Boredom in the Mind: Liberals and Reactionaries

“Hobsbawm was obsessed with boredom; his experience of it appears at least twenty-seven times in Evans’s biography. Were it not for Marx, Hobsbawm tells us, in a book of essays, he never would “have developed any special interest in history.” The subject was too dull. The British writer Adam Phillips describes boredom as “that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins.” More than a wish for excitement, boredom contains a longing for narrative, for engagement that warrants attention to the world.

“A different biographer might have found in Hobsbawm’s boredom an opening onto an entire plane of the Communist experience. Marxism sought to render political desire as objective form, to make human intention a causal force in the world. Not since Machiavelli had political people thought so hard about the alignment of action and opportunity, about the disjuncture between public performance and private wish. Hobsbawm’s life and work are a case study in such questions.”

That is another great insight from Corey Robin, as written in his New Yorker piece, Eric Hobsbawm, the Communist Who Explained History. Boredom does seem key. It is one of the things that stood out to me in Robin’s writings about the reactionary mind. Reactionaries dislike, even fear, boredom more than almost anything else. The rhetoric of reactionaries is often to create the passionate excitement of melodrama, such as how Burke describes the treatment of the French queen.

The political left too often forgets the power of storytelling, especially simplistic and unoriginal storytelling, as seen with Trump. Instead, too many on the left fear the populist riling up of the masses. I remember Ralph Nader warning about this in a speech he gave in his 2000 presidential campaign. There is a leftist mistrust of passion and maybe there is good reason for this mistrust, considering it forms the heartbeat of the reactionary mind. Still, without passion, there is no power of persuasion and so all attempts are doomed from the start. The left will have to learn to fight on this turf or simply embrace full resignation and so fall into cynicism.

The thing is that those on the political left seem to have a higher tolerance for boredom, maybe related to their higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance shown in social science research. It requires greater uncertainty and stress to shut down the liberal-minded person (liberal in the psychological sense). I noticed this in myself. I’m not prone to the reactionary maybe because I don’t get bored easily and so don’t need something coming from outside to motivate me.

But it might go beyond mere tolerance in demonstrating an active preference for boredom. There is something about the liberal mind that is prone to complexity, nuance, and ambiguity that can only be grown amidst boredom — that is to say the open-mindedness of curiosity, doubt, and questioning are only possible when one acknowledges ignorance. It’s much more exciting to proclaim truth, instead, and proclaim it with an entertaining story. This is problematic in seeking political victories, if one is afraid of the melodrama of hard fights. Right-wingers might burn themselves out on endless existential crises, whereas left-wingers typically never build up enough fire to lightly toast a marshmallow.

The political left doesn’t require or thrive with a dualistic vision of opposition and battle, in the way does the political right. This is a central strength and weakness for the left. On the side of weakness, this is why it is so hard for the left to offer a genuinely threatening challenge to the right. Most often what happens is the reactionaries simply co-opt the left and the left too easily falls in line. See how many liberals will repeat reactionary rhetoric. Or notice how many on the political left turned full reactionary during times of conflict (e.g., world war era).

Boredom being the comfort zone of liberals is all the more reason they should resist settling down within its confines. There is no where to hide from the quite real drama that is going on in the world. The liberal elite can’t forever maintain their delusion of being a disinterested aristocracy. As Eric Hobsbawm understood and Karl Marx before him, only a leftist vision can offer a narrative that can compete against the reactionary mind

* * *

“Capitalism is boring. Devoting your life to it, as conservatives do, is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.”
~William F. Buckley Jr., in an interview with Corey Robin

Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals

The last thing in the world a reactionary wants is to be bored, as happened with the ending of the ideological battles of the Cold War. They need a worthy enemy or else to invent one. Otherwise, there is nothing to react to and so nothing to get excited about, followed by a total loss of meaning and purpose, resulting in dreaded apathy and ennui. This leads reactionaries to become provocative, in the hope of provoking an opponent into a fight. Another strategy is simply to portray the whole world as a battleground, such that everything is interpreted as a potential attack, working oneself or one’s followers into a froth.

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction

To the reactionary mind, sacrifice of self can be as acceptable as sacrifice of others. It’s the fight, the struggle itself that gives meaning — no matter the costs and consequences, no matter how it ends. The greatest sin is boredom, the inevitable result of victory. As Irving Kristol said to Corey Robin, the defeat of the Soviet Union “deprived us of an enemy.” It was the end of history for, without an enervating battle of moral imagination, it was the end of the world.

Reactionaries, Powell Memo and Judicial Activism

To explain why the Powell Memo is important, I’ll begin with a summary of the games played by reactionaries which explains the rhetorical power they wield. There are two main aspects of the reactionary mind (* see below). The most interesting is described by Corey Robin, the reason I’ve come to refer to reactionaries as the “Faceless Men”.

Reactionaries steal the thunder and mimic the tactics of the political left, and in doing so co-opt political movements and even revolutions, turning the latter into counterrevolutions. More interesting still is how reactionaries pose as what they are not by claiming labels that originated with their opponents — calling themselves classical liberals and whatever else catches their fancy. They pretend to be defenders of constitutional originalism while they radically transform the Constitution, such as pushing corporate personhood and citizenship, something that would have horrified the American revolutionaries and founders.

The other side of this is what reactionaries project onto others. They are the greatest purveyors of political correctness in attacking free speech, an area in which they show their brilliance in controlling narrative framing. They manage to portray their enemies as doing what they are most guilty of and through this tactic they silence and discredit others.

In this way, the reactionary element of the intellectual elite, Hollywood elite, and banking elite (as seen in the career of Steve Bannon) somehow manages to convince their followers that they are average Americans in a noble fight against the ruling elite. The target often ends up being students at state colleges who, according to the data and opposite of the reactionary portrayal, are mostly those working their way out of the working class — if meritocracy exists at all in the United States, this is the closest we get to it. But anyway, it’s highly doubtful that colleges are serving a genuinely democratic purpose at a time when corporate and other private funding is flooding into colleges, and so the accusation of their being bastions of the liberal faith is a sad joke. This state of confusion is intentionally created by reactionaries — up is down and those who are down are the enemy to be blamed for everything.

Or consider the accusation of a liberal media bias. It’s odd where I most often here this bizarre claim. It’s regularly repeated in the corporate media itself. Even the supposedly liberal media gives a platform to people to spout this bullshit. So, what kind of liberal bias is it that criticizes liberal bias by giving equal or greater time to right-wingers? That is no exaggeration, in that even NPR gives more airtime to corporatist and right-wing think tanks than to those on the anti-corporatist left. that is unsurprising since NPR gets most of its funding from private sources such as corporations, not from the government. Public radio?

This brings me to an example that has been on my mind for a while. I’ve been meaning to write about it. This seems as good of a time as ever. Let this be my first post of the new year, as clarifying where we stand as a society and how we got here.

The infamous Powell Memo (AKA Powell Manifesto) was only recently leaked, but it was written way back in 1971. Ever since that time, it has been the guiding vision of a cabal of right-wing oligarchs and plutocrats. It set out a strategy in how to take over the government and it was successful. Do you know how those on the political right are always alleging a left-wing conspiracy to pack the courts with activist judges? Well, that is an expression of a guilty conscience. It’s exactly what the right-wing ruling elite has been doing this past half century, culminating in the nomination of Judge Brett  Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Predictably, this so-called constitutionalist just so happens to be a big supporter of executive power, an agenda that more fully began being pushed under the administration of George W. Bush. There is absolutely nothing constitutionalist about this, as it undermines the very core pillar of separation and balance of powers. Instead of being a countervailing force, right-wingers are seeking to create a corporatocratic Supreme Court that serves at the behest of a right-wing presidency and political system.

That isn’t to entirely blame them, as the Democratic Party has shifted so far right on these issues that they are now to the right of Republicans from earlier last century. The reactionary mind has a way of infecting nearly everything and everyone. Our entire government has become a reactionary institution, but it’s important that we keep in mind who planned and led this coup. Then again, Lewis Powell who wrote the Powell Memo did so not only as a corporate lobbyist but also as a Democrat. And to show the bipartisan nature of this corporatocracy, it was Richard Nixon as a Republican president who that same year nominated him to the Supreme Court and the next year he was appointed. Still, it was the right-wing ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) that was most directly inspired by the Powell Memo, the organization that then helped enact this neoliberal and neo-fascist coup.

It’s not only the respectable good liberals of the ‘mainstream’ left that was in the dark about these machinations. Before the Powell Memo was leaked, anyone who pointed to the corporate takeover would have been called a conspiracy theorist, and so no more welcome in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party. Americans in general couldn’t see what was happening because the decisions and exchange of money happened mostly behind closed doors. Besides, the corporate media had no interest in reporting on it, quite the opposite of course. There was no transparency, as planned, and so there was no accountability. Democracy dies in the dark.

Only now that Clown-Fuhrer Trumpf is in power do we suddenly get some push back showing up in the mainstream. The struggle for power within the ruling elite goes into high gear. And our dear leader has put Judge Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. I’ve heard stalwart Republicans who despise and fear Trump, nonetheless, supporting him to the extent that he is pushing for a ‘conservative’ judiciary which supposedly opposes all those activist judges on the left. Yet Kavanaugh is as activist as they come. The main reason Trump picked him probably was because, when the time comes, the Supreme Court can be swung in defense of the administration.

