Marginalia on Radical Thinking: Dialogue with Keith418 on the moral grounding of political notions

This is the fifth interview in a series with Keith418. The first one is here, the second one is here,  the third is here, and the fourth is here.  Keith418 is one of the most controversial figures in modern Thelema.  His interviews on the defunct Thelema: Coast to Coast were often rigorous and demanding, yet highly contentious.  Keith418 has also documented thinkers on both the radical right and the far left often comparing those thinkers to the problematic thought in the Occult community.  He has recently spoken at C-realm podcast as well. 

Skepoet: Recently, you and I were discussing about how even in groups that are interested in “inequality” or even “the working class” or “labor” there is an avoidance of class dynamics. I think we both think this comes from training class as if it were just another “identity” like gender or race.  Would you like to elaborate on that?

Keith418:  A friend noted that, when class is discussed at all these days, it’s talked about as another kind of “identity.” As in, “respect people from the working class.” It’s not about how those people are formed or used or how those subjects are created and why they are here. Instead, it’s a demand that they be honored and respected and appreciated – not that “class” as an issue be erased or that the forces that create different classes be eliminated. People are supposed to be proud to be “working class” – just like they are proud to be “gay” or proud to be “black.” The underlying mechanism of class and class domination is never discussed. This naturalizes class. It looks like a trenchant criticism of the status quo, but it’s not. How is this not a problem and why aren’t people addressing it? If we all learn to respect the “working class” does that mean we use them with cleaner consciences? Is this what the left wants?

S.: Clearly this seems to be a move towards things that are more obvious, but also more obviously arbitrary.  They can be subsumed in liberal modernity pretty easily, while class if viewed as a something that is unacceptable is not something that accommodation can handle.   In that sense, actually winning would require something that is destabilizing.  Although oddly, this brings me to our recent debate on Jonathan Haidt, do you think that focus on class as identity instead of class as foundation is part of a liberal moral virtue of inclusiveness?

K.:  I think class as identity is just easier for them to cope with  than class as a product of human relations. This is the same, when you think about it, with gender and race. There is a virtuous sense of equality and value that seems to assume that “respecting” people alleviates the need to stop exploiting them. Liberals and the left like to look at problems, but examining the causes for those problems is harder for these folks to do. That “racism is wrong” they will readily acknowledge and helpfully explain to us. But what causes it?
If everyone is guilty and implicated, who will guide to our glorious new society and who – untainted – will govern it?

Who will be the left’s managers? If we assume a revolution, who will manage the resources after it is over? How will these people be trained and developed – and what would prevent them from simply be assumed into the ruling structure the left is seeking to overthrow?

The anti-revisionist left used to urge people to “go into the factories” right? Why didn’t that work out? Is anyone asking? Did factory work become too numbing for everyone? Or did the other workers simply not respond to their ideologies? I find the fact that so few seem to be curious about the history of these groups and their struggles and decline to be itself curious. You’d think people would be researching this stuff so as to learn from these groups and their mistakes. Who does and why don’t they?

We’ve talked about the people who are “Progressive Except for Palestine.” What about the folks who are “Progressive Except for Income Inequality”? This not insubstantial group views the current society as a meritocracy and wants to make sure everyone gets a fair shake within it. They care about every liberal issue – like gay marriage, environmentalism, and women’s rights – that doesn’t call into question the ownership of the means of production and how their own particular privilege is maintained within it.

What I don’t grasp is why the “real left” never goes after these people. Instead, everyone wants to target what remains of the white working class and its issues – never the privilege of the NPR-listening, Prius-driving, white liberal elites. What I see on Facebook and elsewhere are people who keep shooting down the class slope. They may see themselves as “leftists” but their cultural targets are always poorer and less educated than they are. As long as the working class and the poor do not obey the left’s ideological dictates about, say, science and gender issues, they will remain the enemy.

S.:  This is an interesting contradiction then isn’t it?  The right is supposedly exclusive, but has a populist base largely on a willingness to be broad on cultural issues, but leftist and liberals both tend to be supposedly populist but whose ideological and aesthetic judgments are elitist.  Do you think this contradiction is something Haidt’s research help you understand?

