19.1.17

DEMOCRATIZING TRANSGRESSION IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

Daniel Gordon of ZooMass participates in a forum on populist revolt organized by The Critique.  By all means, read the essay, and note the suggestions offered therein to academicians, particularly of the culture-studies bent.  You might start by taking your postmodern skepticism seriously.
Indeed, a common point between academic and media analysis is the tendency to “unmask” an ideological opponent. To unmask is to reveal a delusion beneath a political or intellectual claim. To unmask is to presuppose that there is no principled basis for debate. There is nothing to understand besides the error of the other. The presence of difference of opinion attests only to the existence of false-consciousness, not to the existence of a question that admits more than one answer.
Put another way, if you interrogate (to use another academic term of art I despise) the practice rigorously enough, the Manipulating Ruling Class will confess.  The unmasking is often the confession of a tight prior, e.g. existing institutions exist solely to confer privilege to favored people, Trump voters are deplorable.  But sometimes when you get done digging through the Haufen Mist, there's no pony in there.

And the institutions are civilization, and the deplorables recognize that something is broken.
One finds an idiom that is novel to many of us in the academy but that raises important problems in an acute fashion. Above all, the alt-right draws intellectual vigor from its emphasis on the need for limits and borders. Given the commitment on the part of some Leftist intellectuals and politicians to a borderless world–not only in matters of immigration and trade but in matters of sexuality and morality—the alt-right’s concern about the consequences of a borderless society registers a real need to have a national debate about how far we can go: how far can we push the frontiers of transgressive thinking and action without destroying our own freedom? With its emphasis on borders, the alt-right has managed to articulate some of the most important philosophical issues of our time.
Precisely.  Welcome to the conversation.
The existentialist affirmation of the nothingness underlying all commitments, of the arbitrariness of all choices, including even those that are guided by our previous choices, is now part of our political culture. This is not the skepticism of Montaigne, Hume, and Burke, which lends itself to disciplined and gradual modes of extending our outer and inward conversations through, for example, the intensive study of Great Books and the prolonged exploration of foreign languages and cultures. It is a childish wish to defer all binding self-definitions and to experience liberation from constraint at every moment of one’s existence. It is a rejection of pronouns and of every social grammar. The Brexit vote in turn rejected this nihilism. It affirmed the conservative principle that there is nothing wrong with being attached to something in particular. Likewise, the alt-right is a victorious reaction against what is too often – and mistakenly – called the “identity politics” of the Left. For what is in question today is just the opposite: the explosion on the Left of anti-identity politics.
Yeah, when you deny coherent beliefs of any kind, you get incoherence. Hence the public intellectuals of the left having so many problems explaining Sanders voters crossing over to Trump.  What is it, forty, fifty years since the normals and the hippies started hurling insults like "uptight" and "perpetual adolescent" at each other.  Yes, a social grammar implies constraints, but the absence of a grammar ...  There is much more, questioning the commonplaces of the common room, and by all means, read and understand it all.

I want to refer to a more explicitly political post by The Federalist's David Marcus, "Progressives Destroyed Normalcy And Now They’re Shocked Trump Isn’t Normal."  Note, he is by no means spiking the football here.  The most interesting part of the Trump presidency will be the efforts of constitutional conservatives, bourgeois tories, and sensible people of the left to find common cause.  Perhaps social norms will be a good place to start.
In Donald Trump, with his admittedly dangerous, devil-may-care attitude, progressives have stumbled upon the value of conserving norms and traditions. A president just doesn’t say these awful things about his opponents and the media. A president doesn’t tweet attacks at enemies late at night. A President doesn’t put a controversial figure like Steve Bannon a few doors down from the Oval Office.

But here’s the thing: it’s too late. We are way past that now. The Left let its freak flag fly. We all saw it. No normal is the new normal and there is no clear way back from that.
In case you missed it on the Cold Spring Shops bulletin board, read it there.
Cultural norms are self-imposed limitations on speech and actions, meant to preserve peace and order in a society. It is like a stream with banks that allow our public discourse to flow responsibly. When that stream is broadened and deepened, dangerous ideas flow in from both sides.
That's where we currently find ourselves.  "A big part of what conservatives are meant to conserve is decency, decorum, and respect. We should oppose shouting expletives at those we disagree with."  Note, Mr Marcus did not rule out all trash-talking a priori.  That might still be the most effective way to counter the condescension, the censoriousness, the certitude that the self-styled progressives like to use.

Rod Dreher, after a survey of a series of commentaries in a similar vein (funny, isn't it, how the people who used to live by picking a target, personalizing it, and making it play by its own rules don't like receiving such treatment) warns that things are likely to be unpleasant for some time.
I certainly don’t believe that the left was all sunshine and cupcakes before Trump came along. No reader of this blog can think that. But it’s clear to me from Trump’s behavior — first in the way he treated his Republican competitors — that he has crossed some significant lines. And it profited him greatly to do so; that’s why he’s going to be our president as of Friday. The gloves are going to be off everywhere going forward, in a way we haven’t seen in a long, long time.
Let it be occasion to campaign until the freak flags are furled!

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