After the Barack Obama followed the example of George W. Bush in further advancing executive power, now Democrats are thinking that their support for authoritarianism may have been a bad die after all. They assumed they were going to maintain power since it was obvious to them that Hillary Clinton couldn’t lose the presidential election and so that the unrestrained executive could’ve then been used for their more paternalistic variety of friendly fascism. Trump and gang, of course, make a convenient scapegoat for Democratic sins. But that is a useless game at this point.

The joke is on all of them. And the entire political system is the punchline.

* * *

* What is the distinguishing feature of the reactionary mind? Maybe it has to do with the Dark Triad, the strong correlation between narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. In particular, the last one might be key. Research has shown that those who are most fearful of Machiavellianism in fantasizing about conspiracies existing behind every door and lurking under the bed are themselves more prone to acting in Machiavellian ways. That very much sounds like the reactionary mind.

In political terms, the reactionary mind gets expressed by the social dominance orientation (SDO), which essentially is another way of speaking of Machiavellianism. This is where authoritarianism comes in, as SDO types are attracted to and have talent in manipulating authoritarian followers. As such, maybe authoritarians will only be reactionary to the degree that a society becomes reactionary and SDO types gain power, since authoritarians will conform to almost any social norm, good or bad.

It’s only under these conditions that we can speak of a distinct reactionary mind. The arising to dominance of the reactionary mind indicates that something is being reacted to. From other research, what seems to elicit this is rising inequality and segregation that foments mistrust, fear, and anxiety. This is what we see before every period of instability and, in reaction, there are those who seek to enforce order.

What makes reactionaries unique is their innovativeness in how they go about this. They aren’t traditionalists, although they also will co-opt from traditionalists as they co-opt from the political left. One of the purest forms of the reactionary mind is nostalgia which, unsurprisingly, rarely has anything to do with the historical past. It is co-opting the rhetoric and emotion of tradition with little respect or concern about actual traditions.

A key example of this anti-traditional pseudo-traditionalism is constitutional originalism. What the reactionary right is pushing is a complete contradiction and betrayal of what the American Revolution was fought for and what the United States was founded upon, specifically founded on the Declaration of Independence and the first constitution of the Articles of Confederation. These reactionaries will claim that liberalism is an attack on American political tradition, even as any informed person knows that liberalism (including in its progressive and radical forms) was core to American society from the beginning. Consider the view that a constitution is a living document as a pact of a specific community of people, an American tradition that came out of Quaker constitutionalism and (by way of Quaker-raised John Dickinson) informed the democratic sensibility of the Articles of Confederation.

Such history is inconvenient and so irrelevant to the reactionary mind. But because reactionaries took control so early with the Constitutional Convention, their counterrevolution permanently obscured the true history and that has left the American population with collective amnesia. As demonstrated by the extremes of Donald Trump, reactionaries love to invent ‘facts’ and then to repeat them until they become accepted or else until all sense of truth is lost. This is what makes the reactionary mind Machiavellian and, as such, finds itself at home in the Dark Triad.

* * *

Powell Memorandum:

CONFIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM
Attack on American Free Enterprise System

DATE: August 23, 1971
TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

Neglected Opportunity in the Courts

American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.

Other organizations and groups, recognizing this, have been far more astute in exploiting judicial action than American business. Perhaps the most active exploiters of the judicial system have been groups ranging in political orientation from “liberal” to the far left.

The American Civil Liberties Union is one example. It initiates or intervenes in scores of cases each year, and it files briefs amicus curiae in the Supreme Court in a number of cases during each term of that court. Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business’ expense, has not been inconsequential.

This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds.

As with respect to scholars and speakers, the Chamber would need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus in the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation. The greatest care should be exercised in selecting the cases in which to participate, or the suits to institute. But the opportunity merits the necessary effort.

* * *

Founding fathers worried about corporate clout
by Angela Carella

A Very American Coup
by David McLaren

The Shift From Democracy To Corporate Dictatorship And The Tragedy Of The Lack Of Push Back. Citizens United v. Federal
by Michael Monk

Powell Memo
by Jeremy Wilburn

How the Right Packed the Court
by William Yeomans

Extremists on the Bench: Five Years After Citizens United, Our Rogue Supreme Court
by Steve Justin

Citizens United, corporate personhood, and the way forward
by Mal Warwick

Is the Supreme Court Determined to Expand Corporate Power?
by Robert Monks and Peter Murray

The Powell Memo And The Birth Of The Washington Lobbying Empire
by Tina-Desiree Berg

Context of ‘August 23, 1971 and After: ’Powell Memo’ Leads to Massive Pro-Business Efforts to Influence Political, Social Discourse’
from History Commons

The Powell Memo
by .ren

* * *

If Confirmed, Brett Kavanaugh Fulfills the Powell Manifesto!
by Frank Puig

9 law experts on what Brett Kavanaugh means for the future of America
by Isolde Raftery and Sydney Brownstone

Kavanaugh would cement Supreme Court support for an oppressed minority — corporations
by Steven Strauss

With Kavanaugh, Trump Could Fashion The Most Business-Friendly Supreme Court Since The New Deal
by Michael Bobelian

How the Supreme Court Unleashed Business
by Justin Fox

Brett Kavanaugh’s Role in Schemes to Politicize the Judiciary Should Disqualify Him
by John Nichols

Brett Kavanaugh and the new judicial activism
by Matthew Yglesias

Judge Kavanaugh’s Activist Vision of Administrative Law
by Robert V. Percival

Brett Kavanaugh’s Dangerous Right-Wing Judicial Activism
by Elliot Mincberg

SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Record Depicts Dangerous Conservative Judicial Activism
by Devon Schmidt

Kavanaugh record hints at judicial activism in American election law
by Adav Noti and David Kolker

How Brett Kavanaugh Could Change the Supreme Court—and America
by Brian Bennett

His Entire Career Has Been In Service Of The Republican Agenda”: D.C. Lawyers Dish On Whether Brett Kavanaugh Will Give Trump A Pass On Russia
by Abigail Tracy

Brett Kavanaugh And The Fraud Of Originalism
by Rich Barlow

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is a victory for ‘originalists’
by Jill Abramson

Why the Supreme Court is now America’s most dangerous branch
by Mary Kay Linge

Brett Kavanaugh Was Involved in 3 Different Crises of Democracy
by Charles Pierce

The Senate Must Closely Examine These Documents From Kavanaugh’s Bush Years
by Peter M. Shane

How Brett Kavanaugh Worked to Weaponize the War on Terror
by Faiza Patel and Andrew Boyle

Could Brett Kavanaugh Protect Trump From Prosecution?
by Andy Kroll

Brett Kavanaugh and the Imperial Presidency (Supreme Court)
from Best of the Left

Brett Kavanaugh’s Radical View of Executive Power
by Corey Brettschneider

Judge Kavanaugh: An Originalist With a New—and Terrifying—Interpretation of Executive Power
by Patricia J. Williams

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s radically expansive view of the power of the presidency: Analysis
by Terry Moran

For Brett Kavanaugh, the Separation of Powers Is a One-Way Street
by Dan Froomkin

7 legal experts on how Kavanaugh views executive power — and what it could mean for Mueller
by Jen Kirby

Courting Disaster: The Trouble with Brett Kavanaugh’s Views of Executive Power in the Age of Trump
by Michael Waldman

Where Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Stands On Executive Power
from All Things Considered

Kavanaugh File: Executive Privilege
By Robert Farley

Brett Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS Nomination Is Bad News for Church/State Separation
by Hemant Mehta

Brett Kavanaugh and the Triumph of the Conservative Counterrevolution
by Bill Blum

Brett Kavanaugh Has Power To Strengthen Donald Trump, But Supreme Court Has Boosted Presidents For Decades
by Greg Price

If Brett Kavanaugh Wins, the Supreme Court Loses
by Jay Michaelson

Why Conservatives Could Regret Confirming Brett Kavanaugh
by Eric Levitz

Reactionary Revolutionaries, Faceless Men, and God in the Gutter

First there was revolution. And then there was counter-revolution. Therefore, reaction follows what it is reacting to.

This is a simple analysis and, I’d argue, overly simplistic. It is the narrative reactionaries have been telling about themselves for a couple of centuries. It is also the narrative that Mark Lilla repeats in his recent work, The Shipwrecked Mind, which is a useful survey, summary, and synthesis of modern ideological history but not essentially original in framing.

The problem is the reactionary mind is not a modern invention. Many arguments could be made about when it first emerged. For example, I’d place it firmly in the Axial Age or, better  yet, in that earliest of dark ages when the Bronze Age civilizations collapsed and the Jaynesian bicameral mind was lost.

By the time Plato came up with his authoritarian republicanism as a reaction to Athenian democracy, the reactionary mind had already been developing for some time. That was the era when, as Julian Jaynes points out, lament rang out across many populations of the silence, loss, or abandonment of the divine. Nostalgia in one of its most potent form was born.

As with Corey Robin, Mark Lilla is right to mark out nostalgia as an expression of the reactionary. But focusing too much on that can be a red herring. Robin is better than Lilla in pointing out that reactionaries can co-opt almost anything, even radical utopianism or revolution itself.