K.: No, I’ve looked at it for a long time – as I think anyone who has worked seriously in left-liberal circles has. Ken Minogue pointed out, some time ago, the way the left has a very elitist nature. They are the ones who are enlightened – the elect seeking to liberate the ignorant. This kind if condescension appears to me to be another way Judeo-Christian translates into the left’s approach. “The blessed” – who are distinguished by being always ready to profess the right and virtuous opinions are in conflict with the “poor and benighted” who don’t get. It’s worse lately. now the left seeks to speak ‘truth to the stupid” rather than speaking truth to “power.” they ARE the power and their values and the the ones that dominate. In any event, it’s always about attacking the people poorer and less privileged than they are. The people who weren’t privileged enough to go to good schools and who don’t understand why you have to listen to NPR, drive a Prius and take canvas bags to the grocery store. Those people, of course, are the problem – not the people running the non-profits and elite foundations.

S.: What if the left or liberals just openly embraced elite culture and values?  It seems like conservative values in the US are just as elitists in their function economically, but it just a different set of elites. What bothers me is the patent hypocritical nature of both claims, again, with a slight deviant perhaps being paleo-conservatives who do see themselves as a remnant elite, but as you have said, “they were bad suits.”

K.: What does it matter to us if none of these groups has any real authority or even an understanding of what that is – where it originates, what it constitutes? I’m not seeing any evidence that any of them has the slightest clue. Science cannot tell us what our values should be, and the values that used to motivate people before the age of science aren’t working well no matter how they get restated or disguised and stuck into new, and usually threadbare and cheap, costumes. A real elite needs real authority, They don’t have it. None of them do. It’s all increasingly revealed as feeble and inauthentic posturing. Real authority is like real art – it has to engage with and proceed from and return to the absolute. What Facebook and the Internet show us is that no one can be consistent any longer – and without that sense of consistency there is no authenticity and no real authority.

S.:  If I understand you correctly, at the moment, no one seems to be operating from a point of consistency ideologically, or in connection with power.  So embracing elitism honestly would be impossible in that situation.  Do you see this increasing?

K.:  I think we have to look carefully at the ‘truth to power” line. Lately, the leftists I know want to speak “truth to stupid.” We see this with their anger at the small government types, the people who deny climate change, or the religious. This is a very different dynamic and one that has come to usurp the former idea. Are we oppressed by power or by ignorance? The frustrations and the contempt the managers have for the managed is not “revolutionary” – is it?

I also notice that many leftists seem reluctant to lampoon, satirize, and generally disparage the accouterments and excesses of the privileged. Look at the paintings of George Grosz and the cartoons in The Masses. Who is going after the privileged elites today with the same kind of venom and sharpened ire? Look at the wealthy families with their spoiled children and their paraded pretensions – this isn’t ripe for criticism? Yet who on the left does this? We don’t see it – any more than we see leftist satires of elite and, obviously hypocritical, “liberal” Zionists. The desire to target the lifestyles and presumptions of the privileged elites just isn’t there.Why not? Is it because these people are allies against the “conservative” masses? Do people on the left aspire themselves to lofts in Brooklyn with nannies who know to recycle?

Maybe the old WASP elites were different. Now that new elites, from other ethnic groups have emerged, no one feels the same motivation to take them out and to subject them to righteous ridicule.

S.:  This seems tangentially related to another issue you and I have talked about: The refusal to look seriously at failures of left-wing thought in the past is deeply there. For example, you pointed me to a Kasama post reviewing at book on the Sojourner Truth Organization which flippantly skipped over both the fact that STO had got little support from the racial communities it was aiming to aid and also ignored the later ideas and controversies of  Noel Ignatiev.   What do you make of that?

K.:   I’m not sure. I read and wondered what planet these people are living on. It’s like the truth, the reality is so painful they explore these histories as barely explored mythologies and leave as much as they can out of it. Where are the left’s much vaulted critical thinking skills?

What about all the people in the STO that put years of their lives into that project only to watch it crash and burn? Did it strike you as strange that there seemed to be so little looked at there?

