference to Simon the Magus.

These saints are revered by some Catholics in Central America even though they aren’t aknowledged by the Catholic church.  I’ve read about a festival where a statue of the Evil Saint and a statue of Jesus are paraded through the streets and then meet in confrontation… of course, Jesus always wins.  🙂

“as long as we experience whatever it is, that’s what’s important”

True.  Experience is the important aspect, but there is another aspect that motivated my posting this blog in the first place.  We need to trust our own experience over dogmatic interpretations and cultural expectations, and we must continually return to our own direct experience and question our own direct experience.  In doing this, we need to remain humble in our limited understanding and open to new understandings.  We must remember that our experience is filtered by unconscious assumptions and beliefs, that we’re caught in collective reality tunnels.

13 days later

Domi333 said

OK, I know a bit of Maximon, the mayans never totally abandoned their old beliefs, there was a lot of syncretism, an evil saint who’s evil yet protects sinners, that’s a strange paradox…then again the mayan and aztec gods weren’t pure god or evil they were powerful beings(maybe not quetzalcoatl, my fav.)

yes, experience is limited by all that…i think i meant that what we ultimately perceive to be true(although we may keep changing), after breaking through what we have learnt to believe, subconscious motivations etc. Buddha once said: With our thoughts we make the world.(and we are living in the world of our underlying assumptions etc.)
Ben, do you believe that ultimately most people are totally stuck in these ‘collective reality tunnels’, then ultimately how do we know what is really real?
the subjective perceived truth versus the objective reasoning

Marmalade : Gaia Child

13 days later

Marmalade said

BTW you rock too FastDart!

Okay, Dom..
“i think i meant that what we ultimately perceive to be true(although we may keep changing), after breaking through what we have learnt to believe, subconscious motivations etc.”

I think I agree with what your pointing at here.  I sense there is a truth to be perceived.

“do you believe that ultimately most people are totally stuck in these ‘collective reality tunnels’, then ultimately how do we know what is really real?”
 
I do believe we are for the most part stuck in reality tunnels, but I don’t feel it has to be a bad thing.  I feel there is something inherently good to the world even if I don’t fully understand it.  Reality is infinitely creative and will always defy the mind that attempts to constrain it with knowledge, but its a fun game to play anyways.  We don’t ever know what is really real.  We just can have experiences that feel real and we can have faith in our own experiences.  And from that we live our lives.  Mystery trumps all, but we too are Mystery!

“the subjective perceived truth versus the objective reasoning”

Simply put, I don’t believe those are the only two choices… nor do I believe that those two choices are entirely distinct.

So, what do you think of reality tunnels and the possibility of knowing reality?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

13 days later

Nicole said

hi dom! thanks for joining the God Pod! i can see it will be fun having you with us!

Ben, getting back first to your response to my comment, yes, you are right about getting unbalanced when we are in love… that’s what you see in “Jesus freaks” – i remember my Jesus freak days – and that’s what happens when you get lost in the gaze of anoher human being and you can’t eat or sleep, can’t work, can’t think of anything else but that person.

thanks be to God for falling out of love! lol

so, on to your dialogue with Dom. fascinating stuff here about the evil saints. the latin culture is so interesting around religion, with the Days of the Dead and so on… but i wasn’t aware of the evil Saints, reminds me of the movie The Saint with Val Kilmer, a modernising of the old British book/series, and this Saint’s past as an orphan preached at by priests at how they were bastard children of sinful women etc… anyway there is more than meets the eye to that movie, don’t know if you and Dom have seen it.

now, here’s something else new to me. reality tunnels… i do think that many people i know struggle to know what is real. first of all, the media are so all pervasive, and benumb and bemuse people in TV, movies, internet, gaming, newspapers, radio shows… these are not reality but webs of overlapping mental/emotional/spiritual constructs that inform how we think about and live our actual lives to the point that i wonder if we really “see” our lives or live them, or just sleep walk through them.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

14 days later

Marmalade said

Sweet dear Nickel,
 Yeah, we become unbaanced in love… but that is what makes it so much fun.  🙂  The “Jesus freaks” aren’t wrong.  They just need to step their love up a notch.  If they’d truly lose themselves in love Sufi-style, then there’d be no problem.  Superficial love of God makes God into a symbol of the ego.  Deep love of God transforms the ego.