That is where my own thoughts come in. The modern reactionary mind initially took shape not after the early modern revolutionary period but during it — maybe before it, depending on when one defines the beginning of that period. The reactionary mind as a modern phenomenon was well on its way at least by the English Civil War, what some consider the first modern revolution, although some consider the Peasants’ Revolt an incipient form of this societal shift through conflict and class war.

The point is that the French Revolution was late to the game. That reactionaries finally found their voice following that is not entirely relevant to understanding the reactionary mind and its historical development. What the French Revolution does help us with is in showing another example of how reaction arose within the revolution itself, co-opting it as happened with the American Revolution (related to the rarely acknowledged fact that the American Revolution was a precedent for what followed, including large-scale destruction and violence).

Thomas Paine demonstrates the connections well, but his example also serves to show the complex relationship of reaction to revolution. He was a radical in the American Revolution and his radicalism was profound in its democratic vision. When he was welcomed into the French National Assembly during the French Revolution, he actually sat on the right side with the moderate reformers. It was actually his radicalism for democracy that made him moderate or aligned with more moderate forces.

What Paine specifically advocated was a democratic constitution and leniency to the king, rather than violent despotism and violent vengeance. The Jacobins are called radicals but in reality they were reactionaries or at least the leadership was. They were using the same means that the monarchy had used in enforcing power and silencing opponents. So, the Jacobins, as is typical with reactionaries, wanted to create a new and improved version of the old order by ensuring a rigid hierarchy remained. They weren’t interested in democracy, that is for sure.

That is what Mark Lilla misses. The French reactionaries, like the American reactionaries, took over the revolution through political coup — and this happened during the revolution itself, not afterwards. In France, it happened by the Jacobins seizing power. But in the United States, the Federalists did it through an ironically unconstitutional Constitutional Convention and then afterward they crushed the ongoing revolution.

The relationship between revolution and reaction is entangled. If this isn’t understood, it is likely that the reactionary mind itself can’t be understood. This creates a trap for the mind, in not understanding history we dangerously don’t understand ourselves.

Reactionaries aren’t limited to those other people, Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. The potential for reaction exists within all of us. A surprising number of Marxists, socialists, communists, and anarchists fell under the sway of early 20th century fascism. The same pattern is seen today with left-wingers who almost unconsciously become fascinated with or drawn toward reactionary thought, often with the rationalization of studying the enemy but it is clear with some that it is more than mere curiosity. The reactionary mind is dangerous for the very reason we see it as something other.

The confusion in all of this is that the reactionary mind is chameleon-like. I’ve come to call them Faceless Men, based on Game of Thrones. Reactionaries rarely present themselves as reactionaries. That means that anyone, under the right conditions, can get pulled into the mindset without realizing it. Reaction is simply an expression of fear an anxiety, once it fully takes hold. The human mind gets weird under high levels of stress (Keith Payne examines one angle on this by way of inequality, in his book The Broken Ladder). It really is that simple.

We need to develop intellectual, ideological, and psychological defenses against the reactionary mind. None of us are born with an immunity. But before we can do that, we have to learn how to identify the pattern of thought and behavior, to discern its incipient forms and the development that follows, to recognize the conditions and causes that make it possible.

This leads to me to another thought. Philip K. Dick has the notion of God in the Gutter. Let me decontextualize it from the monotheistic tradition of deus absconditus. Any powerful ‘god’ that rules over us, over our minds our society, such a ‘god’ is always hidden. And its ability to remain hidden is what I call symbolic conflation, a method of deception, obfuscation, and most importantly misdirection. That is the source of its power. That is also what makes it hard to analyze. Someone like Mark Lilla is taking the reactionary mind at face value, how it presents itself. That is problematic for obvious reasons. Corey Robin is more effective in peeling away the mask to see what is behind.

That is what we all need to be doing in these reactionary times. Lets start rummaging around in the gutter, looking below our normal line of vision, looking through the garbage or what appears to be garbage. But let’s do so with great care.

Collective Amnesia About Collective Amnesia

At Harper’s, Corey Robin has a piece on collective amnesia, specifically among liberals. It comes down to the incessant march of lesser evilism that inevitably leads to greater and greater evil, until nothing is left remaining but evil’s total dominance.

Each shock of evil normalizes the evil of the past, such that we frogs are slowly boiled alive. Don’t worry, the liberal suggests relaxing in his warm bath, we will revolt later when it finally gets bad enough. But this attitude never allows for self-awareness of complicity, the denial of which makes inevitable further complicity for it is never the right moment to admit guilt, no matter how often in the past it was stated, Never again!

“Strong stuff, suggesting the kind of experience you don’t easily recover from. If such feelings of betrayal don’t overwhelm you with a corrosive cynicism, inducing you to withdraw from politics, they provoke an incipient realism or an irrepressible radicalism… You get to lose your innocence only once… But… American liberalism is also a party of the born-again.

“The United States of Amnesia: true to form, we don’t remember who coined the phrase. It’s been attributed to Gore Vidal and to Philip Rahv, though it also appears in a syndicated column from 1948. But more than forgetfulness is at work in our ceremonies of innocence repeatedly drowned. And while it’s tempting to chalk up these rituals to a native simplicity or a preternatural naïveté — a parody of a Henry James novel, in which you get soiled by crossing the Potomac rather than the Atlantic — even our most knowing observers perform them. . . .

“Donald Trump is making America great again — not by his own hand but through the labor of his critics, who posit a more perfect union less as an aspiration for the future than as the accomplished fact of a reimagined past.

“There can be an appalling complexity to innocence,” the political scientist Louis Hartz observed in his classic 1955 study The Liberal Tradition in America, “especially if your point of departure is guilt.” That nexus of guilelessness and guilt, depth and innocence, is usually Roth country, but in this instance we’ll have to take the master’s tools and use them ourselves.

“Ever since the 2016 presidential election, we’ve been warned against normalizing Trump. That fear of normalization misstates the problem, though. It’s never the immediate present, no matter how bad, that gets normalized — it’s the not-so-distant past. Because judgments of the American experiment obey a strict economy, in which every critique demands an outlay of creed and every censure of the present is paid for with a rehabilitation of the past, any rejection of the now requires a normalization of the then.

“We all have a golden age in our pockets, ready as a wallet. Some people invent the memory of more tenderhearted days to dramatize and criticize present evil. Others reinvent the past less purposefully. Convinced the present is a monster, a stranger from nowhere, or an alien from abroad, they look to history for parent-protectors, the dragon slayers of generations past. Still others take strange comfort from the notion that theirs is an unprecedented age, with novel enemies and singular challenges. Whether strategic or sincere, revisionism encourages a refusal of the now.

“Or so we believe.

“The truth is that we’re captives, not captains, of this strategy. We think the contrast of a burnished past allows us to see the burning present, but all it does is keep the fire going, and growing… [T]he rehabilitation of the last monster allows the front line to move rightward, the new monster to get closer to the territory being defended. That may not be a problem for Roth, reader of Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again.” (Though even Beckett concluded with the injunction to “fail better.”) It is a problem for us, followers of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” “

I noticed this scathing critique earlier and was glad to see it. It came to my attention again because he mentioned it in his blog in connection to an interview with Brooke Gladstone. That interview is part of several others (with Max Fischer, Deb Amos, and Sinan Antoon) in response to the 15th anniversary of the Iraq War.

Maybe no new insight is offered, but at the very least it is an important reminder. Not only is there collective amnesia for, as a society, we keep forgetting how often our collective amnesia has repeated in the past. We don’t know what we don’t know partly because we keep forgetting what we forgot.

Corey Robin also writes at Crooked Timer. And John Holbo at that site wrote about the Harper’s piece. In the comments section, there is debate about whether Trump is exceptional and, if so, for what reason. Should we be surprised or shocked? And about what exactly? Beyond that, what is the right context for understanding?

The comments section is filled with people who, for all their disagreement, know political and economic history. But even with the above average commentary and debate, it felt dissatisfying. There was little discussion of the fundamental causes of human behavior, of what makes the human mind tick, of the social sciences and related fields. The focus was almost entirely on externals, except for a few comments.

To some extent, that is even my complaint of Corey Robin. It is common on the political left, that is to say almost as common as on the political right. It’s easier to focus on externals and, with politics, the distraction of externals is endless. But for this reason, we rarely touch upon root causes. Robin’s theory of the reactionary mind goes a long way to explain conservatism and the modern mind in general, including amnesia among liberals (not that Robin talks about the reactionary in quite so expansive terms). Yet this analysis can only go so far because it never extends beyond the history of politics and economics.

A few comments by the same person, Lee A. Arnold, comes the closest to stepping outside of this intellectual blindspot:

Polanyi, The Great Transformation chapter 20 characterizes fascism as a spontaneous emotional “move” arising from within individuals, and uses the political conditions only to discard them. It is not a movement that requires a vanguard or imperial aspirations. The ONLY thing characterizing the rise of fascism, in the dozen or more countries in which it arose, was the sudden failure of the market system…”

Fascism is a socio-emotional disease that is ever-latent but suddenly arises within individuals and overcomes enough of them to make political control possible. Elites do not stop it, because it the disease overcomes them too. It is a paradoxical move: it offers an “escape from an institutional deadlock… yet… it would everywhere produce sickness unto death.” (Polanyi). Whether there is an external threat or an internal threat or both, it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same.”