S.: It does strike me as strange. In fact, it strikes me as strange that few people discuss the 1970s and 1980s New Communist movement, they always focus on the anti-Revisionists in the 1960s and just want to pretend that the 1970s didn’t happen, and then the 1980s emerge as some kind of conspiratorial relapse. Both the far left and the liberal left does this: the liberal left pretends that Stagflation didn’t happen in the 1970s and neo-liberalism emerged solely as a political project, and the far left doesn’t want to look at the 1968 in France was put down without a single shot fired, how Nixon won in the end of the 60s, etc.  The right is in denial about a lot of things too, but I am not a rightist, so it isn’t my responsibility to criticize it.

Do you think this runs into basically ideological tribalism where one gives one’s own group a heuristic of charity and the opposing group at a heuristic of demonization?

K.:  I tend to see these partisan battles as the result of the way Judeo-Christianity has permeated secular political thinking – what you refer to as “political theology.” One group is either the “elect” or the  “chosen people” who are always innocent and the other group is ignorant and beneath contempt. The good and noble group is the “light unto the nations” and the rest are seen as without redeeming or admirable features. Likewise any undeniable faults in your own group are understandable and “tragic” while the problems the  other groups face are a result of their bad ideas and beliefs.

In looking at some of the left discourse, it seems to me to be less about a political movement for real change and more of a way to have a kind of secret and superior analysis of events always at hand – like many occultists seem to see occultism.  You get to feel superior by knowing, for example, when an institution is “patriarchal” while never criticizing your own continuing participation in said institution.

Are those on the left really as smart as they think they are? If they are that smart, where is their challenging thinking? Why aren’t there hundreds of Glenn Greenwalds rather than just one? What kills me are all the leftists I know who claim to admire Greenwald and go right ahead cheerfully carrying water of Obama and ignoring everything he says. The “far leftists” do want to make their middle of the road liberal friends mad by attacking Obama with any real venom. I do not get it.

S. I wrote something on Tim Wise attacking Greenwald for being a racist for saying that Ron Paul was better on war questions than Obama, but really, Ron Paul is.  Furthermore it struck me that Wise was trading in the symbolic capital of a “black” President for the actual lived lives of brown people far away. Now admittedly both Wise and Greenwald are white, but it seemed like a laughably bad argument.

This brings me to another topic: even fairly well-off conservatives, as you have pointed out in some of your writings, say the correct liberal things on race in public and when they don’t the backlash is extreme. But as you point out, this can lead to a “leftism” and a “rightism” without much substance. For example, one can renounce one’s own privilege, say all the right things, hire the right people, and have  a few symbolic members of the right minorities in your in-group but nothing fundamentally has changed for most people economically.

K.:  There’s a couple of things here. One, Look at Ron Paul on drug use. Assuming he is a racist – and I don’t think he is at all, but let’s allow the assumption – he still wants to end the drug laws and release every black person in prison who’s there for drug charges. Obama, as we have seen, has been determined to not only coninue the drug war, but his AG has even started to go after medical marijuana in places where the voters have approved it. In old Marxist-speak, can’t we then say that Obama is more “objectively racist” than Ron Paul? No one is pointing to this because the left has backed away from opposing the drug war. If anyone disputes this, then why aren’t they more enraged at Obama and his supporters for continuing it? Even the Marxists I know do not get on Facebook and rage at their liberal friends for supporting Obama. Do you see this? I do not see it.

We can say that the right has been co-opted by its own commitments to a Judeo-Christian ethic that has been secularized into “progressive” positions in various ways, but I would look to Hegel as to why they can’t resist this process. There is no “right” in America that is harshly critical of Judeo-Christianity the way there is in Europe – no meaningful tradition or one that has produced an insightful and substantive literature. Therefore, when the American right is appealed to in Christian terms, it tends to cave sooner or later.

We can go back to the work of Kenneth Minogue, who I have been reading recently, who carefully analysed the way being a liberal means having the right opinions and saying the right things – it doesn’t mean DOING all that much. People recite the opinions they know they are supposed to have and go right on living their lives the same way. Nothing changes except for what they say. That’s how everyone knows you’re a good person. Minogue – in his day – carefully criticized ideologies, but I wonder how the people who read him in the ’60s see how neoconservatism fulfilled every single one of his criteria for what an “ideology” consists of. Few on the right realize this.