And there is power in falling out of love.  For the mystic, this is the Dark Night of the Soul…. what felt so good, so right disappears… a sense of abandonment and loss, emptiness and loneliness.  On the human level, to really love someone means a willingness to let them go.  The sorrow comes from the fact that even though the object of love is gone love itself remains.  Its difficult to learn to sit still in the fires of love.  At first, we love God.  Then, we realize God is love, that God isn’t elsewhere to be loved but right here in our hearts.

so, on to your comments about my dialogue with Dom.  I haven’t watched The Saint.  But becasue you like it, I’ve put it in my Netflix queue.  So, I’ll be watching it soon.

Ahhh… something new for you…  lovely reality tunnels.  I think I probably first learned about them from reading Robert Anton Wilson years ago.  Timothy Leary coined the term, but it was RAW who popularized it.  There are many other ideas and terms that are simiar.  Maybe I’ll blog about it sometime.  It is a fascinating subject.

14 days later

Domi333 said

These reality tunnels, would they justify the interlocking of separate minds in the same stream? I guess, people who are close to each other tend to have a strong mental connection…
Objective and subjective analysis, rightly so would not be so concrete and distinct as only ways of seeing things, they both interlock…one needs to be subjectively experiencing something to look at it objectively(or the observer’s paradox, even though the observer can affect the subject)
There could be a possibility that we’re stuck in a plato’s cave-matrix paradox, yet even exiting the cave, would that too be real? defining what is ‘real’ and what is ‘true’ is not exactly constant, an anomaly can come and become the force for a paradigm shift…but it’s the way that we personally want to see things…
Would it be personally possible to traverse these reality tunnels and affect their comings and goings? or maybe I’m just getting a bit far out…

Marmalade : Gaia Child

14 days later

Marmalade said

Dom – All that you said sounds good to me.  Feel free to go as far out as you like.  If you’re familiar with Robert Anton Wilson, then you know that the out goes quite far.  🙂

Reality tunnels can be applied to almost anything. 

At its most basic, they’re the psychological and bio-sensory limitations of our individuality.  But you can step this up to include the social in terms of paradigms.  If you don’t take it any further, then its not anything too far out, nothing that goes beyond mainstream understandings of ‘reality’.

However, once you start considering how much overlap there is between the objective and subjective, you’re stepping into different territory.  If reality has a collective/consensual factor and if perception is an act of creativity, then reality tunnels aren’t merely something we’re stuck in, not just something that happens to us, not simply the limits of the way the world is.

So, there is the modest view of reality  tunnels that says that objective analysis and observation can allow us to see beyond our reality tunnels.  And there is the radical view of reality tunnels that says that even objective reality is just another reality tunnel.

Its not a matter of what is absolutely real, of what is the correct view.  Reality is about how we relate and the motivation that is behind our way of relating.  Subjective experience and objective analysis are both useful to the degree they help us achieve our goals in relating better to the world and to others… however we define those things.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

14 days later

Nicole said

uh huh, still making me pay for that Binyamin eh? lol well, at least i’m worth five cents!

 Yeah, unbaanced in love is so much fun – i just love totally losing it in my life.  🙂  I agree with you about losing self in love Sufi-style, that deep love of God transforms the ego. That’s my path!

And the power in falling out of love,  Dark Night of the Soul, been there last year with God, this year with ___, “what felt so good, so right disappears… a sense of abandonment and loss, emptiness and loneliness.  On the human level, to really love someone means a willingness to let them go.  The sorrow comes from the fact that even though the object of love is gone love itself remains.  Its difficult to learn to sit still in the fires of love.”

It gets easier. The first time I very deeply loved and let go, it really really hurt for the first three or four years.  This time, I was much better prepared so while there are days or hours or moments when it is harder, I accept it thoroughly so the fires pass through me. I don’t resist as much so suffer much less.

“At first, we love God.  Then, we realize God is love, that God isn’t elsewhere to be loved but right here in our hearts.” Yes, yes, more and more I know that deeply to be true.

Glad to hear you will be watching The Saint soon, just because I like it! 🙂 Thank you, and I very much look forward to your comments. I think I shall add mention of that to the God Pod discussion of the Illusionist, because it too is about smoke and mirrors…

Every day there is something new for me! But the reality tunnels are especially enticing. I must get more into Robert Anton Wilson, I keep hearing about him on the I-I pod mostly. Good old Timothy Leary, eh? If you do want to blog about it, that would be so cool and you know i will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. :).

I agree, from the sound of them, they sound far from something to be “stuck” in, something that is gloriously freeing. Wheeeee!