The very recent spate of commentators (here, and elsewhere) writing that fascism has been avoided in the US (or even go so far as to write that it cannot happen) rely upon a misunderstanding of what fascism was, or take too large a comfort in a narrow diversion from it. That may not be good enough, next time. Far from being silly, I see this as Corey Robin’s basic point, too.”

I imagine that the intellectual confusion and dismissal was similar in the 1920’s-30’s. It’s interesting that today so many intellectuals think that fascism originated from outside the individual, as some sort of organized imposition of structure by a vanguard. So today, we will see it coming: “It can’t happen here.” (Or else they think that our current democratic institutions and media culture are strong enough and varietal enough to withstand it.)

“But the evidence is that fascism arose spontaneously within individuals. It’s almost a pure emotion in the anger & hatred quadrant. It suddenly swept up a lot of people into supporting “doing something”, to cut through the confusion and deadlock. Yet it emotionally disregards facts, logic, science, humane values. It’s not a political-economic form in the same category with liberalism, conservatism, capitalism, socialism.”

That is related to what Robin gets at. Fascism is simply one extreme variety of the reactionary mind. The reactionary is never constrained to the mainstream conventions of ideological rhetoric and political forms. That is because the reactionary, by definition, is the result of the failure (or perceived failure) of the mainstream project of social order.

Still, even this doesn’t dig deep enough. I end up getting more insight about what motivates politics and economics from those studying philology, linguistic relativism, social psychology, anthropology, cultural history, and consciousness studies. The failure of our society is better explained by the likes of Julian Jaynes (The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind), Iain McGilchrist (The Master and His Emissary), Lewis Hyde (Trickster Makes This World), James Gilligan (Preventing Violence), Keith Payne (The Broken Ladder), Johann Hari (Lost Connections), Sebastian Junger (Tribe), etc.

These other viewpoints are more likely to offer insight about collective amnesia. The typical political and economic analysis might, in some cases, be part of the problem. Karl Marx who, in emphasizing material conditions, gets portrayed as a reductionist by his critics and yet he went beyond most on the political left by presenting what is called ‘species-being’ — as I described it:

“The basic idea is that what we produce creates a particular kind of society and shapes human nature. We produce the kind of person that is needed for the world we bring into existence. And so the kind of person that is produced is incapable of seeing beyond the social and material world that produced him. We build our own prisons, even as there is hope for us to build new worlds to inhabit and new ways of being.”

So what produces a social identity that is prone to such extremes of collective amnesia? I’m specifically referring to what manifests in our society at the seeming peak or breaking point of this post-Enlightenment liberal age (or, if you prefer, this late stage of capitalism). If we could make sense of that, then much else would become easier to disentangle.

“Historical consciousness can be a conservative force, lessening the sting of urgency, deflating the demands of the now, leaving us adrift in a sea of relativism. But it need not be,” concludes Corey Robin in Harper’s.

“Telling a story of how present trespass derives from past crime or even original sin can inspire a more strenuous refusal, a more profound assault on the now. It can fuel a desire to be rid of not just the moment but the moments that made this moment, to ensure that we never have to face this moment again. But only if we acknowledge what we’re seldom prepared to admit: that the monster has been with us all along.”

That is no doubt true. But stories are a tricky business. The challenge is, in order to understand the present, we need to understand the origins of modern civilization and the modern mind. Most commentary, even on the alternative left, isn’t up to the task. The same old debate continues, as does the collective amnesia. We are stuck in a loop, until something forces us out.

This is not only a lack of understanding but a lack of motivation toward understanding. A revolution of the mind must come first before a revolution of society can follow. That isn’t something we collectively are capable of consciously choosing. What will happen at some point is that our old mindset will entirely fail us and every answer and response we used in the past will prove futile and impotent. Then and only then will we, out of desperation, turn toward the unknown in seeking the radically new. That is how change has always happened, as one would know from studying the deep past.

Until that point of total breakdown, we will go on forgetting and we will go on forgetting what we’ve forgotten. Our entire social order is dependent on it. And at the edge of breakdown, the reactionary mind takes hold and comes into power. The liberal too comes under its sway. It is a sign of the times. But is it the Kali Yuga of the liberal world or the dawning of the next Enlightenment leading to a new revolutionary era? Is there a difference?

* * *

4/1/18 – Let me take a different approach. We are all born into this collective amnesia. And for most of us, our upbringing fails us and our education is inadequate. That was true for me.

As I became more serious in dealing with my own state of ignorance, I became ever more acutely sensitive to the pervasive ignorance that is the foundation of America in particular. Even if that is true of all societies to some degree, I suspect there is something unique about what has been referred to as America’s Fantasyland. The US, in being an extreme expression, potentially can help us understand what plagues most of humanity at this late hour in the liberal age.

It is my love of liberalism that makes me so harsh in my criticisms. I long for a liberalism worthy of the name. But first that requires us to look at what the reactionary mind reflects back to us. It does no good to simply dismiss those others as ‘deplorables’. What gets repressed and projected doesn’t really go away, related to how externalized costs eventually come due.

Corey Robin’s take on liberal amnesia, despite my concerns of certain limitations, resonates with something going on right now. Few seem to be paying attention, specifically not those who have their hands on the wheel or are in a position to take hold of the wheel. Some are asleep, others are texting, and still others are imbibing intoxicants… but I’m suggesting that someone needs to be at the wheel with their eyes on the road. I’m one of those crazy radicals who would rather prevent an accident than deal with the aftermath.

So, first we should all look up and look forward. Where are we heading? And is that where we want to go? If not, why don’t we change direction?

We see a monster in the rearview mirror and, not realizing we are seeing our own reflection, we keep our foot on the gas pedal. Off we speed toward disaster, driven by fear and forgetting that we are the driver. As a society, we never stop going — expressed in the quote used by Robin: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again.”

On we go. No one can doubt that we are going somewhere and getting there fast. The wind in our hair and adrenaline in our veins can feel almost like progress, as if we really will outrun our monsters this time. Meanwhile, Trump the egotistic man-child is sitting in the backseat tweeting and asking, Are we there yet?

Writing a post like this is less about in-depth analysis than it is about capturing a mood. I’ve written plenty of in-depth analyses and they have their value. But studying a medical textbook on cardiology is not the same as feeling the beating pulse under your fingertips. In reading Robin’s piece and the responses to it, I could sense the flow of blood at the heart of the issue.

Right there, something can be felt. It’s like the tug of the undertow when you’re standing a few feet out in the ocean water. Viscerally, in that moment, you know the power of the ocean and how easy it is to be swept away. The whole dynamic of the debate is caught in that push and pull. So maybe the debate itself (as framed) can’t avoid that sphere of influence, that narrative attractor. Much of the commentary on the problem is caught up in the problem itself, related to how the reactionary is the other side of the liberal.

This is why the amnesiac can’t escape the condition of amnesia. It’s not something external, like a pair of clothes that can be taken off or a wall that can be knocked down. It is a loss of some part of the self but not really lost, just hidden and forgotten. But anamnesis, remembering of what was forgotten, remains possible… if we could only remember that there was something we forgot and why it mattered so much that maybe we shouldn’t have forgotten it in the first place.

Thinking too much about that, though, makes us feel uncomfortable and we’re not quite sure why. We convince ourselves, once again, that maybe things unknown are best left that way. In a moment of crisis, the memory of something touches the edge of our awareness and yet quickly slips away again. We busy ourselves with other things, the preoccupation of the present eclipsing what came before. That is what responsible adults do, deal with the issues at hand, right?

I like the ocean metaphor. The beach, where land meets water, is our society. The progressive and reactionary is the tide going in and out. This liberal age is the storm wall we built to protect our home. But that storm wall has the unintended consequence of slowly eroding away the sand that forms the beach.

I saw a real world example of this form of erosion. And it was stark.

There is this wealthy estate my grandfather grew up on, as the son of the head gardener. When he was a child, there was a beautiful beach that was part of the estate. And next to the estate is a public beach. The estate owners had a storm wall built which caused their beach to entirely disappear, while the public beach is still there. Only a few feet separate the private property from the public space, but the erosion stops right at the boundary line.

This form of privatization is very much of this liberal age. Before this era, feudalism had its commons. Some speak of the tragedy of the commons, but that is a lie. There was no tragedy of the commons as they were heavily regulated. Those regulations of the commons only disappeared when the commons disappeared. And what followed was the tragedy of privatization, as seen with private developers building storm walls.

It is as pointless to blame the tide coming in, the progressive, as it is to blame the tide going out, the reactionary. It is the storm wall, the liberal paradigm, that frames the action of the tide and determines the consequences. Building the wall higher and stronger to protect us from the worsening effects of storms won’t really save us or our home. Maybe it is time to consider the possibility that the storm wall is the problem and not the natural flow of the tides that get defined by that modern construction.

The erosion of the beach is our collective amnesia. But to make the metaphor more apt, most people would never have a public beach next to them. There would be nothing to be compared against to remind people about what has been lost. And the loss would be gradual, the beach slowly shrinking as the storm wall grew larger. There simply is the loss of the beach along with loss even of the memory of the beach.

The very concept of a beach might disappear from public memory and public debate. Or people might assume that ‘beach’ was always a word referring to that threatening space just beyond the storm wall. Instead of discussing how to save or bring back beaches, political conflict would obsess over blaming the other side and arguing over the increasingly advanced techniques of building storm walls.