 S.:  I was amazed at that actually: How accurate the some of the proto-conservative critiques of ideology where and yet how quickly they developed into the most obvious and crude form of an ideology?  Leftists, of course, sort of pioneered this self-blindness in modernity, but it’s probably a near universal trait to monist onthologies. Do you think the neo-conservatives can be a lesson to Marxist in a deep way and not merely as a cautionary tale that Paleo-conservatives tell their children?
K.: Well, look at the way those on the left seem to prefer the neocons to libertarians. They almost always prefer a pro-war neocon to an anti-war libertarian. And the neocons are careful to make their appeals for imperialism in language that will appeal to the left. We invade other countries in the same way we sent the National Guard in to help desegregate schools in the South – for humanitarian and democratic reasons! Dick Cheney came out in favor of gay marriage before Obama did!Where is the real hostility to the neocons on the left? Where is the analysis of their origins, their policies, their motivations in left circles? I am not seeing it. Why the lack of curiosity and interest? Given the amount of power they exercise, this seems strange. I am far more invested in what people don’t want to think about and talk about these days than I am in looking at why they are saying.

S.:  Well, I see plenty of hostility to the name of neo-conservative and to key figures, but I don’t see a lot of hostility to the policy consistency between Obama and Cheney in the US liberal and even some of the far left circles.   Furthermore, when most liberals and left-liberals use the term neo-conservative, they honestly seem to have little idea where it is from.  Or the closeness of the key figures in both the US and Europe to Social Democratic and Trotskyist positions.

So why do you think Marxists are so afraid to seriously look at libertarians? Most Marxists have never cracked Von Mises, Rothbard, or even Hayek, and keep Rand around as a sort of easy scare tool.    We know what left-liberals do: In times when Republicans are governing, they cozy up to libertarians only to denounce them with utmost vitriol as a conspiracy by the Koch brothers later.   I have little love for libertarian economics, but it seems even from an heightening “the contradictions” tactical front, Libertarians are better are pointing out the problems of the military-police state than most liberals.
K.:  Many on the left want to attack the libertarians for being the stalking horses of the corporate capitalists. They aren’t though. That’s the problem. Corporations desperately need big government to keep themselves going: contracts, bail-outs, interventions, protections, etc. No corporation wants a real libertarian agenda. If they did, Fox News would be lionizing Ron Paul instead of censoring him and cutting away from him during debates.My friends on the left hate to look at this because it wrecks their narrative. If they abandon that narrative they have to look at the way they demand obedience to the state in ways that make them uncomfortable. Remember, Buckley and the neocons tossed the libertarians under the bus quite a
long time ago. Murray Rothbard was one of the early people who went through the purge process at National Review. The neocons may hate the paleocons, but they hate anti-war libertarians even more.I have no idea why the leftists I know have no interest in studying and attacking the neocons. Is it because they are afraid of being called antisemites? That fear seems to prevent them from criticizing Israel most of the time. Do liberals even know the socially “left” necons like David Brooks really aren’t fellow liberals? Sometimes I wonder if they grasp that fact. Remember, you can be a neocon and support gay rights and abortion. They welcome people with those positions. You can actually be okay with socialized health care too.
You can stay a neocons and be quite liberal on every domestic issue. It’s the Foreign Policy stuff that makes for trouble. There you have to toe the line. How is that really any different from many liberals we know?

Real libertarians are principled and consistent in ways that a lot of folks just aren’t right now. The anti-war libertarians are just as hard on Obama as they were on Bush as they were on Clinton as they were on Bush. Again, this messes up the left narrative – a narrative that plays down its own tendency to play partisan games and cut people defying its own principles slack when convenient. The liberals I know do this weird thing which thing where they embrace Obama while attacking his actual policies. It’s schizophrenic. Or they pretend the bad things he does need to be blamed on others. It’s part of the strange, unremarked upon, and nearly universal inconsistency we see on Facebook all the time. I see people on Facebook decrying an Obama policy one day and then posting these “Awwww!” pictures of him and Michelle dancing together the next. They take umbrage when you point out that they are being inconsistent – but does anyone link automatically link personal authenticity to personal consistency any longer?