 – – –

Comments from the forum thread:

Nicole : wakingdreamer  

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Nicole said Apr 22, 2008, 5:44 PM:

  Hi Marmalade,

Wow, this is interesting… 🙂 as having recently fallen intensively in love, I thought i should comment on this.

You make an excellent point about conversion being like falling in love, and there are also many things in life like conversion, for example joining a new company and being really excited about it, or doing the job you are used to and getting a whole new perspective on it.

I think that as humans we filter our experiences through our physicality, so we often interpret our strong feelings romantically when they perhaps are quite different, operating on a spiritual or mental or different kind of emotional level.

What do you all think?

Peace and light,

Nicole

 
  Marmalade : Gaia Explorer  

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Marmalade said Apr 23, 2008, 2:42 AM:

  Thanks for the reply Nicole!  Ain’t love a funny thing?

As for conversion, Buddhism has an interesting take.  When the Buddha became enlightened, some of the Hindu gods(according to the Buddhists) showed deference.  In Tibetan Buddhism, some of the deities are considered to be converted from the Bon religion.

This makes sense.  In the ancient world, when a people were defeated it was assumed that the god of the people was defeated.  So, if a people were converted, they very well might see it as their god being converted… that is submitting to the power of a ‘greater’ god.  Conversion isn’t always through love.

Related to this, is a Jungian idea that I think I may have mentioned to you before.  Jung said that a person wasn’t genuinely a Christian until they had faced the pagan gods within themselves.  This is very intriguing… an internal conversion of archetypes?

Blessings,
Marmalade

 
  Nicole : wakingdreamer  

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Nicole said Apr 23, 2008, 3:23 AM:

  conversion of gods and archetypes! wow, that is mindblowing, marmalade. i will have to ponder that…. you always give me so much food for thought, dear friend.

love and light,

nicole

 
   

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Dave [no longer around] said Apr 23, 2008, 4:28 AM:

  Marmalade… “an internal conversion of archetypes”…
These 5 words are extremely important… and reflect the specific reason I have difficulty with Integral Theory. 

IMHO, Integral is too focused on evolution, and not transformation.  Evolution suggests a slow, methodical, concerted effort to develop new physiological and psychological capabilities for increasing consciousness and spiritual awareness.  I am not sure, but evolution also suggests moving up a hierarchy of archetypes… one to the other to the other.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every being on this planet, has it within themselves, to “complete their evolution’ in an instantaneous transformation.  Some call it enlightenment, others born again.  Whatever one calls that… it is a transformation of consciousness… a quantum leap… rather than an evolutionary one.

Appreciate your thoughts.

Dave

 
  Nicole : wakingdreamer  

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Nicole said Apr 23, 2008, 5:34 AM:

  Hi dave

I’m not sure why you see integral this way. To me it definitely is more of a quantum theory, transformation kind of approach. Transformation is not always instant though. For example when the new testament speaks of us being transformed into the likeness of God it is something that takes our whole life and is not complete. Experiences of enlightenment that we have are states not permanent. That is why we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling though we can be initially saved in the blink of an eye. The working through of that takes much longer.

Love and light

Nicole

 
  Negoba : A Simple Seeker  

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Negoba said Apr 23, 2008, 9:40 AM:

  I think the reason that many of us are here is that in a global society, crosspollenation of religious and spiritual thought is a fact of life. Dismissing other religions is just not possible for most thinkers anymore. This is probably why Integral thought is finding such an audience right now.

Similarly, we may see less and less traditional “conversions” but we will see more and more episodes of people falling in love with traditions that are new to them. And that seems ok to me.

I agree that “tranformation” or “diversification” seem better substitutes for the word “evolution.” Despite Wilber’s (sometimes reasonable) meandering about the Mean Green Meme, I still have suspicions of linear heirarchy. The word evolution itself implies linear, up, more, better, bigger. And it’s not that transformation doesn’t include that. It’s just that it’s that and more. Similarly, I wish the field started by Darwin wasn’t named “evolution” because that’s not really the best descriptor. Perhaps his “On the Origin of Species” is better, but of course that’s too many words and not catchy enough.

Enough rambling….till tonight

 
  Marmalade : Gaia Explorer  

Re: Labels, Religion, and Falling in Love

Marmalade said Apr 23, 2008, 11:26 AM:

  An internal conversion of archetypes.  I’m not sure what I meant by that, but it sounded good at the time.

As for integral, I don’t think that transformation and development need be opposed.  But integral does seem more focused on development because it can more easily be mapped.  Ultimately, though, development is transformative because each new stage is emergent.