Eventually those storm walls would entirely block the view of the ocean, that is to say the view of the world outside of the system we’ve collectively built over the generations. The walls that protect us then would imprison us and enclose our minds, shut down our imaginations. But what fine and impressive walls they are, among the greatest advancements of modern civilization.

Here is the point, the moral of the metaphor.

It’s not that we should stop building great things, as expressions of what we value and envision. And it’s not even that we should specifically stop building walls for they too have their place when built with wisdom and understanding. But that requires us to realize the effect we have on the world around us in what we build and how that affects us in turn. The liberal project needs to be reinterpreted, reimagined, and reinvented. Or failing that, we need a new societal project that would inspire us as once did the liberal dream.

* * *

4/2/18 – On a related thought, Richard Eskow asks, Is the ‘liberal world order’ worth saving? That is a question I’ve often asked myelf and I’ve done so from the perspective of someone who has spent much of his life identified with the liberal world order. To be plainly honest, I like the liberal dream. It’s a beautiful dream.

So, a ‘liberal’ such as myself is implicated in this line of questioning, and the deepest implication is about what this change would mean on a personal level. Is my liberal identity worth saving? And in the long term, can it be saved? Or must we liberals become something new in seeking something new?

Eskow states that, “The “liberal world order” must own up to its mistakes. They were errors of commission, as well as omission. Today’s chaos – from Brexit to Trump – is fallout from a global system that works for the benefit of a privileged few and has failed to offer democratic alternatives to inequality and oligarchy.” That is to say liberals must own up to their mistakes. And in this liberal age, we are all liberals.

So, “Is the “liberal world order” worth saving?” That is a tough question. “Not in its present form,” suggests Eskow. “Yes, it has provided some semblance of order. But order without justice is both unfair and unstable. The unfairness has been apparent for many decades. Now we’re seeing the instability.”

Up to this point, we as a society have been unable to ask this question, much less take it seriously enough to attempt an answer. That is where ignorance and amnesia have left us. But maybe the coming storm, when it blows in our windows and knocks down our walls, will wake us up to the reality that was always there. What was hidden in plain sight will become impossible to ignore, as the costs finally come due.

From Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, there is some oft quoted dialogue. One character asks another, “How did you go bankrupt?” “Two ways,” was the response. “Gradually and then suddenly.” That is how we will emerge from our state of unconsciousness and obliviousness. The experience of anamnesis will be a hammer to our skull. The gradual process has been building up for a long time. And soon the sudden result will finally arrive, appearing as if out of nowhere.

Will the liberal order survive? I guess we’ll find out. Let the awakening begin!

 

 

 

A New Major Party

If leftist progressivism fails, right-wing reaction will be inevitable.

Because of the self-sabotaging failure of the Democratic Party, Donald Trump used pseudo-progressive rhetoric to push anti-progressive policies. Until the political left is able to fight off the oppression of the Democratic establishment, dissatisfaction with the status quo of plutocratic corporatism will continue to fuel Trump-style authoritarian demagoguery.

A new major party is nearly inevitable. Let’s hope we get another Franklin Delano Roosevelt instead of someone akin to Adolf Hitler. Out of a troubled era, both of those early 20th century leaders gave voice to inspiring visions in response to similar economic problems and populist outrage, yet toward far different ends and with far different results. They are the two archetypal choices of modernity, not communism vs fascism but social democracy vs authoritarian statism.

There are much worse consequences to fear than what we have so far seen with this Trump presidency. But as Bernie Sanders’ growing popularity shows, there are also far greater possibilities of hope. This historical moment is not an opportunity to be wasted. We might not get another chance like it. Failing all else, revolution is always another option.

* * *

Poll: Views of Democratic Party hit lowest mark in 25 years
by Ryan Struyk, CNN

Favorable views of the Democratic Party have dropped to their lowest mark in more than a quarter century of polling, according to new numbers from a CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

Only 37% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Democrats, down from 44% in March of this year. A majority, 54%, have an unfavorable view, matching their highest mark in polls from CNN and SSRS, CNN/ORC and CNN/USA Today/Gallup stretching back to 1992.

The rating includes low favorable ratings from some core Democratic groups, including nonwhites (48%) and people under 35 years old (33%). The numbers come amid recent feuds and divisions in the Democratic Party, as former interim chair Donna Brazile’s new book has unveiled new questions about infighting during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But the Republican Party isn’t doing any better, with just 30% of Americans holding a favorable view. That’s essentially the same as September, when the rating hit its lowest point in polling back to 1992, but down from 42% in March. A broad 6 in 10, 61%, have an unfavorable opinion.

This means both parties sit at or near rock bottom as voters go to the polls across the country on Tuesday, most prominently in governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as dozens of local and mayoral races nationwide.

A substantial 33% of liberals and 41% of conservatives have unfavorable views of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Plus, 4 in 10 independents, 42%, say they have an unfavorable view of both parties vs. only 8% who say they have a favorable view of both.

Indeed, a bare majority of Americans, 51%, say it’s bad for the country that the Republican Party is in control of Congress. Only 38% say GOP control is good for the nation. That’s worse than at any point in CNN’s polling on the Democratic majority in Congress between 2007 and 2010.

Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation
by Richard Fry, Pew

Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015) is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028.

The Millennial generation continues to grow as young immigrants expand its ranks. Boomers – whose generation was defined by the boom in U.S. births following World War II – are older and their numbers shrinking as the number of deaths among them exceeds the number of older immigrants arriving in the country.

Poll: Half of millennials independent
by Natalie Villacorta, Politico

Half of millennials identify as independents up from 38 percent in 2004, according to a new poll.

These are the highest levels of political disaffiliation the the Pew Research Center has recorded for any generation in its 25 years of polling. […]

Millennials hold the most liberal views on many political and social issues, including same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization. Sixty-eight percent support gay marriage, up from 44 percent in 2004. During the same period, the proportion of Gen Xers who support same-sex marriage increased from 40 percent to 55 percent and the portion of Boomers increased from 30 percent to 48 percent. Even more millennials approve of marijuana legalization — 69 percent, up from 34 percent in 2006.

Poll: Voters want an independent to run against Clinton, Trump
by Nolan D. McCaskill, Politico

Both candidates, however, have high unfavorability ratings — 56 percent for Clinton and 55 percent for Trump, and nearly six in 10 voters surveyed are dissatisfied with the option of choosing between just Clinton and Trump in November.

Fifty-five percent favor having an independent candidate challenge the Democratic front-runner and presumptive Republican nominee for president. An unprecedented 91 percent of voters 28 or younger favor having an independent on the ballot, and 65 percent of respondents are willing to support a candidate who isn’t Clinton or Trump.

According to Data Targeting’s ballot test, an independent candidate would start off with 21 percent of the vote.

Perceived Need for Third Major Party Remains High in U.S.
by Lydia Saad, Gallup

Nearly twice as many Americans today think a third major party is needed in the U.S. as say the existing parties do an adequate job of representing the American people. The 61% who contend that a third party is needed is technically the highest Gallup has recorded, although similar to the 57% to 60% holding this view since 2013. Barely a third, 34%, think the Republican and Democratic parties suffice. […]

At various points since 2007, a majority of Americans have contended that a third major political party is needed in the U.S., while the minority have believed the two major parties adequately represent the American people. That pattern continues today with an unprecedented five-year stretch when demand for a third major party has been 57% or higher, including 71% or higher among independents.

While this may seem promising for any group thinking about promoting such a party, it is one thing to say a third major party is needed and quite another to be willing to join or support it. Americans’ backing of the idea could fall under a mentality of “the more, the merrier,” in which they would be pleased to have more viable political choices even if they vote mainly for candidates from the two major parties. And that says nothing of the structural barriers third parties face in trying to get on the ballot.

With most Republicans and Democrats viewing their own party favorably, the real constituency for a third party is likely to be political independents, meaning the party would have to be politically centrist. Thus far, the Green and Libertarian parties have succeeded in running national presidential campaigns but not in attracting big numbers of registered members. But with record numbers of Americans frustrated with the way the nation is being governed, the country could be inching closer to having enough people who want an alternative to the status quo to make it a reality, at least with the right candidate at the helm.

Most Americans Desperate For Third Major Political Party In Trump Era
by John Halgiwanger, Newsweek

More Americans than ever—61 percent—say the Democratic and Republican parties are inadequate and the U.S. should have a third major political party, a new poll from Gallup shows. The desire among Americans for a competitive third party has been above 57 percent over the last five years, but Gallup’s latest poll marks a record high level of support.

Backing for a third major party also hit a record high among independents—77 percent—according to the new poll. Meanwhile, 52 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans say a competitive third party is needed.

This historic level of support for a third major party isn’t all that surprising when you consider the impact third-party candidates had on the 2016 presidential election: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson won 3.3 percent of the popular vote—the best performance in the party’s history. Green Party candidate Jill Stein won 1 percent of the popular vote, which isn’t a record high for the party (Ralph Nader holds the title with 2.7 percent in 2000) but is still significant. […]

In short, third-party candidates have a long history of failure, but recent trends suggest that may not remain the case in the near future.