S.:  Do you think the post-structural acceptance of inconsistency has any influence here? As many do? Or is it more profound than that?  I seems to me that if the left really believed in the contradictions of capitalism and had faith in it’s motivations, it would just let the libertarians try and fail instead of demonizing them.  If the libertarian position is impossible to put in practice, it seems odd to spend so much time critiquing it and not other forms of “bad leftism.”  Or is this about a call to solidarity that is about an inch deep?
K.: Why doesn’t the left go after the liberals more? Look at what Obama is doing. Are you really all that tough on him and his fans?
S.: I believe one) most of the left in the US and probably in Social Democratic Europe has liberal tendencies, and two) many people who still, in my opinion foolishly, have pretensions for some kind of left-liberal/left voting coalition.  So it seems like a double problem, but it is definitely a real one.  I personally take a lot of shit for mildly rebuking people for  the pale excuses the left gives liberals on fear of Republicans, but one must almost admit that from a anti-imperial standpoint, the Democrats can more easily start wars and have drone strikes than a Republican. Sort of the inversion of the only Nixon can go to China problem.Still we aren’t as tough on him as we should be. No doubt about that.  I suppose one can see similar incoherence on the American right, but it seems like actually internal critique on that end is higher while maintaining much more discipline.

K.: Pointing back to the right is a partisan reflex. It doesn’t answer the question. Are people on the left worried about criticizing Obama because such attacks might be seen as racist? Are they really all that worried about offending their liberal friends? Concerned that they might not “get invited to the right parties” as a friend of mine put it? Or have they abandoned principles and are just as inconsistent as everyone else?I’m not convinced anyone believes what they say they do when they don’t act consistently. Justin and the other people at Antiwar.com might be libertarian wackos, but they are all far more consistent when it comes to their principles than any of my liberal friends ever are. You could be as vociferous as Phil Weiss is, or as consistent as Justin is, but are you? If you’re not, why aren’t you? These are questions people on the left need to ask themselves and pointing across the aisle – isn’t that another dodge away from accountability?

At a certain point, in its early stages, the Internet and emerging social media was interesting because of what it said. Now, what it won’t say, what it won’t discuss or talk about, is even more interesting.

S.:  Do you think social media has actually reigned in and limited views through social over-exposure?
K.:  Or has it exhausted itself? Over time, we can watch certain discussions follow well-established routes. Things trail off just when we know they will. Facebook pulls in people you know from different parts of your life: extended family, neighbors, schoolmates, co-workers, romantic partners, etc. How honest and direct can anyone be about essential and controversial matters in front of such an audience? We now have the ability to publish our thoughts, for next to nothing, and have them instantly available to a large audience all over the world. And, just at that moment, no one has anything important to say, do they?
S.:  There is both no cost to publish and a high cost in social standing for saying the wrong thing.  That does exhaust thought.On left’s critique of Obama, have you heard of Roberto Unger?

K.:  Yes I have. And I’ve read similar pieces by others – like the folks at Counterpunch. They are not the ones who interest me as much as the liberals and leftists I know myself. Their choices, their reactions (or lack thereof) – that’s what interests me.
S.:  Why do you think critiques like Unger’s aren’t taking hold?  I have issues with his substantive politics, but his critique of Obama is obvious and yet if you say this you’ll get something like “Obamacare gives many human beings dignity.”    The root of the matter seems to be that this even when substantive critiques of Obama are made, they are ignored.  Now that was NOT the case on in libertarian circles for their allies in the the GOP.  It’s fascinating.  I suppose we can take it around and end in back on Haidt: do you think that the collectivist-oreintation that liberals have doesn’t show up on the Haidt’s radar because it’s a people don’t see it in themselves?
K.:  I think you have to ask the leftsists and liberals you know why these arguments don’t work. We’re all on Facebook, after all.
S.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
K.:  “It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.” – Thomas Paine
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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on July 10, 2012, in ideology, Interviews, Left-turn, Media, Philosophy and Politics, Polemics, Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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