Press Release: Draft Bernie Launches ‘Movement for a People’s Party’ Amid Explosive DNC Rigging Revelations and Record Support for a Major New Party
Movement for a People’s Party

The American progressive movement is reeling from the back-to-back revelations that the 2016 Democratic primary was thoroughly rigged and that the party purged Sanders supporters from the DNC. The past few weeks have made clear a conclusion that progressives have long fought to avoid: there is no path to power inside the Democratic Party. […]

Public anger and frustration has reached a boiling point and neither major party is giving voice to policies that would alleviate the hardship that working people face. Last year, voters in both major parties tried to nominate presidential candidates who weren’t truly members of their party before the election. They succeeded on the right and were blocked on the left.

The revolution against establishment politics is not limited to the United States. Anti-establishment parties are rising across Europe. The two parties that have dominated French politics for decades, the Republican and the Socialist parties, were overtaken by two new parties in this year’s presidential election. Spain’s two -party system split into four parties in 2015. In Greece, Syriza overtook the country’s establishment parties and elected a prime minister.

The major parties are crumbling. The question is not whether there will be a new party in America. The question is what will the new party stand for and who will offer the country the alternative it so desperately craves? Will it be a right wing populist party, the kind that Trump, Bannon and Mercer foreshadow? A new neoliberal party masquerading as third way, the kind that French elites used with Macron? Or will progressives come together to offer working people a genuine alternative? asked Brana. “There is a new political reality in America. If progressives don’t offer an alternative that fills the anti-establishment void, someone else will, just like Trump did last year,” he said.

The majority of Americans are progressive and want a new party. However, progressives are fragmented into hundreds of organizations and numerous parties, which forces them to compete for supporters, volunteers, donors, and voters. That prevents them from building the critical mass of resources and support for a new party. Draft Bernie popularized the idea of starting a people’s party. The Movement for a People’s Party will unite that support into a coalition for a nationally viable progressive party.

The Case For a People’s Party
Movement for a People’s Party

Third Parties have Led Progressive Change Throughout U.S. History

❖ Third parties have succeeded by either forcing the establishment parties to adopt their platform or by replacing them outright. The current Democratic Party is free to dismiss progressives because we lack the leverage that a major third party has given our movements in the past.

❖ In the mid-1800s, the Liberty Party, Free Soil Party and newly formed Republican Party pioneered an abolitionist agenda. Later, the Equal Rights Party and Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party championed the fight for women’s suffrage. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Socialist Party, the People’s Party, Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party, and Bob LaFollette’s Progressive Party led the adoption of Social Security, unemployment insurance, food and drug regulations, the 8-hour work day, child labor laws, progressive income taxes, and the direct election of U.S. senators. In the 1930s, Norman Thomas and the Socialist Party pushed Franklin Roosevelt into the New Deal.

❖ Lincoln’s Republicans replaced the Whig Party in four years. It also elected Lincoln president and took both houses of Congress in six years. The formation of the Republican Party offers a successful model for replacing a major party in America: progressive politicians build a large following inside an establishment party by representing a neglected majority. After exposing the party’s inability to reform, they take the party’s base and start a new party that replaces the old one.

❖ Americans were much more sharply divided over slavery than they are over present-day inequality and money in politics. Yet the Republicans still replaced the Whigs in four years. Sanders can be the Lincoln of our times.

❖ Today, the Internet enables a speed and efficiency of organizing that the progressive movements of the past could only dream of. Digital organizing, fundraising and independent media drove the Bernie campaign. […]

The Numbers

Americans are Progressive

Issue polls show that a large majority of Americans are progressive. They would overwhelmingly support the new party’s platform. All figures are percentages.

Americans support:

Equal pay for men and women 93%
Overhaul campaign finance system 85%
Money has too much influence on campaigns 84%
Paid family and medical leave 82%
Some corporations don’t pay their fair share 82%
Some wealthy people don’t pay their fair share 79%
Allow government to negotiate drug prices 79%
Increase financial regulation 79%
Expand Social Security benefits by taxing the wealthy 72%
Infrastructure jobs program 71%
Close offshore corporate tax loopholes 70%
Raise the minimum wage to $15 63%
The current distribution of wealth is unfair 63%
Free public college 62%
Require special prosecutor for police killings 61%
Ensure net neutrality 61%
Ban the revolving door for corporate executives in government 59%
Replace the ACA with single payer health care 58%
Break up the big banks 58%
Government should do more to solve problems 57%
Public banking at post offices 56%

Why America Is Moving Left
by Peter Beinart, The Atlantic

What’s different this time? One difference is that in the 1960s and ’70s, crime exploded, fueling a politics of fear and vengeance. Over the past two decades, by contrast, crime has plummeted. And despite some hyperbolic headlines, there’s no clear evidence that it’s rising significantly again. As The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund noted in September after reviewing the data so far for 2015, “While the number of homicides has increased in many big cities, the increases are moderate, not more than they were a few years ago. Meanwhile, crime has declined in other cities. Overall, most cities are still far safer than they were two decades ago.”

And it’s not just crime where the Democratic Party’s move leftward is being met with acceptance rather than rejection. Take LGBT rights: A decade ago, it was considered suicidal for a Democratic politician to openly support gay marriage. Now that debate is largely over, and liberals are pushing for antidiscrimination laws that cover transgender people, a group many Americans weren’t even aware of until Caitlyn Jenner made headlines. At first glance, this might seem like too much change, too fast. Marriage equality, after all, gives gays and lesbians access to a fundamentally conservative institution. The transgender-rights movement poses a far more radical question: Should people get to define their own gender, irrespective of biology?

Yet the nation’s answer, by large margins, seems to be yes. When the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law examined polls, it found that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans now support barring discrimination against transgender people. It also found a dramatic rise in recent years in the percentage of Americans who consider anti-transgender discrimination a “major problem.” According to Andrew Flores, who conducted the study, a person’s attitude toward gays and lesbians largely predicts their attitude toward transgender people. Most Americans, in other words, having decided that discriminating against lesbians and gay men was wrong, have simply extended that view to transgender people via what Flores describes as a “mechanism of attitude generalization.” […]

In polling, Americans typically say they favor smaller government in general while supporting many specific government programs. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Americans said they favored “a smaller government providing fewer services” over “a bigger government providing more services” by 37 percentage points. When Obama took power in 2009, the margin was a mere eight points. And despite the president’s many economic interventions, the most recent time Pew asked that question, in September 2014, the margin was exactly the same.

On health care, the story is similar: no public backlash. When Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, most polls showed Americans opposing it by about eight to 10 points. Today, the margin is almost identical. Little has changed on taxes, either, even though Obama allowed some of the tax cuts passed under George W. Bush to expire. The percentage of Americans who say they pay more than their fair share in taxes is about the same as it was in the spring of 2010 (Pew does not have data for 2009), and lower than it was during the Clinton years. […] most Americans are not yelling “stop,” as they began doing in the mid-1960s. The biggest reason: We’re not dealing with the same group of Americans.

On issue after issue, it is the young who are most pleased with the liberal policy shifts of the Obama era, and most eager for more. In 2014, Pew found that Americans under 30 were twice as likely as Americans 65 and older to say the police do a “poor” job of “treating racial, ethnic groups equally” and more than twice as likely to say the grand jury in Ferguson was wrong not to charge Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death. According to YouGov, more than one in three Americans 65 and older think being transgender is morally wrong. Among Americans under 30, the ratio is less than one in five. Millennials—Americans roughly 18 to 34 years old—are 21 percentage points less likely than those 65 and older to say that immigrants “burden” the United States and 25 points more likely to say they “strengthen” the country. Millennials are also 17 points more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. It is largely because of them that the percentage of Americans who want government to “promote traditional values” is now lower than at any other time since Gallup began asking the question in 1993, and that the percentage calling themselves “socially liberal” now equals the percentage calling themselves “socially conservative” for the first time since Gallup began asking that question in 1999.

Millennials are also sustaining support for bigger government. The young may not have a high opinion of the institutions that represent them, but they nonetheless want those institutions to do more. According to a July Wall Street Journal/ABC poll, Americans over 35 were four points more likely to say the government is doing too much than to say it is doing too little. Millennials, meanwhile, by a margin of 23 points, think it’s doing too little. In 2011, Pew found that while the oldest Americans supported repealing health-care reform by 29 percentage points, Millennials favored expanding it by 17 points. They were also 25 points more likely than those 65 and older to approve of Occupy Wall Street and 36 points more favorable toward socialism, which they actually preferred to capitalism, 49 percent to 46 percent. As the Pew report put it, “Millennials, at least so far, hold ‘baked in’ support for a more activist government.”

This is even true among Republican Millennials. The press often depicts American politics as a battle pitting ever more liberal Democrats against ever more conservative Republicans. Among the young, however, that’s inaccurate. Young Democrats may be more liberal than their elders, but so are young Republicans. According to Pew, a clear majority of young Republicans say immigrants strengthen America, half say corporate profits are too high, and almost half say stricter environmental laws are worth the cost—answers that sharply distinguish them from older members of the GOP. Young Republicans are more likely to favor legalizing marijuana than the oldest Democrats, and almost as likely to support gay marriage. Asked how they categorize themselves ideologically, more than two-thirds of Republican Millennials call themselves either “liberal” or “mixed,” while fewer than one-third call themselves “conservative.” Among the oldest Republicans, that breakdown is almost exactly reversed.

In the face of such data, conservatives may wish to reassure themselves that Millennials will move right as they age. But a 2007 study in the American Sociological Review notes that the data “contradict commonly held assumptions that aging leads to conservatism.” The older Americans who are today more conservative than Millennials were more conservative in their youth, too. In 1984 and 1988, young voters backed Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush by large margins. Millennials are not liberal primarily because they are young. They are liberal because their formative political experiences were the Iraq War and the Great Recession, and because they make up the most secular, most racially diverse, least nationalistic generation in American history. And none of that is likely to change. […]

If America’s demographics have changed since the Bush presidency, so has the climate among conservative intellectuals. There is now an influential community of “reformocons”—in some ways comparable to the New Democratic thinkers of the 1980s—who believe Republicans have focused too much on cutting taxes for the wealthy and not enough on addressing the economic anxieties of the middle and working classes. […]

This political cycle, too, will ultimately run its course. […] How this era of liberal dominance will end is anyone’s guess. But it will likely endure for some time to come.

Old School Progressivism

I’ve had a suspicion for a while and some statements by Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon, seem to confirm it. Bannon said that he isn’t a white nationalist, rather an American nationalist and economic nationalist, and that if they do things right even minorities will support them. He talked about concrete policies like a trillion dollar infrastructure project. The Trump administration apparently is trying to revive old school progressivism. I find it interesting that liberal Democrats no longer recognize it, even as it smacks them upside the head — they viciously attacked economic populism as if it were a dangerous invader when it showed up in their own party. […]

There is another aspect of old school progressivism. It just occurred to me. The aspect is that of technocratic management, sometimes associated with modern liberalism but with its origins in early Progressivism.

The clear example of it was FDR’s administration. He saw society and the economy as something to be managed and, of course, it was assumed that those who would manage it were the technocratic experts. It wasn’t just that there needed to be central management. That had existed before. The difference was that it was an overt and direct management.

That is what justified forcing both organized labor and the capitalist class to work together. Prior to that, the labor wars were often violent, sometimes erupting into gunfights between workers and corporate goons, often the Pinkertons. The Progressive vision was in response to a violent and lawless time in US history, what felt like social breakdown with the rise of gangs and organized crime, along with the privatized police forces like the Pinkertons.

It was also a time of corruption with many politicians being openly bribed. The idea of Progressivism was to create a professional bureaucracy that eliminated cronyism, favoritism, nepotism, and all other forms of corruption. The idea was to create a meritocracy within the government. The most qualified people would be put into official positions and so this decision-making taken out of the control of party leaders.

It would be a well managed government.

So, it was interesting when I heard Trump use similar rhetoric, from something he said a year ago. The specific issue he was talking about is irrelevant, as he walked back his support immediately afterward. It was the way of talking itself that matters most, as it shows the kind of attitude he will bring to politics. In explaining how he would accomplish something, he stated that:

“It would be just good management. What you have to do is good management procedures and we can do that… it’s all about management, our country has no management.”

The issue that he was talking about is relevant in one particular way. It was about law and order. That is what management meant in old school progressivism. A well managed society was an orderly society based on the rule of law and enforced by a professional bureaucracy. There is a paternalism in this worldview, the heart of progressivism. The purpose of a government was seen as taking care of problems and taking care of the citizenry.

Huge Human Inequality Study Hints Revolution is in Store for U.S.
Every society has a tipping point.

by Yasmin Tayag, Inverse

There’s a common thread tying together the most disruptive revolutions of human history, and it has some scientists worried about the United States. In those revolutions, conflict largely boiled down to pervasive economic inequality. On Wednesday, a study in Nature, showing how and when those first divisions between rich and poor began, suggests not only that history has always repeated itself but also that it’s bound to do so again — and perhaps sooner than we think.

In the largest study of its kind, a team of scientists from Washington State University and 13 other institutions examined the factors leading to economic inequality throughout all of human history and noticed some worrying trends. Using a well-established score of inequality called the Gini coefficient, which gives perfect, egalitarian societies a score of 0 and high-inequality societies a 1, they showed that civilization tends to move toward inequality as some people gain the means to make others relatively poor — and employ it. Coupled with what researchers already know about inequality leading to social instability, the study does not bode well for the state of the world today.

“We could be concerned in the United States, that if Ginis get too high, we could be inviting revolution, or we could be inviting state collapse. There’s only a few things that are going to decrease our Ginis dramatically,” said Tim Kohler, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a professor of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology in a statement.

Currently, the United States Gini score is around .81, one of the highest in the world, according to the 2016 Allianz Global Wealth Report.

The Less Fortunate And More Frustrated

Someone commented that, “there’s just something about alt-right that is extremely draining. I’m not even sure if it’s my own personal reactions. It’s just such a negative, cynical, and above all hopeless lens to view things from. Friends say it’s not healthy to get immersed in it, but I wonder if it’s also unhealthy for the alt righters themselves, not just for outsiders.” I agree, but I’d put it in context.

It’s draining because it isn’t natural, far from the normal state of humanity. It’s not tribal hate. If alt-righters ever met actual tribal people, the two groups would not recognize or understand each other’s worldviews. Alt-right isn’t really about tribalism, any more than it really is about race or any other overt issue. What it is about is frustration, anger, and outrage.

That isn’t to deny the racism. It’s just to point out that we have a severely messed up society where racism is inseparable from other forms of oppression and social control that harm most Americans. Very few people are privileged enough to entirely escape the shit storm. Heck, even the wealthy are worse off in a society like ours, as has been shown in the research on economic inequality. This is not a healthy and happy society.

Part of me has a lot of sympathy for these lost souls. I understand what turns the mind in such dark directions. We live in a society that chews people up and spits them out. Nothing in our society is as advertised. Many people actually want to believe in the American Dream of upward mobility, of a growing middle class, of the good life, of each generation doing better than the last. People can only take all of the bullshit for so long. Alt-right gives them a voice, in a society that seeks to silence them.

Such things as alt-right are an indication of societal failure, not just individual failure. If we had increasing upward mobility instead of worsening downward mobility, if we had a growing instead of shrinking middle class, if we had no severe poverty and extreme inequality, if basic needs were taken care of and people had a sense of their own value in society, if people were supported in their aspirations and could live up to their potential, no one would ever turn to ideologies like the alt-right.

The average alt-righter isn’t a poor rural hick, hillbilly, or redneck. The alt-right tends to draw from the middle class, which mostly means the precarious lower middle class. Many people in the alt-right are those who want to be part of the liberal class, to live the liberal class dream, but something failed along the way.

There is a white guy I know. He is in academia and, though liberal in many ways, he became drawn to the alt-right. He wasn’t making much money and he felt stuck. He didn’t want to be living here and yet couldn’t find good job opportunities elsewhere. Even as he technically was in the liberal class, he was economically struggling and his life was not going according to plan. Worse still, there is little hope that the economy is going to improve any time soon for people like him.

That is type of person in the failed liberal class that the rest of the liberal class would prefer to ignore. What the liberal class doesn’t get is that their dream is desirable for many people even outside of the liberal class. But when it becomes unattainable for most of the population that leads to frustration. There are many poor whites who would love to go to college or send their kids to college, to have professional careers, to work toward a better life for themselves and their families, and to have all the good things that are available in liberal class communities such as nice parks, well-funded schools, etc.

If the liberal class is serious, they shouldn’t be supporting policies that make it harder for people to join the liberal class. New Democrats like Clinton support tough-on-crime policies, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, endless wars, growing military-industrial complex, corrupt corporatism, international trade deals that harm the lower classes, and all the other ways that screw over average and below average people. Why is it that the liberal class can’t understand that supporting neocon and neoliberal candidates is actually self-destructive to the liberal vision of society?

Liberals often like to pride themselves on not being racist or whatever. I call bullshit. If many of these liberals ever faced the threat of serious economic problems, downward mobility, and constant frustration of their dreams and aspirations, the majority of them easily could be swayed toward racism and other similar forms of bigotry. Research shows that such biases lurk just beneath the surface. What the liberal class lifestyle allows is for such people to not just be oblivious of what is going on in the world but also oblivious to what is hidden within their own minds.

After a period of societal stress and economic uncertainty, if an authoritarian came along promising progressive economics along with law-and-order rhetoric, most in the liberal class would support him. That is what the liberal class did in Germany when they supported Hitler. You are ignorant of history and human nature if you think it can’t happen here. As I put it in an earlier post:

“By the way, if your concern about Trump voters relates to right-wing authoritarianism, there is a key point to keep in mind. Groups like the Klan and the Nazis drew their strongest support from the middle class. That shouldn’t be surprising, as it is the middle class that is the most politically engaged. One would predict almost any political movement will attract many from the middle class. Also, it’s not so easy to pin this down ideologically. What you should really fear is when the liberal middle class (AKA liberal class) submits to the authoritarian trends in society, as happened in the past. Never forget that the Klan and the Nazis were rather progressive in many ways. Hitler rebuilt infrastructure and promoted policies that helped many ordinary Germans. The Klan supported child labor laws, public education, etc.”

I could add much to that, as I did in some comments to that post. Consider the Progressive Era. Many progressives supported eugenics, immigration control, and similar policies. The New Deal institutionalized racial biases that impacted the generations following.

Overt racist bigots and white supremacists would be a lot less powerful without the tolerant complicity and sometimes direct support of the liberal class. This can be broadened to the oppression that liberals so often allow and promote, such as their participation in anti-communist red-baiting and witch-hunts. Minorities (racial, ethnic, and religious) along with poor people and the political left have always been favorite targets of the liberal class, at least when they feel their privileged lifestyle is being challenged or there is a threat of social disruption. The liberal class, first and foremost, will always defend the status quo that makes possible their liberal good life… even when their defense betrays their stated liberal values.

The liberal class in a society like the US are among the fortunate few. Most of them don’t know what it is like to deal with tough times. They don’t know what is in their own hearts, what could emerge under much worse conditions. None of us ever knows what we are capable of until our back is against the wall, but many people are privileged enough to never find out. That is no reason for feeling self-righteous toward the less fortunate and more frustrated.

Reactionary Democrats and Pseudo-Liberals

“The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate. …We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.”
~ Bill Moyers

Many Democrats unsurprisingly associate reactionary politics with Republicans. But in doing so Democrats don’t notice the reactionary tendencies of their own party.

It wasn’t just the GOP that had a reactionary backlash to the 1960s. It was Democrats voting against the liberal progressive candidate, George McGovern, who instead chose to vote for Richard Nixon and got him elected. And, in 2000,  more Democrats voted for George W. Bush than voted for Ralph Nader. Think about that.

Why do partisan Democrats have such short memories and lack of self-awareness? Without learning from history, the same mistakes are repeated. Once again, here we are with the reactionary partisans supporting the corporatist neoliberal and war hawk neocon instead of supporting the progressive liberal.

Will Democrats ever learn? Or are Democrats simply being true to themselves by embracing reactionary politics? If so, then maybe we should build a strong third party to challenge the bipartisan duopoly of reactionary politics.

* * *

About McGovern, the point isn’t whether or not he could have won. Rather, if Democrats were the party of progressive liberals, then Democrats would have voted for McGovern and not Nixon. It’s easy to forget that Democrats had a lot of conservatives in the past (and still do).

Even during Reagan’s administration, Blue Dog Democrats gave the Republicans a conservative majority in Congress. Then the Clinton New Democrats used a Southern Strategy that brought more conservatives back into the party and in doing so shifted the entire political spectrum in Washington to the right.

Democrats have always been a big tent party, not a liberal progressive party as they claim in their rhetoric. In this campaign season, once again the rhetoric is being shown as false.

* * *

About Nader, there are a few points. Most Nader voters weren’t Democrats. They were largely Independents and many of them wouldn’t have voted if not for Nader running. For the others who would have still voted, about an equal number would have voted for Bush.

Nader was never that popular with Democrats, as you know, and so it’s unsurprising that he didn’t draw that many Democratic voters. Even in terms of supposed liberals, 13% voted for Bush compared to 6% for Nader. The fact of the matter is Nader didn’t get that many votes in general. Not much of a spoiler.

Then again, the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, was so unpopular among Democrats that a massive number didn’t vote at all. Democrats were plenty divided and demoralized without any need for outside influence.

* * *

It’s not that I’m against Democrats being a big tent party. I just wish they were more honest about this in their rhetoric. That way, voters could make honest decisions based on the facts.

Politicians like the Clintons appeal as much to conservatives as to liberals. They talk out of both sides of their mouths, using codewords (from progressive rhetoric to dog-whistle politics) that appeal to different groups and so they change their talking points depending on which group they speak to. The Clintons are not progressive liberals. They are simply opportunists who shift with the tide.

However, it’s not just sleazy politicians that are the problem. There is something else going on.

In the 2000 presidential election, 13% of supposed ‘liberals’ voted for George W. Bush compared to only 6% who voted for Ralph Nader. In Florida, it was 17% of all liberals who voted for Bush, a total of 191,000 votes. It wasn’t just that more registered Democrats voted for Bush than Nader.

These betrayers of the political left were worthless liberals. Don’t trust a liberal. I say that as someone who has identified as a liberal for my entire adult life. I’m simply an independent from now on.

A similar thing is shown in Pew data, that liberals are confused in the head. About 1 in 10 of those who are liberal across the board identify as conservative. Does liberalism have any meaning? Or has it simply become some form of nebulous identity politics?

I’ll try not to laugh when clueless pseudo-liberals tell me that Clinton is a progressive liberal. Liberals need to get their act together and figure out what they stand for. And Democrats need to figure out what kind of party they are. As for me, the Democratic party is dead to me. They’ve lost me for life.

Any candidate of any party that wants my vote, will have to fight for my support by showing that, first and foremost, they care about democracy. Beyond that, we can negotiate. This is the only way change will happen, when enough Americans demand reform and refuse to accept anything less.

* * *

How Groups Voted in 2000
Roper Center, Cornell University

How Florida Democrats torpedoed Gore
If the vice president had locked up his party’s traditional base in the Sunshine State, the election wouldn’t be tied up in the courts.

by Jim Hightower, Salon

No More Mister Fall Guy:
Why Ralph Nader is Not to Blame for “President” Bush

by Tim Wise, TimeWise.org

The Ralph Nader Myth
by gjohnsit, Daily Kos

Dispelling the Myth of Election 2000:
Did Nader Cost Gore the Election?

by Irene Dieter, CAGP

Still Blaming Nader?
Green Party of Sonoma County

Debunked: The Myth That Ralph Nader Cost Al Gore the 2000 Election
by Good German, Disinfo

There are no conservatives.

There are no conservatives.

Someone can choose to be a regressive, rather than a progressive. A reactionary, rather than a radical. A right-winger, rather than a left-winger. But it is impossible to be a conservative in the world today.

We live in a liberal era. It is what frames our entire sense of reality, at least since the Enlightenment, although the basic framework has its roots in the Axial Age. There are many varieties of liberalism, and at this point all of us are liberals of some kind.

One of the most radical liberal ideas ever implemented is capitalism. So-called conservatives have embraced it, even though there is nothing conservative about it. That is because they aren’t conservatives, no matter what they claim.

We live in a world where there is nothing left to conserve. We’ve had continuous ‘progress’ and creative destruction for a very long time. Nothing has remained untouched and unmoved. Even fundamentalist religion is a modern invention. Tradition is an empty word, a talisman we shake to fend off the monster lurching out from the future’s shadow.

We can embrace this brave new world or fight it. Either way, conservatism isn’t an option. Change is inevitable, like it or not. Fantasies about the past are simply a form of entertainment, as the world collapses around us… and becomes something else.

* * *

If one reads carefully what I wrote and thinks carefully about what it means, it becomes obvious that this isn’t a paean to liberalism. It is simply noting the world we live in. Liberalism must accept the blame as much as the praise for where we find ourselves.

The past is gone. It won’t be saved or revived. I don’t think that is necessarily a good thing. Part of my motivation for writing this is that I wish I lived in a world where conservatism was possible, where there was something capable and worthy of being conserved. But the changes we are making to society and environment are permanent.

There is no turning back. We are past the point of no return.

* * *

“If Homo sapiens survives the next millennium, it will be survival in a world unrecognizably different from the one we have known for the last 200,000 years.

“In order for us to adapt to this strange new world, we’re going to need more than scientific reports and military policy. We’re going to need new ideas. We’re going to need new myths and new stories, a new conceptual understanding of reality, and a new relationship to the deep polyglot traditions of human culture that carbon-based capitalism has vitiated through commodification and assimilation. Over and against capitalism, we will need a new way of thinking our collective existence. We need a new vision of who “we” are. We need a new humanism— a newly philosophical humanism, undergirded by renewed attention to the humanities.

“Admittedly, ocean acidification, social upheaval, and species extinction are problems that humanities scholars, with their taste for fine-grained philological analysis, esoteric debates, and archival marginalia, might seem remarkably ill-suited to address. After all, how will thinking about Kant or Frantz Fanon help us trap carbon dioxide? Can arguments between object-oriented ontology and historical materialism protect honeybees from colony collapse disorder? Are ancient Greek philosophers, medieval poets, and contemporary metaphysicians going to save Bangladesh from being inundated by the Indian Ocean?

“Perhaps not. But the conceptual and existential problems that the Anthropocene poses are precisely those that have always been at the heart of humanistic inquiry: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live? What is truth? What is good? In the world of the Anthropocene, the question of individual mortality— What does my life mean in the face of death?— is universalized and framed in scales that boggle the imagination. 21 As environmental philosopher Dale Jamieson puts it, “The Anthropocene presents novel challenges for living a meaningful life.” 22 Historian and theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty has claimed that global warming “calls us to visions of the human that neither rights talk nor the critique of the subject ever contemplated.” 23 Whether we are talking about ethics or politics, ontology or epistemology, confronting the end of the world as we know it dramatically challenges our learned perspectives and ingrained priorities. What does consumer choice mean compared against 100,000 years of ecological catastrophe? What does one life mean in the face of mass death or the collapse of global civilization? How do we make meaningful decisions in the shadow of our inevitable end?

“These questions have no logical or empirical answers. They cannot be graphed or quantified. They are philosophical problems par excellence. If, as Montaigne asserted, “To philosophize is to learn how to die,” then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age, for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. 24 The rub now is that we have to learn to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.”

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene
By Roy Scranton
Kindle Locations 141-166